Friday, February 24, 2012


The following has been rephrased, re-presented, and reiterated in a variety of ways, some more scholarly than others, but Frank still said it best: if you're involved with music in any way other than making it, you are the problem.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Objects Collecting Subjects

Over ye Impostume way, Carl poses a small, concrete question which very quickly balloons into a mammoth, existential one. At the outset, I thought we were basically talking about storage media and instead we may as well be asking ourselves, why listen to music? Or even more broadly, why art?

Those questions are impossible to answer, so Carl does us the service of scaling it down:
...what is the impulse to keep hold of all that non-essential stuff, stuff you are not invested enough in to listen to more than once, yet alone pay for?
Which is still a damned difficult question, if only because I've no idea by what standard we're measuring - how much stuff? Is it non-essential by my own standards, or society's? What about the stuff we have paid for? To understand my trouble in establishing a workable baseline, let's take a look at some of my closest friends and their respective music-consumption habits.
  • One is an amateur noise-maker with a steadfast belief in the shamanic power of music - yet, as a digital Maoist, he listens to music primarily via YouTube. He occasionally buys vinyl records, but he doesn't own a turntable. (The son of an investment banker, he treats records much as speculators treat real estate.)
  • Another is a collector par excellence, who's plowed unfathomable amounts of time & money into every passing storage medium - yes, even MiniDisc - on the off-chance that this format will become the historical default. Consequent to his unyielding compulsion for accumulation, he possesses both an embarrassing assortment of obsolete petroleum-derived media and an unimpeachable record collection.
  • My band's drummer spends his waking life behind either the kit or the wheel. In Japan, every car still comes stocked with yer standard CD player, thus he listens almost exclusively to CDs.
  • Our singer approximates what I imagine is today's average music consumer: functionally computer-literate, he knows a couple of file-sharing sites that he infrequently downloads illicit MP3s from, but he relies by-and-large upon the iTunes store. He came of age during the CD boom, purchased hundreds of the damned things, and is thus uncomfortable with either going digital - divesting himself of physical musical objects - or fully embracing the frail, impermanent, totemic atavism of vinyl.
Of the above, I most closely resemble the collector, but with two heavy caveats: that I could never match his mania, and that I discard or neglect a far greater swath of music. If I may call myself, like him, a collector, I certainly can't call myself an archivist. I don't accumulate for posterity: sure, I love Ghostface, but I'm not going to buy The Pretty Toney Album just to complete the discography.

I'm actually quite vicious in my musical discrimination, to the point that I'm one of those so-called "music nerds" who is somehow ignorant of even the most popular music on the planet. (Lady Gaga? Still haven't heard a full song start-to-finish.) By now, I know my own tastes well enough to know when something isn't even worth investigating; or if an artist, though unimpressive at first, could become a slow-blooming favourite. Of course, over the past forty years, artists have become ever more self-aware and adept at deploying their particular potpourri of signifiers to establish themselves as more brand than band. The sole benefit of music's infection by the marketing brain parasite is that, simply by paying attention, one becomes well-versed in the signs, symbols, satorial choices, tonsorial maneuvers, promotional stratagems, and subcultural propaganda necessary to decide if something may be worth a listen.

The upshot is that the more I know about music, the less I listen to (a paradox I've addressed before). By the time I download a given album, I've pretty well decided that I'll enjoy it - all that remains is the question of how much. This could point to a key difference between me and Carl: whereas he's fairly certain he "could happily live without 80 percent of what I have downloaded over the years," I'm not so sure I could, because everything on my hard drive arrived there as the result of research & deliberation. There's only so much copper in the ground, there's only so much storage on my computer, and I've only so much time to waste upon whimsy & poor consideration.

But even then, is all my digital music essential? Because I own almost all of it on vinyl too. Granted, the acrimony of the collector's market has kept certain albums off my shelf (I'll be damned if I can afford a copy of Rid of Me) but such exceptions are relatively few. Just about every album that's ever "meant" anything to me, I have in physical format - which helps assure that these albums will continue to mean something to me.

