Friday, January 31, 2020


This book came out several years ago, but the ideas were shopworn years before that

Release rationale:

'Art is theft,’ Picasso once proclaimed, and much of the best and most ‘original’ new art involves an act or two of unequivocal, overt theft. Paradoxically, the law relating to artistic borrowing has grown more restrictive. ‘The plagiarism and copyright trials of the twenty-first century are what the obscenity trials were to the twentieth century’, Kenneth Goldsmith, has observed. ‘These are really the issues of our time.’ Beg, Steal and Borrow offers a comprehensive and provocative survey of a complex subject that is destined to grow in relevance and importance. It traces an artistic lineage of appropriation from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons, and examines the history of its legality from the sixteenth century to now.

Some chapter titles and quotes

 Chapter 1 "How Original Are You?"

"The self -- the thing that makes me so uniquely me and you so uniquely you -- is entirely borrowed" 

Chapter 2 "Thou Shalt Not Steal"

Chapter 3 "…But You Will Be Taught to Copy"

"Michaelangelo's own originality was of an avowedly imitative kind" 

"Copying is the foundation stone of art-making, and the impulse to copy the art of other artists is the progressive motor of art history." 

Chapter 4 "A Brave New Multi-Authored World"

Chapter 6, "Remake, Reuse, Reassemble, Recombine: That's the Way to Go",

 "Art has become one big stylistic mash-up, then, an orgy of copying and collaging beyond the logic of time and place 

"As is only appropriate in a book on appropriating and copying, every word and thought in this text has been borrowed from someone else"


My lecture on how everything is NOT a remix

Friday, January 3, 2020

i stream you stream we all stream

Here's a piece I did for last weekend's Guardian Guide looking back at the last decade's popular culture - music and TV -  focused on how streaming is eroding the idea of a mainstream, as we all follow on our own increasingly individualized streams that thread through the flood of content. The result is not so much the disintegration of the Monoculture as the de-synchronization of the Monotemporality: a swarm of micro-publics all tied to their own timeline.

My original headline was "Scattered and Shattered".

A scatter of further thought-shards from myself...

Lured down the path of least resistance (oh so convenient) I use Spotify (along with YouTube and Bandcamp etc) as the primary way of listening to things, unless I've been sent them as files, and even then sometimes it's just easier to stream. (A lifetime's worth of records and CDs lie inert in their vastness: I've even downloaded things I already own rather than be obliged to move my butt from this chair).

But I find streaming in general and Spotify in particular unsatisfying in a way that’s hard to explain...  The nearest I can get is that it feels like the music isn’t really going in.  Or that it passes right through me, like water (which is one reason why the utility analogy - piped music - feels so apt). That’s possibly down to the fact that I’m nearly always doing something else on the computer while listening, so that the concentration-pie is divided.  Streaming tends to turn music - even the most lively or attention-grabbing - into background listening.

But the lack of a public dimension is also part of the disconnection feeling. Radio feels realer somehow - more social, less atomised. A record that is getting increasing radio-play feels like an unfolding event within popular desire. And when you grow to like that record you feel like are converging with unknown others in social space.

Radio also liberates the listeners from the burden of having to choose (okay, it's true you'll often flick to a different station in the hopes of hearing a tune you like better - but that's as close to a toss of the coin as it is a purposeful act of navigation within the sound library).  For sure, there are algorithms at work in streaming that attempt to tune into your sonic libido and do the selecting for you. I find that the archival surfeit provokes in me a neurotic drive to master the flux, by building enormous playlists of genres or clustered artists, that once assembled would take a day or two to listen through. These playlists are almost always then immediately forgotten and never returned to, although catching sight of them from the corner of my eye as I assemble another never-to-be-played playlist I experience a shuddery twitch of self-disgust.

Talking about self-disgust, Andrew Parker chips in with a thought about the audio-cornucopia:

"Looking at my hard drive and seeing all the music files I've collected over the year is like walking into room flooded with my own vomit. I feel ashamed as I recognise almost all of it and know that it was only partially digested before being expelled."

Haha! In my case, the shame is the arrayed accumulation of things acquired but never unzipped - and the frequency of non-recognition: what the hell was that then, and why did I download it?

