10 December 2009

Hand in Glove

When in the summer i was thinking about Beyonce's single Sasha Fierce gauntlet as an homage to Michael Jackson's single white glove, I was really intrigued to discover their shared debt to Bob Fosse as a choreographer. This edit of Fosse's routine in The Little Prince is pretty extraordinary, a template for almost all of the moves and tics which we now consider to be characteristically MJ:

And then there's Beyonce's debt to, or rather deliberate homage to, Fosse in -- let me finish -- one the best videos of all time. I can't embed it but you can watch it here.

And this synchs up Fosse's original routine, devised for his wife Gwen Verdon, with Single Ladies:

The Fosse-MJ-Beyonce triangulation is so gloriously odd, the way it crosswires certain assumptions about gender and race, subverting projections like the idea that Jackson's performance of Billie Jean at Motown 25 'encapsulated a long tradition of African-American dance movements in one performance' (a view ascribed to Ian Inglis in the wiki for the moonwalk).

While I'm on the subject, I don't think I've ever linked from here to this post about Beyonce, the Sashe Fierce gauntlet as cyber-prosthesis and the etymological roots of cyborg in the concept of slavery.

08 December 2009

This is how we walk on the moon

MJ as classic child star -- identity fixed at moment of first success, unable to achieve a viable adult identity because unable to ever leave this persona as a) wunderkind and b) object of desire behind. Frozen in this pre-pubescent mindframe. This compounded by father's violence and philandering: horror of adult sexuality. Career produced then torn apart by the tension created by this as he ages. Androgyny and surgery as attempt to evade post-pubescence, to remain like a child: asexual and, as a universally worshipped image-vessel of pure potentiality, deracinated too. Surgery as refacialization, denial of his father's paternity and the genetic reiterations of repro-futurism. Billie Jean as apex of this -- rejection of paternity, of sex and its reproductive logic -- (see also Dirty Diana). Then the decline as age renders these contortions impossible to sustain. Atonement for the blasphemy against holy ideology of the child in Billie Jean etc... has children w/out sex, has sexless intercourse w/ children...

The moonwalk as attempt to reverse flow of time/space back towards 1969, year of the real moon walk and moonlanding, the year he debuted w/ J5 and was date-stamped, ID-stamped, Id-stamped irrevocably. A survey of the Jackson 5's records could work here too -- as a sort of lost future, an image of the child MJ could not continue to be.
An outline for a piece on Michael Jackson that remained unwritten. I'm glad I never fleshed it out, it was more a ground-clearing exercise in working out what I actually thought MJ was, before then writing something a little less obvious (and I do think a lot of it is obvious), or at least less pop-psychological. I still like the moonwalk idea though: the choreography of nostalgia, a literalization of a will-to-return, the longing to go backwards though time to a prelapsarian safety. Is the 1969 moon landing / J5 debut connection overstated? Maybe, but then why is it called the 'moonwalk'? It's not as if there's any similarity between Jackson's slip-slide reverse (both feet stuck like glue to the floor) and the big, slow-motion forward bounces which everyone knows low gravity imposes on the normal human gait. [The move, as is well-documented, was not invented by Jackson, but Jackson does seem to be responsible for the name by which it's now universally recognised.]

One (and not the only) way that this sketch is superfluous/redundant is that there already is a survey of the Jackson 5's discography by Barney Hoskyns in the latest volume from Zer0:

It also features Mark Fisher, Steven Shaviro, Dominic Fox, Owen Hatherley, Alex Williams, Reid Kane, Geeta Dayal, Charles Holland, Tom Ewing, Joshua Clover, Marcello Carlin, Ian Penman, David Stubbs, Mark Sinker and more. I shouldn't big it up personally as I'm in it, but in the Times Bob Stanley says it's 'one of the year’s best books' and has 'fresh, allegation-free perspectives on Jackson’s life.' Available to order here.

13 November 2009

Beards per minute

Given their closer orbit to his normal spheres of listening, I'm surprised Simon missed a whole rash of beards beyond the fuzzy folk types discussed in this Guardian piece (and in his blissblog follow-up).

For starters, minimal techno does not mean minimal facial hair.

Particularly for the acknowledged master of the field.

This minimal-techno-dubstep spectrum clearly needs to be extended as minimal-techno-dubstep-beards, looking at this Perlon new boy:

Then there's Sam Shackleton's former Skull Disco colleague:

There may be a West Country thing going on here . . . Bristol is a pretty beardy town, and Bristol's the connection for Appleblim and Bass Clef:

But that's not all re dubstep:

And Hyperdub connects to:

From which you can go hauntological:

Or stay electro/synth-pop (note the double points scored here for beard plus Shoreditch Slug):

From whom the beard's importance to the post-punk electro disco revival is a step away:

Before you even consider random strands like space disco:

And assorted French hipsters like Sebastian Tellier or Justice who I can't be bothered to picture.

I just hope these oversights don't blow up in Simon's face . . . It can only be a matter of time before Joe Muggs pens a heartfelt screed on the narrowness of his initial folk-orientated Face Fuzz Continuum . . . its pernicious effects as a kind of canon formation; how badly it reveals his ignorance of the openness of the modern beard-wearer to a huge variety of influences beyond the Incredible String Band; etc.

03 November 2009

Crazy Rhythms

If I’d known that The Feelies were capable of sounding like Richard Thompson jamming with Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother, I would have checked them out sooner. For years I had one unsourced phrase in my head in relation to the band: ‘Hoboken pop squirm’, although the core of the band actually grew up (and remained) in Haledon, New Jersey. I couldn’t even have told you what Hoboken pop squirm was; I assumed it meant weedy proto-indie, a kind of jangly forerunner of Weezer or They Might Be Giants, the wrong side of the river from the bare-knuckle sonic psychosis of post-No Wave downtown.

Crazy Rhythms (their first album) is totally wired though. The sound is like a featherweight boxer: not overpoweringly massive but practically quivering with tensile strength. Although the wiriness of the long-distance runner is probably a better comparison: according to this NY Rocker piece, the two guitarists, Glenn Mercer and Bill Millions would meet daily to go for 3-5 mile runs. Anton Fier, drummer for long enough to record this album but not much longer, must have been the real athlete though: some of these beats, especially ‘Forces at Work‘, the title track, ‘Moscow Nights’, ‘Loveless Love’, are so unerringly, unrelentingly propelled that the stories about him throwing up between songs, and bleeding from the mouth and ears (! flying and/or broken sticks presumably) are fully believable.

When Fier and the rest of the band are locked right in, punk becomes an inadequate reference point, and instead a kind of American motorik manifests itself, with the New Jersey Turnpike’s endless width -- 14 lanes at one point -- replacing the autobahn as the governing metaphor. (‘Forces at Work’: Haledon, Galledon.) That sense of flat width -- an inclination to the horizontal as an organizing principle -- follows through the whole record from the mixing and its separated stereo image to the cover image of the band, lined up from left to right against a pale blue ground. ‘Crazy Rhythms’ is so… flattened, with its beginning and end separated by a guitar-less instrumental break long enough to fit most punk songs into, but one that doesn’t attempt any shifts in dynamic range or solos, just a series of percussion bursts that come and go.

