November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Friday’s The Joy of the Single documentary was roughly as reductive & absurd as we’ve come to expect from BBC Four (who are, still, the only people willing to put time & money into making TV music history docs – a pity they don’t get in some pop history writers who know their stuff to do the scripts). The procession of talking-heads was of a slightly higher calibre than usual, or at least slightly higher up the slope of the ‘brow from middle towards high, but Lavinia Greenlaw cranked out her usual public-schoolgirl-but-I-was-a-punk-me anecdotes, & Paul Morley (with whom, in his loud tweed jacket & floppy greying side-quiff, I’m converging in appearance at a frightening rate) retold his (not bad) story about buying ‘Ride A White Swan’ in the Mersey Way centre in Stockport. Otherwise it was mostly a parade of adjectives illustrating whatever cliche the voiceover had just suggested: “there’s something about great singles you can’t pin down”, “mysterious”, “so memorable”, “you have such a tactile relationship to it” ad nauseum. The problem really is that the doc comes so close to actual thought but then fails to make it; the things it addresses, even if it does so in the ready-to-hand agglomerations of cliche, are real & as vital as they want to suggest. The problem, again, is one of temporality: talk of the single, the process (de Certeauian academics would say ‘practice’) of listening to them, is conducted in the conditional present (“you would listen to this…”) as if they weren’t  speaking of an obsolete technological form, as if this way of hearing weren’t hearing retrospectively, as if they weren’t hearing into the past or the way of hearing they once practiced. The archive footage conspired with the text: coffee-bars, dance-halls, youth clubs, Teddy Boys, girls of 16 & 17 w/ perfectly mussed hairdoes jiving as if neoliberalism had never happened, wh/ it hadn’t quite yet. (Sidenote: what sort of records did Friedman & Hayek like? No doubt Adam Curtis will provide the answer soon enough, but in the meantime – on a postcard.) No joke: Noddy Holder looked as if might burst while describing how his young “sap would rise” by the end of a youth-club night, when “you’d dance close with the girl”. Technicolor footage of teenagers & suits in a record shop that functioned, we are told, as “an altar” to the form of the 7″, attended by girls in beehives. The pop 45 required the existence of a pop market & teen culture with disposable income, spare time, passions for enjoyment not yet dulled by decades of the factory; it was conditional, then, on a particular moment, whose almost paradisical form doesn’t need to be spelled out, from the perspective of a Europe in the midst of a triple-dip recession & the relentless dismantling of the welfare state. The nostalgia isn’t in itself reprehensible, except in the case of Jack White & Richard Hawley’s usual covert-snob primitivism (“downloading music – it’s not the same”): the historical telescope through which the post-war golden age (if we feel that’s what it was) is seen needs to be understood as what it is, & the (political) history of Technik as a piling-up of obsolete forms can only be understood with this in mine. But to outline a history without pathos is to obliterate the very thing the historian claims to be describing – the utopian flash of the moment, that the pain of separation from that present clarifies within it. The bodily & sonic arcadia of boomer adolescence is scaled-out into the false universal of the commodity. (From the record-store footage mentioned above, cut to Wombles producer Mike Batt, rubbing his face against an imaginary 7″ as if it could kiss back – Benjamin’s aura gone as far wrong as can be imagined.) Those of us who listen to the history of pop & its forms now – I went through a rush of buying vinyl, & particularly 7″s, when I was 18, a fact no doubt linked to explosive sexual frustration – hear in time, in more than one sense.


November 19, 2012 § Leave a comment


November 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

Re: Tumblr, a passage from Walter Scott’s diaries, excerpted in The Faber Book of Diaries (1987):

Nota Bene John Lockhart and Anne and I are to raise a society for the suppression of Albums. It is a most troublesome shape of mendicity – Sir, your autograph – a line of poetry – or a prose sentence among all the sprawling sonnets and blotted trumpery that dishonours these miscellanies – a man must have a good stomach that can swallow this botheration as a compliment.

