Here's a chat I had with Francesco Tenaglia for The Music Folder, a talk-series curated by Archivio Storico Ricordi, which investigates the intersection of music, memory, and arts - audio here, transcription there. This was conducted earlier in the year, so starts with talk about Get Back, the 8-hour Beatles documentary series and the uncannily persistent dominance and prominence of the Fab Four in the cultural landscape (a topic newly topical given 80-year-old Paul McCartney's headlining of Glastonbury),. Then it moves on to issues related to curatorial and annotative culture, obituary and elegy writing, the deejay as archivist, completism and collectoritis, and more.
Monday, July 04, 2022
Monday, June 27, 2022
For this New York Times piece - which appeared in the print + paper edition yesterday - I looked at Pistol as a punk fan turned parent and pedagogue. What, I wondered, could my sons or my students find inspirational, or relatable, or even comprehensible, about the Sex Pistols saga? Are there any "teachable moments" to be gleaned from punk in the year 2022?
(Interviewed: my 16-year-old).
(Here also is the missus's take for Vanity Fair).
'ere we go now
a sociology lecture
with a bit of psychology
a bit of neurology
a bit of fuckology
Rotten mocking and taunting in advance all professional analysts and understanders of punk as "valid expression of working class youth energy"!
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Forty years since Sulk came out!
For which occasion BMG has assembled a gorgeous anniversary edition, finally out this week.
For which I was thrilled to write a liner note essay.
For which I re-interviewed Alan Rankine and spoke for the first time to producer Mike Hedges, keyboard + backing vocalist Martha Ladly, and bassman Michael Dempsey, and in the process learned many new things about the making of this miraculous record.
For full details of the extra material corralled for the 3CD+Vinyl re-edition, go here (but ignore the now outmoded release date)
Friday, June 10, 2022
"Nothing we made was meant to last. Nothing we made has lasted for as long as what we made by making together."
Once upon a time a neighbour in this now dwindled constellation of blogs, Anwen Crawford is just about to publish No Document. The core of this remarkable book is a fragmentary portrait of a beloved friend who died young and the commemoration of their partnership as visual artists mounting raids on Sydney's public places and abandoned buildings. But in No Document the personal is political and the political is personal, so this private loss becomes a prism for all the injuries and injustices in the world.
What results is not a meld or a genre-blend but a collage of modes and materials - latticed strips of memoir, art history, political protest, urban geography, colonial history, poetry, criticism, eulogy, diary, reverie. Appropriated scraps from newspapers, radio reports, children's reference books, photography manuals, and more.
So it's a cut-up and it's cut up - even when writing coolly about slaughterhouses or refugee detention centres, the author's anger and anguish simmers beneath the preternaturally controlled surface. A short book, No Document is a dense read - not in the sense of opacity (the prose is as lucid and elegant as Crawford's music criticism) but in the way a diamond is dense. So much ache and thought is compressed into these spare sentences.
The look of the pages is as important as the text. There's a lot of blank white - many pages with only a few lines or a short paragraph. Sentences that break off unfinished. These voids seem to reflect an unwillingness to sew things up, in both the resolution and healing a wound senses. All that empty space evokes the absence around which the book is written - each patch of prose like a bandage that doesn't completely cover a laceration. The blanks suggests silence - points at which sorrow can no longer be verbalized, words are not enough.
No Document has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize and is receiving warm responses from critics, including this detailed appreciation (which also incorporates sample pages from the book) at The Sydney Review of Books from Alix Beeston .
update Monday June 13 - the online US launch for No Document is this evening at 7pm Pacific Time / 10 pm East Coast, it's hosted by Point Reyes Books, attendance free or with donation (register here) and features Anwen Crawford in dialogue with Juliana Spahr
Wednesday, June 01, 2022
Cranking the mimeograph to bring you a smatter of summertime tidings.
