Wednesday, June 21, 2006

i wrote about being approached to participate in the following a while back, back when it was in development and under wraps... well they've gone public now. here's the press release for an online "community" that rejoices in the name MOG:

Goths. Metal heads. Emo hipsters. Gangstas. Deadheads. Ravers. Classical aficionados. Jazz masters. MOG is where music lovers of all stripes come to quickly and easily show the world what they're listening to, express their musical tastes, and discover people through music and music through people. MOG is completely free and is available to everyone at www.mog.com.

"Thanks to bleeding-edge technology and ridiculously easy tools, MOG takes the work out of showing the world what you're about musically and connecting you with others with similar musical tastes," said David Hyman, MOG CEO & president and self-proclaimed music freak. "We use all of MOG's smarts to point you in the direction of people like you, based on the music you're into NOT to pretend that a computer really knows what you like."

MOG-O-MATIC: It's Automatic
MOG's cutting-edge MOG-O-MATIC technology automatically creates a MOG page, so anyone in the MOG community can instantly see what's in your music collection and the artists, albums and songs you actually listen to; Not since the original Napster, have you been able to see what's in other people's digital music collections. As you collect and listen to music on your computer and iPod, MOG-O-MATIC automatically keeps score, so your profile is always fresh and up-to-date. "At MOG, people still matter most," explained Hyman. "We see our technology as an enabler, but MOG's users are the definitive. That means we allow you to edit anything in your collection from adding CD's you've been listening to in your car or vinyl you've been spinning at a recent party to deleting those embarrassing Olivia Newton-John tracks."

Express Yourself
MOG has developed some of the easiest and most powerful tools for online self-expression to help you show the world who you are as a musical human being. MOG-O-MATIC-powered automated widgets instantly display what you're listening to now. Slice and dice the information any way you want and let the world know your top song of the week, top songs of the month, most recently played songs and more. Or, easily create customized widgets that reflect what you're into from last shows seen to favorite love songs to top hip hop movies you name it.The simplest music-focused blogging tools and customizable skins designed by pop-artists, including Kinsey, Frank Kozik and Coop, make it easy to turn your MOG page into an extension of your musical soul. MOG provides you with the tools (and music clips) to write your thoughts on music and embed audio samples, video clips and links to the MOG community. Drag and drop technology means it couldn't be simpler to create your own music blog. You can even add MOG to your Blog or MySpace page.And with dedicated pages for artists, albums, and songs, MOG is a springboard for delving deeper into the music you love.

Discover People Through Music
Powered by robust collaborative filtering algorithms, MOG can automatically show you other MOGGERS with a taste in music that most resembles yours. Until now, social networking sites have only been able to connect people based on uninspired criteria, like zip code, gender, and age. MOG's state-of-the-art technology connects you with people based on your musical taste one of the most powerful indicators of your style and personality. And you can search by all the other stuff too. And Discover Music Through PeoplePeople are just better at making recommendations than machines as anyone who's ever received a recommendation from Amazon knows. MOG makes it easy to discover new music you're going to love by connecting you with people with similar musical taste and then showing you what's on their iPods and hard drives. To further enable music discovery, MOG provides 30-second sound samples of every song as well as direct links to iTunes and Amazon for download and CD purchases."Like an older brother that plays you Miles Davis for the first time or a favorite musician that turns you on to an unexpected influence, MOG helps people connect with trusted voices to expand their musical exposure," Hyman continued. "Computer generated recommendation models tend to be self-referential in nature and don't account for the fact that taste is complex and ever-evolving."

And we're not the only ones who believe in the power of consumer-driven recommendations: In his December 2005 report, "Consumer Taste Sharing is Driving the Online Music Business and Democratizing Culture," Gartner Research VP, Michael McGuire, states that consumer driven recommendations will play a critical role in the future of online music, predicting that "By 2010, 25 percent of online music store transactions will be driven directly from consumer-to-consumer taste sharing applications, such as playlist publishing and ranking tools built into online music stores or external sites with links to stores."

About MOG
Employing state-of-the-art Web 2.0 technology, MOG is an online destination where music lovers can quickly and easily show the world what they're listening to, express their musical tastes, and discover people through music and music through people. Completely free, MOG was started by David Hyman, former CEO of Gracenote, former SVP-Marketing at MTV Interactive, co-founder of Addicted to Noise, and self-proclaimed music freak. MOG, which has raised $1.4 million dollars in Angel funding to date, was founded in June 2005 and is headquartered in Berkeley, CA.
For more information go to www.mog.com.


I'm not going to comment, you all know where my head's at, i'm sure you can work it out for yourself...
Sentence!
(the competely unexpected resumption of an irregular series applauding well executed sentences)

Opening sentence of Tim Finney's Pitchfork review of Burial:

"The past 12 months have witnessed a flurry of reminders that dubstep can be more than just an intricately sculpted deathmask for UK garage's sarcophagus"

Ouch!

Especially as "the flurry" boils down to Skream's "Request Line" and something by Pitch and... the Burial album basically!

But he gives the latter a qualified thumbs-up. Oddlly underwhelmed by "Southern Comfort" which I think is Burial's idiomorphic classic, his "Born To Be Wild". And says there's an immaculate EP struggling to get out of a patchy album, which has a grain of truth--that perfect EP could almost be the EP that came out at the end of last year, "South London Boroughs", two of whose four tracks are also on the album, right? And are two of the best things on the album, one of them being the aforementioned "Southern Comfort". When I first heard it--that track, and the EP as a whole--I distinctly remember being agreeably reminded of gloomcore at its most morosely majestic, things like Reign's "Hall" and "Skeleton's March". Going back to it after getting the advance CD-r, though, I couldn't quite recover that sensation, couldn't quite work out what made think of the gloomcore squad, except for a certain woozy mournfulness--those sensuous canopies of sorrow-sound--a sensation of resolutely marching through an endless mental fog of despondency. What that classic Burial sound reminds me more of now is Konigsforest and Zauberberg by Gas--Mike Ink sampling refrains from German classical music and looping them over a muffled, changeless 4-to-the-floor beat, the shimmery, shivery reverberance of the original recordings adding an airy vastness and feeling of altitude.

One of the tracks from the EP --"Night Train"--that didn't make the album has a Michael Jackson sample on it, if i remember right. "Let the rhythm get into you", I think. Nice.

The other thought I had about Burial in particular, and dubstep in general, is that it's basically
Macro Dub Infection meets Isolationism, if you think about it. Actually one of the best tracks on Isolationism is David Toop & Max Eastley's "Burial Rites (Phosporescent)" and the duo did a whole album called Buried Dreams, right?.And the big isolationist dude in those days (93-94) was Thomas Koner who via Porter Ricks and the whole Chain Reaction/Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound nexus connects up quite nicely with dubstep. And fuck me but don't the Berlin contingent actually have a sub-label called Burial Mix. (And how come no reviewer i've seen has yet mentioned Nuum-ancestral tune "The Burial" by Leviticus, or indeed the whole burial tune ,sound-system-finishing-off-its-rival killertrack connotation?).

I wrote a piece about Isolationism back in '94 and said it was very interesting but (more to have an angle than as a real critique really) had a bit at the end saying "but it's a bit white, though", pointing to similar doomy and chiliastic vibes in trip hop (tricky with "aftermath" and "ponderosa", DJ Shadow's elegaics, the darkside of jungle, etc). Dubstep, fusing the abstract atmospherics and emptiness of isolationism with the foreboding bass-pressure of the reggaematic UK sound system-influenced Bristol-London 'Nuum , could almost be an answer to that last paragraph.

