20 November 2012

Greeen Linez: interview

There's an uncanny quality to Greeen Linez' music: it conjures impossible, fictional places and spaces. It's lush, luxurious, easy, but that glossy surface is deceptive. Things That Fade flickers between being utopian and dystopian, but perhaps more accurately it's a-topian: a nowhere place, disappearing into an intercontinental, trans-oceanic Bermuda triangle sketched out between Tokyo, Cambridge and Miami. The weirdness continued when I sat down to review Things That Fade (one of Slackk's albums of the year) a few months back and, thinking it was a little like Oriol, googled them and found, like Oriol, they had a Cambridge connection – and that one half of Greeen Linez, Chris Greenberg (above right), I was already following & chatting to on twitter. Chris also has a group, Hong Kong in the 60s. The other half of Green Linez is Matt Lyne (aka A Taut Line). Matt put the city pop top 10 together here, and they both found the time to have the following faxed exchange skype chat about the project.

Can you tell me a bit about how Greeen Linez started?

Chris Greenberg: Well, me and Matt have known each other for a very long time, probably getting on for twenty years, we met at primary school, and we've kind of been doing music on and off all the time. Matt moved to Japan seven years ago and eventually we got technology up to a level where we could do it remotely. And also we finally got to where we could have a go at making the music we wanted to make.

So is this a sound you've had in your heads for that long?

Matt Lyne: Some of it is I think, especially with this album, like the 'Cubic Mentality' tune, that's a sound that Chris and I were definitely into twenty years ago [Chris laughs] and we were trying to do that. We just couldn't when we were making music when we were about eleven, we had one Yamaha keyboard, a family keyboard with a really primitive sampler on it, and you'd pick up this tiny little mic and sample something for about one second, and obviously that wasn't any good...

CG: We'd be trying to do something similar [to Greeen Linez], but we'd loop a second of a beat from some track, play a bassline on the keyboard, then play the piano, an out-of-tune piano in my mum's office, and then be like why doesn't this sound the same...? Basically it is something we'd always wanted to do.

'Cubic Mentality' sounds different to the rest, or is that just me? More of a pumped-up house vibe.

ML: Yeah, we both agree that is a bit different to the rest of the tracks, and if we did it again, we're not even sure we'd include it on the album, but a lot of people like it, so we're still happy with it I guess...

CG: It's just whatever, at the time – we had a pretty strong idea of the vibe we wanted for the album, but it just so happened that at the time we were making the album i was revisiting a lot of things like Future Sound of London and things like that and you think oh, I want to do something along those lines, so the tracks are different styles, but the same vibe and same production. The way I was thinking was one track might be in the style of FSOL or Quincy Jones, but they're all done as if Japanese muzak composers were listening to that style of music

I wondered how much that Japanese influence was there from when you were much younger – it reminds me of my own remote childhood glimpses of Japanese culture.

CG: Yeah, it's really only in the last year or two that we've become aware of the actual artists doing this kind of thing, but it has a really strong effect on you. You hear it accidentally as a kid and that's the thing, you're watching a cartoon and this incidental music really resonates with you and sticks with you, you kind of obsess over it for years, you have this vague idea in your mind of this particular vibe and eventually you discover what that style of music is. Consciously, it's a recent thing to have that as an influence, but yeah, things you hear as a child.

Matt, you live in Japan?

ML: Yeah that's right, so just to add to what Chris was saying, when I was a kid I was the same, I'd hear these things in animation or on Teletext or Ceefax, they had that kind of fusion in the background, and that stays in your head. You're using Teletext and you ignore the music, but unconsciously it's in the back of your mind somewhere. So when I moved to Japan, my wife's family took me on a road trip for a weekend and her dad was playing this kind of Japanese fusion cd in the car, and I was like, ah, all this music that was unconsciously in my mind, but I didn't know – this was seven years ago now, you couldn't get on Google and be like, that music in the back of my mind what is it? But then it was like, ah, this is Japanese fusion, these artists making this sound in the 1980s...

So the specifically city pop references sort of came from your researches while you've been living in Japan?

ML: Basically. I mean the fusion and the city pop are quite similar a lot of the time, the main difference is that city pop has vocals, the fusion is usually instrumental. They're perhaps a little different but there's a massive overlap in the two sounds. I didn't know what city pop music was, I just was listening to this music, going to youtube and finding old Japanese stuff on there, and a Japanese friend came to stay and said oh what music are you listening to nowadays, trying to get some new electronic music ideas. I was like I'm constantly listening to only Japanese '80s stuff and I played him some of the youtube videos, oh that's city pop – what's city pop? That was about a year and bit ago and since he said that, suddenly this city pop thing is increasing around the internet and other people seem to know the term, but i didn't know it was known as that until recently.

Some of it sounds very self-consciously futuristic, but is it more of a dad's thing now [in Japan]?

ML: Yeah to be honest it is a kind of dad's salaryman thing, but recently there are lot of young Japanese djs, younger than Chris and I, who have started playing this city pop stuff in clubs – not salaryman bars – and that's interesting. This one young guy especially, called DJ Notoya, he put up a mix called Tokyo 80s Nights Groove, and it was amazing, all this city pop and fusion, or Japanese groove, as I've also heard it referred to, was in there, and I was like, this is awesome!

CG: Yeah, it's not futuristic per se, but it really reflects the time it was made in, which was a very optimistic, prosperous period, people really feeling like society was moving in a positive direction, and embracing the technology and things like that, and to look back on it now, I feel like the music has a really melancholy tinge and I think that is inherent to it, but I think it' s added to by the fact that that's not really how things played out.

ML: Yeah, it's like this dream-like state and during that bubble era – everyone still remembers that bubble era, everyone still talks about the bubble era, cause they haven't had the same economy since the late eighties, early nineties – when the bubble burst it was bad. Things were picking up a little bit, but then with the global recession it's gone back down again, and this kind of dream-like haze of people having a great time, spending money, going to parties... And as Chris says, it is also that hidden melancholy that I really like about it as well.

When I listen to it, it's ambiguous, that turn between a really blissful, almost utopian vibe and then like you say, there's an undertow that's more sour maybe. There's also something elusive about the way it's not a pastiche necessarily – but an interpretation of something that was an amalagam of a load of other things, a version from outside that version...

CG: I think that's something that's compelling about it, that it's not quite right. It's something I was aiming for in the sound, where it's perfectly produced but it's not quite right, that outsider perspective, the chords or the melodies are just a bit different you know? And the vibe, it'd be a similar thing to like in a TV movie soundtrack, when they've got a track in a disco or r&b style, and it's not quite the same – but its more compelling.

Some of it is at an angle to what you imagine the original city pop is like, but do you see Greeen Linez as a dance project too? Could you dj it out?

ML: I think hopefully it could work as either. I've played it out at some clubs and its gone down fairly well.

CG: I imagined it as like muzak or something, but muzak you could play in a club. Produced so it would sound ok in a club. But I'm totally a home listener, I don't go to clubs or dj or anything so its just the music's ability to transport you, so it's transporting you to an imaginary club or something.

Elevator music but the elevator's big enough for a mirror ball and PA. Do you ever think have we made something bland?

CG: You do sometimes think, is this just way off? Will people just go what the hell is this. There was a funny thing, it got played on the radio and Matt had told his dad to listen out for it. He sent a text to Matt saying oh I didn't hear your song, the dj said something about 'Dream Line' but the track just sounded like muzak! Er, actually that was our track...

ML: But in some respects, that is exactly what we were trying to do, so that people could possibly confuse it with muzak.

Well there's a long and distinguished history there, going back through Eno et al.

CG I appreciate some people could say it's just background music, it's very mellow, even bland, but for me the appeal of music like that is that perhaps it's not designed to be listened to closely, so that when you do listen closely, it really sounds strange, cause there's so much going on but it's not in your face, its not grabbing your attention, so the more you listen to it, it becomes very  more compelling I find.

