Sunday, April 27, 2008

Smooth Sciences: An Introduction

Wong Kar-Wai, "2046"

One of this site's guiding principles is to avoid posting entire albums. The reasoning behind this is evident in its exceptions. An entire album may be posted without derision or scorn here only when it is out of print or otherwise difficult to obtain. Or, lastly, when it is really important to do so. Because music, the most incorporeal of the arts, not only sooths beasts, on humans it can as well compel and possess.

Inundated as we are with dystopic images of future days, it was striking to watch the future-segment of "2046" and encounter a tomorrow that seemed beautiful, naive, decadent, suffused with the neon streaks of an opiate light. Not a political warning or cultural satire, or PKD-style engagement with the schizo-dissociative powers of technology, just a completely oneiric escapist fashion-magazine spread, one that produces a radiant digital narcosis.

So here now are three works that can be said to intersect with such a dose of bright tomorrows:

Gas - Pop

"I believe in the signal of the bass drum. It it the heartbeat of my life." - Wolfgang Voigt, aka Gas, Mono.Kultur #08

The real name of ambient-techno artist Gas is Wolfgang Voigt. Voigt is the co-founder and co-owner of Kompakt records, and is a highly influential and prolific electronic musician.

There's much that can be said about the maternal heart-pulse of the techno bass drum, and as well for the warm, pulsating, embryonic womb that the well sound-system'ed club attempts to emulate (Fabric Room One, for example). This sound is compelling enough that it can keep me in its sonic amniotic suspension for minutes at a time, until the spell is broken and I am reminded that I'm in a weird dingy club in the immediate vicinity of NYU, surrounded by total randos.

A new luxurious Gas boxed set will soon be released, meaning that technically Pop still remains out of print, and well within an acceptable domain of full-album posts.

As for a description of this record, we would be hard-pressed to beat Voigt's own, from the same interview:

"I had an image in my mind of a gaseous and nebulous sound, of an exhilarating streaming music which literally flows over, which has no beginning or end no hard edges, only softness. My association was this music drifting through the coppice of a misty wood in vast sound spheres, a very elegaic sound repeated over and over in the far distance, held together by an invisible bass drum that comes marching by somewhere hidden in the woods coming closer and fading away again."

It's an amazing sunday sunset record, preferably one of those hazy interminable twilights, one of those blue-gray and feathery evening come downs.

In a sense, The Field is a kind of punk reduction of Gas's near-classical sense of dynamics and ornament - The Field takes up this loop-based ambient techno approach and fidelities it way down, brutes it up, takes it from the Germanic sylvan idyll and kicks it back into the city streets.

Manuel Gottsching "E2-E4"

So in the case of these records, geography is everything. Gas is the Germanic sylvan idyll, when you're out stamping in boots for boar among the brush.

e2-e4 is a beach record. Recorded in 1981 in Berlin on a two-track in one take by Gottsching, guitarist for supreme face-melters Ash Ra Tempel, it effectively helped invent techno music. It consists only of an unspooling of an infinite synth, and the soaring, tremulous clusters of an electric guitar windblown across the waters. Like Gas, it doesn't ever seem to be going anywhere, but unfurls blissfully in place. Again, the timelessness of the womb, the sublime "oceanic feeling" that Freud describes in Civilization and Its Discontents.

E2-e4 is often regarded as a founding track of Balearic, which is an extremely broad dance category, but generally associated with electronic beach beats. It covers everything from trippy yacht disco to the filth enjoyed by the worst baggy bepanted pill poppers the imagination can conjure.
The Guardian ran this article on the Balearic resurgence a few months ago. The descriptions of the DJing style parallel those describing Baldelli's sets at Cosmic, which marked the birth of 'cosmic disco': slow (11obpm or so), eclectic, an emphasis on experimentalism and texture.,,2253890,00.html#article_continue

Vangelis - "Memories of Green"

The original version of "Memories of Green", which would later appear in rerecorded form on the Blade Runner soundtrack, here taken from Vangelis' 1980 album, See You Later. The soundtrack's voluptous digital sheen is absent here, leaving behind the hairier, lower-fi predecessor.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

ADRIANO CELENTANO - "Prisencolinesunaciusol"

(post status: high priority)
(effect of following clip on your face: melting)

Adriano Celentano - "Prisencolinesunaciusol"

WE, reader, are only a blog. We cannot make you read us, we cannot make you add us to your RSS feed. We cannot make you check us out intermittently on your iPhone. WE cannot tap almost imperceptibly at your window every night for several hours, in order to send the disturbing signal to your unconscious mind that we know where you sleep.

WE can only do so much. But, reader, if you choose on your own to step within the bounds of the line-drawn sand that marks what we can do, then that is another story entirely.