New from Lo Five, the EP Lack - marbled fog blocs for fuzzy heads ("Thicc Air", one of these four tracks is titled - and sounds like it).
Moon Wiring Club have only just made the most recent releases, Ghost Party Delirium CD and Ghost Party Delirium LP (completely separate records) digitally available on Bandcamp. These I slept on a bit, arriving very late in 2021 as they did, but the CD in particular - a double - has resurged as listening for me recently and I recommend a deep delve. I got stuck on this one tune "The Original Phantom Roller", entranced by its descending-and-ascending reverbed B-line and hall-of-mirror recession of lady voices ("watch the light!", "who's real, then? Me - or you"). Having played it at least thirty times now, I feel certain it would make an all-time MWC Top Twenty. Another killer is this crepuscular creeper with slap-bass twinges as unexpected and alarming as a tendon snapping.
Another oldie but goodie - really old in fact, and really good (among the Top Five Greatest Hauntological Recordings Ever) - is something whose first-time vinyl reincarnation bypassed me some months ago: Dead Air by Mordant Music. One of that first cluster of albums that made it clear something was happening that needed monitoring and monikering, the CD's mustard-hued fold-out has been gorgeously scaled up into a gatefold elpee by Castles in Space, with new artwork from Admiral Greyscale worked in there. And the audio has been remastered for vinyl - hear here the new edition's first side of dankly glistening glory.
Beautify Junkyards have just released the lovely and eerie film Cosmorama Moving Images. A creative ruse around the challenges of touring in a locked down world, it documents a live performance by the band in a space teeming with video projections, with surrealistic interludes involving spoken word from Justin Hopper of Old Weird Albion renown. "The environment becomes labyrinthine and the band's vibrant performance seems to induce the formation of spatial and temporal portals that spectators are invited to cross." Inspirations include Victorian London's Cosmorama rooms and the experimental film maker Stan VanDerBeek.
You can see the movie at Vimeo On Demand.
Canadian exchange student Samuel Macklin (better known as connect_icut) has a collaborative project with Larissa Loyva called The Bastion Mews. Their latest emanation is this eddying haze of songspace titled "Sinking" and paired with the songspacier "Sinking Dub". It's the second in a series of singles - check out also last month's "Sweet" b/w "Sweet Dub."
A postcard from our Italian twin town Artetetra foretells an imminent ectoplasmic apparition: Loris Cericola's Metaphysical Graffiti.
Best described as an obscure, dadaist sound collage, the album was realized entirely by experimenting with an array of tape cut-ups and analog sound manipulation techniques. A set of live improvisations performed with an assemblage of 4-tracks tape recorders, testing the possibilities offered by the textural audio qualities of cassettes. With an imagery shaped by Ed Wood-style geographic and fictional tropes, Metaphysical Graffiti stands as an aural alternative to a subcultural cave painting. The album is an ill-defined conglomerate of unintelligible folklore, flimsy remote voices and phony, signal-like transmissions. A fragmentary listening conjuring the instability of shortwave explorations and the ominous vibes of waking up in the middle of the night after falling asleep in front of a television in an unfamiliar locale. The samples and soundbites emerging from the minimal tracks’ backbone originate from a careful collection built through time by the musician and is composed of miscellaneous forgotten sales bin recordings, abstruse midnight home movies and haphazard library music pieces. Although the ten songs show a tendency towards supernatural, at times eldritch overtones, the work is surprisingly balanced by a direct simplicity. An atmosphere crafted through delicate distension of time and scattered synth themes. For the most part, Metaphysical Graffiti builds on liminal ambiances reminding of the early James Ferraro and Joel Vandroogenbroeck’s "Biomechanoid", crafting a long moment of discontinuous suspension akin to slow opium phantasmagorias. A space crawling with dimensional spooks drawn in sedative-induced reveries and practical-effects era delusions.
Full waft due June 17
Finally, I recommend a good dig through our local library's record section. In amongst the budget classical, brass band and Bread albums, you can find some unexpected gems. Like these Eiretronica albums from the 1970s!
