30 March 2011

Slates, Slags, Etc.

There's nothing so quaint as a manifesto. Artists don't write them like they used to.

And for good reason, because the idea of the manifesto is so very nineteenth-century. All polemics and oppositional decrees, tied inextricably to the notion of an artistic avant-garde. In those days, vanguardist movements usually had pretty comprehensive goals, usually intending to launch some enterprise that would -- in the name of cultural transformation -- encompass a number of disciples, media, or realms of creative activity (art, literature, music, theater, interior design, etc. etc.).

But the practice of issuing manifestos started to taper off about the early-mid twentieth century. Sure, certain groups like the Lettrists and CoBrA and the S.I. went the direction of publishing their own collaborative bulletins or journals. But increasingly, the tradition atomised into individual artist's statement and writings; like those of Ad Reinhardt, or the various explanatory texts produced by artists of the Minimalist or Conceptualist stripe. (With that latter one being it's own separate modus, actually.) Perhaps this unraveling traces back to Bataille and the big schism among the Surrealists; with Bataille dissenting from Breton's self-appointed leadership, and going off on his own to crank out volumes of theoretical writings that left his former colleagues in the dust.

One reason that manifestos fell by the wayside was the inherent theoretic glitch: that they tended to subordinate the arts to some a prior discursive component, if not to an overarching meta-narrative. All of which was to varying degrees rendered obsolete (e.g. quaint) as art developed throughout the twentieth century, as it pursued increasingly fragmented modes of discourse, practice, interrogation -- opting for methods that were less combative, more speculative, tangential and circumscriptive.

At any rate, I bring it up because of this; Terry Eagleton sounding off on the topic in the conext of reviewing the new volume 100 Artists’ Manifestos for the Times online. As a general gloss of the topic, it has its highlights...

"In this cultural revolution, two broad currents can be distinguished. The more positive strain of avant-gardism sought to transform human perceptions in order to adapt them to the new technological age. Avant-gardes tend to take root in societies still in the first flush of modernization, when the oppressive aspects of the new technologies are less obvious than the exhilarating ones. History is now skidding by so fast that the only image of the present is the future. Nothing is more typical of these activists than a mindless celebration of novelty – a brash conviction that an absolutely new epoch is breaking around them, that twentieth-century humanity is on the brink of greater, more rapid change than at any time in the past (they were to be proved right about that), and that everything that happened up to ten minutes ago is ancient history. How one would set about identifying absolute novelty is a logical problem that did not detain them."

...Although there's a lot else that could be said on the matter, but the bit about the "macho" element of it all was a welcome acknowledge. But the whole matter of its machismo ultimately points back to the initial notion of an avant-garde, which was militaristic in origin.

And there's also the argument to be made that the manifesto (in the artistic context, at least) was never much more than a PR release. Which is probably why after a certain point on manifestoes were mostly written for the sake of satirizing the act of writing a manifesto -- mocking the rhetoric and bombast of the whole conceit. As Eagleton points out, this is where the Dadaists enter the picture. Of that lot, I'm a bit partisan to the Berlin division. More specifically, I'm pretty fond of Raoul Hausmann, whose "Return to Objectivity in Art" (ca. 1920-ish) ranks as one of my favorite faux-polemics ever...

