19 February 2013

After Abundance

""In such a situation, it would be more accurate to say that the room is being drowned in Muzak. And, on the other hand, if full responsibility were assumed by everyone — something verging on the hypothetical — no one would dare make a sound. The situation turns into silence, albeit a musical one. In musical improvisation, aiming for such a state of full and collective responsibility might be possible. And if that aim ever gets fulfilled, the music will have ended, with everybody present reverently holding their breath. [...]

"Responsibility only makes its appearance at the moment when one individual starts to imitate the other. This might happen through a body swaying to the rhythm, or the voice which joins in on the chorus. The cliché, now turned into a musical springboard, presents itself as a profusion of possible associations; trying to imitate them all inside an event anchored in time and duration is simply impossible. Repetition therefore becomes something more than a source of clichés; in every repetition there is selection, and in every selection there is difference. This is what makes it possible for music to rise above the level of the cliché. [...]

"That which we call politics will always involve, much like music, some kind of oscillation between responsibility and irresponsibility. If no one assumes personal responsibility for his or her actions, this could hardly be called politics; a better name for it would be administration. Most of what the media reports on as 'politics' is predicated on the systematic shunning of responsibility, and the conjured phantasms (like 'public opinion' or 'the economy') can therefore hardly be considered worthy of the name. [...]

"As we increasingly come to experience music as synonymous with effortless digital skipping from track to track there is also a corresponding growth in the richness of the strenuous exertions that have to be endured before breaking through to the spaces where music might happen.

"In the post-digital, almost any barrier to the boundless flood of music can be turned into a resource for the production of presence: basements lacking room for no more than a certain number of people; time running out and limiting the number of songs in a session or on a tape; loudspeakers incapable of delivering sound levels above a certain decibel or outside of a set spectrum of frequencies; instruments featuring no more than thirty-two keys; cops breaking up the party; backs that break when trying to carry that one extra kilo of vinyl; geographical distances; disk space; grit. All these levees, these barriers that determine how music happens — they feed the post-digital with the traction needed for the production of memorable events."

On the civic, the social, the selection, serial dictatorships, signal and noise, in situ-ations, collectively riding on a bus that's as old -- if not older -- than its passengers, and a lot of other things that we might mistake as the state of the present. That, plus a few things about the peculiar virtues of obsolete technologies and conduits.

Some scattered excerpts from "How Music Takes Place," part one of Rusmus Fleischer's The Post-digital Manifesto, as translated for the latest edition of e-flux. Having originally circulated in Swedish back in 2009, and (apparently) quickly appearing in Finnish and (ehhh) Esperanto versions, but only now being translated into English. The second part made available in .pdf form here.

Fleischer interview here.

17 February 2013

L'opera abbandonatta (Dead frequency broadcast no. 01)

Recently going through some archives, for the sake of cd-r salvaging and transference. Recordings of some mix sessions I did about 7 year or so ago, when -- one among other radio shows I did on a local community station in Chicago -- I was one of the hosts of an experimental music/"avant"/"noise" type program.

What this is, or was, was me in the studio booth between the dark hours of midnight and 1 A.M., in a slot that had been allotted for sending such stuff over the airwaves. So after two hours of standard-format hosting complete with the usual blahblah, we had that third of hour of sponsor-/PSA-free midnight programming to mix straight through for an hour, making use of the studio's gear as we saw fit. If the station's engineer had done his job properly -- which was infrequent, because they were usually in arrears on paying him -- we had 3 turntables, 3 CD players, 2 tapedecks, and a DAT to work with (plus means for patching a laptop in, if you disabled one of the tapedecks). And of course the multi-channel mixing board. I did a lot of these shows, co-hosting on an alternating schedule with a local noisician of note who worked wonders during the slot in question.

