Monday, April 7, 2014

Shortlisted: Po-mo for the 1% and the Art of Selling Out


Shia LeBeouf @thecampaignbook Jan. 10 #stopcreating pic.twitter.com/G1F3G9EITH 
                                           
The contemporary art world saw an alarming share of celebrity interlopers the past year. In a must-read conversation with critic Ed Halter, Lauren Cornell of the New Museum attributed it to the expanded art market, one that “lured celebrity interest into its VIP echelons; rappers are reflecting on the canon; pop singers self-identify as individual avant-garde movements.”

Now, we all know Jay-Z wants a billion Jeff Koons balloons. Art collecting-as-sport for the rich and famous has only reached greater heights with each economic bubble that burst. It is  “…the most esteemed form of shopping in our culture today,” notes Rhoda Lieberman in the 24th issue of The Baffler. (For a short history of how the 1% commandeered the global art market, read “The 99 Percent and the Value of Art,” Visual Culture Blog.)

But conspicuous consumption does not account for all the recent instances of A-list high art dabbling. After all, 2013 was the year that ended with a Shia LeBeouf. I’ll be damned if that isn’t a readymade term for the public relations death-by-Twitter-bagged-as-online-performance art-piece disaster that it is: Shia LeBeouf (SLBF) offered a skywriting “apology” to Daniel Clowes, the zenith of his justifications for plagiarizing Clowes’ Justin M. Damiano with the short film, HowardCantour.com. SLBF admitted to the copy but claimed that failing to credit Clowes shouldn’t really matter because, you know, nothing is really original and Marcel Duchamp and stuff. (So it’s like fan fiction? Yes – and also plagiarism. Right.) A misguided interpretation ill applied to be sure, but more important is that a celebrity this daft even tried to play this card. It speaks to just how secondhand post-modern thought has become. By way of (as it happens, also plagiarized) apologies, SLBF is getting “meta” as validation for his backhanded fan fiction of an artist whose forte is steeped in modernist precepts.

It almost feels too obvious at this point to mention Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP – a caricature of modernism declared to be an “#epicfail” across the board. But still, Gaga successfully attached herself to Marina Abramoviç, herself a transgressor queen – albeit one who, all too eager to oblige such as Gaga, may herself go down in history as the last of what we now know as a “sell-out”. For as mainstream culture veers toward an ad man’s understanding of avant-garde, “selling out” is emerging as a medium in itself. Yet Abramoviç’s use is more like what Ed Halter, in the aforementioned article, calls Pop Art in reverse: “using ‘art’ as content and spreading it through contemporary forms of mass media” — i.e. traditional methods of marketing pop culture to the mass public. Perhaps Abramoviç confessed as much in The Artist Is Present, the documentary film about her show at the MoMA that, through image shares and Tumblrs galore, ushered her name into ordinary dinner table conversations:

Performance has never been a regular form of art – it’s been “alternative” since I was born. I want it to be a real form of art before I die. Excuse me, I’m 63 – I don’t want to be alternative anymore.

Safe to say, Abramoviç succeeded in that goal. Whether the distinction is generational or just part of a trajectory we are now accustomed to (an artist can only become a sell-out, and not the other way around), contrary to all this are young artists of the net-art world, such as Ryder Ripps and Brad Troemel, who incorporate and embrace branded culture as simply given, like nature. “In an online milieu where everyone markets themselves, net artists have made selling out its own medium” — so reads the pull-quote in Whitney Mallett’s “Personal Ads”, The New Inquiry.

In fact, the teens interviewed for Frontline’s documentary, “Generation Like,” don’t even know what the notion of “selling out” means. When asked, they offered literal definitions for what it might refer to – like, a sold-out show, or a store running out of something. For them, crowd-sourced visual currency and content generated by corporations are more like raw materials. There is no “us versus them” distinction. At the same time, inadvertent performative acts by celebrities are fulfilling the terms we’ve historically called for to substantiate art. Jerry Saltz essentially introduced memes to the canon when he said:

Probably only an art-worlder like me could assign deeper meaning to something as simple and silly as Tebowing. But, to us, anytime people repeat a stance or a little dance, alone or together, we see that it can mean something. Imagistic and unspoken language is our thing.

I’d like to take this opportunity to nominate Riccing for special consideration. You don’t get more conceptually sound than selfies of skinny celebrities in empty refrigerators.



Originally posted on Walker Blogs, February 21, 2013 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Shortlisted: BEYONCÉ, the Yule Log and Minute-Brew Coffee

whirlingdervish
Old School New Media Whirling Dervish, Elizabeth Murphy, 2013







The impetus behind Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album, nostalgia for the way music used to be made and heard, is something that has been on the tongues of music aficionados for some time now. In a video posted on her Facebook page, she explains:
"I feel like people experience music differently… I miss that immersive experience. Now, people only listen to a few seconds of a song on their iPods. They don’t really invest in a whole album. It’s all about the single, and the hype."
And so, Beyoncé initially released her new album online, only available for purchase as a full 14-song, 17-video package. Announced and released simultaneously, as word spread on Friday, December 12, BEYONCÉ  triggered a pop culture news/media event of a sort only made possible by compounding fame and savvy viral marketing. Like the “high holidays of mass communication” of days gone by, “audiences recognized it as an invitation–even a command–to stop their daily routines and join in a holiday experience.” For Beyoncé and her eight million-plus fans, Christmas came early, abetted by smartphones in cubicles across America. She sold a record-setting 828,773 albums in just three days, a long weekend of Beyoncé-saturated new media. As Maura Johnston points out in Vice:
“…she essentially charged admission for the conversation. People talked about the record and discovered it simultaneously, making the discussion more electrified than, say, the chatter that ensued over the months-long span between the announcement and release of Lady Gaga's ARTPOP…”
The artist's lack of promotion was a calculated risk, as was the iTunes-only delivery method of the new work. Imagine if she had produced the same visual album – a clever concept in itself -- but allowed for the standard hype and first-week physical copies. Perhaps BEYONCÉ would have surpassed the previous first-week sales record, set by *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached, which sold 2.4 million copies in March of 2000, a time when “physical music” was the default.

It's worth noting that we now have something called physical music -- as in, Walmart is “happy to be able to carry her album and support all physical music." Here Walmart plainly aims to scoop up some cred with their support of things; this statement was issued in response to Target’s announcement that they will not be selling BEYONCÉ in their stores, citing as the main reason that her digital pre-release “impacts demand and sales projections.”

“Celebrity is scaling the concept in a way that’s not possible for others,” said Washington Post's Dominic Basulto of her new album. Let's be clear: the concept is proving lucrative for her, and it's unusually clever, yes - but it's not new. A visual album? That’s been done­ -- in 2005, by an indie rock band, The Sun (and signed to Warner Bros. at the time, mind you).* Their enhanced DVD album, Blame It On The Youth, had about nine years on this technological tide before Beyoncé rode in on it with such fanfare.

