Nostalgia, atemporality and music blogging

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Simon Reynolds: how do you write about music when the volume of creation is unmanageably large? You give up on criticism, give up on finding something Significant. Instead, you just churn out excited brief notes on whatever track has dropped into your feed in the last 5 minutes.

That’s what Pitchfork are doing with their offshoot Altered Zones. 15 bloggers post prolifically “with a sensibility that could be fairly described as post-critical“. Because, says Reynolds, “there’s just too much [music], and that filtering doesn’t seem to be quite the thing to do with it

So far, so typically net/ADHD/affect-driven. More interesting is the implied link between this cultural surplus and a culture of nostalgia.

“Everybody knows” that we’re drowning in nostalgia. But our nostalgia has two distinct patterns, one transitional, the other here to stay. The first is our parent’s nostalgia — the mainstream, modernist-nationalist TV nostalgia of “remember the 80s” shows. This variant functions as a stand-in for the mass culture of the past, a nicotine patch for modernism. It conjures up a feeling of experiencing the same media alongside your neighbours, friends and enemies. Since that shared culture no longer exists in the present, it’s transposed into the past.

So that form of mass-culture nostalgia is a transition phenomenon: it’ll vanish as there are no longer generations growing up with mass-culture upbringing. “Remember the 90s” is already strugging; “Remember the noughties” perhaps won’t function at all.

But the ‘nostalgia’ currently riding high in music is something else entirely. It’s “ahistorical omnivorousness”:

I don’t think [it] really has much to do with all the ’80s ghosts haunting this music. From YouTube to sharity blogs, the Internet is an ever-expanding data sea, and these young musicians are really explorers, voyaging into the past and diving for pearls.

Bruce Sterling covered this last year in a speech at the Transmediale digital art festival in Berlin:

So how do we just — like — sound out our new scene? What can we do to liven things up, especially as creative artists?

Well, the immediate impulse is going to be the ‘Frankenstein Mashup.’ Because that’s the native expression of network culture. The “Frankenstein mashup” is to just take elements of past, present, and future and just collide ‘em together, in sort of a collage. More or less semi-randomly, like a Surrealist “exquisite corpse.”

tw: yes


January 10th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m not entirely convinced by Bruce Sterling’s love of Cibelle. He says of the ‘Abravanista’ movement around her:

So the Abravanista crowd are a kind of “oh fuck off” counterculture who have gone into a vibrant, post-traumatic creative scene. It’s this air of surreal nihilism that puts some iron in their bones. It’s why I take them seriously and consider them global-scale trend-setters as an art movement.

Also entertaining is that she’s very firm about being based in Dalston — in the same way as artists of other generations might emphasise being in the Castro, or the Greenwich Village, or the Left Bank. Queue laughter from all my father’s generation

The Serpent

January 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I recently discovered the Serpent. This is a musical instrument vaguely similar to a tuba, but developed in the late 16th century for the purposes of church music. The idea was apparently to create an instrument which sounds similar to a low male voice, so as to enhance the lower ranges of plainsong. Opinions on the instrument are mixed, to put it tactfully:

It is blown with a cup shaped mouthpiece which is very similar to that of a trombone or Euphonium/Baritone. Played softly, it has a firm yet mellow tone color, or timbre. At medium volume, it produces a robust sound which seems to be a cross between the tuba, the bassoon, and the French horn. When played loudly it can produce unpleasant noises reminiscent of large animals in distress. [source]

Over the past four centuries, other writers have been far nastier. And it sounds like a nightmare to play:

The Serpent really requires a totally unique approach and playing technique….Because it is not possible for the basic Serpent to be vented properly, the instrument does not conveniently resonate at the desired pitches the way modern wind instruments do….

Since the Serpent does not center accurately on most notes, the player must be able to ‘sight sing’ the music much like a singer must look at a given note and produce the correct pitch without mechanical assistance. Once the player has the specified pitch in mind, he must then produce the required vibration with his lips, forcing the instrument to go along even if it cannot actually resonate at that frequency.

There must, somewhere, be groups of people dedicated to playing the oddest of instruments. Ideally together.

Witch House

December 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

JWZ on Witch House as an after-tremor of goth:

the current batch of “Witch House” bands, which is a micro-genre that was invented about six minutes ago that seems to be comprised of an odd mix of late-80s goth, shoegaze and trip-hop, as if Love is Colder Than Death were covering Jesus and Mary Chain while the singer from Rosetta Stone tried to rap…it’s just about the only thing that remotely qualifies as “goth” that has come out in the last ten years.

Aphex Twin

December 19th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

[tl;dr: I don’t get Aphex Twin]

This weekend I have been mostly listening guiltily to electronic music. Guiltily, because after 4 years around Berlin I surely ought to either love or hate it. Instead my reaction is puzzlement. Occasional moments of ecstatic comprehension as I find encounter something that moves me. Boredom listening to most of the rest, especially the stompy repetition that seems too dull even to dance along with. And a dull ear which can’t distinguish the two, can’t figure out which genres or properties make for music I like.

Currently listening to Aphex Twin’s drukqs. It communicates largely in a register I don’t understand, mostly avoiding danceable segments or buildup/breakdown.

Still, there’s The track Mt. St Michel is one of the easier to tune into — high-paced tpaping on the beat, and then a bunch of calmer stuff going on in the background.

