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The 19th Century romantics used to talk about art "aspiring to the condition of music"; certainly this urge still existed by the time Kandinsky and his circle came along. By the 1970s, though, art had acquired a heavy additional burden that I suppose could be called "signification." The representational art of yesteryear (history painting, say) has been replaced by an underlying, not always obvious narrative about some social or political condition that bothers the artist. I've written about this before. The job of the writer or the curator then becomes decoding the artist's exact political meaning and passing this narrative on to others. The "Tempo" show, which opened a couple of weeks ago at MOMA's new Queens facility, is a good example. The galleries are filled with objects, more or less interesting, on the theme of "Time," and in the exhibition brochure, the curator gives a line or two to what each object means. In all likelihood, if the curator hadn't been able to come up with that soundbite, the piece wouldn't have been in the show.
How is it that music continues to escape this requirement of signification? If Simon Reynolds writes about a house track, he doesn't judge it a failure it if doesn't contain a sped-up sample of, say, George Bush uttering the words "axis of evil." If it did contain that sample, he might note it, but the track is going to stand or fall on the basis of other criteria. For certain he's not going to say, as many curators do about art pieces, that it's "merely formal" if it doesn't have the sample. These days, I'm more and more interested in work that critics would condemn as merely formal. At least I can be reasonably sure that it won't contain some puerile, easily decodable political sentiment.
Another example: a few years ago I took a pair of German dealers on a tour of some New York studios. All of the work was dumb, in-your-face, latter day Op art, but with some material or perceptual hook that made it not so dumb. The dealers looked at the floor most of the time and seemed really embarrassed. Later, on the subway, they showed me pictures of art they'd exhibited in their gallery. I remember one piece consisted of pharmaceutical boxes that had been stuck to cylindrical columns in the gallery with green stripes wrapping the columns at the exact level of the boxes. The piece had a nice postminimal vibe and wasn't far off the things I'd been showing them, but for them the pharm packaging was the absolutely necessary "axis of evil" sample. All it took was one "political" element to validate the work (though they never explained why those particular drug boxes were "political"). I couldn't resist saying: "I think these pieces would be great without the drug packaging," which got me surly looks.
Techno Diary, Installment 3.
Here's a list of music I picked up today at Throb, an excellent dance disc shop in Manhattan specializing in electro and tech-house tracks:
Drexciya Grava 4 2LP. Electro, begat by Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa and New Order and still thriving in the digital age, is dance music at its most defiantly synthetic (as Kodwo Eshun puts it, "there are no snares--just waveforms being altered. There are no bass drums---just attack velocities"), and Drexciya is the Detroit variety at its most beautiful and pure. The following may be the world's wordiest sample: "Use the star chart to fix the celestial navigation point and from there you should be able to plot a path back to earth using rudimentary astronomical guideposts." (From the track "Astronomical Guidepost.") Amazingly, the Drexciyans make this sound incredibly funky.
DJ Assault Jefferson Ave CD. Not as hard-sounding or vital as the singles in Belle Isle Tech. A kind of studio concept album, with skits, like a potty-mouthed 3 Ft High and Rising. The sexual imagination on display is strictly Vivid Video, and the misogyny wears thin, but there are nice melodies sprinkled throughout.
Herbert Bodily Functions CD. More lovely vocals from Dani Siciliano. I'm indifferent to Herbert's clicks and coughs and clattering dishes as percussion, but they don't ruin his music for me either. I like 1998's Around the House better as a whole, but both that and this one are worth owning.
Ultrasound, Hospital Records compilation CD. Jazz hooks intertwined with drum-and-bass beats in this 1997 collection of UK artists: predominantly tracks by London Electricity and The Peter Nice Trio (how could anyone dislike something called "The Peter Nice Trio"?). I go back and forth on this stuff: when it sounds like fuzak (or has flutes) I hate it, but when it's a nervous, staccato, techy retake of Canterbury-style riffs from the early '70s (Soft Machine, Hatfields, Caravan) (which is often), I'm on board.
Volumes C-D, G-H of Berlin 2001 Compilation Bpitch Control label (2LPs). Speaking of electro, here's some great Berlin variants. Favorite tracks so far: White Dolemite "Nice Acid (2001)," Toktok "Sekker," Barbara Morgenstern "Dr. Mr." (the latter with Michael Nyman-esque strings--most odd).
