Friday, March 30, 2012

all the attention paid this week to Laurie Spiegel's abstract electronic music from the early 70s popping up unexpectedly in The Hunger Games -- Geeta's piece for Wired here, and then this one at Slate - reminded me that I found something on Ms Spiegel's website a few years ago that tickled me:

Letter to the Editor, Arts & Leisure Section, NY Times
(published by the Times in highly edited form, but the full original text follows:)
On the Nostalgia Boom

by Laurie Spiegel, July 1, 1990

Reading your articles on nostalgia today, I wanted to add the observation that this widespread backward-focusing of our culture cannot be entirely explained as though motivated solely by public mood. The demand has come into existence partly as a result of economic factors in informational media.

The number of available conduit media (tv channels, etc.) has expanded in recent years faster than our society's ability to create quality new information to fill the added channel capacity. The resulting gap between new bandwidth and new programming is being filled by re-use of older material (epitomized by "oldies" radio stations, CATV networks showing only old movies, and reissues of LPs as CDs).
Old material is cheap, fast to obtain in final form, and quick to achieve widespread public recognition and acceptance, compared to new material of the same quality which must be created and promoted from scratch at today's prices.

Our society can't help becoming increasingly nostalgic when constantly bombarded with images remembered from our own lost youths. So a cyclic spiral is created, in which public demand increasingly opts for revivalism in place of new work, because information providers are more than happy to keep their costs low by keeping our attention focused on the past.

This phenomenon of looking to our pasts for entertainment, insight, and aesthetic experience, rather than to the creative voices of our own peers, who can authenticate and explore our own experience for and with us in our own times - this tendency has coincided with major reactionary pressures to curtail support for our country's information creators - writers, artists, film makers, composers, inventors, etc.

As new distribution media rely on revivals of old work, because it's too expensive to create enough good new stuff to fill our expanding media, we are being pushed toward a culture of nostalgia. Because the creation of new work is genuinely more expensive, risky, and difficult than just using old work again, new works need to be subsidized to compete with old works. This is in essence why all other developed nations with strong artistic inventories from their pasts have already learned to subsidize their living information creators (artists), even if costly and risky short term. Younger USA culture has yet to understand this and do likewise.

Support for new creation is basic cultural R&D (research and development). It can help us fill our new media channels with greater variety instead of greater redundancy, allow us to continue to export music, film, literature, and new informational forms, and to stimulate more relevant and useful societal discussion and insight.

Peoples around the world are currently eager to adopt American political, economic, and cultural ways in large part because they have been exposed to American informational output (music, film, etc.) for decades. In an era when this country is no longer a world leader in other fields where we used to be, our informational output - intellectual, artistic, imaginative, and inventive - our strongest remaining area of leadership overall, is getting less and less support because reruns are cheaper and safer, and new creation is increasingly costly and restricted. As new work fails to gain the support it needs to compete on an economic par with old work, our media are understandably saturated with an increasing percentage of reruns and remakes.

If this tendency is not reversed, we will soon experience nostalgia for a time when vision, honest exploration, expression, and creativity were still economically viable, and little will survive our own unique time to show the next generation what we will by then be nostalgic for.

! ! !

here's that track "Sediment" as used in Hunger Games, followed by other examples of Laurie S's work and an interview

a lovely pair of pieces from Neil Kulkarni on Oliver Postgate and children's teevee then and now

Haitch for Hauntological

a mix by Mordant Music at italian Vice

Thursday, March 29, 2012

flotspam and botsam

in the Toop piece in The Wire, I write about how the ocean-of-information that is the internet has become clogged with data-trash... i compare it to the Gyre, aka the Pacific Trash Vortex, where all the disintegrated-into-teensy-nodules plastic litter has been carried by tidal systems to form one gigantic disgrace-to-the-species sargasso-sea of non-biodegradable dumpage

well, news that "software is using more bandwith than people" and that "51 percent of total online traffic is non-human" makes Tower of Sleep reach for the same analogy:

