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.