Yeah, the slickness, whether it's too slick or whether that's what's interesting/great – that reminds me of Steely Dan at times.

ML: Chris is a big fan of Donald Fagen.

CG: His solo album is a total touchstone for everything I want to do. You know The Night Fly?

I know the cover but I've never got round to buying it.

CG: Can't recommend it enough, 'Green Flower St' . . . The concept of it is really fascinating, returning to the music of his childhood, but the fifties, early sixties, Cold War era, when there was this sheen of contentment and prosperity, and muzak was quite emblematic of that but underneath it there was all this unease about the Cold War and communism and all these different things and the music kind of reflects: it's very produced and very sheeny and very dream-like and seductive, but at the same time it's kind of uneasy. So that album is way up there, that was sort of a touchstone for what we wanted to do. Their whole thing of taking their music always smoother and sleeker and more produced, but it's unsettling. I like the fact that the slicker it gets it's almost too much, it's almost psychedelic, just weird.

ML: Almost sickly, uneasy.

CG: If you listen to it too much you feel weird.

ML: I was at a party yesterday and a friend brought this up – Things That Fade's really blissful, but you can definitely feel this tension at any time, it could it break, and the fact that it doesn't – we coud have had one tune in the middle that goes grgggrgrgr but it doesn't, it's...

When I reviewed it, it reminded me of American Psycho: the eighties pop sections.

ML: Funnily enough I read American Psycho in my first few weeks in Japan and I was kind of obsessed with it

You can never listen to Huey Lewis in the same way again

CG: Exactly, it sounds creepy, and off. A lot of the music from that era does now and it's really weird. I didn't experience it firsthand but I tried to imagine what it sounded like then, whether it really did sound aspirational or upbeat, cause so much of that music does sound creepy or melancholy, yeah, I think maybe your colleague Joe Muggs called it Patrick Bateman funk? We're not trying to subvert that stuff, I know the hypnagogic people are trying to subvert a lot of those sounds, but we're just obsessed with it, and maybe cause were not right in the head it comes out odd; we're aiming for that feeling where it's all a bit too much...

Do you know the Specials muzak record?

CG: That's one of my favourite albums, yeah, it's another huge inspiration for me, cause it's one of the creepiest albums ever, the melodies are so brilliant but its just so... It's an album where the Cold War is in the background and Thatcher and that is particularly amazing cause it was right at the tie doing those things, it wasn't looking back and thinking oh that Eighties music is a bit odd, right at the time he was taking muzak and showing the underbelly. I would totally recommend that album, and the one after it, the Special AKA, goes even further, so it's actually quite hard to listen to, it's the one with that track 'The Boiler'? It's too much, you feel queasy listening to it. Total genius, amazing.

What's next? More tracks?

CG: We've been doing a few remixes which has been enjoyable, we've been finding a lot of people out there on a similar wavelength. We've just done a remix for Seahawks – the artist Pete Fowler who did Super Furry Animals covers and stuff and John Tye who runs Lo Records? They call it deckshoegaze? [laughs]. Yacht rock but totally monged...

ML: Really psychedelic.

CG: Really great stuff, and we've done a remix for an American guy called Sorceror who's coming from a similar MOR/disco type vibe.

ML: He had a big track out called 'Surfing at Midnight', quite a big 12" with a Prins Thomas remix on the other side, about 5 yrs ago? On Trk. I'm not sure how he's heard the album but he got in contact fairly recently and I just decided it would be cool to put out some of his music, so I've started up a sublabel of the main Diskotopia label, called A Kind of Presence, which'll be a bit more, I dunno, cheesy? A bit more Green Linez-affiliated if you see what I mean.

A lot of your sources are very remote from the UK – all these Japanese scenes – but it does plug into this big boogie revival thing...

CG: Yeah, I went through a long time where I wasn't feeling the music people were revisiting, and there'd been all these waves of eighties revivals and they just weren't doing it for me, but i'd always been a fan of eighties soul. I knew it as eighties groove.

ML: I just noticed a new Ministry of Sound tv ad while I've been [back in the UK] for Eighties Groove, Vol 3, you should try and get that Chris! We used to listen to those Mastercuts compilations all the time, Chris had them on cassette.

CG: Yeah, Classic Cuts and Classic 80s Groove [youtube playlist of which is here].

ML: We used to dance round Chris's parents' living room.

CG: It sounded – even though some of it was from when we were barely born, it still sounded so futuristic and otherworldly, and still does I think... I think it's great people are getting back into that side of things, because people for a long time thought it wasn't soulful or it wasn't authentic cause it was very produced and very electronic. People were all about – especially in hiphop sampling – people were all about James Brown and dusty grooves... Now so many people are doing great things inspired by that.

07 November 2012

Greeen Linez: City Pop Top 10

If you've never heard of Japanese genre city pop, or its close relation J-fusion, here is a Top 10 (in no particular order) very kindly put together for me by Matt Lyne of Greeen Linez.

Greeen Linez are Christopher Greenberg (Hong Kong In the 60s) and Matt Lyne (A Taut Line) and they make music which is somewhere between a recreation of, tribute to and extension of, city pop. Matt and Chris were also kind enough to talk to me about their album Things That Fade, city pop, the past, the future, MIDI, American Psycho, muzak, Donald Fagen, The Residents, The Specials, Mastercuts and more. Transcript up shortly.

Greeen Linez City Pop Top 10:

Toshiki Kadomatsu - 52nd Street (1987)

We never get tired of this tune, so many fantastic elements. We played it in London during a DJ set earlier this year and it was interesting to see 18-year old British girls really getting down on the dancefloor to music probably most popular amongst middle-aged Japanese salarymen! The bass, the electric-pianos, that hard-to-pinpoint synth-koto sound at the start...brilliant.

Sunshine Lovers - Evening Shadows (1983)

An amazing tune with lots of great use of the Yamaha DX7 (perhaps the key instrument for this era/style of music). Particularly love that "Harmonica 1" sound when it's used so well, and those sweeping pads near the end are just mind blowing. The track is pretty much a rip-off of Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Making Love", but for some reason that just makes it even better!

Noriki - Night Lights (1984)

Coastal bliss. Electric pianos and guitars played without any inhibitions, creating a funky muzak wonderland. If that cover art looks slightly familiar, well...nuff said, really!

Momoko Kikuchi - Mystical Composer (1986)

A tune which pretty much sums up everything that we love about City Pop. Yamaha DX7 synth bells and chimes, detuned FM whistle sirens,and Nile Rogers-inspired guitar so thin and delicate it could almost be made of tatami, all backing an incredibly fragile and ethereal vocal line.

Ramu - Ai Ha Kokoro No Shigoto Desu (1988)

Ramu was a funk/fusion group that featured Momoko Kikuchi on vocals. This tune in particular shows off the unique juxtaposition of pretty heavy Minneapolis-style synth-funk with Kikuchi's daintily childlike vocals. On paper it perhaps shouldn't work, but it just sounds fantastic. There's also lots of totally nonsensical English in this tune (another hallmark of classic City Pop), particularly the babytalk rap halfway through.

Makoto Matsushita - This Is All I Have For You (1981)

A beautiful song, both utterly robo-tight and airily blissful, with wonderfully laconic vocals.

Kanako Wada - Sunday Brunch (1987)

What Madonna's Into The Groove could have/should have been, if it were performed by a Japanese girl, and rather than dancing/sex lyrical analogies seemed literally just to be about going for a walk in the park with a boy after having curry for lunch. Great use of guitar and strings on this tune and absolutely stunning synth marimba breakdown, followed by some excellent harmonica, near the end of the song too. Once again the tone of the vocalist's voice also wins us over.

Shimada Nami - Moonlight Whisper (1988)

Lots of people know her song Sunshower, particularly Larry Levan's famous remix of it. Don't get us wrong, we totally love that track too, but it's perhaps a little out of place amongst other City Pop and fusion of the time. However, this tune from her definitely comes from a similar place to a lot of our other picks.

