27 August 2010

Everyone Knows This is Nowhere

"Along the Passaic River banks were many minor monuments such as concrete abutments that supported the shoulders of a new highway in the process of being built. River Drive was in part bulldozed and in part intact. It was hard to tell the new highway from the old road; they were both confounded into a unitary chaos. Since it was Saturday, many machines were not working, and this caused them to resemble prehistoric creatures trapped in the mud, or, better, extinct machines -- mechanical dinosaurs stripped of their skin. On the edge of this Prehistoric Machine Age were pre- and post-Wold War II suburban houses. The houses mirrored themselves into colorlessness. [...]

... Actually, the landscape was no landscape, but 'a particular kind of heliotypy' (Nabakov), a kind of self-destroying postcard of failed immortality and oppressive grandeur. I had been wandering in a moving picture that I couldn't quite picture...

That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is -- all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite of the 'romantic ruin' because the buildings don't fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built. This anti-romantic mise-en-scene suggests the discredited idea of time and many other 'out of date' things. But the suburbs exist without a rational past and without the 'big events' of history. Oh, maybe there are a few statues, a legend, and a couple of curios, but no past -- just what passes for a future. A utopia minus a bottom, a place where the machines are idle, and the sun has turned to glass, and a place where the Passaic Concrete Plant (253 River Drive) does a good business in STONE, BITUMINOUS, SAND, and CEMENT. [...]

After that I returned to Passaic, or was it the hereafter -- for all I know that unimaginative suburb could have been a clumsy eternity, a cheap copy of The City of the Immortals. But who am I to entertain such a thought?"

-- Robert Smithson, excerpts from "A Tour of the
Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey" (c. 1967)

* * * * * * * *

On a semi-related note, Owen Hatherley recently published a pair of rants on the recent illogical of urban (non-)planning. From what I'd watched happen to my former neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago (and elsewhere in the city) over the past decade, I could definitely relate to his final comments in the Guardian piece:

"In reality, the shops and nurseries became empty units or estate agents, the squares were inept and windswept, and speculative developers crammed as many tiny flats into their plots as possible. In Stratford you can see the grimmest results – aesthetically stunted, architecturally bumptious towers crowding round wasteland. Does this invalidate the idea? Should we, as some Tories suggest in their screeds against the ludicrous myth of 'garden grabbing', celebrate the end of the attempted 'urban renaissance' and return to the pseudo-rural suburban sprawl of the 80s, and the depopulation and desuetude of our cities?

Or rather, should we acknowledge that the problem with New Labour, and Rogers and Burdett was that they didn't plan enough? Rather than being held to strict standards, developers were given carte blanche; instead of council housing easing the overcrowding of the poor, a percentage of allegedly affordable housing was sold in each block of terracotta-clad yuppiedromes. Meanness – 'value engineering' as it is euphemistically known – was what made the New Labour landscape so grim, not height, planning or modernity, and certainly not overcrowding."

Substitute a few (non-U.K.) references here & there and it's still applicable, especially the bit about "a percentage of allegedly affordable housing." Except: Where I just vacated, that sort of property didn't sell...because it was leagues beyond being remotely "affordable" for that part of the city, and there was insufficient interest in "urban pioneering" and gentrifying that far south of Cermak Avenue.

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Images: From the "Non-Places" flickr pool.

24 August 2010

The Metaglyphical Hereafter

A telephone exchange:

“You like oysters, boss?”
“I’ve got a spot over here for you. We can watch the boats sink.”
“I’ll let you hold the bomb.”
“Do you know anyone at the Smithsonian Institute?”
Working on that one.
“You need to talk to someone in the Department of Space.”
“The Andromeda Galaxy is going to be here in 5 million years. It will consume this galaxy.”
“This means something to me.”
Of course.
“It’s sending a master blaster radio cloud ahead of itself.”
“That one will be here in 10,000 years.”
“I know it’s a little far off, but you might want to take a look at it.”
And finish my book before it happens?

- via Dave Tompkins [ # ]

* * * * * *

"I don't do music all the time because I'm too busy writing operas. In the next 3 or 4 years you're going to see me put them on. Gothic opera with many insects. The operas are called gothic futurism and one's about 17 surgical assassins that kill planets and these guys have certain parts of their bodies cut off and had mechanisms put on. Like what I'm wearing. ... This is a gash-o-lear, it takes the AM and FM sound waves in the air and shoots them through the front. ... Sorry. This is drag strip shit. Once we turn that tape on for 22 minutes 14 seconds, it is nonstop speed, and every album from this one is going to get FASTER."

