Friday, August 23, 2013

90s nostalgia i can get behind

"The grungy 90s drama  Reality Bites looks set for a revival on the small screen after the  original director, Ben Stiller, approved plans for a new TV series based on the hit film. Starring Winona Ryder
as an aspiring videographer working on a documentary about the disenfranchised existences of her friends and roommates, Reality Bites was often described at the time as a "Generation X" movie, despite efforts by studio Universal and Stiller himself to pitch it as a comedy with a broader appeal. The actor's directing debut, it performed only adequately at the box office in 1994, despite reasonable reviews. Nearly 20 years on, and the movie's achilles heel looks likely to prove its most appealing asset, with 90s nostalgia all the rage."- The Guardian

Now Winona Ryder nostalgia, that is something I can get behind.

 In fact we were watching Heathers only the other night - with slightly bemused 13 year old son. This on the eve of him starting high school (so perhaps not the best thing to watch, maybe).

How long long ago the clothes and overall look of the film seem!  Especially as it's not a very slickly made film. Whereas e.g. The Hunger (also seen recently) which is from 1983 (a half-decade earlier than 1988's Heathers), because it's so much higher budget/deluxe/filmic in its cinematography/ editing/lighting/sets,  doesn't look nearly as dated, as distant from present standards. At least not until Susan Sarandon' s hairstyle crops up on the screen.  

There is a syndrome where the recent past still seems recent enough to feel like nearly-the-present. And then it crosses the line. I noticed this most acutely with Seinfeld re-runs, which have been on continuously since the show ended (probably even before that, with the earliest series re-running while the show chugging through its mid-to-late seasons). Basically it's never been off the air. And at first in the late 90s/early 2000s Seinfeld, if you found yourself idly catching half or whole of an episode you'd watched at the time of its original airing, the show would look more or less like the present -- the clothes, hair, the production quality (studio lighting, film-video texture etc etc). But then all of sudden, what you were rewatching achieved the distinctness of a period. It was suddenly dated. An early-mid Nineties time capsule.  


It isn’t fun to analyze American pop culture anymore. In the 1980’s and ‘90’s academics went to town on it—what scandalous fun to bring all the fierce powers of one’s mind to bear on Madonna or The Matrix or Spike Lee or The X-Files or, more recently, The L Word or 24. I’m not saying there’s no fun or value or necessity in this work anymore; maybe there’s more than ever. I’m just saying that for me, personally, it feels like a dead end. The cultural products now seem designed to analyze themselves, and to make a spectacle of their essentially consumable perversity.  - Maggie Nelson, The Art Of Cruelty

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"you can lose yourself in the sound like it's yesterday"/ back-to-the-Nineties, slight return

Early-nineties-retro  from Annie and Richard X

DJ Jesu, Utrecht Amiga Squad's "Punishment Dance", very droll....


"Music fandom often follows a slow boomerang trajectory: listen to top-40 radio through your tween and early teen years, reject those impulses in favor of more cerebral, left-of-center music as you’re growing up, lean back toward pop as you settle into adulthood. The last couple of years have found a crop of young independent artists boldly attempting to reconcile those stages of their own listening life cycles, walking a tightrope of poptimism and experimentalism to create confectionary, homespun electronic music that’s sometimes described as future-pop. Grimes gushes about Mariah Carey and Aphex Twin in the same breath; Canadian duo Purity Ring have listed “Justin TimberlakeClams Casino, and Holy Other” as inspirational forces behind their prismatic fairy tales; Glaswegian electro trio Chvrches have spoken about loving Fugazi and the Cure in interviews before divulging plans to cover Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” in live shows" -Pitchfork's Carrie Battan on AlunaGeorge, who cite Timbaland and Neptunes as big influences.

Except it's not really "future-pop", is it, if the reference points are Nineties and early 2000s (Mariah, Whitney, Timbaland, Timberlake etc).  If it was to even be present-pop, let alone future-pop, it would have to be made in immediate response to, ooh, DJ Mustard and and Dr. Luke....

What it really is, is the Style Council move...  today's equivalent of making Curtis Mayfield records in 1983.