Several "classic" or obvious choices in this edition. I think my point at the time was to challenge myself, to use a fair amount of material that for various reasons didn't "work" in the sort of mixes I was doing; that was too "difficult" -- either too "thin" or too sporadically busy or whatever -- to easily lend itself to the way I was mixing with the studio's soundboard and equipment. This explains the use of Varèse and Gilmetti and about half of the things in the selection. The intent being to try and make it work via remixing -- mostly by ay of some real-time manipulation of the material, but also heavily supplemented with some processed loops and excerpts that I'd prepared and burned in advance. Originally, I was midly content with the results of this one; but going back and listening to it again after a long time, I think it sounds better than I thought. Maybe not one of the best I did, but not at all fucking bad, in the end.

This being a real-time "radio event" or whatever type thing, recommended conditions would be: Late-night listening, preferably with headphones. So have at it, if you're so inclined.

::: dwnld ::::

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semi-complete tracklist:

◼  vid / 'forever in your infinite clutch' / phthalo / 2001
◼  edgard varèse / 'poème électronique [rmxd]' / columbia / 1972
◼  vid / 'genome illustration' / phthalo / 2001
◼  holger czukay / 'boat woman song [rmxd]' / spoon / 1982
◼  vittorio gelmetti / 'l'opera abbandonatta... [rmxd]' / nepless / 1997
◼  walter ruttmann / 'weekend: dj spooky remix' / intermedium / 2001
◼  einstürdzende neubauten / 'wasserturm' / pvc / 1984
◼  liminal / 'before and after' / knitting factory / 1995
◼  philip jeck / 'vinyl coda i' / intermedium / 2000
◼  sub dub / 'babylon unite ii' / the agriculture / 2001
◼  m singe / 'untitled, live @ cultural alchemy' / soundlab / 1999
◼  christian marclay / 'dust breeding' / atavistic / 1997
◼  morphogenesis / 'live @ shepherd's bush empire' / paradigm / 2001
◼  michael prime / 'hallucinations of falling' / digital narcis / 1999
◼  christian marclay, dj olive & toshio kajiwara / 'live in detroit, 2002' / asphodel / 2004
◼  richard h. kirk / 'synesthesia' / grey area / 1992
◼  steve roden : in be tween noise / 'the radio' / sonoris / 1999
◼  310 / 'on the lamb' / 310 / 1997

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11 February 2013

The past isn't what it used to be

A couple of items of interest by other bloggers...

First: One by Giovanni Tiso, again; this time writing in the Australian literary publication Overland, with "Mussolini Wasn't So Bad" – a musing on Silvio Berlusconi and the conveniences of selective cultural memory.

And then this, via Airport Through The Trees...

"Listening to 1960s bands is a bit depressing, now, isn't it? For all of the resentment I felt towards ye olde boomers growing up, as their history was constantly sold as History in order to market nostalgia, I miss the feeling of culture being dominated by a group of people with a clear sense of the world and their place in it. Those years seem really, really far away now. The irony of retro culture is that, if it is an attempt to discover history towards finding a footing on which to build the future, the process has yielded quite the opposite result."

After a stretch of some scarcity, ATTT returns to continue on the topic of drummage. In the course of which, the tangential aside quoted above jumped out at me as particularly canny.

'I find your lack of faith disturbing...'

A heads-up: Another lengthy spiel of my blahblahblah-ing over at the '70s blog, once again on the topic of film.. Started out as bit of a response (by way of elaboration) to Mark 'K-punk' Fisher's wildly unpopular piece in the Guardian from a few months ago.

My interest in the topic isn't with the emergence of filmmakers like Lucas (or Spielberg, et al), but rather with the backlash I talk about – the massive shift or reversal in critical and popular tastes. One could reduce this to a general preference for "escapism" in entertainment or whatever, but there's more to it in this context. That context being the film market of the first half of the 1970s, when "social relevance" was to be be expected with many films. And a good many movies of that period reflected – whether directly or indirectly – many of the shared phobias of the time – reflecting either the economic bottoming-out that was occurring at the time, urban decay and crime, or Watergate-era paranoia, and the like. Dark films, "downer" films. But despite all that, there were some areas that were still off-limits – certain things that people didn't want to be reminded of or confronted with, specific aspects of American society or recent history that many avoided examining. Vietnam being chiefly among those things. Still, the violence of Vietnam (and of the social turbulence it caused domestically) trickled down into the popular culture, manifesting itself in oblique ways.

