Sunday, December 23, 2012

"[Patrick] Feaster gathers from throughout history depictions of sound waves and alternative sound recording methods, some from before Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1877, others simply different means of capturing sounds, and presents them along with illustrations and the stories of their creation. Even better, these images, figured Feaster, "could be 'played' just as though they were modern sound recordings," and set to do just that.  He was right, and the result is a fascinating, haunting and indeed defining, new work....  The CD is a surreal listen with 28 tracks sequenced to be heard while reading the book. Lost voices rise up, theoretical tones designed by conjecture and imagination jump out of history. 

"On track six, Feaster conjures sound from a photo in an 1898 advertisement for a "Zon-a-Phon." He took a high-resolution scan of the record in the ad, then, he writes, "converted it into a series of parallel lines" that he was able to transform and "unbend" using Photoshop. The result is a man's voice from 114 years ago. His name is Chauncey Depew; he was a politician who stumped for Abraham Lincoln and ended up a senator. He was also a noted after-dinner speaker, and this is one of his talks. He sounds like he can barely break through the past, the portal is so tiny"
-- LA Times' Randall Roberts on  Dust-To-Digital's Pictures of Sound: One Thousand Years of Educed Audio: 980-1980

When I first read about this (Mark Pilkington had a piece in the Scott Walker issue of The Wire) I did think it sounded like the ultimate hauntological come-on: pandering to our archeological fever for the oldest, the earliest, the most ancestral and precursor-y and ahead-of-its-time-y... to our dead media/steampunk lust for the olden days curiosity, for technological paths never taken and alternative history scenarios...   My suspicions were aroused because (as with the Depew example, which reminds me of Blow-up)  many of these aren't recordings in any real sense, but imaginative constructions based on the barest of traces.

Still, consider me successfully (s)educed: I am mighty curious to hear it. 

  Blurb from the Dust To Digital Site:

Using modern technology, Patrick Feaster is on a mission to resurrect long-vanished voices and sounds—many of which were never intended to be revived.

Over the past thousand years, countless images have been created to depict sound in forms that theoretically could be “played” just as though they were modern sound recordings. Now, for the first time in history, this compilation uses innovative digital techniques to convert historic “pictures of sound” dating back as far as the Middle Ages directly into meaningful audio. It contains the world’s oldest known “sound recordings” in the sense of sound vibrations automatically recorded out of the air—the groundbreaking phonautograms recorded in Paris by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in the 1850s and 1860s—as well as the oldest gramophone records available anywhere for listening today, including inventor Emile Berliner’s recitation of “Der Handschuh,” played back from an illustration in a magazine, which international news media recently proclaimed to be the oldest audible “record” in the tradition of 78s and vintage vinyl. Other highlights include the oldest known recording of identifiable words spoken in the English language (1878) and the world’s oldest surviving “trick recording” (1889). But Pictures of Sound pursues the thread even further into the past than that by “playing” everything from medieval music manuscripts to historic telegrams, and from seventeenth-century barrel organ programs to eighteenth-century “notations” of Shakespearean recitation.

In short, this isn’t just another collection of historical audio—it redefines what “historical audio” is.

Friday, December 21, 2012

curioser and curioser

"By building curiosity cabinets, early modern elites made their mental lives manifest: the curiosity cabinet displayed its owner's interests, tastes, travels, and "wit," yet it was also an assemblage of found objects, and thus a display of the external world in all its infinite variety....

"In the realm of art (following a circuitous path that leads us through Joseph Cornell's enchanting boxes and Robert Rauschenberg's combines), the cluttered, fragmented, eclectic aesthetic of the curiosity cabinet carried into the twentieth century... 

"I began to notice Wunderkammer-like displays in contemporary web presentation. Perhaps the internet loves curiosity cabinets because it is, itself, a curiosity cabinet -- in a manner of speaking, of course.... 