WE cannot make you watch this clip, or enjoy it. This bothers us. It bothers us that you reader are still allowed to decide for yourself. Because, were it up to us, not only would you have no choice in the matter, a lack of enjoyment of this clip would as well be officially recognized as a symptom of a mild personality disorder.

Celentano, an Italian, sings, as do his back-up vocalists, in a language wholly of his own devising. In an interview, he said that making a song that reckoned with incommunicability was a result of 'modern life, where no one understands each other anymore'. You don't need to be a graduate student to pick up on a whole other kind of understanding and communication that's going on in this song, so invigorating is it that sea urchins and lichen are responsive to it - remember in Ghostbusters 2, when they play that song that makes the ooze dance in the toaster? Same thing. Oh and Prisencolinwhatever is supposed to mean "universal love".

Here's a post over at Cosmic Boogie about DJ edit master Greg Wilson's new version of the track:

And here's a mix by Baleric DJ Timm Sure posted over at Nearest Faraway Place, which features said edit by Greg Wilson:

Friday, April 25, 2008


NYT: "Three detectives were found not guilty Friday morning on all charges in the shooting death of Sean Bell, who died in a hail of 50 police bullets outside a club in Jamaica, Queens."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Portishead Live

Don't call it a comeback. Mostly because Bristol's brightest aren't really back, that is, the new record doesn't have much to do with the same place they left off. After ten years, Portishead reappears not to cash in on their mighty trip-hop legacy but to open up a new edgier trajectory out of its ruins. Picked this CurrentTV clip up from Sasha Frere-Jones' New York blog.

It's half an hour of Portishead doing all new material live, and it's even better than the album versions. Full band, two drummers, no mercy.
whatever you wanna call their new sound, it's a new understanding of the literal spirit of r&b - rhythm and blues, ill kraut-tempered beats together with desolate torch songs. For a band that doesn't like to perform and comes together every decade to record, they could easily, if they wanted, be a pop powerhouse like that other something-head band.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Endless Grift: Got Live If You Want It

Parkside Lounge, 317 E. Houston
Entrance Fee: No Dollars



Sunday, April 20, 2008


Nigeria 70

Two recently release compilations have drawn attention again to Nigeria's vibrant musical tradition. These are: Nigeria Special 1970-1976, and Nigeria Disco Funk Special. These compilations are good, I am willing to state, and I will heartly rebuke anyone to the contrary.

I must say however that the compilation featured here, Nigeria 70, is markedly superior to both of those previously mentioned. If you have access to these other comps, I entreat you to see for yourself. If you do not, I entreat you to believe me.

Now unfortunately for you, lost to the abysses of time is the third disc of this boxed set, which is devoted entirely to interviews with relevant musicians and general informativeness. You will have to make due with two discs of passionate, soul-tingling 70s afro-funk wildness.

Quiet Village - Silent Movie

The reader will be forgiven if it is thought that to say something is 'smoothly bearded' would mean getting lost in a contradiction in terms. However, if this something were in fact the new album Silent Movie by Quiet Village, then such an odd, yet intriguing adjective phrase might in fact gain new linguistic currency. The album is in fact bearded, in that it is drifty and psychedelic, yet it is smooth, in that makes one want to ride around in a sail boat and wear a hat.

Here is a montage video from the aforementioned album, consisting of what appears to largely be clips of 'Planet Earth' type nature documentaries. Visuals don't kick in until around 1:30. Enjoy.

Quiet Village - 'Silent Movie'

Quiet Village - "Can't be Beat"

Quiet Village on Myspace

Complicated Drumming Technique

Commercial for DVD of unparalleled drum training from legendary percussionist Jens Hannemann. Educational DVD presented by Fred Armisen and available from Drag City

Customer review from "Like Sudoku, Hannemann's technique is easy to learn but hard to master. And like Sudoku, I predict that this DVD will sweep the world by storm. A Gale Force storm. A storm that leaves many victims in its path, but empowers the rest of the community to join together to rebuild in its wake. Then Hannemann can step in and release a charity CD to raise funds, but more importantly ... awareness."

Friday, April 18, 2008


Looks like someone has upped the ante on Artist/Dog Killer, Guillermo Vargas Habacuc:
El Perrito Vive

We can all agree starving a dog in the name of art is totes a cute idea, BUT... Gregor Schneider

Schneider totally scooped'em!
Mo' Murder! Mo' Murder!

..right guys??