"This kind of makes me think of the Great Pacific Trash Vortex or how the airspace in low Earth orbit is all cluttered full of “space junk” already from all the satellites we’ve sent up. Even in a space that we’ve created and that we usually (and somewhat erroneously) think of as immaterial or virtual, we have managed to make a mess. I think we have a long way to go in terms of developing a more ecological frame of thinking that accounts for all the assemblages that compose reality. This is a good reminder that we need ecological thinking for the internet, too."

often trawling through the internet is does strike me as this teeming,
abject waste-land... a right DUMP

naive to expect it to be otherwise, though, i suppose... anything that humans make is going to mirror our condition... our vices and virtues alike

that article and Tower of Sleep's gloss on it makes me think of two further things:

Rem Koolhaas's deliriously writhing text Junkspace, which is ostensibly mostly about architecture but keeps blurring repeatedly such that it seems to be about the internet, or some of the stuff Retromania is talking about (glutted and clotted) or ALL CULTURE NOW

and that doomsday-scenario conjured up by those who worry about the development of nanotechnology: Grey Goo

aka (via wiki) "out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves, a scenario known as ecophagy ("eating the environment")"

Eric Drexler coined the concept in his book Engines of Creation:

"Though masses of uncontrolled replicators need not be grey or gooey, the term "grey goo" emphasizes that replicators able to obliterate life might be less inspiring than a single species of crabgrass. They might be "superior" in an evolutionary sense, but this need not make them valuable"

NU-90S PART 216

until the bass drop, this track off the forthcoming album by Bassnectar (#2 brosteppa after skrillex) sounds like vintage hardcore in the maximalist vein of Hyper-On Experience and circa-"Window in the Sky" Acen

that break is one used by Urban Shakedown on "Some Justice", and countless others, right?

strange days we're living through

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress argues that there's too much fantasy posing as science fiction on our screens

now this is something i've been wont to mutter darkly on our sofa as the missus ogles Galactica and its other prequel Caprica

and also re. Lost

the endlessly unfurling and ever-twisting narratives, with their make-it-up-as-they-go-along deus ex machina-s and out-of-the-blue occurrences (not developments but game-changers, terrain-shifting, Laws-of-Reality up-enders)

the wearying profusion of characters and sub-plots

it is a digimodernist (as per alan kirky) trait of onwardness and endlessness... saga-and-legend like stories that just keep on extending themselves... videogames-like layer upon layer of complexity

I think what Rosenberg misses though is that SyFy the channel probably knows its market -- for there appears to be no appetite among the public, particularly the young public, for speculative fiction -- for s.f. based on extrapolating from current circumstances and projecting into the near-future

(that is why the channel changed its name from the Sci-Fi channel to SyFy, to obscure its relation to a genre that's now been outmoded -- certainly according to William Gibson who says the capital F future is a dying concept)

instead of that s.f. as speculative fiction mode, which is fundamentally modern and satirical, the mode for nu-fantasy is Medieval and allegorical

when she says, "the future is going to be more futuristic than we imagined, and it’s getting here awfully fast" -- really?

nobody believes, i don't think (at least not like we believed in the 70s, with real confidence in its inevitability, its round-the-corner-ness) that there’ll be e.g. commercial space tourism any time soon, and if there is, it'll be for a tiny superwealthy few

no, the images of the future that do seem to resonate in the market, they're all apocalyptic, post-catastrophic, or dystopian

as per The Hunger Games

which i thought was really good, despite a few niggling implausibilities

a sort of blend of satire and allegory: old skool s.f. with all the action and heroics of the new sword 'n' sorcery

it reminded me a bit, in its caricature-of-now premise - intensified extremes of class and wealth division, a return to Medievalism and "bread and circuses" - of this lost classic of speculative fiction: Gladiator-At-Law by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

Pohl and Kornbluth were both members of the Marxist-leaning s.f. groupuscule The Futurians

hence the anti-capitalist The Space Merchants, a satire-by-speculative-projection of advertising in the just-before-Mad Men era, i.e. the 1950s

The Space Merchants led me to Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders, one of several alarmist non-fiction books he wrote about advertising (subliminal ads at the movies, hypnotic cereal packets)

(when i was on this post-Space Merchants kick, i even read a book by David Ogilvy, Madison Avenue avant-gardist and i believe one of the inspirations for Mad Men. The Hertfordshire Inter-Library Loan System was truly as thing of wonder, back in the 70s any road)

the satiric mode is a modern mode because it is, if not outright utopian, at least optimistic -- it believes the ills of the world can be mocked out of existence... it has a conception of "ought", an inkling of faith if not in perfectibility than at least in improvement

all this neo-Medieval guff on our screens, it's all "is" and no "ought"... human nature is unchanging... class is destiny, indeed these are caste societies, not class societies... people know their place
iconic Hacienda club turned into a museum diorama at the Victoria & Albert in London, just like CBGBs was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex in NYC

gotta dig the name at least -- Gordon Voidwell!