"In the ecosystem of Pinterest we find the same organic arrangement of contrasting items, grouped poetically (rather than rationally) around a nebulous theme. The eclectic and exotic are prized; color and visual interest win the day. And the context for each item? Virtually nonexistant. The objects that made up a curiosity cabinet followed circuitous pathways...  in the course of which they lost their original contexts, names, meanings. Objects that had once embodied human culture, like sculptures and coins, became mere ephemerata."

from "Cabinets of Curiosity: the Web as Wunderkammer" by Benjamin Breen, at the Appendix, a "journal of narrative & experimental history"

Breen points to further reading on this subject:

the internet as wunderkammer paper by Jessica Ezell

as well as his own earlier essay on 17th Century cabinets of curiosity at the blog Res Obscura

see also the collation of responses to the piece that point to other pieces and further vidence


I argued a similar point -- collection as a decontext/recontext machine in the Toop  piece in the Wire earlier this year:

"What emerges as a subtext of Exotica is the idea of the collection--a public or private archive of recordings, texts, images—as a decontextualisation machine.   When a collection achieves a certain density and duration, the proximity of things of far-flung provenance allows for the remapping of cultural fields: strange connections cutting across time and space and genre become almost unavoidable. Ownership and location of cultural forms gets displaced from its proper setting. The Internet -- a vast collective collection, a non-space of absolute proximity between everything-- is just the nth-degree fruition of tendencies inherent to the archive."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

three takes on hyperstasis, linearity, the escape from time, no future etc

Quietus's Ryan Alexander Diduck on "GIFwave" and Groundhog Day

Line of Best Fit's Josh Hall on the living death of indie
(dude doesn't seem to realise that what he calls New Retro is the same as what I call
 "atemporality" / hyperstasis  / "diversely derivative")

Pitchfork's Andrew Gareig on Narcissist II by Dean Blunt from Hype(rstasis) Williams , a release described as:

"A droopy-eyed, unromantic collage of synthesizers, movie dialogue, and baked vocals, The Narcissist II comments on the ephemerality of modern media consumption by being ephemeral itself.
In particular, The Narcissist II replicates a very specific type of listening: hunching over a laptop, dozens of Chrome tabs open, crawling down a Youtube rabbit hole. You know the drill: locate an obscure track, listen to half of it, click on something "related" in the right sidebar, pause it, tab over to a Soundcloud page... tab back. It is consumption via distraction: do this often enough and you'll encounter no end of noisy vinyl rips and shitty covers. This is the best metaphor for The Narcissist II: distant, half-heard clips; novel, obscure, and impossible. The samples blur into the original until The Narcissist II is the noisy rip, the shitty homage. This is why, during the course of The Narcissist II, at some point nearly everything will seem like a sample."

This review (graded a dismal 5.4)  prompts Tower of Sleep  to mount a defence: 

"The thing that constitutes Hype Williams’ “artiness”, though, is that their whole schtick is about destabilizing the normal criteria for judging quality. You have to look at them awry, anamorphically, since they only present themselves through a cracked monitor, a glass darkly: the difference between intent and accident, stoned noodling and inspired sample disappears in the disorienting haze. Gaerig notes that “Blunt’s delivery is flat, ugly, and devoid of braggadocio,” and decides that it sucks even if it’s deliberate, but I think his flattened affect has its own particular appeal. Gaerig compares Blunt (unfavorably) to Excepter and Ariel Pink, but I think Lil B would be equally apt: he’s performing a very contemporary form of subjectivity in a way that reframes the context of production. It’s not just another piece of music offered to the stream, it’s a portrait of the stream itself."

Yeah but if it's as boring, fragmentary, unsatisfying, shiftless, numbing etc as the experience, the digital phenomenology, that it allegedly critically reframing/commenting on ... without even faintly gesturing towards a way out, or an alternative.... then all it is doing, really is detaining the listener a little longer in a "very far from grace" place that is already grimly familiar

Monday, December 10, 2012

The footnotes for Retromania are now up and running.

I'll be sporadically adding bits and bobs - pics, video, links, related articles by me, FAQ and unFAQ -- but the basic architecture is complete i.e. everything that was cut out of the first monstrously large draft plus stuff that I've come across or thought up subsequently that relates to the book's themes.