Elsewhere in the hipsterscape, the 1980s are still getting a look-in.... "boogie" (i.e. postdisco black club records) are a big influence, And then there's Ikonika's new album. .People frowned when I said that her debut Love Contact Want Whatever had the whiff of hyperstasis about it, but for the sequel Aerotropolis she's gone outright retro:

"The whole album is a fantasy of me being a lot older in the '80s, and choosing music rather than videogames at that time. It's funny to me that I didn't really grow up at the right age at the right time. And if I had produced this album back in the late '80s, would it sound the same or would it be different? I made an effort to use older equipment – like, I used a 707, I used Bok Bok's Juno-106 a lot. It's nice, as a producer who's come from a computer-based background, to work with machines and see how the early producers did it."

Q: Were you going back to the music of the 80s for inspiration?

"Yeah, a lot of freestyle house. I'm really attracted to that genre because it was very melodic with these brass sounds, and at the same time had really nice dancey, housey, disco and sometimes hip hop beats from the drum machines. I just love the patterns. I was thinking, this music must have been amazing at the time."

This review of Aerotropolis at Tiny Mix Tapes is so IDM-nerd-looks-down-on-collective-dancefloor-experience-as-brainless-and-de-individuating  it's not true, but otherwise seems on the money re. the "the shiny, retrogressive hedonism and 4/4 decadence", which aligns itself with the back-to-house vybe dominating the UK.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

diversely derivative (more Nabokov)

Paris Review: Clarence Brown of Princeton has pointed out striking similarities in your work. He refers to you as “extremely repetitious” and that in wildly different ways you are in essence saying the same thing. He speaks of fate being the “muse of Nabokov.” Are you consciously aware of “repeating yourself,” or to put it another way, that you strive for a conscious unity to your shelf of books?

Vladimir Nabokov:  I do not think I have seen Clarence Brown's essay, but he may have something there. Derivative writers seem versatile because they imitate many others, past and present. Artistic originality has only its own self to copy.
retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #49

"The Dead Past"
The civilizations of the past have been used as the foundation of the civilization of today. Because of this, the world keeps looking toward the past for guidance. Too many people are following the past. In this new space age, this is dangerous. The past is DEAD and those, who are following the past are doomed to die and be like the past. It is no accident that those who die are said to have passed since those who have PASSED are PAST.
liner notes to Sun Ra and his Astro-Infinity Arkestra's Atlantis (1969) by , written by Michael "Dub" Shore
 (via Paul Hebron)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

retroARTmania / future = obsolete in reverse

"I'm inclined to think that if this sort of thing signifies anything, it has more to do with the "cult of the curator" that emerged back in the early 1990s and has stayed with us ever since. And perhaps the curatorial class’s hailing or enshrining its own legacy by commemorating a few grand moments from the past – those occasions (infrequent as they were) when an ambitious, zeitgeist-defining exhibition actually succeeded in corralling a corpus of work which would not only define its moment, but point in the direction that art would (in one way of another) be taking in the years that followed" --  Our God Is Speed addresses Holland Cotter's contention of a "boom" in remountings of iconic exhibitions and the idea that this is part of a larger malaise of retro art.

Our God adds:

"Perhaps, then, this might considered the manifestation of an underlying anxiety among some curators -- about an inability to undertake any similarly decisive endeavor in the present-day global art field?"

and suggests that "Cotter's diagnosis" points not to a "a pervasive condition" but is rather the braiding of "several diffuse dynamics  into a master narrative" of  "stasis, nostalgia and ouroboric self-cannibalization"

(Which is kind of what "retromania" is - not a unified condition with a single underlying etiology, but the convergence of a number of discrete conditions into a synchronised peak of exacerbation).

In a follow-up post, Our God / Grayhoos discusses Claire Bishop's "Digital Divide" essay, focusing on the concept of obsolescence, and also suggests some other iconic exhibitions of the past that might merit remounting.

Along the way he mentions Nabokov's famous "The future is but the obsolete in reverse" -  an epigram that sometimes seems clear as day to me, but other times I'm like, "you what, guv?".  And he points out that it comes from Vlad's 1952 short story “Lance,” which "takes the form of a science-fiction tale concerning interplanetary travel" allowing Nabokov many opportunities to "to vent his own loathing of the science fiction genre".

Two other things that Nabokov loathed were Freud(ianism) and music!  Disconcerting to me,  because he is probably my favourite novelist, and three things that are absolutely central to my make-up are music, science fiction and psychoanalysis.