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Track List:
1. Fuck Buttons - Bright Tomorrow
2.Ricardo Villalobos - Lazer at Present
3. Paul Kalkbrenner - Keule
4. Fleetwood Mac - Rhiannon
5. Jesse Rose - Evening Standard
6. Fuzz Against Junk - Born Under Punches (DJ Harvey's Punch Drunk Mix)
7. Adam Freeland - Silverlake Pills (Gui Boratto Mix)
8. Jona - Exoplanet Dub
9. Discodeine - Ring Mutilation
10 .Junior Boys - No Kinda Man (Jona Remix)
11. Animal Collective - Peacebone (Pantha du Prince Remix)
12. Roberti di Simone - Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie

-In 1968, Japanese architect Arata Isozaki presented an artwork for the Milan Triennale which consisted of images of ruined futuristic cities being projected on a screen printed with an image of Hiroshima flattened by the atomic bomb. The name of this artwork was 'Electric Labyrinth'.

-In 1971, George Lucas directed THX 1138, a science-fiction film about a colorless, dystopic world in which the populace is controlled by android police officers and forced to take a litany of medicinal drugs to regulate every facet of their lives. The name of the original student film on which this feature was based was 'Electric Labyrinth'.

London's Watching

From the Daily Mail:

"Banksy pulled off an audacious stunt to produce what is believed to be his biggest work yet in central London.

The secretive graffiti artist managed to erect three storeys of scaffolding behind a security fence despite being watched by a CCTV camera.

Then, during darkness and hidden behind a sheet of polythene, he painted this comment on 'Big Brother' society."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bowie Biters in the Aftermath

Peter Gabriel - I Don't Remember

Nick Lowe - I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass

Billy Idol - Hot in the City

William Judd - Shibuya Overdrive

RECENTLY OVER PIZZA a friend expressed the latent fear that she had been born too late. While attending an academic conference featuring several luminaries of 70s radical feminism, my friend felt a melancholic twinge - nowhere could there be found today the same kind of pervasive revolutionary energy, the kind that sweeps the mob together into the movement, the kind that serves as a north star under whose ceaseless light all things gain new contour. She was speaking, it seemed to me, of the problem of the aftermath. Of the fact that after the revolutionary event, life stubbornly insists on inching forward, on outgrowing whatever smooth new cloak we thought we could wrap it in.

It seems as well that one needs more heroic strength in the aftermath than during the time of the event. Anyone can follow the mob up the stairs of the Bastille. Or shoot out those clock towers. Anyone can choose sides. But to keep a lonely vigil once the ecstasies and tumult have quieted, to keep looking for a way forward when there are no more bearded kings to come down from the mountain, their mouths full of prophecy.

This is a big problem for successful artists, what to do after you've hit your peak. The documentary called 'Comedian' is a striking example of this: it follows Seinfeld in the wake of the glory surrounding his massively successful television show, as he trudges onward and returns to the standup circuit, figuring out what to do next.
German note: the name 'Seinfeld', Sein-feld, might be read as 'field of being'. Such is the existential problem of the aftermath - its protagonists wander free in a field of being, lacking orientation.

This artistic aftermath is a big problem for rappers, whose street-tough personas start to appear somewhat ill-fitting once they become 'rappers of a certain age', no longer with chips on their shoulders (they've been brushed off). The aftermath is such a problem for rappers, Dr. Dre went and named his record label after it.

RZA's latest track, 'Can't Stop Me Now', seems to reflect this miasma. Why does RZA need to tell us now, twenty years after 36 Chambers, that we can't stop him? Where does he get the idea that we would want to, or think we could?

RZA - Can't Stop Me Now

In honor of the aftermath we present four songs that gain their strength from the aftermath of David Bowie. The four songs here are particularly indebted to the works of Bowie's Berlin trilogy. "I Don't Remember", from Gabriel's eponymous debut solo record, captures the spare, icey funk and paranoid lyrics, "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass" serves a condensation of the whole first half of the album 'Low', (noting that one of the songs on this Bowie record is called 'Breaking Glass', and that Nick Low-e's restrained white-boy rhythms distinctly evoke "Sound and Vision"), Billy Idol channels the swaggering posture and flamboyant urban romance, and William Judd jacks in to the ambient eno-produced instrumentals that take up the second halves of 'Low' and 'Heroes'.

Bowie, it should be said, is a bit like Goethe - every new genre he decided to try his hand at, he reinvented. When there's an event, like the Bowie event or the Goethe event, it tends to have traumatic effects for those who come after. Sometimes, those who come after are jilted lovers whose paramours have always-already been gone, who mourn for days they never knew. Other times, they are carefully keeping the way open, preparing for tomorrow, continuing to do the steady, loving labor of the apostle, spreading and pronouncing the word, again and again.


Magma - Udu Wudu

It would not be any kind of exaggeration to say that a decent line of critical inquiry can always be opened up by asking a stupid question, a question any fifth grader would know. Critical thinking is, to invoke Jeff Foxworthy's popular show, not smarter than a fifth grader.
For example, it doesn't know the difference between an old thing and a new thing. So it asks again, and when it asks, it's possible for it to find there another understanding than the one commonly shared.
There's at least one another way that historical time, marked by a difference between old and new, can be understood. In a way, we can say that historical time is born in a moment that is not just one moment. This kind is actually several moments at once, it's actually past, present and future, occurring alongside each other in a densely compacted burst. In the history of music, it's an old song that sounds new and fresh now, and in a such a way that it seems to open up new artistic possibilities - that it seems to point towards a particular new space for exploration.