The key difference between Isolationism and dubstep isn't just a matter of the first having no rhythm or groove, though, it's a subtle shift of emphasis. Isolationism had this monastic/hermetic impulse to seek out empty space, depopulated vistas (sort of ECM album cover but without the Bachelard-esque "intimate immensity", more like an aloof inclemency, an utter indifference verging on hostility to the human).... Koner with his series of albums inspired by Antarctica, or the way the other artists on Isolationism induced mind's eye reveries of deserts, tundra, subterranean grottoes, virgin planets; extremes of climate or temperature, like the polar twilight in Siberia, or the interior of the Sun. Whereas dubstep (and again Burial specifially) is very much about built-up areas, urban space, places that should be bustling with life.... but are now uncannily, eerily empty. Either that, or just lonely-making. Dubstep is desolationist.
Dub War celebrates its first birthday with the US debut appearance of SKREAM, this Friday June 23rd; location The Chapel @ Avalon - 6th Ave (20th & 21st St), 10pm - 4am, $15 w/ flyer or rsvp (to do that www.dubwarnyc.com) (enter through the side entrance at 20th St to avoid the wait out front)

ooh sticky dilemma for me, viz DB's oldskoolrave party on the same night do i embrace "the future" or the past...

might try both actually
RIP TOTP

sob
the rambler with a different kind of djmix: avantclassical meets shoegaze

seriously, Meredith Monk/Arne Nordheim/György Ligeti/Morton Feldman rub sonic shoulders with Slowdive/Ride/Curve...
le garage noir - top 10 par moi pour website de dubstep Francais!

aussi, un interview avec kode 9

Sunday, June 18, 2006

meditation on the mixtape at cool new blog fangirl
part 2 of the Jeff Chang conversation hosted by beatrice

that's me on a trolley bus in memphis, pic took by my brother jez
a mate of mine finally starts a blog, well sort of--except he's yet to activate the blog bit (possibly
sensing that this would be a step down a very slippery slope)




googly withers
the director's cut of my recent Green interview, donated to excellent Scritti Politti fan site Bibbly-O-Tek

there is a considerably longer version (something like ten times as long!) of Barney Hoskyns piece on the 1973 rockwriter convention, an oral history, at Rock's Back Pages, subscribers only
plenty to read in this week's OMM

-- can Tom Stoppard really have written a play about Syd Barrett and Plastic People of the Universe?!

-- as part of the supplement's 50 Best Music Books thing, Barney Hoskyns on The First Annual National Association of Rock Writers' Convention that took place in 1973 in America.

-- and me on Burial (i gave it five stars actually)

Friday, June 16, 2006

instalment #1 of a conversation between me and Jeff Chang hosted by Beatrice
Enlightenment arrives from several quarters re. the Glenn Gould/Celine Dion connection as referenced mysterioiusly by Simon Frith. The missing link is Barbara Streisand as also reviewed by Frith in that Voice piece.

Scott Woods traces it back to "Gould's excellent High Fidelity review from 1976, "Streisand as Schwarzkopff," which begins, "I'm a Streisand freak and make no bones about it," and contains many interesting ideas about the tradition she's working in (love the line, "it would never occur to her to employ the 'I'll meet you precisely 51 percent of the way' piquancy of, say, Helen Reddy, much less the 'I won't bother to speak up 'cause you're already spellbound aren't you?' routine of Peggy Lee.")" Scott adds "if you can find a copy of The Glenn Gould Reader grab it--his criticism is often brilliant and occasionally hilarious ."

Paul Davies helpfully provides a page reference for "Streisand as Schwarzkopff" (pp 308-311), and further avers that Gould refers to Streisand again in "Stokowski in Six Scenes", also in
The Glenn Gould Reader.

uTopianTurtleTop says that "Glenn Gould was a great music critic, very witty and individualistic and, of course, deeply informed. The collection of his writings edited by Tim Page is really great. Sometimes arch. Anyway, the only pop people he writes about in the book are Streisand and Petula Clark. His Clark piece, he compares her favorably to the Beatles, whom he detests."

Only question left: who's this Schwarzkopff geezer then?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

plenty to nod your head in sighing agreement with in this followup to southall's stylus piece on compression, hyperconsumption, etc etc
woebot 18 months ahead of me as per bloody usual
some upcoming anachronesis that i feel okay about...

more than okay about actually

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

VH1Classic thoughts (first in an irregular series)


Why does Neil Young not use a conditioner?

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That Platinumweird video fooled me the first time. Well, 85 percent. There was this slighty off quality, the tell-tale whiff of anachronesis. Strange, if they'd gone to just a tiny bit more trouble they could really have made it look like a time capsule from 1974. It's just a little too stylish. Fact: Dave Stewart really was signed to Elton's Rocket label, he was in some hippie-type band called Longdancer.

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Why do bands (e.g. the Allman Brothers) have two drummers? It's not like you can really hear any difference.

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Debbie Harry used to have really healthy gums.

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What's the deal with the dancing of the guitarist and the bassist in Fine Young Cannibals? All that leggy, crab-wise, shake it all about stuff. One of them in particular looks like he's got muscular dystrophy. Actually he moves his feet in almost exact analogue to the way Roland Gift sings...

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As sexy as--

.... the fine, fair hair of the young Rob Halford.

.... the bare, hairy, cut-off-T-shirt arms of that (very able) drummer in John Mellencamp's band

..... __________________________________________

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Ron Wood is the quintessence of the post-"It's Only Rock'n'Roll" Stones utter (if still enjoyable now and then) irrelevance, isn't he? It's like its all embodied in him, he's like the custodian or mascot or emblem of their copped-out-ness. I was really quite taken aback when Nikki Sudden mentioned towards the end of our interview that his grand ambition was to write a biography of Ronnie. It's hard to think of a figure further removed from the spirit of postpunk, really. I started the Boogaloo talk by describing postpunk as a one giant answer record to "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" and i'm not entirely sure what I meant, but in some vague mystical sense it seems true.

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Cool how the video for "I Can't Go For That" literalises the glittering production with its reflected light bouncing off the instruments dazzle. It's the only tune by Hall & Oates I've ever liked (bought the single at the time) and the hard-hearted cynicism of the fending-off-intimacy lyric ("I can't go for being twice as nice/I can't go for just repeating the same old lines") still gives me a shiver with its abrasive adultness.

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Can anybody explain Mott the Hoople to me? I dig them fine enough as music, but they're one of those bands that are About Something, right? There's a Dylan-meets-glam kinda thing going on. The "spirit" of something or other.

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I always forget about Slade.
a sudden flurry of goodness signals it's time for a...

feeling

ESG, Keep On Moving (Soul Jazz)
Hot tune: "Purely Physical". Sort of primordial yet inorganic, as though hewn from the living (planet) rock of ancient electro

Broadcast, The Future Crayon (Warp)
this stereolab-style miscellany of comp contributions, 7 inches, and other rarities = better than any of their albums proper i think

Thom Yorke, The Eraser (XL)
avant-whingey wallow with eerie echoes of roy harper vocally and even in guitar textures here and there, elsewhere a forlorness and frailty that put me in mind of silent running/neil young circa "after the goldrush"-(a this-planet-is-fucked-let's-board-the-spaceship-and-look-for-a-new-home vibe (and then whaddyaknow i find out yorke's actually done a cover of "after the goldrush" )

V/Vm, Sabam neo-NewBeat anthology
Hot track: "The Acid Sausage"

Various, Touch 25 (Touch)

Various, Feel the Spirit: Other Wordly Folk Music Gems and Psychedelics compiled b y Mark Pritchard (Optimum Sounds)

Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye (Domino)


really feeling

The Caretaker, theoretically pure anterogade amnesia six-CD box (V/VM)

Johnny Too Dark, Can't Wait EP (Kin)
Truly as good as man dem seh


retro feeling (reissued)