For the full story about these releases, go to the Miúin Archives.
There is also a new curated compilation of work made at the Kilkenny Electroacoustic Research Laboratory in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
"The Kilkenny Electroacoustic Research Laboratory was informally set up in late 1965 by Jacinta Delaney (1937 -) and Eoghan Comerford (1935 -). They were inspired by Groupe de Recherches Musicales after Comerford visited the RTF in Paris in ’64..... The purpose of this collection is an introduction to a selection of works by key characters in the development of K.E.R.L. The structure of the collection gives a general outline of the development of the works throughout the history of the Lab, but it is no way comprehensive."
Friday, May 27, 2022
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Here's a piece I did for Tidal looking at the roots - in postpunk, New Wave and Britrap - of the current speak-sing wave (which includes some of the most entertaining music of recent times and some of the most irritating). I also made a playlist tracing the lineage from M.E.S. to Legss, mostly Brit but with occasional dishonorary Americans included.
I was invited by Pierluigi Ledda, co-founder with his wife Francesca of Reading Room, a bookshop and cultural space in Milan, to contribute to their website feature Love At First Browse - in which guest writers and culture-workers talk about 3 magazines that have meant the most to them. Didn't seem quite right to include Melody Maker during my era, but two others I've contributed to made the cut and I doubt you'll have much difficulty guessing the other one. Here's my choices.
Thursday, May 05, 2022
Bob Stanley has a new book just out (Let's Do It - about the prehistory of pop, it looks really interesting). But he also has a new compilation out - or perhaps I should say collection, as it's focused on a single artist: John Barry. The More Things Change: Film, TV & Studio Work 1968-1972 is a great-sounding slab of peak JB.
Reading Bob's liner note, I was fascinated to learn that the teenage Barry's love of soundtracks was ignited through his dad's being the owner of a chain of cinemas. He'd sit in the projection room of the York Rialto, assimilating the emotional grammar of film music through exposure to scores and scores of scores.
Another thing that caught my eye was Bob's reference to Walkabout as "possibly the most beautiful John Barry score of all." Now this happens to be my fervent belief, but it's a conviction based mostly on pure faith, since I've not done the exhaustive study of the JB uuurv that Bob's done. So that was reassuring!
The More Things Change includes two selections from the Walkabout OST (mystifyingly never released at the time, it existed briefly as a bootleg some years after the event, then came out as proper reissue in 2016) and they are "Theme from Walkabout," a shatteringly poignant piece that can reduce me to a blubbering mess, and "The Children", stirring and pure-hearted. Here's what I wrote about Walkabout for Pitchfork's best soundtracks / best scores lists of a few years ago:
In Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 film, two British children stranded in the outback are rescued and guided back to “civilization” by an indigenous Australian boy. Scare quotes around the C-word, for Walkabout is a rhapsodic elegy for Nature and our lost innocence. Because there’s only sporadic dialogue (Roeg described the script as “a fourteen-page prose poem”) and the 6-year-old brother and his teenage sister have been brought up in typically post-Empire stiff-upper-lip fashion, nearly all the emotional eloquence in the movie is supplied by the score. Waltjinju Bandilil’s eerie didgeridoo and Stockhausen’s disorienting tape-piece Hymnen conjure the unknowable majesty of the arid landscape and its scorching extremes of weather. But it’s veteran film composer John Barry who establishes the prevailing mood with his piercingly poignant orchestrations. A stirring choral theme redolent of a school song, “The Children” evokes the simple-hearted hope and accepting obedience with which kids face the world. The horn fanfares of “The Journey” conjure a storybook adventure air, mirroring the way that the youngest child in particular processes their predicament. Above all, there’s the recurring main theme, a patient pulse of plinky harpsichord over which wistful woodwinds pipe and tender violins soar and swoop, like a kite whose strings are tugging at your heart not your hands.