"Art is a question of nations. Nationality is the difference between polenta, bouillabaisse, povidla, roast beef, pirogi and dumpling soup. Thus it is important to lend art a national character, in order to exploit these gastronomic subtleties, which could establish a better art than Expressionism, for example, from an international standpoint. Objectively, it is impossible to eat minestrone or bouillabaisse while dabbling in mysticism, or to confuse pirogi with clarity -- all this is a question of the gastronomic climate and therefore the brain, which functions differently in Russia than it does in Italy. [...] A nation like Italy, with its veal, its polenta and its red wine, must always tend towards clarity in worldly situations, whereas the German, by contrast, with his soups and buttered bread and beer, has achieved only that repulsive darkening of things called Expressionism. The first Expressionist, a person who discovered 'inner freedom,' was the gluttonous and drunken Saxon, Martin Luther. It was he, regrettably, who made the German turn toward an inexplicable 'subjectivity,' mendacity, a juggling with imaginary torments, abysses of the 'soul' and its power, as well as a base servility in the face of magical authority. He is the father of Kant, Schopenhauer and the current artistic nonsense that stares through the world and in doing so considers it subdued. His clearest expression, after all, is frankfurters, which only arose, by the way, as a protest against the Jewish view of reality, just as anything German exhibiting the the slightest degree of clarity is manipulated out of protest and not out of any grasp of reality, or of the human condition. [...] Goethe's clouds reappear in an expressionist art of enigma, of gastric disorders. One may counter these abstract airs with Courbet's dictum: 'Paint angels? -- Yes, if you've seen angels,' and rejoice in the prospect of naturalness, of moderation in food and drink that here reveals itself, even though Courbet liked a beer from time to time."

It goes on like that at length. And of course is best understood in the context of Germany after the first World War, with all its escalating nationalism and jingoism, as well as in in the context of Die Neue Sachlichkeit -- with Hausmann taking the piss out of the former while making a case for the latter.

28 March 2011


And now it's probably best that I let this thing slow down for a spell. Easing back into a lower gear for a brief duration.

Working on something for elsewhere, which has ballooned into something a bit mega than I'd expected, and which I'm now trying to wrestle into a more manageable size/word-count. (A "director's cut" version might appear herewise...unless I decide that its outtakes don't deserve to remain so.)

Plus there's some lengthier pieces for this channel, continuations of parts I's and II's of riffs & whatnot that I floated out from the docks a while back, only to let them drift off into limbo. And which I really should get back to.

Not to mention that I also got roped into a freelance gig that'll be keeping me busy in the weeks to come. And, of course, that actually pays.

So: More later. Perhaps a lot more...just less frequently.

22 March 2011

Habitat, II

Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong. Cross-section illustrations from a Japanese architectural expedition, shortly before the city's demolition by Chinese authorities in 1994.

Account of the expedition here. Mere about the city here and here.

Images via the January edition of Fascimile.

21 March 2011

Another Music in a Different Kitchen, II

A recent posting by a friend brings this site to my attention. The site features real-time police radio from a handful of major cities, intermixed with a selection of selection of tunes randomly drawn from a database of ambient music. My former locale of Chicago is among the cities included thus far. The last residence I had there, situated on the southside, had more than its share of ambience -- what, between the buses and 18-wheelers and police cars that made up the constant traffic on the main avenue outside my window, plus the incessant sirens due to the fact that I lived directly around the corner from both a fire station and a hospital ER. And in the occasional lulls between all that, in the warmer months there'd be humorous shrieks and trills from the flocks of monk parakeets that nested in the park across the street.

The first thing that the site brings to mind is that it's clearly modeled after the work of the artist Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud). With his early releases under the Scanner moniker -- via the Ash International label in the early-mid 1990s -- Rimbaud briefly became a sensation in the experimental music community with his amorphous, open-ended electronic compositions, with various voices and conversations randomly pulled from all the airwaves, drifting into in and out of the mix....

Diffuse narratives and the incidental details of a myriad lives, all indeterminately overlapping and intermingling in the ether.* Of course, it also had its more sinister subtheme, with the implications of audio voyeurism, eavesdropping and surveillance lurking on the project's periphery.

It all links up with the profusion of a certain sonic sub-subtrend I've noticed these past few years. Case in point, the proliferation of websites devoted to "sonic mapping" that have cropped up in recent years -- interactive sites trafficking in contributed field recordings and audio landmarks from localations from across the globe, especially those drawn from urban settings. It's as if a couple of things have happened within the past 5-8 years, those being that (a) R. Murray Schafer's notions concerning soundscaping and acoustic ecology have gained increased traction some _ decades after the fact, combined with (b) Lefebvrian theories about the social production of space and place have recently filtered into the sound-art community.

