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John Zoller, A Happy Farm Boy in Ohio, 2001, 60 x 72 inches, acrylic and oil enamel on canvas. From the series United States: Color and Learn.
The film Moog is, I'm sorry to report, not so good. Theremin or even Modulations it's definitely not. Synthesizer inventor Robert Moog is himself a charming and highly intelligent interview subject, but the film unfortunately consists of him being flown around the globe for on-location tete-a-tetes with Musical Bores of the World. DJ Spooky holds forth with his usual spiel about sampling until it dawns on him that Moog is only feigning attention; he abruptly switches tracks and compliments him for all the analog hiphop beats his work indirectly influenced. Rick Wakeman and Bernie Worrell go on, like bad drunks at a party, about how a synthesizer is like a woman who must be coaxed, made to scream, yadda yadda. The live music depicted in the film is uniformly pretentious and blah: Stereolab, Keith Emerson, Luke Vibert and Jean-Jacques Perrey all manage not to shine. The highest spots involve not the keyboard instrument but the Theremin, which Moog got his start building. Solos by Pamelia Kurstin and Moog himself are beautiful and otherworldly--music from thin air, only two controls (pitch and volume), no moving parts, it's the soul of economy and still inherently futuristic. How did we ever lose track of the concept?
Your so-called liberal media at work: from a New York Times review of the recent flop The Alamo on DVD:
From Touchstone, the studio that brought you "Pearl Harbor" with a happy ending, here is a bafflingly upbeat version of the battle of the Alamo, the second most famous defeat in American history. Directed by John Lee Hancock ("The Rookie") from a script by himself, Leslie Bohem ("Taken") and Stephen Gaghan ("Traffic"), the film imposes a not-so-subtle 9/11 framework on the action, with the Mexican general Santa Ana (Emilio Echevarría) strutting around in peacock military garb like Saddam Hussein.Saddam, Osama bin Laden, whatever. But wait, there's more Bush propaganda:
The 200 brave men of the Alamo go down with all due spectacle, but then the film tacks on a 30-minute coda in which Houston leads a victorious invasion spurred by the famous words "Remember the Alamo" - presented as 1836's anticipation of President Bush's ground zero speech, "The people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon."I guess we know who the reviewer, Dave Kehr, is voting for.
Music-and-video outfit x-eleven burned brightly in the Dallas rave scene from 1992-1995, with frequent radio play on Jeff K's Edge Club program, inclusion in the Tales From the Edge CD series ("Texas Techno" installment), and appearances at major rave events. Their fast, scintillating techno tracks never quite gelled into a CD's worth of material, at least for perfectionist Gary Wicker, who wrote and performed the music. Strong nods to prog-rock and the industrial canon distinguish it from more purist or jazzy Detroit-style techno; Wicker mentions 808 State as an inspiration but I'd say Orbital if I had to compare it to anything. Wicker's amphetamine-fueled contrapuntal keyboards are in many ways the opposite of acid-house minimalism; one could envision a caped Rick Wakeman playing some of these baroque riffs, accompanied with grooving dance-floor bass and slightly incongruous party-hearty samples of kids saying "C'mon!" and "Let's do it!" The music doesn't quite fit into the Simon Reynolds standard techno timeline: it's an intriguing side-stream to what was happening further north and across the pond.
In '96 Wicker sold all his equipment and never looked back at his musical career, at least until last year, when he put the entire x-eleven catalog online, with assiduously detailed commentary, in what he calls "a sort of paean to the spirit of failure." The site has literary as well as musical interest, with Wicker narrating his own short career in the reflective tones of a sociological case study--a bemused audio-linguistic meditation on artistic aspirations and the messy realities of a being a group navigating the world of public performance and recording. (Personally I think he is seduced to this day by the capitalist paradigm that confuses business failure with creative failure--the latter this is definitely not.) With the reckless generosity of a recovering musician (who says he's still working, but not in this style), Wicker invites you to "download [all the x-eleven tracks as] .mp3 files, load them into your iPods, burn them onto CDs, do with them as you will." While you're listening you can read his fact-crammed commentary, a veritable how-to of basement keyboard and drum techniques. See, for example, this blurb for the 1992 track "Through the Ether":
This track opens with a filter-sweeped OB-8 sixteenth-note figure and a basic four-on-the-floor beat. Shortly thereafter, the members of Yes are digitally tricked into playing a portion of their biggest hit backwards, then forwards, then backwards again by a crafty ASR10M. Not content to humble just one great prog-rock act, the ASR10M then corners Robert Fripp's guitar, lassoes it and forces it to play a strangely happy melody that would be right at home amongst the talking mushrooms in an episode of "H.R. Pufnstuf." A bouncy CZ10M mallet part (inspired by Absolut's "X Ray My Love") soon takes over lead duty as most of the rhythm track drops away, leaving only a TR909 bass drum whose dotted-sixteenth triplet pattern indicates that it's caught a case of the giggles. A jazz drum loop soon joins in the fun, followed a few bars later by the rest of the drums and a stereo-phased ESQ-1 white noise bit. A tight snare drum roll announces the return of Fripp's regal-sounding looped guitar, and a confused Matrix 6R, still playing the theme from "Past Passion," wanders in from the next room. The mallet part eventually returns, accompanied by ascending arpeggios from the Matrix 6R and some stereo delay trickery, and we're soon back in Sid & Marty Krofft territory. The six-note "Past Passion" theme makes another final appearance before the track draws to a close.
