Tuesday, October 31, 2006

nostalgia for the future

Good thoughts from K-Punk (plus ancillary riffage from Owen) on nostalgia for the lost public sphere in Ghost Box, Mordant Music, et al. Intriguing that what would have been stuffy and faintly oppressive to, say, the mods in the Sixties, representing patrician/maternalist bossiness and bureaucracy, could now be harked back to wistfully by denizens of a UK transformed by 25 years of post-socialism and privatisation…

Nostalgia: K-punk does his best, but really, there’s no point in denying that it’s a component of Ghost Box. Certainly of its appeal, possibly of its motivation. More than either, though, it's simply a functioning component of what they do: the memoradelic machine wouldn't work
properly without the associational triggers that they can set in play, the bygone aura that coats certain sounds and references. There is a sense in which their music is felt most by those within a certain age range, who grew in the UK during the Sixties and Seventies. It’s not exclusive by any means (there are Americans and Commonwealth citizens who have fallen under the G-box spell) but some of the richness is lost if you don't have that memory matrix. But you could say the same of dub and roots reggae--as much it turns the heads of us and other outsiders inside out and upside down, it’s inevitable and natural that we only pick up on a fraction of the vibration felt by someone who’s lived within that music’s forcefield since infancy.

Ghostbox's is a complicated nostalgia, evocative and invocative. And a key strand of it is the “nostalgia for the future” element. Now I’m having more and more problems with the rhetoric of futurism (“kinda late in the day for that surely Simon?” you’re right… you’re quite right)… because what we’re really talking about is a future-now feeling, something that feels utterly of-the-moment and in that sense seems to be tilted to the future… but of course that futurity is very rapidly (sometimes almost instantly) turned into datedness, affixed as a period signifier … nothing dates faster than yesterday’s idea of the future… Furthermore what seemed to be futuristic at a given point can in hindsight turn out to be have been a dead end, or nothing of the sort… Also, we didn’t always know at the time what the true future-portending currents in our culture/society were… and we don't know what they are now, so how could we recognise the future if it manifested itself as an emergent force, be sure that was what it is? This quote by a Radiophonic Workshop member, Roger Limb (and what a name that is)
neatly captures one aspect of this multifaceted paradox: “The trouble with the future is that you never fully know about it until you’ve passed it…”

Nostalgia, I was amazed to find out, was actually a neologism, coined in the 17th Century by a fellow called Johannes Hoffer. It originally meant homesickness (nostos = homeland, algos = pain or the ache of longing) and was regarded as a real medical malady suffered by people like soldiers on a long tour of duty in foreign lands; it was an anguish that could drive some to suicide. It survived as a medicalised term right up until the American Civil War, and then shortly after that converted to mean a vaguer melancholia. But nostalgia was originally a word tied to a sense of nationality more than the past per se, “the pain a sick person feels because he is not in his native land, or fears never to see it again”. “Nostalgia for the future” then could be the longing for a country yet to be founded, a new New World. In the Ghost Box et al inflection it is a longing for a better, greater Britain that could have been, or that is felt to exist somwhere out there, in some alternate present/parallel future, if only the country had taken a different fork in the path of time.

“Nostalgia for the future”--all this got me wondering who actually came up with the phrase. In the Wire piece I attribute it to David Toop, from a review he did of Black Dog and god-help-us B12, in 1993 it must have been. But in the longer version of the piece I had a bit saying “although I suspect Toop was channeling some elder”. And just the other day I stumbled on a concurrent or slightly earlier use of the phrase in a 1993 book by Arthur Kroker called Spasm: I was looking for some good stuff he did on sampling and dug out this book, which came with a CD of Kroker and some musician buddy’s attempts to put into praxis their sampladelic theories (the results horrendously/hilariously unlistenable and clunky as I recall; I’ve long since jettisoned the CD). But one of the tracks is called “Nostalgia For the Future”.

I expect Kroker got it from Baudrillard, though, who once declared: “Fiction is not imagination. It is what anticipates imagination by giving it the form of reality. This is quite opposite to our own natural tendency which is to anticipate reality by imagining it, or to flee from it by idealizing it. That is why we shall never inhabit true fiction; we are condemned to the imaginary and nostalgia for the future. " That was 1986, "Utopia Achieved".

Another possible source (most likely the route to Toop) is a 1989 interview with Brian Eno actually titled "A fervent nostalgia for the future" - Thoughts, Words, Music and Art. Part Two.” in Sound On Sound, February 1989, and conducted by Mark Prendergast, during the course of which Eno talks about his New York video paintings:
"The films arise from a mixture of nostalgia and hope and from a desire to make a quiet place for myself. They evoke in me a sense of what could have been, and generate a nostalgia for the future.”

A bunch of earlier instances of the phrase came up on my search:

* Isaac Asimov apparently wrote a book about the illustrations of Jean Marc Côté --- Future Days: A nineteenth-century Vision of the Year 2000, 1986 --in which he defined a spirit of "nostalgia for the future" among European intellectuals in the latter part of the
19th century.

* the transhumanist philosopher F.M. Esfandiary wrote a book called Optimism One (1970) which talked about his "deep nostalgia for the future."

while the historian Daniel Blatman has also used “nostalgia for the future” to describe the sensibility of the left-wing underground Jewish press in the Warsaw ghetto

The earliest instance of the phrase I can find, however, is from music writer Ned Rorem in his 1967 book Music From Inside Out, in which he claims:

"Music is the sole art which evokes nostalgia for the future."

Needless to say I'd be fascinated to learn of any earlier attributions of this meme-phrase.