Akemi Ishii - Cha Cha Cha

Something about the tone of her voice that we really love, and her look is incredible too. Really  unashamed levels of cheese in this track (which we like). We're also fans of her cover of "Lambada" and, for some reason, both these tunes seems to recall childhood summers spent on campsites in the south of France - except with an Asian spin.

Kimiko Kasai- Steppin' Outside Tonight (1982)

Quality synth-reggae-jazz-funk-fusion written by Minnie Riperton's co-writer/husband Richard Rudolph (also Kasai's husband later on). One of the few Japanese jazz artists to achieve any significant recognition in "the West". There's just something incredibly unique and magic about this tune.

15 August 2012

Ship Canal interview

If I had to describe Ship Canal in one line, I wouldn't bother - I'd just drop this link to Kek-W's incredible press release for the Ship Canal cdr he put out entitled Please Let Me Back into Your House. Ship Canal is made by Daniel Baker, whose own description of the music runs something like: "Dissociated echo phantasies and budget dole noise for no one in particular" and "An attempt to honestly document life on the margins of social acceptability in the age of information overload. There are no mistakes. All avenues are open." To me it's the sound of youtube's algorithm getting rewritten, or overwritten, or getting into a fight with, the neural pathways of the human brain: strange splashes of found tonal colour, edges left frayed, collaged and accelerated into a blur, until the colours run and meld into a kind of deep, stewed (mushroom) tea brown.

Ship Canal - A fucking cuddle from Vickie McDonald on Vimeo.

Dan is an ex-blogger, who wrote this rather brilliant post about Andrea Pirlo during Euro 2012, which is well worth reading in conjunction with the following interview. His music is available from Hand Loom Lament.

How did Ship Canal get started? Is it your first attempt at making music?

Ship Canal was basically born out of frustration and alienation. I'm pretty old fashioned when it comes to shit like this. It was, and essentially remains, a coping mechanism. I was 24 and the absolute epitome of the "graduate without a future", mired in debt, on the dole, drinking too much and attempting to get started as a freelance writer. That basically fell on its arse. I still write for various different folk but I find the whole process to be somewhat torturous. I don't get a great deal of pleasure out of act of writing, basically. One of the most inherently rotten consequences of web 2.0 has been that the insanely rapid fragmentation and turnover of subgenres and aesthetic motifs week by week creates this intense fucking anxiety. I don't know about anyone else, but it takes me about four hours just to keep up with my Google Reader subscriptions. And thats without factoring in the time it takes to listen to all this shit once I've found out about it. Generally, my week begins around Tuesday, having spent the majority of Monday sorting out messes from the end of the week before and the subsequent weekend. I don't really think my gross inability to be able to handle more than a few responsibilities at any given time was designed to serve me particularly well in full blown adulthood. So I found the hyper-engagement necessary to be a truly on-it music writer just outrageoulsy fucking anxiety inducing.

So by this time I was just feeling completely aimless. The majority of people I know who are my age have these relatively secure jobs, might have their own place and a fair bit of disposable income or whatever. I felt like, considering I didnt have any of those things, I'd just go for it and start making music again to cheer me up. I was in punk bands between the age of about 14-18 when I was growing up in Manchester. Washnigton DC Hardcore changed my life, absolutely turned the world upside down for me, politically and musically. Within a year of stumbling across a second hand copy of Repeater by Fugazi in Vinyl Exchange I was listening to Throbbing Gristle, John Cage, Coil... total lifechanger. Around the age of 17 through til fairly recently my life wasn't really working out as I had hoped and I made a (no doubt entirely unfounded) connection between the years when I had been previously happiest and those that came after. I figured it was the pleasure of making weird noises that I had missed most of all, so it made sense to start again.

Only this time I was attempting to somehow filter and make sense of these myriad influences that had blown apart my mind in the meantime... 18-21 is a pretty formative period in anyones life. I'd first moved to Glasgow in 2004 and it was pretty much the place to be in the UK for that whole free folk/noise crossover kind of thing. Volcanic Tongue was just opening and the Instal festival hadn't dissapeared right up its own self serving congratulatory arse quite yet... it was while I was being exposed to all this wild stuff that was totally new to me... free jazz, private press folk, Sublime Frequencies compilations, Fluxus... that I first heard dubstep... Mud by Loefah... and I was just totally taken. That dread, that pure evocation of tower blocks and paranoid walks home from parties, lights out, head down sort of skank... that was my first opportunity to get in at the inception of a rave culture. During that brief little gestation period when we were all not meant to be calling it Wonky, I was still pretty transfixed, but the complete lack of any critical voices from within the scene indulging in anything beyond backslapping and bigging up a release because it had the right name or label on the front of the record began to do my tits in. Similarly, the noise/improv/whatever scene in Glasgow was pretty dispiriting, it had either become a boring as all hell competition to see who could crescendo at the loudest volume or the interesting folk had moved on to some watered down cosmic mumbo jumbo hippy bullshit. I'd come back from these gigs mystifid as to how these people made these noises come out of their endless banks of effects units and pedals and just feel like banging my head against the wall... I didn't have the money or the inclination to get hold of any of that shit, and even if I did I worried that someone who might come to one of my gigs would look at it and feel just as alienated as I had done a few weeks previously.

Then I read an interview with Moon Wiring Club where he mentioned that he created all his music with a copy of Music 2000 and an old Playstation. That was like dropping the needle on Repeater again. A whole new world opened up.

So, roughly, what is your process? How do the tracks get made?

For the reasons outlined above, I keep this fundamentally limited to resources I had available to me when I begun work on my first tunes. The micro manifesto that I issued with my first release still dictates most of my decisions. I wanted someone on 50quid a week, as I was, to be able to hear it and not feel like it was totally removed from their everyday experience: "Ship Canal uses illegally downloaded and cracked versions of software, free VST's, a stolen Singstar microphone, homemade cassette loops, semi legal Youtube to MP3 converters and fourth generation Mancunian folklore exclusively."
So a cracked copy of Ableton is the basis for most of it. I have absolutely no idea how to use it from a technical point of view. If someone is reading this right now thinking, "shit, I don't even know what Ableton IS, how the fuck am I meant to work that out", don't worry. NEITHER DO I! Just download it and mess about with it. Thats what I'm doing. There are no mistakes, just different outcomes. So yeah, I tend to start out with a few loops that I've culled from field recordings I make on a 20quid MP3 player I bought from Argos years ago. I bang so many effects on top of those recordings that they end up as the textural basis of the tune.

Then I start layering stuff by selecting music, at random from my Itunes. Other peoples music. If I think "this tunes needs to sound more haunting" or "this tune is about that weird bit of folklore I cam across in that book", I'll plump for, say, Shirley Collins, or Jandek or someone. I just drag it in, drop it into Ableton, pound it with effects, maybe transpose it so its going at a snails pace, and thats another element. Most of my tracks have around 5 or 6 elements I've sourced from a previously recorded song. They are so heavily processed that no one would ever tell, but again, its just something that anyone can do. Its sampling, but as texture as opposed to jarring bricolage.

After that I'll add synth, I use freeware (or illegally downloaded) VST synths and use my laptop keyboard to play them on Ableton. Then I'll finish things off with adding heavily echoed and delayed vocal murmerings and any spoken word samples/loops I've got left over

What, if anything, does the 'trash stratum' means to you? I'm thinking of P K Dick's interest in trash/junk as a kind of modern-day I Ching . . .

I bloody love Philip K Dick. Proper hero that bloke. Should probably have knocked the wizz on the head like, but nobodys perfect. In terms of assigning some sort of divinely instructive quality to consumerist trash culture though, I'm not so sure. I think its essential that people attempt to reverse the flow of the endless objects, ideas, emblems, sounds and narratives that capital is constantly bombarding us with. And I'm not talking about some tame circus act culture jam. The reason I''ve limited myself to cheap equipment, like the singstar microphone I stole from some party and youtube rippers, is that its a (small) act of solidarity, really. These things surround all of us, forever morphing into the next version of themselves and forcing us to live faster than any civilization can reasonably be expected to. If they are going to define our lives, as they already do, I'll be fucked if I'm not going to try and use them to create something someone can feel identifed with, as opposed to alienated by.

