31 January 2013

Berlin, 1983

Back in the mid-Eighties, MTV was prone to running some British programing in the late evenings on Sunday. This started with the short-lived Some Bizarre Show, eventually switched over to episodes of The Comic Strip Presents and The Young Ones. And for a brief while in 1985, they relayed the BBC Channel Four music program The Tube. Hosted by Jools Holland, the show provided was an opportunity to catch groups like the Durutti Column or the Three Johns -- artists that I long heard of, but (living where I did) had yet to hear.

But this special West Berlin edition of the show from 1983 aired in the UK a couple of years before MTV even picked the program up. With expat Mark Reeder serves as a guide, the show tours the city during its latter, divided days as "an island in a red sea." A number of notable artists from the early '80s Berlin music scene turn up throughout -- some excerpts from films by the conceptual performance art/music trio Die Tödliche Doris, as well as Die Haut, Malaria!, some really nice live footage of Einstürzende Neubauten, plus a few others (Die Toten Hosen, et al) whose music or reputations never drifted beyond German borders. Elvis Costello turns up briefly but doesn't have much to contribute, there's a chance encounter with Christiane F. in a nightclub, and the show even makes an effort to feature a little material from the other side the Wall...

Caveat: Portions of the audio -- music, specifically -- have either washed out in parts, or were scrubbed to avoid copyright issues. Hence the dodgey soundtrack with the Bowie bit at the beginning, and why the Malaria! clip goes completely silent.

[ via ]

Between Ideation and Agitation

Some interesting reading, of late...

The past two online editions of the e-flux journal feature the first two installments of a panel discussion on "Conceptual Art and Eastern Europe." Hosted by Zdenka Badovinac, the panel features -- as one would expect -- Boris Groys as well as a number of curators and writers from across Eastern Europe. From the first portion, in which the participants discuss the nature of conceptual art in Soviet bloc countries during the 1960s-1980s, and its differences from the same as it appeared in the West:

CH: [...] When modernism breaks down, it does so in more or less the same way everywhere. That’s to say that the aesthetically authorizing processes are giving way, leaving behind whatever authority they may or may not have. On the other hand, I think we have to be very careful not to fall into the wider sense of Conceptual art as a means of ratifying anything that looks like avant-garde practice.

ZB: This is the crucial question.

BG: That is a really interesting point. In fact, this kind of shift from the form or image to a kind of theoretical interpretation, which was crucial in the 1960s in the work of Conceptual artists, could never have taken place in the Soviet context, where this pure visual form was never taken into consideration. That means that the most recognizable aspect of these Soviet artists’ work was primarily their ideological intention.

CH: Not that the idea of pure visuality is not ideological...

BG: It was ideological, but immediately recognized and understood as such. That means the political attitude of an artist was the first thing you identified when you saw the work, from the initial Russian avant-garde to the end of the entire period of Soviet art. If you saw something like pure form, it probably meant that the artist was anti-Soviet. The work was based on the premise that ideological content and interpretation were everything. As there was no market, no connoisseurship, the visual quality as such was nothing. At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s people like Kabakov, Komar & Melamid, and others began to diversify, differentiate, and mix these ideological contexts.They started to develop interpretations that were non-pro, non-con, non-anti. It was a deconstructivist practice, which in effect amounted to the same thing as the Western Conceptual art. It was a different kind of shift, from a very strictly ordered ideological system of interpretation to a free-floating, ironical, and deconstructive interpretation. And to invent this type of interpretation, to undermine this strict order of ideology, was the main goal of the artists inside the circle. So, Western and Eastern European practices are comparable on this level, but very different on the other level. There was the market, connoisseurship, and concentration on pure form in the West, while in the East there was a very rigid ideological context with a very rigid system of interpretation.

At one point, Groys addresses the matter of "exoticism" in relation to Soviet and Eastern European conceptualism; which is a thorny criticism that has sometimes arisen in discussions of the work of K&M, Ilya Kabakov, and others over the years.