Here's a peek at some of the frustrations The Sun's 2005 iteration of the visual album concept was met with:

Pitchfork:
“I'm not just reviewing a batch of songs here, I'm reviewing a DVD that a good section of the buying public can't even listen to without watching TV for an hour.”
The A.V. Club:
“The problem is that not everyone wants to watch 45 minutes of video just to hear some songs, and even though Blame It On The Youth is supposed to be fully downloadable into MP3 players, there's still a disconnect in the consumption process.”
Whatever The Sun’s missteps -- not least being signed to a major label whose execs shit their pants over YouTube -- the criticisms above, published less than 10 years ago, show just how quickly technology has hijacked the way people experience music. What The Sun did for art school kicks and adventures in multimedia, Beyoncé is now deploying (very successfully) as a gimmick to get people to fully immerse themselves in the whole of her album. As if that can't happen through your ear-holes alone, you know, by listening to the music.

She says:
“I remember seeing (it) on TV with my family. It was an event. We all sat around the TV. And I’m now looking back I was so lucky that I was born around that time. I miss that immersive experience….”
Okay, so Beyoncé was talking about Thriller herebut in the spirit of the Christmas season, let’s see what happens if we swap Thriller with "The Yule Log." Nostalgia for the immersive experience otherwise known as real life was, in fact, central to the comedic conceit of The Yule Log when it debuted on public access television in 1966: an artifact of the new ubiquity of television, an emblem of the original crisis of mass media consumption.

Screenshot of the original "Yule Log" from 1966.
Screenshot of the original "Yule Log" from 1966.

Look at us now: We love panda cams, Norway’s Slow TV is coming stateside, and innumerable live streams are always feeding, even when nobody is around to view them. And that sheer saturation of media manifests as something like an uncanny throwback. "The Yule Log" is available, even on my crappy cable plan, in SD, HD, and 3-D.

About a month ago, the nation collectively focused their attention to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. CBS did so, in part, by streaming the network's original four-day coverage of the historic event on its website. During an episode of As The World Turns, the second-longest-running television drama of all time, CBS first broke the news in 1963, interrupting a conversation between “Bob” and “Lisa” about Thanksgiving dinner­ -- a dispute likely still unsettled when ATWT ended 54 years later (soap opera jab!). Networks were not equipped for quick video changeovers. At first, it was just the audio:
“CBS NEWS BULLETIN” appears on screen

(paper shuffling)

 Here is a bulletin from CBS news. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.

(paper shuffling)

More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously. President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called, ‘oh no’, the motorcade sped on. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS news, President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS news for further details.
The “continuous coverage” which streamed on CBSnews.com last month -- dubbed “As It Happened”, and which you can buy for $35.99 on Amazon.com -- would begin moments later, with the President confirmed dead. Until then, with nothing more for CBS to report, whoever was home at 1 pm on Friday, November 22, 1963 (watching the one and only program on television at that time of day) was abruptly thrown back into the simulacrum of the soap -- it's a juxtaposition that must have been as jarring as it was unprecedented.

In the absence of news, a swinging clock pendulum reappeared on screen. Midway through a commercial for Nescafe Minute-Brew coffee, a voiceover delivers the line: “Anybody can make a coffee more instant, but Nescafe makes it more coffee.”

Here’s to making things more coffee.

*This doesn’t matter, but for the sake of full disclosure: The Sun are from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and I appear in one of the videos. Further unnecessary clarification: the video I'm in is not the one with people masturbating.



Originally posted on Walker Blogs, December 27, 2013

Shortlisted: Unopened Snaps, Photos Too Hard to Keep

Jose Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, Saudade, 1899, oil on canvas (detail). 
Photo: Ferraz de Almeida Júnior [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons




“I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision oriented its language wrongly, engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss the point of its effect, the punctum.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Aside from its use as a sexting medium, what is Snapchat? More precisely, what is a snap? A self-deleting multimedia missive sent using mobile technology: it's a standard spy trope without the smoke, sparks, and (dire) content; visual communication inspired by Perez Hilton; one-to-ten seconds of a photo, or video – MS Paint captions optional – and then it’s gone.

But there's more.

Tech pundits entered into a frenzy after Snapchat reportedly turned down a $3 billion, all-cash acquisition offer from Facebook; most were unsure why a social messaging application based on media impermanence could be thought to be worth more. Instagram, ever-popular across age groups, sold for $1 billion in April of 2012; the majority of Snapchat’s users are 13-23 years old. Assuming an older demographic would never embrace such an anti-archive,  the question of the moment was: Will a youth user group hold steady for the app, thereby justifying the Facebook snub? Commentators answered: "no."

But perhaps Snapchat's decision to forgo the buyout didn't solely rest on the loyalty of teenagers. A mobile editor at ReadWrite sees the app fitting in perfectly with the current Web era: It’s mobile, it’s visual, and it comes with the implication of privacy­. Granted, with the right tools it’s always possible to retrieve data, but a social network noted for its discretion is unprecedented. Bearing a warrant, the NSA only has access to “unopened snaps," messages stored in a server­ – Snapchat’s own dead letter office­ – as long as their recipients opt to ignore them. And even those messages have an expiration date: apparently, an unopened snap disappears after 30 days. And no public or private timeline of opened snaps exists -- this is a large part of the app’s charm. There are good reasons to think a shift beyond the teen demographic is in play.

Jose Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, Saudade, 1899, oil on canvas (detail). 
Photo: Ferraz de Almeida Júnior [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons






More and more, the digital realm is the default for communication; the digital is also our de facto collective archive. There's a wealth of history just in the residual traces such communications leave behind: the metadata of our emails and web surfing, on reverse-chronological timelines like you find on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. These platforms are, by design, archival and yet we, the users, rarely access them as such. With a ceaseless barrage of incoming information, the stuff of even our recent past isn’t so quick to entice. Instagram photos are rarely revisited; we hardly engage with them when they're newly posted. Rather, how we make use of the media of social networking amounts to something much more like interpassivity. We take pleasure just knowing that such archival platforms are there, keeping record for us.

But Snapchat doesn’t allow for passive engagement. To view a snap, the recipient must press and hold their screen for that 1 to 10 seconds. This guaranteed share of attention is priceless given the increasingly pervasive distraction of the digital lifestyle - what writer and software expert Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention”. Snaps are targeted and personal; recipients are deliberately chosen (88% are sent to one person). As such, snaps are a throwback, a return to the qualities of communication inherent to speech. Snaps are a moment truly shared, in (simulated) real time.

And why not? It’s not like anyone is going to go back and look at it again. Digital images have yet to be valued like their tangible precursors IRL. Temporary social media seems to posit the idea that creation of a more meaningful digital communication requires embracing that ephemerality, making the proliferation of here-today-gone-tomorrow missives even more disposable.