Andrew also mentions how his music-processing speed has massively gone up, his ability to extract nutritive-value from something in a single listen. I do think most civilian consumers are now in the position that critics and DJs (radio and club) have been in since forever, getting tons of stuff and learning to how to sift based on a single or partial listen. But with streaming etc it’s even more overwhelming the amount of music / TV that is available and you fall into an even faster browse/sift mode since you don’t even have to take things out of their packaging, place them on turntables or insert them into CD players…

On an earlier occasion of discussing these sort of issues here, an Anonymous Commenter suggested acidly that there was a kind of puritanism lurking behind the worries about the musical glut / gluttony. On the contrary, I asserted, these complaints are really coming from a completely opposite place: anxiety about the loss of pleasure, the dulling of aural sensuality. It's more based in a kind of "home economics" of the libido / psyche: excess of supply causes demand to wane and wither. Music fandom defeats itself.

You don't have to regard gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins to be wary of it - it might be unhealthy physiologically or emotionally.  There are reasons not to do the audio equivalent of stuffing 18 chocolate eclairs down your gullet in quick succession.  For instance, trying to listen to the complete works of an artist in a single chronological listen removes the interval in which digestion can take place - and which, in historical real-time, involved gaps of a year or more, multiple replays of the work in question etc. You can't really reconstruct that experience nowadays, but you can at least leave a gap between masterworks, before ploughing on into the next one.

If a truly profound art of listening could find an infinity in a single piece of music listened to for the rest of one's life and nothing else ... the inverse seems to imply a logical outcome in the other direction. A near-infinity of listening (both in amount and variety) available to you as individual, without any impediments of cost or effort, will lead to the ultimate form of undeep listening... pre-fatigued ears skim across everything in a futile attempt to take it all in.

There's disorientation too: Pelle Snickars, co-author of  Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music, has talked about the downside of audio clutter: how you "lose track of your tracks". (Of course, that happened with the solid-form modes of music commodity, but there is something about the absolute inconspicuousness of immaterial sound, whether in your hard drive or in the cloud, that makes it easier to not-see and soon-forget).

But I know people have many other - and completely opposite - experiences with streaming.  And yes, there's a generational aspect.

Living with a TV journalist means that I see these syndromes play out in another field of entertainment that's been absolutely transformed by streaming. But most people are familiar with the downsides. The dither-inducing dizziness of all those options, a Tinder-ization of culture as you flick through deferring the moment of commitment - the decision on how to spend time, invest your leisure capital. Desultory browsing suddenly galvanised in the potlatch splurge of the binge session, the delirious release from choice through submission to the crack-fiend commitment to a single storyline and set of characters... knowing exactly what you'll be doing for the next X number of hours or days. (The uneasy laugh of recognition off of this Portlandia sketch about the couple who consume an entire series in one sleepless jag and then - in severe withdrawal - pressure a man they mistakenly believe to be the show’s creator to perform new episodes just for their own private delight).

Further, even more stray and shard-like thoughts...

Awards Ceremonies were never such a big deal in the past, were they? I don't remember watching a single one in my UK youth. Like the phone-in voice contests and the reality eliminations, these ceremonies are re-constitutions of the General Public, running counter to the centrifugal tendencies of everything else going on. Mark Fisher wrote and spoke about this, even saw something hopeful in it.

I wonder what Mark would have thought about the spread across all the end-of-year lists of what is effectively (regardless of genre or sonic specifics) a new singer-songwriter ethos...  recordings approached and analysed and felt largely as literary expressions... narratives of self, social comment, political stances and statements, representations of identity, thematic links  ....  the criticism surrounding it somewhat more attentive to sound and rhythm than Paul Nelson's purely literary appreciation of  Jackson Browne in Stranded, but fundamentally coming from the same place, the same understanding of how popular music works and what it's for.  Today, listening to and reading about this kind of album (fucking Norman Fucking Rockwell the supreme example), it feels like what's going on between artist and critics is a performance of  Importance and Seriousness - Masterpiece Theater you could call it - one that harks back achingly to a time when such major statements could be presumed to be of universal significance. In that sense, true retro rather than surface retro (although NFR is laden with the surface kind too, while Weyes Blood is a singer-songwriter era reeanctment).

