Some AMG reviews for May

Just keeping up with the times…

EMP Pop Conference 2010 — Saturday presentations

And once more into the breach…

Jason Hanley, “The Transformation of Kraftwerk: From ‘Autobahn’ to ‘Man Machine’” — Rock defined often by singers and guitarists, keyboardists trying to look cool (Rick Wakeman!) or trying something different visually. Thus Kraftwerk and its run of core seventies albums. Paper addresses their sound, image, modernist agenda in the post modern rock world. Ralf and Florian’s background, education and early collaborations discussed, “total rupture” by embracing electronic possibilities, meeting Conny Plank and his idea of a uniquely German sound. Photo of the early studio shown, discusses the idea of studio as instrument. First Kraftwerk album discussed, the implications of the name of the band, linguistic resonances, the Dusseldorf setting. Instruments edited and altered, live 1970 TV clip of “Ruckzuck” shown. Critical reputation as intellectuals noted, then Autobahn and the fuller move to the synthesizer, album credits and the audio scientist role, clip played of the synth bird chirps from the album mixed with flute, “Autobahn” and its use of Vocoder and melodic refrains as a new step, clip played. Image shift discussed to full clean cut style, 1975 TV clip shown playing the new percussion pads. Rock journalist responses to Kraftwerk: mixed shall we say, or worse (anti German jokes etc.), Lester Bangs Creem article discussed as is the Man Machine concept. Radioactivity — few on songs, heavy on concept, using new pieces of technology, without Conny Plank, radioactivity as confused concept (as radio waves? as nuclear power?), nuclear power plant press photo shown. More trashing reviews: “album sounds mechanical even for them!” Trans Europe Express released next, a circular pattern of an album, minimalist and only pop because of the vocal hooks. They start reacting back to other musicians working with their sound (Bowie/Eno Low). Man Machine released, response in part to Eurodisco, Moroder, etc. “I Feel Love” and “Spacelab” compared. New box set replaces earlier covers but keep the later ones.

Lauren Hume Flood, “Total Sonic Annihilation” — introduces the story of Oliver Ackermann and Death by Audio and their DIY pedal business, recent attention in the mainstream. Takes us on a tour of the offices, equipment everywhere, scattered pieces of work, various pedal names mentioned and photos of the equipment shown, packaging. Explanation of a pedal’s general construction and appearance, inner workings widely accepted as is unless it doesn’t work or someone wants to change and alter the ‘black box.’ “Necessary but ugly machinery” mentioned. Decoration of a pedal as reflective of sound and meaning/uses. Names as metaphors, aural into text. Death by Audio website shown, text for the Total Sonic Annihilation discussed. Rhetoric around A Place to Bury Strangers discussed plus the noise/analog inspirations, aesthetics through machines. Video for “I Know I’ll See You” shown, filmed via webcam while in an RV, intentionally corroded, circuit board shots interpersed with industrial parks, “Keep Slipping Away” video features old TV sets and other seemingly kitsch audio equipment, plus Ackermann directly interacting with his pedals — lines between machines get blurred, technology as captivating and oppressive. Sonic must manifest itself visually in a market economy.