Speaking of such stuff, back in September the London-based website Sound and Music invited Chicago sound artist Olivia Block to contribute to their "Places" series, with Block offering up her own sonic guide to the city. Many of the landmarks she cited (Lampo, Enemy, Empty Bottle, ESS, etc.) would be obvious to anyone who knows the city's leftfield music scene. I was, however, pleased to see that she included the Harry Bertoia sounding sculpture which is located off of Randolph and Michigan, across from Millennium Park...

About a decade ago, I worked in an office building next door to this thing. When weather permitted, I often go out and have my lunch under the thing; afterwards stretching out on the marble slabs, listening to the water in the nearby fountain, hearing the metallic sounds of the sculpture's rods pinging and ringing against each other in the breeze, the reverberating vibrations from the iron traveling out from the foundations of the piece, into and up through the marble beneath me. Very pleasant, very cool. Seemed that not too many people I met knew about the piece, or ever noticed it.

Block has a new recording out on the 12k label, one in which she's part of what amounts to a sort of experimental sonic supergroup -- a quartet that involves her, Steve Roden, Stephen Vitiello, and Molly Berg, all of them operating under the collective moniker of Moss. Essentially it amounts to an EP release, featuring a single 24-minute live track in which the ensemble summons up an improvised drone-folk driftwork of the Jewelled Antler/Charalambides/Lichens variety. And very nice as such things go.

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* Admittedly, I always wondered if this phase of Rimbaud's work wasn't (perhaps?) inspired by some of the sequences in Wenders's Der Himmel über Berlin.

20 March 2011

Another Music in a Different Kitchen

Steve Reich, "Clapping Music," 1972.
Video editing by Peter van der Ham, 2005.

"Beginning," by Peter Donabauer, 1974.

"Shutter Interface," by Paul Sharits, 1975.
(2009 installation view at Greene Naftali Gallery, New York)

Bee Mask, live @ Pageant Soloveev, Philadelphia, 2009.

Odd thing, that I often find my reading and listening habits are subject to seasonal shifts, prone to distinct zags as the weather transitions into autumn, winter, spring, summer. I'd be surprised if I'm alone, in this respect. Often these detours come with an awareness that I'm suffering from some sort of imbalance -- some literary or audio dietary deficiency (so to speak) from having neglected certain stimuli, of having let this or that sort of thing lapse or sit too long on the shelf untouched.

Which brings us to the clips above, a few scattered items I encountered as I've been retracing some footsteps. Each of the clips having a certain "classical" status or character. Bee Mask, I'll confess, are new to me. The performance clip here interest me because of its surprising and severe neo-anachronistic quality, the way it connects with a certain long-established that I'm surprised to see anyone's taken much of an interest in. That tradition being a particular strain of early electronic variety -- minimal, droningly tantric, of the "academic" mid-1960s pedigree (à la the Pauline Oliveros, Joji Yuasa, Otto Luening electro-acoustic altschul lineage). Just the type of thing I'd use as a "base element" for a long, multilayered mix back when I was co-hosting a "noise"/experimental music radio show in Chicago some years back -- the primary thread to mix atop and around as I/we'd work our way toward having all 3 turntables and 3 CD players going at once, working the mixing board all the while.

More to follow.

The Ownership Society

"The peculiar psychopathology, or 'culture,' of the poor was (and still is) thought to be defined by two related traits: 'present time orientation' and an insufficiently developed 'deferred gratification pattern' (or 'DGP,' as some sociologists put it handily). In simpler words, the poor person lived for the moment, unable to think ahead, to save or to plan for the future. These were the very opposite of the traits the middle class liked to ascribe to itself -- self-discipline, a strong super-ego, an ability to plan ahead to meet self-imposed goals, and so forth. [...]

Leaving aside the psychiatric jargon, a person who lives entirely in the present, unable to wait for the next anticipated pleasure, is, of course, a child. The conceit of the poor as children has an ancient, aristocratic heritage. In mid-[twentieth]century America, it was bolstered by the perception of poverty as a vestigial condition, something 'left over' that did not really belong in an affluent, modern world. Mass poverty seemed to belong in the historical past; along with the Depression, sweatshops, dirt farms, labor struggles. And what belongs in the historical past is easy to confuse with the personal past -- which is, for all of us, childhood. The invented poor, the inhabitants of the culture of poverty, were not so much 'present-oriented' as trapped in the past, unable or unwilling to 'grow up,' as the middle class had, into the ever-available, up-to-date affluence."