Other standout tracks on the site include "Burn it Up" and "Past Passion," but they're all worth a listen. It's the apotheosis of geeky keyboard tech--geeky but cool, at least in my biased opinion as a fan who until recently had only a few nuggets but just found the mother lode.Update, December 2014: The X-Eleven links above are dead but the group has a page on bandcamp.
Blogger Billmon (of the "Whiskey Bar" site) disappeared about a month ago and recently resurfaced on the op-ed page of the LA Times, griping that bloggers are being co-opted through advertising and gradually absorbed into the major media. It's definitely happened here; I'm constantly being offered plum sponsorship if I would just stick to one subject. (Kidding.) Billmon makes one good point: "The political blogosphere already has a bad habit of chasing the scandal du jour. This election season, that's meant a laser-like focus on such profound matters as the mysteries of Bush's National Guard service or whether John Kerry deserved his Vietnam War medals. Meanwhile, more unsettling (and important) stories — like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal or the great Iraq weapons-of-mass-destruction snipe hunt — quietly disappear down the media memory hole. And bloggers either can't, or won't, dig them back out again."
But he's just as guilty of focusing on A-list bloggers as he says the media is. Instead of using his moment in the sun to steer readers to less-appreciated venues, he kvetches about a handful of peers he perceives as "making it." Like we give a flip. James Poniewozik used to be a regular, hilarious read for me in Salon, but since he became Time's TV critic I haven't read a single word he's written. (I just never read Time.) The same will happen when Atrios or Kos cross over to the dark side. Or Billmon, if he becomes a "pundit" and doesn't restart his blog.
(thanks to drat fink for the LA Times link--registration probably required)
Via bloggy, Christie's, and Sir Reggie Dwight's collection comes this Harry Callahan image, titled Collage, Chicago, 1957, a small gelatin silver print. An uneducated guess is these are superimposed negatives of an array of photos spread out on Callahan's wall or floor (which may or may not actually have been glued together in real space). Interesting the way the photo picks up the rhythms of the Abstract Expressionist painting of the time--e.g. Mark Tobey, Bradley Walker Tomlin. Back then this was was just considered "art" but now we see it as all of a piece with 50s textile design and magazine illustration. What will the "art of today" be all of a piece with, I wonder?
In the comments to an earlier post, Aaron Yassin says: "Although I don't mind a few New Dumb Little Paintings here and there (some of them can be pretty cute) I'm not as sympathetic as you or Jerry Saltz are to the genre. I'm actually more mystified by the continued proliferation of the form and view it as one more sign that we are really in the midst of a mannerist period." He asks what I think is important about the genre.
First, don't give too much weight to Saltz's opinion since he has what art historiographer James Elkins calls a "positionless position" on art. The brief for bad painting, however, has remained fairly strong since it was first identified by Marcia Tucker and others in the late 70s. Here's the gist of an argument: Technological developments in "imaging" (first photography, now digital tools) are in the process of making painting as historic as hot lead typesetting, whether we like it or not, and there are only two ways it can go now. It can merge into technological practice and/or it can be the most idiosyncratic, unco-optable form of personal expression. "Mannerist" implies decadence but idiosyncratic personal expression is absolutely vital and essential in a world dominated by mass-(re)produced media. Jim Shaw's "Thrift Store Paintings" show at Metro Pictures was a landmark because it harnessed the power of many individuals' "one good painting" (good meaning punchy or hard-to-forget) and also presaged the role of the artist as curator of such phenomena, an increasingly common practice on the Web. I could go on but that's it in a nutshell. To me, "mannerism" is the postmodern AbEx painting at Von Lintel gallery in Chelsea.