The conference dates back to 2007, taking place as Badovinac was starting to amass the Arteast 2000+ collection for the Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana. Of interest is the presence of British art historian (and career-long Art & Language affiliate) Charles Harrison, who passed away in 2009. The first portion appears here, the second here, with the third to be posted in the journal's next edition.

Bringing things into a more current context in the latest edition is Keti Chukhrov's related essay "Epistemological Gaps between the Former Soviet East and the 'Democratic' West." Chukhrov examines the social dimensions of artistic activity in post-Soviet society, particularly citing the slippery role of "subversive" and "transgressive" acts as they relate to recent scandalous works by Russian art groups such as Voina and Pussy Riot:

"In such conditions, it becomes important to develop an analysis that evades both Cold War discourse and nostalgia alike. While Foucault’s cultural archeology did this for Western European disciplinary societies, this kind of work—apart from certain sporadic efforts—has not fully addressed post-Soviet societies. Why is it necessary? Why can’t we simply claim to be part of the global pro-Western democracy, where even terms such as 'Former West' are used to describe itself?

"The ethical differences between historical socialism and Western liberal democracy or its critical traditions arise not so much from ex-socialist authoritarian Politbureau decisions as from deeply different epistemological interpretations and treatments of crucial philosophical notions of consciousness, the unconscious, power, culture, psychics, the idea, the ideal, the common, and freedom."

In the final portion of the essay, Chukhrov discusses of the place of "interventionist" art practices in the wider post-Soviet culture in relation to the "urgent necessity for non-utilitarian values in the life of a society," by way of Russian philosopher Evald Ilyenkov's "dialectics of the Ideal" as it relates to cultural subjectivity and everyday life.

29 January 2013

The War Effort (Hoarding)

* * * *

image: "Model airplanes decorate the ceiling of the train concourses at Union Station, Chicago": photo by Jack Delano, February 1943. From the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, U.S. Library of Congress [via]. T/b cross-referenced with Chris Burden's "All the Submarines of the United States of America" (1987).

Some Diagnoses

Varied and conflicting as they may be...

Barbara Rose:

"Perhaps the devolution of the role of art criticism is inevitable in a declining culture where propaganda, branding, and marketing have replaced measured analysis and discourse and the Museum of Modern Art, once the temple of purity, now resembles nothing so much as a suburban mall. But how could it be otherwise since museums today are run like corporations and the law is that the corporation must grow or die? How it grows, on the other hand, is another matter."

Pepe Karmel:

"The cottage industry of 'critical theory' exists largely to sustain the illusion of an avant-garde. Compensating for the absence of formal innovation, critical theory allows critics to categorize works of art as 'new' because they bear witness to hidden, gnostic truths. This would be a useful activity if only most 'critical theory' were not so strikingly uncritical. Art writers cite Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Bruno Latour and Jacques Rancière as if their writings were gospel. Alas, most of the theories associated with these authors fall into the category of what Paul Krugman calls 'zombie' ideas: theories that have been rejected by an overwhelming majority of scholars in their discipline of origin, but that continue to attract adherents in other fields."

Hal Foster:

"...Not all critique depends on correct distancing. Estrangement à la Brecht is not correct in this sense, and there are interventionist models in art (from Dada to the present) in which critique is produced immanently (e.g., Situationist détournement). As for the other old charges (which come mostly from the Left), they boil down to two in the end: critique is driven by a will to power, and it is not reflexive about its own claims to truth. Often enough two fears drive these two accusations: on the one hand, a concern about the critic as 'ideological patron' who displaces the very group or class that he represents...; and, on the other, a concern about the scientific truth ascribed to critical theory in opposition to 'spontaneous ideology'.... Such fears are not misbegotten, but are they reason enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater?"

Christian Viveros-Faune:

"Art's position vis-à-vis the market is the most important issue for art criticism to address today. Put in Andy Warhol lingo, the question is this: After 'the best kind of art' becomes 'business art,' what then? How can art possibly reassume a critical position in the culture after the total commercialization of the avant-garde?"