Since 2010, Chicago artist Jason Lazarus has maintained an archive of images deemed “too hard to keep” by their owners. The project initiated with traditional photography in mind. He's  interested in the kind of picture that brings pain when you come across it while cleaning out a sock drawer, or on moving day, but which resists an easy toss to the trash can; it's the kind of photograph imbued with a resilient, if uncomfortable, nostalgia too potent to discard like you do the empty detritus of your life. It bears saudade, as the feeling is close to being named, in Portuguese:
“A somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived."
Getting rid of such an image requires a deliberate and ceremonial act, like burning. And that is where Jason Lazarus steps in. Too Hard To Keep (2010-present) is currently on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, as part of Jason Lazarus: Live Archive, the first West Coast museum exhibition for the artist. As the exhibition text states, “This concept is remarkably similar to the Jewish tradition requiring damaged scrolls, books, and other texts that bear the sacred name of God to be placed in an in-between space, called a genizah (Hebrew for 'storage' or 'hiding').” The in-between-space Lazarus maintains consists of snapshots. Whether seemingly innocent, ambiguous, or obviously tragic, these photos carry the same mysterious charge as a Polaroid found on the street -- except here, the significance of the unknown is guaranteed, rather than merely guessed-at.

As of October 9, 2012, he's accepting cell phone photo submissions for the project, banking on the sender’s promise that their personal copy of the image will be deleted. That's too bad. When Too Hard To Keep  began in 2010, at the precipice of smartphone ubiquity, it was precisely that distinction between the physical and digital photograph that made Lazarus' concept so compelling. I submit that a photograph that is too hard to keep does not yet exist in a digital capacity. Maybe it's just that not enough time has passed to bestow on these images such depth of feeling; maybe it comes down to the fact that a digital photo can be deleted in a hasty half-second. Maybe my rejection of the idea boils down to the idea that there are just too many of them for any one pixellated image to carry such significance. Maybe the truth is digital images just can’t be held, can’t be kept.



Originally posted on Walker Blogs, December 13, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

LIVE REPORT: Neutral Milk Hotel

The evaluation here is tough, yes: write a live review of a band responsible for a singular type of album (one of the cohesive ones, an album’s album, dear to me amongst many) which I had never before seen nor had a reasonable chance to see perform live, in whole or part, in spite of my bless’d, impressively-notched white belt. Evaluation is impossible if I weigh up the months of baseless conviction I held, ticketless, that I would attend this show, a show that sold out before those of us who take a shower, a shit or precisely count to 300 before checking the internet in the morning even had a chance. Conviction, because I needed some church, and seeing Neutral Milk Hotel for me has to be like church.

Suffice to say, I got in, and the band didn’t disappoint. Julian Koster said, “I’m happy!” Out loud, in a microphone. The crowd cheered. (One person said, “No shit!”) And Jeff Mangum didn’t disappoint; the man upholds that tenet of crowd-pleasing that a live rendition of a song should be a very similar one to the recording of that song. And, like Chris Rock thanks Kanye in 'Blame Game', we thank him for it: the cadence, the heights of notes reached, when the horns enter, and an acoustic mic’d just right. You could hear the incidental sounds of the fingers working for it against the raw material of a hollow, wooden, stringed thing. So true to the record is it, it's startling not to hear the thud of the guitar being placed on the ground as Mangum gets up to leave after he advises us all not to "hate her when she gets up to leave" at the end of 'Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two'.

If it has to be said, the cohesive album referred to earlier is In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. And they played a lot off it. I would provide the titles of songs covered but I found that I don’t know them. Not for lack of listenership, but because of the fully immersive way I always listened to this album: in full, without visual or textual accompaniment, usually alone. The authority this type of listenership offers is that I can recite every lyric, so I can confirm that Mangum got all of them right. As well, I have no additional insight on, in 'The King Of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 & 3', whether, “I love you Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ I love you, yes, I do” is a pro-Jesus proclamation or the Lord’s name in vain.

But this is all well and good. In his wisdom, Mangum must have some sense that the lack of gigging around such an album has amplified the need for its performance to reflect our perfect memory of it. I resent Steve Albini, as in, I would like to give him a noogie, for all but promising never to repeat the precise lyrics and phrasing in 'Billiard Player Song' I fell in love with. In fairness to Albini, few artists wear self-referential simulacrum well. It is, in fact, a suspiciously convenient principle to hold. But it is written that Mangum is unquestionably an authentic artist, as he carried out the following steps: 1. Write epic album 2. Walk away as a small army mobilises in its favour, turns, then starts chasing you down the fucking street. And now we must add the third authenticator: he came back, allowing for himself a moment to indulge in the full-bodied heart-slaying joy that is his transcendent catalogue. I found myself overwhelmingly happy for him, happy for Jeremy Barnes, happy for Scott Spillane, happy with Julian. This wasn’t my church at all, my church was burned each time I had privately listened to the record. This was theirs.

-Posted on The Quietus, November 25th, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Black Metal Friday

Burzum, The Cupcake Tapes

A below average tolerance for shopping plus above average aversion to crowds finds me home each "Black Friday" without question. November 29, 2013 was spent on the computer, writing, with periodic YouTube breaks to build the playlist that turns around increasing productivity. As stated here, "the ideal mix provides a nexus of knowns and unknowns...with a welcome earworm stimulant every hour on the hour." For this I visit the choice Internet DJs I depend on to rearrange the familiar as strange. But sometimes sources are tapped, or delinquent (do you get holidays off? on the internet?), or otherwise, and I scour any genre without top heavy vocal lyrics on YouTube. 

"Focus Grind" is composed out of of Black Metal. I was cruising, clocking 2,000 words when all instrumentation minus the guitar lead cuts out in Burzum's "Black Spell Of Destruction." Varg Vikernes continues to scream, and an ironic holiday tradition takes shape. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Better Than I Deserve

Keep Out, Narcs!


Sunday, November 10, 2013

I Used To Make A Livin’, Man: Picking The Banana

The irony here can only be fully appreciated by me and mine, one of whom is my editor: She has patiently read several drafts of the following text since last summer, written upon news that the Velvet Underground and the Andy Foundation had settled the banana lawsuit. The other is my fiancé. As well as having served as editor, we simultaneously jumped a foot back on the couch as we flipped open a laptop to check movie times, revealing a preloaded Pitchfork homepage bearing the headline, "RIP Lou Reed". This essay had been queued in my editor's inbox for a week when that happened.  



For Lou, RIP.


October 20, 2013

What would Warhol say? Predictably unfruitful, nonetheless, this low-hanging hypothetical is tempting as of late.

We do not wonder what he would have said about this or that because he was a “great artist,” nor because he was a man of great insight. His public record: Notably redundant, and never with more than a singular message. Yet this conjecture, WWWS?, surfaces as that message becomes more and more relevant. With his philosophy at the helm, Warhol’s imagery is currently experiencing a second life, with meta-branding and two-headed monsters as the result: His Pellegrino bottles have been sold back to Pellegrino, and Jackie O’s mug–-now truly distorted–-wraps Philip Treacy hats. The perverse nature here dares us to wonder–-and perhaps he is a “great artist” after all because we do–-what would Warhol say? Is making money still art? Is being good in business still the most fascinating kind of art?