Talking of music and retro-futurism, a big-up for Resonance FM’s Jim Backhouse and his project Xylitol--really enjoying the Xylitol mini-LP Functionary, the debut release from Jim's own Pierogii label. From its 3 inch CD packaging and the John Baker/Radiophonic Workshop sample on “cultus pyrex,” how long can it be before Jim is commissioned to do a concept EP on mobile libraries for Ghost Box?

You can also hear Jim deejaying some sinistronica, some bucolica (a Belbury Poly track, verily) and some quirktronica on his and Magz Hall’s You Are Hear show @ Totally Radio
Laibach have a new album out.

It's called Volk.

They really are like the Status Quo of industrial music or something aren't they? Heads-down no-nonsense unflaggingly pokerfaced ambiguous-totalitarian-flirtations for over twenty years now.

It gets better though--the new record is a collection of cover versions of national anthems, a mix of famous (America, France, Germany, Great Britain,) and obscure (Zhonghua, Slovania, Vatican), all with the kitschy-shlocky arrangements you'd expect.

The only one that's any cop at all is the last track, the anthem for a totally fictitious country, Laibach's own "nation-state" NSK . The tune has this ponderous ceremonial feel--literally stately--and the recording has a faded, grey-toned quality as though sourced from an ancient Pathe news reel.
RIP Nancy Arlen

(scroll down quite a bit)


RIP Tony Tyler
The strange things you stumble upon roaming the internet!
Viz, “The Seduction of Paolo Hewitt”

Ian Svenonious may not have emitted a second’s worth of sound worthy of your earhole’s patience over the many many years* but he sure is a fine and funny polemicist (who remembers the great Nation of Ulysses manifesto, 13 Point Program to Destroy America with its hilarious invective against "sleep’s supplicating arms"?). This here "Sseduction of Paolo Hewitt" (sniggers) is extracted from a whole book of his scribblings that came out earlier this year.

*actually Weird War were pretty decent i spose although how much that is his doing is arguable

Monday, October 23, 2006

reading matters #4

Owen on the historically aberrant nature of the "lost epoch" of postwar/pre-thatcher Great Britain whence ghostbox et al draw such nourishment

incidentally re. gek-opel's trope of the “nostalgia death-trap”... while that's very much the sort of thing I might have uttered as a Young Gods/Beltram/____ believer against what ever brand of non-futurism stood in the way at that particular juncture , I would at least have had something futuristic in my hands to brandish! The metaphor is off in another sense, in so far as nostalgia, being a response to the inevitability of loss, could be seen as an attempt to escape the trap-jaws of death... Nostalgia is a complex, rich, and inescapable human emotion (if you haven’t succumbed to it yet, prepare for a shock... mind you i can remember being nostalgic at the age of six for the lost golden age of being four!), an inspiration for all kinds of great writers (Nabokov and Proust being just the first that spring to mind), so why not an inspiration for music? Also as Kpunk shows in his phonograph blues riffage, nostalgia and retro-culture (a/k/a fredric jameson’s “nostalgia mode”) are not, actually, the same thing at all...

Talking of non-futurism...
"Remember, though: in the dark days of 1991-93, it looked like the guitar really was extinct, but rock bit back and eventually won. Who now listens to such rave milestones as the Prodigy's 1992 hit Charly, the entire oeuvre of Altern 8 (two blokes who essentially released the same record over and over again - what cards!) and Shaft's 1992 smash Roobarb and Custard? Only very strange people." -- John Harris, on the new rave, sideswiping the old rave

I’m obviously one of those very strange people--but you know that. In fact I was listening to ‘Charly’ just the other day. And cos of ‘Papua New Guinea’ I was thinking about those guys' Other Moment, Humanoid's ‘Stakker Humanoid’ --a real Moment hearing that track for the first time, I remember driving in a car with Stubbs, it must have been 1989, and a tape of this being on, ‘what’s THIS????’... and perhaps the being in motion, at night, through the streets of South London, really brought the techno alive for me, whereas Network’s first Detroit techno compilation had really kinda underwhelmed, like a lot of non-acid house, it seemed slight to a Young Gods fans ear... and what do you know An Idiot’s Guide To Dreaming’s Loki pinpoints exactly what was vanguard about the tune, the way it stripped away the humanity in house like nothing else at the time except the most deranged acid tunes. And actually I was thinking of "Stakker" only a few weeks ago, cos there's moments on the Mordant Music record that have that early UK tekkno feel

A cache of Carmody.
And he's also pretty active at his other place, trawling through ancient Top 40s.

timely meditation
it is coming out in the US in december and flicking through the missus' promo, it looks like a right rich read, although seems like there's surprisingly little on popular culture and zilch on music. my pulse raced when i saw a chapter titled “Spectral Rappers” , but it turns out not to be a study of Gothick hip hop, ghostface killah, tricky etc but about séances--the spirits indicating their presence by knocking or rapping, see

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I haven't seen a copy myself but apparently the new issue of The Wire is on the (UK) stands and has Joanna Newsom on the cover plus a piece by me that doubles as a profile of Ghost Box (plus kindred spectres Mordant Music and Trunk) and as a treatise on hauntology/memoradelia/eldritchtronica, retro culture, etc. The illustrations were done by Julian House and judging by the advance glimpse of one of the photomontages I got, really

There were lots of affiliates and affiniates I would have liked to pull into the piece
(Broadcast, Mount Vernon Arts Lab, English Heretic/Queasy Listening, Oggum, etc) but even with The Wire already being exceedingly generous with space, it would have got too diffuse, so I focused on the main guys. At the end of the issue's shelf-life I'll be posting deleted scenes/tangents/later thoughts/etc and perhaps follow up some of these other tentacles.