The whole record feels fascinatingly out of place: a Jersey band obsessed with Eno and Kraftwerk, playing on the downtown punk scene -- and released by a UK label (Stiff). Geographical dislocation recurs in the lyrics, from the unreliable out-of-body narration of ‘Boy with Perpetual Nervousness’ to ‘Moscow Nights’, a song arguably no less provocative to mainstream American culture than ‘God Save the Queen’ was to the UK, being a fantasy about defecting to Soviet Russia (on the cusp of the decade of Red October and Red Dawn):

When you smile and say,
‘I thought about it, it's the right time’
And I expect that
You're never returning to the USA
Well, I don't know
I think it's time for you to face it
You never felt right in our world
You never felt right about yourself
And I think about what it might be like
If I could go alone, if I could go at night
Would it be just like you know you said it would
Would it start the life aglow?

There’s also something oddly out of time about the record. It came out in 1980, making it more post-punk than punk, but the band were playing together downtown in 1976, when Terry Ork started to manage them, so the elements they share with Television (a paradoxical atmosphere: deadpan histrionics), Talking Heads (jittery, spasmodic, but plugged right in to the dancefloor), Jonathan Richman (the lightfooted AM pop of ‘Fa Ce La’) aren’t so much debts as parallel developments that went undocumented for four years.

It’s ahead of, as well as behind, its times. Their understanding of space, bass and percussion anticipates Liquid Liquid’s at points (that break on ‘Crazy Rhythms’, the slow-burn start of ‘Boy with Perpetual Nervousness’). They cut out crash cymbals to keep the to range of frequencies free for the guitars, then compensate with layers of extra shakers, woodblocks, etc that work as powerfully for being left out as when they’re in: dub’s positive use of negative space -- double hisses on the hi-hat that refuse to crowd every bar, rolling breaks on toms and cowbells. Listened to in conjunction with the massively underwhelming follow-up The Good Earth, you realize The Feelies pulled off the same uncommon trick as Pixies, making a first album which is better recorded, more intelligent, more developed, just better all round, than its successor, even down to the crisp, dry, force of the production, almost clinically clear and undistorted, where the second is mushier, messier, duller, more conventional. The Pixies had Steve Albini, The Feelies had their own ideas, developed in the long run-up to the sessions, which they then imposed on their engineer, Mark Abel. And also a certain amount of luck: unhappy with the sound of their amps, they tried plugging their guitars straight into the mixing desk, and then decided to stick with the unusually clean, cold sound that resulted. (Abel: 'That record was the culmination of four years of fantasizing about how they were going to record those songs... they couldn't understand anyone else's ideas... Frankly, I think they dug themselves into a hole, but that's the hole they want and they have a perfect right to sit in it.') It undercuts the garage-punk assumption that distortion equals sublime raging inferno. Glenn Mercer says ‘Stiff requested a demo for a second album. They didn't like it. We were doing a lot of home recording, even more in an Eno mode and less like a rock band.’ With Stiff’s misjudgment and Anton Fier leaving, I wonder if this second album that never happened is one of the great lost albums. The closest thing that exists to it is probably Sonic Youth’s debut EP from the following year, which shares some of that rigorously cool recording aesthetic, the chiming,* intertwined guitars and an accent on percussion. And, come to think of it, elements of the cover design.

* The Feelies are often described as ‘jangly’, but they’re not. They chime. Indie jangles; jingle bells jangle. Clocks, bells, Arvo Part and Steve Reich records chime. The Feelies chime.

15 October 2009

Music and theory

Very late on this, but Simon Reynolds on theory and music for Frieze is an excellent read (… and p.s. thanks to Dan Fox for the link to this in the comments)

Via that I found this dialogue (also from Frieze) between Simon R and Kodwo Eshun, from all the way back in 1999. Essential reading as a whole I think, but Kodwo’s first response caught my eye in particular. After that Nuum conference back in the spring, a lot of the Reynolds & nuum naysayers seemed very keen to approve of the presentation by Kode9 and Kodwo… sort of as ‘theory we can believe in’, a move to give them more leverage with which to bash k-punk and SR… if they approve of Kodwo and Kode9, it pre-empts the charge of being knee-jerk anti-theory philistines. But this quote from Kodwo shows the degree to which they’re trying to line up with someone who‘d repudiate much of their standpoint:
Music [has] changed so drastically that it was more pressing to analyse the widening gap between how music sounded and the terms we used to understand it. When I started writing in 1992, most dance writing was still at the level of ‘kicking’ and ‘banging’. There was a fiercely-held anti-intellectual drive that made writing about dance music more of a challenge. […] You get people writing things like ‘the music speaks for itself’ as if it’s the most admirable thing you could say - but it’s just a cop-out. There’s an idea that the writer’s aim is to empathise, to intuit, on the side of the producer against the world.

For me, it seems far more urgent to understand what computerisation is doing to rhythm than to understand that a particular musician was a bad boy who grew up in care and had a really hard time. […] 99% of writing is still socio-historical and my attempt to totally destroy that is probably doomed to failure, but it’s an experiment to show that it’s viable, using the particular example of black electronic dance music, machine music, computer music.
. . .

The Frieze Theory print issue was excellent too. But there's something about the entirety of, or the presumed possibility of, any debate about ‘Theory’, whether for or against... When you read some depressing ‘common sense’ reductive write-off of theory it’s (usually) impossible not to think a) there’s no engagement with the actual ideas in question going on, but instead a flat objection to complexity and/or abstraction in principle and in general, and b) even if you were presented with a compelling take-down of say, Paul de Man’s entire philosophical project from top to bottom, how does that impinge on Foucault? Theory is a sufficiently heterogenous body of critique and inquiry that any generic attack is going to struggle for traction. The flipside of this is that defending ‘Theory’ as a whole skirts dangerously close to being futile and/or reductive.
. . .

Reading around and about the theory debate over the last couple of months, the word ‘precisely’ seemed to leap off the page. It often seems to serve more of a rhetorical function than an author would probably like to admit, cropping up just at the point where two slippery concepts are being linked together, and the more counter-intuitive or unlikely the link, the more likely it is that ‘precisely’ will pop up. It suggests a residual anxiety about abstraction, a will-to-exactitude that kicks in when talking about the conceptual and the conceptualization of the conceptual; so ‘precisely’, with its connotations of incisive, surgical specificity, is often as much the writer assertively reassuring or reaffirming themselves as anything else.

09 September 2009


It's a strange feeling, if you read a lot about the music industry and its impending death-by-downloads, to turn to this piece by Nicholson Baker and read about Jeff Bezos of Amazon and his determination to do the same for publishing.

Bezos and Amazon must believe that e-books, downloaded to a device like the Kindle, are inevitable and that they might as well get in first. They must believe that the earlier they're in, the better their chances of colonizing this new world, setting Amazon up to exploit the pilgrim hordes to come.

This depends on the assumption that technology will make the Kindle or similar e-reader so pleasurable and easy to use that it will supersede the book.