I bought my laptop two years ago and there are already numerous things I can't run on it. I met someone recently who genuinely couldnt comprehend the fact that my mobile wasn't a 3g Iphone with an internet connection. I mean, how fucking WRONG is that?

I'm chiefly concerned with non physical trash though. With having far too much information to process and saying, alright then, you fuckers, I'm going to meld this all together and its going to be a horrible big mess. Thats one of the reasons my musics getting more mournful. I'm obsessed with the fact that my generation is going to be the last one that remembers what life was like before AND after the internet. I'm traumatized by it, to be frank.

If I was around in the early 60's I'd probably be having a go at singing Industrial folk or summat. I'm just trying to use the resources I feel are appropriate for the age we live in. That and I'm always broke.

is Ship Canal in part 'about' the internet then, without meaning to make it sound like hipsterunoff...? In the sense that that's where those flows of stupefying/entrancing signs and energies are strongest? When you sift the currents of youtube for material to rip, do you feel like you're floating along on that current, or trying to jam it, or just cut some of it off into an altogether different channel (like a canal I guess?)

Yeah, without a doubt. And it isnt just the potential for stuepfication and info-overload inertia that I'm trying to deal with... its the insanely habitual aspect of the whole thing. I can't be the only person who rails against the infinity of useless, neverending, back and forth, inanity underneath youtube videos and newspaper articles... but sometimes I'll glance up from the screen and I've been scrolling through the comments... THE COMMENTS FOR FUCKS SAKE!.... for over an hour. I abhore primitivism and anti-civilizational guff, but I'd happily class myself as some sort of neo-luddite. I'm talking about the true message of the luddites though, that their class enemies neatly wrote out of history. They werent against technology per-se in the slightest. They were against its negative effects on the commonality of man, and against the interests of the elites that funded that technology. Theres been a lot of talk recently about the opportunities that things like social networking have provided for horizontalist, decentralized organizing, but the amount of surveillance and commodification of your personal interests that something like Facebook involves is fucking terrifying. As plenty of much more eloquent people than I have pointed out, the internet doesnt exist outside of capital. Yet I'm on it every day, wasting hours of time. So theres always that tension in my gut, which is one of the reasons I like to try and make sense of that with tunes.

When I'm mining things like Youtube for samples and what have you, I'll tend to just lose myself in hours of stuff and just bookmark, bookmark, bookmark. I'll maybe come back a few days later and try and focus stuff a bit more before I rip it, but I just rip the whole thing and I tend to decide which parts I'm going to use as I'm putting a track together in real time. I have no idea what most of the effects on Ableton are supposed to do, other than a vague notion of what things like reverb and delay mean, so I try and ensure I'm similarly unsure as to which samples I'm going to fuck with at any given time. I definitley don't identify with the notion of (cultural) jamming, at least not in its more recent high profile incarnation, which is kind of the coffee table book activist equivalent of painfully middle class "street art". As far as I'm concerned that kind of thing has already been appropriated and regurgitated as the default corporate advertizing gesture of the last decade. Thats why I try to use my samples as textures and obscure their origins as much as possible.

I was also wondering about the titles, the mournful/solitary moods... it suggests quite a rare thing - a noise/drone/loops set that's concerned with romantic misadventure?

Please Let Me Back Into Your House is definitley concerned with that, on some of the tracks at least. Although I'd emphasize the misadventure over the romance. Having said that, it was predominantly influenced by Tunnel Of Love by Bruce Springsteen (seriously!), which is one of my favourite records of all time. Seriously, thats the stadium rock equivalent of Closer right there. Its fucking harrowing! Its so difficult to find good depressing music these days. Codeine were another massive influence on that album, as was Jandek. And tons of terrible, terrible booze, and questionable skunk, obviously.

Its more melancholy I'd guess though. I don't think my musics particularly maudlin or depressing, but its certainly melancholic. I hope it doesn't sound too wallowing or defeatist. I usually set out to make techy bass music but get lost in the intro and before I know it I'm 7 minutes in and I really ought to stop. Looking back on it, some of the track names were probably chosen as an attempt to try and express a disillusionment with this meanness that seems to permeate every pore of our culture these days. Theres this pathological application of completely vaccuous forms of corporate expression to every aspect of our daily lives. Mark Fishers Capitalist Realism, basically. Everyone seems to be defined by whether or not they work. I watched that documentary Waiting For Work again recently, and there is this really moving bit where this young bloke is explaining how the lack of money in his pocket is actually impinging on his ability to start a relationship with the girl he's fond of, because he's too proud to ask anyone out if he can't take them anywhere and spend money on them. So thats me I guess...somewhere in between romantic misadventure and class war. Which is probably the pub.

25 May 2012

"the past is a foreign country, and we are living under its occupation"

"the past is a foreign country, and we are living under its occupation"

"the past is a foreign country, and having occupied us, we need an insurgency"

# phrases you're sure will be on google but aren't

"house is a continuation of disco by other means"

"house is a continuation of disco by other means"

# phrases you're sure will be on google but aren't

09 May 2012

Jo Thomas interview

The 2012 Golden Nica, or Prix Ars Electronica (Digital Musics), has just been awarded to Jo Thomas for her work Crystal Sounds of a Synchrotron. I spoke to Jo recently for The Wire (to discuss her latest Entr'acte release, Nature of Habit) which was an absolute pleasure, and I've been meaning to post out-takes from the transcript ever since as I could only use a small amount in the piece. This is almost all of the interview, with some obvious cleaning up of ums, ahs and repetitions (mine).
You can download the prize-winning piece (and others) from Jo's site.

[by skype, March 2012]

Could you talk me through 'Charged' and 'Zero' [the pieces which comprise Nature of Habit], what’s going on in those pieces and what you wanted to achieve with them?

With those tracks, they were written really, really quickly, sketched out in a night, really impulsively, and I really wanted to keep that, but then I edited them over eight months. I wanted to achieve this formless music, music that didn’t adhere necessarily to traditional counterpoint structures which I kept on hearing in electronic music, repeatedly, and it was really annoying me… And I wanted to create a type of music that existed in its own right and didn’t impose anything on the person that was listening to it, to draw attention – rather you could put the music on, and then if you wanted to, you could sit in and listen into it. I wanted to create a music that had . . . masses of detail and form, but not outwardly so it wasn’t obvious.

Something you could move into as a listener, but that wasn’t necessarily filling up every nook and cranny of your ear?

Yeah, that’s what I was moving towards all the time, and I really wanted to write two long pieces as well, and they would go together as a form, as a release. And quite a lot was going on in the world as well, so… I think they were both written in August last year and I’d just come back to London, I’d been away, but my students were . . . I wanted to . . . I just wrote these works so very impulsively. I was quite affected by what happened last summer and some of it is in the works, it was a difficult time for a lot of people around where I live.

So it came out of this very immediate impulse, I wondered how it fit in your compositional approach generally – where it falls on the spectrum of improv, laptop work, pre-composed/edited pieces?

That in itself I find quite interesting and challenging, rewarding to work in all at the same time. So today I was writing a proposal to work in a studio, to write a live piece that would be published, designed to play live on a laptop. Those two works ['Charged' and 'Zero'], they hit the centre of both improvisation and really fixed composition, they’re slap bang in the middle, because they’re very detailed but I wanted to keep this level of freedom and intrinsic movement about them as well.

What is the significance of the human voice for you?

Yeah I use it in most of my works, or if I don’t use the voice, I tend to work with technological material to create really detailed phenomic material, so you can hear words being spoken in the technological structures. I use the voice, because it’s part of the human body and I find the connection between the human body and technology . . . it’s a very natural discourse to me to work with, but I find it incredibly challenging as well, I like challenges in composition.