Still, who says you have to be in agreement with your favourite writers, artists, musicians etc?

He may have despised s.f. but he had a bash at the s.f. side-genre of alternative history / counterfactuals. Albeit more as the whimsical backdrop to the main story, which is an erotically fevered and doomed romance between two young (very young) lovers who discover they are half-siblings.  I'm talking about Ada, which takes place in a Russianized North America. How it came about I forget, something to do with the Tartars not stopping but conquering what would have Russia, driving the Russians out? As so often, my memory failing me (even though the book made a huge impression on me as a teenager) I turn to Wikipedia:

"The story takes place in the late nineteenth century on what appears to be an alternative history of Earth, which is there called Demonia or Antiterra. Antiterra has the same geography and a largely similar history to that of Earth; however, it is crucially different at various points. For example, the United States includes all of the Americas (which were discovered by African navigators). But it was also settled extensively by Russians, so that what we know as western Canada is a Russian-speaking province called "Estoty", and eastern Canada a French-speaking province called "Canady." Russian, English, and French are all in use in North America. Russia itself, and much of Asia, is part of an empire called Tartary, while the word "Russia" is simply a "quaint synonym" for Estoty. 

The British Empire, which includes most or all of Europe and Africa, is ruled (in the nineteenth century) by a King Victor. Aristocracy is still widespread, but some technology has advanced well into twentieth-century forms.  Electricity,  however, has been banned since almost the time of its discovery following an event referred to as "the L-disaster". Airplanes and cars exist, but televison and telephones do not, their functions served by similar devices powered by water. The setting is thus a complex mixture of Russia and America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The belief in a "twin" world, Terra, is widespread on Antiterra as a sort of fringe religion or mass hallucination. (The name "Antiterra" may be a back-formation from this; the planet is "really" called "Demonia".) One of [protagonist] Van's early specialties as a  psychologist is researching and working with people who believe that they are somehow in contact with Terra. Terra's alleged history, so far as he states it, appears to be that of our world: that is, the characters in the novel dream, or hallucinate, about the real world."

The alt-history backdrop in Ada, though, isn't really an exercise in speculative fiction so much as the  excuse for Nabokov to lovingly, longingly recreate the lost world of his childhood as a member of the ruling class in pre-Bolshevik Russia. Similar to the consolatory function that Zembla serves for Kinbote in Pale Fire.  

Curious to reread Ada as a grown-up (or a grown-er up, the last time was probably 25 years ago) as with critically sharper eyes I suspect I might find it a little over-ripe and mannered, and agree more with the generally mixed reception it got in its own time. But as a 15 year old it hit just the right spot where flushed-with-hormones meets speculative fiction/alternative history.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

the future, according to Disney kids TV part 1

Austin & Alley, one of my daughter's favorite shows, with unexpected science fiction episode

time travel according to Disney kids TV, part 1

blurb: "When Teen Zoltan arrives in a time machine and falls in love with Chyna, he refuses to go back to the 80's without his true love, so Chyna decides to accompany him back as his prom date. Meanwhile, Lexi hopes to travel back in time to correct a horrible event from the past, an ugly 5th grade picture in a newspaper"

Some fun 'retro' elements to this episode -  when Chyna time-travels back to 1986 with Zoltan-as-teen, and he asks "come with me to the prom", she worries aloud "but what will I wear?".  He suggests "how about what you've got on?", and Chyna retorts "can't do that -- in my time this outfit is Seventies-retro. But in the Eighties, this is just out of date."

 At the prom itself, she marvels "it's the Eighties! Wow, the Eighties are so....  Eighties"

This is proved by a 1986-girl's Valley-Girl-ing it with "totally" after "totally" after "totally", and the prom band, whose members play keytars!

Chyna sings with the band and when they struck up a song, she exclaim, "really, this song?!!?! My mom listens to this song on Oldies 107", then blurts hastily, "I mean, Newies 107".

Friday, August 16, 2013

oneohtrix point never = the Jam ; vaporwave = the vapors merton parkas chords purple hearts squire secret affair

I have that book at the start of the video!

Art and the Future!

in fact i posted about it here before

as i noted before:

Published in 1973, written most likely in 1970-71, and, crucially, based on the 1960s.

