31 January 2011

Airwave Dreams (or: Pink Guitars vs. the Negative Dialectic)

A bit belatedly, finally getting around to giving Jim/James Ferraro's On Air and Night Dolls with Hairspray a proper listen. I've been enjoying them, or (more accurately) finding them highly interesting and sweetly warped.

At any rate, On Air has its share of retrograde synthscapery à la Boards of Canada, Ghost Box, Oneohtrix Point Never -- yknow, the base ingredients for damn near the entire menu at the "glo-fi"/"chill-wave"/hypnagogic noodleshop, of late. Or it has it in parts. But the rewarding moments, for me, are the more lo-fi guitar-oriented, collage-y stretches; the tracks that come across as some crude aural facsimile to the act of tooling around the radio dial sometime about 1986 or so. The cultural mulchifying in these parts is pretty first-rate, in an amusingly wonky way. Sure, it owes much of its modus to an idiomatic loop-based construction, the sort what's been around for ages in one form or another, and what Black Dice help put over to larger audiences in recent years. In fact, some portions of On Air remind me of the more delirious and playful moments from the latter's catalog...

But really, all the ironic cultural reference points and supposed hauntological retro-rama recycling aside, if I get any major sense of deja vu from the thing, it's that much of it uncannily reminds me (in general style and spirit, at least) of The Residents' Third Reich 'n Roll. The Residents' album, naturally, is of a completely different era and pedigree, falling much closer and mostly in line with the whole Freak Out! school of pop satire.1, 2

But it gets back to thinking about the whole "hauntological" aesthetic, as its been delineated in certain quarters. It seems some more discussion and explications have passed under the bridge since the last time I was paying much attention. In which case, perhaps doing some catching up is in order before I start winding up for a pitch.

Anyway, speaking of uncanny resemblances and loop-based compositions, someone recently brought this to my attention, which very strongly put me in mind of this favorite artist, except some years before the fact.

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1 Admittedly, Ferraro's musical aims may be little or no different from what the Residents had in mind at the time -- i.e., a type of sardonic shredding of pop music's past. The difference being that when the Residents did it, it didn't dovetail into any emerging theoretical discussion, didn't fall within any sort discursive context or overarching aesthetic rubric, because there was no such thing or anything remotely like it at the time. One key difference being, however, that the Residents were dismembering the hits of the (then-)
recent past, whereas Ferraro is revisiting the sounds of an era of a more distant past -- the era that fell (I'm guessing) about or just before the date of his own birth. That latter aspect being something that I expect will factor into my next post on the matter.

2. Placing Third Reich 'n Roll in the Freak Out! tradition is an pretty obvious choice, I suppose -- what, given its proximity (in terms of style, time, geographics) to the formative pop-parodic work of Zappa and Beefheart. But it could be strongly argued that TRnR falls more squarely in the realm of proto-punk/postmodern sensibilities of the 1970s, but a sort that smacks of po-mo ironic distanciation and critical self-awareness. From the sound of it, with TRnR the Residents were having a lot of fun dismembering the hits of the 1960s. But the album's energy and jouissance is at times undergirded by a purgative, exorcistic sense of urgency at times; as if by scraping the music of the prior decade, the Residents were also dismantling the decade's myths -- the varied myths of progress and naive utopianism. Along with these myths, so to with the notion of pop/rock music as a cultural product of supposed socio-political significance; with the Residents opting treating the 1960s hit parade as nothing more than a menagerie of commodified fantasies and desires.

And in relation to all this looking-back-on-looking-forward business is concerned, one could situate all of this into the context of the emergent nostalgia industry in the 1970s, particularly in punk/po-mo relation to the release of the Lenny Kaye-complied Nuggets anthology. But I've probably gotten too digressively off-track as it is, so best to leave it as it is for now.

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