The thought of Mark's scorn is a painful pleasure, since we'll never know how he would have worded it or what insights he'd have filleted from the middlebrow morass. He probably would have felt similarly about much of the quality TV of our time - the "must-see" stuff where the "must" connotes not so much "compulsive" as "compulsory"  - claiming our attention via an appeal to a vague dutifulness, the necessity to keep abreast of Important Statements.

I suspect Mark would have felt this kind of thing to be the diametric opposite of "pulp modernism", i.e. mass entertainment of a seemingly escapist and purely spectacular type (escapist even when dystopian), within which are secreted  concepts and philosophical-political thought-bombs - arguably all the more potent for being inveigled into minds that are not already primed to be edified or "challenged".

He would instinctively have been supportive of the kind of movies and TV that only get nominated for awards in technical categories like special effects, editing, lighting, etc.

He'd probably have liked Chernobyl though - for the science-fiction-NOW landscapes of catastrophe.

Others (including the missus) have noted the rise of culture/entertainment that feels like work (or homework). No wonder so many are going truant, returning to vegetative modes of watching that are purely relaxing (as with the popularity of Friends reruns, even used by some as a sleep aid). 

What will the next decade bring? Sometimes I imagine a sort of attention recession. An involuntary, reflexive reaction of withdrawal on the part of consumer-spectactors.  Appetite and interest wane to almost nothing in response to the escalating overload, as supply vastly exceeds conceivable demand. Turn off, tune out, and drop away.

For my own part, as I sit on the sofa, eyes arrested by some new accomplishment in art-TV,  I sometimes remember my teenage self discovering the work of the Situationists - theorists of boredom who coined the concept of “the spectacle” to characterize the passivity and isolation of mass media.

At the end of day, it doesn't really matter whether what you watch is quality or garbage, enlightening or vegetative: it's all TV, a way of taking your mind off your problems (even when you are informing yourself about other people's problems, or past problems). Your butt is stuck in the sofa either way. Real life is elsewhere. And so is politics.

Which is a reminder also that all of the above is among the least pressing of our problems heading into the 2020s.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Friends, again

"We spend our days in front of screens which broadcast us more information than we’re able to handle about things we aren’t able to change. Is it any surprise that safe and familiar relics are being dug up to soothe us?" - Olivia Ovenden

What with being Mr. Retromania, I am quoted in Ms. Ovenden's Esquire piece "The Pull Of The Past: How We All Got Hooked On Nostalgia In The 2010s", an interesting deep dive into the memory-surfacing algorithms of social media etc, with a particular focus on Nineties-nostalgia and the widespread recourse to Friends as a sort of televisual eqivalent to ambient / Ambien.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Hauntology Parish Newsletter - Bumper Yuletide Edition

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

Moon Wiring Club cometh with his customary seasonal offering: Cavity Slabs. Like the atypical summertime long-player Ghastly Garden Centres of earlier this yearSlabs is a brisk and beat-driven effort, veering away from the boggy hinterland of ambience and vocal gloop into which much of Ian Hodgson's output this past decade has sunk so deliriously. Focused and concise, the new record  boasts just eight tuff tunes. The reference point this time around is breakbeat hardcore - in moments, I'm reminded of the phat-but-spooky sound of Eon, although Ian says the launchpad for the new direction was actually this obscure tune:

This very very early Moving Shadow track (by a group later and slightly better known for their Rising High releases) first reached Ian's eardrums via an Autechre radio show from many years ago. "It always stuck with me. It’s that mix of beats with ‘anything goes’ sampling and environmental sounds ~ it always makes me think of coastlines... and a sort of grey mistiness."


The aim with Cavity Slabs was to take a detour round the ongoing overload of rave-replicas, with their neurotic attention to period detail and naked nostalgia, and instead reactivate the bygone playfulness and incongruous-samples-clumsily-collaged approach of the early Nineties, which threw up so many genre-of-one anomalies and half-realised oddments alongside the classic bangers and slammers.