David Humphrey:

"Politics; as much as ever! Someone’s got to do it, but I’d rather talk about art institutions over a beer and keep my writing focused on artworks."

Art writers weighing in at the Brookyln Rail, in response to Irving Sandler's recent invitational panel-by-proxy essay, "Art Ciriticism Today."

28 January 2013

Implanted Memories

Bumped into this recently -- "Memorex," by some Brooklyn "music video" outfit calling itself Smash TV.

In which the the Dan Lopatin/Oneohtrix Point Never/Sunsetcorp hauntological "eccojam" modus of a few years ago gets reduced to a mere mannered style or aesthetic unto itself. A sort of design-minded, winkingly-ironic megamontage, amounting to extended celebration of the technology of the 1980s; of bygone entertainment and its obsolete delivery systems, its means of presentation. (A parade of empty signifiers. What would the Spectacle be, after all, without all those logos and animated graphics?) Without the skrewd'd, glitchy, hypnagogic quality -- mostly scrubbed of "noise," whenever possible. Quasi-nostalgia hinging on nothing more than novelty and quaintness, sans any supposed socio-cultural ambivalence or melancholy. Not that that sort of thing wasn't inevitable, I suppose; but there you have it.

Big teased hair and padded shoulders? Check. White people trying to breakdance? Check. Mel Gibson running? Check. Ronald McDonald seems to be the main recurring motif, throughout. I suppose if I'd stuck around long enough, the California Raisins would've put in an appearance, but I didn't.

File under: retro-kitsch.

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

Belated afterthought/footnote: I reckon the incessant appearance of McDonalds (& etcetera) in the above could be considered unintentionally ironic, especially considering the decade in question. The year of 1980 saw a comprehensive legal relaxation of restrictions on television advertising to children in the U.S.. Naturally, a boom in advertising to children followed, with marketing firms devoting larger resources to researching and developing strategies for target-marketing to younger and younger viewers. So in a way, I guess the above could've just as easily (and perhaps more accurately) been titled "The Making of a Consumer."

27 January 2013

On Re-Writing One's Own Past

Speaking of the '70s blog, I suppose this topic could serve as something like a "prequel" to that bit I wrote a good while ago about Bowie's "Berlin years." But between his being back in the music news in recent week combined with a couple of other incidental things, I find myself revisiting the topic...

I guess you could say that, once upon a long-ago, Bowie had been a major formative musical influence -- or at least he was in my early teens, about the time Scary Monsters came out, when I was reaching that age where I was developing a bit of taste-shaping autonomy, starting to proactively take an interest in music and seeking out things that I liked or found interesting (as opposed to being a passive recipient for whatever pap spilled out of the radio). That lasted for a couple of years, and then I soon moved on, and didn't listen to Bowie at all for about 25 years or so.

When I revisited some of his '70s material several years ago, I found that the albums I favored most were still the ones that I had liked most years ago. Mainly, the better portion of Station to Station, and the first two-thirds of the "Berlin trilogy." And also Hunky Dory, mainly for the way it reveals Bowie finally finding his voice as a songwriter, via a set of mostly amounts to his most nakedly personal, honest songwriting.

But recently a friend passed along the entirety of Bowie's early discog, including some things I'd never bothered with back in the day. First, there's Pin-Ups, which I avoided back when because I knew it was an album of cover tunes. And then there's the self-titled David Bowie album of 1967, representing pre-glam portion of Bowie's career. These two make for a interesting contrast when played alongside each other, prompting one to wonder, "So, Dave -- back in the 1960s you were really grooving to Syd Barrett and The Pink Floyd, the Pretty Things, the Kinks and the Yardbirds and whatnot -- during that same time that you, as an aspiring pop artist, were jockeying to become the next Cliff Richard?"

Perviously, there were only two songs from the early days of Bowie's career that I was familiar with, neither of which turned up on the 1967 album in question...