Though this carries the stink of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, of course I don't mean my copy of Man Overboard is merely worth the hours spent crate-digging before plucking it out of a bargain bin, plus the ¥500 I paid for it. Records imbue the music they contain with import precisely because of the format's Achilles' heel: its physical fragility. Taking proper care of vinyl can be boring and expensive; handling & playing them so as not to do damage is precarious and prudish. So if I go to the trouble of putting a record on, I damn well want to listen to it, and the act of listening itself becomes center of my attention. The palaver of playing a record also insures that it's unlikely I'll overplay any given album and prostitute whatever mystique it once held.

Music is literally nothing if we don't afford it our time and attention; the ritual around playing a record is a gesture of respect to the music - the sacrifice of our time and attention.

The difficulty is that collecting always takes place in the shadow of the Big Other. At worst, this leads to the establishment-of-self-via-consumption that Carl finds troubling:
...the weight of all that accumulated culture reassures us that we are ourselves substantial, a kind of prosthesis, we must be smart, we must be committed, we must be artistic, or intellectual because the sheer range and diversity of our hard drive, as a kind of concretization of our restless seeking and searching memorializes us to ourselves.
Now, as I explained above, I've no idea how far out of step I am with the general music listening populace, but as a collector I too consider how my collection presents itself - its depth, its diversity, its material condition. But I'm not counting on my collection to buttress my reputation or enhance my cachet: I'm counting on the fact that these records are the only possible means of sharing my own aesthetic epiphanies with another person. I'm well aware of how counterproductive a distraction analog fetishism can be, but at least the lingering spectre of a record's totemic power is far more commanding of attention than an MP3 e-mail attachment or YouTube link.

More importantly, we human are subjects only to ourselves and mere objects to everyone else - noisy, unpredictable, combatative, delightful objects, but objects nonetheless. Some of us are gifted enough to translate our feelings somewhat effectively to other people by some form of vibration: physical, aural, oral, or corporeal. But most of us aren't. Most of us are bloody useless at making ourselves understood. The best hope we have is to find meaning inscribed upon some other, nonhuman object that we can pass to another human, who luckily will read the inscription with the same surprise and passion that we did.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Déja-Vu Times Two, Part Deux

Could this little ditty, famously used as a daytime soap theme song...

...have been copied from this Italian thriller score?

It's possible: the first tune, "Cotton's Dream", was included in the score for Bless the Beasts and Children, released in August 1971... four months after the release of Una Farfalla Con Le Ali Insanguinate (a.k.a. The Bloodstained Butterfly). Of course, both of these songs inherited their harmonic spine from "(They Long to Be) Close to You". Originally released as a stiffly-performed single in 1963, Bacharach & David's famous ballad is most commonly remembered by the Carpenters' 1970 iteration, with the piano skipping daintily between the suspended-second & major-seventh chords - a motif extremely similar to that employed by the two tunes above.

But really, the sus2-maj7/min7 vamp is just an easy-listening trope in the same way every that "underground" hip-hop album starts with a B-movie or cartoon sample, you can't write a druggy rock song without the I-IV chord progression ("IV", get it?! So clever, those junkies!), and if it's got a Jew's harp it's a Morricone score.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Dead Hear No Eulogies

So Whitney Houston dies and suddenly everyone gives a shit about the foghorn-voiced cokehead who gifted us with the only vocal performance more oppressive than Celine Dion's Titanic theme. How sadly predictable; how pathetically mawkish. Why does everyone rush to recall their Edenic first impression of a once-formidable talent once that person has crashed, burned, and kicked the bucket? Is it the public's way of absolving their own guilt for having used the fallen celebrity as a feeble punchline for the final decade-plus of their life? Despite the fact that some of us had problems - both aesthetic and political - with the woman from the very start?

Please. I really like some of Michael Jackson's records and I still didn't give a shit when he died, for reasons I'll let Kat Williams elaborate upon. Oh, and dig the bonus swipe at the cadaver du jour.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Misplaced Indignation Again?