^^^a megamix of three tunes from the album^^^

"I wanted to compose something that reflected the dankness / mystery of fog without it being an ambient drone affair," adds Ian. The name Cavity Slabs comes from a pile of building materials Ian passed on a rainy-day stroll, which conjured associations both of vinyl platters and "limestone moorside and burial chambers". The overall atmosphere and thematic is caught in the slogan "COAX ANCIENT VOICES FROM THE LANDSCAPE" and track titles like "Cromlech Technology" - cromlech being a megalithic altar-tomb or circle of standing stones around a burial mound.

Cavity Slabs is available for purchase here .

But wait... there's more... adding to the Xmas feast, there's a new, radically different version of an old MWC fave: a DL-only VULPINE REDUX edition of Somewhere A Fox Is Getting Married.  "The original album plus 47 minutes of 12 bonus track alternate takes / extended versions / tangentially related nonsense from the vaults circa 2006-2011" including unreleased experiments like "35 Year Sit Down" and the lost "Schlagerdelia" classic "Mountain Men".


Talking of "grey mistiness" -  remiss have I been in not alerting parishioners to this new release by  Lo Five - Wirral-based electronician Neil Grant.

There's a really nice "mundane mystical" atmosphere to the sound Neil's worked up on his lovely new album Geography of the Abyss - muzzy textures like looking out through a coach window that's streaked with rippling rivulets of heavy rain, or trying to peer through the frosted-glass window of your front door to see who's coming up the path. The vibe of the album reminds me of the sort of trance you can fall into while travelling on a train or a bus, that feeling of slipping outside the moorings of time. 


A record that not only remissly passed without comment from me, but that I missed completely when it originally came out in June - Vanishing Twin's The Age of Immunology.

Triffic stuff -  at times like The Focus Group if based around "proper" musicianship rather than sampladelia. As with their previous album Choose Your Own Adventure, the starting points of Broadcast, Stereolab, White Noise, library music, etc, are still discernible, but now they are definitively on a journey of their own.

‘You Are Not an Island’, ‘Invisible World’ and ‘Planete Sauvage’ were apparently "recorded in nighttime sessions in an abandoned mill in Sudbury"!


More remissness - alert overdue for the release of the audio element of Andrew Pekler's wonderful Phantom Islands - A Sonic Atlas  project of last year.


A recommendation from parish elder Bruce Levenstein

Release rationale:

Mount Maxwell continues his run of 1970s themed releases with a full length meditation on the perceptual experiences of children born in the wake of the 1960's cultural revolution. Highly ambivalent in tone, Only Children marks a departure from earlier MM releases both in its use of acoustic instruments and in a newfound sense of criticality towards its subject matter; the back-to-the-land optimism of tracks like 'Nature ID' in uneasy proximity to the skeptical disquiet of 'Weird Places' and 'Nomad'. 


Bruce also brings to my attention this effort

Release rationale:

There was a certain something about watching television in the 70s and 80s. The static crackle when you switched on your set. The faint smell of ozone as it slowly warmed up. The chunky buttons (including such flights of fancy as 'BBC3' and 'ITV2"). And, of course, the programmes themselves.

Whether it was HTV's seminal Folk Horror tinged children's classics 'Sky' or Children of the Stones, BBC1's fiercely intelligent 'adult-show-for-kids' 'The Changes' or ITV's everyday tale of alien possession, 'Chocky', the era was bursting with inventive, unforgettable and yes, terrifying shows.

The only thing more memorable than the actual programmes were their theme tunes. The unique talents of Paddy Kingsland, Sidney Saget, Eric Wetherell, John Hyde and many more were responsible for the atmospheric, eerie soundscapes which formed the aural backdrop to our favourite shows. Which is where Kev Oyston (The Soulless Party) and Colin Morrison (Castles in Space) come in. They've corralled the best of today's innovative electronic musicians, and together they've created 'Scarred For Life: The Album', a collection of new music inspired by the terrifying televisual sounds of our childhoods.

All proceeds for this album will go to aid Cancer Research UK, a charity which is close to the hearts of some of our artists, one of whom is currently undergoing treatment for cancer.

Enjoy. And remember: DO have nightmares. They're good for you.

-Stephen Brotherstone & Dave Laurence, co-authors 'Scarred For Life Volume One: the 1970's'. .


The incredibly prolific and thorough Stephen Prince of A Year in the Country - independent scholar of the rustic eerie and convenor of reliably interesting compilations - has just published a second book.