But the same assumption – that ingenuity will find a way – is surely what will prove fatal to them. The Kindle will only work if they can make its DRM work, and no DRM has ever remained uncracked once users reach a certain critical mass. Eventually, readers will have access to an infinite wealth of digital texts for free, and publishing will have exactly the same problem as the music industry: how do you make readers pay for something they can get for free?

Maybe there's a different psychological economy at work in the way people relate to and acquire books, and the way they relate to and acquire music. But it's quite a chance to take.

. . .

I sometimes try to imagine a culture without artefacts – the endpoint of digital in which no-one prints a book, buys a newspaper or magazine, presses a CD (let alone a record), and wonder when it will arrive. And how I will make a living.

Then I remember that in a hundred years' time, humanity will be reduced to small pockets of hunter-gatherer-fisher-farmers, scraping out an existence on small temperate islands, while the continents become uninhabitable scorched wastelands. Assuming the climate stabilizes and these surviving communities start to send out sorties to the old hubs of civilization (like Ballard's Drowned World), as they gather together relics from the old world there will presumably be a huge lacuna. The cultural fossil record will start to go blank from the turn of the century onwards, and with no internet, no electricity, the migration to digital will appear as a kind of universal amnesia. These survivor-explorer archaeologists from the future will find books, records, magazines, CDs, but they will be decreasing to a trickle as the years go by, while even they if manage to fire a computer up, there will be no distant Google server-farm to supply them.

07 September 2009


After this post, it has been pointed out to me that of course three (not two) of Hot Chip attended Elliott School. Forgot about Owen Clarke. Sorry Owen. Felix Martin did not, but he did go to Pimlico School, which unlike Elliott is out-and-out Brutalism (I’m not going to make much of the fact that Felix now stands at the back jabbing at drum machines). Or at least Pimlico was Brutalist. Also, the underground river nearby is in fact called the Wandle, not the Wendle. For this, I blame Michael de Larrabeiti. I’m going to write about de Larrabeiti sooner or later, but if I do it will probably be too long for this blog. I also have this from an Elliotonian correspondent:

it never gets mentioned anymore that some of So Solid also went to Elliott. One of them once mugged me in MacDonalds as a 14 year old. He got expelled for something else later on. Though he was always very friendly whenever I bumped into him later
With heart-warming happy endings like that, no wonder it was declared Britain’s friendliest school. Also some another small corroboration for Owen H’s suggested sympathy between brutalist architecture/grime sonics.

Finally, I think I was harsh on Bukem here. I liked Logical Progression (and recently got very into Woebot’s ambient jungle mix for Fact). But two moments for me stand out for me when I think about the decline of my initial interest in dnb. Owen Hatherley’s description of it: 'by 1998, a ponderous stonerstep for slovenly, unshaven UCL science students in expensive rainwear', here echoes my own experience almost exactly, with the nadir being a Goldie night in either late ’98 or early ’99, rammed with public schoolboys in body warmers. But a harbinger of that was listening to Earth 2 on one of those HMV listening posts and thinking, this sounds like a waiting room.

pic credit: Pimlico School, RIBA via Twentieth Century Society

29 August 2009

(Brutalist) Boy from School

I used to wonder how much the architecture of Oxford and Cambridge affected the mindset of its longterm employees. Living and working amongst those buildings, massive, monumental representations of the institutions’ age, status and venerability… How much might this condition you to think a little more complacently of yourself (as the present-day representative of this heritage) and to think about the world a little more conservatively, than you would otherwise? Similarly, if you went to Eton, then Oxford, then worked in Lincolns Inn Fields, how might such an unbroken succession of film-set dreaming spires subconsciously condition you?

I don’t know how this effect could be tested for or quantified. And anecdotally at least I’ve not found it to be borne out by experience. (My friend and sample-group-of-one in Lincolns Inn volunteered for Obama and runs a Palestinian campaign group.) But I happened to be thinking about it a week ago, when I read this Sophie Heawood piece on The xx. Understandably enough, it picks up on the angle about their school: Elliott, a comprehensive in Putney previously attended by Burial, Fridge (two of whom release solo records as Adem and Fourtet) and two-fifths of Hot Chip. And some Maccabees. (Though arguably the most successful Elliott product is this shredder). I should admit that I know some Elliott alumni very well and can report that Heawood’s description is pretty accurate. They do have a somewhat cult-like insularity: they’re reluctant to associate with outsiders, they wear flowing white robes, and they gather every summer solstice on Putney Heath to worship a huge flaming effigy of a deity they name Victor. But while Elliott has been the subject of plenty of articles already, it's the first I‘ve seen mention it as a built environment. Heawood says the band were affected by ‘the sense of space in the school itself — which itself was “weirdly massive”, according to Sim.’

From images found online (all at elliottonian.com), it looks like a kind of soft brutalism to me: modernist, exposed stairwells and functions, but with glass winning out over concrete expanse or massive bulk. Not quite a 'council estate prison’ as The xx's Madley Croft has it (whatever that would be). No doubt Fantastic Journal, Entschwindet und Vergeht and Sit Down Man can make more of it, tell me what I‘m missing etc. I like the sheer horizontal persistence of the main building and the gym / theatre (?) looks interesting.

In relation to the Elliott discography I can’t see/hear anything as striking as the connection made in Militant Modernism between brutalist social housing and the sonic brutalism of grime. None of the Elliott discography could be described as brutalist, though there are jagged outbreaks in Kieran Hebden’s duo sets with Steve Reid, and some gloriously maximalist aggro in Hot Chip tracks like Shake a Fist. It’s wrong to generalize, but if I had to I would say there’s a kind of collective urban pastoralism at work. Check out these two Fridge covers; Hot Chip are as influenced by the low-key lushness of Hall & Oates, Robert Wyatt and Will Oldham’s Appalachian modes as they are by post-Timbaland electro-futurism; Adem’s records are post-Pro Tools kitchen table Cloth Cuts pillow talk. The xx are obviously in love with the lo-fi pastoral of Young Marble Giants (another Putney connection there, because Domino, whose offices are in Putney, reissued YMG in 2007, when The xx would have been 16/17). The master image of Burial’s first album was London, submerged under a broken-barriered Thames (…and the Wendle, one of London‘s underground rivers, flows nearby). So maybe, if you had to (idiotically) generalize, you could detect a kind of quiet polemic, a naturalization of city life. Because if there is a kind of 'fields beneath’, under-the-pavement-the-beach dynamic, it’s not about alienated hippie anti-urbanism, but a rejection of that rejection. Nor is it situationist denaturalization, a making strange of the concrete city, but instead buried in the background hum of the music, a straightforward celebration of it.

22 August 2009

Fear of Music (Again)

Haven't you heard? Music is dead, a cadaver quivering coldly on the edge of the rave. Music writers, the poor dears, say nothing of note. In the hot, sweaty summer of 2009, this has been the concern of many heavyweight thinkers. Take Mark Fisher's requiem for dance music in the New Statesman, John Harris's elegy for music journalism in the Saturday Guardian, the Drowned in Sound series Music Journalism: RIP? or Simon Reynolds's criticisms of club culture in the Wire and on his own blog. Enough is enough. It is time to tackle these quibbles, look up, and take action.
Jude Rogers writing here. It’s possible that the entire thing is a prank: note the close proximity of the words ‘heavyweight thinker’ to the name John Harris.