For example, I will say that 'Udu Wudu' by Magma is a great new old song.

Magma definitely counts as a band so weird that there's a good chance a lot of its work hasn't really arrived yet, as they say, a lot of it remains like a destinal arrow that has been arc'ed for a long one into the future. Masterminded by drummer Christian Vander, Magma's music centers around a complex sci-fi narrative about colonizing another planet, and is sung in an alien argot of Vander's devising.

One work by Magma whose arrow has yet to land is clearly present in this clip, from TV 1978. Not joking, you should probably not watch this whole thing. It's just too bugged. Watch like, two minutes of it. You will get the idea and will avoid the chance of getting sucked into a furious French prog vortex. Such is the nature of the future - you shouldn't look headlong into it any longer than you should stare at the sun, no matter that lingering urge you have, deriving from that nerve twitch you have in the back of your skull, where neck meets spine, which would love nothing more than to one day look right at the solar orb until your pupils melt.

Magma "Hhai"

As a clip, it's bugged-out enough that the kind of disorienting or confusing effect it has induces a reflection on those categories that one unconsciously deploys all the time in order to make sense of some strange new thing. One starts to reflect because these categories have stopped working. Because reflection is spawned in the breakdown.

Reflection hides when things run smoothly. That's not reflection's job, to dissect a working organism, anymore than an autopsy is designed to take someone apart in order to figure out why they're still alive. Reflection is the guy on the outside, the outcast, the wallflower, the doctor, the analyst, the researcher, the jilted lover.

Now a song by Magma whose time is now, in the sense that W. Benjamin would say now, whose time has come to heard for the first time, is Udu Wudu, the title track from their 1976 album. Ricardo Villalobos' track Enfants is the first insight into what I want to call Saturnalia, in other words, outer-space tropicalia, and it's accomplished by sampling Magma. Not only is it a totally weird French 70s prog group, the record in particular is a 25th anniversary concert for the band where all the songs are sung by children. The track is infectiously, naively joyous, but also in a curiously rhythmic and so-lightly otherworldly way.

Enfants was recorded the day before R. Villalobos' son was born. So a track for a newborn son with kids singing marks at the same time a being-born anew of the original composition. So Udu Wudu follows very much in the wake of what RV calls attention to by singling out this track. When a DJ revisits the catalog of an older artist in such a way, the effect is often that of saying "look, go back through the discography, now only listen to the tracks that sound like this one". He awakens a curatorial urge in the sleepless nerds that hold infinite vigil in the digital commons.
The strongest effect of singing in an alien tongue is that it keeps the listener permanently at bay, permanently on some level always hearing an inner echo of 'what the hell am I listening to?', but such an echo that's been filtered in such a way that it doesn't interfere with the frequencies of pleasure and jouissance.

AC Radio April Edition: Notes on Saturnalia
1. Ricardo Villalobos "Enfants"
2. Magma "Udu Wudu"
3. Roberto di Simone "Secondo Coro Delle Lavandale"
4. Lula Cortes e Ze Ramalho "Trilha de Sume"
5. Brian Eno and David Byrne - "New Feet"
6. Babla - "Kabhi Hota Nahin"
7. Mogallar - "Katip Arzvhalim Yaz Yare Boyle"

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

And Then...

(If the album is half as good as it's cover, here is your rap record of the year.)

Windless Meridian and Sci-Fi Shopping

Wednesday, you windless meridian of life. The working week's doldromian ass-crack. The furthest point away from any weekend past or future, you are the nadir of fun in the cycle of time. We are not powerless against you though, we can use the powers of blog-posting to wreak our spiteful revenge.

We will do this by posting Super Roots 9 by the Boredoms. In which the Boredoms' ecstatic polyrhythmic assault is joined by the wordless vocals of a large choir, a choir so eminently talented and precise it really sounds like a mellotron, or other amusingly old piece of sampling technology. An afro-Scriabin vibe predominates.

It has been brought to our attention that we are perhaps a few weeks or so behind in posting this, that any good boredomian has most likely procured it by now.

The intention of AC is not to be the first place to go for music. Or the best place. The intention of AC is to be a strange place to go for music.

One key editorial policy here is the well-known maxim from Hegel: The owl of Minerva flies at dusk. This owl, whose trajectory mirrors that of Understanding, has to wait until all the wildness is over, until shadowy calmness has begun to spread, before it can take flight.