(via a grammar)
check the book the girl's reading at 0.44

(via Piotrek Kowalczyk)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

are you "digitally retentive"?

I am

but not as bad as these data hoarders

not quite

not yet
"A lot of the new acts I saw [at SXSW] did seem to think in references. Their art, and the work they put into it, was more like quilting than weaving-- they'd take bits and pieces of recognizable things and recombine them in new ways. This isn't necessarily bad or hollow; sometimes it's strange and illuminating. But one night, watching one of Fiona Apple's terrific gigs, it worried me. The motor behind Apple's shows seemed to be inside her-- some kind of emotion with no cultural reference point. The idea was to take those feelings and fill a room with them. It stood out. Why weren't more of the acts I was seeing doing that? Why did so many of them feel mediated, as if the bands could only communicate with me emotionally by pointing to items on some menu laid out between us, containing all the sounds and ideas they understood and I understood, too?"
-- Nitsuh Abebe probes the Malaise -

see also Mark Richardson's column on Tumblr-pop and music-as-reblog

and Scott Plagenhoef's piece on Tumblr-pop and "post-internet" musicians

Sunday, March 25, 2012

on the subject of nu exotica

could there be anything more putrid than the instakitsch soundtrack of Avatar?

says Wiki, "Composer James Horner recorded parts of the score with a small chorus singing in the Na'vi language in March 2008. He also worked with Wanda Bryant, an ethnomusicologist, to create a music culture for the alien race. Horner took advice from his assistant, and they put an unusual amount of virtual instruments in this project."

Friday, March 23, 2012

aren't many examples of retrosthetics in hip hop video i can think of, but here are a few

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

after hipster house, hipster hardcore?

featuring the vox of Julianna Barwick in the 4AD-ethereal-girl-sample role (Messiah Temple of Dreams/This Mortal Coil/Liz Frazer; FSOL Papua New Guinea/Dead Can Dance/Lisa Gerrard etc etc)

sounds like Elite Gymnastics are another case of "post-Internet" music, judging by this Pitchfork appraisal of their album RUIN 1 from last year by Brian Howe:

"the Internet is their habitat, not a conduit. Their music is proudly unaffiliated, cobbling together influences that will probably strike older listeners as disparate and younger ones as perfectly concordant"

"the drum breaks come from jungle and hip-hop, the radiantly smeared textures from shoegaze and drone-rock, the samples from video games. They're comfortable mixing Waka Flocka Flame or Ryuichi Sakamoto, chopping Final Fantasy theme music into Balearic house or tending to ghostly, blackened whirrs. According to the band, they used chillwave to Trojan Horse these diverse sounds into complacent earbuds.Whether or not you buy that line, the only chillwave thing about is how miscellaneous listening habits dissolve in a solution of over-stimulated memory and prodigious sonic options."
bunch of pieces by me related to Retromaniacal concerns:


The relaunch issue of Spin - bimonthly, bigger, deeper - is out now. It's organised around the theme of Retro Activity aka "pastpresentfuture", aka "raid the past, dream the future". Indeed the issue was, says editorial director Charles Aaron in his introduction, partly inspired by Retromania. I contributed the framing essay, which includes an interview with Lana Del Rey and looks at how LDR's music/image relates to the broader cultural moment. Also provided the concept/text for an infographic about revivalism as an escalating syndrome during these past four decades.

The whole issue looks and reads great. Of particular R-mania relevance is the piece by Christopher R. Weingarten on the influence of David Lynch on current music.

