Monday, April 25, 2022

Punk at the pictures

 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

family + friends reading

 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

Time's up (RIP Sir Harrison Birtwistle)


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).

- Sir Harrison Birtwistle (via Rob Chapman)

"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"

Two "Times"

"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

RIP Chris Bailey

 ... 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

I need to thank Barney Hoskyns for alerting me to their very existence and excellence

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 

Also Saints adjacent, for the same reason

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.