Monday, September 9, 2013

lopatin, tarantino: loaded depth, manipulated by histories versus manipulating histories

"I like the materiality of those sounds because to me they’re coded sounds. They’re historic sounds. So when I use them they kind of manipulate me in a way, they ask me to play them in a certain way, a historic, gestural thing. For example this happens with guitars too so it’s not really unique, but like, if you put a Wurlitzer and a Fender Rhodes in front of me and you asked me to play the same thing on two instruments I’ll probably play them slightly different, because one has this slightly Steely Dan Aja code and one has this like dirty Ray Charles vibe right? I’m very easily manipulated by those kind of histories, so when I worked with those sounds on R Plus 7 the first stage was to be manipulated by them, and to listen and try and characterize the tension between what I can do with them or what they can do to me. So it’s kind of trying to characterize the whole push and pull of these sounds. What I like about them in particular is that, I guess as a student of electronic music in general I just find them fascinating and magical and everything about them at times there’s something crass about them that interests me, sometimes it’s something lurid, sometimes it’s something very physical, almost sculptural where I can kind of grasp their properties, physical properties. They just have a certain pre-loaded depth to them that is to me an interesting starting point.

-- Dan Lopatin, interviewed at FACT about the new Oneohtrix Point Never album R Plus 7

Interviewer John Twells asks, "I wonder whether this at all relates to the mainstream obsession with all things retro, from Disclosure’s vintage house revivalism to Jack White’s hoary rock? Does Lopatin lump himself in with this sort of nostalgia?"

Lopatin says "My take is that to me, all of that history is subject to becoming a sort of abstract materiality to use for whatever it is I do, intuitively. What I don’t like about music that has this retro aesthetic is that it’s just simply sad that whatever’s happening now isn’t what was happening then, so that sadness is weird. I’m not sentimental for the past so I don’t really understand entirely what the nostalgia is really about – a sadness or a histrionic sense of the past that’s dishonest whereas I’m trying to make an illusion in the sense that, I’m trying to take the past and make it an abstract material that I can then start from scratch and work with, you know. And I just need it because I need material, I need stuff, I need paint.”

But does oil paint, canvas, etc have a "pre-loaded depth", built-in "histories" that manipulate the artist and the artistic outcomes to the same extent? Or, even if it does to some extent, isn't the struggle of the artist precisely to force the materials and the tools to produce results that break with the history sedimented in those materials and tools by the accumulated history of all of their prior usages to date? John Cage and Hiller's HPSCHD does not sound anything like Renaissance or Baroque harpischord based music. (It is also barely endurable as a listening experience, but that's by the by....)

But for sure you can make art that plays with those in-built  depths, works with a palette of  association, allusion and evocation...

Interesting in this light that Lopatin fesses up to being a Tarantino fanboy:

"There’s part of me that has been and will always be an appropriation artist, I don’t think it’s too much of a debate. I enjoy that aspect of what I do. Also I was a kid who at age 13 saw Pulp Fiction and all of my passwords, my Hotmail password was Quentin, I was completely obsessed with Tarantino. Seriously the way that his films conveyed the love of film itself and not just making pictures, there was this kind of hidden language in them.

Tarantino who, I've subsequently thought, really ought to have been the subject of a chapter in Retromania.

I touched on the parallels between video-store-clerk cinema-about-cinema and record-store-clerk rock-about-rock way back when reviewing Jon Spencer's Blue Explosion  live at the Irving Plaza, NYC, in July 1995:

You could call it 'We-Just-Wanna-Rock-Y'Know' Rock.  Bands who really do just want to rock are veteran troupes like Motorhead (currently trudging across the States in support of Sabbath) or Dokken.  But 'We-Just-Wanna-Rock-Y'Know' bands, that's something else altogether.  That's groups like Royal Trux or Urge Overkill, whose apparently  'inane' motivation is really a conceptualist art-rock  manoeuvre; they have reached their fundamentalist aesthetic only after years of tortuously exploring and exhausting all the options of avant-rock noise.  For Urge, 'rock' = Cheap Trick.  For Trux, 'rock' = the terminally unhip but populist  Grand Funk Railroad ('Exile on Main Street' now being too tarnished with intellectualism). And for the Explosion (like Trux, an offshoot of Pussy Galore, the ultimate 'conceptual dumb-ass' band), 'rock' is an unholy hybrid of John Lee Hooker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, James Brown and Black Oak Arkansas.