Marin-Go-Round. Derek Marin "Inhale/Wanna Get Wit" EP. Marin works at Throb and also djs. He's got the tech-house thang down cold. Not sure if Lap Dance Records (with graphic of dancer losing bikini bottom) is the right look/label/image for sounds this lofty. Platonik "Don't Look" EP. Marin again, on Intrinsic Design, a label whose previous releases include the "Galactic Schematix" EP by Entity (aka Lucas James Rodenbush aka EBE). This is total class. Here's what djonline.com, out of the UK, had to say about the disc: "This torrid tech houser comes from Derek Marin under the Platonik moniker. Here are three bonafide stompers that will fire up your dance floor in a hurry. "Don't Look", "Skeptic (Was It Good For You?)" and my personal favorite, "Friction" should be included in ANY dj's set. Deep, dark and tribal...doesn't come any better." Clock Punchers "In-Just" EP. Marin and dj/fellow Throbster Carter Reece remix tracks. I really like Reece's contribution. Very minimal; kind of simple and mysterious at the same time. it makes me think a bit of Trike's "Country 3000" but with a lot more pep.
[Addendum: Here's a review I found (cached) from the "starbass" website describing the Clockpunchers disc--I love this writing.]
carter reece and derek Marin (known for his work as platonik and modest d on the plastic city, intrinsic design, red menace, and a touch of class labels) drop their latest release supplying three cuts of potent tribal tech-house. the ep kicks off with a full-sided mix that works a driving progressive house edge as resonant percussion and bass-driven atmospherics intertwine to form a building, flexing groove echoed with hypnotic vocal snippets in a heavy 4/4 flow. the b-side kicks off on a morphing liquid tech-house tip rippling with dubby fx and tuned log-drum percussion, finishing with a slick minimal thumper building up a focused percussive format and layers of radiant loop manipulation.
Please note that future posts about electronic dance music will appear at my newly-created weblog technodiary.
I'm pleased to announce that I made the La Femme Nikita fan page! (Scroll down.) I drew that image freehand, on a computer at work, while looking at a poster I found lying on a Metro North luggage rack and dragged back to my cube. I wasn't trying for a likeness, just a "pretty face." The hair's kind of stringy--I think of her more as a hippie/flower child with larger-than-life Nordic features. Lots of people, especially women, can't stand that series of portraits. The fact that I showed them under the name "Polygamy" didn't help. In my own defense, I came up with that name after reading an interview with Camille Paglia. She and whoever she was talking to were defending polygamy on the grounds, basically, that it keeps men off the streets, and keeps older women in a family unit so they don't have to a join a First Wives' Club. Hey, they said it, not me! So I started thinking about the male predilection for serial affection, and our society's current obsession with child-models, and applied it to the portraits of women I was doing at the time. The art world is a fairly tolerant place, but I think I hit some taboos. You're supposed to put clear brackets around work that says "this is a critique," and I didn't. The fact that the images drew a reaction strikes me as significant, but they've created a lot of difficulty and misunderstanding in the short run.
A short refresher on how our system of government works. The country belongs to its citizens. The citizens elect representatives (Congress) to perform chores necessary to the common good. One of the powers given to Congress by our Constitution is the ability to declare war. The President can only implement, not usurp, this power.
So what is this we're reading today about plans for a full-scale invasion of Iraq, devised by the executive branch? Looks like Bush Jr. and his henchmen have it all mapped out: first they leak that the CIA has a license to kill Saddam, anytime, anywhere. The most likely point of entry for these trained killers would be with the inspection team going in to Iraq to look for nukes and germs. So of course Saddam refuses to allow the team into the country. Jr. says "Aha! He must be hiding weapons of mass destruction!" Polls show most Americans think this is bad--even though 10 years of sanctions and bombing have reduced the country to a fraction of its former power. Then Jr. goes before Congress and requests the necessary authorization and funds to start a war. Meanwhile, those of us who never once get called by a pollster and receive back only form letters from our elected representatives watch 200,000 citizens go off to die or be gassed. And why? (1) So Jr. won't be embarrassed anymore that his Dad didn't "finish the job" 11 years ago in Iraq and (2) so Jr.'s buds in the oil business will benefit from the extraction of Iraqi oil, once it becomes available from the new client government.
Are we really such big suckers? Or is it that we want the oil, too, so we can keep playing with all our toys? If it's the latter, maybe we shouldn't get our BVDs in a twist when a skyscraper or two gets toppled by the enemies such activities inevitably create. What's the loss of a few thousand people when millions continue to enjoy videos, nice cars, and gourmet meals? If this logic sounds repugnant, then perhaps the best thing to do is: start looking for other sources of energy (cultivating Russian and other non-Middle East/non-Caspian sources in the short term), and demand that Congress pull the plug on these ill-considered invasion plans. Oh yeah, and quit funding the military occupation of Palestine.
