Sunday, April 13, 2008


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"

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