That second one, by the way, was arranged and produced hit-making maestro Tony Hatch, the man most known for making Petula Clark a huge success at the time. (Yet even with that sort of backing, Davey was still unable to get on the charts). Hatch also did this number, in which the "sound of the Seventies" sounds like it's stuck in the '60s. I used to sometimes use it to get my old radio show off to a jaunty start, beginning things by lobbing in a curveball...

There was long radio piece pianist Glenn Gould did for the CBC back in 1967 entitled "The Search for Pet Clark." It amounted to an eccentric and meandering travelogue about driving through the mountains somewhere in Canada as the car radio signal washes in and out, which ultimately takes the form of an extended paean to the work of Tony Hatch. UBUWEB used to have the entire thing up on their site, but it seems the CBC had them delete the entire page for Gould a long time ago. But there's some discussion of it in this recent article about Gould's "contrapuntal radio" works here.

* * * * *

26 January 2013

25 January 2013

This Place Really Used to be Something...

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that that was the decade in which I grew up, so on some level I hold it in semi-nostalgic esteem. But I think it mostly has to do with the character of American films during that decade, particularly in the first half of the decade. Yes, they have the reputation for being a bit bleak and "depressing." Granted, a good many of them were -- it seemed to be an underlying mood (or malaise) of the time. But mainly I like the character-driven drama in a lot of those films, which I suppose comes down to a variety of Raymond Carver-esque "dirty realism." Whatever the case, it was (albeit briefly) an interesting and distinctive era in American cinema, with there not having been much like it issuing out of Hollywood before or since.

So, I posted a piece over at the '70s blog for the first in ages. It's a lengthy appraisal of one of my favorite films of that time, one that (I feel) has unjustly received short shrift over the years -- Bob Rafelson's 1972 film The King of Marvin Gardens.

24 January 2013

Footnote No. 5: The Division of Labor

The FBI’s special agent in charge
(SAC), R.B. Hood, compiled
a dossier on                                                      
                                                                             The Master Race
noting the portrayal
of a sympathetic                   Russian officer and the various
                                                     red participants
 in the production                                    
                                   – and sent it to J. Edgar Hoover
                                   in case the FBI director was called upon              
                              to detail                    communist propaganda             
 in the movies.

Hoover disagreed with Hood
with the reasonable objection
                     that the FBI agent had
                     no particular expertise in
                                                                                      content analysis
                    and no way of knowing
                 what effect, if any,
            such propaganda
        might have
  on an audience.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Text taken from J. Hoberman's An Army of Phantom:
American Movies and the Making of the Cold War [2011]

22 January 2013

Social Space (or, In Advance of a Tilted Arc)

Geography has little, or nothing, to do with it. Nor does fate, I suppose. Each
encroaches. Be it nature, or imposed,

erected. And that ring of dolmens and slabs may’ve served some purpose
out on Salisbury Plain. A function from which – depending on which
theory you choose – some bit of useful knowledge might be devised, divined,
deciphered. From Bronze to Gilded, the latter an age for the polis arising,
stacking up. Steel skeletons and curtain walls.

Architecture and engineering, building -- like the act of walking, itself --
being a triumph over gravity (which can be,
                                                  if you'll pardon the expression,
a diversion of forces and skirting of laws. Load-bearing verticals and the 
sheltering horizontals. The rudiments of post and lintel

construction. And there are equations for this, I'm sure. Things
ratioed,then proportionally modeled or molded. Space carved up
and framed. Orchestrations of emptiness, solidity framing air and
light at certain times of day. Equations of the sort I'm unable to parse,
penciled out and threaded on a knotty profusion of specialists' glyphs.
Equations of heights to breadths to masses
& whathaveyous.
{ Man being -- it was once said -- the measure of all things.
Albeit in this instance, a proportional unit, a bodily mean.
Easily rendered as a grapheme or dash by the draftsman.
Figure-ground relationship, reduced to relative scale. }

Whichever theory you chose, a charting device or sundial.
But here in the grid a sundial doesn’t work so well, pulls the short shift,
here where in most places the sun only invades the canyon for a couple of
scant and bracketed hours. High noon, the shadows are their shortest.
Barely there, directly beneath, and stood upon. Unshakingly underfoot as
I cross the plaza during lunch hour, taking my path across
and around
A curtain, a wall.