[ source ]

18 March 2011

Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.

In the Age of Reagan, we were ambivalent about our recent past. Of two minds about the 1960s, in particular. Depending on who you talked to, it had been the era when things had briefly made a concerted lurch in the right direction; or it was a time when the culture and the nation as a whole had lost its way, had misguidedly strayed down numerous blind alleys.

But on one thing we could agree: that the 1970s truly sucked. 'What an awful, empty, ugly decade,' everyone said, shaking their heads in bemusement, relieved to have left it behind. Crap economy, crap politics, shallow culture, dodgey music, and atrocious fashions.

Really, what were we thinking?

16 March 2011

'Architecture is in exile now'

"While the whole system is pushing every community to act under the rules of market, capitalism, consumption, there have been appearing situations that show something is going wrong. Under a fictional goal of global economic stability, the IMF has been applying its own ideology based upon the Western economy, where production and income are more important than human relations. This fact has led to situations where every man is not perceived as a citizen but as a salary man, and his home is nothing more than a product determined by financial rules rather than relational links."

Cities of Tomorrow as ghost communities of today, the end of Spain's housing boom, and the art of Emilio López-Galiacho. "Not even God lives here." Via dpr-barcelona.

'We entered the forest, followed its winding paths, and emerged blind.'

The Blackest Ever Black label have a new mixset available, via the recent guest podcast over at Pontone. As with past editions, it's a mix tracks of both bygone and recent vintage, all of it geared toward a particular sort of mood(iness) that the fledgling label embodies. Early '80s proto-goth, industrial and cold electro, to more current artists who work in a comparable vein, and even a brief something from the Ghost Box catalog. Most surprising inclusion for me is to see a track from the 1980s Spanish outfit Mecanica Popular, whose track "Daguerrotipo" sounds like 23 Skidoo in neo-tribal/urban gamelan mode remixed over a lopsided Burial-style beat.

I'd missed the label's previous mixtape, The Scold's Bridle; but it's still available from the label's blog, here. Comparable to the above item, and it includes a couple of curious overlaps to a mix I posted here some months ago.

Related, BEB flagship artist Raime also have a new mixset that's streaming at Sónar. And extended version of the set will supposedly be available for download and lmt-ed release later in the year sometime.

Those guys versus Dem guys

Thought I'd read somewhere that Raime were aiming to release a debut full-length sometime in the coming year, but now I'm thinking that may be incorrect. Not sure. At any rate, there's the matter of Demdike Stare, whose releases made it onto a number of people's Best of 2010 year-end lists -- even on those by some critics who previously hadn't seemed all that enthusiastic about the duo's EPs. So I was amused when Loki at Idiot's Guide to Dreaming recently popped up with his assessment, if only because it more or less echoed what I'd been wondering for months. That being: what's with all the excitement? Judging from the responses, seems I was hardly alone. And Simon also jumped in and concurred. (I'm not sure, however, if I follow Simon's verdict of DS doing hauntology-by-the-numbers, if only because I think Simon's take on the whole hauntological aesthetic might be somewhat broader and inclusive than my own. Not sure.)

At any rate, my previous conjecture on the matter was that Demdike Stare (et al.) must be bringing something to the table for certain listeners, providing something that's been overwhelmingly absent from the musical palette in recent years -- hence the reason some people are getting so worked up about them, greeting their output so eagerly. As for myself, it's not that I dislike DS. For all intents and purposes, their work falls very squarely in an area -- in a particular niche or type of sound -- that I've long gravitated toward, Still, I've found much of their output rather wanting in many respects. Firstly, there's the fact that I find them covering territory that was already pretty thoroughly explored by experimental electronic artists not too many years ago (say 10-15). That being the case, I hear very little to suggest that DS have decided to re-engage that marginal 'nuum and push it forward or in a new direction, to pick up where it left off before the audience for such "dark" fare dwindled. Rather, it just seems like someone's just reusing the same old shopworn boilerplate. One part 'isolationist ambient' to one part Muslimgauze's Hamas Arc.* (Or, to make a more contempo comparison, it's like a dark, droning, cavernous inversion of Pantha du Prince's tinkly, en plein air pastoralisms.)**