It’s not always obvious that the voice was the/a source . . .

You don’t have to know, yeah.

So you’re not bothered about having them [i.e. the human body and technology] set up as an opposition, they’re seamless to you?

For me, in composition, the source material is not important. I like the part where . . . where it goes through a series of transformations; so the stage where you can’t recognize that it is a voice, is to me the most fascinating stage of composition.

You mentioned the word ‘gestalt’ in your notes to the pieces.

Yeah I always compose like this really, but these works I was adamant that I was going to stick to it. Because I really wanted to work with form in a very different way to the way I normally work. I  needed points of reference to work with and the visual perception theory of gestalt was a really lovely anchor to work with. I wanted the person that was listening to the music to afford their own places of musicality and moments in the work. That’s how I worked with gestalt. And over duration, I was creating these large, vast works which people could afford their own moments of form into.

OK, I guessed it was the wholeness/integrity theory, as one of first things you mentioned was the works having their own self-sufficiency. Going back to the voice again – are you interested at all in what happens to it in other genres – autotune in R&B, the very abrasive sounds in black metal?

Yeah, I like punk rock! I listen to a lot of r&b, drum & bass and dubstep. And my sonic palette is really, really wide, I listen to NTS radio a lot, and at the moment I’m really interested in their soul shows… that reverb, 1.5 seconds long used on soul voices. I love the sound of records: recordings of the human voice on real records, I think is the most beautiful sound.

The timbre of the old analogue recordings on vinyl? You work in sound design right?

I teach sound design and composition and popular, no not popular music -

Unpopular music?

[laughs] I look at students’ works and I give advice on editing and they teach me more than I’m sure I can teach them, ‘cause they’re so good at what they do and they have their own voices, they’re just there, they come to me for advice and contacts most of the time.

Live, you do stuff with multi-channel set-ups, multiple speakers. I noticed for Ultra-Tonal, you provided an AIFF version. Your work is focussed on timbre, texture, those micro-details of sound. Do you find it frustrating to have to work in two channel stereo to release music, and having work compressed down into MP3?

Not at all! A release is a release. I’ve got a list of 3 or 4 other releases that I’m going to work on and get out. I enjoy releasing music and I enjoy writing music, and I think the more music that’s out there the better. Unfortunately music does get ripped. It’s a very difficult time for people in music. Incredibly difficult. I’m very lucky to have this release actually.

How important is duration in your work? With your interest in sound design is it a question of exploring certain timbre until you’ve exhausted their potential, or do you have that trajectory or structure in mind before you begin?

I see the works before I start, I can imagine what they’re going to sound like, so it’s not that I will work with one sound until it drops down dead, I like to give myself a bit more freedom than that, with lots of different sounds, bringing them all together, like ‘Charged’, which was a huge amount of material pressed together then expanded.

What does glitch mean to you?

Glitch doesn’t mean technological malfunction to me, it means something more . . . human-being-like. [long pause] I don’t think of myself as being from the Markus Popp aesthetic, I didn’t even know about his work until about six years ago, when I started lecturing, that’s really bad isn’t it? [Laughs] Glitch is definitely more human [to me], it’s like an expression of fallibility but also incredible strength and as human beings I think we all have that inside us, and I like to . . . I’ve always written with glitch, so I’ve always picked out the ends of things, the little clicks that people discard or try to flatten out.

I remember you used the words a ‘spectral peak’ [to describe what a glitch is, elsewhere]?

[laughs] On a less intense level a glitch is a spectral peak, yeah, so it’s just a point of distortion.

But you feel these moments that might otherwise be edited out as imperfections, there’s an emotional resonance that can be unpacked?

It’s just a more interesting language, it’s more interesting for me to work with things that have a bit more weight with them than things that are really polished, and have potential to end up sounding very dull and like everything else. Glitch can be a cliché as well, glitch is full of clichés and that’s what I wanted to avoid with ‘Zero’ and ‘Charged’, which never has a resolution…

‘Charged’ builds remarkably to that endpoint though, it’s almost like a solo percussion piece by the end, all these small impacts.

It sounds like a tabla doesn’t it? I noticed that in a studio the other week, I put it on and it sounded like a tabla in the space.

How did you get into electronic and electro-acoustic composition? Was it a gradual thing, were there particular records that hooked you?

My interest in sound started from when I was very, very young. Really young. My mum bought me a synth when I was 11, and I spent a long time in my bedroom with a graphic equalizer. To get me on the straight & narrow, they got me a tutor who taught me composition from 13, but what we actually did was have cups of tea and listen to amazing records and look at these really beautiful scores. And then I went to Bangor University, and I got into their electronic studios and that was me done. I’d found my natural habitat, in the studio everything made sense, the language made sense. I was listening to Parmegiani and Malec, and it was all . . . I just found a pure language in that, that communicated to me and I wanted to create music not like theirs but at the level they were working towards, which was very refined, they were skilled people. And I got a bit ill and had some time off, did a PhD at City University and went to GRM myself and worked in those studios, the other thing is I’ve always worked, worked, worked, as a lecturer or as a musician or as a teacher, I’ve always done something in music and that was really important, just to work, and have an income to buy computers and speakers and that was always really, really important to me.

[Sketches by Jo Thomas; thanks again to Jo for the interview]

19 March 2012

a region of mythological darkness

Such a cult of fatalism can be seen as consolidation of the north's older repuation for depression, ill-fortune and occult or demonic presence. If the north, historically, has been regarded as a psychic lightning conductor for suffering and random evil, informed by legends of withcraft (as at Pendle Hill, with the torture of witches at Lancaster gaol), the exploits of Brady and Hindley on the Moors, the horror of working conditions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the botched redevelopment schemes of the 1960s and 1970s and the collapse of the local industries throughout the 1980s, then you have a region of mythological darkness.
Michael Bracewell, England is Mine (London: Flamingo, 1997), p. 172

Reading this, at first I thought I'd found the passage that had sparked David Peace's Red Riding books into life: the latency of local evil, even the property deals are there. But Nineteen Seventy-Four came out in 1998*, so I guess it's more that Bracewell & Peace each corroborate the other's vision of Yorkshire as hellmouth.

*Just double-checked & it was in fact 1999... so maybe more truth to first thought.

16 March 2012

The futurist-torpedo-guidance-cell-phone complex

From the wikipedia entry for George Antheil - composer of Ballet Mecanique and numerous film scores for Nicholas Ray among others:
Antheil wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper relationship advice column, as well as regular columns in magazines such as Esquire and Coronet. He considered himself an expert on female endocrinology, and wrote a series of articles about how to determine the availability of women based on glandular effects on their appearance, with titles such as "The Glandbook for the Questing Male".[1][48]

Antheil's interest in this area brought him into contact with the actress Hedy Lamarr, who sought his advice about how she might enhance her upper torso. He suggested glandular extracts, but their conversation then moved on to torpedoes.[citation needed] Lamarr had fled her Austrian munitions-making husband, and coming to the US had become fiercely pro-American. Together they conceived and patented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system. Lamarr contributed the knowledge of torpedo control gained from her husband and Antheil a method of controlling the spread spectrum sequences using a player-piano mechanism similar to those used in Ballet Mécanique.[48][49] Despite the initial enthusiasm of the U.S. Navy, the importance of the Antheil-Lamarr discovery was only acknowledged in the 1990s.[48] The creation of ​​the device designed by Lamarr and Antheil was not implemented until 1962, when it was used by the U.S. military in Cuba.[citation needed] Later it served as a basis for modern communication technology, such as COFDM used in wi-fi connections and CDMA transmission protocol for cellular telephones.[citation needed]

wtf? going to have to check those sources

14 March 2012

The persistence of love; the time of love. If you love something - really love it - do you want to stop loving it? Aren't there ways - perfectly natural, non-neurotic ways - of just wanting more and more 60s bebop, or 70s funk, or 80s metal, or 90s jungle. And feeling that new forms aren't just unlovably different but actively destructive of the love object (because often of course, that is precisely the polemic charge new forms come loaded with). You could think of it as musicla monogamy - is it so deplorable?