I was far more depressed reading Rogers’ piece than I was when reading any of the quibblers she’s trying to call time on. Yoking together such a disparate body of opinion and writing it all off as moaning is absurd, but given the word count, I suppose straw men were necessary in order to get her own theory in. But it gets weirder. A David Byrne installation and some impromptu folk-singing session remind Rogers that
music is our tool to work with, and we can do with it what we wish, if we engage with it. Critics often forget this. They ignore the glimpses of light that the modern world offers, and prefer to bask in the nostalgia of their formative experiences.
There are all kinds of slippages going on here. Who is the ‘we‘? Critics? Listeners? Everyone? (A royal plural?) It seems to be in flux. This working and engaging, is it making one‘s own music or a different kind of criticism? . . . So far as it applies to the errant writers previously named and shamed, Rogers’ argument must be that if they just worked harder at liking things, they would find that they could like absolutely anything. Music being a simple ’tool’, you can make of it what you will (‘You only get out what you put in!’). And that would be better because it wouldn’t get Jude Rogers down so much.

Rogers has more to say about these critics wrongheaded enough to engage in critical thinking:
Just because they, like me, are no longer fearlessly young, and not experiencing movements and the draw of musicians for the first time, they shouldn't forget that other people are. What's more, they do little to get up and change things, and instead prefer to get themselves, and us, down.
What these writers actually ‘did’ was to word their critiques and publish them, unlike Rogers who has . . . written a critique and published it. Why the assumption that the aim of those pieces was not to inspire any action or change any minds but just to, you know, ruin people’s day?

You could put the complaints down to an unconscious animus against criticism. You know, the attitude that says music is music, do we have to talk/think about it? But these two words apply to very unstable categories and there’s a free exchange between them; music is implicitly an act of criticism, and critics can drive musical change, by feeding ideas back into that process, whether they’re Kode9 or Paul Morley. The true sentimentalization of the past happening here is the idea that we must side blindly with the kids, following the self-evidently false assumption that music is always in rude health, that those diagnosing it as palsied or amnesiac or sedated are just old people, and they’re ruining it for the yoot. All musical years are not equal; some are a lot fucking better than others. ('I’d be the first to say that DMZ is no Metalheadz! Or that I wish I’d been there for Bukem' as one buffoon empiricist, oddly, admits.) The thing being wished for here, is not some pure direct access to music as such, but simply the warm amniotic glow of feeling that everything is OK. It’s not just a fear of music that might be bad, and the burden of having to decide if it is, because that is inextricable from any experience of music. In its terror of actually having to think, critique and evaluate rather than apply fingers to ears and go lalala, and in its fear of finding out what music actually is, Rogers’ argument is not just a fear of criticism. It’s a fear of music itself.

This determination to think oneself into a state of deaf complacency is like a parody of critical engagement by way of positive-feedback techniques misappropriated from CBT. It's the kind of thing that leads you to swallow whatever you’re offered. The kind of thinking that leads you to realize, like Jude Rogers, only in 2009 that Blur and Britpop c. ’96 were over-rated, or that Tony Blair wasn’t the socially progressive messiah he presented himself as.

I don’t want to sleepwalk through the next fifteen years of music, culture and politics, and I don’t have to. Because critical thinking is our tool to work with, and we can get things done with it if we engage it. People often forget this. They ignore the glimpses of light that criticism offers, and prefer to bask in the safe sentimentality of their formative experiences.

18 August 2009

Minimalism III

From a profile of Apple's Steve Jobs, here:
Later, Jobs dropped out of college. Again, this seems to have been crucial. Alan Deutschman, author of The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, says his lack of a proper education in a world of highly educated people left him permanently insecure, especially in matters of taste. “I think his choice of a minimalist aesthetic comes from his fear of making the wrong aesthetic choice. He was someone who had great wealth from his early twenties. He was worried about not being seen as a brilliant sophisticate, so he had gurus to help him. There was this anxiety about being judged, combined with a natural instinct about the tremendous importance of design.”
It echoes, precisely, the connection made by Mark McGurl between Raymond Carver's reductionist aesthetic and his insecurities about his education and class. As discussed here in connection to minimal techno.

17 August 2009

last thought

...on Hyph Mngo. Interesting that Simon compares it unfavourably with MJ Cole's Sincere here. I've been listening to MJ Cole's recent mix for Fact a lot (which it looks like you can still d/l from their site), and Hyph Mngo doesn't come out out of it too well. This is mostly I think to do with technicalities to do with this specific mix: it's pitched too slow, losing its natural snap, it's a little quieter than the tracks around it, it doesn't get a build-up... But a couple of tracks later, a Nero remix of Sincere comes in and – put it down to MJ Cole framing his own offspring more carefully if you like, or perhaps the fact that it's just newer to my ears – tingles the spine in a way that Hyph fails to.

12 August 2009

'Don't believe the Hyph'

Simon Reynolds doesn’t like Hyph Mngo much.

Should this be a surprise? Well, the url is blissout.blogspot.com . . . isn't there more bliss washing about in Hyph Mngo than in Chainsaw Calligraphy?

Maybe the problem is the still standing in for a video on the YouTube clip that's getting linked to. I mean, check out the visuals on this Wax Doctor clip. Then are those LTJ Bukem sets that always seemed to be orbital shots of some metallic toned planet. Liquid drum’n’bass. Mmm. Liquid . . . like propafol. Plus isn't there a definite Mngo >>> mango >>> Goa >>> trance >>> snooze chain of suggestion going on? [Edit 26 August: for clarity, I'm not suggesting this is intended by JO, but something subconsciously affecting how Simon might hear it.]

Back to the post: the phrase ‘moist’n’milky minimalism’. Is Hyph Mngo really minimalist? Those synths are so saturated and saturating, the snap and kick of the rhythm so thoroughly . . . present. Whether or not the vocal is an enraptured hymning of a certain contemporary philosopher as Dominic Fox wondered ('BADIOU! . . . BADIOU!'), it's still enraptured by/ enamoured of something.

I'm not sure Chainsaw Calligraphy is strickly maximalist either. It’s stripped-down, nuts & bolts. Like (say) The Ramones, it's both maximalist and minimalist, depending on your angle of approach. Compared to close relatives – Talking Heads' uptight jerks and twitches, Patti Smith’s oneiric drifts – The Ramones were chainsaw calligraphers, demented wall-of-sound maximalists. They did end up working with Phil Spector after all. But compared to the prog and glam which preceded them, they were Roundhead iconoclasts, mowing down multinecked virtuosi and art-school peacocks alike. You use chainsaws to cut down trees, tall poppies, and in both 16 Bit and The Ramones there's a vein of purest avant-yob reductionism.

Ultimately, like Grievous Angel, I just don't see the need to choose between 16Bit and JO.* But if I had to, then yes, I would rather dance to Hyph Mngo.