Arthur Russell, First Thought Best Thought
AR wearing his downtown avantgardist hat: lotsa instrumental mix-up-the-styles inbetweeny what-is-this? fruitlessness where you think "why would anyone make this, or indeed listen to it?".... but plenty glinting ambientish stuff as glorious as anything else he did, just minus beats or voice


retro-feeling (unreissued)

Alice In Chains, Dirt
Highlight of VH1 Classic’s enjoyable Metal Month was being reacquainted with the work of AiC (who stole the show when they performed as part of a Heart tribute concert, not hard given the latter only have, like, two killer tunes... they're both from Seattle of course, friends, and apparently jam on acoustic guitars oftentimes of an evening round at Nancy's). Surpassed only by Nirvana as has-aged-best-out-of-all-them grungers, perhaps cos Alice were the most metal and least alternative of the class of 92; the stark clarity of structure and sonorous majesty of voice pisses over the turgid mushy roil and sub-blues old-man's-voice-outa-young-man's-body wailing of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, et al, while Soundgarden, uneven songwriters, couldn’t match Alice for tunes. The obvious source for mood is Sabbath and Saint Vitus, but there’s a morbidity and abjection that weirdly reminds me even more of The Birthday Party; one tune here sounds uncannily like “King Ink” and it’s almost too obvious to bring up the Junkyard parallel.

Blue Oyster Cult, “ETI”, “Godzilla”
The Metal Month’s Top 100 Hard Rock Songs thing also gave me impetus to give BoC another go, to see if I liked anything as much as “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (loved since first heard on the radio aged probably 14). Still can’t really get that deep into the cognoscenti-rated early stuff (Tyranny and Mutation etc), no for me what wows is the “sold out” later BoC of “E.T.I” and especially “Godzilla” (that mighty mighty riff, and underneath percolating shufflefunk drumming that’s basically a breakbeat). Shame BoC songs always tend to go flaccid at the chorus though.

Professor Emerson Myers & Associates, Provocative Electronics: Electronic Constructions on Traditional Forms (Westminster Gold Series)
Seems like every fucking university in America had an electronic music laboratory in the Sixties; this one is from the Catholic University of America!

David Hykes/The Harmonic Choir, Hearing Solar Winds (Ocora)
Mystic-minimalist avant-choral music. $1—hooray for progressive schools and their annual fund-raising fairs!

Walter Carlos, Sonic Seasonings
Tomita, Firebird
$8 and $3 respectively--hooray for Vermont used record stores and aging hippies from the surrounding hills clearing out their attics!
Simon Frith writes to deny that he is the godfather of cultural studies! That would be in fact Stuart Hall, “director of CCCS and link between RaymondWilliams/New Left and Gramsci, Althusser and other Euro-theorists". Professor F adds that his own reputation among cult-studs types “is more usually as a simple minded empiricist and anti-theorist carping at CStud from the sidelines…sociology and cult studies pretty soon parted company in Birmingham. I agree that anti-rockism (which I think of as being formalised by Paul Morley et al at NME) relates to cultural studies populism with all the problems you describe but I don't think that was ever my line exactly (Jon Savage and I specifically attacked it and got quite a lot of flack from cultural studies people as a result)." Re. Celine Dion, "my problem was not that I didn't like her and the masses did, but that I did quite like her--ie played some of her material for pleasure--and the masses (of critics) didn't--and Streisand was interesting as an example of how someone else who seemed to generate strong feelings got written about. My inspiration (not that I have any memory of what I wrote) was undoubtedly Glen Gould rather than any of the arguments about rockism…” I emailed Simon back but forgot to ask what he meant by the most intriguing reference to Glen Gould (the pianist/Idea of North dude?). Any ideas?

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must admit, having expended all that energy in critique, I’ve become pretty intrigued by Carl’s Celine project and the general notion of writing about things you detest and have an almost physical aversion to…. What appeals is not the highminded side to such a project (I don't think any critic owes any music an impartial listen, let alone all musics, and am not even sure that Criticism does either; rock crit is neither journalism nor sociology [although it may borrow licks from both when it suits it] but an impure hybrid of lots of things, and it's lifeblood is partiality if not always outright partisanship). No, what intrigues is actually the perversity of it--the idea of “thinking against oneself”, to borrow a phrase from E.M. Cioran.

so I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of what would be the equivalent for me. There’s no shortage of things that are repulsive to my ears—Joe Cocker, Journey, Iron Maiden, the list is long—but for the undertaking to be of interest there would have to be an extra element, a sort of symbolic abominable-ness beyond the surface foulness; the band or artist would have to reresent an Idea of What Music Is About and What It’s For that was anathema. And for some reason I couldn’t think of something that would serve that role.

then, going through old cuttings while pulling together the anthology of 20 yrs of my writing,
I came across one of my favourite slag-offs: a 1988 live review of the Pogues playing the Fillmore in San Francisco And it hit me: The Pogues, that's my Celine Dion equivalent, the test case for deconstructing my sonic worldview. Putting on a Pogues-fan head would be a form of auto-mutilation of sensibility. A titanic struggle.

still I must admit my opinion of Shane McGowan was improved slightly some years ago when I read in Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff how Shane got really into acieeeed and raving, to the point of
lobbying the band to do a 20 minute 303-blaring acid instrumental titled something like “Get Yourself Connected”. They could have been the Happy Mondays! Sadly the band proved recalcitrant.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

more proof of freak folk/new weird americana's curious preference for British folk--the cover of forthcoming album Second Attention by Wooden Wand and the Sky High Band pays homage to John and Beverley Martin's Stormbringer...




Monday, June 12, 2006

RIP Gyorgy Ligeti
"you're talking rubbish, Lethal.... "

no not the words of Wiley or Trim... but the leader of the Conservative Party and would-be Prime Minister David Cameron

the war of words began with this open letter from Bizzle addressed to Cameron's recent comments about guntalk and merkage in lyrics having deleterious social effects and escalated with Cameron's response in the Daily Mail

you really don't want to mess with Lethal B, mr Cameron, next thing you know he'll have some white label out going on about how your face was covered in scabs all through secondary school etc etc and you'll be the laughing stock of E11....
Woebot, inspiring on the beatles. and also, on that most gripping read, the Ian McDonald book. Been meaning to "do" the early albums and this might be the impetus. the thing i always find weird about listening to the beatles with grown-up ears, with fan/critic's ears that have a whole a history of close listening behind them, is realising that they were a rock band just like all the other rock bands, i.e. listening to what the rhythm guitar is doing, the bass, when the solo comes in, etc. As a kid, which is when i heard all the famous stuff, i hadn't learned to break tracks down into their components, it was all one glorious blare/blur/blast of sound, plus i think as a kid you can only really focus on the top-line melody. and i also thought of the Beatles as a whole separate zone of culture--like there was pop music over here, and the Beatles over there (this partly exacerbated by the fact of the movies, i think as a child I really thought they really did live in one long knocked-together terrace a la Help, that the movies were just documents of their lives). So the MacDonald book obviously works well with that grown-up appreciation of "what an interesting middle-eight", "ah, the bassline is asserting itself vividly here", "ace drumming, Ringo", "ooh, production!", etc etc, and actually seeing them as not just part of the same genre as the stones, dylan, byrds, kinks, but also engaged in conversation/competition with them.

Also really dug this Woebot comment on Apples Vs Apple, which "iconic" struggle I didn't even know was going on but makes a lot of sense, both being in the music business and having the same name. Sez Woebot:

"...I’m perhaps imaginatively construing it to be a cosmic struggle between two ideas of what music is. I’m obviously on The Beatles side, and what they and (coughs) I are saying is that music matters. We’re letting it loose like a cougar. We’re celebrating its transformative powers. We’re saying it deserves to have a physical presence, to be embodied amongst us. We’re the good guys. What Steve Jobs is saying is that music needs to know its place. He’s saying: “Feel the pleasure you get when you tame this wild animal.”

