A selection of some personal favorites from the last 10 years of releases, as my 6th album, "Neukölln Burning" reaches its 5th anniversary of release...
"The Detroit electro duo Drexciya used the ocean as a springboard (and while we’re talking about metaphors, I’m sorry for mixing them there) for one of the most elaborate conceptual frameworks that electronic music has known. For the millions of enslaved Africans who did not survive the Middle Passage, the ocean was a graveyard. Yet Drexciya managed to take this genocidal history and spin it into the basis for an experiment in Afro-futurist science fiction. In their musical (re)telling, the unborn children of pregnant women who were thrown overboard did not perish; they adapted and survived. These Drexciyans, as this ambitious mutant species was known, flourished underwater, breathing through gills and utilizing webbed appendages, battling the forces of human greed atop their Wavejumpers." - Philip Sherburn
“Our technology forces us to live mythically” – Marshall McLuhan
I was recently asked by a colleague to offer up some reflections on the topic of depression, and I seek to offer some initial musings on the subject below.
In typical style, these are more a selection of personal conjecture, grounded in curiosity, anecdote, speculation. I speak primarily from personal experience as a performer, though now also as a curious academic, navigating my way through a very real, complex bunch of conditions. I hope you'll forgive my verbosity.
The myth of the 'tortured artist' is intimately enmeshed with the official histories of the Colonialist / Judeo Christian arts canon.
From St John Of The Cross to Vincent Van Gough, the image of an isolated practitioner (usually male), battling an eternal 'dark night of the soul' is a familiar one.
It's also a myth effectively repurposed, in subtle, but somewhat different light by the multitude 'liberation theologies' across the African Musical Diaspora, which have quietly derailed 'white spiritual individualism' from the vantage point of a marginalised majority.
Examined elegantly in books like Lewis Hyde's "Trickster Makes This World" (for those interested in further reading) we encounter the archetype of the 'trickster / shaman', cosmically fucking with the earnest and morally assured - usually with pants around his ankles, laughing loudly all the while.
On one side of pop history we might encounter the sorts of self-negating archetypes embodied by Sid Vicious, Leonard Cohen, Metallica or Hillsong Church.... on the other, George Clinton, Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, Drexciya, Linton Kwesi Johnson - and (of course!) so many nuanced shades in between, particularly in emergent digital community.
I realise I'm painting very clumsy brush strokes here, but you get the idea... I hope.
These individuals are far richer, more complex and nuanced than their public personas might suggest - and this is central to my thesis. The public persona of the artist is a product of industry, as much as reality. And this industry needs blood, hysteria and drama in order to fund itself.
I'm fascinated by examining projections - spectres of the real; in diving a little deeper beneath the surface waters to discover richer cultural oceans they've sprung from.
"The current ruling ontology denies any possibility of a social causation of mental illness. The chemico-biologization of mental illness is of course strictly commensurate with its depoliticization. Considering mental illness an individual chemico-biological problem has enormous benefits for capitalism." - Mark Fisher, from "Capitalist Realism"
I think it could be worthwhile to unpick how populist archetypes frame and condition our experience as arts-workers, as I believe that the exercise might help offer up useful tools for self-reflextion, as we examine the reality that sometimes 'music' might actually be making us sick...
I'll touch on industry economics in subsequent posts.... though studies like the above from helpmusicians.org.uk are indicative of real systemic problems and workplace realities facing many arts-workers.
I contend that this culture of real-world struggle is in fact fed and inflamed by the sorts of 'transcendent' narratives embedded in contemporary music culture - many the results of a particular flavour of post-war individualism.
Is there an alternative paradigm beyond the 'vocational / transcendent' we might imagine? I think so.
For musical traditions (eg Sufi, South American, Japanese) beyond the direct influence of the 'gospel' legacy, the image of the artist 'martyr' is often supplanted by that of an artist 'shaman' - two very different embodiments of performative suffering - and perhaps even subsequent collective 'deliverance'.
The former archetype sits alongside its twin sibling of the Buddhist 'hungry ghost' - both the martyr and hungry ghost seeking deliverance through either deprivation / isolation or over-consumption / grandstanding. Twin heads of the "Janus of illusory separation", to mix somewhat awkward metaphors.