Theo Cateforis, “‘Dark Spaces and Empty Places’” — Peter Doyle and reverb mentioned, paper explores post 1960 possibilities. Plays clip of the start of “All Cats Are Grey” by the Cure. Reverb! Echo! Great of course. Perception of reverb comes from the physical world, large spaces and hard surfaces. Percussion discussed in the song, the eternally looped and echoed parts with ‘wet reverberance’ — keyboards and bass add a solemn tone, like an organ in a cathedral. Partial sonic inspiration is Mervyn Peake‘s Gormenghast, a massive Gothic castle in the mind’s eye. Double tracked vocals places us in the cave, literally given the lyrics, a sense of passivity and emptiness, enshrouded in darkness. Lol Tolhurst’s mother’s death, Robert Smith’s fear in lack of faith — suburban background and connections explored, Michael Bracewell on Crawley as empty and echoed landscape. Simon Reynolds on the desolate psychogeography of the industrial North in Thatcher’s time, plus general postpunk cultural gloom. Critical reaction mixed — was it Thatcher that annoyed Smith or just the weather? Reverb’s general impact discussed, Martin Hannett and dub and the embrace of artifice. A revolt against dry sound/dead studio effect. Drums as the linchpin. Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” vs Joy Division’s “Heart and Soul” drum styles, close miked vs echo echo echo. Hannett draining ambient spillage and adding it back, Mike Hedges doing similar with the Cure, Lillywhite and gated drums, etc. Songwriting approaches in lines and layers, Wire’s “The Other Window.” Composed on bass, four impossible to reproduce key changes, suggestions of space resultant, lyrics as fragmented in the overall echo construction. Brilliant song. Shifting harmonies reflecting multiplicity of spaces in the song, a mounting inner turmoil reflected. A different song from “All Cats” but there’s an aesthetic at work. Smith on wanting a very stripped back sound, resultant implied harmonies. The Walkman comes out around this time — the ultimate in isolation while listening to music on isolation?

Daphne Brooks, “Open Tuning: Blind Tom, Human Photography & Black (Metaphysical) Noise in the Age of Slavery” — grew out of research for a book, everyone asked about Blind Tom! So into the performance with some Massive Attack, “Pray for Rain,” lyrics about people under stress, a way to enter the past, an alternative sonic sphere in the 19th century. Willa Cather on Blind Tom: a human phonograph, a crossover success after the Civil War in the North. Fits in the nighttime, echolalia — autistic? Defied conventional diagnosis at the time. His ability to translate and reproduce information was beyond measure, yet he was triply exploited as slave, blind man, musician, marketed as a Barnumesque freak show for thirty five years, died in 1908. Moved from unintended CSA fundraiser to something else after the war. Lots of great quotes I can’t capture here, sorry! Thoughts on Blind Tom as jukebox hero, liminally between slavery and freedom, a ghostly medium, fugitive sonics, the reverb of reconstruction. Whew! Daphne is a very quick reader so I’m being a bit outstripped here. What did he hear? America singing but also quotidian sounds, a translator of sounds, Whitman like. Thoughts on intersections, Blind Tom as a hot mike for society. Hits, classical, popular, but imitations of other instruments. Quote from 1867 paper on his imitative abilities, especially of tuning up other instruments. Seeds of an avant garde culture, automatic art? Strindberg quoted and there we are!

David Suisman, “Digital Before Digital” — the player piano has not aged well, true! But mechanical reproduction is not just about the phonograph, and one hundred years back the player piano was seen as the winner and more innovative. Both invented around the same time, both popularized over time into the 20th century, seen as harbringers of dramatic change, often talked about together, seen to be more democratic but less creative, perhaps a menace or robbing copyright holders. Early music business history and copyright issues discussed in Congress, the Copyright Act of 1909 covering both broadly. Player piano disrupts the narrative — music, mechanized, digitized — into something else. Not just revolutionary but evolutionary, part of a larger mechanical interest in music (like the development of the piano itself pre the player piano!). It’s not that the earlier operations were automatic but predetermined, thus Marx and displacement of labor. Examples discussed, piano vs violin as an example, player piano is more advanced but operator involvement still needed, as with phonographs. (Radio etc as something with less control over time.) Antecedents — the oldest organs even shows this, Roman hydraulus organs, through to barrel organs and the like. All based on binary or digital programming if you like! Machine executes feats. Pianolas discussed, human operators still needed for tempo, then later ones take that out. Pianists recorded rolls for reproducing player pianos. John McTammany mentioned, earlier inventions worked from silk looms, 18th century punch cards! Babbage machine stuff noted as well, 1890 tabulating the census inspired by player piano roll work, leading to IBM! Their music box at Seattle Worlds Fair shown, Mo Tucker and punch card work! Last year the final piano roll company shut down — still operating all this time! Amazing stuff. The player piano is still with us.