And not just violence. The social malaise and various cognitive dissonances of the era filtered through in some form or another, as well. It's worth returning to the Pauline Kael piece I cited in the piece, which is worth quoting at length. Entitled "After Innocence," the article was a long-form review of the film 1973 The Last American Hero. In an early part of the essay, Kael wrote:

"The Vietnamization of American movies is nearly complete. ...The Vietnam War has barely been mentioned on the screen, but you could feel it in Bonnie and Clyde and Bullitt and Joe, in Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy and The Last Picture Show, in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and The Candidate and Carnal Knowledge and The French Connection and The Godfather. It was in good movies and bad, flops and hits, especially in hits – the convictionless atmosphere, the absence of shared values, the brutalities taken for granted, the glorification of loser-heroes. It was in the harshness of the attitudes, the abrasiveness that made you wince – until, after years of it, you stopped wincing. It had become normal."

Kael goes on at length discussing what she saw as a prevalence of cynicism and defeatism in American films of the time, saying a little later in the essay:

"Though it was exhilarating to see the old mock innocence cleared away, a depressive uncertainty has settled over the movies. They're seldom enjoyable at a simple level, and that might be one of the reasons older people no longer go,... Almost three-fourths (73 percent) of the movie audience is under twenty-nine; it's an audience of people who grew up on television and began going out to theaters when they became restless and started dating. ...But while they're going out to the movies, they want something different, and this demand – in the decade of Vietnam – has created a fertile chaos,...

"American movies didn't 'grow up'; they did a flip-over from their prolonged age of innocence to this age of corruption. When Vietnam finished off the American hero as righter of wrongs, the movie industry embraced corruption greedily; formula movies could be energized with an infusion of brutality, cynicism, and Naked Apism, which could all be explained by Vietnam and called realism.

"Outrage isn't the aim of our most violent films, outrage isn't expected. When movie after movie tells audiences that they should be against themselves, it's hardly surprising that people go out of theaters drained, numbly convinced that, with so much savagery and cruelty everywhere, nothing can be done. The movies have shown us the injustice of American actions throughout history, and if we have always been rotten, the effect is not to make us feel we have the power to change but, rather, to rub our noses in it and make us accept it. In this climate, Watergate seems the most natural thing that could happen. If one were to believe recent movies, it was never any different in this country: Vietnam and Watergate were not simply where we got to but where we always were."

Kael's remarks echo sentiments similar to those expressed by Lucas in the quotes I used for the piece; and they are, admittedly, representative of a good many films of the "New Hollywood" period in the early 1970s. And in some ways, I can see some basis for the critical backlash that I described in the piece, which I can remember from my early teens. I can imagine audiences fatiguing under the weight of heavy and increasingly "self-important" epics, or formulating – in light of Coppola and Cimino letting their projects spiral off-budget and out of control – that some of the culture's cinematic storytellers had succumb to hubris and over-indulgence. Or of longing for something else, something equally as epic in the way of "light" entertainment.

