Friday, May 18, 2012

Austere Anti Austerity Measures: a few good .zips, containing the possibility of sound and music

How do we 'get' music, in the sense of it actually reaching us? This good piece on RA the other day reminded us of the physics and physicality of sound, as well as the things we tend (not) to pay attention to: acoustics are really important. So is not being off your face. And yet we go to clubs with bad acoustics, and get off our face... hmm...

One of the things I love about sound is its physicality, the way your body responds. We're sensorily set up to apprehend sound directly, in the way that we just can't for, say, time: we need to wear a watch to remind us how humans socially measure duration by splitting it up so we can crash economies through hot speculation... and arrive for wage labour on time… but your ears, and your body, they have this incredible and direct experience of sound waves. The meat in you responds. Sound is phenomenal.

But sound and music are different, though inseparable. Music is also always-already social. Think of language; think of culture. It takes place in a given context that gives it sense and significance – and that *means* something. Of course the final music-effect has to reach you via a signal chain, which these days with most of the music we prefer is massive and complicated, predicated on all kinds of recording, archiving, and replay technologies, all of which mediate and translate the physical into the digital and back. But at the other end, we still have to interpret it, using 'hi fi equipment' that's millions of years old. That which was intended to warn us of predators and help us communicate can also allow us to enjoy Eleh. This is the paradox of the sound of music: its power comes from something directly physical, unmediated, phenomenal. But its final form – what we hear, as we hear, as it reaches us – is complexly mediated and totally dependent on our forestructures and skills of interpretation, our understanding and our ability to use it to actually give our attention to it, to, you know, listen.

The weird thing about music these days – one of the weird things – is how something so physico-social, something so spatiotemporal, has, in circulation, become so fucking abstract, so deterritorialized.  Over the years on ssgs I've talked at length about the side effects of what's happened as our archives have been transformed: from piles to files. How do you navigate the datasea without panic, ennui, anxiety, boredom setting in? One way would be through curation. Another would be to stop pigging out on downloads...  But/so curation might also have to contain a bit of austerity, if you know what I mean. Not the kind the sadomonetarists intend to administer to the weak... Just give you enough so that you can do the rest. Notes as instructions to something flatpacked, but something that isn't quite IKEA or Lego. What I mean is, that the person enabling the sound and/or providing the music, they've still got to give the potential listener some work to do, something to work out.

The following is a set of notes I gave a friend when he asked for some new music, on a relatively small capacity memory stick. The challenge here was to give him something he could relate to, something that wouldn't confront him as data, something that he could move into, relate to as music, with the hope he might also experience it directly as sound, be possessed by it. Stick his head into the memorystick, earbuds into a bassbin. It might be something to think about; this is how I might describe the following to someone who is, kinda, outside the ssg archive, but still a listener.  In any case, these are some recordings that deserve your undivided attention, that you should chase up. I'm not gonna give you hotlinks, because, you know, you have to get active. You have to do some work. This would be the first act of interpretation.

Nommos: Craig Leon was a famous producer in the NY underground in the late 70s. This is his solo synthesizer stuff. To me this is like the Shellac of synth. Early 80s?! And nothing sounds like this…

Wrk, Wrk Wrk: HTRK - these guys set out to make something. And they made it. It sounds exactly like it does. The coldest, bleakest, but also rawest album I've heard in ages. I mean, it's more or less the void you stare into when you really look at New Weekly.

Iko 83 - crazy and very engaging synth pop from '81. Like Kraftwerk's aesthetic, Devo's irreverence and attention to pop culture, and something else uniquely French Canadian perhaps. Learn the melodies and sing along: gonadotroposynthesis!

The Garden: John Foxx's second solo album. Incredibly well produced and diverse, this is a very wholesome and complete album. Spend some time with it. It's a lot to digest. And it's all in the details. Great lyrics, too.

Mark Hollis' post Talk Talk album. People say it's the most intimate music ever made. As if anything could fall apart at any moment. Fragile, tender.

Oren Ambarchi's most recent and most 'pop' album, but also has a 30+ minute guitar slowbuilding freakout track.

The OST from the Solaris remake, from the same dude who did the OST for Drive, which is also awesome, apart from that heinously bad 'real hero' song. A Winged Victory for the Ebbing Swoon.

Andrea Belfi is a percussionist from Italy who has developed these really weird ways of doing and micing up drums. This album on Lawrence English's Room 40 is very 'small' and self contained, but the more I listen, the more I love. Reminds me a bit of early Pluramon. 'Small and perfectly formed'. Can't recommend this one highly enough.

Talk Talk's ?best? album. Well, if you love this, Get Laughing Stock. Same band as did 'Life's What You Make It', then they made this. Astonishing for the time. Some say it's the first post rock album, but this is retrospective. I mean, it's actually post synthpop and pre noise/math/post rock. Proto. But again, like a whole genre of music that never got made apart from this (see also the Mark Hollis album)

Victrola -  Italy in 1983. Like Albini meets Italo Disco meets Factory Records sound. But there's a real unique energy on this EP. It's so bittersweet, and just keeps on building and trucking (the title track). And get this: this is the *only* thing they did. Ever.