So i'll obviously be chasing down those early albums on vinyl, then...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

perhaps my comparison of arctic monkeys and dizzee wasn't quite so spurious after all -- a piece that reveals the rap influence on the band... and i read somewhere else that in the early days of the group, the rhythm section had some kind of funk band running concurrently....









Over the long Memorial Day weekend we went out of town to visit friends in Vermont, verdant and glorious. On the way we stopped at MASS MoCA, an art museum that spectacularly occupies a 13 acre area of repurposed 19th-century industrial buildings in North Adams, Massachusetts--factories, machine shops, mills, a former electrical company, etc. Lots of great stuff: a retrospective of Huang Yong Ping (piece de fucking-hell being the fuselage of a wrecked plane whose interior is bedecked with hundreds and hundreds of dead bats) , an entire floor given over to Carsten Höller's amusement park (literally, a whole load of rides and rollercoasters, vaguely sinister in the semi-darkness, completely still -- you couldn't take rides on them, sadly--if nothing an impressive physical feat to get them onto to the second floor of the building) and as part of an exhibition called "Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History" some really excellent sculptures by Dario Robleto, which reminded me of Matmos in the way that the works are made of materials that are historically-loaded but painstakingly reprocessed (e.g. he'll have some writing on paper that he'll have made out of, i dunno, pulping together First World War blood-soaked bandages and a circa Civil War letter from the US army informing a mother that her son's been killed in combat; or he'll melt down a bullet and use that as a component of another piece, that sort of thing). As with Matmos, the intricately assembled results are attractive/impressive even if you don't know the specific historical sources/symbolism they have, or even the project's overall polemical thrust (in the case, Iraq etc), but accrue in richness as you read the accompanying description of all the materials and processes involved in their creation. One of the most striking pieces used a skeleton of a pigeon of the kind used during the First World War to carry messages, wearing an actual WW1 ID tag as worn by a messenger pigeon round its leg.

Anyway, these trips out of town, the idea is you go away to get away from your everyday self and concerns, but the first thing I clap my eyes on upon entering MoCA are the images above: practically a diagram of Energy Flash! (And at the leftmost corner it crosses into Rip It Up territory with DAF/Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV). It's a graffiti piece called The History of the World 1997-2004 and it's by British artist Jeremy Deller, also showing as part of the "Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History" exhibtion, and it's related to his reenactment of 1984's The Battle of Orgreave, a video of which was also on display at MoCA. (And he's apparently the guy behind that Acid Brass thing, acid house tunes redone by brass bands, a continuum of Northern working class recalcitrance-through-music). So the whole thing is about the Miner's Strike, connections between the control of public space, rights of assembly, large popular gatherings, the organised masses and the disorganised rave massive, etc.

I would like to get The History of the World 1997-2004 as a T-Shirt. Or maybe a duvet cover.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

check it out -- a guy i know who's selling off his electro collection to pay for his college fees
More Wyatting--or rather a prototype version exploiting a different sort of design flaw.

Whose author Tim also recalls: "One time my friends and I from the now defunct Hudson Valley Experimental Arts Society (HvEXAS) did a performance piece that involved us playing Masonna's "Inner Mind Mystique" (supposedly the loudest album ever recorded, though I could be mistaken) at top volume simultaneously through 6 seperate headphones at the listening booths in a local Barnes and Noble. The result was a "quiet" noise performance, though still loud enough to irritate the hell out of browsers and onlookers. "

And the prototype of prototypes: those stories of Cabaret Voltaire driving around Sheffield in a van with tape-loops of weirdnoiseshit playing out the back. Or bringing a reel-to-reel player into a pub and emitting similar Normal-baiting noises, which I guess is building/bringing your own jukebox if you think about it....

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

CRITIQUE WILL EAT ITSELF
or,
Celine Dion as the Turkey Twizzler of Pop


.... uTopianTurtleTop responds to the charge of being a “riled up Maoist tribunal” (not precisely what I said but no matter) by… immediately ushering Greil Marcus before the court again!
… Ian Penman joins in the sport of the day (Marcus-bashing) (middle of this post)... and Zoilus comes with a forceful rejoinder to skeptics re. his Celine Dion project...

hmmm I’m not sure I either used or meant the expression “doomed to fail”… I guess Iwhat I do wonder with some bemusement is what “success” would constitute or be worth… someone struggling against their deepest aesthetic responses could be make for a compelling critical spectacle –but either outcome seems likely to be a Pyrrhic success – either the deconditioning will take, leaving Carl in a kind of aesthetic void with no reason to prefer anything over anything -- or it won’t, leaving him back where he started. I’m all for ambivalent writing, criticism rooted in mixed feelings, where attraction is met by an equal force of repulsion… I’ve done plenty of it myself… but what’s proposed here is something altogether together different: someone with a pre-existing strong feeling attempting to unlearn that response, question its legitimacy. Rather than the specificity of the example what’s most interesting is the moral genealogy of this impulse to auto-critique and self-rebuke…. which is not unique to Carl, but which he is now taking further than anybody.

The rising indignation in Carl’s tone suggests that he believes that at the end of the exercise a/ he will be a better person and b/ in some small way the world will be a better place. (Highly rockist reasons, incidentally-- High Rockism of the 60/70s sort!). The interesting question for me is: how did we reach this point where such a self-undermining (as opposed to “self-overcoming” as uTT attempts to detourn Nietzche) seems like a good idea, the acme of critical virtue? Indeed how did we even get to the point where it is thinkable? I can’t imagine this being done in other fields of criticism, and certainly not in earlier epochs.

The only critic of repute I can think of who has written at length about being a Celine Dion fan is Simon Frith. It was a piece in the Village Voice twinning Dion with another Frith MOR fave, Barbara Streisand, and I’d link to it but it seems to have been from just before the Voice went online. Trying to find it I did stumble across three juicy bits of anti-Celine sentiment, all from people who are anti-rockist to the core: original diva-worshipper and discophile Vince Aletti; Joshua Clover aka Jane Dark; and Momus. I can’t resist sharing:

----Aletti: “the sort of mechanical perfection and pull-out-the-stops showiness that Celine Dion has turned into a joke
-----Jane Dark compares his beloved Madonna with “the Celinator”, “whose cyborg bombast will crush Ray of Light like a bug
-----Momus avers: “Celine Dion is the Antichrist for me. She reminds me of what Brian Eno said about female wrestling -- you waste your energy hating things that are inevitable, so if you turn on the TV and mud wrestling is on, don't bother. I saw her on TV, and she reminded me of Freddie Mercury at his fascistic Nietzschean superhero height. She was definitely striking populist-fascist poses, but I'm not going to waste energy hating her.”

I had to quote that one because of the Nietzchean reference! the Terminator/Arnie analogy also has that undercurrent of Celine as ubermensch, or uber-diva.

I totally agree with Momus about not wasting energy hating her (my main bone of contention with Celine Dion is the stain she leaves on the name of one of my favourite authors). The card-carrying anti-rockism of those three writers shows that most people’s antipathy to Dion’s music is not a policy decision but visceral--immediate, enduring. I imagine Carl’s current feelings about Celine D are closer to these guys than Simon Frith’s qualified affection.
Anyway, my point is: it’s totally apt that Frith wrote a piece taking Celine seriously because the gesture that Carl is making in part of the current of thought and attitude that developed out of Cultural Studies, of which Frith is the godfather.