Here are the other blurbs - in their original director's cut form - that I did for the movies Performance, Solaris, Blade Runner, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
Monday, April 25, 2022
Here's a fun piece I did for Pitchfork - a guide to punk movies. Framed as the 20 Best, it was originally conceived as "from the worst to the best", which explains the insulting tone of the early entries. Below is a really insulting one - the very first entry in fact - that got cut out to make for a round 20.
CBGB (2013 – directed Randall Miller)
Considering the awesome historical material at its disposal, CBGB is an inexplicable dud. But let’s try explicating. The late Alan Rickman, great in costume dramas and rom-coms, makes for an awful Hilly Kristal. Where there ought to be a charismatic center to the movie, there’s a bleary slob with hooded eyes and a deadpan mumble. CBGB tries so hard to be gritty, but despite the dogshit, rodents, roaches and dead Bowery bums, unreality riddles the entire production. The punk club’s notoriously squalid toilet, for instance, is depicted as roughly six times larger than the real one (take my word, I’ve taken a leak there). Even the rat in the kitchen looks groomed and shiny with health. Television’s Tom Verlaine gets electrocuted onstage but having that happen when he’s singing the line “lightning struck itself” from “Marquee Moon” renders it corny and false. But the film’s largest failure is in the area of motivation and context: it’s never really clear why Kristal started the club, how it became a magnet for malcontents and misfits, or what those bands defined themselves against in the first place. Because the acts are introduced as hallowed legends, The Ramones and Talking Heads and Blondie seem like stars-to-be rather than the striving nobodies, who might easily have got nowhere, that they actually were then. Things get even worse when The Dead Boys turn up and Kristal decides out of all the groups they’re the ones he wants to manage. If Stiv Bators’s self-strangulation and blowjob theatrics aren’t repulsive enough, we get to see Rupert Grint as guitarist Cheetah Chrome exposing his pubes. CBGB was a monster flop, grossing just $40 thousand, less than one-hundredth of its budget. But at least they spelled the venue’s name right, rather than the common error CGBGs.
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
Here's Kieran Press-Reynolds with his latest piece for No Bells - looking at how Spotify's creation of a "Webcore" playlist lumps together a whole bunch of different online microgenres, collapsing their distinctness into meaningless mush, and what the consequences might be for those mushed. That reminded me of how "electronica" became a marketing term in late-90s America and similarly conflated UK + Euro sounds with discrete histories, vibes and functions. Kieran comes up with a bunch of parallels himself while continuing his cartography of the constantly mutating, subdividing, splintering and recombining genrescape of the 2020s.
Over at his new-ish website, David Stubbs takes a delightful memory-lane trip through his earliest days as a music journalist - making the jump from Monitor to Melody Maker, via the briefest of interludes at Arthur Young. The Wing Commander deftly weaves together the vivid immediacy of those halcyon days (so young, we were, and so full of ourselves) with the hindsight wisdom and uncertainties of age.
I do not know Hari Kunzru well - I think we met just the once - but I've often thought that we seem to be on a similar wavelength, going by the kind of things he writes about in his novels. Still, I was startled when Melody Maker and The Young Gods popped up in his new piece "Broken Links" for Harper's - a meditation / taking-stock of the effects of the internet on culture, memory and desire, starting with the realisation that "I've now spent more of my life online than off".
Monday, April 18, 2022
Admittedly, I've not made a thorough investigation of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's uuurv - so the salute is really for this one visionary piece of electronic music: "Chronometer", made with the technical assistance of Peter Zinovieff (who himself died less than a year ago)
"Chronometer 71 is a 1971 piece that comprises recordings of clocks in London's Big Ben and Wells Cathedral in Somerset. These were sequenced to a graphical score by Birtwistle using Zinovieff's studio system to control several tape machines, much like an early sampler. The piece was created in Zinovieff’s second Putney studio, Musys, set up in the basement of 49 Deodar Road." - The Wire
Sir Harrison Birtwistle: Chronometer - for 2 asynchronous 4-track tapes
Realized by Peter Zinovieff at Electronic Music Studios (EMS), London using the Musys system developed by Peter Grogono (software), David Cockerell (hardware/interfacing) and Peter Zinovieff (system design and operation).