Check out also the November issue of ArtReview, which has a piece by me on the
imminent (very imminent actually) Museum of Modern Art retrospective of the Residents short film and video oevure. Details:

The Residents: Re-Viewed, October 19–22, MOMA
Program 1 on Thursday, October 19, 6:00 and Saturday, October 21 2.00:
Tim Thoughts, Part 1–15 (2004); Third Reich ‘n Roll (1976); Constantinople (2000); Harry the Head (1991); One-Minute Movies (1980); Kick a Picnic (2000); He Also Serves (2000); This Is a Man's World (1984); Bad Day (2000); Benny (2004); Teddy (2001); Viva LV (2004); Vileness Fats (1972–1976); Eskimo, Part 1 (1979–2002) (Walrus Hunt; Birth; Arctic Hysteria; Angry Angakok).
Program 2 on Thursday, October 19, 8:30 and Sunday, October 22, 6:00. Tim Thoughts, Part 16–30 (2004); Gingerbread Man (2000); Jelly Jack (1993); One-Minute Movies (2005); Stars Stripes (1997); Burn Baby (2000); Hello Skinny (1980); Eskimo, Part 2 (1979–2002) (Spirit Steal a Child; Festival of Death); Disfigured Night (1997–2002).
Program 3 on Friday, October 20, 6:00, and Sunday, October 22, 4:00: Demons Dance Alone ( 2002)
Further information
reading matters #3

a veritable bonanza!

Woebot interviews Dave Noddz the designer for Suburban Base
and gets him to design the Woebot T-shirt which looks sensational
(hold tight though for the the blissblog monogrammed hankies and Y-fronts [this-blogger-backdrop green naturally])
(sorry to hear Woebot hibernating for the next few months)

thematically-linked cluster:
Paul Autonomic on Kode 9 and Spaceape album
K-punk on On U and Sherwood/Stewart
Martin Clark’s Pitchfork run-through of the season's grime/dubstep long-player eruption
(I must concur with his underwhelmed response to the Skream album, it sounds kinda dinky and thin bordering on dub-muzak a lot of the time, and the jazzual track is a serious mis-step)

Kid Shirt gets us intrigued in Shit and Shine
(although the suspicion lingers that they're an imaginary band in that great fanzine tradition--which Monitor did with William Wilson, each taking turns to review them across successive issues, in the process producing a wildly non-congruent picture of "the band", climaxing in the making-the-figment-real gambit of the Wilson Sisters flexi in our final issue, a dubtracted "Rock'n'Roll, Part 2" Glitterbeat homage which Greil Marcus included in one of his Artforum Rock 'n'Roll Real Life columns, and which -I forgot to mention in the glamstravaganza a few months ago, was the Monitor crew--not me, I'd moved to Londonby then--inventing schaeffel way ahead of schedule, 1986)

Acid Nouveaux coins a useful concept, Slam,
(yeah this is another reason, a sonic reason, why rave and rap are rock-ist to the core -- it's a physical affinity as much as the obvious and real ideological/attitudinal similarities)

plenty to enjoy in Jarvis's OMM:
bill drummond's no music day
jeremy deller on depeche mode fans
russell senior on sheffield now
pierre henry's soundtrack of my life
(including this tres ghost box-y morsel: Henry collaborated with English proggers Spooky Tooth on the 1969 rock mass Ceremony cos he was "interested in the idea of pop as a pagan ritual")
me on infantjoy
(i gave it four, actually)
roundtable on music today

the missus-edited annual Best of New York issue of the voice

evil republican bloggers tarnish my name (sort of)

Joe Gross with another article on compression in music
(i tell you where i've really noticed it something heinous--kids TV. I come in the living room and the blare of it hurts your ears, tell kieran "tun it down, it's too flippin' LOUD" and he does, but it makes no difference--cos the pain comes from the lack of internal fluctuations in the volume range. Used to be that the commercials were painfully louder than the programmes cos of the compression, but now lots of the children's programmes, esp. the superhero types ones, are insanely compressed. With that and the hyper-fast editing, it makes me think of how children's programmes in my day used to be tranquil and slow-moving and drew you into their still enchantment; nowadays it's like most of them have the cultural equivalent of corn syrup crammed into them).

John Carney aka Kevin Pearce on Pram vocalist Rosie Cuckston , part of his fascinating one-instalment a-week year-long iconographical project at Tangents
(he's spot on in identifying the Ghost Box connection-- in fact if I recall right Julian House actually lived for a while in Birmingham during the '90s and was right in the thick of that Broadcast/Pram milieu... Pram untimely in another sense by being the very first band i can think of to evoke/invoke postpunk, specifically the Odyshape/Colossal Youth end of things... this was back in 1993! )
uli wuz robbed
addenda to the below

1/ realised there was another of the woebot nonesuch scan-gallery i didn't have, the eric salzman/avant-theater thing -- heard it in a store, definite must to avoid