Cultural studies began in early Seventies UK– specifically the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University – and initially its prime focus was semiotic analysis and/or empirical research on oppositional subcultures–mods, skinheads, punks, bikers, hippies etc. Soon (partly through questioning its own biases towards the masculine-dominated, working class style tribes) it evolved into an approach that looked at all mass culture. The bulk of the conceptual groundwork for anti-rockism as we know it today was actually laid down by Simon Frith way back when in his book The Sociology of Rock (1978), also known as Sound Effects (if I recall right, a remixed/extended/better written version of the former republished in the early Eighties). All those basic ideas about the privileging of rock over pop, male taste versus teenage girl taste, proto-Bourdieusque notions about the class biases underlying taste hierarchies—it’s in that book. It was a major influence on both Frank Kogan and Chuck Eddy. (In an early issue of Why Music Sucks, Kogan poses a question to his readers—“does Simon Frith ever appear in your fantasies?”—and gets one affirmative response, “yes he does, quite a lot”, from WMS reader Simon Frith).

As the original title of Frith’s book makes clear, Cultural Studies came out of sociology, and a large aspect of the discipline was the pursuit of value-free understanding of popular leisure—a human science, its research aimed to increase the sum of human knowledge. But, distorting the value-free element significantly, Cultural Studies also came out of socialism—all of the CCCS theorists were left-wing and many were Marxists. Gramsci, mediated by Stuart Hall, was a particularly strong influence. The working class youth subcultures were understood to be unconscious expressions of anti-hegemonic resistance through rituals, attempts to escape class destiny through the symbolic victory of style. As cult-studs broadened its scope, it soon began scanning the entirety of popular culture for buried or encrypted expressions of resistance or utopianism—hence the much-ridiculed micro-discipline of Madonna-ology, the studies of Trekkies, the TV semiologist Fisk who thought that MTV was an explosion of jouissance and carnivalesque energy, a form of anti-repressive desublimation, etc etc.

This approach was based in a left-wing populism that wanted to believe that anything popular must have something good about it—because "the people", in their heart of hearts, are good. Left wing populists have to believe that the People are (or would be if only they’d listen to “us”) progressive/anti-authoritarian/tolerant/etc. Well, I’d like to believe that as well, but when you look at the world there’s a lot of evidence that people do/like/believe in/behave in all sorts of pernicious things/ways. “The people” are to some extent responsible for the fucked up nature of everything. And I’m not exempting myself from “the people”, at many, many points I intersect with them (apathy, selfishness, etc). One of the things to acknowledge is that popular culture is where a lot of this non-virtuousness manifests itself—and that, confusing things immeasurably, a lot of what makes pop culture work, makes it good (aesthetically), comes out of nasty stuff, the stuff that is ruining the world—aggression, ego, vanity, status, competitiveness, extravagance, not thinking about tomorrow. Rap and metal are two genres that can’t be properly understood without registering the roles of appetite-for-destruction and destructive appetites. And it goes beyond music of course: porn, junk food, and almost anything that can be described as "junk __" or "the new porn" etc etc. The cultural studies belief that there must be something good about anything that’s popular seems naïve and sentimental. A lot of popular things are reprehensible, or just lame.

The major legacy of cultural studies (which chunters on in academe with a well-past-its-day wan feel about it) as it filtered into rock/pop writing, is the critical sensibility of populist generalism. And one of tics of this sensibility is a squeamishness about the idea of aesthetic vanguardism, which is felt to be elitist, and an accompanying reluctance to describe anything as trash or middlebrow. The pervasiveness of this attitude is pretty unique to pop criticism—you might get a glint of slumming/inverted snobbery/populism idea here and there in film reviewing or literary criticism, but it’s pretty rare, and in other arts it’s non-existent. Outside arts & entertainment, it’s less than non-existent. Few people in our little world would have a problem with the idea that in politics certain ideas/values/policies are more progressive or enlightened than others. (Why, some of us might even go on Daily Kos and in our fury and frustration, fulminate against Republicans as “rethugs” or “wingnuts”, as morons or just plain evil). All these POP-ulist ideas to do with the equal standing of all musics, are variations on “50 million Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong”. But few of us I think would have much problem asserting that 51 million Bush voters could be wrong—disastrously wrong, for the whole world. Few of us would be reluctant to reject the opinion of the X number of millions of Americans who believe gay marriage is an abomination, or X number worldwide who believe in the existence of a Jewish World Conspiracy. ...

Obviously these are real evils with stark implications, whereas “bad” culture is not pernicious in any easily proved way or obviously direct way. An example that lies somewhere in between the two extremes and may be slightly illuminating: food. Few with any firsthand experience of school meals in the UK or America would disagree that they are shit, nutritionally and in terms of taste. Yet kids love that shit. I’ve got a six year old, if left to his own devices Kieran would eat nothing but chicken nuggets and fizzy soda. And you can see why the stuff appeals to unsophisticated palates: they’re salty and fatty and tasty in a very narrow sense, the sugary sodas give a “loud”, effective rush. And yet this kind of food is really bad for kids both in the short term (mega-constipative--some kids go two weeks without a shit; affects ability to concentrate in school, moodswings) and long-term (early death). When Jamie Oliver during the series based on his School Lunch project showed the kids what nuggets and Turkey Twizzlers (if you don’t know, you don’t want to know--oh go on then, take a peek) are made from-–a pink gloop of mechanically evacuated meat-mush, chicken lips and turkey perineum—they were uniformly turned off; knowledge made them more discriminating about what they put in their bellies. And having the crap struck off the menu in the school cafeteria forced them to educate their dulled palates and they soon learned to tolerate, then actively prefer, Jamie’s fare.

From a populist perspective, though, you could argue that the Jamie Oliver School Lunchs project is elitist/pedagogically patronising/authoritarian… imposing healthy food on consumers who didn’t want it, who were perfectly happy with the prepared, just-heat-and-serve fare churned out by the catering corporations who are themselves the gastronomic asshole for the agri-business mega-congloms. In Kogan terms, it’s a PBS-ification of food! Indeed you do find populist types who sneer at the bruschetta-eating middle classes with their Mediterraean peasant diets, just as Socialist Worker Party hardmen back in the Eighties would jeer at vegetarianism as a self-indulgent bourgeois-bohemian lifestyle politics distracting from the real revolutionary struggle (to be fueled by proper prole nosh like Cornish pasties and bitter and Benson’n’Hedges)…

Now why is it that the idea of the vanguard—of advanced taste, an advanced sensibility-- utterly distasteful to so many within music, and only within music? I think it comes from this diffuse left-wing populism (which is itself, ironically, descended from the 60s and 70s Grand Era of Rock(ism).) The populist sentiment—which would like to believe the best of “the people”—has noticed and is anxious about the large gap between critics and popular taste; like the Democrats worried about "liberal elitism", it wants to close the (aesthetic) values gap. Perhaps in some distant sense it feels the pain of the loss of the more unified pop moment of the 1960s (when high and low and black and white and working class and middle class and dance and Art were all swirled up in one glorious mess)… a moment that has recurred at various points (... glam... New Pop… rave... ) but always along a waning arc of brevity and smallness of impact. Our divisions seem more impregnable than ever. The populist/generalist impulse desires to symbolically erase those divisions by a unilateral granting of respect. It wonders perhaps if criticism has helped create those divisions or at least confirm them, anneal them, through its history of condescendion to the popular. So, taking it back to specifics, a slight has been done to Celine Dion and to her millions of fan, by the lack of serious attention given to her music. Rockism, it appears, has demeaned and neglected a whole array of musics, an array of populations; reparation must be begun.. But has the “exclusionism” denied the artists and genres in question huge record sales? Hardly. Access to the radio? Nope. Peaceful enjoyment of their preferred music (not one whit: there’s no equivalent in music to Jamie’s School Lunchs project). No, the insult and the injustice boils down to certain styles not getting their “fair” representation on Pazz and Jop; and perhaps a deficit of column inches in certain magazines. The slight was never felt; the penance will never be noticed.