But there are other equations I learned long ago. And other streets
I knew where the orientation (aligned with the points on
a compass) allowed the shadows to fall and stretch out in
the late afternoon. Including the one that swallowed and
dwarved me a couple hours after school had let out,
its owner towering over, and asking,
Hey, kid -- nice shoes. Where’d
you get those – offa wire?

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

image: David Hammons, Shoetree, utilizing Richard Serra's public sculpture T.W.U.
[Trade Workers Union], Lower Manhattan, 1981. Photograph by Dawoud Bey.

21 January 2013

Warszawa, 1947

A set of exceptionally crisp photos of Warsaw, from the summer of 1947, as apparently taken by a group of U.S. architects documenting post-WWII reconstruction in several cities across Europe.

From this Polish Facebook photo gallery. Which also sports a set of Warsaw Then-and-Now collage/composite pics:

Gallery found there via here.

20 January 2013

After the End of Art (Re: Commitment)

An excerpt:

"It was shortly after the emergence of the institutional critiques articulated by artists such Michael Asher and Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren and Hans Haacke - and nearly contemporaneous with the burgeoning critiques of ideological hegemonies in the artistic practices of Louise Lawler, Martha Rosler, Jenny Holzer, Allan Sekula, and Dara Birnbaum — that we also encountered Andy Warhol's entry 'Art Business vs. Business Art' in his Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), in 1975. Armed with an Enlightenment belief in the unstoppable progress of institutional critique and artistic critiques of the discourse of power, I, for one, considered Warhol's notion of Business Art to be a brilliantly conceived parody of the side effects of an ever-expanding art world - a travesty in the manner of Jonathan Swift's 'Modest Proposal.' Little did I imagine that, a quarter century later, it would have become impossible for Warhol's prognostic vision to be mistaken for travesty anymore. Rather, we had to recognize - with belated hindsight - that Warhol had in fact prophesied what we finally came to experience: the total permeation of the cultural sphere by the economic operations of finance capital and its attendant ethos and social structures. Only a Cassandra whose ethics and aesthetics were as exceptionally evacuated as Warhol's (other artists at the time still associated their practices with moral, critical, and political aspirations) could have enunciated this vision. A comparable diagnosis of the explicitly and inevitably affirmative character of modern culture had been formulated by Herbert Marcuse in the early '60s. Marcuse's tendency to accept if not to exaggerate the inextricably affirmative dimensions of cultural production and to recode them as potentially transgressive operations had appeared to us as a symptom of the philosopher's increasing Americanization. In other words, it was not until the early '80s, or even later, that it dawned on some of us that the cultural apparatus had in fact already undergone precisely those transformations whose full spectrum only Warhol had predicted, and that his prognostics were about to attain the status of all-encompassing and seemingly insurmountable new realities.

"What were the symptoms of these new conditions of the 'common culture' that had emerged perhaps most vehemently in the United States but also abroad during the so-called Reagan-Thatcher era? And what structural transformations had taken hold in the sphere of artistic production and reception, which we had until that moment naively associated with those other institutions of the public sphere where the production of knowledge and the memory of experience had been socially sustained and collected: the library, the university, and the museum? A number of multifaceted transformations, at first developing slowly yet steadily, soon picked up a precipitous pace and expanded globally. I will enumerate some of these perceived changes, in the manner of a paranoiac whose list of enemies and threats has only increased continuously ever since the initial diagnosis of the condition."