Add to the above that it seems that most everything I've heard by the outfit sounds like it could've used a little more time up on the blocks. Underconceived and underdeveloped, sometimes falling a little short of seamlessness in its execution, often failing to build on its base elements or iddeas. Not sure if this impression of patchiness and slightness is an intentional aesthetic move on their part, or could just be attributed to them being a work in progress and farting out too much product a little too quickly. Either way, it ends up coming a little too close to being audio wallpaper.

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* As I believe one commenter at Idiot's Guide may have pointed out, Shackleton's been covering very similar ground recently, and achieving far more engaging results.
** Which in itself could, in turn, be described as not much more than Wolfgang Voigt with a set of windchimes.

Post title taken from this. Thanks to wood s lot.

14 March 2011

Auto-Environments, II

Despite my glib remarks of earlier -- yes, there are certain sensibilities (aesthetic, cultural, temperamental, etc.) that are very specific to their era. Possessing an character whose "aura" can't be revived or duplicated via any degree of retro- recycling, can't be fully accessed or comprehended once its moment has passed and faded. It's what we talk about when we use the term zeitgeist -- the distinct and definitive hallmarks of a given epoch, and how they were formulated or embodied across the spectrum of cultural artifacts (be they archetypal or anomalous).

The images featured here and in the previous post are from the portfolio of the Archigram group, a firm of designers who were active in London throughout the 1960s. Plenty more where those came from in the Archigram Archival Project, here.

It was an problematic decade for architecture, the 1960s -- a pivotal decade. One could argue that it was the decade in which modernism's momentum began to run aground. Sure, plenty of modernist architecture was still being designed and erected. But by this point, it had settled into orthodoxy and redundancy -- as manifest in rote, unimaginative reiterations of standard formulae and a proliferation of bland, by-the-numbers designs.

It was a schizophrenic era as well, because a next-gen of theorists and practitioners were entering the field, many of who were dissatisfied with the status quo and viewed modernist ideas as obsolete and insufficient for addressing the dynamics of needs and dynamics of contemporary society. The problem with modernism, some argued, was that it was predicated on bygone notions of social evolution and a misguided faith in the inevitable course of industrial development. Like some of their peers, the architects behind Archigram viewed late-capitalist, consumer society with a degree of critical skepticism, yet still ventured to incorporate many of its vernacular elements into it own proto- postmodern style of designerly "adhocism." Concerned with the difficulties posed by an increasing concentration of urban populations, the Archigram architects envisioned solutions that emphasized a modular (and podular) approach to architecture and urban growth, for a future in which populations would become increasingly mobile and nomadic -- as exemplified in the group's noted designs for Walking and Plug-In cities.

Unabashedly "avant garde" and "visionary" in nature, many of the projects dreamed up and designed by some of this 1960s new breed were wildly speculative proposals, and existed far outside the realms of likelihood or viability. The work of Archigram -- as well as that of Superstudio and similar visionary design groups of the time -- bring to mind the following passage, recently encountered in James Wines's book De-architecture:

"Many of the functionalist considerations of Modernism survived the 1960s, but the sources of imagery had shifted away from technology and toward human values. Naturally the course of architecture and its attendant theories mirrored the social unrest of the times... While most design manifestos shared the decade emotional fervor and idealism, they also compounded its impotence. Youthful architects... [believed that architecture] should be reclaimed by the people as a statement as a statement of individual identity and ecological responsibility, reversing the trend of cities and suburbs that were devoured by the greed of industrial capital. ...