But it seems nobody else likes/understands this album either, even amidst Aphex Twin fans. Popmatters:

The tunes oscillate between exciting hyperactive beat-happening compositions and tedious exercises in piano practice or can-banging. There seems to be no real content to the album, and the tracks follow no theme or pattern.

[also, I wish I had enough of a technical musical vocabulary to figure out what I’m listening to, and why. Feel horribly handicapped whenever I try to discuss music. Really want a few very old-fashined lessons in musicology]

June 13th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


Like Washington’s go-go, Baltimore Club exists as a regional sound relatively unknown outside the mid-Atlantic. The music blends the repetitive boom of house or techno with hip-hop’s aggressive posturing and full-frontal frankness (one of the most popular B-More singles is DJ Booman’s “Watch Out for the Big Girl”). What B-More lacks in subtlety it overpowers with shouted hooks, uncleared samples and chest-rattling bass patterns that induce dance-floor euphoria. Baltimore Club allows hip-hop heads to get their rave on.

Still can’t figure out if I like bmore at all, or if it’s just Donna Summer. Suspect the latter

Snippets of music

May 15th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I don’t understand music well enough to write more than a few lines about most songs. Seems a shame, though, to let them pass without any note. Start with tracks recommended by Troy, as ‘intensely passonate about unlikely topics’:

Numerology – These New Puritans (who really, really want to know what your favourite number is.)

That’s…surprisingly aggressive. I can kind of imagine being cornered in a dark alley by a gang of numerologists (triads?) and given this grilling. Somewhere between Tarantino and Monty Python. On a related topic, I give you a number romance. [do have a poke around on that site; I suspect at least some of it would appeal]

Fifty On Our Foreheads – White Lies (who are on a spaceship to the sun, and all going to die.)

ah, there’s nothing quite like an inexplicable science fiction dystopia. Questionable Content at one point had a motivational poster saying “Work harder, or we will fly you into the sun”. Now I know what they meant 🙂

Leechwife – Rasputina (cheating, as I already gave this to someone else, but on the other hand it really is intensely passionate about leeches)

I want to slip this into a school/university careers service, see if anybody takes up the suggestion.

Johnny On The Monorail – The Buggles (who are surprisingly intense for a song from that long ago. you know, about a monorail.)

oh, this is _fantastic_. I’ve spent most of my underground journeys this year in a state of inexplicable temporary bliss; now I have a soundtrack for it. Certainly my favourite of the five.

My Boy Builds Coffins – Florence & the Machine
Nice. I’d somehow avoided hearing any Florence & the Machine; I like. Had thought “hell, getting passionate about coffins, that’s hardly unusual”. Turns out it s.

Long-grain pontiff

April 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m less than overwhelmed by Michael Bracewell’s book England is Mine. I do have to admit, though, that he has a nice turn of phrase — even if it is in a style that must have landed him in Pseuds Corner:

So pop, despite itself, became arty. English society, high on the new convenience foods, allowed English culture to develop a kind of boil-in-the-bag popism as the successor to the beans on toast of social realism. [80]

[slightly less entertaining on re-reading, when I realise that “boil-in-the-bag popism” probably means music rather than the Bishop of Rome]

April 24th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Sasha Frere-Jones on Patti Smith’s autobiography:

It’s refreshing to read a memoirist so dedicated to telling a version of her life that is more about ideas than bedpost notches, though sad to think that only someone like Smith could push this past her editors. The New Irony: only a rock star has the moxie to be a prude now.

Naturally, though, I’m more inspired by what the other Sasha finds in it:

It’s a love story, in every sense; not only an account of a love affair, but of a connection that goes beyond sexuality and familiarity into true understanding and devotion….
he pair were the cutting edge of late 60s and early 70s creative New York, and the energy and belief and idealism surrounding them practically wafts off the page.

England is Mine

April 12th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Bracewell’s “England is Mine” turns out to be excellent page by page, but a bit of a letdown overall. He’s taken as his basic thesis something entirely vagye and anodyne, namely nostalgia for the countryside within English culture and pop music. He calls this “Arcadia”, although it’s unclear what makes this a peculiarly English form different from the adoration of an imagined countryside that is present in just about every country in the world. Likewise, the breadth and commonness of the subject makes it hard to trace any intellectual ancestry for the views he describes: who is to say whether different longings for “Arcadia” are directly related, or just parallel expressions of the same common human urge?

That said, I’m only on page 37; all this could well be resolved later.

February 13th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Infected Mushroom, with some of those lyrics that, when heard as lyrics, sound like some kind of missing key. When written down, the magic fades into the air — so imagine this to the background of some unusually determined and driving trance:

We gonna run run run
To the cities of the future
Take what we can and bring back home

January 2nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


A lot went wrong and my own sorry generation are largely culpable. Smug, lazy and intellectually self-satisfied; historically uneducated and therefore fixated on superficial understandings and re-stagings of the past; unwilling to risk seriousness, or rather, mistaking creative conservatism and po-faced self-absorption for seriousness; lacking sex, glamour, rage, resentment, a death drive, or anything vaguely fucking resembling a reason to make a mark upon the world – you, my peers, are possibly the most boring lot of Westerners since those born ‘tween the World Wars grew themselves up on Patty Boone and Georgia Gibbs.

Couldn’t agree more.

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