From Benjamin H. D. Buchloh's essay "Farewell to an Identity," published in the December 2012 edition of Artforum. Which, oddly, it appears someone reproduced and made available in this form here. I suspect that for much of the mag's readership, the piece amounted to little more than tl;dr trahison-des-clercs gasbaggery. I, however, found that it very succinctly encapsulated a number of major misgivings I've had about the artworld for about the past 10 to 15 years.

19 January 2013

Vinyl Reckonings, Redux (Geezer Edition)

This past week I've seen a number of posts from various U.K. music bloggers about the pending closure of the HMV record-shop chain. Out of which I found Neil Kulkarni's "Some thought about growing up and falling apart" to be the one that, for me, had the most personal resonance.

"But hold on. Nostalgia, as it’s phonetic adjacency to neuralgia suggests, is a more complex, nagging, painful thing than that. Nostalgia doesn’t have to be about yearning for what’s lost. None of us are dumb enough or depressed enough to think our school days were the best years of our lives, let alone wish ourselves back into the strange world of threat, confusion and hyper-sensitivity that childhood was. Nostalgia can, though, be about confrontation, can be about running against the brick wall of time’s ongoing moves of obsolescence on everything you once held dear. It can be a brutal realisation that in at its depths, what you’re really sad for is what the hell’s happened to you, how much you lost getting so much smarter."

Kulkarni's yarn has little to with any brand or particular store, but the experience of growing up with music in a particular physical form(at), and with the part the experience of frequenting brick-and-mortar premises, and is ultimately the larger and overarching role that the ritual of bin-browsing and the discovery of certain special recordings play in one shaping one's sense of self during one's youth. As well as a mediation on recorded music's evolution from material to immaterial (or its return to the latter state, as he points out), and about the history of recorded music in general.

* * * * *

Of course I can identify, because I'm of that age/generation when music was only acquirable in said material form -- particularly that of LPs (and, to a slightly lesser extent, cassette tapes). But in recent years I've had any number of younger friend for whom that formative relationship was unknown, was an anachronism. Who maybe grew up with CDs, but who in adulthood mostly abhorred music in any "hardcopy" form.

Or the realization I had of this generational disconnect when I started doing radio over a decade ago, and was occasionally assigned a new and much younger DJ to train in the studio's booth. The first time I blithely and unthinkingly told one of these kids to cue up a record, and then watched in horror as they threw the stylus onto or across the LP (one of mine, actually) with a destructive, audible KWU-THUMP. And immediately realizing how much I had witlessly assumed -- figuring that any music lover would've at some point learned how to handle vinyl and a turntable.

Kulkarni's spiel taking a record home upon purchase and experiencing a revelation upon first listening reminds me of Lester Bangs's similar description of same in his "Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung" essay. But I also remember, like Kulkarni, of having my mind blown upon first hearing Public Enemy. Of buying Yo! Bum Rush the Show back in 1987 when I knew fuck-all about the record or the group, getting it home, dropping the needle in the groove, and within a matter of seconds have my sensibilities turned upside-down by the onslaught of noise that was "You're Gonna Get Yours." Of being immediately smacked upside my head by it, and immediately feeling like I would thereafter listening to music with a completely different set of ears. That sort of aesthetic-altering epiphany that happens with only so many songs or albums in a person's youth.

And in his post, Kulkarni also described the process of going out on a untested limb, of buying the unknown and unpreviewed item, "things that I HAD to learn to live with to make the money spent seem worth it." Which is a situation I knew very well in my teenage years, taking a chance and winding up with something that disappointed or confounded me when I first played it, that I simply didn't warm to at first because it threw me a curve. And how in some cases, after repeated spins -- with me determined to find something about the record that would justify the money spent -- some of these items became favorites, sometimes even nudging my own tastes and preferences in a different direction. So what Kulkarni's talking out was also (or often) a part of a process of personal development and discovery.

18 January 2013

About the Artist

As if I hadn't been long aware that certain types of texts practically writes themselves...