JS & TBE are the toast of Manhattan's hip-oisie.  So when, in his Lux Interior/Nicholas Cage in "Wild At Heart" hillbilly/silly-billy voice, Spencer yelps catchphrases like  "I got soul" and "you sho' got tha funk", the audience shriek back like a teenybopper throng whose collective G-Spot has been tickled by Take That.  What exactly is this entirely white audience affirming with these histrionics?  That indeed they have 'got the funk', since black folks abandoned the  genre 20 years ago, leaving it open for gentrification? Meanwhile, true modern funk (swingbeat) and the real contemporary urban blues (hip hop--same tropes of alienation, "I'm A Man" bragging, pacts with their Devil) etc, are deemed black cultural property, a no-go zone for whitey. Sadly, this stylistic apartheid seems to suit both races in the USA.


JS & TBE are at least aware of modern black music. They pastiched Dr Dre’s synth sound on 'Greyhound', and now here's "Experimental Remixes"--pretty much the first time that US indierock has even recognised, let alone embraced, the science of remixology that underlies all modern music, from rap to rave.  While it's a shame the Explosion have yet to drop any of this science into their live-in-the-studio methodology, it's a start.  It's encouraging because 'we-just-wanna-rock' is precisely the cop out cul de sac  that adventurous US  bands run into when they run out of ways of renewing rock from within the gtr/bs/drms format, yet refuse to meet the challenge of sampladelia.

With 'We-Just-Wanna-Rock', it's a question of whether bands can 'fake it so real they get beyond fake'. In the Explosion's case, the 'so real' that redeems them is the rhythm section (ie. the entire band, minus Spencer's hoodoo-hokum vocals and lyrics). Above all, it's drummer Russell Simins Tha Human Breakbeat Machine who really makes things so swingin' and smokin'. Their boogie-funk groove thang--sort of No Wave gone Redneck, an Appalachian Gang of Four--is so phat and juicy you could swear there's a bass palpitating in the mix, instead of just the two guitars.   

For some reason, I always think of Pulp Fiction in connection with the Blues Explosion. Both Quentin and Jon-Boy have been critiqued for their blackspoitative dabbling with stereotypes of bad-ass, superfly machismo. Their work shares a strange blend of bloody physicality and ultra-stylised irony, guts and scare quotes. But the deeper affinity touches on the  pathos of postmodernism, of living in a 'late' period.  Sho’ nuff,  'Pulp Fiction' is the best American filmic culture can generate at this point in history, but compare it with 'The Wild Bunch' or 'Taxi Driver', movies that resonate as opposed to titillate, and there's no doubt we are living in less distinguished times.  Similarly, as fun-packed and funk-tastic as JS & TBE are, their very eminence is in some sense a subtle indictment of the state of US guitar rock. Anyway you slice it, Spencer's recurrent holler "for the first time in blues history!" takes some beating for its compacted levels of irony, poignancy, paradox and arrogance.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds rather like the method used by REAL historians who favor the 'one fact one card' approach to note taking and writing up. Although this method is usually seen as 'modernist', rather than bricolage or whatever.

    Beatrice Webb was the most famous advocate of this approach: "The method of writing one fact on one card enables the scientific worker to break up his subject-matter, so as to isolate and examine at his leisure its various component parts, and to recombine them in new and experimental groupings in order to discover which sequences of events have a causal significance."

    ‘Not once, but frequently has the general impression with regard to the causal sequence of events, with which we had started our enquiry, or which had arisen spontaneously during the examination of documents, the taking of evidence or the observation of the working of an organization, been seriously modified, or completely reversed, when we have been simultaneously confronted by all the separate notes relating to the point at issue’