"It’s the first quad sound classical music piece.... This piece was designed with Birtwistle in about 1970... But it was made as a quadraphonic piece, it was one of the first quadraphonic pieces."
- Peter Zinovieff interview at Red Bull Music Academy.
He had a thing about clocks, old Birtwistle
Flipside of "Chronometer" is "The Triumph of Time"
"Harrison’s Clocks (1998) is not Birtwistle’s only composition to deal directly with the subject of the timepiece through music. His two works referring explicitly to clocks are, however, very different. Chronometer (1972) is a work ‘at least as much ‘about clocks’ as it is about an abstract structure of pulses’ (Adlington, 2000: 98), and like the more recent work, can be heard to have many layers of meaning. While both works employ audible pulsation processes, Chronometer, being a tape piece, is actually constructed from ‘the sounds of real clock mechanisms which have been computer-analyzed and regenerated onto 8 tracks’ (Adlington, 2000: 98). The resulting similarity of sound, between the musical world of the composition and the real world of mechanical clocks, creates an immediate association in the mind of the listener between commonly distinct temporal experiences.Whereas the clock in itself stands as a symbol of ‘ontological’ or ‘absolute’ time (that is ‘objective time, the time that is shared by most people in a given society and by physical processes’ (Kramer, 1988: 452)), the compositional treatment and layering of the pulses, and transformation of the sounds contradicts such a time concept and, in so doing, enables time to, in Birtwistle’s words, ‘transcend itself’ (Hall, 1984: 73). As Jonathan Kramer has pointed out, the medium of music has a special relationship with time and ‘offers alternatives to conventional temporal sequences’ (Kramer, 1988: 6). Chronometer exploits this possibility by ‘[making] time timeless, taking externally regulated clock time into the subjective realm of the unconscious’ (Cross, 2000: 184). As a result, the music may lead the listener to question the socially prevalent view that the ontological time of the clock represents absolute temporal reality, against the more subjective time of individual experience. And thus, the listener might come to experience subjective time as constituting reality in its own right. Michael Hall sums this up succinctly: ‘we are so used to measuring things in terms of clock time, that we forget that time is multi-dimensional; things change at different rates’ (Hall, 1984: 74).
If Chronometer can be seen to challenge, in a fundamental way, the listeners preconceptions as to what time is through multi-layered pulsations, another work of the same year – The Triumph of Time – explores the nature of the motion of time through it’s juxtaposition of linear and cyclic processes. From a compositional point of view what this piece is really exploring is the nature of change and progress in a musical context – both rates of change, and more significantly, degrees of change – and how context affects perception. This is achieved through the employment of certain distinctive musical ‘objects’ recurring cyclically over layers of ostinati in (varying degrees of) continuous flux. As a result, the perception, or interpretation, of this work’s form and meaning depends heavily upon the processes of the listener’s memory (as, to an extent, does all perception) and the recognition of the changing contexts in which the memorable ‘objects’ recur...."
- Christian Mason, "Harrison’s Clocks: a perspective on their Context, their Time, and their Mechanisms" (2005)
Sunday, April 10, 2022
... of the great Brisbane punk-not-punk band The Saints.
These two from Eternally Yours are my favorite Saints tunes.
Of the two "Product" songs on Eternally, I much prefer "No, Your Product" to "Know Your Product" -horns in punk, even punk-not-punk don't sound quite right to me - but it's a good tune and here it comes with unexpectedly cool and unusual video (or perhaps it's a TV clip on some Aussie show where they still used all the glam-era video FX)
It's a rewrite of "Satisfaction" - "ad-vert-ising / you're lying / never gonna give me what I need" - that shows how Stonesy their version of punk was.