Technodelic was the first retail CD, the first album to be made using almost entirely samples/samplers. And the sound design for 1981, fuck. And the songwriting is great. Ai rabu YMO.  If Tokyo is 80s future, this was Tokyo in the early 80s. And this is where Sakamoto started, too…


  1. Over the weekend I DJed at a pop up restaurant/art installation and sound tracked the patrons entry, three course meal, drinks and exit.

    I played everything from Deepchord and Luke Hess to Tony Allen and Jane Birkin - Quite the DJing experience. I noticed as I made my way from deeper/ambient sounds into jazzier, R&B styles, the general level of room noise i.e chitter chatter rose.

    No one was paying particular attention to the music as i was essentially there to set a mood, but people physically reacted to the timbre of the more jovial music.

    During the main course, I kept the music rather festive, and in turn so was the room. It would have been an interesting contrast to see the reactions of the meal had I kept the music somewhat sombre...

    So yes, one example of how music is as much an aural thing as it is physical.

  2. It's worth mentioning that music only became exchangeable between unskilled humans with the advent of recording and playback technologies. Prior to this all that could really be exchanged were scores, which required skilled musicians to bring to life. This would have naturally limited the set of people involved in musical transactions, and the social dynamics were certainly inherently different. I guess there was a hell of a lot more work involved in getting to the music you wanted in those days.

  3. I like the article.

    I think, in response to the question that you raise, that it is maybe about creating a sacred space, intimately connected to an ontology of silence.

    We have to divorce ourselves from the reality that music has become omnipresent - it is everywhere, available at all times, part of backgrounds, foregrounds, inner and outer realities.

    I think we have to fracture this - which is partly about austerity, as you say. Music can only return as a sacred force, if silence is returned. If the two are in opposition - that music is a tool used to overcome and fill up silence - then silence is seen as an oppressive force which must be denied at all costs. If you look closely, there is usually an emotional impatience at the bottom of that - a desire to have something in place of nothing. Music thus becomes a cheap fill to a Lacanian lack, rather than something truly sacred; maybe the only genuinely sacred thing.

    So if silence is not understood and appreciated - if it is seen as nothing rather than something intensely rich and interesting - then music cannot exist as intensely rich and interesting either.

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  5. Re: daragh99 - folk/traditional music has been traded long before and without the need for written notation, and without the need for specialist skills (aside from performance, and folk music is generally welcoming of participants with low/no skills)

    Tobes point on silence is spot on. Similarly the use of limits / restrictions on music consumption work wonders. That's partly why we all remember the pre-download era with such fondness - we were limited by how much music we could consume

  6. @ TEA: it's true your body knows, no? But this isn't quite music, is it. I keep coming back to this one interview with Sakamoto.

    worth reading closely…

    @ Daragh: I like to score! The question is, why record? Then also: what happens when you have to record to reproduce your life as a musician? Unless you're Prince, who, because he is Prince, has figured it's actually a much, much better idea not to record:

    @ Toby: I wonder how/where such spaces are possible though? I went to a wonderful warehouse party on Sat. By 5 the cops were there, and now it's under a cloud. Not just silence, but also a space without permission, is so fragile. That tells us a lot about where and how we live.

    @ Joshualine: so what you seem to be suggesting is that we *need* an economy - ie, scarce resources - in order to exchange and enjoy music in a way that is meaningful?

  7. Spaces need to be cultivated. I don't think that this is an easy task; in fact it probably takes a great deal of effort.

    I suppose it is clearly related to mental space - and that is inseparable from time and movement. One of the primary constraints of this paradigm is that we are constantly rushed, constantly threatened by time - time eating away at us. Movement being an imperative - it is basically involuntary.

    Muso's generally like grass for a reason - it fractures those spacial and temporal dimensions and opens up a different refrain; a refrain where music can breathe, can take its rightful place at the centre of the universe, rather than being subordinate to the demands we make of it to fit in with our mad dash to nowhere.

    So, I'm not suggesting that we should smoke grass - but there is something in the stoner's deliberate cultivation of a different space-time configuration that is probably very important. Maybe the key is that it is deliberate.

  8. @PC - Wouldn't say 'need'; more a case of you get what you put in - i.e. the more you invest in something - be it money, time, concentration - the more benefits you'll derive. Surely more complex than that but that's basically how it works for me.

  9. cheers for nominating some interesting sounds - always open to new recommendations.

    Quick question though: these albums are quite intense, arty, deep etc which is great/interesting and has its place - BUT what do you listen to when you want something joyful, fun, light/bright... do you ever bust out a Jack Johnson album for some light relief?



  10. hey great work!!! loved it:):)

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