The latter shamanic archetype of the might in fact be deemed a community asset - part priest, yet less invested in personalisation of, 'art as moral product', leaning instead toward 'art as process'.
In a public arts (read performative!) roll, many of us find ourselves embodying / exploring both incarnations at various times .....at least when it comes to writing press-releases....
Guilt and shame.
These twin currencies both tussle throughout the canon (I kissed a girl and I liked It!), and offer great grit for the pop mill. And yet.... I often wonder if the construct of the 'fucked up artist' invoking these notions is in part just self-actualising convenience - a marketing construct designed to precluding mature engagement with them.
Drama, at its most base level, lubricates our new media economy - from Donald Trumps vitriolic Tweets, to speculations about Katy Perry's mental decline. It's intentional stuff, and it serves to further fortify existing arts archetypes - imbuing them with bankable neurosis.
You get the gist.
I offer this as someone whose life has been legitimately marked by actual 'depression', in addition to extreme privilege; the latter concession offered as a way of demarking 'vanilla' struggle from the kind of claustrophobic, illogical terror which pays heed to neither class nor circumstance.
I say this, also, as someone who's made some decent work from the bowels of mental exhastion*, yet who feels now that I have little interest in imbuing struggle with any implicit moral value.
No one has a monopoly on suffering - but it might just be in our collective interest to examine boldly why arts-culture tends to elevate it.
I contend that if we genuinely seek to unpick the romanticism of 'suffering for art', we might actually find some useful ways of ameliorating the struggles of actual depression - some very concrete tools and strategies. We might also benefit from some harsh scrutiny of the traditions (religious and economic) which perversely lionize 'struggle' for its own sake - or rather, for the sake of cultivating a sort of 'spiritual scarcity' - one satiated by consumption.
To cite a caricatured example, the central premise of talent shows like X-Factor, posits that those who 'succeed', or 'triumph', or 'win' (note the language of exceptionalism here) are inevitably validated due to their perceived struggles. These earnest struggles (be they suicidal inclinations, financial disenfranchisement, personal loss, health issues) are often legitimate, yet the exploitation of them by cultural industry feels indicative of malevolent shadow of "Capitalism 101"; a grain-fed dissatisfaction rooted in the curious legacy of notions like the Protestant Work Ethic .
"tell me why you've chosen that song?"
"....I lost my best friend 2 years ago...."
A common fiction tacitly suggests that 'unless you know what it means to suffer, you can't make good art' - in fact, your work might very well be unworthy of trust. This (to quality my statement) has frequently been my experience quarters of the electronic music world with personal investment in topographically specific 'urban' genres (eg. 'Detroit techno' or 'Newcastle Hardcore').
On paper, this sounds legitimate enough. But it's really a half-truth, hiding some profoundly elitist assumptions.
God is not a dj.
The real fallacy here is - of course - that there are those (most likely 'non-artists') who somehow haven't understood the 'authentic' depression a rarefied arts class might spend lifetimes being railroaded into embodying. The fallacy consumers must be liberated by the work of a 'visionary' - a sacrificial, tortured 'artist' - who possesses a preternatural insight beyond the scope of the everyman.
I don't find this a particularly helpful or liberating notion. I don't believe that anyone has a monopoly on suffering, or on the genuine gifts which arts practice can really offer us - simple reminders of our shared journey, and our beautifully transient, gorgeously irrational human lives.
Producing work now on a weekly basis with genuinely marginalized voices, I have good reason to assume there might exist a different, more robust, pragmatic (perhaps even joyful) framing of 'the musician' and 'music practice' in our collective story. We need not romanticize or fabricate struggle for an artist's work to engage deeply with the cultural imagination, in it's many hues.
To be continued....
*I remain a practicing artist invested in developing tools to navigate the quagmire of bipolar type B depression, generalised anxiety disorder and a curious history of mental-health struggle - one (in my case) marked previously by a hyper-vigilance which has thankfully softened over the years. It's manifested in multitude forms since my teens - from anorexia through insomnia, substance-abuse and self-medication, suicidal fantasies, panic attacks, claustrophobia and leaden fatigue. Subsequent to a decade of medication protocols (concluded over 3 years ago) I've found remarkable tools in the form of diet, exercise, and radical re-imagining of what a work/life balance might look like in a gentler light. I'll discuss these in future posts...