The actualizing force behind these products is his estate, the Andy Warhol Foundation, and it is interesting how the issues it is tasked with are exceedingly referential to Warhol’s work. In contrast, when David Smith’s sculptures were tampered with after his death – by nature, negligence, or one man’s hubris, it was dreary - not paradoxical, ironic, or in any way sound with Smith’s contributions to art history. What Warhol’s estate maneuvers– authenticity, copyright, product licensing, branding– could all be drummed up as content within Warhol’s work. As these elements surface, it’s as if Warhol packaged them into his artwork to be revealed in time, as life insurance towards prophecy fulfillment.

We are blessed to mull over the irony. It is not as fun for the suits who have to answer to licensing decisions, draw a hard line on authenticity when Warhol produced by means of a factory–when his “signature” was often inked with a rubber stamp.

In 1967, when the Velvet Underground released their debut album–-the one with the banana on the cover, designed by Andy Warhol–-the notion of band branding was essentially nonexistent. The Who were the first rock group to have a logo per se; in 1964, their name atop a roundel appeared organically–born of fan attempts to associate the group with the mod scene. The most iconic logo representative of a band, the Rolling Stones tongue, wasn’t established until 1970.

Regardless of the banana not being a secured trademark, the way Warhol had designed it triggered the benefits of one. And while 

The Velvet Underground, Plaintiff, against The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., Defendant did not go as far to say that the banana design was meant to be a trademark of the band, it did ask that it be excused it as such - explicitly and without filing the proper paperwork. The Velvet Underground argued that the “iconic banana” had come to serve as the VU logo, and in this reality, the Andy Warhol Foundation had no right to exercise its copyright in the artwork and license the banana to Apple and Incase for iPod and laptop cases. Lou Reed has gone on record saying that Warhol would not have approved.

I disagree.

Warhol aimed to cinch the space that existed between his art and pop culture. After his death, and with his totemic blessing, the Andy Warhol Foundation has driven this concept to the finishing line through product licensing. The endowment is used to establish grants and, in turn, feed starving artists. What Warhol would have thought about his estate licensing imagery to third parties to make this happen? We almost positively need not guess.

Exhibit A:

“I’ll endorse with my name any of the following: clothing, AC-DC, cigarettes, small tapes, sound equipment, ROCK ‘N ROLL RECORDS, anything, film, and film equipment, Food, Helium, Whips, MONEY!! love and kisses ANDY WARHOL.” - Village Voice Classified, 1966.

The premise of the Velvet Underground’s argument was that you associate the “iconic banana” with the Velvet Underground. Therefore, the AWF should not be authorized to license it, as it allows AWF and its licensees to “receive the benefit of VU’s goodwill, which VU has established at great labor and expense…not based on (the foundation and its licensees) own qualities, but on the reputation, investment, hard work and goodwill of The Velvet Underground.”

The rhetoric of their official complaint does all it can to paint the AWF as a greedy materialist corporation, robbing a group of authentic underground artists of their hard earned rights to exclusive reproduction and income. Short of any direct evidence of this, and careful not to appear hypocritical – VU’s proprietary needs are material as well (and need I remind anyone of Absolute Underground?), they are left to hang weighty anecdotes to VU’s influence on the be-speckled argument. Not only is this not relevant in a court of law, VU don’t stand up against the very principles they are weighing in their favor. The whole thing subverts the significance and influence that the Velvet Underground has every right to call their very own.

“There may have been only 100 people that saw the Velvet Underground live, but everyone went home and formed a band.”

I’m not sure who said this: Brian Eno? Lester Bangs? Erma Bombeck? But I know it’s about the Velvet Underground, that it’s most flattering, for all intents and purposes true, and unique to them. A concession: Keep this in your pocket and move on. For what it is worth, you’re still inspiring teenagers. You’re responsible for “Venus in Furs” for goodness sake. But you know things have changed when Metallica’s damage control following a disastrous collaboration with Lou Reed is a corporate sponsored festival in which they host bands such as Best Coast.

To call the VU anything other than rock and roll (such as “art-rock”) is inaccurately specific. Only a mother term (rock and roll) could inspire all the genres and subgenres of underground rock that followed in their ‘quake. The last great rock band was the Ramones (because Joe Carducci said so, that’s why) and I can think of no better logo to bookend that goddamn banana and the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The artist who created the Ramones logo, Arturo Vega, died on June 8th of this year. He was considered the 5th member of the Ramones. He survived all but one of them.

I distinctly remember my band mate showing up for practice 8 years ago in a VG ++ Ramones t-shirt: soft-worn, classic logo, and it actually fit! Finding out it was a $15 Hot Topic purchase and not “from that thrift store on Cleveland Ave.” or “my girlfriend. eBay” offered a blunt moment of clarity: My drummer was a guy who knew more about music than anyone I knew – apparently, he was a fan of VU by the age of 12 (older brother). It was then, in 2004, the stigma of buying mass-produced, reissued apparel at the mall was for me, repealed. Ready-to-wear Ramones t-shirts are made for everybody! And Warhol threaded the needle.

–Elizabeth Murphy

Museums: 40 Year Trial

"Museums are temples of art, goes one argument; get the art out on the street and close the temple. Or the art is dead anyhow, so leave it in the temple and burn both. The art is victim to the structure: Museums are elitist, capitalist, sexist and largely dominated by the values of white, multimillionaire Episcopalian trustees. By maintaining the 'modern' museum as a Longleat park for wildish talent, they turn it into a model of repressive desublimation."

 –Robert Hughes, "The Museum on Trial"

Taped above my desk is a brittle page from the September 9, 1973 issue of the New York Times Magazine: "The Museum on Trial" by Robert Hughes is prescient of many museum concerns, one of which, made light by the pull quote, "And what about the quota for gay militant Chicano artists?" has recently been elucidated for the times in "Accessibility in the Arts: Who Owns the Temple? Or Is a Temple What We Need?" by Opine Season guest columnist David Mura.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Not Seeing Frances Ha: A Review

I had loose plans with myself to go see Frances Ha a few weekends ago; this was primarily because it would have been free and some people strongly encouraged "a me" to do so: "You would love it", etc. Something was holding me back from committing two of my weekend hours to this idea. Instead, the betrothed and I stayed in and rented Last Days Here, the documentary about Pentagram lead singer Bobby Liebling.

Shortly into this film I realized it represented my anxiety about watching Frances Ha in reverse. Through trailers and reviews and commentary, I had gathered Frances Ha was about a girl not living up to her potential in New York City. It appeared guilty of the plausible personal income versus quality of apartment incongruity. High heels and the afflicted woman, glamorized in greyscale: Easy-to-mock, irritating nonetheless.



"What do you do?"
"It's kinda hard to explain."
"Why, because what you do is complicated?"
"Uhh...because I don't really do it."
This bit of dialogue from Frances Ha–okay, from the trailer for Frances Ha, is charming, but only due to it's jokeyness. Incongruity: Resolution.