In my LDR piece, Lynch comes up inevitably in reference to a kind of Fifties-via-Eighties syndrome you get in a lot of current music. I do my own Fifties-via-Eighties move in the essay, in the sense that there's a certain debt to Fredric Jameson's writings from that period that examine movies like Blue Velvet (and others) in terms of their relationship to the Fifties as American utopia.


An adapted version of my Off the Page talk on David Toop's work is in the new issue of The Wire - in some ways this is the Part 2 to" Excess All Areas", that Retromania-related essay I did last summer in the Wire. Contains stuff on the collection-as-archive, exoticism/xenomania and how it's been intensified yet also emptied by the internet's abolition of geography, and also how information overload leads to burn-out. Over at The Wire website, I've done a Portal linking to online writings that connect to or inform the piece.


the Retromania-cal and hauntological notion of nostalgia for the future surfaces again in this Frieze feature on frightfully English electronic outsiders Daphne Oram and Frederick Judd pegged around the recent indispensable reissues


questions of history and music's relationship to the past are discussed in this
profile of Greil Marcus for The Guardian's A Life In Writing series, and also in the review of GM's The Doors for Bookforum from last year

Monday, March 19, 2012

retromania related pieces and interviews in foreign languages

for Norwegian readers: interview with Arild Linneberg for Ballade in two parts

for French readers: the Excess All Areas piece originally in the Wire last summer, in Chronicart

plus an interview in Chronicart
Keep it retro:)

got an email from someone who doesn't seem to have quite grasped what the point of Retromania the book or Retromania the blog is:

Hey man,
I am one of the creators of Silent Film Director
was surfing the net and found your blog - looks really good
I am starting a contest of retro films, created with iPhone and would really appreciate a shout out

Any help with spreading the word will go,
wondering if we can get some great silent and retro films submitted

Thanks in advance and let me know if I can be of any help

Keep it retro:)


but no matter! if you are interested in competing in his contest, go here

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"I was born with a sense that my time was running out. Not long ago, I too began blaming the speed of the internet and its corresponding mobile, digital technologies. But then I realized that the problem wasn't being able to do more, faster; it was that, faster and faster, I was spending more of my own precious time doing more of less.... We need to slow the internet down, and should probably hurry up about it"

from "Slow Media, & The Occupation Of Online Time", an essay by Ryan Alexander Diduck, at the Quietus

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

viva hate / listen with prejudice

in this Critical Beats panel discussion from Feb 23 on the subject of Aesthetics, Innovation and Tradition (w/ Lisa Blanning, Joe Muggs, and moderator Steve Goodman aka Kode9), Stevie G starts by asking us each about our listening methodology, how we look out for and define innovation in what we're hearing. And I riff a bit about listening for a strong feeling or a strong idea, or both... move onto Fredric Jameson's A Singular Modernity re. the modernists's obsession with measurement (a metric for innovation and newness) and re. the modernist drive towards negation: decreeing things to be passe, superceded, no longer contributing to the Advance of Art. And I close by adlibbing a riff about the Court of Aesthetic Judgement and how being a stern, severe judge is necessary in an age of overload and sonic overproduction because there's a great need to thin things out, clear some space, decide what's essential and what's inessential. In a real court the presumption is "innocent until proven guilty", whereas in my Court of Aesthetic Judgement, the presumption is "boring and irrelevant until proven otherwise".

well i realised later that this is an idea i'd riffed before, slightly differently, in this 2009 blissblog post in response to something Carl Neville at the Impostume had written:

"thinking again about Carl's talk about needing to have "some broad operative criteria in order to be able to navigate the vast reaches of modern music consumption/production", how "I suspect that there’s even a certain moralistic aspect thrown in. I tend to approve of records I enjoy", I realised that in a sense what he's talking about is the necessity of having a cop in your head. Because the cop in your head is your friend; the cop in your head is you. It's a system of judgement that serves to protect you from the torrential barrage of trifle and ordure that is the entertainmentscape. (The problem with popism: it's no cop).