*Just waiting now for this biographical morsel which makes JO the Son of Nuum to break. And the SR interview hopefully.

10 August 2009

Recommended Reading

A great diary by David Keenan of his tour as Jandek’s drummer; superb piece on Philip K Dick by k-punk; audacious essay on The Dark Knight as a sequel to I’m Not There at Rouge’s Foam (and more Dark Knight, sort of, at Planomenology). Constant bubble of ideas at Object-Oriented Philosophy. (One very marginal thought in this post made me laugh; reminded me of when Claude Makalele was still at Chelsea and was universally acknowledged to be under-rated. Er...) The blog of fellow Wire contributor Phil Freeman. And Admiral Greyscale’s blog.

Edit: almost forgot, the Impostume on Scarface.

01 August 2009

Derek Went Mad

Somewhere in a shoebox at the bottom of cupboard I have a school-age tape of Dance Before the Police Come with – I think – a Blade album on the reverse. It didn't really leave much impression at the time, half of it being that British brand of post-Terror Squad aggro speed rap that already seemed out of date by '93. The other half, the inchoate breakbeat/hardcore stuff just didn't register, I didn't really have any context for it.

Playing the vinyl after a recent charity shop trawl, this track was a minor revelation. The Amen break, the disembodied vocal, the sense of psychological fragility; the singer's defiance undercut by the distracted tone, as if he's not even sure it's his own voice he hears singing. Looking back it connects dots between Burial, Gavin Bryars and the dread-drenched fevers of jungle records to come. It's a real omission from Soul Jazz's Rumble in the Jungle. Its sheer spookiness is only amplified by the video – burning crosses, wang chun exercises, and amphetamine dashes down institutional corridors.

30 July 2009

Down with the programme

Few American writers were able to make a living out of writing books. Somewhere in the 1950s some nut put together the bogus notion that you could haul in some bigwig writer like Ernest Hemingway or Samuel Beckett and get him to teach a bunch of some ten to fifteen young people how to write. [...] The concept of the creative writing program looked good on paper, but it was, in reality, a giant shuck, and the (mostly) poets who were on the lucrative gravy train in the early sixties were, for the most part, a bunch of wasted men who had helped popularize the craft during its glorious moment 1920–1950, when poets like W. H. Auden had the cachet rock stars would acquire in the second half of the century.
I came across this passage the other day while reading Victor Bockris's Lou Reed biography, Transformer, and it really struck me, not only because it was such a vehement opinion on the creative writing programme (previously discussed here), but because it is practically the only opinion Bockris offers on anything in the book's background detail. Elsewhere he maintains the studied neutrality of a dutiful biographer, reporting context without judging it. Bockris graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. I'd guess that it had a creative writing programme and one Bockris had a bad experience with. Wonder which wasted bigwig it was that taught it.

[Bockris photo via interview with Burroughs here]

28 July 2009

Lo-phy Hyph Mngo

Been playing this over and over. And over.

11 July 2009

One monkey, one typewriter

I was in Foyles to buy Me Cheeta by James Lever. Not finding it in fiction was a surprise, I guessed they'd sold out. When I asked I was directed to Actor's Biographies. I'd like to think shelving it there is a small joke on Foyles' part. James Lever might find it less funny.

Reading a borrowed copy of Me Cheeta in the wake of Michael Jackson's death it struck me that one posthumous explain-that piece I'd love to read would be Me Bubbles.

Foyled again

Writing this from the cafe in Foyles on Charing Cross Rd after a dispiriting visit to Ray's Jazz. Its steady decline from its own shop on Shaftesbury Avenue, to a concession sharing space with the Foyles cafe on the first floor has continued with it being shunted up to the top floor. While there was something undignified about the way it felt shoehorned into the cafe, at least it must have got plenty of through-custom and at least there was a historical rightness to the combination of jazz and espresso bar in this marriage of convenience. Relegated upwards to the top of the building it now has more room, but far fewer customers. It's less an attic than a graveyard. One other customer wandered in and out while I flicked through secondhand racks full of things I remembered from my last visit a couple of months ago. Staff: one. Down in the cafe seven aproned art students eddied around behind the counter. I fully expect to return sooner or later and find that Ray's is now housed under some tarpaulin sheeting rigged up on the roof of the building. Paul Morley is walking down Charing Cross Rd below me.

10 July 2009

World of Echoes (MJ)

('Human Nature', Thriller)

('I Can't Help It', Off the Wall)

('The Girl is Mine', Thriller)

('I Want You Back', 1969 single)

('The Girl is Mine')

09 July 2009


Several posts in the works, but in the meantime... Hollow Earth and The End Times writing at length on The Dirty Projectors' new album. If I can find the time I want to write about Bitte Orca myself.

Also, Fantastic Journal with a fascinating post on the subterranean rural militarism of the 'stay-behind' – sort of negative images of the Martello towers of the Napoleonic era.

FJ's Ballardian take on Michael Jackson is worth reading as is the one at Sit Down Man, where there's also a great post on the Wu Tang Clan spinning off a passing mention in this post. I've just been reading Simon Reynolds' Energy Flash for the first time [guilty shuffle] and there's a whole chunk about the apocalyptic, millenarian, paranoid, conspiracy-obsessed current in hiphop, which I'm hoping to return to in a Doomcore Pt III post.

And more hiphop: Mark Fisher in the New Statesman on the way its ruthless street Darwinism reflected the neoliberal ascendancy from the Reagan-Thatcher years onwards, becoming pure capitalist realism, invalidating all the utopian politics and aesthetics of black psychedelic counter-culture... I've mentioned my own projected piece on psychedelia in hiphop before, this will hopefully appear in a finished state at some point soon. Or at least this year.

08 July 2009

Derek Jarman and Coil

In late '98/early '99 Coil made a soundtrack to Derek Jarman's early Super-8 film Journey to Avebury (1971) as part of their series of downloads, Song of the Week. Above you can hear it synched up with the film. Gorgeously weird electronic rerouting of folk's pastoral drift. (Hat tip: Second Sight)

02 July 2009

Loops out now

Among others, Rob Young, Geeta Dayal, Matt Ingram, Anwyn Crawford, David Shrigley, Simon Reynolds and Maggoty Lamb. Site here, buy wherever.

27 June 2009

A Boner In Brian Eno

My great disappointment in the brief history of this blog so far was the non-response of a commenter on the 'I Hate: Brian Eno' post.

This commenter rather crushingly despatched Eno thus:
I went to the pictures with Brian,when I was at Art School.We saw The Ballard of Joe Hill (my choice).You have to admire how a small,ugly,chain smoking man managed to get it together through sheer ego.He had nothing else going for him.
Could be an impostor / fantasist of course, but the reality effect, the telling detail: the film and who chose it... Sadly no further details (popcorn or Revels, did Brian pay) were forthcoming.

Can't help but imagine the famously priapic Eno suggesting some extraordinarily refined and experimental perversion as a way of rounding off the evening. But what might it have been? 'Burning shame', 'warm jets' or another card plucked from his pornographic deck?*

What I really want to know: somewhere in his cupboard of old unreleased master tapes, is there a Music for Fucking?