2/ re. record-fiending on the cheap/the quidditch.... can you beat this Carl/Geeta, i think not , I THINK NOT-- LPs for 12 pence!!!!!! That's the rate they were going at thet Housing Works mega-sale a few weeks back. Five albums for a dollar, so at current exchange rates that's about twelve pee in the new money. Housing Works is a used bookstore/used record store/café in SoHo that is a charitable entity, all the money goes to the homeless and similar causes; so many people donate entire collections, including a lot of not very desirable stuff, in crappy condition, which HW can't say "no" to, anyway I guess they had to make space, and had a megasale of books and records in the street ouside. Unfortunately I turned up quite late in the day and the I suspect none too delectable in the first place carcass had been picked pretty clean, so it was quite a struggle to find anything even worth 20 cents to be honest. Tons of Nonesuch actually, but all the choral/early music/bog-standard classical. Old classical records--especially the multi-disc ones in falling apart cardboard cases-- really are the pits when it comes to collector undesirability. In the end I came away with only a couple of half-way intriguing bits: a john klemmer album (70s jazz guy who put effects and delays on his horn, the results not nearly as interesting as i'd hoped, proto-Kenny G really) and then an album on Elektra by Oregon, an American jazz-meets-4thworld ensembles whose ranks included Ralph Towner, one of the ECM greats, this particular album had a very sombre-brown and wrong-looking cover of a forest with gigantic woodwind instrument next to the tree trunks and what grabbed me, its heavy gatefold sleeve was wrapped in really thick PVC protective sleeve, also gatefold, which you don't see that often these days, and the whole thing had an institutional aura, moreover it's previous owner had stamped their name with some kind of john bull stencil/embossing device on the back cover, making me wonder if it was literally a library record . The record's okay, self-produced, the group achieving a Manfred Eicher-ish clarity and expanse as if literally auditioning to be on ECM, which I think they were later, but well.. the whole experience was possibly a potent argument in favour of Woebot-style high-end trawling.

3/ spending too much time in used record stores has made me fascinated by pricing fluctuations. firstly, by how small they tend to be--
a record at one store will tend to be priced in the vicinity of the price it is at another store, as though there is a market determined price – either the dealers having a common professoinally acquired nous or being molded by mechanisms like ebay, gemm, pricing guides. But then going again that unanimity of valuation are the instances where a store will have a wildly aberrant price for a particular record, way out of line with consensus—usually more expensive, but sometimess -- the dream of us hunter-collectors for whom money is an object—sometimes much cheaper. Most intriguing of all though are the used record stores where everything in the store is way way WAY over-priced. Whenever I come across a store like that I think they must be trying to drive customers away, must be a front for something. And when you go in they are often empty. There’s one that recently opened on 12th between broadway and university (a few doors from where we used to live in the 90s ) and, germane to the nonesuch discussion, it'ss fabulously stocked with avant-garde and electronic classical, along with just about everything else under the sun. Only problem for the tightwad massive is that it is wildly, I mean, insanely overpriced. For instance Nonesuch second-divvers like gaburo or wuorinen will be priced at 25 bucks, more than twice the most expensive I’ve ever seen those go for in NYC. Indeed Rudin's Tragoeida , which this store has for 22 bucks, I picked up for 6 dollars literally five blocks away. The more highly desirable avant classical things in there are priced anywhere from 70 to 140 bucks, way more than even places like hipster mecca Other Music would charge. So how does it work for these extorto-stores, operating so far in excess of the going rate? Can they just rely on chumps to keep them afloat?

Monday, October 16, 2006

This is a first--the only time that Woebot’s done one of his scan-tastic genre guides where I’ve got more than a couple of the records. (Rather often I have precisely zero). But with this Nonesuch avant-classical survey, I’ve got every single one he’s listed EXCEPT the Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music, which I saw recently and passed on cos it was heh heh slightly expensive.

I even concur with his grades, except maybe the Crumb Makrokosmos one is slightly more enjoyable than a C. But yeah, totally: the Charles Dodge Earth’s Magnetic Field record, it seems like it should be so exciting, but really it's a bit of a yawn.

I've got a few things that Matt hasn't chased down. The Kenneth Gaburo Music for voices, instruments and electronic sounds and Andrew
Rudin Tragedoia--which are certainly worth having (if the price is right heh). And the other significant Nonesuch avant-electronic album is John Cage and Lejaren Hiller's HPSCHD. Now this I found a spectacularly grating listen, harsh on the ears in a way that's really a whole other level than your power electronics/noise/etc guys, and differently unpleasant. It's a piece written "for harpsichords and computer-generated sound tapes" and involves a thing called the KNOBS computer printout for playback control. David Tudor is one of the three harpsichordists but, well, let's say the results don't summon any bewigged 17th Century imagery, although the sources are distantly some Mozart. There's something like 51 electronic sound tapes and 7 solo compositions for harpsichord in the "score", but as you'd expect, innumerable variations available to the performer; all kinds of numerical and aleatoric malarkey is inflicted (the I Ching is involved), while the KNOBS thingy affects which parts of the composite of tapes come out in left, right or both channels of the speakers, thereby allowing you the listener to alter the composition by messing about with the balance on your stereo. I can't remember if I got into that, but it's hard to imagine it mitigating the horrid jerky noise issuing from the record.

A couple of other Nonesuch-released slightly less pure electronic efforts: Subotnik's A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur/After the Butterfly (a late period thing, quite fluttery and pingy and restless) and also his Axototl /The Wild Beasts (one of his bit too much acoustic in the electro-acoustic equation jobs) . Heading out of the electronic zone there's avant-soprano Joan LaBarbara and her The Art of Joan LaBarbara (including a composition by Subotnik "The last dream of the Beasts" ), and you could argue that the human voice is the ultimate sound-synthesising machine, plus there's some studio malarkey on here if I recall. Others on the avant-classical tip I've got on Nonesuch are John Cage's Concerto for prepared piano and orchestra; Stockhausen, Momente; Varese's
Offrandes/Integrals/Octandre/Ecuatorial; Xenakis's Akrata and Pithoprakta (with
Krzysztof Penderecki's Capriccio for violin and orchestra and de natura sonoris on the flip), and the Contemporary Contrabass which has some pieces by Cage and Pauline Oliveros but is kinda dull.