But judging by not only the scope but the intensity of the backlash, one has to wonder if there was more to it than just that. Especially in light of the points made by Kael. One wonders if the fate of Heaven's Gate wasn't more a matter of bad timing more than anything else. If objections to the film had as much to do with content more than anything else. It is, after all, a frontier tale involving xenophobia, class tensions and economic injustice, severe social Darwinism writ large and monied interests running roughshod over all things civic and humane, all of it culminating – in the film's final reels – cataclysmic brutality. And thus, contained some commentary on certain aspects of American history (if not on certain characteristics of the society as a whole) that were bound to meet with an unreceptive audience in 1980.*

Why? Because it's perhaps worth bearing in mind that the years of 1975-1977 saw the release of the three runaway blockbuster films that most played a part in reshaping the film industry and public taste – Jaws, Saturday Night Fever, and Star Wars. In the middle of that stretch, something else took place – the 1976 American Bicentennial. The occasion was of the Bicentennial proved to be one of reaffirmation – a collective rehabbing of political faith and patriotic sentiment in the wake of the cynicism and disillusionment wrought by Watergate. Add to this that Heaven's Gate came out in the year that a majority of American voters cast their lot with Ronald Reagan, embracing his rhetoric of "making America great again" and the like. As Lucas said in that one quote I included: What kids or people were missing – what they probably needed while not knowing they needed it – were fairy tales.

So: Cimino's Heaven's Gate – the sprawling four-hour, $44-million dollar epic whose massive failure at the box office, by most accepted accounts, marked the official end of the short-lived New Hollywood era. Aside from its taxing length and numerous flaws, the film perhaps is ultimately guilty of being out of step with changing public attitudes.

Case in point: What critically acclaimed films came out in 1976? Network, Taxi Driver, and All the President's Men. What overwhelmingly out-grossed them all and won Best Picture at the Oscars that year? Rocky.

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*  I'll admit that it was only recently I only got around to viewing Heaven's Gate. I avoided it for years. Partly because I was never all that amazed by The Deer Hunter; the other reason being that if I figured if there was anything to the initial criticism...well, am I gonna get that four hours of my life back? Verdict: I very flawed film in more ways than I care to count; masterfully executed in some parts, with its fair share of mishandled or wasted potential in various scenes and stretches. But taking the good with the bad, one has to admire the ambition. Falling quite short of the Overlooked and Unfairly Maligned Masterpiece that recent advocates have claimed, but utterly unlike the mess its original critics claimed. In fact, doubling back to read some of those original reviews, the descriptions often strike me as so wildly inaccurate that I, at times, find myself wondering: Dude, are we even talking about the same movie?

06 February 2013

Double Negative

"The term 'closed city' was originally coined for the Soviet Union, where, for various reasons, the existence of numerous towns was long kept secret. Some of them were not officially 'opened up' and added to maps until the early years of this century. 
Even today, there are still artificially created urban zones across the globe that are hermetically sealed off from the outside world either by walls or by the hostile landscape that surrounds them. These might be places where raw materials are extracted, military sites, refugee camps – or gated communities for the affluent. Such time-limited forms of urban settlement strikingly illustrate the turning point humanity is facing at the beginning of the 21st century in view of dwindling resources, moral decline, climate change, political conflicts and the yearning for unqualified security."

Images from the series Closed Cities, by Gregor Sailer.
Text via This is Paper.

05 February 2013

Objets sonore, II & III

"No-one else can hear the world like you can when you put those headphones on. With nearly all wildlife and natural history work it's a solitary process. You can't talk about it when you're recording, you've just got to move the microphones and do it. In that sense there's an easy analogy with photography. It's a solitary activity. I then like going through the process of selection, editing, composition, production, performance, whether it's a radio broadcast or a sound installation, which you then share with as many people as you can to engage with them. I really like that idea of going from the point source."
- Chris Watson, as interviewed by The Quietus

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Asger, over, the wind is now blowing really strong here in Stedlike plaza, out“.

I know, Constant, we had expected a rising of the northern wind towards the Baltic in the night, right at the centre, moving to Dredike are, where we are adrift, out“.

Over, we are proceeding at measured pace with eyes slightly tilted up, out“.

The perception of space is actually more unitary, isn’t it? A significative growth in attention to detail, out“. [...]

Over, we’re following the tinkling of what seemed to be a domestic animal collar. We’ve arrived here from Marionetten Theater at the Waag’s, right behind Neuw Markt, Oude Zijde quarters, out“.