I'll start here by offering up a quote from Ayn Rand.
She's an individual who's philosophy on 'productivity' I find a startlingly disconcerting....yet certainly (willingly or otherwise) one co-opted by many authors of 'aspirational' 20th century capitalism. The Rand narrative espouses individualism, competition and the free market economy - and along with this, corollary myths of 'efficiency' and radical individuation as indicators of social progress.
Rand was a prophet for the many powerbrokers of this this epoch, yet now appears specter-like and almost quaint in the light of Messrs Trump, Thatcher, Reagan and co... her writing is both pointed and defiant, and in an odd way almost refreshingly uncensored in its lack of sentimentality. Where contemporary US Republicans insist 'God' underwrites their economic mandate, Rand grimaces in disdain that her thesis should require divine approval.
Rand's work, Atlas Shrugged and personal philosophy of Objectivism form part of the unofficial cannon of neoliberalism.
Arguably, Rand was also a Rachmaninoff fan.... Trump, interestingly enough, also (with unexpected diversions into.....erm....Steve Reich?).
Roughly a year ago, I had the pleasure of attending composer Max Richter's "Sleep" concert at the Sydney Opera House. I first encountered the fellow Berliner and current darling of the contemporary-classical world through his work on Erased Tapes.
I was previously moved by his elegaic score for The Leftovers, rarely having encountered a more elegant meditation on the collective experience of grief in television format. Its still recommended viewing, and ridiculously on-point scoring / music supervision.
Richter went on to compose the wonderful title music for Charlie Brooker's dystopic Black Mirror series; a brutally mirthful, "Gilliam-eque" commentary on the cognitive dissonance inherent in late-stage capitalism's hyper-mediated multiverse.... Brooker's work reads like 12-guage discharge, smattering effigies of Murdoch's straw-men across the plastic storefront of fading McMedia.
Black Mirror renders in stark relief the disconnect between our need for grace, community and connection, and the terrifying void of the surveillance state, reality television, social media, online 'self-actualisation' and more. It's both harrowing and screamingly funny, and territory well canvassed in the past by Terry Gilliam.
But back to Sleep, and what made it so remarkable for me...
What, I believe, ties together both Black Mirror and The Leftovers (aside from Richter's involvement) is an attempt to dramatically engage with the ginding fatigue we experience as 'collateral damage' from the neoliberal condition.
What do we 'do' with loss, with the inexplicable, when the institutions of church, state and work-mythos are proved bunk? Where do we go? How do we deal....?
Perhaps our latter-day plagues find form as Depersonalisation, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Chronic Fatigue, or just vanilla-flavored loneliness... hygeine neurosis, orthorexia, fixation, conspiracy theory, ADHD, over-medication, alcoholism, suicidal morbidity.
Most likely, a combination of the above. You get the idea. You understand because you feel it to. There's 'something in the way of things', as Amiri Baraka would say....
"...I can see something in the way of our selves
I can see something in the way of our selves
That's why I say the things I do, you know it
But it's something else to you
Like that job
This morning when you got there and it was quiet
And the machines were yearning soft behind you
Yearning for that nigga to come and give up his life
Standin' there bein' dissed and broke and troubled
My mistake is I kept sayin' "that was proof God didn't exist"
And you told me, "nah, it was proof that the devil do..."
- Amiri Baraka ("Something in the Way of Things (In Town)", exerpt)
This fatigue is informed by the concurrent disintegration of 'traditional' value systems (for better or worse) and slow nose-dive into a sort of 'post-moral' Randian universe. (*Ayn Rand's rejection of altruism and advocacy for radical market deregulation were major influences on many boomer entrepreneurs, including (apparently) the late Steve Jobs....*)
But i'm digressing, once more.
For my students reading, there's certainly some creative research I trust this post affords. Start with Any Rand, bounce to Amiri Baraka, and then grab a drink (but for the love of god, please don't make it Pabst Blue Ribbon. It has no flavor nor redeeming qualities).
Meet you back here in 15...? Watch this first, though...
So, to Max's "Sleep'. A 31-part, 504 minute work (weighing in at around 8 hours of performance), Sleep was designed to be experienced as an exercise in hypnagogia, exploring the borderlands between the waking and sleeping states. Labelled as a 'lullaby', or a 'mediation' by reviewers, I contend that the performance was all this and more (and quite beautiful work by soprano Grace Davidson, in addition).