Passed on, or not encountered in the racks: Samuel Baron's Music for Flute and Tape (actually quite enticing on a store listen), the Spectrum: New American Music Vol 1, II, III series; and something called The New Trumpet: Music for Trumpet with Tape and Piano; a Percussion Music album with works by Varese and others; two more by George Crumb, Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) and Ancient Voices of Children. There's something called the Nonesuch Silver Series, don't know what the significance of 'silver' is' niy in it there's an album by Milton Babbitt and also The New Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music, I wonder how it differs from the previous Beaver & Krause one--all digital?

Now about the making a virtue of cheapness thing*, Woebot's got it twisted here: I'm
actually in awe of record-collector f(r)iends of mine (Paul K's another one) who are so driven that money is no object between them and the object of their desire. That ruthless capacity to pursue and capture one's vinyl grails, I couldn't say I admire it exactly but I definitely envy it.
I'm simply I'm too much of a cheapskate to go that far beyond my comfort zone.

Mind you, I do think the collector game is a bit of a racket, a sort of auto-confidence trick. If a collector's coughed up a small fortune for a record, there's naturally going to be some reluctance to admit that it wasn't really worth it, that the record's reputation is overblown. In that situation, one is more inclined to convince oneself, and once convinced, you're capable of convincing others. And so it goes, a self-perpetuating inflationary syndrome. This is particularly the case with the private press stuff. Back in the late sixties and early seventies the record industry was so insanely open to stuff, all kind of freak music and leftfield shit; I tend to believe that if a record didn't come out a major or some kind of substantial independent in those days, how likely is it really to be a lost gem?

Along with its relative affordability, one of the things I like about the second-division electronic avant-classical is its generic-ness. I mean that most sincerely folks. There's two facets to this 1/ if it’s a genre you love (say, ardkore, or freakbeat/garage punk, or dub, or whatever) then the genre-icity is no problemo, in fact the more fiercely it is itself, rather than dabbling outside its own parameters, than the better really; plus you have such an appetite for the stuff in question that you crave the second or even third-division material. But also 2/ there's this extra element of pathos and even a tiny hint of comedy too. See, here’s these guys who thought they were opening up infinite vistas and spectra of sound, boldly going where no composer's gone, building the future, etc. Yet a lot of it does tend to sound a bit samey. Partly because they only had a few different instruments at this point to grapple with: the Buchla, the Moog, a few other machines. But also became a certain lexicon of sounds and FX got established that people tended to go for. In fact if I have some time at some point I’d like to do a taxonomy of those 12 or 16 or 23 noises/devices/effects, 'cos they do tend to crop up rather frequently. The other reason the avant-electronic stuff can sound generic is that the composers tended to use the machines as tools for extending their pre-electronic ideas, rather than search for the absolute idiomatic thing the machine could do. So there’s a lot of post-serialist approaches being transposed to synthesiser, I reckon. Which is why you get that feeling of clutter and twitter, flurries of note-runs and clusters, a fidgety fraughness. There's also that atmosphere of disquiet that's very post-War existensialist-modernist-neurotic, kinda highly-strung and almost hands-wringingly anguished at times. But I suppose this makes perfect sense, was inevitable: composers who studied theory and went through conservatory training and all that, who have followed the grand narrative of western musical thought all the way through to the present juncture, or their own personal version of that arc/dialectic/whatever--they're not going to suddenly junk all their ideas and concepts and nous and technique, and just lay themselves open to the potentialities of the machinery, in a state of mind-voided open-ness and zero preconceptions. They’re going to dictate to the technology rather than the other way round. But that explains why a lot of the avant-electronic music sounds like 20th Century classical, as opposed to utterly alien and foreign, which you get more with your rock people perhaps, who lack the composerly grounding and also have more of a cheap thrills/gimmicky slanted approach to new tech.

But the genre-icity of the second-division stuff I think may prevent it becoming a hot commodity for future collectors as per Stockhausen/Henry/Ferrari/Parmegiani, it'll probably go up thanks to the passage of time and a certain aura surrounding anything from that era, the artwork on the covers, the grave formality of the sleevenotes, etc. But I don't think it'll be such a dramatic increase in value as with that Pierre Henry record I picked up at a church jumble sale in the early 80s.

(Which was a pound, even in 1983 a bargain price --i guess that shows how inflation slowed down in the 80s/90s compared to when I were a lad in the 70s and a Mars Bar seemed to double in price every couple of years. Adjusting for inflation that must be equivalent to going for 2 quid today. The real stunner bargain though was a Harry Partch album for 75 p i found in Oxfam, the one on CRI with castor + pollux/the letter/windsong/cloud-chamber music/the betwitched. I only got it cos I'd seen the name referred to viz Tom Waits's Swordfishtrombones. I've seen the record at 150 quid in M&VE, I expect higher priced on the kind of international dealer set-sales lists that Matt checks out, the nutter that he is!)
Owen’s invocation of Ghostworld reminded me of the scene where Enid, having brought a blues compilation off Seymour at his yard sale some weeks earlier, finally gets around to playing the record and is chilled to her marrow by the umheimlich tones of Skip James singing “Devil Got My Woman”. She ends up playing the track over and over for hours in a kind of aesthetic fugue-state.

Which reminded me that if we wanted to cast around for the nexus between blues and dub we shouldn't forget John Martyn’s “I’d Rather Be The Devil”, his in-the-loosest-sense “cover” of “Devil Got My Woman”.

Which reminded me in turn I’ve got an essay on Solid Air in this soon-come anthology Marooned, an update of Stranded (and unless I’ve got it garbled, Marooned is going to be published by Da Capo as the companion volume to a reissued Stranded, in a two-book set, inviting reviewers to compare rockcrit-then and rockcrit-now).