So while you may already have Super Roots 9 by the Boredoms, there is a strong chance that you were not aware that it was recorded in a shopping mall. In Harajuku. And that this shopping mall is called LaForet, and that it is a very advanced shopping mall. This should be evident by the fact that: the Boredoms recorded Super Roots 9 there. In Japan, this is not even a big deal. If Sonic Youth went and recorded at one of the overweeded, abandoned shopping facilities that now litter midwest America in a very Dawn of the Dead fashion, it would be conceptual art.

LaForet, Harajuku, Tokyo

LaForet has several gallery/museum spaces built into it. For example, when I was there, Brian Eno was showing his newest work, "77 Million Paintings".

77 Million Paintings

LaForet often gets art director Nagi Noda to do campaigns for them. Noda's work is so surreally imaginative, one forgets that the Japanese don't even do drugs really. Can you imagine if they did? I don't want to think about it.

Not sure if it is clear from the image, but the idea is to have a model in a funny outfit and then have another model dressed as the cute, haunting shadow of the first.

Here's a Coca-Cola video she directed. It's not CGI. That's to say, it is a huge room full of actors standing perfectly still in imitation of a kind of Eadweard Muybridge early-photography stop-motion effect.

Muybridge's "The Horse in Motion"

And here is a video she did where poodles exercise. It follows the artistic logic of coming up with a bizarre premise, and then simply letting that premise run on a little too long. This is a highly effective strategy, as it makes the viewer begin to question whether it's not actually a real thing, a thing in the world, which goes on with not much point to it, as things in the world often do, as opposed to an elaborate art joke, which makes its point and then exits the stage.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Insurgent Holiday

Hoelderlin, Bowie, Benjamin and the Blackout

"Getting some skin exposure to the blackout (get some protection)
Get me on my feet (get some direction)
Oh get me on my feet
Get me off the streets (get some protection)"

There is a list of blog subjects, an unacknowledged but not indiscernible list, which, were the patience of our readers not a factor, we would happily and endlessly indulge in every week, in much the same way that a fat kid loves cake. Regarding the list ranking, Bowie's Berlin period, indexed by the trilogy Low, Heroes and Lodger, we confess, handily maintains its pole position. We do not enjoy these records. We live among them, among all the little sounds, like fish among the coral.

The most narcotized out-there track in Bowie's discography is the title track from Station to Station. It's the album prior to the Berlin era, and the song is a zenith-point for a bombastic, drug-addled, near-schizoid art-star ego. It's a distillation of the L.A. world that Bowie left for the melancholy experimentalism of Berlin.

From interviews and criticism it's possible to read 'Blackout' as both about power-cuts and about personal blackouts, the one-man shutdown, from drugs, exhaustion, madness, excess. The lyrics index someone exposed during a battle, caught in a cross-fire, in need of shelter, of defense. This exposure on a shared, communal level is what interests me about the political dimensions of electrical blackouts.

In her essay on Martin Heidegger’s reading of Friedrich Hölderlin’s late hymn Andenken, Avital Ronell writes

“Holiday not only means the negativity carved out by the interruption of work, it also implies a pause, a rup­ture with work, which allows one to pause for thought, to ask, to look around, to await something else: it indicates the wakeful pre­sentiment of wonder—the wonder, namely, that there is a world around us that worlds, a world that is being and not nothing; that things are, and we are in their midst; that we are, yet we hardly know who we are, and we hardly know that we hardly know…. “

A consideration of the holiday in Hölderlin is part of a larger project of mine concerning the rhetorics of event in political theology. Why theology? And how can theology be political, especially today, when we might feel that we’re so over it, when we’ve been told so many times about religion, about its evils and its illusions Political theology confronts the impossibility of an immanent foundation of political life. It confronts the fact that in order to keep ourselves together, to preserve a political intensity among us, it is necessary to look outside, to turn to the forces we feel will anchor or ground us.

The way that, in the last century, political theology avoided being an outdated or perversely anachronistic prospect was by having to consider an event as a political ground. That something happens, something greatly strange and unpredictable, around which political life must organize itself.

A black-out is an event that hovers on the edge of politics. Historical accounts of black-outs illustrate how it simultaneously incites and disarms the impulse to radical political action. It remains instead a space that opens onto the political without being able to enter into it.

When the lights go out across town, the blacked-out city becomes host to a multitude of redemption tropes. Most recently, the New York black-out of 2003 was threaded into the contemporary apocalyptic Christian discourse of the popular fiction series ‘Left Behind’: the black-out passed for the rapture, and some of the believers who witnessed it were convinced they were not among the holy elect: “The saddest part of this story is that millions of supposed Christians’ lives have nearly come to a halt, as they lament being ‘left behind.” “I haven’t left my house for weeks,” said Kathy Brighton. “What’s the point now? Eternal damnation isn’t much of a motivator.”