What really struck me, however, were some fundamental truths the work spoke to - the fact that the performance itself (from 11pm to roughly 730am in the morning) demanded a surrender into unknowing, forgetting, physical acquiescence, lack of cognitive proficiency, let alone efficiency
Sleep proffers counterpoint to say, for example, Facebook's "On This Day" audiovisual memeography. It engenders forgetting, rather than remembering. An exercise in deconstruction, release, in half-lit experience, smeared recollection and in what I'll call "sacred inefficiency".
Unless under the influence of stimulants (or jetlag), staying awake and attentive for the duration of the night's performance is rendered impossible, as is soundly sleeping through the work. I feel that, to 'try' to do either, would probably be missing Richter's point. 'Sleep' offers a place where 'mindfulness as hypervigillance' is beautifully unravelled.
"Sleep" offers a reminder that we require physiological rest - and that perhaps our arts experience / practice might help afford a quiet reminder of this, beyond a consumption based-model.
Nowhere to go.
No-one to be.
Nothing to be achieved.
Nothing to be acquired.
Nothing to remember.
I remember 'waking' at 730 in the morning, looking across Sydney Harbor, as winter rain fell in thick sheets.
What struck me as I looked around, was not so much the music, but the people who had been part of the experience. Disheveled, half-naked (well, I was) and curiously vulnerable, the experience for many had offered itself up a a requiem, meditation and perhaps reminder or some kind of rebirth amid the tumult. There were more than a few tears observable during the night - what strange magic was this?
Who are we when we 'stop' - really stop, perhaps even collectively.
What lies beneath our need to forget and to decouple (yet also far beyond mere amnesia, nihilism, indifference?) and how can we embrace it fully in wakefulness and in sleep....
"The Chat interviews outstanding graduates from the University of Technology, Sydney who have excelled in their profession or community.
From CEOs to SCs, fashion designers to forensic scientists, The Chat gets graduates back on Broadway to share their stories.
The Chat is produced at 2SER 107.3 in Sydney with the support of the University of Technology Sydney."
Recently, I asked some students and fellow teachers I've been working with to remix my work. I am stunned by the results. There's also a previously unreleased original track, "The Child", tail-ending this little EP. I'm deeply humbled, and grateful to have had this opportunity.
"Emerging from the shadowy half-light of Acharné's debut album release, "Innocence And Suburbia", Seppüku Records presents 3 exceptional re-interpretations of the album's title track, and an exclusive unreleased original.
Unifying these remixes, is the unlikely fact that all artists involved are both practitioners, teachers and students of music; active students and co-workers in the artist's pedagogical sphere.
All re-interpetations are the result of both personal engagement with original album material, and experiments in composition strategy developed by Rick Bull (Acharné) during a recent semester spent teaching at the Australian Institute of Music, in close collaboration with fellow teacher Luke Warren (Microlot).
From Kcin's ruptured noise-floor aesthetic to Benefield's mutant piano inflections, we've experienced in these exceptional reworks a breathless reminder of the joy of 'unlearning' a little of what students are frequently taught remix culture 'should' signify in an often claustrophobic hyper-normalised sonic world.
All re-interpretations are unified by an shared sense of expansiveness, textural detail and stunning sound design, by some of the the antipodes most remarkable young composers.
The student is the teacher...."
Released June 6, 2017
Remixes by Amelia Benefield (Benefield), Luke Warren (Microlot) and Nicholas Meredith (Kcin)
Original works composed by Rick Bull (Acharné)
Mastered by Jay Hodgson Mastering Assistant: Jennifer McIntyre
Artwork by Tom Phillipson
I've felt like a little bit of a late comer to the Herndon game. I often used to see her around Neukölln, and most certainly a few times in transit at Tegel airport - most likely when she was returning from the US to Berlin, and I was setting off on tour. And so it goes.
In any case, some gorgeous matieral here, and certainly a frequent academic reference in classes / lectures I've given around the traps.