Which naturally reminded me of Greil Marcus. It still strikes me that the idea that his work is hidebound by a "measured humanism which leaves little room for the UNCANNY in music" is off-base. He may not make the sonically-correct noises about dub (as if one genre had a monopoly on the hauntological anyway!) and for sure it would be nice if his favorite album of the ‘90s was Maxinquaye as opposed to, I dunno, it's probably something by Sleater-Kinney, isn't it? But if you look at his actual writing, certainly from The Old Weird America/Invisible Republic onwards, but probably from at least Lipstick Traces, if anything it's too much the opposite--so enamored of the irrational, the historical-causality-transgressing, that it sometimes verges on superstititious (which is weird considering how he was Mr Demystification during postpunk days, and even quite recently memorably derided Breaking the Waves as a load of poppycock). You could see it coming on in Lipstick Traces, with things like the John Lydon/John of Leyden parallel: on one level a good joke, on another possessing a sort of poetic truth, but then you also get a tiny sense that Marcus really does think there's some kind of para-historical ghosting effect, and he half-way convinces you there is one. Since then his writing has become literally PORTENTous in the sense that it's full of portents... spectral echoes and foreshadowings... strange/strained connections. Reading the new one, there's a sense now and then that he's simply seeing things that aren't there. But then again, I'm sure there's plenty of people--Sleater-Kinney people rather than Maxinquaye people, maybe --who would think the things we see in “our” constellation (whether it's grime/dubstep, or Coil, or Ghostbox, or whatever) are just figments of over-heated imaginations, phantasms generated by over-zealous reading-into. Exegesis turned feverish and delusional is the common past-time (a war against the crushing banality of everything, perhaps) and so there's a little bit of the kettle calling the pot black going on I think.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Espers, Espers II (Wichita)
Enjoyed this quite a bit until I saw the press photo of the band in some woodland grove, arrayed around a tree’s roots and trunk and long low-hanging branches, looking suspiciously like the ISB Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter cover; so it's now obscurely marred for me (cf that wooden wand as john & Beverley/stormbringer cover), scented with the odor of anechronosis (please note new spelling).

Various, Serious Times (XL)
This year’s ‘Jamrock”

Squarepusher, Hello Everything (Warp)
Must be going a bit soft, cos I actually er rather enjoyed this; even the pure Amentalist jungle track seemed more a fond homage than a pisstake like like heinous "rinse out feat. MC Twin Tubs" or whatever it was called, the freneticism nicely offset with Aphex-y pensive chords. Not too much jazzbo double-bass and some good well-weird ones I won’t even attempt to describe. Still don’t understand why people go on about him as some mega-groundbreaking genius, though I read some piece where Andre from Outkast was gushing about the Pusher’s next-level-shit-itude, have these people never heard, I dunno, 4 Hero?!?!?!). (For some reason I got sent four copies of the pre-release.)

Kid 606, Pretty Girls Make Raves (Tigerbeat 6)
Surprised by this one 'n'all, the Kid is someone I’d completely… well not forgotten about cos records keep arriving regularly (he’s as prolific as ever) but definitely filed away in the “what were we thinking” folder (which fate has not befallen Blectum BTW, not at all), but this reminded me that he did/does have talent. Again as with that one particularly jungloid Squarepusher track, there’s an element of affectionate pastiche/trip down memorE’s lane to Miguel's revisitations of rave/classic house/vintage techno, except none of it is that blatant or that pegged to specific styles, it’s all jumbled and twisted, and the result is more than entertaining, it’s exhilarating.

The Midnight Circus, “So Divine (Ruff Dub)” (Damaged Goods)
A Paul Kennedy Turn-On. This is one half of Artful Dodger returning to the semi-underground (like he has a choice! well I suppose he could be producing some awful uk pop starlet, maybe thats what the other dodger's doing) and perhaps betokening/instigating/joining some kind of 2step resurgence, except it’s not quite classic 2step, this beat, it’s not slinky and skank-slow, it’s almost like a femme version of breakstep-- blokestep with the bloke-iness removed. Very nice but, c.f. nearly all R&G, it doesn’t have that this-will-go-all-the-way, this-will-conquer-pop, America-too-you-better-believe-it-oh-yeah vibe about it that 2step in its prime had -- erroneously of course, but thats the aura it gave off

Infantjoy, With

Kode 9 and Spaceape, Memories of the Future (Tempa)


Mark Stewart, Learning to Cope with Cowardice (On U)
Various, On U Sound Crash: Slash & Mix by Adrian Sherwood
And I wasn’t especially an On U fan at the time but this mix, crushing something like 96 tunes into an hour, makes me toy with the thought that I might have missed something.

ESG, Come Away with ESG (Soul Jazz)

Desmond Leslie, Music of the Future (Trunk)

The Doors, Perception (the 40th anniversary collection)


Black Devil Disco Club, 28 After (Lo)
I guess this is the hipsterland equivalent of that Platinum Weird record, the fictitious "lost recording"? Or maybe the "it's Richard James and Luke Vibert really" thing is just more disinformation? At a loss to file it under "current releases" or "retro", it's in a category by itself. If I knew or cared more about italodisco I'd probably be able to tell by certain dead give-aways whether it was an archly affectionate homage or the real thing. But it's certainly more entertaining than any of the genuine articles I've so far heard.

non-sonic feeling

Rob Young—Rough Trade (Black Dog Publishing Labels Unlimited series)
Roger Crimlis & Alwyn W. Turner—Cult Rock Posters: Ten Years of Classic Posters from the Glam, Punk and New Wave Era (Billboard Books)