Here is the index with links to the specific chapters

Saturday, December 8, 2012

the ultimate box set - infomercial here

"The Residents are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first release: the 1972 “Santa Dog” 7-inch, with a 100+ piece box set. The package is set to include first pressings of over 40 LPs, 50 CDs, a few dozen 7-inch singles, EPs, CD-ROMs, DVDs, and videos, as well as a bobble-head doll and a genuine Residents eyeball mask. Oh, and did I mention it’s all packaged in a fully functional 28 cu. ft. refrigerator?" (from Tiny Mix Tapes)

price tag: $100, 000

one hopes they are taking the piss out of retro culture

(while having their commemorative cake and eating it, since it  is the 40th anniversary of their first release,  1972's “Santa Dog”single)

Friday, December 7, 2012

follow up to the Interpol 10th Anniversary commemoration post, here's Chris Ott having a "Rational Conversation" with Daily Swarm's Eric Ducker about that absurdly premature reissue.

Also discussed is the fact that Saddle Creek recently reissued Danse Macabre, the 2001 album by The Faint. Which tops the Interpol reish for absurdity and then some. Did anyone even remember that record by the end of the year it came out?

Ott, he don't pull no punches, even though he liked the Faint a bit at the time:

"The situation with Danse Macabre is that No Doubt took them on tour as an opener to buy their “cred”, as it were, in 2002. And so, as far as The Faint goes, that was the biggest thing that ever happened to them, in their entire career. But I suspect those audiences don’t remember it that way, and that they didn’t make a lot of fans off that decision. When Saddle Creek and The Faint look back on ten years ago, perhaps they remember that tour and maybe almost getting mainstream attention. But The Faint weren’t My Chemical Romance, and it was never going to happen. There’s a very distorted memory there, in trying to celebrate Danse Macabre and that moment, which I experienced as a complete failure. "

Of course the real point is that both bands were unoriginal, derivative of an earlier age of music, and of specific bands to boot. And just as you can't have a revival of a revival (well, No Doubt as participants in a late 90s ska-revival revival maybe disproves that, but it's the exception that proves the rule), so too an Anniversary Reissue of a piece of music that wasn't in its own time a Broader Sociocultural Event  (e.g. The Slider 40th Anniversary mega-box) NOR has it subsequently become  Iconic through Steadily Accruing Cult Love, Ahead of Its Time Stature and Influentialness (as with the Velvet Underground and Nico's 45th Anniversary mega-expanded box), it just don't make no sense! It's just a record that came out, to modest impact, that has since never been out of print and is still readily available with unsold copies lingering all over the place, and, as Ott notes, is on iTunes and Spotify and the rest.

So why then? It's just a marketing ploy, says Ott:

"I look at the reissue thing as a way for the classic, outmoded music industry to toot its own horn and say, “We might have a way here to force the gatekeeper websites to promote our catalog.” Advertising is everything; so, in a way, the reissue is a very powerful advertisement for catalog sales. Catalog sales dwarf new music sales in terms of physical media: they overtook them this year, statistically, along every measurable line. But it was already the case for ages: that’s why Billboard had the “Heatseeker” bullshit inside the chart, so your new hip-hop protégé doesn’t notice his record is two positions lower than an old Michael Bolton album."

"What I do find a cause for concern, or at least it seems to be much more rare with all of this otherwise generally wonderful technology, results from the degree to which people now tend to start with a supplied sound, usually a loop, and then build in reaction to what they are hearing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this of course. But I fear that music comes from inside us much less often than used to be the case. The experience of listening to your own mind in silence and forming, clarifying, holding in your mind a spontaneous evolving sonic vision, of listening to your own personal musical imagination as it processes what you are feeling within yourself, this is being drowned out of our musical culture by the ways the purveyors of today's music tech make it as easy as they can to start a new piece and keep it going so that you'll buy more of their stuff. I am hearing more and more editing, selection and juxtaposition in the new music I run across, and less of what feels like genuine self-expression from within the individual, though I certainly do hear that at times in new works too"-- Laurie Spiegel, interviewed by Tobias Fischer here  [via Justin Buckley]

A number of retromaniacal themes, and thinking re. the relationship between old and new in music (and all arts) figure in my Pitchfork profile of Laurie Spiegel.

Here's something else she said on the subject, after reading the bit on residual versus emergent:

"This complex interplay between "emergent" and "residual" = interesting. Brings up the question of universals in music, whatever transcends style and time and doesn't become obsolete, but may sometimes get discarded along with a particular fashion. What is most central and necessary to music, what do we want to get "back to" when it isn't nostalgia? Something primal and central and fundamental that's been elaborated on and varied and camouflaged in so many ways we aren't even aware we are seeking it?"