"The music industry tends to work with nostalgia and archetypes, especially in terms of emotionality. We’re supposed to understand that this certain vocal inflection means I’m really feeling it right now. For me, I know that is designed to trigger that, so it’s not a particularly emotional concept for me to take on because it’s not actually coming from anywhere - it seems to be more lifted from somewhere else culturally... I don’t like authenticity being tied to how we present music. That word ‘authenticity’, I wonder what it even means anymore. I feel quite uncomfortable saying it, but people often try to tie it into concepts like that. "
I've greatly appreciated her commentary on the laptop as a storehouse of (non-linear / non-localised?) memory, almost suggestive of a very real, personalised ecology made manifest. So much to unpack here, and all wonderful stuff.
"so that this world that we imagine in this room might be used to gain access to other rooms, to other worlds previously unimaginable...."
The year was, 2010. The place was Berlin.
I was given a book, "The Gift", by Lewis Hyde.
"The Gift" felt like a much needed philosophical retort to the dense individualism spruiked by books like "The Secret". Field notes, perhaps, for those among us weary of constantly 'manifesting' wealth, power, advantage, divine blessing and contriving gratingly self-referential memes and Instagram posts.
Perhaps there remain different ways of considering wealth / power / blessing / cultural collateral and exchange? Perhaps some of these modalities might even be worthy of anthropological invstigation?
After 5 years bouncing back and forth from the antipodes to the German capital, I had settled at last into the bosom of (now achingly hip) Neukölln, just to the West of the former Berlin Wall. All was giddy with possibility - without equivocation I had committed myself to the 'Berlin experiment' of trying to ply my trade from 'music alone', in a foreign nation, without the security of a 'day job'.
Committing to Berlin was a decision which has profoundly changed the course of my life - one which has served to fortify some quiet personal convictions regarding what possibly constitute enduring 'value' in life.
As ubiquitously branded, Berlin was most certainly 'arm, aber sexy' (poor, but sexy!).
Whilst feeling no inherent virtue in poverty, removing over zealous fiscal aspirationism (as opposed to the very real need to meet basic needs) from life's daily tapestry did honestly feel like such a gift, leveler, a wonderful social blessing. At Berlin's beating heart, a quiet suspicion (even disdain) enduredover such aspirations. How did certain aspects of this far 'poorer' culture actually equate to a far richer cultural experience than one I'd previously experienced? I'd argue that, existentially at least, many fundamental aspects of the day to day were radically simplified, and this came to offer unlikely social salve.
Berlin nascent Socialist hangover was something I was in so many ways thankful for. Comforting realpolitik anchoring the curiously cadenced grammar of the city's multitude stories.
Forget picket-fences and quarter-acre blocks - how would I best make use of state healthcare, transport, shared public space? How could locals creatively steward the innovative potential of state-funded education? How would we all make mirthful sense of long, dark winters in close proximity?
What's REALLY important here? Were there inevitable spectres haunting the corridors of this strangely earnest utopia?
*cue the brilliant film, "Goodbye Lenin!' (we'll revisit Lewis Hyde again a moment).
---- SNIP ----
Value - how could this look, taste, stretch, expand and seed if not derived not from income, but rather intention, awareness, discourse and basic gratitudes sewn into the minutia of life's most seemingly 'insignificant' exchanges?
Inhale, exhale, render, loop, repeat.
For many far more enlightened than myself, 'arts practice' is an unnecessary prerequisite for exploring these notions - yet personally, music has continued to offer up profoundly helpful tools for self analysis and reflexion. Tools I might perhaps not naturally possess.
I'm rambling here, I realise. Im attempting to tie together some disparate threads. Trying to focus things sharply through the best lens I've been afforded - 'art', abstracted (even nominally) from 'commerce', or 'product', or 'publishing'.
Why do we 'do', what we do? Does art infact 'do' us?
What if arts work might be considered indicative of a different, parallel value-system - one invested in (at least some) useful moral predicates expunged from the discourse saturating late-stage capitalism?
What it, most fundamentally, 'arts work' might just be the most interesting excuse we can come up with to share a meal, a drink, a bed with people who we don't really know, but would like to imagine we could trust as part of our tribe?
Enter Lewis Hyde, who continues to speak to these questions, and who's anthropological insight is both comforting and inspiring. In "The Gift", Hyde oscillates from a firm thesis (at the books outset) to a less clear conclusion - and herein also lies his charm. He's willing to be proven wrong.