The idea of the Vanguard is now widely derided, even deplored (specious analogies with Leninism and Stalinism--of course, totalitarian societies uniformly put fetters on modernism and instigate a cultural regime of unmitigated kitsch). Let’s be honest, though, populist generalism pursues its own version of the cutting edge: it’s a sort of inverted vanguardism. If it’s hip to take seriously “the square”, what ensues is a chase to plunge deeper into the mass , to find new frontiers of things that rockism has disparaged and neglected. Carl’s Celine project makes him Albert Ayler to Ann Powers’ Charlie Parker and Joshua Clover’s Ornette. (Nate Patrin? Honking over there like Brotzmann maybe). See, at the first EMP, Ann Powers did a presentation celebrating mediocrity in pop, ie. the middling sort of chart hits that don’t stand out particuarly but mean a lot for various reasons to their fans (her examples were hits by Incubus, Enya, and baffling to me, Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy”—my favourite rap production of that year!), her polemical thrust being to challenge rockism’s privileging of the exceptional (the way it had learned to accept and exalt pop/hip hop/R&b whenever it fit criteria of extreme or innovative, but… well, you get the drift, groundbreaking in its way). And Joshua Clover offered a treatise in defence of disposability in pop, the target being rockism’s privileging of permanence and artistic durabililty. Oh there’s more to this impulse than critical brinksmanship, sure, but if you accept that, you must accept–must actively resist the kneejerk pop(ul)ist temptation –to regard any impulse to celebrate difficult/avantgarde/hard/weird/noisy music as merely based in elitism/cooler-than-thou-ism/snobbery. There’s more to it than that. Bourdieu is not the last word on the subject. There is the little matter of music, aesthetic rapture, the politics of pleasure, etc.

A while back I argued that anti-rockism, being essentially a form of deconstruction, is all about eliminating reasons to value, esteem, believe, etc. Well, as Carl’s project shows, it is also about eliminating all the bases on which one might dislike/disbelieve/disregard–for all the negative words are suspect too now: loaded, coming under interrogation from the tribunal. “Bland,” “too clean sounding”, “overproduced”, “slick”, “sterile”, “soft”, “shlocky”, “melodramatic,” “manipulative”.... these are all dead give-aways, wrapped up with all kinds of assumptions and preconceptions. Anti-rockism thinks it is valiantly resisting “the taste police”; actually what it is actually doing is encouraging people to internalise a kind of “value police”*, a inner tribunal in which any immediate or visceral response is warily inspected, any judgement to be endlessly qualified, situated/self-relativized, or simply deferred. A court that judges its own judgement process, in effect, with the potential for Bleak House-like deadlock. Critique will eat itself… and the taste is unmistakeably Turkey Twizzler-like.


*Carl sez that anti-rockism is not about removing aesthetico-moralism in toto but the specific one installed and upheld by old skool rockcrit, ie. what i call High Rockism. But I call bullshit on that: anti-rockism, if it is truly serious about its pursuit of the opened mind**, must surely interrogate poptimist biases too (reject the installation of a new set of inverted snob values e.g. glossy = good), it must continually scrutinise all systems of values, all aesthetic philosophies

** “open mind” -- I’m not actually anti this, in the sense that yeah yeah curiosity about new and different musics is splendid and necessary, listening widely is a good thing to do and have done. But I just think a/ this kind of open-ness is an elementary, goes-without-saying part of the job description, not something to pat yourself on the back about and b/ “open mind” is equated in a lot of people minds with the idea that all musics are of equal merit and deserve equal respect. As a vague and wishy-washy preliminary standpoint that’s okay as far as it goes, but to actually be a critic involves embarking on an ongoing and potentially endless attempt to work what you value in art, and it’s highly unlikely that incidences of this are going to be evenly distributed across the entire field of music; you might even find it clustering heavily in particular sites across the landscape of music. The “open mind” ideal, incidentally, is a highly moralistic one and therefore really rather rockist--it justifies itself by a/ ideas of justice, equal respect, egalitarianism, etc b/ the notion that you’ll be a better person for having one. The latter is an argument from the basis of edification, a sort of auto-pedagogy; it’s a PBS argument. The “open mind” cannot be justified by a recourse to a pleasure-determined argument, there is no evidence that people who listen to lots of genres have more enjoyment of music; there are people who only listen to one genre who have lives crammed with pleasure, and theoretically it’s possible that someone could listen to just one artist--or one album even--and have a life that was wall to wall aural bliss. The more you experiment and expand your range, the more you risk un-pleasure. (You can see an analogy of this with eating out: going to the same restaurant and ordering the same entrée you know you like almost guarantees 100 percent satisfaction; going to different restaurants with different cuisines each time and trying the most unfamiliar dish on each menu is going to produce much more mixed results. It was the schoolkids instinct for risk-management that caused Jamie Oliver so much grief when getting them to try his food). I would say as a listener whose professional duty and personal inclination makes me listen to lots of genres there is plenty of evidence that it reduces one’s listening-pleasure in toto--the more time you spend listening to things you like a little bit/are trying to learning to like/don’t really like but feel you “should” check out anyway for other critera, the less time you spend listening to things you really love. (There are also plenty of examples of critics who focus narrowly on one genre and have an incredible deep understanding and enjoyment of it). It’s this moral injunction to open your mind that interests me (in pursuit of justice and knowledge) and which I think goes someway to explaining the definite note of piousness that creeps into Carl’s rebuttal towards the end--especially the implication that that he is nobly relinquishing some of his privilege and power.
There’s A Wyatt Going On

Further to the Thursday Afternoon prankster story, two correspondents write to tell me how this is becoming a burgeoning cruel sport among hipsters--square-baiting-- or perhaps, in a more charitable reading, a desperate intifada-like resistance to the tyranny of Pop and/or Indie Middlebrow...

A Guy Called Danny says he did “this exact same thing (right down to using Thursday Afternoon as the polite nuisance) in a bar in Brighton mostly frequented by metalheads about a year ago. Those "infinite jukebox" thingies are an unlimited source of fun: Another favourite trick was to go to a fashionable indie pose-pub and cue up all four sides of Metal Machine Music, then watch as the customers' carefully cultivated cool slowly crumbled. How we smirked! Looking back, it probably wasn't worth the four quid I had to put in the jukebox, though.”

while Carl Neville says “this particular use/abuse of pub Jukeboxes is something of a ritual now, at least it is for me and a couple of mates.. . there's a bar in Ramsgate... with one of these massive database jukeboxes installed, and once a month when i visit family and friends we go " Wyatting" (the cowardly white muso boys anonymous attempt at provocation and civil disobedience, term coined after our inital experiment with playing the whole of Dondestan one Friday evening, to general be/amusement). Now we like to get down there nice and early with twenty quid each, get a good four or five hours worth of Dark Magus and On the Corner or the complete works of The Mahavishnu Orchestra on, nicely topped off with a bit of Neubauten or Coil, maybe a smattering of "Frankie Teardrop", a soupcon of Merzbow and a pinch of No Pussyfooting as the locals try to go through the ritual Friday night lad/laddette motions to a soundtrack of nails down blackboard feedback and thirty two minute Evan Parker clarinet solos. Naturally you have to try to look like as if your not enjoying it much either, even complain vociferously if required....though thus far no one has ever demanded its turned off.. which maybe an interesting brit/yank diifference.. they just tend to complain to each other and get on with the business of suffering through ( ahhh, the stoical, masochistic, stiff upper lip Brit!) any number of auditory abominations.....naturally the more inappropriate the pub the greater the delight in "Wyatting".. we've enjoyed it so much down on the coast i'm thinking of exporting the practice to London ( no doubt I'm well behind the times and there are already embattled enclaves of "Urban(e) Wyatters" doing the rounds here, i've just yet to hook up with them) perhaps blissblog could help to promote this childish, futile, but finally hilarious practice (death of the political and all that, eh?) by forming a "Wyatt Squad" in New York and generally helping to boost its profile on an international scale...