Am I obliged to comment on M.I.A.'s "finger malfunction" because my most popular post ever - by a factor of over four times its closest competitor - is my 2010 takedown of her pop-provocateur persona? Because, like, I've got shit to do besides rehash two-year-old quarrels of stage-managed mischief.

But fine, let's get into it, if only because it'll be easy. Turning first to the finger itself: really? Really! Have we backslid into such petty puritanism that flipping the bird is cause for a proper conniption fit, as opposed to the single most overused & hackneyed gesture of juvenile waggery that packs all the symbolic punch of overcooked rice noodles? She doesn't even do it well! Look at her hunched shoulders, look at how tightly drawn in her arms are: a meek & defensive posture, like a toddler who's committed to misbehave deliberately just to piss off the parents. Pathetic. This is how you give someone the finger:

Boom! Ain't no equivocatin' when you're telling someone to fuck off.

Now, with regard to M.I.A. as riotous pop shit-kicker, a lame, recycled flip of the middle finger is merely the latest in her continued reliance upon lame, recycled gestures. The chorus of her latest single is a monotone bleat of "Live fast, die young" and it doesn't get more threadbare & depleted than that hoary countercultural trope. Hopefully, M.I.A. has accepted (as most of us have) that she's utterly inept at articulating a political position so we needn't reexamine precisely why her identity-derived political aesthetic is bullshit. Of course, she still covets the currency of being branded a "political artist," but she can shoot every one of her music videos within safe distance of a "conflict region" from now on, and everyone will understand it's empty & opportunistic provocation, like Madonna fornicating with Black Jesus and burning crosses.

Which returns us to the stock defense of M.I.A.: the provocation itself was the point. As I explained before, I'd have no problem with such an excuse - heck, I might even become a fan - if M.I.A. was able to transgress the form or process of "being a pop star," but she isn't. (In fact, no one has been - not even Lady Gaga, I'd argue - since Kurt Cobain.) Because M.I.A.'s transgressions are limited to the realm of content, she is - at the risk of repeating myself - doomed to one of several failures:
  1. The provocation fails to provoke. Congrats, you're boring.
  2. The provocation succeeds, at the expense of banalising the provocative.
  3. The provocation succeeds to the point of returning the threat to the provocateur, who stands by the ever-present escape hatch of "not meaning it."
And if anything is symptomatic of art's sickly & moribund state in the post-modern era, it's an absence of meaning.

Through the Looking Glass

It's amazing how sexy & dynamic the clinical tedium of recording looks when rendered in gorgeous, smoky cyanotype.

It's also amazing how totally unaware I was that my band look like a bunch of fidgety, unshaven chain-smokers. Or that I look uncannily like Dez Cadena circa 1983.

Anyway, for those of you who happen to be in Japan this coming March & April, we'll be touring behind the split single featured above. Come check out one of the shows. You shan't be disappointed.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Propping Up a Papier-Maché Diety

Where oh where to start? We've got the reignition of unrest in Egypt; fresh massacres in Syria ahead of a potential UN Security Council resolution; Russia fucking with said resolution whilst insisting others stop fucking with Russia (an imperative with which not even Russians are content to comply)... so much going so terribly wrong (as though that's news), what shall we examine & precisely curse this day?

Rising tensions with Iran! The sabre-rattling grew to a cacophonous din this past Thursday when a Washington Post piece revealed concerns within the Pentagon that Israel "will strike Iran in April, May or June" - to which Israeli officials replied by complaining about how itchy their trigger finger is getting.

This comes mere weeks after the absurd geopolitical blind item, "Which U.S.-baked Middle-Eastern spy agency is murdering Iranian nuclear scientists?" Mossad has shrugged off these accusations with the deflection that, while it may or may not have blown up a scientist or two, Iranian agents are definitely attacking Israeli covert operatives in retaliation.

Of course, clever commentators will note that Iran's nuclear program is the MacGuffin within this tangled yarn: the real engine of all this amplifying hostility is oil. After all, America & Israel can abide other potentially hostile nations possessing nuclear technology (Pakistan, China, France) but neither America, Israel, the EU, nor any other Occidental nation can allow any one nation a stranglehold upon the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the global oil supply is exported.