---- SNIP ----
Unfinished reflections Part 2.... (3, 4, 5.....)
For centuries immemorial, the roll of much 'artisanal' discipline has maintained a close relationship with what we might call the 'gift economy'. This 'gift economy' is not an abstraction - but forms an ever-present, deeply important part of social function and community cohesion. The gift economy bears an often opaque, frequently flirtatious relationship with the market economy - but (to me) is indicative of what I call the 'economy of the heart'.
Previously in Sydney, I had been privileged to be awarded the ongoing roll of Artist in Resident for a group called Café Church based in the inner west suburb of Glebe - creating original digital work every week, and helping facilitate and empower the voices who were part of a very special fringe community of souls - namely many who had been excluded, burnt out, or outright damaged by traditional faith communities'.
Café Church was an unlikely experiment in patching up broken things, and set me very much on the path of investing in arts / music as a deeply healing work, beyond the model of conventional commerce.
The 'practice' itself was the reward - and the more this practice was shared, the more its value felt enriched, rather than diminished.
After 2 years in the roll at Café Church, I reluctantly relinquished my position - due only to travel commitments, and the deep sense that it was time I passed on what was truly an incredible gift to me. As Lewis Hyde puts it in The Gift:
It felt time for me to honor the gift I had been given, by relinquishing myself of it, so that it might continue to breathe, thrive, become renewed.
My time at Café Church had reminded me, in a fundamental sense that music, art (cooking, gardening, breathing...) were all acts which might best be served by being considered acts of grace. After decades stumbling on through the undergrowth of arts-practice, fundamental questions remained about how best to 'monetise' my practice, however one thing was sure - my priority above all else, was really to make the best 'work' possible.
Imagining that 'work' might be valuable in its own right was precious realisation. Particularly in an an age of unprecedented automaton, considering reimagining a truly valuable 'work life for all' feels deeply important.
Prior to my tenure at Café Church, 5 years working as a designer / video editor in a rather more corporate environment had continued to lead me to new pastures - based purely on the (perhaps egotistical?) assumption that working within the realms of advertising / front end web design often meant that the work I was producing was compromised. There were only so many times I could get away with turning down jobs based on feeling they were morally compromised, or aesthetically patronising to clients.
I didn't feel like I could keep my heart tender creating army-recruitment, gambling, porn, big-pharma websites. And yet these sorts of 'jobs' were increasingly the types thrust before me.
Eventually, through natural attrition, I exited the corporate universe...and landed square in the centre of so-called 'community work', where the road rose up beyond all expectations to meet me. My income halved overnight - but suddenly this seemed largely irrelevant. I was making work I loved, relishing every hour of practice, bettering my skills, service, thesis.
This is not to say that my previous 'corporate incarnation' wasn't filled with incredible humans. Moreover, it truly was - hyper-intelligent, infinitely more skilled and visionary designers, copywriters and artisans, and some notable social visionaries. It was just that, as a 'coal face' pixel-pusher, I felt my craft couldn't grow in such an environment.
---- SNIP ----
So music became 'the thing'...and yet... I was privileged (deeply so) to have the freedom to allow it to be 'the thing' - a freedom initially afforded by being born into privilege, education and relative security. Same as it ever was.
Ironically, many aspects of the 'music industry' proved far more morally compromised than anything I had experienced in the corporate universe.
And yet.... somewhere amid the rubble, I encountered a radically different set of presuppositions, honor codes and modalities of trust, place, belonging, gift exchange and....value....
Whats more, curious, experiences like playing clubs like Berlin's Berghain, revealed to me a parallel, if rather different experience of 'music as monument', or temporary homeland for those without a sense of historical place.
Art as a modality of creating psychic (un)realestate - temporary autonomous space, a new kind of cultural common, a kind of tangible, economy of the heart...and often a refreshingly non-sentimental one, in addition.
This question of space, place, belonging, and the place of 'non-place' remains a central thesis in my work - as an expat, a migrant currently wedged between continents.
I'll stop for now. It's late, once more, and there's too much to say. I'll leave for now, with this quote from Lewis Hyde, and gather more thoughts again later.
To be continued.....
Bill Drummond (best known for his band, The KLF) is one of the great heros of my life. There's too much I could say, and not nearly enough space to say half of it. It's late now, so I'll just leave this here. Dig deep into the Drummond crypt - you won't regret it.