“It’s already becoming a competitive sport!."I Wyatted the Wifebeater's Arms in Castleford with three solid hours of Diamanda Galas last Friday, mate what you been up to.. oh yeah, Pauline Oliviros???.....Cambridge....??? is that the best you can manage?"I guess the music biz and the pubs that have installed them have no idea what a demographic busting, commercially suicidal innovation this one is... it only takes twenty or so commited, strategically deployed Whitehouse fans to bring entire national chains crumbling to the ground... endless loops of "shitfun" and " I'm coming up your ass" of a sunday morning as the punters tuck into the pub lunch..... and so Kapital sows the seeds of its own destruction through hammy Eighties PowerElectronics... fancy twenty five minutes of Sutcliffe Jugend with that Full English love?... two pints of Stella, a pickled egg and could you turn the Smell and Quim track down a bit mate, its given one of the kids a nosebleed....just wait till the video version o f this jukebox becomes available, no doubt in conjuction with youtube.. come that glorious day comrade it's gonna be wall to wall live G.G. Allin footage down Laurence Llewelyn Bowen's poxy Inc bar, i'll tell you that much...
!"


Pockets of resistance inside the City of Music, using the technology against itself--a design flaw in the machines unspotted by the manufacturers? Or just the Wire-reader/Resonance-listener as audio-bully?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Eno versus USrockism! Hilarious--I wonder who the prankster was, sitting quietly in a corner of the bar watching the mounting dismay...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The glittering metropolis towards which Paulie and Kylie are driving in Words and Music—“the capital city of Pleasure”, “the concrete city of information”—always struck me as no place I’d really care to visit. I imagined it as being something like an unimaginably vast and shinily sterile music megastore. That, or like the interior of an iPod, an impossibly dense, coldly seething non-space of sound transubstantiated into data. At one point Morley describes it as “a city of lists”, which make me wonder if he actually knew about iPods when he wrote the book, or even more intriguingly, somehow sensed they were coming, that the logic of music in the digital era dictated that a device like that would come into existence.

Well what do you know, Apple, or their ad agency, appear to have read W & M, whose subtitle, lest we forget, is A History Of Pop In The Shape Of A City. Just look at their new iPod/I-Tunes TV commercial. “Frantic City" is the spot’s title and it shows a frenetically self-assembling cityscape of skyscrapers and apartment blocks built out of CD covers, which collapse like houses of cards and deliquesce into a dazzling stream of audio-visual data that's then decanted at a furious bit-rate into, you guessed it, an iPod. Advertising Age comments, “Well, yes, an iPod loaded with a thousand or so songs from iTunes is something of a city of music” , and singles out for special praise the commercial's soundtrack, "Cubicle" by Rinocerose.” A Pro-Tooled and techno-turbocharged version of Jet/Vines-style garage punk, the tune’s chorus sneers “you spend all your time/in a little cubicle/a cubicle”. The implication seems to be that I-Tunes can free you up into a world of hearing outside the box, a brave new multiverse of shattered genre-barriers and listening-without-prejudice. Which is intriguing in light of the emerging critique of open-mindedness. Might there not be a sense in which Kapital wants and requires omnivorous consumers, non-partisan and promiscuously eclectic? And that conversely, obsession and fidelity are fundamentally opposed to its interests. Obsession, after all, asserts the irreplaceableness of the object of desire, its singularity and pre-eminence over all the other goods on the market; it rejects the idea of "plenty more fish in the sea". Devout fans of a particular band take themselves out of the market: at a certain point, there are simply no more things to buy (although the industry has tried to exploit the fixated and loyal by encouraging reconsumption—all those Deluxe Expanded double-disc versions of albums you already own, endless live DVDs, and so forth—a case perhaps of the corporate music biz imitating the black market of bootlegs and foreign-TV-appearance video-comps that has served fandom for so long). The ultimate example of fanaticism’s anti-consumerist logic is the diehard who arrests pop time at the lost golden age—the Teddy Boy or old skool raver, the period fetishist or genre patriot who only plays the golden oldies, over and over and over again. True believers and keep-the-faithers like these are no use to Kapital because they have opted out of its endless cycles of neophilia and obsolescence, the turnover that ensures a healthy turnover.

A few weeks ago I referred to Words and Music as Pop-ism’s Mein Kampf but I should really have said Das Kapital—what the book imparts is actually surprisingly non-egocentric, much closer to a structuralist diagram of how pop works, where its logic is leading. The City is a place where “all that’s solid melts into air.” Music becomes insubstantial—in the sense that it sheds all those various forms of “substance” prized by rockism, unburdening itself of the ponderous encumbrances of social context and biographical input that tether it to the Real, the freight of content and intent that keep it weighted down with Weightiness. Near the end of the book, Morley writes of pop’s role in a transition “from rooted reality dwelling into a rootless post-reality heaven and hell, where desires can be satisfied instantly, where pleasure can be constant… where our lives are run by remote companies in remote control of our needs and wants, where everything that has ever happened is available, all at once, all around us, in the universe in the shape of a city mashed into a room slipped inside our head.” That passage is the only wrinkle of ambivalence in the odd closing chapter, which is disconcerting because it doesn’t read like Morley but like something out of an early 90s edition of Mondo 2000 or Wired: techno-utopian verging on capitalist-mystical. The city where “everything that has ever happened is available” sounds bizarrely similar to the loony notion of a Universal Library written about recently by Kevin Kelly in a New York Times Magazine cover article—he envisages every book and every magazine article ever written, in all languages, and eventually every movie/TV program/cultural artifact EVER, being gathered into one vast database accessible to all—which glorious prospect isn’t enough for Kelly, who then imagines the Universal Library getting miniaturized and compressed into an iPod-size device that everyone of us will carry around wherever we go (presumably because on the subway to work you might just need to refer to an editorial from an 1865 editorial in the Brattleboro Reformer, or a Sanskrit scroll, or...). Where Morley writes about how in his city of sonic information every item on every (play)list leads to another set of lists, Kelley drools about the prospect of hyperlinks that connects the concepts and key words in any given text to myriad other instances, a
paper(less) chase of endlessly receding references and footnotes, a dementia of reading lists and annotations (share your margin-scribblings with your friends!). Both, intriguingly, allude to the immortal nature of these edifices of data, a hint of that extropian hope that it’s possible to cheat death. Kelley’s pocket-portable micro-cosmopolis, Morley/Apple’s “city of music” that fits into a cigarette packet-sized memory box---these are the latest versions of the Singularity that all West Coast techno-utopians seem to believe is nigh, the point where the exponenential curve of Progress reaches vertical: a smiley-face version of the Apocalypse, in which the accumulation of all Knowledge = Enlightenment = World Unity aka the Global Village/Love’s Body/the BwO/etc. A fantasy of Total Connectivity as the End of Difference and the End of History. What’s repressed in this scenario is the fact of finitude—the finitude of resources, of an individual’s time; the limits to the sensorium’s ability to process information (there’s a speed at which stuff isn’t even experienced as such). The liquefaction of culture is actually the liquidation of culture......