Constant, we’ve stopped in front of Centraal Station, muffled, waiting for the wind blow to strike on us. Let me hear that tinkling sound through walkie-talkie, out“.

Over, DRING DRING DRING hey, the gust has resumed, we’re taking Zeedjk straight ahead. Rattled as it is now you should be able to hear the collar loud and clear DRING DRING DRING,. . ..„

- from a recent post on the soundscape of the city of Bologna, via Datacide

Incidentally, should you care to read it, the book Watson mentions in the interview -- the 1971 OUP publication Composing with Tape Recorders -- was recently made available in .pdf form via Monoskop. Link here.

04 February 2013

03 February 2013

Ballardian Russia

As far as I can discern, the meme of Russian dash-cam videos is under-theorized territory, if not wholly un-.

But why would that be? It seems like such supremely ripe subject matter. Exegetic explorations of the disconnect between the necessitating conditions of the phenomenon's (meatspace) production and its (virtual) casual public consumption, the gap between the two being both broad and deep enough to allow all variety of analysis and critique, as well numerous avenues for extrapolatory twofold punning on the matter of the "death-drive." Plus with something about the degrees of disorderative disassociation between said death-drive and the so-called "anus of concrete", vis-à-vis the varied layers of societal and mediated distanciation. Or what about a thesis on how the trend is a product of the suppressed and morbid cathectic undertow of commodity fetishism, with the author (predictably) drawing a cross-referenced comparison with the opening sequences of Godard's Weekend? Or one in which the Spectacular phenom of watching cocooning chasses shatter upon impact like so many glass globules is posited against the gore-fest films commonly used in driver's-ed school programs of previous generations, the former perhaps being/developing as a libidinal Inverse Other of the latter. Nothing too histrionic or apocalyptic, mind you; because anything deemed "dystopic" has long become passé -- mainly due to the recent overuse of the term. But I'm sure there's no shortage of venues that'd be eager to publish such a thing.

I'd write one, myself; but I imagine there are plenty others who're far better suited to the task.

At any rate: Yeah, a common complaint about Tarkovsky's Solaris concerns the film's pacing, its "boring"-ness. The frequent question being: "Why did the director choose to include an uneventful five-minute POV sequence of nothing more than a drive through the city, with only the accompaniment of an electronic soundtrack to offset the tedium?" And then you go a forum for this sort of thing above, and see that some contributors spam the thing by uploading videos that involve nothing more than an uneventful five-minute driving POV sequence through city streets, accompanied by a soundtrack of some muted balearic doof-doof.

02 February 2013

Déjà vu, it's nineteen-something-or-other-two

At numerous times, I'd intended to make and upload a mix (or two) of electronic stuff from the 1990s, but never got around to it. In lieu of that, there's these throwback-themed mixes that have popped up in the past couple weeks instead...

First, via Nightvision, Moon Wiring Club offers his "Midnight in Europe" mix, a selection of early '90s "ambient" material that manages to avoid the expected "chill out" cliches and tilts more toward proto-IDM abstract angularity. Then for the latest edition of the "Secret Thirteen" mix series, Biosphere/Geir Jenssen turns the dial back another decade by spotlighting sounds from the 1979-1982 vintage.

And this year finds Coldcut celebrating 25 years on the air with the "Solid Steel" broadcast. For the occasion, they're planning on having a array of guest DJs and artists on the program. Past weeks have sported guest mix sessions with The Orb and Luke Vibert, but perhaps the most intriguing one so far was last week's session with Kirk Digiorgio. In the second half of the show, Degiorgio breaks from his usual jazz-funk-fusion modus and instead offers an hour of vintage electronic sounds of a more experimental variety, in the end serving up what may be the most beatless and noisy set in the show's history. (Enough so, that it prompted one Soundcloud listener to comment, "Worst mix ever." Heh.)

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