27 October 2011

Nobody Here (The Marinettis Bring Home a Computer)

So, after months of wanting to read it and sounding off on the topic myself, I only recently got around to reading Simon's Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. Thoroughly enjoyed it, of course. Simon's book covers its topic from a variety of angles, and offers a lot to mull over. Far too much to go into here, actually. But I might have a point or two to address.

But one surprise, for me, was the few pages devoted to highlighting the artist Oneohtrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin) in the early stretch of the book. I'd long been taken with Lopatin's music, but am even moreso now that I learn about Lopatin and the ideas that inform his music. Quoting from the book:

"...Yet the speed of technological advance means that each beloved machine is rendered obsolete with ruthless rapidity. With individuals and businesses throwing out info-tech every two to three years, obsolete computers are a huge environmental problem. ...'I'm super into the idea that that the rapid-fire pace of capitalism is destroying our relationships to objects. All this drives me back, but what drives me back is a desire to connect, not to relive things. It's not nostalgia.' He argues that the idea of 'progress' itself is driven by the economic imperatives of capitalism as by science or human creativity. In a 2009 manifesto-like article, he decries the fixation on linear progress, proposing instead the opening up of 'spaces for ecstatic regression. ...We homage the past to mourn, to celebrate, and to time travel.'"

The cited article, "synthemas and notes 1", can be found here and it offers a deeply interesting read. As a manifesto-ish text, it provides an explanation as for a specific semantics of sound. Lopatin begins by describing his attraction to synthesizers, particularly those of a certain vintage, due to their sonic capacity for suggesting "allegorical landscapes." This ability, he states, is the result of the instrument's own limitations -- the "grain" of its sound being the product of the instrument "striv[ing] and fail[ing] at mimetic representation." The act of creation becomes the act of exploring the abilities (but chiefly the limits and flaws) of the gear's "closed-circuit universe." "The more you enjoy process, limitation and defeat," he muses, "the more potential there is for chance and adventure."

The idea or aim of achieving any degree of originality in this process isn't a factor, since the notion of originality is little more than a threadbare modernist notion, a notion that too often is found riding shotgun with the problematic idea of dynamic and relentless progress. "If our generation can be defined artistically in a single way," he offers:

"It is that of the collector-archivist. We are naturally disposed towards nostalgia, and deep freeze cultural informatics is our greatest cybernetic feat. To understand the euphoria and confusion of my generation is to loop the part of Bill & Ted’s in which Beethoven rips a decisively Steve Vaiesque guitar solo on a synthesizer, and thus we intrinsically understand the nature of the eternal rip."

The reasons for doing so being that:

"The lessons of the past are moments in time that are eternally engaged, and the ability to transmit and interact with ~previous systems~ is evidence of the deep melancholy which arises from our inability to stop time just long enough to experience it."

Which perhaps sounds a bit bleak to some, if not like conceding aesthetically bankruptcy in the face of a cultural/creative impasse -- endlessly staring back down the avenue that led to a certain "postmodern" dead-end. About which I have some further thoughts, but they'll have to wait for another post.

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