Again, the pace of technological change, as with each shift the new reconfigured medium reconditions the message, creating new forms and makiung new fossils of the old forms. (There's an instinctive understanding of how the medium is the message in the way that people resent and dread upgrades of social media & its user interfaces, the stifling effect of having to re-adjust even to minute changes in how your communiques, whether status updates, tweets, DMs, emails, texts, posts, are shaped). Looking back through the last two centuries is to witness an unprecedented compression of technological paradigms, a pressure crushing cultures flat to destructively create space for thrilling new forms, while the newly-old, the survivors of the previous paradigm, stagger around like peculiar living fossils, dazed by their sudden world-historical irrelevance.

12 March 2012

Alex Williams once wrote of culture running out like a natural resource, but the problem in reality is very different, its chronic, almost insupportable overabundance. As Reynolds discusses, what seems to define 2001-2010 technologically is rather underwhelming: a technology which has 'mastered' not matter but culture. Interstellar space remains unconquered, unless you mean you want some Coltrane on MP3 and you want to download it out of the cloud in the middle of nowhere. And meanwhile music history just keeps on accumulating and accreting, not just because of the passing time and increased levels of output (home recording online distribution) but the ongoing excavation of its every corner.

The optimist view on this is celebratory. More of everything. No excess is absurd. And it rejects any suggestion that this plenitude might lead to a flat plane, and any negative reflections on glut/clotted music. Partly this is to do with a very strong cultural reflex towards the genre-transcendent. Music-writers are prone to getting excited about certain kinds of juxtaposition or hybridization. I remember reading with something bordering on disbelief a writer rhapsodizing over a footwork track that sampled The Lion Sleeps Tonight because - what a thing to sample! the writer was raving. Except it has been sampled, years ago by Shut Up & Dance's Rum & Black on either ESQ or Slave [it was Slave]. See also writers getting excited about auteurs that break genre rules, crossing Genre X with Genre Y: because it feels like you're hearing something at once a little bit transgressive, a little but sublime in its exceeding of borders; to mix X with Y puts artist and listener in a 'meta' space and promises a kind of procreated newness. It allows the listener to hear the words (and declare at the same time), My Mind is So Open! Oh, the Interconnectedness of All Things! [NB I have certainly succumbed to this relfex myself in the past]

But genres depend on the negative. The whole grammar of genre depends at least (if not more) on what the genre isn't as what it is. And the more densely populated the cultural context, the more bristling with sub genres and subdivisions, the harder it becomes for things to *signify* on the same scale. And again, to insist on the exceptional, common-sense defying conditions of the present era, it's not a crisis so banal as the old panic about finite notes, meaning finite melodies and finite songs; its rather a question of semiotics and space: space to make your mark. Imagine a crude binary of prog - punk, then imagine punk happening in a late 70s which was already heavily populated with bands already mining the fine gradations between Topographic Oceans and Ramones.

I used to think of this abominably vast and persistent cultural store as like Swift's Struldbruggs in Gulliver, - his thought exercise in careful-what-you-wish-for addressing eternal life. The Struldbruggs are immortal, but not immortally youthful, and so end up doomed to decline into eternal senility. This cultural situation is like a Struldbrugg in full possession of their faculties, with perfect recall, never sleeping, ever more frantically twitching with nervous exhaustion as their synapses fire and fire and fire.

08 March 2012

We move through time like bodies with the heads sewn on backwards: the future is, if not impenetrably dark then thickly fogged, filled with mirage-like images of our current path straying in different directions, forking, circling, eddying. The past by contrast is a sunny valley: surveyed and mapped by historians, archivists, scholars, we can return and wander through it, with a sense of solid moorings, fixed cultural geography, with the added excitement that you never know it completely, its terrain can suddenly and irrevocably change, while remaining recognizable. Plus it takes such effort to live in the future: it never quite bloody arrives.

07 March 2012

Critical Beats

Hot off the presses of lived reality! Two week old thoughts on Critical Beats at Stratford Circus with Joe Muggs, Lisa Blanning, Simon Reynolds, and moderator Steve Goodman!

My question, which I didn't manage to ask - would have been about negativity in music. The panel discussed positivity/negativity in music-writing a lot, but I wanted to hear their thoughts on negativity in music.

Negativity in two senses, one being the destructive impulse to trash and render obsolete your forebears (classic example being punk vs prog, but also to be found in the Dance Continuum in its broadest sense, with grime's hoods & trainers turning out the lights on UKG's champage & smart shoes aesthetic, or with less of a scorched-earth animus, in hiphop/jungle passim, with the urge to outdo & supersede competitors... is it possible you just don't get moments of opposition/irruption as abrupt as punk because of how structurally & formally wedded dance music and (almost all) its subgenres are to continuity: they depend on the Mix, and this programmes in continuity (or Continuumosity (oh god) if you like)

The other kind of negativity I had in mind was that of formal absence: the way a genre is defined as much by what it's not as what it *is*. Take footwork - which came up repeatedly as an example of the New. This did come up via a different Q, as SR talked about its narrow formal range and the way in which its isolation, as a scene largely unto itself, ticking along under the radar of international appreciation networks for so long, had allowed it to blossom.

There was a question from the balcony approximately a paragraph in length which baffled many. I think it boiled down to this: there's a discussion regarding innovation in dance music which should acknowledge that it's coming from a particular group - a predominantly white middle-class group - and that this discourse should therefore be carefully scrutinized. *If* that was the question, it was a fair one: think of the tradition in the indie music press to valorize a certain kind of 'conscious' rapper for 'avoiding gangsta cliches' about 'drugs, guns and hoes'. You should check your privilege and then check it again just to make sure. But it felt as though the inflection of the original very long question was towards the idea that the blinkers of race/class had perhaps misidentified where 'innovation' lay, and I'm less convinced by that. I think those blinkers have their effects elsewhere. This issues also came to mind listening to Joe Muggs. It was great listening to someone so devoted to being a reporter: absorbing 100s of tracks a month, crunching through international scenes and trends, getting out in the field. But: although I wouldn't go so far as to say he's the dubstep Pangloss, it did feel as though JM's view left a fair bit out through a reliance on the utopian metaphor of the Melting Pot: the club as melting point (all races, classes, creeds etc) and music as melting point (chuck it all in, stir it round). Depending on your position you could say this evades or suppresses or simply passes over for others some fairly important discussions. Like the profiles of eg the American dubstep audience or the UK grime audience. Or more technically/formally, the fact that footwork only exists as this startling outcrop of ideas because it *doesn't* fold in as many genres as it possibly can, and that its hungry absorption (gentrification) by other scenes will inevitably alter it, normalize it, flatten it.

24 February 2012

burning down the (glass)house: The Architecture of Failure

Just started reading The Architecture of Failure by Douglas Murphy and finding it fascinating so far. I won't attempt to paraphrase it all, I haven't even got to the bits about Derrida yet, but if you like the sound of reading about nineteenth-century structures of iron and glass, eg the Crystal Palace, as inchoate modernism with added meditative discursions on transience, this is the book for you. This passage in particular caught my eye:
of all cultural forms, architecture is the one that requires the largest amounts of capital to produce; not only the huge masses of material that must be assembled, but also the huge amounts of labour that go into the erection of buildings. If we (not unproblematically) think of architecture as an artform, then it is the art form that is still most directly tied to its patrons, with all the ideological problems that entails.
...as it reminds me of a theory I put forward about film, which suggested, pretty crudely, that as it required massive lumps of capital to make a film, film-making could reasonably be alleged to skew towards capital and serve its interests. (With the obvious caveat that there is also money to be made, or at least money in the possession of people willing to spend it, from attacking or threatening capitalism and the established order of things, whether from genuine principle or from a cynical desire to ventilate build-ups of radical pressure).