Two lavishly illustrated tomes packed with eye-candy memorabilia, such that you could pore over them for hours and not read more than the captions, but if you did that then you’d miss the incisive text. The Crimlis & Turner one could be the Bible of K-punk, although extending the narrative arc into Goth would have made sense, following a crucial tangent from glam; there’s much more than billboard posters for tours and albums here, there’s advertising spreads from the music papers and tickets and concert programmes and rare pull-outs from popsploitation mags and album inserts and and and… Rob Young’s RT history has record sleeves galore plus badges and rare photos and even postcards from band members on tour; the account concentrates on the years when RT in its dowdy way also had a kind of “glamour”, intellectual/radical/this-is-the-nerve-centre-the-culture-power-spot glamour, ie. the postpunk years, but follows the label’s arc through its confused Eighties of trying to spar with the corporate big boys/break the Smiths as big as they deserved/Morrissey demanded, etc, through the calamitous crash and then the label’s unexpected resurrection this decade as the Strokes/Libertines/Fiery Furnaces/Arcade Fire-toting powerhouse it is. Plus Mercury nominee Scritti making a nice circle in time back to 4 A-Sides.

really feeling

Juana Molina, Son (Domino)
An Impostume Turn On. Indeed he gives a much better description of it than I can muster here.Oddly yet aptly–given Impostume’s infamous coinage– it’s got quite a Wyatt-y feel in places, at times reminding me of the more woogly-vocalled stuff on the Matching Mole albums – in particular ‘un beso llega’ reminds me of ‘instant kitten’ or do I mean ‘instant pussy’, not sure, either way, they’re both gorgeous melted-and-oozy scat-vocalese
excursions, and there’s something of that gaseous quality to the way Molina’s voice drifts and settles, winding itself around the equally perfumed-foggy banks of synth and otherwise unsource-able instrumental textures. And then I think of Young Marble Giants, Thomas Leer’s 4 Movements, Stereolab’s Music for the Amorphous Body Study Center … and while it doesn’t really sound that much like these there’s something there: a languid self-contained sensuality, updated for a post-glitch world. Segundo and Tres Cosas, also very very nice.

Joanna Newsom, Ys (Drag City)
Swooned for this instantly, which was odd as I didn’t care for Milk-Eyed Mender much, seemed a bit mannered, but this time around the voice… alloy of Appalachian Bjork with
Kristin Hersh with a trace of Bushy flutter... totally intoxicates. Blissfully ignorant of the Van Dyke Parks, Jim O’Rourke et al involvement until already thoroughly hooked (if i'd been more a fan i'd probably have read the press release or cd credits, and BTW they sent this out bizarrely earlier: full finished cd with packaging, apparently not wanting the Artist's Vision marred by appearing as a cruddy advance with a ‘this is a license’ warning stickered over it and reviewers name printed on the disc) . Which is just as well as the high-falutin collaborator aura would probably have put me off.

Jarvis, Jarvis (Rough Trade)
An odd one: the first half is pretty much rubbish; the second half gets better and better until, with the last two or three tracks it’s up there with the best bits of We Love Life

Mordant Music, “Dark Side of the Autobahn” (Mordant Music)
Actually from 2003 but haven’t you heard, pop temporality has been abolished… This 7 inch single is basically a mash-up i suppose but far superior than the norm, a genuinely haunting hallucination of what-might-have-been, merging the sinister whooshing-down-the-underpass bridge from that particular K-werk—you know, the dark-pulsing
chug-a-thonic bit with phased syn-drums I think—to elements of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run”, the resulting composite something like Hawkwind-meets-Neu! (a United Artists mind-meld). On the flip, two extra mixes, one of which runs totally backwards, psychedelia-style, and the one is slathered in lustrous guitar and sounds a bit like if Michael Rother rejoined Hutter & Co after Neu 2. Groovy picture disc vinyl featuring the MM mascot magpie makes this a covetable artifact.

Belbury Poly, The Owl’s Map (Ghost Box)
Highlights: the musky 'n' mysterious “Rattler’s Hey”, a Morris dance scored by Delia Darbyshire. “Music, Movement & Meaning,” despite the title's promise of jaunty and fragrantly trilling airs on the piano suitable for a primary school “expressive movement" class, is more Eric Zann oneiric-Gothick. “Wetland": ancient folk vocal + jaunty-mellow Anglican-skank vibe = redolent of Ultramarine’s United Kingdoms's "Kingdom" and "Happy Land," Robert Wyatt singing old folk songs about the rotten ruling class. “The People” : inititally, Cider with Rosemary’s Baby, then a beautiful hammered dulcimer-like melody takes over--probably my favourite on the album. “Pan’s Garden”: initially summons images of between-the-wars fads for “Greek” dancing, dowagers toga-clad doing eurhythmics in English country gardens, then goes eerie. “Scarlet Ceremony”: like rock music made out of oak... this instantly made the words “Uriah Heep” pop into my head (which is odd as I’ve only heard one or two things by the Heep and they didn’t sound much like this).

