Saturday, May 29, 2010

David Toop Explains it All

There's a fascinating interview with David Toop conducted by Geeta Dayal over at Rhizome.

Toop has a new book coming out called Sinister Resonance, which seems worthy of a read. The interview is interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that much of Toop's current thought seems to have evolved either in tandem or directly as an engagement with the discussions on hauntology (which were surely themselves partially an outgrowth of Toop's own Haunted Weather). The new book relates these ideas to the history of sound in visual art, particularly how it was portrayed before recording technology came around.

“Sound is a haunting, a ghost, a presence whose location in space is ambiguous and whose existence in time is transitory.”

I was particularly taken by his notion of sound as a medium that's naturally uncanny. Whereas seeing and touching are believing, hearing is a sense that is manipulative and defined by uncertainty. We can rarely relie on hearing alone. Without recording sound, you can never be sure what was said because it is no longer being said (sound is transitive). You can never be sure of the source of the sound unless you are looking directly at it (combining hearing with another sense).

Toop also articulates the dangers in minimalism/extremism in art, which I've too expressed elsewhere(such as in this article which touches on free jazz). To Toop (and me), the 20th century modernist project was stalled largely due to the race to the margins. The problem was not so much whether art was ready for its own dissolution into bare essence (in the case of minimalism) or to move beyond representation (in the case of abstract expressionism/free jazz/freeform/noise), but where to go thereafer:

"In a sense, that has been our dilemma ever since -- for the artists, or for musicians, and the audience. Where do you go from there [after the nothingness and void of minimalism]? Do you go backwards? Do you go back to 19th century romantic music, or do you go back into figurative painting, or do you go into pure philosophy? Where do you go after that? It created this colossal dilemma, and you could characterize that as a kind of silence."

After you've mapped the territorial boundaries of how far an artform can go, is there any coming back? What can now reside within those boundaries except existential despair? Does the introduction of minimalism and abstraction to a form spell an end to all novelty of the form?


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's Quite Possible...

That Ministry were the most interesting when they were most nascent...

Friday, May 14, 2010

On the Subject of Cover Art

A few posts back, I called attention to a review I have up of Robert A.A. Lowe and Rose Lazar's Eclipses. Lazar is notably for being solely the album's graphic artist, yet retains an artistic credit for the whole of the album. This assignment of authorship is not an arbitrary title, it's a recognition of authority. When the Cahiers du Cinema critics were establishing their criteria for who takes responsibility for a work, they ultimately decided that the authority rests with an author, something which all but the most casual film fans tend to agree upon now (yet it's producers, the financial centers of the film, who receive the Best Picture oscar-go figure).

Albums always seemed to have less ambiguity about authorship. The artist listed on the cover is the creator and mastermind behind the piece in front of you (though artists rarely "own" their own music). In some instances, there can be a contention that the work is actually the product of a producer moreso than the musician, who is just the vehicle or instrument through which the producer's ideas flow. The graphic artist has always seemed supplemental, since they are not actually a part of the recording, but certain records are granted aura and mystery by a great work of cover art, to the extent that the iconography of the cover itself becomes embedded into the music. Can bad cover art make an album "sound" worse? It certainly sounds superficial to think this could be the case, but since sound is reactive and intimately linked with the other senses it may just be that an album linked with shallow or tawdry iconography can get debased in the ears. The current era's solution, stripping music of all imagery, leaves us to our own poorly-establised echolocation.

Idiot's Guide to Dreaming linked to the page at Rate Your Music devoted to the art of Vaughan Oliver (of 23 Envelope), who was kind of a 4AD house artist and responsible for much of the mystified persona of that label. It's interesting looking through his collections and seeing how many things remain gorgeous works of art and how many seem extremely dated by the fashions of the time. Most of it is merely typography, which can offset the allure of an entire piece. There's also the whole "frame-within-a-frame" thing that seems to have been put to rest post desktop background patterns (which may be a product of record or cassette to CD transition):

Some work better than others:

For some reason, particularly with nudes:

The typography menace even continues to present day, as evidenced by this hideous cover:

Yet, in terms of iconography there's too many to mention:

This Mortal Coil 2.0: This Has To Be Some Kind of Joke

or just a dream made flesh?

A new album by a revised version of This Mortal Coil...looks amazing!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Robert A.A. Lowe and Rose Lazar- Eclipses

Eclipses: A review of the new album by Robert A.A. Lowe and Rose Lazar. Lowe, you may know from the criminally under-discussed Lichens. Their album The Psychic Nature of Being would probably make my best of the naughts list if I ever get around to it.

A little bit in the article about the role of the graphic artist in music production too.