But it also struck me how thoroughly the spectacle of Die Hard depends on the destruction of a steel & glass C20 descendant of precisely the iron & glass forms discussed by DM. And that the destruction of these architectural great-grandchildren is quite a trope, almost an obsession, within 80s-90-00s action films: Terminator 2, the Transformer films... Is it just coincidence? just the case that in films that rehearse and glory in the destructive sublime, they are naturally going to destroy the urban environment closest to hand? is it that there's something visually captivating about the transformation of a smoothly geometric series of lucid panes into chaotic cloud-bursts, galaxies of dying twinkles? (This must come into it, the physical fragility of the iron & glass structure naturally inviting thoughts of its own potential for spectacular dissolution, and as a visitor to Kew Gardens I've often daydreamed of how its glasshouses could be used as the setting for a Bourne style shoot-out sequence) or practically speaking that blowing up a glass-house is cheaper, easier to fix, easier to rebuild? or a latent hostility to the modernist genealogy these buildings represent? I don't know: I nominate Douglas to research these burning questions and report back with relevant findings.

22 February 2012

Retromania notes 3: the critique that disappears?

Thoughts prompted by Retromania's sheer quantitative scope. The first is that, arguably, the more examples of retro Reynolds marshals from the aesthetic width, geographical breadth and chronological depth of pop music, the more it begins to seem an inherently retro form: always and already nostalgic, from Chuck Berry's rehearsals of teenage lust, and the 'high school' genre as discussed by Nick Cohn in Awopbop onwards. In other words, it threatens to move beyond being persuasive and into a zone where the critique essentially disappears and you almost have to disavow pop music itself as a futuristic form except in a very small number of strictly exceptional cases.

There's a lot of truth in that model. One of the things that troubles me about it is the way it seems to acquiesce or feed into the strange complacency or faux wisdom of the twas-ever-thus brigade. People who, when challenged with the moribund state of genre X, insist everything moves in cycles, the critic must just be too old or out of touch to enjoy it, as if there is always a fixed and stable quotient of good/innovative music out there, like some kind of mathematical constant. Even though genres and forms do dissipate, dismantling themselves entropically, as the energy of their original algorithmic arc plays itself out completely. Even though pop music as we understand it simply did not exist in 1932, and we have no right to blindly assume it will continue to exist as we know it indefinitely. At almost every level the means to produce, distribute, obtain, and consume/absorb (and then discuss/dissect) art has been transformed in the last half century. This now is new, and we have to talk about why its music might not be (or if it is, then talk about how to articulate its newness, and why it should be that this new-newness requires explication and advocacy at all if it's so fresh and unprecedented).

21 February 2012

Retromania: in/out of fashion etc

Fashion emerges as a real bete noire in Retromania: the industry is characterized as retromaniac all the way down at one point, and music's current doldrums are summed up as essentially the consequence of its 'fashionization'. I haven't thought this through entirely, but it intuitively feels... rockist and harsh to me. Tilting towards a probelmatically literal-minded assertion that fashion is simply style over substance, form and no content. Style and content are not strictly co-terminous but they do overlap inextricably, fused like conjoined twins. Fashion's cycles are like a hyper-acceleration of the dialectic engine that turns over movements and scenes in music/literature/film. Trouser widths widen, widen, then suddenly go superskinny; rock expands, goes progs, bloats, then savagely cuts its own hair into a punk birds-nest. Plus the absolute intertwining of fashion (as clothes) with music, passim. Fashion is a key part of the holistic depth you get in all retromania. Adam Harper has a tendency to discuss retromania musicologically, as a formalist, in terms of certain melodic/harmonic echoes/revivals. But it's not just that Oasis pinched that bit of Imagine's piano, it's the John Lennon glasses, the Beatles duffles; ditto with The Strokes and their skinny jeans. Retro invokes the context of the cultural text, bringing with it a web of other artefacts.

Fashion at times seem to be doing two things very intently, while insisting it only does one: it's committed to formalism, but really, more perhaps than any other field/activity, it goes about the business of Bourdieu's distinction, drawing up complex aesthetic cartographies that allow people to socially (and economically) orientate themselves. Clothes are a marker of class to a far more reliable extent than musical taste. I'm not suggesting fashion and music sit on a flat plane of equivalence, but I would rather brand the instrumentalization of music that SR complains about the 'lifestyling' of music than the 'fashionizing'

EDIT 22/2
couple of things via twitter. From Dan Barrow:

Adorno's 'Aesthetic Theory' on fashion: fashion as the seizing of a zeitgeist that "goes deep into artworks & does not just manipulate them"; cf Baudelaire: fashion as the dialectical partner of the eternal

and Bat disagrees on class/clothes; fair enough, I'm not sure I agree with myself on skimming back, but I've realized I'll never post anything on here if I don't remember that it can work as a notebook for provisional/essayistic (in the experimental sense) thoughts. A clearer version might run something like this. By 'orientate themselves' I've made it a lot more autonomous than it often is; all too often other people do the orientating for you. And maybe I shouldn't have invoked Bourdieu's weighty apparatus so blithely, but 'Bourdieu' is like a private shorthand for me, a 'file under...' for the bleaker thoughts I'm prone to having about much discussion about music/books/aesthetics generally, those discussions in which you hear people - hear yourself - referring strictly to what you think are the formal properties of the work, and their wider significance, and that underneath this is a different series of discursive negotiations, social adjustments, not necessarily 'vertically' within a class hierarchy, but 'horizontally' (I am like you; I am not like you & you like this, ergo I refuse to like this) and that at times this might even be the most useful or predominant function people find in music etc.


Grime and dubstep don't get much attention do they? They feature in passing, presented essentially as blips, promising but limited. Presumably because the whole nuum debate exhausted the subject?

20 February 2012

Retro-Retromania-mania: Ideas for appendices

Retromania beyond Pop Music (of the 1950s-2000s)
Modernism as belated Romanticism: Eliot's elegies, his texts-as-tissues of quotations; Joyce's fixations on his adolescence, on 16 June 1904; Pound's obsessive worship of medieval Provencal. Wordsworth's spots of time; Schlegel's ironic fragments. Ossian. The Hellenism of pre-Romantic literary culture; the battle between Ancients and Moderns. Medieval concepts of authorship.

The teenager
An extension of Retromania which cross-references it with a continuation of Jon Savage's Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture beyond 1945 to the present day. The sociology of the teenager feels crucial to the most pathological of the symptoms SR discusses. Obviously retromania as defined by SR is a condition made possible in its most frantically becalmed state by technology: cheap storage (MP3, .rar, upload sites), cheap transport (broadband, wifi) and cheap manipulation (samplers, ableton etc) of digitized cultural data. But that technology has entered into and mutated a particular social formation: one essentially unprecedented, in which huge swathes of youth in the developed world enjoy privileges hardly imaginable even in the first half of the C21, let alone before: freedom from responsibility, a freedom from work, along with disposable income, and are thus courted aggressively by advertisers and corporations (NB all those freedoms are relative of course). A post-war paradigm that's seen progression to the ranks of adulthood increasingly postponed or even deferred altogether, with the average age of parenthood and independent living rising, and careers put on hold to allow for the middle-class version of the Grand Tour, the secular rumspringe of the gap year.

This is a valorization of youth which writes and re-writes itself (as retro) in looping feedback through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, from The Catcher in the Rye (1951: disgruntled adolescent as touchstone defense against corrupt 'phonies') to the present, a process which culminates in a sense with Lee Edelman's discussion of 'reproductive futurism'. There's a kind of ideological default to the child as sacred, as cultural 'value' in if not its purest, then its least arguable or controversial form, a common-denominator market-friendly appeal to biological imperative, because all sides in the culture wars, left/right, religious/secular agree the children are our Future. But once we were children/teenagers too, and retromania must be bound up here - a sublimation in which the post-adolescent is displaced and then displaces their own envy/fury into extending the legitimacy of their own cultural moment, not purely as a return/restoration, but as an ongoing cultural form.