Lori Brooks, “‘To Be Black Is To Be Funny’” — discussion of coon songs in the early part of the last century, coon as term discussed, applied in the post Civil War years, songs popularized in Tin Pan Alley times by white women, stereotypes outlined. Quote on racialization of society noted, but paper wants to address a different kind of performance. Melancholy and race explored, what of racial grief? Freud and Cheng (?) quoted. Endless self impoverishment that can still nurture, feeding upon it, loss, denial and incorporation. The ego takes it in and sustains it — deep psych theory here, sorry for any elisions! Swallowed, not digested. Nonwhites stuck in the throat of the nation, those who do not belong yet there. Ghostly performances discussed, white female coon shouters, singing in the voice of an absent coon. What kind of modernity is this? What can it teach us about ethics? Coon used rather than black man in this talk precisely because it is a denigrating stereotype. Title is from 1941 book on American humor, conflating minstrelsy and African American art. May Irwin — Canadian, lived until 1938, clip of 1895 “Bully Song” played. Irwin’s style was different — a large woman, used that as a source of humor, performances seen as conversational and intimate. Song is violent, razors mentioned, death…and in this context meant to be comedic. It’s not blackface minstrelsy as she did not dress up as such, other standards apply instead. What does it all mean? What is to be made of her body, rearticulating the bully as something else, a liberation via violence, a presentation of paradox, a kind of cross dressing. Sex is implied, an invasion of the body, white women being a site of anxiety given ragtime. Simply a story of domination? Consider it as queer space too, a space of intersex, so while there shouldn’t be no blame, power must be accounted for. Irwin performs in the liminal space, to perform there is to enact a certain kind of violence in the Plessy v Ferguson years. Irwin’s performance was unethical yet transgressive — not revolutionary but exposed a way of remaking the self, inhabiting forbidden spaces. Anna Deavere Smith described in comparison/contrast.

Jody Rosen, “‘The Microphone Has No Footlights’: Al Jolson’s Radio Days” — “Al Jolson, come on!” Photo on screen, minstrelsy connection noted but paper is on other things. First some clips: Al in 1927 in The Jazz Singer, whistle it up!, then Owl Jolson in a 1936 cartoon! Singing on the radio! Jolson as musical modernity in the 1910/20′s, the human megaphone, a turbine, a current. Vaudeville crashes in the Depression, radio comes in, no comedic gestures to be seen! Crooning is about understatement and Al couldn’t quite fit. In his heyday he covered all areas, of his Jewishness brought full to the fore in his work and life. Part of a revolt against the Anglo-American tradition, song clips played “I Sent My Wife To the Thousand Isles.” Vocal styles about volume and effects, abhorred a vocal vacuum. Hour long encores! Made managers installed ramps, loved sweating on the audience, very James Brown! “Mammy” clip played. Not an act that lent itself to radio! “Jolson too big for radio,” said George Burns. First radio work in 1933 a notable flop, sounded nervous, went offmike. Negative fan reaction quoted. Vaughn DeLeath‘s “The Whisper Song” played, first crooner hit, Rudy Vallee as the anti-Jolson, megaphones as a collegiate signifiers, new not old, PR claimed “the guy with the cock in his voice!” (Jolson in response: “the guy with a cock in his mouth!” Jody says that was real, crowd dies in laughter!) Questions of weak-voiced singers, not masculine, Jolson dismissive and insulting to crooners. Subject matter shrinking to just love songs, Jolson used to doing more, frustrated by limitations and the redomesticated pop world. Jolson returned to radio but as an oldies act later on. But Jolson did have this ballsy move, stepping offmike, clip from The Jolson Story shown him at 60, other film clip starts with a croon, then ragtime, stepping away from the mike, go for the ham joke! And done!