I'm talking about a kind of aesthetic super-ego... Most people will start with an inherited one... prejudices and biases, values and aversions that are assimilated from their immediate environment (family, friends, school, etc)...later from the media or from subcultures they might join. (That's what the Big Other is, am I right?... a collective super-ego... I ask because all I know of Zizek is osmosed via K-punk!). The goal is to create your own aesthetic/cultural super-ego... maintain and modify it... not eliminate it altogether. (People who try just end up with another super-ego: "Thou Shalt Not Listen to Indie"... you can even turn eliminating the Big Other into just another Big Other...) Having a filter, it's essential, a matter of survival, of effective time-management
. "

I'm nothing if not consistent.

And as I said in the Critical Beats thing, I got this mindset not from reading modernist manifestos and art criticism, but from the UK music press.. the punk/Burchill-ite presumption that 99 percent is shit... the structural requirement of the Singles Page as Herculean ordeal, where you review 20 singles, out of which 15 are slagged or damned with faintest praise, but to get to that 20 you have to listen to 60 singles in a grim all-day, all-of-the-night session... thinning down that week's pile of hopeful contenders who've come forth hoping for attention and praise... you get toughened up real quickly, hard-hearted, just impatient with time-wasters... that's never left me really.

but i don't really listen with prejudice... my only prejudice is an aversion to the heard-it-before, the blatantly derivative, the mildly tinkered-with... i'm prejudiced against boredom

But talking about consistency, for those who find Retromania curmudgeonly, you should read the stuff I wrote in the mid-Eighties for Monitor, when I was 22 or 23... gloomy surveys of the then-Now like "What's Missing"... basically my default position is dissatisfied: the psychology is bipolar, a violent oscillation between manic and depressive.

Monday, March 12, 2012


In the new issue of Frieze, Rem Koolhaas says something similar to what I'm saying in the "Out of Space: Nostalgia for Giant Steps and Final Frontiers" chapter of Retromania.

It's an interview between RK and Nick Currie (aka Momus), on the occasion of his book Project Japan: Metabolism Talks, about the visionary Japanese architecture group who launched with a 1960 Manifesto

NC: I was just watching your recent appearance on the talkshow Charlie Rose and I was interested in something you said about the Osaka Expo in 1970: that it was, in a sense the high point of humanity and that things have been going downhill ever since....

RK: I was referring more to the spirit of the world’s reaction to both the launch of Concorde and the Moon landing than to the Expo itself. But it’s not only about technical prowess: it’s more to do with what can be imagined and what dimension imagination has in serious life. An organization like NASA was, essentially, 4,000 people seriously entertaining fantasy: that scale of working on visionary elements is now incredibly reduced. At the moment we want to achieve goals that are very imminent, very realistic. Few organisations are able to define an unconventional aim and then to engineer its implementation, even over a period of ten or 12 years. These days, projects often have a maximum of only four years in which to be realized, as that’s the typical period that a politician is in power.

Currie then asks Koolhaas about the Metabolists, whon RK had elsewhere described as “the last movement with a manifesto”

RK: It's not so much the manifesto that fascinated me as the combination of imagination and government action, of architecture and bureaucracy. The public sector is the sector with vision, and I think this is something that, for whatever reason, we haven’t had for a very long time. Compare Archigram in the UK to the Metabolists in Japan:in Europe similar ideas were doomed to remain unrealized; in Asia those very ideas were implemented by an industrial culture that really believed in them.

Calling Ghost Box, paging the Caretaker...


and sticking with the Nostalgia for the Future theme, in that same issue of Frieze I have a piece on the reissue boom for outsider electronics focusing on the recent indispensable releases of work by frightfully English composers Daphne Oram and Frederick Judd. You can read it here - - but you don't get the pretty illustrations

Simon Reynolds and Retromania from byLarm on Vimeo.

she's a banquet for semioticians

Saturday, March 10, 2012

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #33

"A gleaming science-fictional stasis in which appearances (simulacra) arise and decay ceaselessly…. The supreme value of the New and of innovation, as both modernism and modernization grasped it, fades away against a steady stream of momentum and variation that at some outer limit seems stable and motionless… Where everything now submits to the perpetual change of fashion and media image, nothing can change any longer…. If absolute change in our society is best represented by the rapid turnover in storefronts…. it is crucial to distinguish between rhythms of change inherent to the system and programmed by it, and a change that replaces one entire system by another one altogether"

-- Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 1991
retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #32