18 February 2012

all culture, no class

Melvyn Bragg in the New Statesman, 20 Feb 2012:
While class has been a most useful social marker in these islands for centuries, it is now, I suspect, well on its way to losing its authority to culture. People today are more comfortable identifying themselves by their cultural choices than by their class. They are likely to say 'I'm a Radio 4 person' or that they like grime, or jazz, or film, or opera. The class barricades have been stormed by the forces of a broad culture, which is made up of clusters of individuals who have decided for themselves what they will be in society.

I am fascinated by that 'most useful'.

And yes, nothing screams post-political classlessness than someone self-describing as a 'Radio 4 person.'

Or as 'an opera person'.

And hey, according to Melvyn, 'it was the Beatles who nailed it. No longer could anyone condescend to working-class culture.'

And Dizzee Rascal just goes to prove it, so there! Just so long as you forgot that time he was condescended to on an olympian scale by Paxman on Newsnight. That was just some weird outlier. What book about chavs? I can't hear you! So yeah, culture and class completely and successfully decoupled. Good old Britain. Onward and upward!

14 February 2012


Ayo, remember back in 2011 when everyone was reading Retromania?

Good times. Well I've found the notes I made at the time and thought I would put them up here in expanded-to-the-point-of-readability form.

They don't take the form of a sustained argument, more miscellaneous points of departure so I'll post them up in a series of separate chunks.

10 February 2012

the synthesizer: 'devoid of its own identity'

From that Kodwo Eshun talk, Philip Brophy discussing the synthesizer:
The role the score performs in these films is integrally tied to Tangerine Dream's use of the synthesizer as a non-definable, distanced instrument, devoid of its own identity yet capable of calling up simulated timbres in a breathy, hazy way.

Fascinated by this notion of the synth as a kind of phenomenological identity / personality crisis [got it while it was hot]. Wonder if Brophy has ever written on the sampler, which operates/sounds on/in a similar space/axis: purest identity crisis, zero content of its own, the ambiguous double flicker occurring not within the sound 'of' the instrument 'itself', but at the ragged (or immaculately clipped) edges of the sampled sound. Missed it at the time but there's an intersting post at Cold Calling about the edges of a sample, those perforations where it's been pulled from the source text.

A bit more Brophy, on John Carpenter's use of synth:
Through a brutish yet economical employment of this trait, he helped crystallize the synthesizer as an instrument of indifference and asynchronism - that 'hovering still' sensation - which then became the perfect foible against which changing degrees of dramatic tension could be measured. This was, in effect, a narratological transposition of Minimalism's drone/loop states, where the absence of 'horizontal' melody aided in one's awareness of the 'vertical' depth to any one note or musical fragment.

The whole essay can be read here.

09 February 2012

four types of raindance

herbie hancock


mark one

marc ambiance

27 January 2012

science fiction of the past

'Everything seems to be aimed at making the viewer feel ill at ease, at giving him the impression that he is watching for the first time scenes from a life he never dreamed could have existed. Fellini has described his film as "science fiction of the past," as though the Romans of that decadent age were being observed by the astounded inhabitants of a flying saucer." Tullio Kezich

20 January 2012

fragments on Shame

In his review of Shame for Film Quarterly, k-punk mentions the music which dominates the first act or so of the film – Chic, Blondie, Tom Tom Club – and their temporal significance: 'they’re now as “classic” in their own way as the Bach that Brandon prefers to listen to as he jogs through the city.'

The point being that they represent through the flat chronology and ever-present past of the ipod playlist an erasure of time to match the erasure of location in the non-places (Marc Augé's concept) in which Brandon lives/works/fucks. What struck me about these selections was also spatial-temporal, but in a kind of reverse of this erasure, I thought it had to a very deliberate attempt on McQueen's part to summon the ghosts of a very particular time and place: the pre-AIDs Manhattan of the late 70s/early 80s, and the epic sexual hedonism of its nightlife.

The spectre of AIDs suggested to me a kind of ghost film which you could project onto Shame: in this film Brandon is gay, and not so much sex-addicted through compulsion as availability. I haven't thought through the idea of a coded, closeted Shame, to say the least, but it could at least complicate a reading of Brandon's visit to a gay club (which as Ryan Gilbey notes, in its presentation as an Inferno-esque descent into degradation on Brandon's part, is otherwise 'unworldly' - read homophobic), turning it into some kind of weird wormhole/pivot/confrontation.


On the other hand Voyou's observation that Shame parallels an Apatow film is uncannily accurate: almost every incident can be reimagined played for homosocial but always hetero dudes. Walking in on your sister in the shower (dude! gross!), your sister interrupting you masturbating (LOL bro!), your sister making out with your boss right next to you in a taxi then sleeping with him on the other side of a thin wall (dude, awkward), your boss confronting you about the porn on your work PC, etc. Nor is the film's crisis point exactly beyond Apatow's bounds, suicide, cancer and childbirth all furnishing moments of 'depth' and learning in his oeuvre. I'm reminded of an idea I once had watching a sitcom: one freakishly delusional/sociopathic narcissist, character A, was being stalked by an even more delusional devotee, character B. Character B was attempting to get into character A's flat; the slapstick, as B and A wrestled over the door and locks, was well directed, but the thought of seeing exactly the same actions replayed not for laughs but with a kind of documentary fidelity to the characters' unhappiness and desperation was chilling. Shame stands in a similar relation to Apatow and his affiliates.

18 January 2012

England Made Me, III

'It's our only chance,' Kate repeated. 'We haven't got a future away from here. This is the future.'
    'Oh come,' Anthony said, 'that's pitching it strong. After all, here we are foreigners.'
    'We're national. We're national,' Kate said, 'from the soles of our feet. But nationality's finished. Krogh doesn't think in frontiers. He's beaten unless he has the world.'
    'Minty was talking,' Anthony said, 'about short-term loans.'
    'That's temporary.'
    'You mean he's had to take them already?' Anthony asked. 'Is money so close? It looks bad. Do you think we are safe here? I'm all for rats. I don't believe in any Casabianca stuff.'
    'You don't imagine,' Kate said, 'that Krogh could be beaten by us. That's all that nationality is – it's we, the hangers-on, the little dusty offices I've worked in, Hammond, your pubs, your Edgware Road, your pick-ups in Hyde Park.' Deliberately she turned away from the thought that there had been a straightness about the poor national past which the international present did without. It hadn't been very grand, but in their class at any rate there had been gentleness and kindness once.
    'It's home,' Anthony said.
    He raised his lonely small boy's face. 'You don't understand, Kate. You've always liked this modern stuff, that fountain.'

17 January 2012

onstage with a full-size guillotine

'[In 1990] I was in and out of meetings with Russell and Lyor Cohen at Def Jam. Lyor would walk in, take off his jacket, remove his guns, and start popping pills with mineral water every other sentence. I was thinking "This guy's obviously off his head." He'd go: "Bullet, every time we drop '20 Seconds to Comply' it makes the hair on the back of our heads stand on end. We want you to be the rap version of Ozzy Osbourne. I see you coming onstage with a full-size guillotine, and a crow on your arm. We want you to cut sheep's heads off and chuck them into the front row...'

Silver Bullet, 2011

20 Seconds to Comply

Bring Forth The Guillotine

16 January 2012

England Made Me, II

Minty turned on her; his eyes were damp and burning. 'It's not his own money. He's a borrower, nothing more than a borrower. We can't borrow because we are not trusted. If they trusted us, we should be Kroghs ourselves. He's only one of us. He has no more roots than we have. But we, we have to live within our means; the banks won't trust us; we count our cigarettes, live where it's cheap, save on the laundry, pick up pocket-money by our wits. You're too young my dear,' he said, with open malice, 'to understand these things.' He didn't like girls, he couldn't have said it in words more plainly; tawdry little creatures, other people's sisters, their hats blocking the view at Lords.