Friday, July 26, 2013

Reverse-Engineering A Poem


“Poem” November 29, 1957
To be idiomatic in a vacuum,
It is a shining thing!


IN 1959, AFTER JUST FINISHING LUNCH WITH A FRIEND, Frank O’Hara sat down to write a love poem. The pursuit would hardly be worth noting -- O’Hara was both a poet and in love -- but our interest lies in the poem never coming to be. Specifically, as he leaned into the task of turning his thoughts to form, a sense of futility swelled in response: Why squander time fixing thoughts meant for one, when you can just call them on the phone?

So goes the story of how Personism was born -- a concept drafted by O’Hara in lieu of a poem one afternoon and later printed in Yugen Magazine, the publication of O’Hara’s lunch date that day, Leroi Jones (cum Amiri Baracka). He was a well-connected sort. O’Hara’s own writing confirms that both his peer circle and creative scope was capacious, including affiliation with the New York School of painting and poetry, a stint as a critic for ARTnews, and a career as a curator for the Museum of Modern Art. On the off chance you haven’t heard of Frank O’Hara before this, now that you’re aware of him, you’re sure to notice his name popping up often and everywhere. Dead at 40, O’Hara’s life was abbreviated with the kind of absurdity which feels too bluntly meaningless to print (but at risk of losing you to Wikipedia, he died in a freak accident - struck by a dune buggy on Fire Island). “Grace to be born and live as variously as possible” – so reads the inscription on his tombstone. He lived this credo, in part, through multidisciplinary immersion in the arts -- and he was no a dilettante either. His was a mixture of giftedness and keen awareness to the delineations of medium: What suits what. Transposing a poem for a phone call, ‘Personism’ puts the poem “squarely between the poet and the person…the poem is correspondingly gratified … at last between two persons instead of two pages”.

The degree to which O’Hara’s tongue was in his cheek is debatable – ‘Personism’ is widely known as a mock manifesto, but summarily categorizing it as such does not do the notion justice, especially upon rereading in 2013. As Tony Hoagland laments in the recent Harper’s essay, “Twenty Little Poems That Could Save America,” poetry is largely absent from pop culture today. From the epic song culture of Ancient Greece to now, there’s neither coincidence nor surprise in the fact that the upward trajectory of mass communication runs right alongside poetry’s popular demise. But if we allow ourselves a bit of revisionist interpretation, there’s still fruitful hindsight left to mine.

Consider O’Hara’s timing: One can’t ignore the fact that when he asked that fundamental question -- What is the point of a poem if I have the phone? – the technology in question was just beginning to become commonplace. Prior to World War II, telephones primarily served as business tools or novelties for the upper class; it wasn’t until after the war that they became a fixture in middle-class American homes. He seized a timely moment: A poet calling into question the merits of his medium, in light of a new technology positioned to upend the communicative purposefulness of poems. And as communication is still the motive at the core of artistic production, his query is more relevant than ever given the ever-more-rapid onslaught of innovations in media technology. Whatever degree of back-handedness or irony we may ascribe to O’Hara’s original thesis does not change the fact that, in 2013, the artist is faced with innumerable such intersections of old and new media which might prompt a moment’s pause for that artist, like O’Hara, to consider the continued relevance of her work.

For instance, what’s a love song for when you have social media? The internet has been quick to offer the music industry the benefit of its technology, and with it access to far-flung audiences artists couldn’t have dreamed of reaching before -- by way of Napster, file-sharing, MySpace, Spotify, whathaveyou. These offerings may have proven themselves to be gifts of the Trojan horse variety, at least for the music business as we knew it, but I don’t think suspicion alone explains why so many individual artists have been slow to appropriate these technologies. Look at the content of the music, the lyrics, and there’s no evidence of them there either. Songwriting today has yet to cite, in earnest, the role that social media plays in contemporary courtship, for example. Think of that, especially in light of just how completely these networked communication platforms have commandeered how we form and sustain, or don’t, our romantic relationships in the last decade.

We could also ask: What is the value of real, physical art space in contemporary American cultural life, when there are online outlets like Artsy and Google Art? These online spaces make staggering amounts of visual material available to anyone anywhere but, advertently or otherwise, they also flatten the experience of seeing artworks -- even an Ed Rushca is just one more image in a sea of images, another screengrab to copy and paste. And what about real, physical art museums in America? The large majority of them have been financially treading water, angling for deep-pocketed patronage to ensure their survival since – well, since their beginnings. These museums’ only hope at this point lies in adopting the very strategies employed by the virtual platforms which are at risk of supplanting them. No longer is it enough simply to present objects for display and invite the public to see them; museums now promise programming with interactivity, crowd-sourcing, immersion and “engagement” – all in the service of continued relevance.

Even as I write this, I wonder: Why do I feel the need to qualify that I’m talking about “real” or “physical” space in my efforts to invoke for you the concept of an art museum? These web-based technologies have become ubiquitous in our daily dealings such that the argot has co-opted our language of the literal. I mean, an “Analog Tweet”? That’s a postcard. The interplay between technology (new and obsolete) and language has always been the domain of the straight metaphor: Our brains were “hard-wired” circa Y2K, and yet we can still “read one another like a book.” And consider the impact still-developing mobile platforms might have; these technologies’ very invention undermines up-to-now universal narrative devices. For example, in a movie set in current-day America, the storyteller can no longer rely on the romance, or plausibility, of characters that are truly incommunicado.

In the first sentence of Personism, O’Hara declares himself “at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man’s Allen Ginsberg.” This scrappy authenticity – self-deprecating, yet audacious by the very fact of the comparison -- tempered with a flair for nonsense and nonchalance, never fails for O’Hara. His public discourse through arts writing was unabashedly promotional of his peers: He extensively applauded the merits of Jackson Pollack, other friends and contemporaries who were bound, as he was, to the ideals of the “new American avant-garde.” But O’Hara also espoused the antics and rivalries of boxers and other pop culture celebrities. He’s like Norman Mailer’s abstract double.

Take the story behind Poem (Lana Turner has Collapsed!): It was prepared for a reading with Robert Lowell, an event O’Hara saw as “something of a grudge match.” And yet, high stakes or not, O’Hara didn’t actually start to write the thing until he was on a train heading up to Stanton Island for the reading. This is precisely the attitude that left an impression of carelessness, a sense that he did not really care seriously for his legacy, the fate of his poems. And in fact, once written, he often cast his pieces off – to be found in drawers, the laundry, the pockets of friends. I suspect O’Hara’s lack of attachment to the work didn’t signify disregard, but rather that once written the poem’s value was, for him, already spent. It’s in the writing that he had found the works’ worth, the crucial what’s what he was looking for in them.

