Sunday, November 24, 2013

sampling the dead

Lindsay Zoladz at Pitchfork on ghost MCs - i.e. hologram-based projections of deceased rap stars such as 2Pac, Ol Dirty Bastard, and Eazy E


"Amidst the soft, productive chatter of clicks and keystrokes, he makes near-imperceptible tweaks to ODB's face. “It’s a constant process of getting the skin texture right, the pores, the lips. It’s something you can keep working on forever,” he tells me with an exasperated laugh. “How close can you get to what God was trying to do?”....


"A Swedish designer is developing a product called Global Chef, which would let companionless people prepare and eat meals with (yes, I swear) hologram projections of their loved ones"

except it's not really sampling the dead or digital reanimation but a complicated fakesimile...

".... While the projection’s digital assets are informed by photos and videos of the deceased artists, they are not, as some people think, archived footage of the performers, but instead original composites generated from motion-capture shoots. Eazy-E's shoot was overseen by his widow Tomica Wright, and his “hologram” is actually a composite of his three children (all of whom are rappers themselves): Eric Jr. (Lil Eazy-E) acted as the body double, Derrick (E3) provided the voice, and Erin—who bears a particularly striking resemblance to her father—lip synced Eazy’s lines to provide the facial capture. The audio and motion capture for ODB’s asset, on the other hand, was solely provided by his son Young Dirty Bastard—his dad’s spitting image in name and attitude. All of which means that these particular holograms were not so much the work of sorcery or Frankenstein-ian corpse reanimation (“To create a completely synthetic human being is the most complicated thing that can be done” is something a person actually had to clarify to the Wall Street Journal immediately after 2Pac’s performance) but more like the 21st-century version of Lisa Marie playing tribute to her dad by dressing up like an Elvis impersonator."
a fakesimile that isn't even playing that well with the punters....

Friday, November 22, 2013

getting the future wrong, #2

#1 was this post on Anthony Burgess's 1985, a clumsy satire of a trade union dominated Britain of the near future

in similar vein, the 1977 series 1990, set in a bureaucratic dystopia (creator Wilfred Greatorex called it "Nineteen Eighty-Four plus six")


The blurb at YouTube: A nightmare vision of the (then) future UK set in 1990. The permanent civil service in Britain has taken political control and the population finds itself living under a totalitarian regime. The Public Control Department (PCD) of the Home Office monitors all activity, and ruthlessly suppresses any act of opposition. The story focuses on two key players -- the supercilious Permanent Secretary at the PCD, Herbert Skardon (Robert Lang) and a journalist on Britain's last independent newspaper, Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward).

(More on it here)

Laughably off-base, did they really not see Thatcher coming?

Still, great synth-twizzled library-music-esque theme tune, and Edward Woodward is always good value

Episode one

Episode two

Episode three

Episode four

Episode five

Episode six (titled 'whatever happened to Cardinal Wolsey?' !!!!)

Episode seven

Episode eight

Blimey, there appears to have been a second series.

Wilfred Greatorex - what an awesome name!

retro-quotes - "gaps of solitude and silence"

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #51

"The problem is no longer getting people to express themselves, but providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people from expressing themselves, but rather, force them to express themselves. What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, or ever rarer, the thing that might be worth saying"Gilles Deleuze, “Mediators”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hauntology Weekend / Public Service Broadcasting / Victory Girls

As part of its massive nation-wide year-long GOTHIC: The Dark Heart of Film project, the BFI is having a Hauntology Weekend. In association with The Wire, it takes place on Friday December 13th and Saturday December 14th. 

The Saturday 14th December event is Vault: Music for Silent Gothic Treasures, with eldtrichtronic musicians performing new scores for 110-year-old Gothic films. It's at the BFI Southbank at 8.45 pm.

From the press release:

The ensemble was put together by Sarah Angliss, a composer, automatist and theremin player, whose singularly unsettling music was recently heard at the National Theatre as a tense underscore to Lucy Prebble’s The Effect. Angliss’ music for Gothic film will be performed by her band: recent Ghost Box collaborators Spacedog. They’ll be joined by Exotic Pylon’s Time Attendant (Paul Snowdon) who will be supplying a new work on simmering, tabletop electronics. There will also be some extemporisations from Bela Emerson, a soloist who works with cello and electronics. Fellow Ghost Box associate Jon Brooks, composer of the haunting Music for Thomas Carnacki (2011), will also be creating a studio piece for the event.

Sourced by Bryony Dixon, the BFI’s curator of silent film, many of the short films inspiring these musicians were made in the opening years of the twentieth century. The Legende du fantôme (1908) and early split screen experiment Skulls Take Over (1901) are on the bill, along with the silent cubist masterpiece The Fall of the House of Usher (US version, 1928) and more.

“There is undoubtedly something uncanny about the earliest of these films”, said Angliss. “Many are stencil-coloured in vibrant hues, adding to that sense of the familiar taking on a strange cast. They seem to demand music that suggests rather than points up the horror, a motif that discomforts as it soothes, or a sweet sound that is somehow sickly, as though heard in a fever. As with vision, sound for horror can use the art of the almost, inviting the audience to make unnerving connections of their own.” 