The famous Top of the Pops appearance, whose don't-give-a-shit aura so impressed Mark E. Smith
They did a promo video for their first single (prefaced here by some tributes from famous fans)
On a Brisbane telly show
Of Chris Bailey's voice, Barney wrote: "One of the seminal rock'n'roll sounds, it combines the roughest, surliest aspects of Lennon, Jagger and the Van Morrison of Them."
This one below is a tune he particularly exalted
I never quite managed to get into this third album Prehistoric Sounds, but it's a rehearsal for Laughing Clowns, Ed Kuepper's new venture after leaving The Saints, where the idea works much better
Saints adjacent, in my mind for a reason
A revision of this, that
More Saints goodness, suggested by Aussie reader Andrew Parker
He also points out that horns in punk would include X-Ray Spex and Flipper's "Sex Bomb Baby". Which is a good point - I suppose I mean, brass sections, as opposed to a single sax.
Sunday, March 27, 2022
The anthology - V4 Visions: Of Love & Androids - is out now and you can hear the tunes at the Numero Group bandcamp, where it is also purchasable in digital form. The vinyl edition is still available at the Numero Group website.
Monday, March 21, 2022
Thursday, March 17, 2022
LA-people! This coming Sunday evening I'm doing an event with Joe Carducci of Rock and the Pop Narcotic / Enter Naomi renown at Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park. We'll be chatting about "the tangled music cultures of Britain and America circa 1976-86 and the Rough Trade and SST scene" - punk, postpunk, New Wave, hardcore, DIY etc.
Date: Sunday, March 20, 2022
Location: the open-air patio in back of Stories Books & Cafe, 1716 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
Further info: (213) 413-3733 and https://storiesla.com/
Carducci is also the special guest on the next Rocks Back Pages Podcast, which airs on Monday 21st of this month. More information at RBP pod central.
Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Epic essay-post about Mark E. Smith from Matthew Ingram at Woebot.
It's titled Hip Priest and is tied into Matt's ongoing research into spirituality and the counterculture, with prisms such as psychedelics, mental illness, the paranormal, and mysticism applied to the work. A mighty meaty read.
Funnily enough I was toying with writing something about The Fall, but from a completely other angle.
Saturday, March 12, 2022
Wonderful song. And with a minimalist sound that still startles with its skeletal spareness. The drum machine and organ combo almost makes it a soul Suicide.
I had "Why Can't We Live Together" on this K-Tel compilation - not in 1973, though, when I would have been nine or ten - but some years later.
Good value, this series, if you weren't fussy about hi-fi (12 tracks crammed on each side!) - and even more so when I picked them up second-hand for a quid each.
On Superbad, the track just before the Timmy Thomas is another one I loved - Cymande's "The Message". (Who I saw several years ago play in LA.)
For a bunch of months now, podcasters Nate Wilcox and Ryan Harkness have been doing this epic trek through Energy Flash, a chapter per week. It's the latest season of an ongoing series called Techno-Roll (the name comes from the parent podcast Let It Roll). The previous candidate for in-depth extended discussion was Last Night A DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton. Later on they'll be doing Kit Mackintosh's Neon Screams.
Saturday, March 05, 2022
Feels unseemly to direct attention to something I've written, as we all teeter on the precipice... but here goes: a while ago, I wrote a piece on Malcolm McLaren, Sex Pistols, Situationism, punk, the notion of cultural terrorism, etc etc, for the London Review of Books, at insane length. Which LRB expertly condensed to half its size and has now published. It is loosely - very loosely - tethered to Paul Gorman's equally enormous biography of McLaren.
Of course, my author's eyes see all the things missing, but no doubt, to anyone sane and impartial, it's vastly improved by being streamlined. I expect someday I'll make the full monster available.