Anything created expressly as art risks misinterpretation by its intended audience, and those risks are particularly pronounced with regard to poetry -- by its very nature an oblique form. Personism, in its person-to-person immediacy, promises a solution: a message pitched and apprehended perfectly. Artists today pitch their work into a vacuum, their message less at risk of misinterpretation than insignificance, a victim of the anonymity that is the hallmark of these new media. The internet has everything, so it may as well have nothing. The glut ensures a terrifying weightlessness of information. Yet, “To be idiomatic in a vacuum/ It is a shining thing!”

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that there’s a 21st century romance in this mode of communication where letters unfailingly reach their destination, and messages in a bottle are always retrieved. The rub is, the immediate adoption of one’s missive, while certain, isn’t guaranteed for receipt by a predetermined individual but rather a symbolic proxy -- a recipient at once personal and universal “which receives it the moment the letter is put into circulation, that is the moment the sender ‘externalizes’ his message, delivers it to the symbolic Order, the moment the Other takes cognizance of the letter and thus relieves the sender of responsibility for it.”

The immediacy of this paradigm allows the artist to sidestep the critic. I can’t help but think of “Neo-Verity,” the genre recently coined by Jerry Saltz to qualify his choice for the number one work of art of 2012. If you missed his pronouncement, I guarantee you did not miss the performance that inspired it: dubbed by New York Magazine, “Clint and the Chair.” As an admitted subscriber to “institutionalism,” where art is identified by artists and art scholars pointing at things (“That’s art…this is art…THAT is art, etc.”), I found Saltz’s designation quite, well, pointed. He writes:

Robert Rauschenberg famously said that he wanted to work in the ‘gap between art and life’. Eastwood marks the disappearance of that gap. Life became art, fictionalized truth and made-up narrative transmuted into form. As with real art, time expanded, slowed down; viewers became aware of complex interplays between realities; logic was bypassed, multiple patterns of meaning formed. Unlike art, however, this live performance genre lacks the flexibility gene. It is unable to sustain any reading of itself except the one intended; it cannot tolerate paradox. This, oddly, is one reason it can exist in real time, (Also interesting: It’s critic-proof. No commentary can keep up.)

O’Hara’s manifesto presaged the disappearance of the gap Saltz speaks of. Art-theoretically speaking, we are only now catching up with that original Personist ideal – technologies’ persistent encroachment into art demands it. And few boundaries restrict participation: On Facebook, anyone can be a curator and a critic; anyone with a smartphone and Instagram is a photographer with global reach, or an Edward Muybridge on Vine; and obviously everyone is, and has been for a long time, a DJ. And they can deliver it all, instantly and without middle-men, to the big Other, the internet.

This sort of democratization isn’t new to poetry; the form has always been accessible to the amateur. All that’s required is thought, paper, pen. Or even brain, thought – after all, a poem doesn’t have to be fixed to exist. Bad or good, public or private, printed or fleeting: a poem -- whatever its source or mode of dissemination – is recognized to be a bona fide poem.

Personism ignites a conversation about the assumed hierarchies of the form. We’ve tended to agree that if a text is published, it has value. But what of poetry? Once published, poems are the most easily reproduced of the reproducible arts. In copyright law theory, reproducible arts are considered a public good. That is because, like a lighthouse, they are nonexcludable and nonrivalrous: once built there is no stopping anyone from benefitting from their construction. It is hard to track this usage. The same goes for poems. Once printed, they can be copied by hand, memorized, photocopied, or copied and pasted.

But not a Personist poem: between two persons, excludable and rivalrous, a Personist poem is impossible to reverse-engineer or duplicate. And that’s invaluable.

-Elizabeth Murphy

Friday, June 28, 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Endless Boogie - Long Island LP (No Quarter)

There is something very “it was written…” about this band. Maybe it’s that its members are the fingers to the hidden hand controlling all y’alls taste in music. Or maybe it’s the tenacity – fully exhibited no matter where you happen to check in: song, album, career. The gist of ‘em is in each of the parts, like a Homeric epic. Then again, how is Endless Boogie not like Ancient Greek song culture? They’re old, tough, intimidating, hard to penetrate yet built so that misunderstanding them is impossible. They test endurance, and that is not to say only for the listener. Most of all, and fully realized in Long Island, Endless Boogie’s endowment makes itself manifest through sheer pronouncement, much like the hero Achilles, early in the Iliad, declared his own fate.

I hear ya…. “Hey there! Ho there! Whoa there! Some dude who calls himself ‘Top Dollar’ just casually recommended that I not trust William Tecumseh Sherman in the song after a song called ‘Taking Out the Trash’; itself explicitly stating (in an arbitrary rallying call), My intentions are unclear!” –

You take these things as alerts to not take this band too seriously. Your ready-whipped complacence is acquiesced in a Village Voice interview with the band. In turn, you pledge allegiance to a band like say, Purling Hiss – who take the piss as vaguely as possible, because an understanding of the benefit to maintaining creative plausible deniability is somehow built into the sociobiological make-up of an uncertain cross section of contemporary rock music, which also mismanages any real libidinous urgency. Naming a song, “Lolita” does not summon the desired effect; it draws attention to inadequacies. Whereas the first song off Long Island, “The Savagist,” although not only refuses to recompense cultural signifiers, but is also not a recognized word, makes you feel like a naughty little girl around its 11th minute.

In spite of its flushing effect, I’d be willing to bet – in fact I am certain – that much of what is captured on Long Island cuts premature of spontaneous laughter from within the band. The music is impromptu, but much like Zappa Plays Zappa, it aims to simulate an onus of musicianship. When perfect recreation is met, it is recognized, and it’s probably hilarious. If you have held the records in your hands that these fellows have, nurturing them from patent obscurity to market absurdity, you’d find that the only honest end in making music is fraternity. The lack of tact here is mine; it is meant only to illustrate the impossibility of writing music when you have inadvertently built the siphon for so much of it. (http://noquarter.net)
(Elizabeth Murphy)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shut Up I Am Here City's Full Strife Waiting For A Sign Dead Nature She Will No Face Hit Me Husbands Marshal Dear

"True art always appears where we don't expect it, where nobody thinks of it or utters its name. Art detests being recognized and greeted by its own name. It immediately flees. Art is a character infatuated by the incognito. As soon as it is divulged and pointed out, it flees and leaves in its place a glorified bit-player carrying on its back a large poster marked ART; everyone immediately sprinkles it with champagne, and lectures lead it from town to town with a ring through its nose."
 


Jean Debuffet, "Art Brut in Preference to the Cultural Arts", from the exhibition catalogue


Sunday, April 21, 2013

I Missed Record Store Day

By missed, I mean did not participate in.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

That's what I get for searching for "One Man Melodic Black Metal"



Always on the lookout for the serendipitous DJ: One that can provide a nexus of knowns and unknowns, unobtrusive enough to cater to productive spans of writing, with a welcome earworm-stimulant every hour on the hour. In the case of which, I can source the provenance without having to maneuver ulterior motive speculation. Last FM was on-bat for the job. Upon registration, my entire computer-listening history swept onto a profile page in a swift display of unsolicited analytics. Once I swallow the initial unease of seeing my own band in the number one spot - most played, with various (hilarious) television programs rearing up into the top ten, I decide the service has a fighting chance: This was social media transparency I could get behind. It is not enough to merely claim you like listening to, say...Steel Pole Bathtub, or Whitehouse, or the Chicago Transit Authority, you have to clock in for it. And in case you're interested, I qualified the upper-rankings of my own band and the Sarah Silverman Show rather efficiently thankyouverymuch.