The notion of porn film music has always bored me, simply because it's always discussed as part of that sniggering post-Boogie Nights C4 naughty-student discourse... moustaches bad accents such silly scenarios! plumber arrives clothes fall off girl teehee etc. In this context porn music is always sleazy, cheezy library muzak.

But what would Eno's Music for Fucking sound like? You know you want to hear it too.

Pornography is always opposed to 'art' because it seemingly has no transcendental aspirations, it only satisfies basic physical desires. Where art is considered to have failed, its failure is often given the name of porn, it's reclassified as 'mere' porn. Examples: to their critics, Michael Mann or James Cameron make weaponry porn, techno porn; Merchant Ivory is mere landscape or Victoriana porn; Bertolucci is just porn porn. Porn is trivial because it's instrumental, aspiring to nothing more than fulfilling a specific libidinal purpose.**

Instrumental has two meanings relevant here:

Music without vocals (in the context of popular music)

And, number one in the Oxford English Dictionary:
1.a. Of the nature of an instrument (material or subservient); serving as an instrument or means; contributing to the accomplishment of a purpose or result.
Segueing out of his initial post-Roxy persona as a shadow Bowie, Eno's projects of course fit both these descriptions: the Ambient series, Discreet Music, Music for Films (all of which were continuations of the trajectory implied by No Pussyfooting, Evening Star), plus moments on Another Green World and Before and After Science.

So forget the notional Music for Fucking – has Eno been attempting the pornographization of music all along?

Susan Sontag's famous conclusion at the end of 'Against Interpretation' is this: 'In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.' ***

In other words, criticism should abandon the hopeless of aim of explicating the discursive 'content' of art, the assumption that all its significance can be clearly translated into language.

The section that builds to this conclusion is very Eno avant-la-lettre:
Once upon a time (say, for Dante), it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to design works of art so that they might be experienced on several levels. Now it is not. It reinforces the principle of redundancy that is the principal affliction of modern life.

Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there. This cannot be taken for granted, now. Think of the sheer multiplication of works of art available to every one of us, superadded to the conflicting tastes and odors and sights of the urban environment that bombard our senses. Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life - its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness - conjoin to dull our sensory faculties. And it is in the light of the condition of our senses, our capacities (rather than those of another age), that the task of the critic must be assessed.

What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.

Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.
Well, porn is only addressed to one 'level' of experience, as are the palliative Ambient records. What is Discreet Music if not a project designed to take the listener out of a modern world whose plenitude 'dulls our sensory faculties', and by resting the senses, aims to make them 'hear more'? 'Against Interpretation' argues for a libidinal sensory phenomenology to take its rightful place over incidental semantic 'content'. Take Eno's lyrics, which he happily admits are nonsense composed only with an ear for their phonetic, acoustic properties: this is precisely Sontag's plea coming to fruition (oo-er etc).

Category error alert: Eno isn't a critic, he's a musician? Keep up. All art is a form of critique. Every record is a critique of previous records, directly or indirectly. Opposing art and criticism is as false as divorcing form and content. That's not to level down artists or valorize the critic, but the two practices are not as easily separable as popular convention would still have it. Eno's eroticization of sound is also an eroticization of process, of systematization – and of criticism.

Me so horny!

* Afterthought, on Oblique Strategies. This quote from the Chrissie Hynde NME piece: 'It's a burning shame that most people want to keep pornography under cover when it's such a highly developed art form - which is one of the reasons that I started collecting pornographic playing cards.' So forget the I-Ching, Eno clearly came up with the idea of Oblique Strategies while shuffling a deck of pornographic cards in bed, trying to decide what to do next. Conversely, try reading some of the Strategies with your 'larger brain'... 'State the problem in words as clearly as possible'. (Talk dirty). And so on: 'Repetition is a form of change' (Don't stop) – I leave it to the reader to paraphrase these... 'Honor thy error as a hidden intention' – 'What would your closest friend do?' – 'Are there sections? Consider transitions.'

** Of course, there's nothing so deceptively simple and endlessly problematic as desire and the ways in which it's constructed. (For starters, see Dominic Fox here, here and here).

*** Sontag's essay can be read in full here.

26 June 2009

Link-death served four ways

Here are four...

of the most frustrating...

things you can read...

on the net.

Link-death is one of the main reasons why I actually want to keep YouTube embeds down to a minimum. A post built around YouTube is at the whim of copyright claims and fickle uploaders.

[Request: does anyone have archives of Heronbone? And where did Aloof From Inspiration go?]

25 June 2009

The New Dance Show

So this is The New Dance Show, the subject of discussion in yesterday's screenshot trailer. Basically Soul Train for local Detroit TV, it ran late '80s to mid '90s. I stumbled over it while digging for doomcore stuff on YouTube. One of Marc Arcadipane's many aliases was Cyborg Unknown, and his Year 2001 sounds amazing here (wait for the shift at 3:30).

Cyborg Unknown – Year 2001

Guy Called Gerald – Blow Your House

Again, the lo-res digital transfer seems to suit the track. A Guy Called Gerald all the way from Manchester to the home of his beloved Juan Atkins and Derrick May. Great anecdote in the comments from someone who must have been a runner or something at the time:
It's weird how this mix came about. Jesse wasn't in the studio that day and we had to come up with some music to play on the show. I had a CASSETTE in my car and gave it to the producer to play so we could have some music. I mixed these 2 songs together in my basement! No Bull.

Dan Bell – Elextric Shock

Detroit local and old Richie Hawtin connection through Plus 8 Records...

Channel X – Yeah, I'm Freaky

Some ridiculous booty music.

What I like about these videos is the sense of almost archaeological distance. These are relics from another epistemology, an era before the moving image and recorded sound became uber-digitized and endlessly distributable and reiterable. It feels like there's a naivety, a lack of self-consciousness, a willing jokiness to the dancers which seems so... enviable somehow. It's not that they thought no-one was watching – obviously the whole thing was an exercise in display. It's more that, despite the intense futurism of the music, the idea of the internet, let alone YouTube, is so unimagined, unimaginable, to the people you're watching. So while there was an audience present in the dancers' heads, the fact that for them it only extended to Detroit and the not-too-distant vicinity is rendered almost antique, vintage, by its appearance on YouTube, available to millions in dozens of countries.

24 June 2009

next up

21 June 2009

One Year Nothing Made Sense

'The Light' is pretty much the only Common tune I've ever cared for and such was my antipathy for the rapper that for a long while I considered the track a kind of sample-delivery machine: you wait patiently through the verses for the gorgeous, glistening [sampled] chorus...
Simon Reynolds over here in a blog about J-Dilla.

Fingers twitching spasmodically while reading... Dilla important to backpackers but never a backpacker... RZA was 'unquantized' well before Dilla... other... pedantic... unnecessary... observations... [swallow – gasp]

But as the first in a series of shameless fanboy 'I Love _____' posts, I want to make a case for Common, justify his existence a little bit, after Simon’s critical-beatdown-in-passing. Specifically, I want to make the case for his ’97 album One Day It'll All Make Sense.