As the contents pages indicate:


Like so many Zeitgeist-snapshot books (and there are loads of examples of this in terms of big-picture rock books - including a few of my own) it projects forward from what seem to be the most era-defining and progressive tendencies of the present (which by the time the book comes out is the immediate past). Except that by then, other and usually radically different tendencies have emerged. Art and the Future's "prophecy" doesn't envision things like body art, performance art, appropriation art, or indeed most of the major trends and directions that would transpire in the Seventies and thereafter.

But it's full of exciting photographs and reproductions of work by artists, mostly long forgotten, that impart a retro-future frisson - specimens of kinetic art, computer art, early video art, and some of the same people covered by the Ghosts in the Machine exhibition, such as Hans Haacke.  I've been meaning to scan some of them in here, but in the meantime, here's a few from the web.

This first one is from Art and the Future itself

rest of original post here....

retro-klepto R&B

Hilarious story in the Hollywood Reporter about Robin Thicke and Pharrell and the other "Blurred Lines" writer suing Marvin Gaye's family in a preemptive measure against threats of potential suits for the song's resemblance to "Got to Give It Up". 

Extract from the suit:  "Plaintiffs, who have the utmost respect for and admiration of Marvin Gaye... reluctantly file this action in the face of multiple adverse claims from alleged successors in interest.... Defendants continue to insist that plaintiffs' massively successful composition, 'Blurred Lines,' copies 'their' compositions... Gaye defendants are claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work.... But there are no similarities between plaintiffs' composition and those the claimants allege they own, other than commonplace musical elements.... Plaintiffs created a hit and did it without copying anyone else's composition.... Being reminiscent of a 'sound' is not copyright infringement. The intent in producing 'Blurred Lines' was to evoke an era."

Raises interesting questions to do with when does a song, or an artist, become a genre  unto itself, and thus up for grabs. 

Perhaps any really distinctive or original performer has the potential to spawn a genre fashioned in his or her image (the Stones, Sabbath Led Zep, Lou Reed, Prince, Kate Bush,  Siouxsie Sioux, too many examples to mention).  Many of these these went through an initial phase of being heavily indebted to a few precusors, perhaps doing mostly cover versions, or writings songs based heavily on other earlier songs or riffs. Then they crossed the threshold, from imitative/indebted to the possessor of a unique style. So it's almost the definition of originality, or rather its confirmation: the trademark infringers, the biters, start to appear.

In the first decades of pop/rock,  biting was overwhelmingly a real-time syndrome: new bands copied their more innovative contemporaries, and at its most intense (Beatles) this created the synchrony of the musical all-change that transformed the sound of the radio. (Timbaland is actually a great latter-day example of this: his template, widely adopted, installs a new BeatGeist).

But as time goes by, as the archive accumulates, there's more and more options for retro-klepto.

Hence the paradox of the freshest song on the radio in 2013 being a "evocation" of the mid-Seventies. 

back-to-the-future R&B

"In the most direct way, we're trying to be post-Timbaland," says Kelela Mizanekristos, one of several new female artists operating in the realm of what could be termed experimental R&B. "We're taking that sound and pushing it. I remember the day I first heard what Timbaland and Aaliyah did -
– that intersection of her pretty voice and his weird, resonant production. I remember where I was and what I was doing. It was a major situation. We're trying to continue that legacy." -- from Paul Lester's Guardian article "Beyond Timbaland: the future stars of experimental R&B"

So if the last thing Timbo did of even half-note was this -

and of actual full-note was this, from 2002,

Is that effectively an argument that R&B has been more or less static for a decade?

It wouldn't take a lot to convince me. Jaw-drop moments, prior to the big Euroclub whiteout of last three years (which has been jawdropping more for the early-90s-Ibiza-LoveParade flashback factor) would for me comprise  "Umbrella", "Single Ladies" and...  nah, not even The-Dream albums really, which struck me as a baroque-ification of already established production and vocal arrangement traits.

Well, there's been the dubstep-meets-R&B tunes...  like that nasty but desolately weird Chris Br**n tune "Look At Me Now". Odious but undeniable jarring on the radio.

But back to that other 'orrible little man, Mr T....

So really what Kelela is talking about in terms of "restarting the future" is that period when T used Aaliyah as "a probe" (as he put it):


1998 and 1996

That's the high point that they are trying to be "post", to be build from.  The late Nineties. Chiming again with Jaron Lanier's (in)famous challenge "find me some music from the late 2000s that's distinguishable from the music of the late 90s"

What does it sound like, though, this future-R&B, this R&B restarted, the pause button released?