- interview, c. 1988 [ # ]

* * * * * *

Jeezus. I was in some kind of hole of my own digging and eventually crawled out to learn that I'd missed the news of Rammellzee's passing by over a month. A few passing thoughts that come to mind, by way of a belated, sketchy parting salute...

[[ Speaker dons helmet/headdress of paint-marker missiles, curb feelers, and half-melted Micronauts. Clears throat. Ahem... ]]

* * * * * * * *

As a crazy wisdom master supreme, Rammellzee surpassed those who came both before and after him. Those who followed in his wake? Kool Keith and M.F. Doom, for starters. Those who came before? The Afrofuturist triumvirate of Sun Ra, George Clinton, and Lee 'Scratch' Perry.1 Rammellzee was loosely considered heir to that legacy, said to have extended that inventive trinity's lineage by bringing it into hip-hop era. But there's a couple of problems with that equation. It's an unstable formula, the canon does not add-here.

Sun Ra's interstellar highways, Clinton's mothership connection, Perry's black ark...each a post-"space age" riffing off of the Exodus/"sweet chariot" metaphoric trope; throwing in for good measure a little bit of retooled mythology loosely derived, extrapolated and transmutated from Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad. Rammellzee, however, doubled down on the neo- mythological biz, and in doing so inverted the entire thrust of the prior narrative. But rather than going upward and outward, of seeking deliverance and redemption by way of vacating the planet, we will instead burrow down into the belly of the beast, into the culture of the here-now and disassemble it from within -- decoding its sundry systems, its transmissions of meaning and information, by way of esoteric morphologies & alternate histories, phantastic equations & competing pseudo-sciences. In this respect, Ramm's program was like post-colonial studies prefigured in advanced, and then flipped two centuries into a post-apocalyptic cityscape. Like who the fuck is this Jack Derrida, reputed tagmaster killa? That toy hasn't thrown up any burners in my area that I've seen. / And that sucker MC Darth Vader, he has no breath control...no breath control...

Whereas Ra and Clinton and Perry might've absorbed and extended the narratives of judeo-christian First World culture, Rammellzee opted for straight-up reanimated gnosis.2 Back to the sub-catacombs, to get hyperglyphic and to fortressize and armor oneself in the castoffs of junk culture, junk science, junk-speak, etc.3

Most significantly, Rammellzee doesn't share or fully follow in that Ra/Clinton/Perry legacy due to one major difference. He wasn't a maestro or impresario. He went out of his way to avoid attracting or recruiting or orchestrating disciples. Instead he retreated into his own reclusive sphere -- foregoing "cult" figurehood for an occultish existence. Effectively, being an "outsider" artist in a two-fold sense. Infrequent recording appearances, selling his art on an international but off-radar basis, and pretty much scrambling the circuits of everyone's sense-making capabilities on those occasions that he emerged in public. In that way, he insured his own obscurity while building his own mythic persona layer by layer; but it was all brilliant and wonderfully confounding to experience over the years, in the most inspiring of ways. I'm inclined to say an artistic entity of that type only comes around once in a lifetime.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

1. By now, this might seem like an obvious grouping by now -- dots too easily connected. But see how John Corbett originally fleshed it out in his "Brothers From Another Planet" essay of many years ago, as reprinted in this collection.
2. Invoking gnosticism, I mean this in the most heretical / inverted cosmologic / Philip K. Dick exegetic headfuck sense of the term.
3. In an ever-expanding sacrificial economy, person and thing/subject and object become one -- fused. I could wax theoretical on this idea alone for quite some time, but nevermind.

23 August 2010

Landscape, Blurred in Passing

Rereading Jean Baudrillard's America for the first time in about 20 years and am a bit aghast at how it now strikes me as thoroughly, overwhelmingly trite. Fleeting and cosmetic (and often inaccurate) observations, innumerable socio-historical misapprehensions, numbing redundancies and a barrage of slapdash abstractions that ring like instant clichés. At times it rivals Dave Hickey's rhapsodics on the ersatz wonderments of Las Vegas for sheer inanity.

There's the occasional glimmer of insight. "Americans believe in facts, but not in facticity." Fair enough, until the aphorism devolves into near gibberish:

"It is in this belief in facts, in the total credibility of what is done or seen, in this pragmatic evidence of things and an accompanying contempt for what may be called appearances ... that the Americans are a true utopian society in their religion of the fait accompli, in the naivety of their deductions, in their ignorance of the evil genius of things. ... All other societies contain within them some heresy or other, some dissidence, some kind of suspicion of reality, ... Here, there is no dissidence, no suspicion. The emperor has no clothes; the facts are there before us."