This record came out in the autumn of that year – a year that hardly compares release-wise to the riches of '92-'94, but is properly significant in hiphop history. Consider the following three records.

Late spring, Puff Daddy's ‘I'll Be Missing You’. The inauguration of hiphop as commercially supreme musical force. Took a hiphop subgenre which was already tragically prevalent – the elegy to a fallen friend – and Hallmarked it, made even the funerary oration an excuse for the prominent display of superbikes, and a messianic all-white dress code. Sold itself to a massive crossover audience using a sample of The Police: a black impresario (Coombs) re-digesting a band which was already a re-digestion by three white guys of black Jamaican culture. The logical product of this kind of no-added-value cannibalism was the career of Jennifer Lopez (Sean Coombs’ later girlfriend), in which classic hiphop beats (Craig Mack's ‘Flava in Ya Ear’, The Beatnuts' ‘Watch Out Now’), already works of sampling, were sampled again, double-filtered for maximum pop slick. I could go on.

Late summer: The anti Puff Daddy, Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus. An album full of dazzlingly horrible ideas; beats like bruises, rhymes bipolarized into hyperactive thought and catatonic depression. Difficult, malevolent, serrated, a record as fiercely anti corporate culture as anything by Ian Mackaye or Steve Albini. But one that, as good as it was, had a pernicious effect: it validated an entire subsequent anti-mainstream subculture, indie hiphop, art hiphop, that succumbed to the logic of the purist’s ghetto, in which miniscule sales became a proof of quality / credibility. An example of the classic as uncopyable, a cul-de-sac.

Late summer: Wu Forever, the record which, if you believed the RZA’s hype, would be the Rosetta Stone for music’s next millennia, the blueprint for its past, present and future – don’t you see the letters RZA in Mozart? he would ask interviewers at the time – a bringing together of the arcing solo-career vectors of Meth, ODB, the GZA, RZA, Ghost, Rae et al into something that would transcend even the sum of those colossal parts. Turns out, like a bad marriage ‘forever’ meant '93-'97... Well, I do think there's a good single album struggling to get out of Forever's labyrinthine immensity. And Supreme Clientele and N**** Please were still to come. But still, as Owen observes, from this point on the Wu were in decline.

So, the end of a good era, the start of a bad, and a subnarrative that looked like a new beginning but was really more of a culmination.

This is the scene into which One Day It’ll All Makes Sense issues, so it’s not surprising if it got lost a little in the fuss. But it’s a record that reflects those growing pain convulsions, all the eddying tensions of cash, cool, credibility, cartoon violence or complexity; it amounts to an argument over what hiphop is, should or can be. There are tracks that just thump with that offhand steadiness of peak-era Evil Dee, Premier or ATCQ: ‘Invocation’, ‘Real Nigga Quotes’, ‘Hungry’, ‘Stolen Moments Pt II’. But there are also moments where Common tries to push things forward, ask messy existential questions in a way that could lead him into (potentially) tediously ‘mature’ pastures. This is an album that addresses something Matt Ingram used to write about, the opposition between beatnik and avant-yob. Common is trying to find a position where he’s not mindlessly commercial (Puffy), not creating a falsely criminal self narrative (Biggie), but nor is he disappearing into coffee-shop radical-chic irrelevance. The Stakes are High, and the album is in part a continuation of De La’s debate on that album; the aim is the rendering of reality in all its strange sepias, instead of the bare monochromes of Sin City caricature. The crises pile up: religion on ‘G.O.D.’… city life on ‘My City’ (a Malik Yusuf guest rap*)… And ‘Real Nigga Quotes’ is quickly over and into the agonized walk-through of an abortion on ‘Retrospect for Life’.

‘Retrospect for Life’ sums up what Common wants to do on this record: the re-enchantment of the everyday and its difficulties, or at least the de-mystification of the gangsta pathology. It’s practically Shakespearean in its dramatization of thought: what first promises to be an anti-abortion screed becomes a finely nuanced stream of agonized argument in which Common, almost from line to line, sways between regret and bullish pro-choice radicalism.
I'm sorry for takin your first breath, first step, and first cry
But I wasn't prepared mentally nor financially
Havin a child shouldn't have to bring out the man in me
Plus I wanted you to be raised within a family
I don't wanna, go through the drama of havin a baby's momma
Weekend visits and buyin j's ain't gonna make me a father
The whole thing is soaked in human fallibility; but it's never a question of preaching:
Happy deep down but not joyed enough to have it
But even that's a lie in less than two weeks, we was back at it
The track was produced by James Poyser: Poyser was part of the Soulquarians (as was Erykah Badu who appears on 'All Night Long'), and it was this connection that brought Common to work subsequently with another Soulquarian, Jay Dee (as Dilla was then known), and it's this wider web of collaborations that keeps both Dilla and Common away from the backpacker wastes. The Soulquarians were essentially soul futurists, and even if they didn't make all that many great records in the end, you can't tar them as curatorial classicists.

Not sold? Try this then: Kanye West's College Dropout is patterned on One Day. Common's album gave Kanye if not the entire architecture of his debut, then definitely the blueprint.

Kanye's mentor as a producer was No ID, who made most of One Day’s tracks, and Kanye's first studio time was spent working on this album (though he's uncredited and was probably just the one sent out for Chinese). Look at some of the formal features of the two records. One Day features a track in which Common (with Cee-Lo Green) confronts his anxieties and doubts over religious belief. College Drop-out has ‘Jesus Walks’, in which Kanye (with Rhymefest) confronts his anxieties and doubts over religious belief. College Dropout ends with ‘Late Call’, not a track but an outro: a musical bed over which Kanye rambles in conversational prose. One Day ends the same way, though the genial reminiscences come from Common's father rather than the star himself. Kanye doesn’t have a troubled meditation on abortion and incipient fatherhood, but tracks like 'Through the Wire' and 'All Fall Down' (with its famous line 'Couldn't afford a car so she named her daughter Alexus') do a similar thing in daring to talk about the quotidian, and – crucially – exposing some of the false consciousness in the rap-star model. Both Kanye and Common stage the same ideological battle, wavering between hiphop's tough guy stance and something less theatrical: many-sided, conflicted, something that understands the distance between appearance and reality.

Plus, look at the cover of One Day again, the colour, the image, and compare it to:

OK, so Kanye a) has a giant bear mascot head on and b) is wearing a blazer, but these are the twists he’s putting on a convention, a basic pattern, represented by Common. Take the head (Kanye’s pop-surrealist chipmunk choruses) and the blazer (his deliberate anti-gangsta provocation as middle-class student) away and you’re left with what? Another commemorative image: one for the family album, like Common with his mother at a Jamaican airport, Nas’s ghostly passport photo, Shyheim’s portait with its stock-school-photo background… These four covers amount to a mini-genre of their own. They're all about that disparity between bravado and honesty, and that's a narrative that's crucial to rap history. History may not record One Day It'll All Make Sense as epochal, even if it was released into an epochal year, but someone took it as a ruff draft, and made good on the promise in that title.