Scrobble? Yeah, I Scrobble: I dive right in. For the uninitiated, this is a program for the real-time broadcast of whatever you are listening to on your computer. It features a sidebar with a couple of dropdowns where the other people go. I don’t have any “friends” but the first “neighbor” that shows up on the list is Gerard Cosloy. Serious question: Is he everyone’s #1 “neighbor”? Did he receive an endorsement; or, to be more precise in the hypothetical, an achievement award distributed by Last FM for the listening history that most accurately mirrors what he has publicly endorsed? Huh.

I sign up for his library and move to the task at hand: Find the serendipitous DJ, which I will reiterate as the unattainable playlist. LastFM reminds me of this by taking me to the “end of the internet” on my first go at the place. An N64-esque landscape sprouting genre tags like “arizona”, “reading 2006”, “seen”, “west Yorkshire” and “a campfire and a tent and my glasses and a spaceship and some matches and a tree…” (and I never reached the end of this one) recommends that I try something like “nerdcore” or “new romantic”. I guess that it what I get for searching for, “one-man melodic black metal” - Last FM gets all cute and basically calls me a hipster.




But I am in this for the transparency! Phantom coders have incorrectly profiled me.

Shrugging off the vestigial pretense, I relinquish what I really want to know to the search field. I genre in which I could identify maybe only one.... err, movement? It's played at weddings a lot… and it is exactly what I get.

Pachelbel Canon in Deez nuts!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012 Vol. I - Head In A Box: The Musical

LPs:
Screaming Females | Ugly
Final Club | Blank Entertainment
Northern Liberties | Glowing Brain Garden
Uranium Orchard | s/t
Family Band | Grace & Lies
Connections | Private Airplane
Christian Mistress | Possession
D’eon | LP
Cat Power | Sun
The Dream | Terius Nash: 1977
Discographies:
Death Grips | Ex-Military, Black Google, The Money Store, NO LOVE WEB DEEP
Botanist | I: The Suicide Tree & II: A Rose From The Dead, III: Doom in Bloom/Allies
Nervosas | Ardentes, Rev 45, Descension
Singles:
Sky Ferrierra – “Everything is Embarrassing”
Acid Pauli – Johnny Cash/Will Oldham “I See A Darkness”


Gut and theory; the most impressive musical documents from the past year (and change) bolster exceptional proportions of typically disparate hallmarks. Sometimes a person just has to clear their throat. No subtext. Still, it is with intent to speak.

Early American songbooks consist of spirituals. Jazz rode the coattails of social hedonism. Punks committed to nihilism. Rap is accepting of a vague to outright Christian backbone. In hardcore, while the politic mutates, a certain fundamentalism is ever-present. Now consider the agnostic flim-flam liberalism that all rock filed as underground, college, indie, and alternative; is couched in, pigeonholed as, or assumed to be. Fucking yawn. What this - let’s call it a demographic, lacks in a belief system was once supplanted by exceptional range and taste in music. Yet the current trend is to cite capitalized abstract nouns and an expressed distaste for music as inspiration; and when you’re out too late and feeling uncomfortable somewhere, you can always call on dad rock. I digress. As always, those with ideologies at hand produce something true, even if they make it up.

Screaming Females / Ugly
This record sits at the top of my list faithful to both a chronological and a qualitative retrospection; and it is with leveled satisfaction that I cite Screaming Females’ Ugly as my favorite record of 2012, as I think back to the amount of hair, sleep, fingernail-matter, and self-esteem I lost trying to pen this review, officially my first, back in April.

Final Club / Blank Entertainment
The acme of Common Era garage pop for people who read. This record was sent to the palpable inbox, bereft of any disclosure, and I at once imagined it the result of an after-school program for ivy league graduate students, vibing off MTV’s representation of lo-fi, inspired by Vampire Weekend, and putting everyone with a goofy stamp all but tattooed on the back of their hand to shame with it’s exacting heady house-party perfection. Before I took a stroll on the Internet, this deduction explained why Final Club was not ubiquitous royalty in the Wavves etcetera scene. Turns out these folks are from Denton, Texas; and not an ivy-league social group, but the side-project of familiar bands (like Teenage Cool Kids). Why they are not the top-billing voice of a generation must have something to do with the all the more elite membership of those liking music this good.

Family Band / Grace & Lies
Nine luscious incantations balanced atop heavy swells of narcotic ore; dispatched from a preternatural, androgynous oracle. Back on earth, Grace & Lies is the debut album of a Brooklyn couple living together in the woods. While the backstory is ultimately harmless, the buttress of this album is first person omnipotence, and it transcends anything tagged with “Brooklyn” or “sustainable living”. Family Band is like the priestess Pythia channeling Apollo at Delphi (the reading that interprets the prophetess as languid, inspired and intelligible, rather than a mouthpiece for gibberish).

Uranium Orchard / 1st LP
The weird-tipped hardcore/punk trio Dry-Rot begat Uranium Orchard, and the transformation is akin to Mekons “Where Were You?” to “Teeth/Guardian/Kill/Stay Cool”. From Dry-Rot, Jordan Darby and Drew Wardkin took a belief system and working interest in music, and left bygone inflated shock tactics. Sure, over half the lyrics are pulled from Mein Kampf, but you’re humming “For the first time, men of natural and patriotic mind became rebels” to the resurrected ideologies of Truman’s Water, Polvo, Hood, and what they were drinking too.

Northern Liberties / Glowing Brain Garden
Use this album as a manageable entry point into the world of the Duerr brothers and their longtime best friend Kevin Riley; who, together for over a decade, have been crafting what they call “ghost punk” - and I’m inclined to take their word for it. In the least because they have always created within the confines of vocals, percussion, and bass; bending to Occam’s Razor - the law of parsimony, which states that until a greater demonstration reveals itself as necessary, the most succinct one shall rule.