How many ways to unpack that one? Not worth the bother, really. Nevermind that it wildly contradicts a observation he may have made a few pages earlier, and yet another just a few pages after. Bloody tourists.

But it's not a complete wash-out. A few fairly strong passages here and there. About which, more on the alternate channel.

19 August 2010

Fad Damaged

By now I figured there was little left of the 1980s musical landscape that anyone would consider worth mining. Post-punk, mutant disco, dark disco, darkwave, synth-pop, chillwave, nu-age noise, etc. I guess I figured it was depleted beyond use when I heard the last album by These New Puritans -- what, will all its Test Dept-styled martial blasts and cadences which (aside from being pretty ham-fisted and awkward enough the first time around) make absolutely no sense when lifted ad hoc out of the context of Thatcherism. Effectively, a cluelessly over-reaching scrape of the bottom of the barrel; so perhaps, I reckoned, this means that artists will soon start looking for another cache to plunder. Nothing more to be gained here, time to move along.

Not that the 1980s were ever fully depleted, but I expected that there were some things that were just too quaint and peculiar to the decade to prompt recycling -- particularly the darker and more art-damaged ends of the spectrum. Passions (a.k.a. Mathhead) pointed the way in this direction with his "darkwave" mix from over a year ago. Featuring a lot of proto-goth material of a certain vintage, it was a pretty solid mix -- uptempo, tight, and erudite. (Additionally, it also offered a subtle reminder about how the roots of goth started out as little more than a glass-darkly redux of glam's attitude, bombast, and camp theatricality.)

Now comes a more humble mixset from Raime, a new artist whose first EP is due out soon as the maidenhead release from the Blackest Ever Black label. Falling on the hazier edge of the dubstep realm, the Raime tracks have a vaguely industrial tinge to them, the sort that vaguely brings to mind the memory of late-90s "dark-hop" minimalism. As far as the mix goes, it connects the dots between ramshackle post-punk austerity, early industrial murk, and electro brut-isms (via early Cabs, Ike Yard and Rema Rema). It points toward a certain passing aesthetic sensibility that resists aping or appropriating, if only because its severity and bleakness were too specific to its context. In a way, one can't help but be struck by the irony of it all -- the irony of recycling a specific musical styles of the early '80s post-punk era. Retro- cultural recycling has been a continuum all its own in recent decades. But at that particular moment in time, ground-zero experimentation and invention was the primary modus, because (many felt) the past offered nothing to be nostalgic about.*

Raime - "You Can't Hide Your Headcrack" mix


1. AC Marias – Some Thing [Mute, 1988]
2. Konstruktivits – Shadows Of White Sand [Third Mind, 1984]
3. The Danse Society – There Is No Shame In Death [Pax, 1981]
4. Konstruktivits – Shadows Of White Sand [Third Mind, 1984]
5. Cabaret Voltaire – The Voice of America / Damage Is Done [Rough Trade, 1980]
6. Psyche – On The Edge [New Rose, 1985]
7. The German Shepherds – I Adore You [M&S Music, 1985]
8. Arto Lindsay – Locus Coruleus [Editions EG, 1984]
9. Ike Yard – NCR [Factory America, 1982]
10. Metabolist – Tizhoznam [Drömm, 1980]
11. Rema-Rema – Fond Affections [4AD, 1980]

Mix download and track previews here.

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* I believe that, many years ago, Blixa Bargeld labeled this sort of attitude as "No-Go," saying something to the effect of, "When you've seen it all and done it all and none of it holds any appeal, all that's left is No-Go"

07 August 2010

Dregs of an Epoch

Or: Misc. abysmal & annoying stuff from the 1990s (a partial inventory)

  • "the End of History"
  • "The Contract With America"
  • Camille Paglia
  • globalism & its cheerleaders
  • the Kate Moss paradigm shift
  • cyber theory
  • pretty much every stripe of academic crit theory, really
  • anything having to do with O.J. Simpson
  • font fetishist illegibility (e.g. Raygun magazine & co.)
  • judgement-free pomo art criticism
  • The publishing explosion of Management Lit. (e.g. Who Moved My Cheese?)
  • "[insert name of city] is the next Seattle"
  • candyman doctors putting everyone I knew on prozac
  • Starbuck's ascendant
  • "happy hardcore"
  • dial-up internet
  • "Lewinskygate"
  • Dennis Rodman
  • Matthew Barney
  • the stfu over-ratedness of Quentin Tarantino
  • the Telecom Act
  • "Friends"
  • identity politics
  • anything "jiggy"

06 August 2010

Knob Tuning

Check, check...
One, two...one, two.

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