“My most memorable childhood fantasy was to have a mansion with catacombs underneath containing, alphabetized in endless winding dimly-lit musty rows, every album ever released”

Lester Bangs, 1978
retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #31

"A Klee painting named 'Angelus Novus' shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

Walter Benjamin "On the Concept of History" a/k/a "Theses on the Philosophy of History", 1940

Friday, March 9, 2012

I'm pleased (and I must admit surprised) to announce that a Korean translation of Retromania is to be published by Workroom, at some point in 2013.

further to yesterday on the New Religiose:

Christian at Dream Transmissions blog alerts to me to some relevant and very interesting posts on what he's calling Stargaze

as discussed here

and in more focused way in these posts on Julia Holter and Grimes

reminds me a bit of Fred and Judy "Starlust" Vermorel's notion of "consumer mysticism"

and relates also to this thought i had a while back re. Ferraro et al of hypnagogic being the convergence point between Pop Art and psychedelia
retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #30

"And there is no new thing under the sun"

--Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1
the Return of the Rock and Roll Library

Mick Jones's Rock and Roll Library of summer 2009 makes a gently derided appearance in Retromania

now it returns, at a different venue (first one was at Jones HQ in the flyover above Portobello vintage flea market) with one eye on permanence

story nicked wholesale from although they appear to have nicked much of it from the Ham and High newspaper in North London

"I have got a lot of stuff so I thought it would be nice to share it with everyone," Jones said in an interview with Ham & High. "We are looking for a permanent place to have a lending library, which would be our ultimate goal. With so many libraries closing at the moment it would be great to open a totally new sort of library which can be used as a real educational resource to show the history of our time."

The exhibition is called The Rock and Roll Public Library and runs from March 9-31 at the Subway Gallery. It features over 10,000 items from Jones' collection including videos, books and other items gathered over his lengthy career. The location of the exhibition is also apt as it is being displayed at the "Joe Strummer Subway," the site where the Clash's late singer was a busker in the early 1970s.

"It started off as a personal collection of comics when I was a kid, but it has grown into a cultural and social history," Jones said, adding fanzines, lyric sheets and clothing worn by the Clash on stage is also featured in the collection.

The Subway Gallery's site describes the collection as "a testimony to the manner in which pop music came to its first full fruition at the same time as pop art" with the hope of it being "an invaluable and essential aid to academic research and personal inquisitiveness."

Jones, who toured with Gorillaz in 2010 along with the Clash's Paul Simonon, is reportedly working with Simonon on a biopic on the iconic British punk rock band based on the recording of their classic 1979 album 'London Calling.' Both musicians are the executive producers behind the project.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #29

"We turn to the past when the future seems unattainable or 'utopian' in the wholly negative sense of the word--something that cannot be extrapolated from the present"

--Patrick Wright, On Living in an Old Country, 1986
retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #28

"Rock is basically adolescent music, reflecting the rhythms, concerns and aspirations of a very specialized age group. It can't grow up--when it does, it turns into something else which may be just as valid but it still very different from the original. Personally I believe that real rock'n'roll may be on the way out."

--Lester Bangs, "Of Pop and Pies and Fun", Creem, December 1970

really like the description someone on ILM came up with for Grimes: "Cranes with a laptop"

there is a lot of this vibe about at the moment -- late 80s, wispy, ethereal-girly, 4AD/Cocteaus/Lisa Gerrard-y...

in my end-of-year thoughts, i talked about the overlap between the New Exquisite and the New Religiose

Julianna Barwick... Julia Holter

a vague reaching out to the Transcendent, or Otherworldly, or Celestial.... the not-everyday, the not-earthbound... the Spiritual, or Spirit-Worldy .... sometimes accompanied by actual scholarly knowledge of myth, ritual, culture before the Modern Era...