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

The persistent move in writing on recent laptop music, whether in Boomkat blurbs or in-depth pieces, of noting an artist’s education or interest in principles or theories construed as academic & then throwing up one’s hands in surprise that ‘actually their work has something to do with dance OMG!!1’, must be condemned, or at least snarked at, wherever it is encountered. I’m thinking here of Holly Herndon, Mark Fell, Lee Gamble, Ben Vida, even Keith Fullerton Whitman’s modular synth albums. Some of them have had tertiary education in (computer) music, & it’s shaped their work. But never is the value of educational work, in terms of enriching theoretical & practical resources, named or explored: Herndon’s Movement is a thesis project for her PhD at “the infamous Mills College”, but why is Mills College infamous? What does it mean historically for electronic music? (The San Francisco Tape Music Centre’s name resounds in its absence here.) The question of what relation abstraction might have to the bodily realm (as lived experience) is discarded in favour of a presumed & ironclad opposition, an opposition that dance music always-already countermands. Such exclamations keep apart the very categories that the exclamations themselves say their objects dissolve.

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Notebook (autumn journal)

November 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

– He remembers, slightly shamefaced, his self-description to J. as “an aesthete” – J. of the waistcoats, assiduously cultivated moustache, rampant sexual appetite (though not perhaps for a couple of years). He meant it, or meant to mean it: he knew himself to be more than the shrunken co-ordinates of small-town education, of small-gang, rough pleasures of intoxication & chat. (What a lot of haphazard work that word ‘be’ was doing.) He’d think later of Bryan Ferry: that it wasn’t a case of predilections, affects, daring, even of the endless glister of surfaces but of potentiality, the making-void of what is, the effect of being protean-but-finished as in a jump-cut of images from the buzzing circuitry of mediated desire (the close of Adam & The Ants’ “Prince Charming” video). A perfect but dominating congruence w/ the worldly (better known as ‘seduction’), being as being always other than what one is. He reads about Wilde’s last years in Paris, where Jim Morrison, puffy with booze & dope, would come to rest decades later: penniless, drunk when he could afford it, a lot less securely dressed than Stephen Fry portrayed him. The rain outside falls on the staid & the unstaid alike.

– The video for Camera Obscura’s ‘Tears For Affairs’: the presentation of the self as an already-existing whole – lace dress, bob cut, acoustic guitar mid-torso, expression not quite doleful; then the video for (his preferred song) ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken‘, the flash of a couple moving through a 60s home-improvement version of Astaire-&-Rogers, the on-credit plastic of a world flush with employment, the flight towards something other than heartbreak. (The tambourine player in the ‘Eighties Fan’ video who looks like his Glaswegian tutor, rubbing his leg in slight discomfort.)

– The memory of the strange smell of his room at Warwick, of wet coats & boy sweat & warm radiators & books & what you do with them.

– He rehearses: “What I’d quite like is to have no feelings whatsoever.” To put it in terms she has no reason to reject. The hyperbole that always says other than the claustrophobic press of its statement. He knows he has to find more subtle ways of being silent. Or even to vacate dull care, into the enigma of fragments of language increasingly numbed to anything other than a private context, the drain of green from the falling leaves across the street from his window. Or, as he wants more than anything, into the weightlessness & synaptic flash of pop, the innocence for which pop’s love songs are themselves laments.

– A wet Sunday with Roy Orbison’s Monument 2LP All-Time Greatest Hits, reading so that he can’t listen too closely. But still the almost ambient swell & tremble of that bruise-blue velvet voice, the instruments doing their brittle work to stop it from overflowing itself. But always, early on the first side, ‘In Dreams’, with its trails of imagery from the video for the re-recording for the Lynch soundtrack: Frank, lipstick-smeared, spelling out the lyrics at knifepoint, Orbison, two years away from his death, looking as if encased in a wig & shades. The enormity of its spurious, echoplex-enhanced depth, the voice’s lostness in its own sugar-&-poison story, its luxurious abandonment to lack, to its own terrible reality, its defence against another, even worse.

– “The night continues wet, the axe keeps falling, / The hill grows bald and bleak / No longer one of the sights of London but maybe / We shall have fireworks here by this day week.”

November 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Joshua Clover, from The Totality For Kids (University of California Press, 2006)

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