And yet that's still just the skin of the issue, not the bone & meat. The biggest war drum being beaten is the survival & primacy of the Petrodollar. For over four years already, Iran's had the gall to establish its own oil bourse and sell crude in currencies other than the dollar. Japan, the world's No. 3 consumer of crude, signed up immediately (a decision which seems very prescient given the dizzy heights to which the Yen has recently risen). Less than a month ago, Russia (the world's fourth-greatest consumer of oil) and Iran announced that they'd ditched the dollar to conduct bilateral trade in their respective national currencies.

But the real game-changer came days later when Indian officials opened talks with Tehran to purchase Iranian oil with gold. Many observers think this move ostensibly gives permission for China - second only to America in oil-consumption - to follow suit. That would mean four of the six oil-hungriest countries on earth had abandoned the dollar as fiat currency. This could become the first domino to tip in the eventual collapse of the American economy. But the choice of gold as the new default currency is what has excited the fertile, frayed imaginations of conspiracy-spinners & online paranoids:
The sale of Iranian oil for gold is a mortal blow to any plans by the globalists to replace the fiat dollar with some other “new and improved” fiat currency. If India and China are allowed to start paying their debts with gold, the next “world reserve currency” could only be gold. No more fiat currencies. No more “spinning money (fiat currency) out of thin air”. No more big governments. No more central bankers.

...I doubt that the globalists will allow the gold-for-oil deal to go through. They won’t attack China or India, but the deal would be easily terminated if Iran were invaded, destroyed and stopped from selling its crude oil to anyone for anything.

...With or without pretext, the globalists will invade Iran as a matter of survival.
Of course, visions of a gold-paved future unshackled from the N.W.O. are as much cotton-candy fantasy as the dollar's worth. The only value that may be assigned to gold that cannot be assigned to any paper currency is physical scarcity, but gold's exchange-value is no less phantasmic.

What is real, what will not evaporate into smoke overnight, and what will put up a motherfucker of a fight is the American empire. Remember, this is a country whose citizens have been known to shoot gas station attendants rather than pay after pumping when prices peak above $4 per gallon. Now imagine what this country would do to avoid the pant-soiling mayhem that would result in hyperinflation & a flood of useless T-bill trash, were certain other nations to buy oil with alternative currencies.

For a succinct (if somewhat maddened) history of the Petrodollar & its geopolitical victims, please read Michael T. Winter's essay over at RT - my personal favourite site for anti-Neoliberal muckraking, though fuck if you'll find a word about any domestic Russian unrest.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Pope, Funny Hat, Bear, Woods, Etc.

Sweet merciful crap, a man whose net worth is between $190-250 million said he doesn't care about poor people? And people are shocked & appalled? My god, we should be applauding the man for his honesty! About fucking time someone came out and said it.
The law, the public authority: is it not established to protect weakness against injustice and oppression? It is thus an offense to all social principles to place it entirely in the hands of the rich.

But the rich, the powerful, have reasoned differently. Through a strange abuse of words, they have restricted the general idea of property to certain objects only; they have called only themselves property owners; they have claimed that only property owners were worthy of the name of citizen; they have named their own particular interest the general interest, and to ensure the success of that claim, they have seized all social power. And we! oh human weakness! we who aspire to bring them back to the principles of equality and justice, it is still on the basis of these absurd and cruel prejudices that we are seeking, without being aware of it, to raise our constitution!

...what is the source of that extreme inequality of fortunes that concentrates all the wealth in a small number of hands? Does it now lie in bad laws, bad governments, and finally all the faults of corrupt societies? ...I envy not at all the advantageous share you have received, since this inequality is a necessary or incurable evil: but at least, do not take from me the imprescriptable property of which no human law can strip me. Indeed, allow me to be proud sometimes of an honourable poverty, and do not seek to humiliate me with the vainglorious pretension that the quality of sovereign is reserved for you, while I am left with only that of subject.
Maximilien Robespierre, On the Silver Mark (1791)