pure vocals, often wordless... multitracked... warp 'n' wefted... tapestried... heavy on the reverb

so it's not exactly late-80s-retro but - if you're of a certain vintage yourself - it unavoidably reminds of that moment

where late 80s Goth-Lite connects to current conditions of music-making is that Goth-Lite was studio music, about layers, about effects... breaking with the performance model of the band (even though Cocteaus DCD Cranes etc did play live, but where it became a question of duplicating the texturitis of the records, rather than the other way round, the studio recording simulating/capturing the live energy). so obviously that translates to the solo artist + digital audio workstations in a bedroom

there is something about artificial reverb being tempting as a way of adding "space" to recordings that are otherwise by their nature and method-of-construction a bit airless and dry

even the ethno-exotica and classical/early-music aspects relate to Dead Can Dance a bit

it's a good listen, this new Grimes record -- atmospheric, catchy... the filigreed detail appeals to digital ears

question: is the "visionary" still possible in digiculture?

there's something about the infinite plastic possibilities of sound-making in the digimodern era that makes me think of CGI.... a fundamental break with the analogue-era illusion-as-craft approach to special effects that led to "Strawberry Fields Forever" as much as to 2001, A Space Odyssey

when literally anything envisionable is capable of being realised, when sound-data and pixels can be pushed around every-which-way with superslick facility, it seems to me that one no longer makes that leap through "can't believe my eyes/ears" into a magical acceptance that what you're seeing/hearing is an actual event


check on these: Christian at Dream Transmissions blog's very interesting posts on what he's calling Stargaze
as discussed here
and in more focused way in these posts on Julia Holter and Grimes

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #27

"It is customary to counterpose futurism and resurrectionism…. Yet… they might be seen as… two sides of the same coin, each testifying to a felt absence in the present. Each, typically, arises as an expression of cultural dissidence, and involves a radical rejection of the present in favour of an idealized (or fantasized) other"

---Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture, 1995
retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #26

"The supersaturation of an age in history seems to me hostile and dangerous….. through this excess the always dangerous belief in the old age of humanity takes root, the belief that we are late arrivals and epigones…. an age attains the dangerous mood of irony about itself and, from that, an even more dangerous cynicism"

--Friedrich Nietzche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, 1873
saw this blog comment on my essay "Shabby Chic" in the new, relaunch issue of Spin (which is themed around Retro Activity / pastpresentfuture), which essay uses Lana Del Rey (interviewed by moi) to frame the current retro cultural moment..

the commenter, Cameron Gray, has nice things to say about the essay, but this bit amused me:

"Though this piece wonderfully focused on the mystery that is Lana Del Rey, I wish it had been a bit more critical."

So much for me taking a subtle tack in the essay!

the commenter goes on to say:

"I love the past. I love the music of the 50's, 60's, and 70's just as much as the next music lover, but it angers me to see so many young people go about life thinking they are so creative and original, when all they're really doing is wearing my mom's clothes from her childhood and making it "cool." To borrow from others is flattering, and to revive a lost art is noble, but originality is the highest form of artistry. I would like to see more artists being truly original, if that's even possible. I would like to see artists create something that is their own so that in 30 years bands say, 'Let's recreate the sound of 2012.' Most importantly, I would like to see heavy media influences promote the idea of originality, even if that means being critical."

Well, Cameron, there's this book you might be interested in...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

recently i met Todd Rundgren in Oslo during the By:Larm festival... i didn't have much interaction with him (apart from suggesting he play "Open Your Eyes" by his early band Nazz at his gig the next day, which didn't go down well particularly) and listening in on his long, detailed, still-peeved-after-all-these-years anecdote about producing XTC's Skylarking and what a dick Andy Partridge was about how the record turned out. However looking him up just now I was struck by what a pioneer Rundgren was of the stuff to do with cover versions and that whole set of artistic strategies i'm calling recreativity, including self-covers and various forms of remixing, reproduction, and what Arram Sinnreich calls "configurable culture" i.e. stuff where the listener determines the final outcome:

1976's Faithful featured one side of original songs and one side of covers of significant songs from 1966, including the Yardbirds' "Happening Ten Years Time Ago" (the B-side of that Yardbirds single gave Nazz its name) and a nearly identical re-creation of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations". The cover of "Strawberry Fields Forever" in particular is uncannily accurate:

1991's 2nd Wind included several excerpts from Rundgren's musical Up Against It, which was adapted from the screenplay (originally titled "Prick Up Your Ears") that British playwright Joe Orton had originally offered to The Beatles for their never-made follow-up to Help!.