Connections / Private Airplane
Connections’ debut album Private Airplane appears to have been pre-released exclusively to those on the Ohio Internet. Meaning, for those in Central Ohio and in the know, the polished pop gems on Private Airplane, to be solicited nationally in 2013, were attainable before the new year. I think it is being logged with a safe majority to say that however circumstantially this came to pass does not deprive the preview of its enchantment. A cursory look at this byproduct of affairs, and it’s a members-only preview; a token of appreciation to a loyal fan base. But as Connections is a newly minted coin, and not some time-honored collector’s item, this gesture would have to have been facilitated by an onus-busting third party Other, with footing in Ohio rock mythology: Why stop now. It is precisely this intangible, magical-way-of-thinking-for-no-reason that infuses Private Airplane, that ranks this album - not of 2012, or 2013, or December, or last week, or that one shitty day you would have had if it weren’t for this album, but as timeless. Most songs crafted today with the original recipe: guitar, bass, drums and vocals, are affected disasters, worthy of that apocalyptic flush. Alternately, Private Airplane hugs the transcendence theory. I now know not be disheartened when my absolutes are untranslatable, but that doesn’t make them any less absolute. Preaching to the choir feels good today; some things can be left unsaid. Connections is absolutely.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Note From Downloading Beth

(Pitch: Apocalypse)

A few days ago, I found an errant note-to-self; long sheared from a sticky-pad given to me when I had an answer to, 'what are your favorite colors?', and that answer was green and pink. These colors shaded in the thoughtful details of small gifts throughout my childhood, printed here in the header (A Note From...) and footer (my name - Beth), making the personalized sticky-pad doubly so, yet ready-made. Kin to magnets, key chains, and shot glasses - only the goods that cast the widest net of usability are predisposed to personalization. Despite it being a rather generic gift, and of the literally ephemeral, this sticky-pad lived past its expectancy. This was in part due to a syntax snatch (you know the type, but in an effort to put the 'wow' factor back into all things meta, look up syntax in the OED). The 'scratch' part of the pad was betwixt A Note From... and Beth, so whatever I thought to jot down would read...trying to thing of a plausible example from my childhood.... like, A Note from... fix garbage disposal Beth or A Note from....Lemmy Killmeister was in Hawkwind! Beth.

My young head found this to be vaguely problematic, deterring use; yet the sticky-pad retained amnesty from disposal, guarded in irritating sentimentality. It lived on in vain, vibrating with uselessness, still always around in a pinch, until I entered adulthood and my first rapid-fire relocation sequence took care of the riffraff as it tends to do. I hadn't thought of the sticky-pad for years until this errant note revealed itself; one I imagine a provident stowaway, affixing itself to papers deemed of greater worth until, all its adherent succumbing to dust, and it finally flapped out from the undulating paper shuffle to remind me about .....Downloading.

That's right. Somehow my compulsive note taking and paper-based pack rat way of living combatted gratuitous moves to present me with a relic of the exact moment I found out about downloading.

A Note From Downloading Beth.

Let's attempt the vain exercise of a more fully shared experience by looking at some sticky-notes from the outermost layer of the wall in front of me, so you know how I post-it:

"kirlian process & phantom leaf"
"Tragedy - intentional lack of internet presence"
"Mailer is Deleuzian. make it up."
"détournement camp"

Reminders, ideas, things to look up, not one-word utterances of common verbs ending in -ing. Now……."Downloading". If nothing else, this should provide some credentials, as it proves my entry into a note taking, thinking, discerning life squarely straddled at least one major component as to why things are the way they are right now - and of course I am talking about what is up with music. Before you try to do any intuitive math, this is all an empirically magical way of offering that I was born in 1982 and graduated high school in 2000, approximately when I found out about downloading. This gets me the sticky-pad around 89’. For those with similar timelines (give or take a sticky-pad), I propose a micro-generation sovereign from both the Millennials and Gen X, two demographic groupings that have snatched babies from 1982 for their findings. Our passage into adulthood sat at the crotch of divergent analog and digital ways of thinking. Who else used to print the internet out at work? I have the entire “Dictionary of the History of Ideas” and Mark E. Smith’s complete discography from when I did this in 2003.

I have heard those born two years after me say they grew up on the internet. The internet and I, have good days and bad days. Sometimes my cautiously curated bookmark bar provides me with a precise cocktail of laughter and inspiration to get out of bed. Yet, I have had moments in which the thought that there will never not be an internet is just the mental dervish to saddle me up to a suffocating debilitation. This is all in a day and surely these thoughts distend from my age bracket. But do you know what is even worse than the thought of all this? Having to read someone wax on about it. Especially when you are on it. Nothing feels grosser than reading about the potential psychological and social ramifications of the internet on the internet. It would be an insulting platter of platitude, let alone a delusively constructed Archimedean point, to suffer you further. This will not be that. Yet, A Note From Downloading Beth... not just a desirable band name in mall emo bingo.

The provenance of the note-to-self skims two temporally linked surfaces as it skips back in time. One will be loosely bracketed as Y2K - 2005: When the internet happened to music, when I found out downloading, when the music press, promotion and criticism transitioned to blogs and websites, and when social networking took hold. The second is represented by the design aesthetic and production era of my sticky-pad, the late 80s/early 90s, currently rotund in influence. Whether intelligently accounted for as "hypnagogic pop" in Wire, blithely acknowledged in thinly cloaked broadsides by Ariel Pink or the latest mimed cry of third rate non-entities, in music qualitatively good or bad, the underlying ideological tremor is all the same.

The year I graduated high school was the first year, in my lifetime, the world was supposed to end, or rather, an earth shattering threat was marketed. With the first two digits of the year field in the world's new fancy-pants computers fixed to 19, the threat was in the feasibility of computer brains regressing to 1900 when the year changed over. (Am I remembering this correctly? Wouldn’t that make computers the serendipitous inventors of time travel? Reduce them to inert objects with anachronistic interests? ) Either way, disaster did not come to pass. Death was avoided, yet a mistake was made: The hypothetical disaster of Y2K was able to exist because of all we had in computers, and it was with computers that we carried on into the new century. After the nascent technological hiccups ceased (so adorable, BTW), a more recalcitrant affliction took hold. Since the turn of the millennium, there have been no new movements. No new theory. The past decade and some change has proffered a comprehensive skirting of everything passed, becoming increasingly splintered and disingenuous - with both a wink and a “wha?” as we slouch towards the next slated apocalypse: December 21, 2012. But this all-permitting, hodgepodge of chaos is effectively an illusion, a trompe-l'œil depicting the rapture, and cloaking cessation’s true symptomatic fulfillment. The arc of influence bends hyper-acute, ever exponentially bowing. This forms a compelling visceral tension, easily misunderstood as the threat. It easy to buy into the epic snap - a staple of myth; moreover, it is easy to fold it up and put it away, it is only 'myth' after all. This explains the public response - a seemingly dissonant reconciliation of paranoia and complacency.

The true apocalyptic symptom can be found when we observe the hyper-nostalgia of artists, creators and aesthetes, whose visions - in an act of subversive annihilation, harken back to precisely whence they came, culturally aborting themselves the moment before conception. A return to zero. Unwitting nihilism. Our participation in the fantasy inadvertently indulges the realization of the apocalypse through self-negation. Slavoj Zizek poses the accidental run-in with death, or misrecognition. You meet death. Spooked, you run away - change your plans. But in effort to avoid this fate, you schedule and make the real appointment with Death. You go to him. Y2K and 9/11 functioned as death; we caught a glimpse of the apocalypse. Nostalgia became the go-to modus operandi to both preserve history and provide a sense of comfort. Everything became permitted, catalyzing the death threat we were acting to avoid.

-Elizabeth Murphy