[T]he young revolutionaries of the 1960s never managed to find an architectural vocabulary that could both change society and offer viable schemes of construction. Instead, their work took the form of eccentric and exotic proposals, such as suburbs of tents and inflatables and horizontal megacities running for hundreds of miles. Like other charismatic radicals of the 1960s..., these designers had their hearts in the right place. But they left no sustained or profoundly influential philosophical heritage. Architects of the era asked many provocative questions and demanded revolutionary changes. Then, for reasons of choice, economics, or failed creativity, they built only a few conventional structures, or didn't build at all.

At the very least, all of this constituted a growing recognition of the changing course of social development (and, by extension, social and human needs). In retrospect, one might conclude that it was still unclear -- at the time -- in what ways society was changing. It could be argued that the idealism behind the work of groups like Archigram didn't constitute a sufficiently radical break from the utopian and futurist ideals of early modernism. Wildly imaginative in many ways, they also perpetuated some of modernism's most myopic attributes, chiefly its blinkered faith in technological progress -- unquestioningly presupposing an innate capacity for unlimited growth and copious resources, the assumption that the pre-existing arc of socio-economic progress would remain unbroken.

12 March 2011

Auto-Environments, I

As sheer coincidence had it, among the first courses I took in a grad-school was a seminar on "Art of the 1970s." It was taught by a British expat who was something of a walking encyclopedia of Fluxus, and an active member of the international Neoist society. Early on, he informed us, "The period we will be covering is, thus far, incredibly under-documented and neglected in terms of scholarship and art history; so there's a chance that any research that end up doing into certain avenues might amount to primary research.

He also advised us, "One thing you have to bear in mind when you're researching anything from this general period or reading an artist's writings is that everyone was doing tons of drugs."

Which probably amounts to a sweeping generalization. Maybe, maybe not. Still, if that wasn't the case, looking back one does get the sense that those who weren't were operating by way of a pervasive cultural contact high.

More about the above shortly, in part two.

11 March 2011

Everything's AOR

A little dearth in activity on this end, on account of being out of town, fighting off the threat of a seasonal malady, and just generally recalibrating on a few things. A few things for the outboard spots -- small, tangential, music-related. First, a casual overview of the work of James 'Blood' Ulmer, which was prompted by the big "guitar solo" theme they've been doing the past two weeks. (The a similar thing about guitar riffs last year.) Everyone's been joining into this one -- Carl, Wayne, even Dominic Fox, and Simon has (once again) run off with the ball on his own arc, going so far as to field a wide array of associates and musicians on the matter.

Additionally, a couple of choices from the 1970s punk canon, as well as some sidenotes on the whole matter of geetar solos (a and b).

Update / Addendum: Admittedly, this is all a little (as they say) "outside my comfort zone." For the most part, solos (in rock, anyway) have never been something I've gravitated to, ever given much consideration. I mean, I think the breaks or solos when they somehow manage to extend the energy or melody of a tune, yet somehow also do a little work with expanding upon or even compressing it. But I never regarded it as a thing-in-itself, regarded it in any other terms than in relation to the overall gestalt of a song/composition. Like I said, I often feel like I'm missing a key chromosome in this area.

So it's funny to read Simon more-or-less echoing some of my own ambivalence on the matter. There's plenty I might add in terms of the history of such stuff, but yes I believe he's narrowing in on the crux of it all by suspecting that Hendrix and the Brit blues-rock scene of the 1960s played a big part in steering things in a particular direction. As far as his remarks about such tendencies being largely absent in rock's early day, I'm not so sure. Having once (and very briefly) owned a copy of the album below, I'm inclined to say it was there (kinda, sorta...implicitly) in some form or another from the start...

...When you bring Jimi Hendrix and the blues-rock movement into the matter, however, a few problematic issues arise. Greg Tate addressed one such issue as it related to the former some years ago (and suffered a backlash from Hendrix worshipers as a result), and Phil Knight recently floated out a highly interesting, unorthodox take on the latter buried in one of his recent posts over at Faces on Posters.

01 March 2011

Slouching Monuments

Yet another series of works of the Bunker Archeology variety. This time by photographer Guillaume Amat, from his "Nébuleuse" series of 2007.

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