1980's release - as Utopia - Deface the Music an uncanny Beatles homage that borders on parody

[in a disturbing side note to Rundgren's Beatles-obsession: on the day Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, he left an eight-track tape of Rundgren's album Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, along with other artifacts, in his New York hotel room in an orderly semicircle on the hotel dresser. "I left it as a statement, I guess," he was quoted as saying in Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon. Chapman had been obsessed with Rundgren and told Jones, "Right between the chambers of your heart is how Rundgren's music is to me. I cannot overestimate the depth of what his music meant to me." Some have speculated that the album Healing (Todd Rundgren album) was recorded partly as a therapeutic exercise in reaction to Chapman's obsession with Rundgren's music ( though Rundgren himself says he didn't learn of Chapman's obsession with him until years later, when books about Chapman were published.]

1993's No World Order Lite -- the first of Rundgren's recording under the pseudonym TR-i ("Todd Rundgren interactive")-- consisted of hundreds of seconds-long snippets of music that could be combined in various ways to suit the listener. Initially targeted for the Philips CD-i platform, No World Order featured interactive controls for tempo, mood, and other parameters, along with pre-programmed mixes by Rundgren himself.

1997's With a Twist -- Asked to produce an album of new versions of his older singles, Rundgren decided to record the songs in Bossa nova style with elements of Exotica, complete with tropical bird call effects at the beginning of Hello, It's Me similar to Martin Denny's recording Quiet Village. Continuing the theme, Rundgren toured theaters with a replica of a tiki bar, the performers on a very small stage with selected audience members being seated at tables also on the theater stage, and being served drinks by the monitor engineer/bartender. The performers never acknowledged the larger theater audience, and the show ended when the last "bar patron" left the stage.

2001 -- Rundgren joined artists such as Alan Parsons, The Who's John Entwistle, Heart's Ann Wilson and Ambrosia's David Pack for the successful "A Walk Down Abbey Road" tour, in which the musicians played their own hits alongside Beatles favorites. The also did a short tour of Japan in Winter of 2001. The following year's "sequel" tour ncluded Todd and Parsons returning, with a slightly changed lineup which featured Jack Bruce of Cream, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Christopher Cross and Eric Carmen.

April 2011 -- Todd Rundgren's Johnson, a collection of Robert Johnson covers

September 2011 -- re:Production consists of covers of tracks he had previously produced for other acts, including Grand Funk Railroad's "Walk Like a Man" and XTC's "Dear God"

TR also participated in a strange "self-tribute band" /reunion outing called The New Cars where he stood in for the absent-and-unwilling Ric Ocasek

Saturday, March 3, 2012

on the radio, heard Devo redoing "Whip It" as "Drink It" in an ad for Pepsi Throwback - a sort of 80s-revival soda with real sugar as opposed to glucose

Devo must coin it from oldies play for "Whip It", a real radio staple, so why travesty their finest (and only real) moment of pop subversion?

it's not on YouTube but this earlier retro-commercial for Pepsi Throwback is

an explanation/review/breakdown of Pepsi Throwback

more Pepsi Throwback ads

actual vintage Pepsi ads

Thursday, March 1, 2012

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #25

"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination…. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don't bother concealing your thievery--celebrate it if you feel like it. in any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: 'It's not where you take things from--it's where you take them to'"

--Jim Jarmusch, Golden Rule #5, MovieMaker, January 22, 2004.
retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #24

"The more memory we store on data banks, the more the past is sucked into the orbit of the present, ready to be called up on the screen. A sense of historical continuity or, for that matter, discontinuity, both of which depend on a before and an after, gives way to the simultaneity of all times and spaces readily accessible in the present”

--Andreas Huyssen, "Presents Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia" in Public Culture, Vol 12, winter 2000
retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #23

"I picture him in his study, as though in the watchtower of a great city, surrounded by telephones, telegraphs, phonographs, the latest in radio-telephone and motion-picture and magic-lantern equipment, and glossaries and calendars and timetables and bulletins… This twentieth century of ours had upended the fable of Muhammad and the mountain--mountains nowadays did in fact come to the modern Muhammad"

---Carlos Argentino, character in Jorge Luis Borges's short story "The Aleph", 1949.