Straying From the Pathways: Hidden Histories, Echoes of the Future's Past and the Unsettled Landscape is the companion volume to last year's Wandering Through Spectral Fields: Journeys in Otherly Pastoralism, the Further Reaches of Folk and the Parallel Worlds of Hauntology. 

How does Stephen do it?!?

More information about Straying From the Pathways here.

Hark at this here Table of Contents!

1. Explorations of an Eerie Landscape: Texte und Töne – The Disruption, The Changes, The Edge is Where the Centre is: David Rudkin and Penda’s Fen: An Archaeology, The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, The Stink Still Here – the miners’ strike 1984-85 – Robert Macfarlane – Benjamin Myers’ Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place

2. Fractured Dream Transmissions and a Collapsing into Ghosts: John Carpenter – Prince of Darkness, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Village of the Damned, Christine – Nigel Kneale – Martin Quatermass – John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos

3. Hinterland Tales of Hidden Histories and Unobserved Edgeland Transgressions: Adrian McKinty’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone – Clare Carson’s Orkney Twilight – David Peace’s GB84 – Tony White’s The Fountain in the Forest

4. Countercultural Archives and Experiments in Temporary Autonomous Zones: Jeremy Sandford and Ron Reid’s Tomorrow’s People – Richard Barnes’ The Sun in the East: Norfolk & Suffolk Fairs – Sam Knee’s Memory of a Free Festival: The Golden Era of the British Underground Festival Scene – Gavin Watson’s Raving ’89 – Molly Macindoe’s Out of Order: The Underground Rave Scene 1997-2006

5. The Village and Seaside Idyll Gone Rogue: Hot Fuzz – The Avengers’ “Murdersville” – The Prisoner – In My Mind – Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Mon Amour

6. Albion in the Overgrowth and Timeslip Echoes: Requiem – The Living and the Dead – Britannia – Detectorists

7. In Cars – Building a Better Future, Peculiarly Subversive Enchantments and Faded Futuristic Glamour: In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway – Joe
 Moran’s On Roads: A Hidden History – Chris Petit’s Radio On – Autophoto – Martin Parr’s Abandoned Morris Minors of the West of Ireland – The Friends of Eddie Coyle – Killing Them Softly – Langdon Clay’s Cars: New York City 1974-76

8. Brutalism, Reaching for the Sky and Bugs in Utopia: Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal World – Bladerunner – J.G.Ballard – Ben Wheatley – High-Rise – Peter Mitchell’s Memento Mori – Brick High-Rise

9. Battles with the Old Guard and the Continuing sparking of Vivid Undercurrents: A Very Peculiar Practice – Edge of Darkness

10. Lycanthropes, Dark Fairy Tales and the Dangers of Wandering off the Path: The Company of Wolves – Danielle Dax – Red Riding Hood – Wolfen – Hansel & Gretel: Witchhunters – The Keep

11. The Empty City Film and Other Visions of the End of Days – Survival and Shopping in the Post-Apocalypse: Day of the Triffids – Into the Forest – Night of the Comet –The Quiet Earth

12. Universe Creation, Spectral Lines in the Cultural Landscape and Reimagined Echoes from the Past: Hauntology – Hypnagogic Pop – Synthwave – D.A.L.I.’s When Haro Met Sally – Nocturne’s Dark Seed – Beyond the Black Rainbow – Mo’ Wax, UNKLE, Tricky, Massive Attack, Portishead, DJ Shadow, Andrea Parker – Ghost Box Records,  The Focus Group, Belbury Poly – The Memory Band – The Delaware Road – Rowan : Morrison – Howlround – Mark Fisher – the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – Adrian Younge’s Electronique Void – DJ Food – Grey Frequency – Keith Seatman – Douglas Powell – Akiha Den Den – The Ghost in the MP3 – Black Channels – The Quietened Village – The Corn Mother


Now this is a little odd - not only is this here chap trespassing on Hatherley's terrain, he's borrowed his first name too! 


Finally -  and no doubt this morsel of news has already reached your flabbergasted ears  -  but cor blimey guvnor,  Paul Weller's only going to release a record on Ghost Box! The In Another Room EP is out early next year. And it's actually rather good.