“The Machine Speaks: Hua Hsu Interviews Dave Tompkins on the History of the Vocoder” — I won’t be doing a full runthrough here, taking a lunch break! But Tompkins’s book How to Wreck a Nice Beach is on the subject so check that out — Tompkins has a great slide show and amazing anecdotes.

“Plagiarhythm Nation: Appropriation in Electric Dance Music” — a joint presentation by Bernardo Alexander Attias, Fred Church and Mark Gunderson. Part overview of the phonographic cut and paste aesthetic, part performance with Mark on the VidiMasher:

Mark is doing quote readings from figures in the history of phonographics (Edison, Sousa, Gramaphone magazine writers, etc.) with a crackly/old radio broadcast overlay, along with the musical collage he is overseeing. Ben is doing the initial reading, presumably Fred to follow. It’s a good overall history lesson, touching on various factors — copyright philosophy, perceptions of moral problems in the early days, Edison vs Bell, more to follow — but it’s not easily summarizable given the performance nature!

Christopher DeLaurenti, “The New Photographers: An Alternate History of Field Recording” — field recording conjures images of getting lost songs, recording without ADR, etc. But what is it? We mostly hear studio work, meticulously controlled and predictable, edited down. Field recordings are unstable, uncontrolled, with flaky gear, vulnerable to the elements. Recordist is far from home, but it’s not location but a condition. Alternate history: 1877 and Edison and the tinfoil phonograph, Greek sound writer. Developments into the wax cylinder, then the anthropologists start recording and the archives start appearing, Vienna/Berlin 1899. Tashkent recording from 1905 played, a now nonexistent instrument apparently. Musicians were from royal court, anonymous for their protection, limitations of recording turns string instruments into tones. 1899 is first known recording of bird songs. Gear could be cumbersome — Lomaxes recorded with 315 pound acetate recorder! Field expanded, recorders shrank. Tony Schwartz recorded people and places in New York in the forties and onward, recording played describing a murdered man’s dying words as told by another with thoughts on racism. Field recordings change late between recording and recording/editing/reworking. Nature recordings reached amazing levels of virtuosity in the 1990s. Inaudible edits shored up seamless sonic realities. Then digitally flattened sound kicks in (Nono, Feldman as forebears), glitch and computer manipulation, reissues, MiniDisc recorder arrives (no crumpled tape!). Clip played of dog bark recordings and noise — 1996 Claude Matthews recording of dogs about to be destroyed. Michael Northam recorded the wind in Texas silos, empty blasted drones. 2003 Peter Cusack goes to Lake Baikal, birds and waves and echoed…something, a singing broadcast voice? All three clips unedited, no overdubs. Instruments endure because they are reliable, notation as form of field recording. Recording of vocal piece from Italy (Banchieri?) composed four centuries back, at once singing and meows! Dogs, cats, more. Flutes as representing birds in Beethoven in the Pastorale. Unusual juxtapositions, unexpected polyphony. A history of field recording should therefore not begin with the technology of recording!