* Digression: there's a convention which (I think) is unique to hiphop whereby an artist might have song on his album on which he doesn't feature at all. In other words, a guest rapper delivers an entire track, with the rapper to whom the record is credited not appearing at all. Off the top of my head: 'Wisdom Body' by Ghostface on Raekwon's Only Built for Cuban Linx... 'The Faster Blade' (all Raekwon) on Ghostface's Ironman, 'BIBLE' by Killah Priest on GZA's Liquid Swords...

** Some circumstantial connections: Common appears on The College Dropout, No ID has just produced ‘Death of Autotune’ for Jay Z and Malik Yusuf has just had a Kanye-produced record out on an imprint run by the producer.

18 June 2009

More gloom and doom

At the end of this post in my round-up of apocalyptic/millenarian popular music, I completely forgot about dubstep's hazier edges. The first Burial album of course: London flooded by global warming. Shackleton's stuff is absolutely soaked in future-dread, and Villalobos's remix of his 'Blood on my Hands' was subtitled 'Apocalypso Now'. I think Sam has cited DMZ & Loefah's 'Horror Show' as the track that got him into dubstep. Worth checking its very doomcore klaxon-squeal and background shrieks. entschwindet und vergeht reckons this stuff needs a name of its own: 'What to call it? "Despondant-Techno"? "Mournful Minimal"?, perhaps it should be known as "Haunted House" (arf arf!)' ... Doomstep surely!

Simon Reynolds also linked to an article of his on doomcore/gloomcore over at Blissblog. Faaaar more historical background and detail than my effort and some great descriptions:
PCP's punisher-beats are cunningly inflected, alternating between saturated intensity and stripped-down severity. Above all, creativity comes into play with the timbral density of the kick itself: how thick, how wide, how voluptuously concussive each cranium-denting impact can be.
Voluptuously concussive! These quotes from The Mover also grabbed me:
'Mover is dark because it's set in the phuture of mankind. I can't possibly justify seeing a happy end to this stupid human drama. Darkness is not mystical, it's your everyday reality.'

'Imagine surveying earth after nuclear destruction and enjoying what you see, that's how it feels when you listen to it.'
...Because they sound like Malefic from Xasthur interviewed here:
Genocide is the ultimate goal, the ultimate dream as is the most fair and deserving thing to solve all the problems and hypocrisies of this world. We are all asking for it, whether we know it or not! This is one way that you might consider it to be subliminal. Behavior is contagious, death is contagious, suicide is contagious, therefore genocide is contagious-- if you really open your eyes and take notice. Destructiveness and negativity is hidden in all of our words, actions (or lack there of), thoughts, and sentences. We help each other fail, none of us are doing anything to rehabilitate this planet, so therefore we are shaping its end. We are all fulfilling a prophecy, once again, whether we know it or not! Hopelessness is the key to the domino effect and it begins here, going beyond good or evil. There is only chaos.
Finally, does anyone know of black / death / doom metallers who have listened to gloomcore – and vice versa? Does the Mover dig Burzum?

17 June 2009

The minimal workshop

There's a great piece by Louis Menand in the latest New Yorker, a review of The Program Era by Mark McGurl. The Program Era examines the rise of the creative writing programme in American universities and its effect on the literature of the past few decades. It's interesting enough as it is, but I think a couple of the points made are relevant to minimal – minimal techno, microhouse etc – that it perhaps locates an anxiety buried deep in the form...

The creative writing programme, Menand explains, is premissed on the idea that the production of literary fiction can be taught, and its main tool is the workshop. In the workshop, a group of students share and discuss each other's work, led by a tutor (ie a published author), with the theoretical result being that submitting to this group-crit will improve each writer's work. (There's a longer explanatory quote at the end of the post).

Example: Raymond Carver is a product of these workshops. His career, Menand writes, 'constitutes a virtual tour d’horizon of the creative-writing scene.' (See end quote 2).

Did the workshops have an effect on Carver's writing? Yes, says Menand, and McGurl's argument in The Program Era is that Carver's writing can be understood not as something 'honed' in a generalized way by group-crit, but... as a style specifically tailored to survive the scene of the workshop. Menand:
The form of a Carver short story—ostentatiously brief, emotionally hyper-defended—expresses something. McGurl thinks that the style represents the “aestheticization of shame, a mode of self-retraction.” Literary minimalism like Carver’s—McGurl calls it “lower-middle-class modernism”—is a means of reducing the risk of embarrassing oneself, and is one way that students from working-class backgrounds, like Carver (he was from Oregon, where his father was a sawmill worker), deal with the highbrow world of the academy.
So Carver's minimalism was an evasion strategy as much as anything. As a response to the workshop experience and its pack of benign pedants, misreaders, projectionists, Carver develops a style which offers the smallest possible target for his fellow workshoppers. (Of course what looks like an absence of style or an 'anti-'style is no less a style itself, but this is something people often find hard to grasp... the idea that style and content are separable has a limpet-like tenacity, 'style' continues to be characterized as excess and so Carver, by stealth, could slip through the net of nitpicking methodological critique).

This is a long set-up.

So if that's one way of understanding Carver's minimalism, isn't it possible that minimal techno and microhouse might not reflect a similar pressure... Filesharing, MP3 blogs, blog aggregators, a subgenre called 'bloghouse'... I listen to this stuff as a refuge from the 21C sensory overload of signs, sounds, texts, images, but given the intensity, speed and bandwidth at which critical response and feedback can be exchanged in the utopian uplands of Web 2.0, is someone like Villalobos (or whoever), even if only subconsciously, producing tracks engineered, like a car in a windtunnel, to be streamlined enough to slide past the critical listener?

end quote 1:
Creative-writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers. People who take creative-writing workshops get course credit and can, ultimately, receive an academic degree in the subject; but a workshop is not a course in the normal sense—a scene of instruction in which some body of knowledge is transmitted by means of a curricular script. The workshop is a process, an unscripted performance space, a regime for forcing people to do two things that are fundamentally contrary to human nature: actually write stuff (as opposed to planning to write stuff very, very soon), and then sit there while strangers tear it apart. There is one person in the room, the instructor, who has (usually) published a poem. But workshop protocol requires the instructor to shepherd the discussion, not to lead it, and in any case the instructor is either a product of the same process—a person with an academic degree in creative writing—or a successful writer who has had no training as a teacher of anything, and who is probably grimly or jovially skeptical of the premise on which the whole enterprise is based: that creative writing is something that can be taught.
end quote 2:
[Carver's] career constitutes a virtual tour d’horizon of the creative-writing scene. Carver started as a correspondence student in an outfit known as the Palmer Institute of Authorship. He took classes at Chico State, in California, with the novelist John Gardner; at Humboldt State College, with the short-story writer Richard Cortez Day; at Sacramento State College, with the poet Dennis Schmitz; and at Stanford, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow; and he taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with John Cheever. His second marriage was to another creative-writing professional, the poet Tess Gallagher, and he ended up as a professor at Oates’s alma mater, Syracuse, where Jay McInerney was his student.