Another trope of the black-out is the romantic communion with nature, derived from Rousseau, which emphasizes what it sees as the spontaneous return of communal bonds, neighborly compassion, and rediscovery of those experiences veiled by the roar and frenzy of a spectacular metropolis. It was evident in accounts pertaining to the 1965 New York black-out:

"That first night, I joined one of the many impromptu parties that sprang up on the front lawn of a low-rise apartment building. A young woman brought out a guitar and played some ballads. We laughed and talked, then someone mentioned that without the harsh glare of the streetlights, we might be able to see thousands of stars in the sky, a sight that is rarely seen in most metropolitan areas because of the relentless spotlights, streetlights, and automobile headlights, as well as security lights around parking lots and businesses. One man out on his roller skates said that people were free to live their lives, instead of watching other people live theirs on television."

Finally, of the three black-outs to hit New York in the past hundred years, (1965, 1977, 2003) looting was most prevalent in ’77, when 3,500 people were arrested during a rampage which saw hundreds of fires lit and thousands of stores ransacked. This particular black-out best demonstrates the quality of the event as a spontaneous or insurgent holiday out-of-joint – during the power failure, “Christmas in July” effectively happened twice. The first was in the ghetto: “When the black-out hit in ’77 the cry echoed through the ghettos: ‘It’s Christmastime, it’s Christmastime!’” Commodity lust during a power failure can reach a fever pitch, a consumer death drive, in which the acquisition of unguarded objects becomes gleeful, senseless, done for its own sake – reports from the time note that hundreds of prayer shawls, bibles and other useless accoutrements were looted as well.

"'Prices have gone too high. Now we’re going to have no prices. When we get done there ain’t gonna be no more Broadway.” Said a man in his thirties grasping a wine bottle in one hand and a TV set in another: “You take your chance when you get a chance.” Added Gino, 19, a father of two: 'We’re poor, and this is our way of getting rich.'"

The second instance of Christmas in July occurred when Shea Stadium went dark at approximately 9:30 p.m., in the bottom of the sixth inning. To pacify the crowd, the organist played Jingle Bells and White Christmas.

‘Christmas in July’ is a very fitting formulation for what I want to call an insurgent holiday – the arrival, out of joint, of a holiday-like suspension of time which has a marked political-theological intensity. My central question in reading the black-out together with Hölderlin and Benjamin is the problem of putting the holiday to work, of recuperating or otherwise making-use of such a caesura. This is as well the central problem for the poem by Hölderlin that inaugurates the modern engagement with the holiday, Wie Wenn am Feiertage, (As on a Holiday), the first of his late hymns.

The language of ‘Feiertage’ is powered by electrical rhetoric: the poet is a kind of political-theological electrician, overseeing in a Promethean register the transference of sacred light, the Blitz, to the people. He’s got to be a current converter, though, wrapping the blitz in song, so that it can become a binding political force. In the midst of this celebration, the poem shudders as the plug is pulled on its capacity to testify: a blank space punctuated by ‘Weh mir!’

Right as the lights are about to go on and mankind is to be newly infused with divine knowledge, there’s a black-out, in which the cause for the shutdown has itself been blacked-out, redacted, effaced. In his exemplary reading of the poem, Peter Szondi argues that what is missing in the gaps of the incomplete eighth stanza can be found expressed in the original prose draft, in which Hoelderlin writes that all is lost when he approaches the divine not as a pure vessel but still bleeding from an inner ‘selbstgeschlagner Wunde’ [self-struck wound]. Ultimately, Szondi’s hermeneutics operate in a manner parallel to the tropings of the black-out: it aims to fill in, cover over, or write off the caesura.

A critique of the drive to fill-in the black-out, and to set the holiday at work, is at the heart of Walter Benjamin’s Theses on History. Despite the repeated engagements with technology, caesura and political theology, Benjamin never directly regards an electrical black-out as an object. This is undoubtedly partly due to historical circumstance, but also, I want to argue, because the stakes of the black-out lie to some extent at the limit-point of his thought. While the black-out would serve as a remarkably fitting allegory for the kind of interruptions in power and history that Benjamin has theorized, the actual experience of a widespread power failure opens onto an experience which cannot be wholly subsumed within Benjamin’s thought as much as this thought seems so strikingly to point towards it.

There is in Benjamin’s work a subterranean convergence between his earlier descriptions of a communal technological ecstasis and his final writings on the explosive discontinuity of history, although he never fully accounts for the possible role of modern technology in a radical politics of history.

In the concluding section to One-Way Street, Benjamin writes:

“man can be in ecstatic contact with the cosmos only communally. It is the dangerous error of modern men to regard this experience as unimportant and unavoidable, and to consign it to the individual as the poetic rapture of starry nights. It is not; its hour strikes again and again, and then neither nations nor generations can escape it, as was made terribly clear by the last war, which was an attempt at a new and unprecedented commingling with the cosmic powers.”