Jon Brooks said “the visuals suggest aural textures reminiscent of painted glass, to strange derivatives of stringed instruments. Hopefully I've conjured some playfulness amongst the macabre too."

Adding to the strangeness are Angliss’ automata, who will also be performing live. These include a polyphonic, robotic carillon (bell playing machine) and Hugo, the roboticised head of a ventriloquist’s dummy who is of the same vintage as some of the films. The event will be directed by Emma Kilbey. After the BFI Southbank performance there are plans to tour Vault around Gothic revivalist buildings around the UK. 

The musicians

Sarah Angliss - composer; multi-instrumentalist (including theremin, modular synth and other live electronics); automatist.
Member of Spacedog trio.

Jenny Angliss - vocalist
Soundcloud (vocal samples):
Member of Spacedog trio.

Jon Brooks (aka The Advisory Circle and Cafe Kaput) - composer and multi-instrumentalist (providing a recorded piece)

Bela Emerson - composer and cellist, works live with electronics

Stephen Hiscock - composer and percussionist
Member of Spacedog trio and EnsembleBash.

Paul Snowdon (aka Time Attendant) - composer and performer with electronics


The lingering undeath of Hauntology persists!

Another example: this group Public Service Broadcasting, and their cackhanded attempt to mainstream Ghost Box et l. A blurb: "Through their uniquely spell-binding live AV Transmissions audiences will witness the band weave samples from old public information films, archive footage and propaganda material around live drums, guitar, banjo and electronics as they teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future - beaming our past back at us through vintage TV sets and state of the art modern video projection devices." 

The sound though is closer to Propellerheads with a proggy live-played whiff of I dunno, Levitation thrown in, and even - quel horreur - a tinge of Mumford on certain songs.

On their
2013 album Inform- Educate - Entertain the reference points in terms of paternalist-pedagogic-Britain-of-yore are not the usual Ghost Box/Mordant etc 60s/70s ones (Penguins, Open University, spooky kids TV, Radiophonics etc) but the 1940s: rationing, the Blitz, Stafford Cripps, the Beveridge Report....

One really hopes the "keep calm and carry on" / "pull together"  vibes are not meant to align with Cameron and the New Austerity.

Just to show their hauntological allegiance  they have a tune called "Roygbiv" but I'm damned if I can hear the Boards of Canada original in there.

PSB reminded me a bit of this spoof of Forties nostalgia in Rock Follies, when the Little Ladies's svengali Stavros decides that with the UK economy in crisis circa 1975, ‘Austerity Rock’ will be the next big thing.  The Little Ladies are remodeled as 1940s nostalgia act The Victory Girls, singing songs like ‘Where’s My Gasmask,’ ‘I’ll Be a War Bride’ and ‘Glenn Miller is Missing.’ Stavros also builds Blitz Club, which is styled as a London tube station turned bomb shelter, with deliberately grotty grub purchased using a ration card, and a simulated air raid.

Also reminded me of this: Roxy's "The Bob Medley" - BOB. standing for Battle of Britain - 


Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Death Of ___ " as Sign of Life

Tin House interview with Walter Kirn in which he asserts that "____ is dead" debates indicate vitality  (contrast with Sam Sacks's swipe at "the death of literature" essay as discussed in previous post):

Are books and literature in a state of crisis these days?.... 

"I certainly hope they’re in a state of crisis. The moment they’re not, they’ll probably cease to matter much. Maintaining a state of crisis around matters that many people might considered settled – What is it to be a person? What is it to tell a story? – is the first job of literary art. Nothing keeps the novel livelier and more relevant than those ceaseless “Is the novel dead?” essays, for example. The markets live by the competition of fear and greed, they say, and literature lives by the struggle between hope and despair over certain fundamental concerns such as whether life can be fruitfully represented at all. Crisis and criticism go hand in hand…" 

Not totally convinced by this (sometimes proclamations of moribundness point to actual states of incontrovertible and irreversible decline) . But certainly the idea of  a relationship between criticism and crisis fits my own bi-polar relationship with pop history and pop temporality -- rush followed by crash, speed giving way to slowdown, phases of unilinear surge  alternating with phases of directionless stagnation. 

Friday, November 8, 2013


This struck me as a Retromania-ish argument

Reversing the logical sequence: first, the critique / rebuttal / counterblast.... Sam Sacks in the New Yorker , starts with a swipe against the tradition of "death of the novel" essays ("the vocabulary of literary ennui is now so familiar that it produces its own kind of boredom"), then moves to take issue with a post by novelist/critic Tim Parks at New York Review of Books blog, titled "Trapped Inside the Novel", which Sacks calls "an honest, provocative, and maddeningly wrongheaded meditation about his unhappiness with what he calls “traditional novels.”:

"He feels “trapped” within the expected forms of fiction writing, especially those of realistic fiction. These books’ basic traits, he thinks—“the dilemma, the dramatic crisis, the pathos, the wise sadness, and more in general a suffering made bearable, or even noble through aesthetic form”—have become mannered and artificial to the point of irrelevance...  Parks isn’t talking only about mediocre novels when he invokes the tyranny of tradition. By his way of thinking, anyone who uses elements of conventional forms has done so out of either unthinking habit or unwilling necessity"

Sacks counter this with  the "fresh content in familiar forms" argument: "for many, if not most, writers, things like plot, character development, and catharsis are not narrative fallbacks but dynamic tools that give shape to the stories they’re passionate to tell or develop ideas that are uppermost on their minds.... It is a flighty kind of world view that automatically equates oldness with staleness. Missing from Parks’s essay is the recognition that talent transmutes tradition. Gifted writers can make accustomed methods feel as new and vital as a work explicitly devoted to structural innovation"

Sacks also does the "actually, the problem is you" move, a tactic rather familiar to me having been on its receiving end more times than I can count in the last three years!