Wallace Crumley

Wallace Crumley (b. 1974, Lexington, Kentucy) makes conceptual artworks, performances and media art. By studying sign processes, signification and communication, Crumley touches various overlapping themes and strategies. Several reoccurring subject matter can be recognised, such as the relation with popular culture and media, working with repetition, provocation and the investigation of the process of expectations.

His conceptual artworks are on the one hand touchingly beautiful, on the other hand painfully attractive. Again and again, the artist leaves us orphaned with a mix of conflicting feelings and thoughts. By manipulating the viewer to create confusion, he makes work that generates diverse meanings. Associations and meanings collide. Space becomes time and language becomes image.

His works are characterised by the use of everyday objects in an atmosphere of middleclass mentality in which recognition plays an important role. By using popular themes such as sexuality, family structure and violence, he makes works that can be seen as self-portraits. Sometimes they appear idiosyncratic and quirky, at other times, they seem typical by-products of American superabundance and marketing.

His works are saturated with obviousness, mental inertia, clichés and bad jokes. They question the coerciveness that is derived from the more profound meaning and the superficial aesthetic appearance of an image. By parodying mass media by exaggerating certain formal aspects inherent to our contemporary society, he often creates several practically identical works, upon which thoughts that have apparently just been developed are manifested: notes are made and then crossed out again, ‘mistakes’ are repeated.

His works question the conditions of appearance of an image in the context of contemporary visual culture in which images, representations and ideas normally function. By taking daily life as subject matter while commenting on the everyday aesthetic of middle class values, he often creates work using creative game tactics, but these are never permissive. Play is a serious matter: during the game, different rules apply than in everyday life and even everyday objects undergo transubstantiation.
* * * *

Text created by using the Artist's Biography Generator, a component of Belgian artist Jasper Rigole's "500 Letters" project.

15 January 2013

Someone Still Lives Here (and: Returning to the Topic of Ruination)

Returning to two prior topics, for the first time in a long while...

It seems that 2012 two saw a bit of a slowdown with the "ruin porn" meme. Perhaps there were a few too many photo books and essays of the stuff published around the beginning of they year, leading to a saturation effect and prompting appetites to slack. If anything, the previous year showed a turn from the usual gratuitous ruin-porn offerings and a turn toward analytical discussions of "Why the popular fascination with Detroit and ruin porn?"

The Design Observer, however, has stayed with the topic throughout; with various contributors focusing the discussion on Detroit's history, framing it in the larger issues of sustainable urban planning and the socio-economic dynamics of inner-city communities. Recently they posted a slideshow of some work by photographers Aaron Rothman and Dave Jordano, each of whom chose to turn their cameras away from the city's often-photographed monuments of urban decay and focusing instead on the lives of the citizens of the city -- aiming to capture life as it's lived in the city, and to also "counteract the aestheticizing and mythologizing effects of much Detroit ruin photography."

The post was closely preceded by an article by Andrew Herscher, associate professor of architecture at U Mich; and Herscher's piece almost serves as an accompanying or introductory text for Rothman and Jordano's photographs. In his essay, Herscher discusses grass-roots urban reclamation in terms of a city's "unreal estate"; the creation of a "proto-commons" from the spatial and infrastructural voids and ruptures left by the abandonment of capital from previously industrialized cities...

"What if Detroit has lost population, jobs, infrastructure, investment, and all else that the conventional narratives point to — and yet, precisely as a result of those losses, has gained opportunities to understand and engage novel urban conditions? What if one sort of property value has decreased in Detroit — the exchange value brokered by the failing market economy — but other sorts of values have increased — use values that lack salience or even existence in that economy? What if Detroit has not only fallen apart, emptied out, disappeared and/or shrunk, but has also transformed, becoming a new sort of urban formation that only appears depleted, voided or negated through the lenses of conventional architecture and urbanism?"

* * * * *

12 January 2013

Get Drunk, Break All Your Heads, Express Yourself

At any rate, picking up where things left off some weeks ago...