Lovely and Amazing, directed by Judith Holofcener (Walking and Talking) is highly recommended: it helps to clean the toxins out of your system if you've recently seen the awful Minority Report. Don't go see the film expecting a neat narrative arc, though: it just kind of ends. But the details and performances are wonderful. Think Ghost World without the male menopausal bile; Magnolia without the apocalyptic pretensions; Short Cuts without the length. Stroke of genius: casting the formerly dapper Michael Nouri (Jennifer Beals' sugar daddy in Flashdance) as Brenda Blethyn's liposuction doctor. The man has a gentle voice, competent bedside manner, and eyes of pure burning hate. Blethyn plays a wealthy woman with grown daughters who adopts a little black girl; the kid freely tells everyone her own mom is a "crack addict." The stolid, Buster Keaton face of this 8-year-old, passive-aggressive Holy Terror has to be seen to be believed. In one of the running story lines, Blethyn enrolls the kid in the Big Sister program so "she can have contact with black people"; the family is outraged, however, when the Big Sister straightens the girl's hair. Artists should get a kick out of the scenes where the oldest daughter, knickknack sculptor Catherine Keener, shops her wares around various arty retail outlets: the rejections she gets are priceless. ("Fine, get out of my store," says a snotty German in a fashionable eyewear, after Keener backtalks him.) In another awkward scene, the middle daughter, a neurotic, starting-out actress, stands nude in front of a Brad Pitt type she's just slept with and asks him to critique her body. He briefly wakes up from his narcissism to tread through this dangerous minefield, in a scene women should find amusing and men captivating. (She's the "lovely and amazing" of the title.)
On 6/30/02, Media Whores Online posted the following notice by yrs truly in The Record, which documents "egregious press whore misbehavior":
In a piece that read like it was geared towards viewers of VH1, his new employer, Salon writer Jake Tapper recently trashed Al Gore's appearance at Lot 61, an arts & entertainment oriented Manhattan bar. He quotes large-tongued Kiss singer Gene Simmons very admiringly on how great Bush is and how irrelevant Gore is. Tapper is obviously really proud to have gotten this quote: he refers to it again later in the article. He appears to be offering it as evidence that the young and the hip don't like Gore, but the only problem is Simmons is just another aging redneck at this point. The article is incredibly snide; it's obvious that soon-to-be-tanking Salon is starting the cycle of Gore-bashing all over again. Of course, Gore's cogent criticisms of the disastrous Bush regime got swallowed up in all the bile.
So now that Bush Junior is firmly in power the press is finally focusing on his shady financial past. Where was Paul Krugman when we needed him, prior to the election? Oh, yeah, enjoying his FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS in speaking fees from Enron.
Most of the Harken Energy story was reported in 2000, in the late S.H. Hatfield's excellent book Fortunate Son (which you may recall, was "discredited" by Rove & Co, thus getting Jr.'s cocaine use out of the papers). The Aloha Petroleum deal isn't mentioned in the book--only a series of questionable insider loans and what one Wall Street analyst called "unusual" stock swaps. Krugman's account creates the impression that the Aloha deal kept Harken afloat and was somehow connected to Bush's sudden stock sale. But that's not really accurate (it's even worse):
Harken was tanking in late 1989 and was miraculously "saved" by the granting of drilling rights in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, which I'm sure had nothing to do with Jr's Dad being President. While the stock price was high after that announcement, the State Department informed Bush Senior of Saddam Hussein's plans to annex Kuwaiti oilfields. Obviously war in the Middle East wasn't going to help an uncommenced, speculative drilling project. Using his precognitive powers, and not based on a tip from his Dad, of course, Bush Jr. unloaded his Harken stock in June 1990. Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and the Harken stock went south around the same time. In 1991 the SEC investigated Jr's late-reported, insider stock sale, and again, for reasons having nothing to do with Jr's Dad being President, said "no enforcement is contemplated at this time" without fully exonerating Jr. When Jr. says "it's been vetted" that's what he's talking about.
Krugman got all his information from a story that's been posted on the Center for Public Integrity website since April 2000. That piece doesn't mention the Bahrain/Gulf War angle, but Joe Conason's pre-election story in Harper's did. Regardless, the facts of Bush's shady corporate history were on the table before the election, and no one gave a shit. The Washington Post, which, like Krugman, is just now bringing the Harken story to light, admits that the CPI website "attracted little attention" before the election. Instead, the press talked about important stuff like Gore's too-heavy makeup and sighs during the debates.