Saturday, February 10, 2024

museal techno and futures forestalled

An interesting article with an interesting title - Techno: Inside the Museum of the Living Dead - from interesting new-ish blog (really a Substack) Infinite Speeds, the interesting work (go check the archive of previous essays) of Vincent Jenewin. 

This essay juxtaposes the "musealization of techno" with the club-closure crisis.

I particularly enjoyed the bit about "the little "Drexciya-industrial-complex" that has popped up within the last few years". It is bizarre - yet also all too logical - how that tuff little unit has become the basis for a production line churning out PhDs and dissertations. Not that they haven't made some great records with a fascinating mythos wrapped around them.... But you don't see the same level of exegesis with the equally-rich-and-ripe text that is Marc Acardipane / PCP.  Or [insert your own example].

But  more to the point, there's plenty of fantastic electronic dance music that doesn't have any text around it as such - music that sonifies rather than signifies - tracks that simply execute the task it's been set . But for those reasons gives academia nothing to latch onto. 

Musealization seems to capture everything eventually, perhaps it's futile to resist. or pointless to complain... And of course I'm in this business myself, rather often. 

But in the conclusion to the original 1998 Energy Flash I suggest that the vitality of a genre or music movement is in inverse relation to the amount of history written about it, before wryly noting that my own tome might well be an early sign that the prime was passing - had literally become The Past now, past-ure ready for memory-mastication and digestion. For when things are most vital, things move too fast for retrospection: you're in it, living it. Under the bracket "history" could be included not just books but exhibitions, box sets, documentaries, podcasts, oral history features, and every other form of curation and annotation. 

If techno-house etc is fundamentally a bliss-machine, then...  well, this old favorite quote springs to mind:

"Criticism is always historical or prospective... the presentation of bliss is forbidden it: its preferred material is culture, which is everything in us except our present

- Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text. 

This one too: 

 "Beauty will be amnesiac or it will not be at all."

~ Sylvère Lotringer, "The Dance of Signs" 


Related themes and quandaries - ideas of futurity, lost futures, looking back to looking-forward - flicker through two new excellent bits of writing at Pitchfork...

A review by Philip Sherburne of the new Burial release "Dreamfear"/ “Boy Sent From Above” 

Gabriel Szatan s Sunday Review flashback to Jeff Mills's Live at the Liquid Room, Tokyo, the legendary 1996 deejay-mix-CD 

The Burial release - it suddenly struck me that it is now 

A/ almost 20 years since Burial's recording career started 

B/ in reference to the darkcore-'93 flavour of "Dreamfear", we've probably now had at least 20 years of aunterlogikal ardkore 

(Well, the very first example dates to 1997 - Jega's "Card Hore" - but then there's a long gap, before you get Zomby's Where Were U in '92?  in 2008... I don't think there are any examples between Jega and Zomby... Then again, there was The Caretaker's Death of Rave project)

Listening to "Dreamfear", I felt the same way I did about Antidawn, that it floats in this zone where it could either seem self-parodic or consummate + inimitable, depending on how you tilted your head. More of the same, only more so.  

Here's how Sherburne negotiates similar feelings: 

One of Burial’s chief fixations has long been nostalgia for a halcyon era of renegade freedom... 

Or is it becoming a shtick? It can be hard to say. If you love Burial—particularly the maudlin turn of his work over the past decade—you’ll love the outsized pathos of “Boy Sent From Above” and the high drama of “Dreamfear.” If you feel like you’ve heard enough pasted-on vinyl crackle to last a lifetime, or aren’t particularly invested in the hagiography of rave music’s formative years, you probably won’t find anything new here.

But newness isn’t the point. Using not just the same tropes but even many of the same samples he’s used before, Burial seems to be pursuing his long-running project of world-building and self-mythology to increasingly hermetic ends, burrowing deeper into a state of déjà vu—as though if by recreating the memory from every possible angle, he could preserve it forever.

And here's the relevant bit in Szatan's incredibly in-depth, gets-into-the-nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts-of-turntable-artistry review of Liquid Room, where he zooms out to this question of futurity: 

"In a recent campaign for fashion house Jil Sander, Mills was asked to expound upon a theme, “mid-’90s optimism”—with the unspoken “that we’ve lost” echoing not far behind. There’s no glint of awe in our collective eye when DJing’s premier cosmologist collaborates with NASA. It’s just a thing that happens. The idea that technology could be inspiring or even fun anymore has dissipated. Accordingly, the notion that techno might be a pathway to revolution has lost resonance. So many arenas and aircraft hangars have passed in front of Mills’ eyes now that, by his own account, he sometimes zones out mid-performance and begins to dream, instead, of the stars. To some degree, he stands as an avatar for a future forestalled.

"Yet I’d encourage you to listen to the mix and consider the opposite: that this is the work of an individual who believed so unreservedly in the possibilities of what lay beyond that they gave up their best years attempting to tear open that wormhole. At the root, Mills told author Hari Kunzru in 1998, his spin on techno has always been “about making people feel they’re in a time ahead of this present time. Like if you’re hearing someone speak in a language you don’t understand, or you’re in surroundings you’ve never seen before.”

The final point Szatan makes resonates with me: that for all the talk of posthuman this and posthuman that, 'the machines are taking over" etc etc - that excitingly depersonalized discourse that many of us got caught up in the '90s - what makes the record exciting is that it's a human being grappling in hands-on real-time with (by today's standards) unwieldly mechanical technology and analogue slabs of sound-matter.  The friction and the sparks come from this battle between the will-to-flow and the resistance of  materiality. The disc captures a pre-digital moment, steampunk almost compared to what can be done today... 

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