Tthe whole volleying of drummage & riddim t'ings has continued all this time that I've been on involuntary hiatus. Simon's latest roundup on the matter hinges on the role of the crucial role of the drummer in a power-trio context, he observing "by definition a power trio must have a good drummer because otherwise the whole thing topples, there's no compensating for a subpar limb when the animal is three-legged."

Which brings to mind some straggling thoughts I'd had after I figured I spent my thoughts on the topic. Something that falls outside the prior funk/jazz/soul spectrum. Although maybe not entirely outside that spectrum because it requires a sidestep into the prog/fusion canon.

But something having to do with crucial role of a drummer in a trio situation, especially in the instance when the drums is not only very primary in a very central and frontal way, but also when the drummer in pulling double duty as vocalist.

Anyway: "Prog" and its jazz-derived time signatures, its basis in rhythmic gymnastics and the like. Admittedly, I've never been much into prog. With the one main exception being Soft Machine, who I finally cottoned to quite late. Or at least Soft Machine while Robert Wyatt was in the outfit, since it was his presence that proved the main point of appeal to my ears. The voice, the songwriting, the wee bits of whimsy and humor he at times brought to the music.

Sadly, drumming exited the equation altogether after Wyatt suffering his crippling accident in 1973. As far as technique and skill are concerned, I can't say how Wyatt rated as a drummer when stacked up to contemporaries like Ginger Baker or Mitch Mitchell. There are times, especially on the first Soft Machine album, where you sense he and the band are getting a little too ambitious, slightly overshooting their abilities on some of the more complicated twists.*  Having had a lifelong interest in jazz, Wyatt once said in an interview that he knew he'd never consider himself an accomplished drummer, if only because he would always compare himself to the drummers he admired -- first-league jazz drummers like Max Roach, Tony Williams, and Elvin Jones. For that reason, he said, he'd learned to content himself with his abilities as they were, choosing instead to concentrate of exploring and developing what he could do with his voice, instead.

(In another old interview clip, Wyatt explained why he and the band opted to play in non-stop suite form -- having all the song run together with nary a break between them. He said they opted for that format when touring the U.S. as the opener for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Feeling meekly overshadowed by Hendrix & co., they expected they'd meet with a negative -- if not hostile -- response from the American audience. So by eliminating pauses and stringing all the songs together, they figured they could stave off the jeers, or at least drown them out.)

At one point, a contributor to an earlier installment of Simon's thread cited This Heat's "24 Track Loop." Not so much a power trio, but a trio capable of delivering a great deal of power, thanks to vocalist and kitman Charles Hayward as the dynamic core of the much of the action; and -- as with Soft Machine -- the drums frequently playing a very central and prominent role, being the engine that propels the material. The same being often the case with Hayward's post-This Heat project Camberwell Now...

This Heat were one of those odd, slightly incongruous entities at the time -- another instance, as was the case with a few other groups of the era, of a unit made up of members who were older that many of their punk/post-punk peers, and who came from a background that ran contrary to the usual punk pedigree, but were draw to the music and to the scene for the experimental potential it offered. In this case, Hayward and Christopher Bullen came to post-punk by way of playing free-form, improvised music; and had spent a good portion of the 1970s kicking around on the margins of the prog scene, with the former having started out playing in an outfit with Phil Manzanera and Matching Mole bassist Bill MacCormick. This latter prog connection makes perfect sense in a way, if you consider This Heat as a post-punk equiv of Soft Machine, except with the Canterbury and overtly jazz aspects replaced with a krautrock-ish minimalism and experimentation.

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* Which in a way connects with something about Wyatt that I immediately found endearing, something that you hear in his voice and his lyrics, as well. That being a bristling against limitations, which disarmingly suggests an all-too-human frailty and a sense of humility. (Which, in its turn, runs to the contrary of so much of the pomposity and mystical bullshit that plagues large portions of the prog canon.)


Been ill throughout the Holidays and into this, the new year. Thus my scarcity in recent weeks, as the long slog through has generally sapped my energy and ability to focus. Finally turned a corner on that, activity to resume as usual in the days or weeks to come.

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