The Focus Group, We Are All Pan’s People (Ghostbox)
A preview of this, due in November/December, in unfinished form, suggests it will be another classic. Highlights: “The Falling Leaf Beat”, especially its third section—billowing palimpsests and veils-upon-veils, the overlapping echo-space building to a dense and prolonged afterglow of pure reverberance; “Backyard Rituals and Spare Times,” spiffing musique concrete; “Albion Festival Report” has a saturated treble frequencies dazzle-your-ears, dizzy-your-head thing going on that reminds me oddly of the Avalanches (whatever happened to them, then?); “The Green Station Haunt” goes through distinct phases—flying saucers landing on the Village Green while a blissfully unaware harmonica player trills and wheezes out of some far distant open window... heads out into Dudley Moore Trio/Dudley Moore Bedazzled-score territory... goes a bit Ege Bamyasi/Finnish prog-pagan;... finally turns into a stirring vaguely martial O/S/T theme. “Leaving Through”: so Douglas Lilburn/Dutch Popular Electronics-y it’s not true. Some of the coolest pieces are no more than micro-tracks, cellules of sound, scattered as interstitial blurts of abstract texture throughout the record. The concept is that they are audio-logos or station idents from regional TV franchises-- Oakston Associated Broadcasts, Willowedge Vision, etc.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

reading matters #2

impostume on the money about metal’s new hipster status whereas "the real thing" has always been there and always will be there and has lots of things going for it (so long as er you don't have to listen to it heh hehe ... well obviously there are a number of exceptions... and VH1's Metal Month was the year's most enjoyable retro-fest... but all that Terrorizer-bizniz, well let's say i prefer to admire from a distance.... )
plus righteously upbraiding yet another rehash of his-and-mine bloggery (uncut did one too the cheeky buggers)

what is the world coming too, foxxy-and-roxy Kpunk referring to "the blues" favorably, without expectorating in disgust! well of course it's "hauntological blues" so that' s okay then, and he does of course make a compelling case for Little Axe, whose first record i vaguely recall hearing in the 90s and finding a bit backgroundy and daniel lanois-y but as mark says our metabolisms were all junglizm-accelerated at that point. I recently read blues people by leroi jones/amiri baraka and there's probably a lot of stuff in there that could be indexed to the new Little Axe record judging by what Mark writes ... and interesting that he invokes maxinquaye because well it's obvious in a way, tricky’s a blues singer, indeed isn’t “Aftermath” subtitled “hip hop blues” on the original single? There’s a sampled-and-slowed-down male soul singer vocal on “hell is round the corner”-- almost screwed , tempo-dragged into a molasses-mire of melancholy, this piteous smeared groan of anguish--and i described it at the time as “impossibly black-and-blue”. And blimey Massive Attack, it’s not called Blue Lines for nothing, although i daresay kind of blue and birth of the cool jazz were the reference point as much as "woke up this morning, hellhound in my bed" but they are miserabilist gits Massive aren't they …

[crunk i think is the modern manifestation of the other side of the blues: which was origially a dance music primarily, associated with drinking dens and juke joints , places where loose women and shady characters hung out .... low-down music for low-life... jones/baraka points out how the black church always loathed blues, thought it was disgracing the race, profane and reprobate stuff as opposed to the refinement and respectability etc that would advance black people. c.f. the way their equivalents today decry hip hop for its negative stereotype-- jones/baraka in a sort of Afro-Bangsian move celebrating the blues continuum for precisely that reason)

[further digression: reminds me that I non-concurred with IP's Scarface-invented-gangsta-rap/bling thesis... surely that flashily dressed staggerlee persona has been a current within black popular culturec for a long long time... look at the superfly/big-pimpin blacksploitation boom era, or zoot suited rude boys in the 40s --it's not like they need to learn anything from Brian De Palma!!!]

[further further digression: i think they're both, KP and IP, a little unfair to mr marcus, surely the very idea of "the old weird america" and its reverberating traces in popular music is something reasonably proximate to the hauntological concept... it's no coincidence that one of the key archival labels for the sort of harry smith-y stuff Marcus bangs on about ... american folk/blues/gospel... is called Revenant.... founded by the late john fahey... and come to think of it, even something like Dead Elvis is in this territory, the uncanny omnipresence and proliferating after-lives of this deceased icon ... or the concept of "secret history", now such a worn-out phrase, but circa Lipstick Traces a fresh and intoxicating idea, all these strange connections and occult passageways worming their way through history, transgressing the conventional causalities and official narratives ... this regardless of what you think of marcus's specific constellation of reference points, or indeed the execution (i'm finding the shape of things to come a bit strained myself) ...]

back on topic , the blues/trip hop thing cross-references to impostume on the parallels between dub and metal; how so many of the isolationist dudes were metal guys doing side-projects...
scorn’s evanescence: proto-hauntological in some respects, made by ex-napalm death guy, one foot in midlands-sabbath-heavy-metal-as-bastardised blues, the other in reggae sound systems (and check the song title "exodus") ... I remember Frank Owen telling me his theory that for thrash/black metal kids, “death” is their equivalent of Zion…
my mate Paul "Sci-Fi Soul" Kennedy is deejaying a guest spot at DJ Misbehaviour's
after-work party Foreplay this Wednesday Oct 11th, 6pm - 10pm, location is SIN SIN, 85 2nd Ave at 5th St (entrance on 5th St), Manhattan. The theme of Paul's set is
FROM THE MECCA TO THE SAINT. Sin Sin is located just over a block south of the The Saint's old location, which as all you readers of Tim Lawrence's Love Saves the Day and the Bill Brewster/Frank Thornton book will know was a legendary gay club (its full-on hedonistic vibe a big inspiration to Frankie Goes To Hollywood apparently) that ran from 1980-1988. Although for much of the Eighties the Saint was associated with Hi-NRG and indeed with help from Heaven pretty much spawned that genre, Paul will be concentrating on the continuum that connects Northern Soul (hence the nod to the Blackpool Mecca) and the early Saint, "soulful/songful DISCO-FUNK (often with a gospel edge), drawing on the playlists of DJs Ian Levine, Roy Thode and Robbie Leslie--basically some of the finest underplayed r&b from roughly 1974-1981". Admission free plus $3 drink specials and 2-for-1 drink specials.