"If Parks’s essay were strictly part of a memoir, there would be no cause to object. But he is also a critic, and, to a dangerous extent, he is putting forth his disillusion as a judgment on the state of literature. This tendency to project one’s own cynicism onto the books that failed to magically prevent it has become a little too frequent these days, and it needs challenging."

There is also the "if you expect too much, you set yourself up for disappointment" argument:

"... Implicit in Parks’s essay is a discontented yearning for something quite different from ingenuity—the groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting “way forward” that he desires sounds oddly salvational, a newly discovered way of seeing that will break him out of his present funk like a religious epiphany. Yet to imbue something as abstract as narrative form with talismanic, revelatory properties is to insure the very disillusionment that he is desperate to dispel."

Now,  the original Parks post and its subsequent elaboration in a follow-up titled "Literature Without Style" . Starts with his own dissatisfaction with the phenomelogical gap between long-form narrative and the fragmented, connected digireality we inhabit, while acknowledging that such fiction is still hugely popular,  precisely because "its very distance, in most cases, from the texture of modern life, the impression it can give of shape, continuity, and hence meaning, may be its most reassuring and attractive aspect." 

Then reiterates his own dissatisfaction:

"My problem with the grand traditional novel—or rather traditional narrative in general, short stories included—is the vision of character, the constant reinforcement of a fictional selfhood that accumulates meaning through suffering and the overcoming of suffering. At once a palace built of words and a trajectory propelled by syntax, the self connects effortlessly with the past and launches bravely into the future. Challenged, perhaps thwarted by circumstance, it nevertheless survives, with its harvest of bittersweet consolation, and newly acquired knowledge....  the tendency to reinforce in the reader the habit of projecting his or her life as a meaningful story, a narrative that will very likely become a trap, leading to inevitable disappointment followed by the much-prized (and I suspect overrated) wisdom of maturity, is nigh on universal. Likewise, and intrinsic to this approach, is the invitation to shift our attention away from the moment, away from any real savoring of present experience, toward the past that brought us to this point and the future that will likely result. The present is allowed to have significance only in so far as it constitutes a position in a story line. Intellect, analysis, and calculation are privileged over sense and immediate perception; the whole mind is pushed toward the unceasing construction of meaning, of narrative intelligibility, of underlying structure, without which life is assumed to be unimaginable or unbearable."

Contrasts the modernist strategies of language and style (Beckett et al) with surfeit of "passable imitations of our much-celebrated nineteenth-century novels" and argues that "the problem lies exactly in feeling that one’s skills are only suitable for a project that no longer makes sense...  [These narratives]'s very facility becomes an obstacle to exploring some more satisfactory form.

In the "Literature Without Style" follow-up, Parks explores the stylistic innovations of Henry Green and F. Scott Fitzgerald and argues that these elements are almost impossible to translate into foreign languages. Then he circles around to more swipes against retro-fiction, specifically Booker prize winning The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, an "eight-hundred-page mystery story set in 1860s New Zealand":

"Removing us from the present, pastiching what the modern ear assumes the eloquence of the past to have been, the writer can appear “stylish” without appealing to anything in his readership’s immediate experience. Catton’s prose has been likened to that of Dickens in The Pickwick Papers. But for readers who followed Pickwick in the 1830s, the book was drenched in references to the world they shared and the language itself was not so far away from what could be heard and read every day.. If one translates Dickens into another language, an enormous amount is lost; even for the Londoner reading him today, half the references mean nothing. But Neuman’s and Catton’s novels have dispensed in advance with this intense engagement with a local or national readership and seem set to lose very little as they move around the world in different languages..."

His melancholy conclusion:

"Such is the future of literature and literary style in a global age: historical novels, fantasy, vast international conspiracies, works that visit and revisit the places a world culture has made us all familiar with; in short an idea of literature that may give pleasure but rarely excites at the linguistic level, rarely threatens, electrifies, reminds us of, and simultaneously undermines the way we make up the world in our own language. Perhaps it is this development that has made me weary with so much contemporary fiction."

Reminded me of a thought, which may or not be true, but seemed potentially true: 

Things that we think of as "classic" today almost always were innovative in their own time (Dickens being a good example).  

To reproduce or imitate or model oneself on the classic is necessarily to forego for oneself the very quality of newness that led to the object of admiration/emulation ever having acquired the status of classic.

Being "classic" in the present  requires having once been insistently not-classic...  perhaps even opposed to the classic.