By the time of the theses, the engagement with communal ecstatic experience will have shifted towards a rhetorics of cessation, standstill, and temporal interruption. At the same time, the explicit technological themes will have mutated: in the theses, technology is figured as domination of nature and is coupled with a belief in historical progress. Furthermore, in contrast to Hoelderlin, who on the holiday seeks to receive the divine Blitz, in Benjamin, the electrical energy that appears in holiday-time is reduced to sparks and flashes that are in danger of disappearing as soon as they appear.

To fully circuit between technological emergency and historical rupture would necessitate a new thinking of being-together, and I offer the example of the electrical black-out as the index of such a circuit. The black-out’s technological dimension interferes with the formation of a ‘we’ indispensable for progressive political action, because the community that appears fleetingly under its sign shares nothing other than a mutual alienation from the world of projects, work and intentionality. Benjamin’s thought does not explicitly recognize an opening for this kind of communal experience: for him, the central problem is the communal alienation from history and tradition. This essentially political experience is depicted in the Theses on History as a kind of holiday which takes place unpredictably, if I can say, insurgently.

“The great revolution introduced a new calendar. The initial day of a calendar serves as a historical time-lapse camera. And basically, it is the same day that keeps recurring in the guises of holidays, which are days of remembrance [Eingedenken].”

For Benjamin, only the apocryphal event of the shooting-out of tower clocks during the July revolution in Paris has participated in this historical Eingedenken.

Rebecca Comay writes that “Eingedenken inaugurates repetition as the return of that which strictly speaking never happened: it announces the redemption of a failed revolutionary opportunity at the moment of most pressing danger.” This cessation of happening is a radical recapture of the past which at the same time marks how the past does not belong to us, how we are abandoned by it. In this way it is a work of mourning which pronounces its debt to the past by attempting to fulfill the potential of past failed revolutions.

The three interpretations of the black-out can be characterized as seeking the payment of a debt, a recuperative return of something missing, or the redemption of an alienated life. Each witness understands the black-out as a coming to what is due to them – as humans, as oppressed, as children of God. In Benjamin’s approach, there is a debt to be paid, but it is we who pay the debt to the past, in a moment which does not memorialize the past or render it legible as tradition, but attempts to contend with the potential of past failed revolutions.

Now the question of the agency of this encounter and thus of political action is a difficult one in Benjamin, considering his repeated deconstruction of positing as such. The ‘real emergency’ that he speaks of would constitute not the emergence of a new political force, but rather something like an interruption of emergence as such. Additionally, and crucial for the juxtaposition of the now-time of the theses with the electrical blackout, he as well does not enunciate how this radical encounter with the past in its non-actualized possibilities directly affects the constitution, the being-together, of those addressees produced by the past’s insistent claim. It’s possible that within the theses’ own logic, there can be no us, that the us is cancelled out or held in abeyance. This holding of community in abeyance would be exemplified by the black-out, which contrary to the accounts we have heard, exposes only the sharing of our nothing-in-common…

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Joys of Strange Proximity

or, Excursions in the Acid-Rainforest

Lula Cortes and Ze Ramalho - "Trilha de Sum"

Most of the rhetoric surrounding the reissue of Paebiru centers around the trope of the 'lost classic', of which this album is a shining example. The attendant myth involves almost all the original copies being lost in a warehouse fire. A lot of the pleasure of being an obscure music obsessive involves the joy of strange proximity: bringing what has been far, what has been distant and forgotten, once again into the light, to pull something from oblivion and hold it to one's ears. Then one hears not only the sound of the record, but as well the colorless ruins of the past, something almost like the crackle of old vinyl. An album that sounds something like a tropacalian mutation of Amon Duul, aka some deep acid-rainforest shit, and also it was supposed to be destroyed in a warehouse fire, is a stellar candidate for such an obsessive pleasure.

In this way, the context risks overshadowing the content. From Stylus Magazine's review: "With all the murk surrounding the album, it’s easy to overlook the frankly silly nature of what we’re dealing with. Say the following out loud: Paêbirú is an obscure Brazilian psych concept album about the four elements (earth, air, fire, water)... age and scarcity lend this record a legitimacy—and audience—it might otherwise be unable to muster."

Not to say the record doesn't have its transcendental bursts. The opening track, presented here, is evidence enough to the contrary.

The sounds of this 60-70s style of loose, improvised psychedelic music, with its genre-bleeding and unbounded vibe, are often a sonic shorthand for a historical contemporaneous understanding of freedom. It's one bound up with the 'passion for the real' mentioned in the previous post, as Alain Badiou has characterized it. Badiou has said that from a philosophical point of view, the twentieth-century is marked by a 'passion for the real'. That underlying the diverse artistic, intellectual and political movements of the last hundred years is a fundamental reckoning with a drive towards the 'real', in the sense of the visceral, the immediate, the raw, all what supposedly lies beyond the mediated, illusory, ideological facades that distract us in modern life.