"Enemy" by Kelela, is pretty good -  a song draped over a grimestrumental from 2003-4 or an early track by Plasticman.  Gets a bit more adventurous, like screwed-footwork, further in.  But there doesn't seem to be much relation between the vocal and the beat.   (Whereas with something overtly retro-nuevo, e.g. "Blurred Lines", the vocals weave through rhythm, form a funky warp 'n' weft that breathes. [Or perhaps pants is the operative word in this case]. As such an anachronism, yes).

Most of the other candidates are bit cloud-y for my tastes. Taking the name Kid A is a bit of a give away. I was about to write like "Shek'spere if he recorded for Morr Music" but then saw the Guardian's own description, "Ciara if she had been on the 4AD label in 1985"

Thursday, August 15, 2013

not-so-New Age

So many operatives in the Zones of Alteration have moved away from hypnagogic 1.0 to hynagogic 2.0, i.e.  high-definition / digital-NOW! aesthetics, otherwise known as vaporwave. Indeed they did so a while back, following Ferraro's lead, such that there's already a vaporwave-backlash! D Check  this, that, and this: one-star and half-star reviews from Tiny Mix Tapes, until recently the great champion of all things V-wave. (Not forgetting its other great champion, our foremost taxonomist).  Commencing the slide in its stock profile,  this earlier TMT review - a tour de force of conceptual-reviewing - damned the genre with faint praise and fainter abuse.

But I expect VW will chunter on for a good while, as genres seem to do these days. The mystery of subcultural persistence (drum'n'bass is still being made in 2013) is now joined by the puzzle of  micro-generic obstinacy: hauntology chunters on, even coughing up twilight-era gems against the odds, while in postdubstep, "neon", first identified /christened circa 2009, appears to have cycled around into  sudden renewed relevance, or so we are led to believe).   

Another example: hypnagogic 1.0 has not gotten away either.  Defying high-def, the blurry, lo-fi  Nu-New Age sound of 2009-2010, which fetishised analogue from its synths to its cassette-tape format,  is still percolating in certain  quarters. As documented by this blog

And then there's this:

 I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age In America, 1950-1990 
Light In The Attic
October 29th

press release:

 "Forget everything you know, or think you know, about new age, a genre that has become one of the defining musical-archaeological explorations of the past decade.

I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age In America, 1950-1990 is the first major anthology to survey the golden age of new age and reveal the unbelievable truth about the genre.

For new age, at its best, is a reverberation of psychedelic music, and great by any standard. This is analog, handmade music communicating soul and spirit, often done on limited means and without commercial potential, self-published and self-distributed. Before it became big business and devolved into the spaced out elevator music we know and loathe today, this was the real thing.

From mathematical musical algorithms to airport murder mysteries to Henry Mancini and Bugs Bunny, the connections to mainstream culture run in curious directions. (Did you know, for instance, that a track from the first modern private press new age album is featured on the Blade Runner soundtrack? It’s called “Pompeii, 76 A.D.”, and we’ve got it here.)

I Am The Center is a knowing, but never cynical overview that invites listeners at last to the mainspring of a misunderstood genre’s greatest lights. Many of the biggest names are present — Iasos, inter-dimentional channeler of “paradise music”; Laraaji, discovered by Brian Eno playing for spare change in Washington Square Park; and the recently famous JD Emmanuel, icon to a new generation of drone, ambient, noise musicians. Call it what you will — before it was anything else, it was new age.

Lovingly conceived and lavishly presented, I Am The Center features stunning paintings by the legendary visual artist Gilbert Williams, and liner notes by producer Douglas Mcgowan, who weaves the words and images of the wizards and sorceresses of new age into a prismatic portrait of music that can finally be recognized for what it is: great American folk art."

2xCD housed in deluxe tip-on gatefold jacket with 44-page book
3xLP housed in slip case w/ 3 tip-on jackets, download card and 20-page book
Both formats with notes by Douglas Mcgowan featuring interviews with artists and includes rare archive photos.
Artwork by Gilbert Williams and Janaia Donaldson.
2 unreleased tracks, 7 others previously only on cassette

postscript - how about some post-post-vaporwave?