...ok... just a couple more, for now. Here's one of my favorite interviews with Drummond, and beautifully shot. His comments on recorded music are timeless. Enjoy.
"I don't really know what I am... I always feel embarassed to say I'm 'an artist'...
I don't think of myself as a musician. Even though I've written quite a few books, I don't think of myself as a writer either"
- Bill Drummond
And finally, below, some wonderful comments about the inspiring sound of Land Rover engines, and Drummond's "The 17" project, and (once again) challenging the value of recording musical experience as the only measure of musical value.
"...because music and performing does not make sense..."
- David Byrne
"...what? I dated your mother? How is your mother? How did the Maggi find the Christ-child in the manger?"
- Tom Waits
Believe it or not, I can actually draw.
- Jean-Michel Basquiat
It took me to 2015 to see a 'real' Basquiat, up close and personal in New York City. His work still feels transcendent to me - curiously, his wordplay as much as his painting....couplets, poetic dissonance, savage, direct, knowing critique of the dialectics of pop art's white lineage. So much to say here. He was, of course, also a musician - and was Madonna's beau for a period.
Moreover, Basquiat's approach to the use of words is a direct, potent corollary with audio sampling. Dig if you will, the following excerpt:
"(words)...when I'm working, I hear them.... I just thrown them down... that was from a guidebook on Roman history...I didn't snatch them...they caught my eye and I took them..."
"(on anatomy)...not really imitating....I use them as a source material.....academic references"
Jump to 5"27 here if you want to mainline this.
...and a few iphone photos I took of his work in 2015 - which don't do them justice, but still leave me reeling.
Although she'd probably be deeply resistant to me posting this, I'd contend that Kate Crawford and her brilliant compatriot Nicole Skeltys are largely responsible for introducing me to a world of deeply engaged feminist thinking, through the lens of their compelling and brilliantly tongue-in-cheek project, B(if)Tek, in the mid 90s. Yes, they named their band after a cut of meat...
"A.I systems reflect the values of their creators" - Kate Crawford
I've been privileged to maintain a wonderful connection with Kate over the years, and even had the honor of contributing a small part to her wonderful book, "Adult Themes: Rewriting The Rules of Adulthood"
To call Kate and Nicole "feminists" would almost, curiously, feel patronisingly reductionist - they are simply much more, so much more - smart at f•••, politically engaged, exceptional media makers and exceedingly good humored. I was reminded of their work today, listening in the car to some new music by Holly Herndon who's own discourse on process and composition feel inspired and necessary in a music-only context.
Anecdotally, I also heard Rhythm and Sound for the very first time at a house-party at Kate's place, circa 2001. True stories. Somehow both music, media and academia have been central to parallel journeys - although mine took me rather deep into the bowels of Berlin clubland for over a decade of performances in Germany, and over half this time living in the nation's capital.
But I digress. Here's what Kate's up to now, followed by a glimmer from 2001.
...and finally, here's a little from Ms Herndon, who's trajectory feels similarly engaged, and who's relationship with technology feels entirely resonant with the work of Kate's...
"And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” - Genesis 4:11-12
The late, great Mark Fisher is one of the most potent 'latter day' voices in contemporary music critique for me. Like so many of us from his generation (and perhaps a little younger!), I felt like there was a sense that the 'future' we were sold in the 70s and 80s never quite came to pass - infact, in many ways it seemed to stop, abruptly, without warning, in a way none of us had the words to adequately intellectualise.
When we stood back, however, we DID hear a contemporary art and music suddenly sounding very much like the 'past'. What happened? What was lost? What happened to the beating heart of the 'now'?
When did 'authenticity' start to sound like the tape-saturated 60s? When did the vitality and danger of 90s techno suddenly become trope-ified, dogmatised? And more importantly, WHY?
Mark Fisher combines savage, compassionate critiques of neoliberalism with a deep and abiding love of music. There are simply few other writers of his ilk i reference so frequently.
Examining hauntology, hypnagogia and late-stage capitalism, Mark Fisher not only NAMES the sense of existential loss many of us feel in our weird cultural half-light, but perhaps also gives us tools to continue the work of exorcising the demons which terrify us.
He's also a bloody good writer, with a visceral love of electronic music - from Joy Divison to Burial and beyond. Vital, accessible, compassionate reading for anyone invested in contemporary music culture.
I don't mention Masao Abe too often, and he's not overly well known in the Western Buddhist tradition. As a voice of inter-faith dialogue and helping pioneer Zen dialogue in the west, he is a force to be recognised, however.
I remember first reading Steven Heine's Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue, Zen and Comparative Studies and feeling deeply affected by it - for a Buddhist 'newb' around 15 years ago, non-dualist concepts like "mu" or "non void emptiness" were so utterly foreign to me. Masao Abe shed a light on these in a way which was totally unexpected - and reverberated though my bones, my heart and my own musical practice.
Moreover, I feel that Abe was one of many voices who served to remind me, with a smile, that musical 'practice' was enough for itself.
Zen and its crucial roll in shaping the very fabric of artisnal practice (from music through to flower arranging, and perhaps most notable in architecture) via frameworks like Wabi Sabi
represent everything I find most beautiful about art, immanence and practice.
Sure, this is a deep and fathomless hole to fall down, but voices like Masao Abe's have been crucial for furthering the dialog in the west.
Chop wood, carry water.
I first encountered Sun Ra by way of the writings of the incredible Kodwo Eshun, who's seminal tome "More Brilliant That The Sun" remains an exceptional (and often times confounding) primer on Afro Futurism - tracing the "song lines" and political history of Black Music in a manner which has profoundly changed the way I have experiened my own musical tradition.
Actually *edit* - the above statement is not entirely true...
I actually first encountered Sun Ra most unintentionally, in 1992, by way of a copy of The Grid's "456" album - purchased on cassette. Sun is sampled in the track "Face The Sun", and something about his voice in this track had me absolutely smitten. Who knew? For years (and arguably still to this day), I've had his refrain looping somewhere in my liver, my bowel, my Anetrior Temporal Lobe:
"I'm dealing with sound... not just what you call music. You know, you have a 'sound' party, a 'sound' doctrine...... you need to have a 'sound' music... so I'm dealing with sound. I'm talking about the cosmos. I'm talking about Universes, I'm talking about Omniverses...I'm talking about this Planet will have to cooperate with other worlds now, instead of just being isolated the way they have been - and that's what it is..."
For any interested, even marginally, in the African Diaspora's fearsome musical Grace, I can only suggest spending some time with Sun might just be life changing. In the light of 'the future' sounding increasingly like the past, Sun Ra (RIP) remains far beyond the space time continuum.
He remains, for me, beyond time. An exceptional jazz musician, but moreover an artist from the eternal tomorrow. Ra's ethos is at the heart of the electronic pulse for me.
I'm playing dark history. It's beyond black. I'm dealing with the dark things of the cosmos
- Sun Ra
I can only bow.
For further reading, I can highly recommend John Szwed's biography, "Space Is The Place"
It feels fitting to begin my feeble attempt at blogging with John Cage - although knowing where to even 'begin' speaking about his work leaves me dumbfounded. Which perhaps, is a convenient irony of the fact that Cage was popularized due to his work, 4'33
His 'work' (if one can even reduce his spirit to this) remains an indelible an influence on my own production, teaching and practice. This video interview was a springboard to so much for me, and perhaps might provide a little psychic resonance if you're not familiar with the guy. Cage's quest to democratise the 'non musical', the mundane, the supposedly 'random' in the audio-universe are notions which may have seen genuinely quaint at in the 50s, but have re-engineered collective hearing in a way which few can lay claim to (and Cage himself would probably laugh loudly at were he still alive)...
This Cagian mandate to 'legitimise' (if I can employ this term casually) the sound of the everyday, the overlooked, the mundane remains profoundly resonant to me. In many ways it's the antithesis to late-stage capitalism's insistence on reducing sound to novelty, and music to tokens of trade. What if, perhaps, there was 'nothing' really to acquire, which we didn't already possess? What if, perhaps, we might just be served by listening in a different way to the thrum of even those things about us which we might have been trained to hear as the 'other', the undesirable, the 'unclean'.
Oh, whilst you're here, dig on this. And then turn off the computer. And just listen.
“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”
― John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings
For further reading, I highly recommend the most excellent "Where The Heart Beats" as an accessible primer for all things Cagian.