It's not hard to connect how bugged-out rainforest jams might participate in this passion, which in the lives of educated urban white persons can often manifest itself as a fascination for raw-dog style, for the sounds and images associated with the concrete, the immediate, the intuitive, the pre-critical, the ecstatic. Psych record collecting = passion for the real.

It should be noted that in The Century, Badiou formulates an alternate passion for the real, but one that doesn't look for the real among any kind of 'thing', any kind of 'identity' - not even a rare record. This passion is associated by Badiou with Malevich's White on White - which is about uncovering the real as the gap between place and taking-place.

In other words, to continue the short circuit between Badiou's philosophy and music, the central claim about The Century is about the passage from psych jams to minimal beats.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Brutal Cuts and Digital Dust

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Boubacar Traore - 'Mariama'

Operating Theatre - 'Ah Love Ah Love'

I moved. Again. By my own count, that makes ten times in two years. Ever since I gave up that peaceful, sunny apartment where I lived with Ben the art critic and militant commie, a place where we organized a Lacan reading group, obsessed about 'Rasputin' by Boney M and 'Dragostea din tei' by O-Zone.

One of the great benefits of casting your entire material life into transition is the chance to explore the way things reveal themselves anew amidst the dusty upheaval of packing crates, masking tape and duffel bags. The volume of Walter Benjamin's essays Illuminations opens with his reflections on this phenomenon, entitled 'Unpacking My Library', where he writes that all obsessions are about chaos, but that the obsessions of a collector are full of the chaos of memories.

Walter in the library

You may find this helpful to remember when you stand surrounded by those oversized Kmart tupperware storage containers overflowing with heaps of those curious objects of all forms that will not allow themselves to be abandoned by you no matter how little they seem to have any immediate importance in your life whatsoever. "Ah..a chaos of memories..."

Making my way through the heap, old things become new again. A favorite worn shirt has surfaced, an old pair of shoes seems back in style, a book suddenly has something new to say. I have a particular problem with my old books in that they often seem to be in a state of indignant confrontation when I meet them, as if I'm returning after leaving a highly intimate conversation in mid-sentence.

Throwing things away is the best. Then one gets to feel like Andre Breton or Stalin, excommunicating and purging all that is interfering with the revolution. This kind of brutal cut, Alain Badiou writes, is paradigmatic for twentieth-century revolutionary movements:

"the real, conceived in its contingent absoluteness, is never real enough not to be suspected of semblance. The passion for the real is also, of necessity, suspicion. Nothing can attest that the real is the real, nothing but the system of fictions wherein it plays the role of the real. All the subjective categories of revolutionary, or absolute, politics - 'conviction', 'loyalty', 'virtue', 'class position', 'obeying the Party', 'revolutionary zeal' and so on - are tainted by the suspicion that the supposedly real point of the category is actually nothing but semblance. Therefore, the correlation between a category and its referent must always be publicly purged, purified.." (The Century, p.52-53)

Alain chillaxing

In other words, the 'passion for the real', which Badiou names as the driving revolutionary force of the last century, despite its drives, can never ultimately tell the real thing from the fake thing. It's the same obsessive, divisive force at play in more quotidian cultural engagements when trying to figure out who's punk, who's underground, who's a hipster, who's a faker. The only remaining strategy then seems to be keep cutting, keep amputating, keep sloughing off: because, and this is where a life of grift overlaps directly with critical philosophy, freedom in this game can only manifest itself negatively, by getting rid of something. That's its ultimate limit.

In honor of the upheaval of unpacking one's library, I offer the reader two tracks that recently emerged from the digital dust of my mp3 library. The first, 'Mariama' I literally have no recollection of acquiring, neither where it came from or where it thinks it's going. I have a steady habit of scouring the intanets for aural stimulus and most likely I downloaded this and forgot about it. Considering, however, the sheer beauty of this African blues song, its deep, mournful singing, it is equally likely that, in need of a chamber where its lament could ring out, it came looking for a pair of ears.

The second is a track by a group called Operating Theatre that I know nothing about. Recently, after a long night of hanging out with Craig, I came home and rifled through the digital-download section of a popular lower Manhattan record store. The late-night inebriated glee of wandering through sonic archives was followed by an aftermath of not knowing what I'd bought or where I'd stored the files. The glories of advanced capitalism. In any case, "Ah Love, Ah Love" is a very weird and singular track, sounding something like if Kurt Weill had collaborated on the Blade Runner soundtrack. Dirge-y kind of religious singing over spare, electronic strings. It is certain to satisfy all your urges for the minimal-synth-prog opera trend that is blowing up right now.