Jon Leidecker, “The Radio as Instrument: Shortwave Sound at the Roots of Sampling” — guts of paper taken from a podcast about appropriated collage! Thus a subset about radio as instrument. Collage in general is the style that reflects the 20th century in music the best, in its collaborative and communal over generations. Turntables are the pop instrument in this process, some pieces predate radio. Radio was the instrument that people could respond to first, more than the frozen recorded moment. 1922 is the commercial ground zero, massive boost in stations and receivers even when turntables were still a luxury item. Three works to be discussed here, a novelty 20s piece, Cage in the 40s, Czukay in the late seventies. Quote from book about radio talking about its social nature in the twenties, interactive and immediate, in the room with the broadcast. By late twenties, definitely marketed as a form of entertainment at home. Billy Jones and Ernest Hair were the Happiness Boys, early radio personalities. Song recorded simulates the listener searching through stations at home, “Twisting the Dial” by name. Clip played and it’s great, the static between stations created by a slide whistle (is it?) and a “washboard with a rock.” Not strictly using the radio but encourages others to use it as an instrument, media overload from 1928! Sampling cut to shellac, six records used in the collage and credited on the sleeve, speed altered. Built for non-sequiturs and disjunctive listening where turntables were more static. Cage starts proposing turntable/radio pieces in the late 1930′s, “Credo in Us” from 1942 played, radio operator instructed when to turn on instrument and add snippet (1971 recording but sounds like 1942 anyway!) Forced randomness in the mix, but Cage was pissed whenever improv was introduced! Allow for sounds beyond self-expression. 12 radios in “Imaginary Landscape No. 4″ allowed him to enjoy the beach and its noise! Italian 1974 performance played in part, radio merriment madness and static crackle. Why not more collage earlier given all the radio station equipment? Quite a bit of restraint up to a certain point, but Les Ford multitracking and rock sonics help expand the idea of what works, by 1960 everyone starts collaging like crazy. Shortwave radio interference runs throughout, Keith Rowe, Cage, Stockhausen, Lennon and “I Am the Walrus.” From Stockhausen to Can, Czukay playing radio, Canaxis as world music collage, shortwave noise. Was Can’s tape editor, working with the improvs to create, then shifting with Rosko Gee so Czukay takes radio and Morse code tappers on stage to liven things up, as it were. Czukay leaves just to edit, vocals from shortwave. 1979′s “Cool in the Pool” played, devolved disco? Proto Arthur Russell solo? Vocal samples collaged together. Pop, looks forward to digital sampling. Radio as performative element, Chris Cutler’s performance of the Cage piece lately didn’t work as well as shortwave has mostly gone silent (thus Basinski, Dockstadter).

Laura Harris, “Art and Social (After)life: Jimi Hendrix and Hélio Oiticica” — Oiticica’s archive recently destroyed in a fire, sadly. CC5 HENDRIX-WAR features altered covers of War Babies viewed while tapes of Hendrix play. Can Oiticica’s work be salvaged or recovered? Oiticica bio given, growing up in Brazil with its military government and racism. Grandfather was often imprisoned anarchist, father schooled children at home. Oiticica makes his reputation in Rio in avant garde art circles, explores samba in the mid-sixties and makes sonic connections in his art. Constructs art out of found objects meant to be carried, held, environmental works, “experimental exercise of freedom,” wear them and use them as you can. Impromptu exhibition set up when museum refuses access. Tropicalia installation noted, dictatorship cracks down due to the favelado connection. Oiticica knew he had to leave, first to London and then New York. Realized that he needed the margins in New York (Loft, S&M clubs), gravitates to the image of Hendrix and what it suggests. “Gives rise to a kind of delirium.” Musicworddancebody performances, National Anthem performance. It can’t survive itself, no afterlife, “suddenly arrived at — Woodstock doesn’t exist anymore.” Constructs/reconstructs ‘nests’ to live and work in, tunnels and boxes and more assembled, sites of ‘productive leisure,’ photos shown. Works on paper proposed and designed, constantly revised and worked on, thus CC5 and Hendrix. Notes shown, equipment needed to draw cocaine lines, public and private performances, where and how to set up things.

Tapes to be foregrounded, have all Hendrix to hand! Whatever the ‘administrator’ has available. Hendrix serves less as fetish for social space coalescing and more as theorist in the work. Not wasted time but invented time. A relation at the level of form between Hendrix and Oiticica’s work, Hendrix as constant reworker of material (“Voodoo Chile” and its versions and configurations of the band). Pop song as work of art exploded via technique. Clip played. What Hendrix does to pop song, Oiticica does to the work of art, disruptive, insurgent. Citizenship and the other had shut out the ‘motley crews’ but possibilities and traces exist, open formations and autonomy, aesthetic sociality of blackness. Oiticica extending Hendrix’s afterlife, and now Oiticica’s own?

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