No, this City doesn't sound like a place I'd enjoy living at all.
Thinking about that Greil Marcus quote that got uTopianTurtleTop riled up--

“I think Anita Baker is ridiculous. Any time you hear somebody bringing back this kind of genteel, effete black music--the same number the Pointer Sisters pulled in the early '70s when they gave concerts with ‘Black Tie Recommended’ printed on the tickets--it's an incident in class politics that has nothing to do with music”

--it struck me that, regardless of its truth value, this is strong writing (even though actually speech, of course, from an 1986 interview, and off the cuff)... pithy, punchy, acerbic, provocative. The same applies to the summary dismissals and caustic expressions of indifference towards various other critically sanctioned or popular artists from 1986 that interviewer Phil Dellio lines up for Marcus’s target practice: Jesus & Mary Chain (disdained for their coldness), Robert Cray (for the retro-combo of selfconsciousness and obsolescence), REM (for dull-as-dishwateriness). If he’d paused to reflect and had come up with a considered and “understanding” approach, one that responded to the artists “on their own terms” (examining how the contrivance and premeditation of the J&MC signified in its UK post-postpunk context, working out what college rock meant to its US middle-class audience)... well, he' d most likely have generated some prose that was altogether gut-less (lacking any visceral element; not taking a stance). I’d much rather have more strong, sweeping statements of this sort in the world, as opposed to the even-handed neutrality that one strand of Pop-ism leads to (the generalist professional doling out appreciation equitably across the spectrum of contemporary music.)

This idea of "strength" relates to Nietzche’s idea of cultures being at their most vigorous in their youth, before they become sagacious, suppleminded, over-civilised to the point of losing touch with their instinctive responses and will-to-power. K-punk glossed it well in an old Dissensus thread, talking about the malaise of self-relativising:

"There's a Nietzschean Last Man-type quality about historicizing analysis; one of Nietzsche's most prescient points about postmodern culture was that it would be killed by an obsession with the past, with its own 'positioning'. Such contextualization can only lead to the melancholy conclusion that all things pass, that everything that people once invested so much in is now dust etc. By contrast, Roman and Greek cultures were indifferent to history. They thought they were the only cultures.”

We all know better than the discophobes now, don't we... we know that they were wrong, and are totally confident that we, the enlightened ones, wouldn't have been among their number (just as none of us would haved been prog fans). But the culture that produced Comiskey Park also produced Led Zep IV and The Ramones.

A taste of where all this self-relativising is heading can be gleaned from two of the presentations at this year’s EMP. Example one: Nate Patrin’s critique of rockist snobbery towards blue-eyed soul (ie. Boz Scaggs, Hall & Oates, etc), an antipathy echoed in the Marcus interview where he takes a swipe at Ace’s “How Long” as representing the nadir of 70s radio (and didn't the singer in Ace end up singing Squeeze's "Tempted" and "Black Coffee in Bed"?) Beyond the
now-deemed-suspect distaste for blandness and emollient warmth, there are perfectly sensible reasons not to rate it that high (blue-eyed soul’s straightforward emulation of its source music makes it pretty redundant given the vast amount of the brown-eyed stuff already extant in the world). The EMP conference was dedicated to deconstructing the concept of Guilty Pleasures (these days it seems the only thing you should feel guilty about is your own feelings of guilt about liking anything--or worse, guilt-tripping others with your value judgements and taste-stances; anti-rockism is the attempt to remove an aesthetico-moral framework from music discussion). Now Carl Wilson of Zoilus is taking it to the next level with his the notion of the guilty displeasure , as presented at EMP and the subject of a future book. The idea here is that, actually, there is one thing to possibly feel guilty about, and that is your own dislikes and distastes, which seem involuntary but have ideological underpinnings and socially determined perspectives. This new frontier of fretful self-cancellation is being opened via the oeuvre of Celine Dion, which disgusts Carl but which reaction he intends to question or at least situate, Bourdieu-style. Seems to me "Celine = shite" is a truth we'd do well to continue to hold self-evident, an assumption worth leaving unexamined, and that at the end of his investigation Carl might find himself back where he started: repelled by Dion's music and, despite his better intentions, thinking less of her fans.

All of this has a slight air of the Maoist self–criticism session about it, party members and low-level bureaucrats calling themselves and others out for their crypto-bourgeois tendencies. So uTopianTurtletop drags Marcus’ Ranters and Crowdpleasers aka In the Fascist Bathroom collection of punk-related writings up before the tribunal for its meagre black-music content.

Which reminded me of a post I had meant to write a while back on, er, Pete Frampton and the Clash! This by way of one of Marcus’ several Clash pieces in Ranters. VH1 Classic had been playing those three Frampton videos taken from some superbowl arena circa 1976, and boggling at Frampton’s unctuous charisma (that eerily Tony Blair-like grin, that golden sun-child mane…. there’s something to be written about the Soft Male in American radio rock of the Seventies, e.g. Walter Egan ... Todd Rundgren’s sickening “Hello It’s Me” ... Lindsey Buckingham on the image level... others.... ) .... well it did strike me that this—the vacuous, rabbit-punching-the-air anthemicness of “Do You Feel Like We Do”, the sickly pandering mush of “Show Me the Way” and “Baby I Love Your Way”—really was the absolute pits for Seventies rock. Pursuing some other line of enquiry around that time, I strayed across Marcus’s Ranters profile of the Clash circa Give ‘Em Enough Rope and was surprised to find Frampton bookending the article (originally published in New West, September 1978). It starts with a quote on the making of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club movie, which starred Frampton and the Bee Gees, all about how the films ends with a huge no-expenses-spared party for rock royalty – “first-class transportation to Los Angeles, limousines, luxurious hotels, the finest champagne and food”. This decadence Marcus then juxtaposes with the image of Joe Strummer, as reported in ZigZag, attempting to tear down with his bare hands a huge barbed wire fence separating the band and the audience at a concert the Clash played in Belgium. Marcus ends the Clash piece with an anecdote that circles back to Frampton and the Sgt Pepper’s movie: Strummer and Jones recalling how, killing time in between recording sessions on the second album, they ended up at a movie theater watching the film, utterly grossed out by the final spectacle of “every ligger in LA” and coming away with an idea for the Give Em Enough Rope cover:

“These are the people who’ve made rock’n’roll what is it today,” Jones said, “and I think we owe them some sort of tribute. We’ll put every one of them on the sleeve of our record, just like the faces on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, every one hanging from---“

“Gallows,” offered Strummer.

“No,” said Jones thoughtfully. “Lampposts.

The choice was not without meaning: gallows are a sign of authority. Lampposts are what the kids in the Clash’s streets would use, if they had the chance, or took it.

The stance taken in this piece of writing—the fantasy scenario of popular justice* exacting retribution against a corrupt and parasitical rockstar ruling class; the conviction that a war for the soul of rock’n’roll was underway, the sense of absolute urgent necessity to take sides NOW… it seems a million years ago, seriously overblown, faintly ridiculous. It’s hard to recover a sense of what was at stake then that would warrant this murderous animosity towards such innocuous (in the grand scheme of things) sorts as Frampton & co. Yet there’s no doubt it’s a very strong piece of writing (there’s much more in between the start and the finish, including a startling assertion that the early Clash sound owes a huge amount to Trout Mask Replica – a bracingly unusual claim, if not quite convincing). In the end I would say-- although not a Clash-fan by any stretch and slightly bemused that anyone ever invested so much belief in the group--that I am on the side of writing like this....


* there is a distant relationship between the "tribunal" in Marcus's fantasy and the tribunal of anti-rockism--the latter is a way of creating sides and taking sides at a time when there isn't much going on in music to warrant such a polarisation. The heat of the argument has provided, I think, a surrogate for the urgency that in better times would come from the music itself. C.f. Nietzche's "in times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself".