Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RIP Bill Doss

Of Olivia Tremor Control and The Sunshine Fix. Dusk at Cubist Castle (and E6 overall to be honest) was a tad overhyped in my book (and don't even get me started on the "ambient" album), but they had a couple undeniable tunes:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Which Gotham Need Be Saved?

Aaron Brady's new review of The Dark Knight Rises has many spot-on moments, but perhaps none as pivotal as his dissection of why standard political reads of films often miss the point:

"This is not to say, of course, that a movie doesn’t put limits on our ability to read it in different ways. It manifestly does; The Dark Knight Rises is not, I can say with full confidence, a critique of Bain Capital. Movies are broadly polyvalent in some respects and they are more narrowly polyvalent in others, which means that some kinds of readings are plausible (“Batman is a fascist!”), and some are not (“Bane is Mitt Romney!”). So the way you figure out where the limits are is by looking at what ends up on the screen versus what doesn’t, the way the movie starts with a range of conceivable narrative choices and selects from them. To put this another way, a movie’s politics are not to be found in the material of the narrative itself, but in the constraints which the material onscreen puts on the kinds of narratives we can tell about it. Certain stories are plausible, and others are not; certain modes of reading and identification become plausible while others get shut down.

"So is it “liberal”? Is it “conservative”? Both, a little. But more importantly, “liberal” and “conservative” are already both modes of narrative constraint, political just-so stories that define the limit points of what is politically thinkable and narratable. And by narrating the movie in the space between these two ideological poles, as the material of the film suggests we do, we descend into a political reality in which there is nothing but the incredibly narrow space separating liberal from conservative, a world in which there is no alternative. There is enlightened liberal capitalism of the Keynesian New Deal variety and there is the Hobbesian world of predatory Ayn Rand capitalism. This restaurant serves both kinds of Capitalism, the kind with “rights” on the side and the kind with “liberty” on the side.

"This point is important because, of course, there are two programmatically disavowed alternatives in play: leftist revolution and reactionary fascism. And not coincidentally, these are the two obvious narrative possibilities which, by all accounts, should be in play, but aren’t: the latter because the cops (and Batman too) are essentially selfless, modest, and recoil from unnecessary violence; the former because the mass population of Gotham not only lacks a political consciousness but barely even exists at all."

Brady singularly defines Bane as a stand-in for Occupy, and it's hard not to see that as illustrated in the examples that he gives, but it's a big stretch to ignore Bane's bad guy expository giveaway strategy.   As pointed out in the comments section of the aforementioned article, Bane's puerile revenge fantasy is to reproduce his own torture from his time in the underground prison and project that experience onto Gotham.  He insists that the worst hell on earth is one given just enough hope to think that escape is an option. Bane's intent is to hijack the revolutionary idealism of Occupy and exploit it by using his well-fuded social mobility obtained through Talia and Daggett.

It'd be easy to read this as an object lesson against reterritorialization, particularly as enacted at the hands of the free market capitalist democrats.  "Hope" was an obvious buzzword from the democrats, but, unlike radical republicans with the Tea Party, few of them really ran with the opportunity to exploit the goodwill afforded Occupy.  That Bane is really only able to operate with the support of Koch Brothers like funding further complicates the politics of his populist rhetoric. 

Yet, the notion of hope with little potential of escape resonates perhaps more with the notions of capitalist realism and disaster capitalism than a citizenry oppressed by the burden of statism and taxation.  One can think of no more fitting a scenario than an economy in constant crisis to manifest a suppressed people being badgered into complicity by the constant brief indicators that "things are starting to turn around"/"home buying is going up"/ "more jobs are on the horizon"/ "the economy is picking up steam" while the proportion of inequity continues to rise and the potential to break through class barriers diminishes. 

The problem is that this world is not the one Gotham lives in before Bane arrives.  Pre-Bane, Gotham is completely without hope, convinced of the futility of fighting their assigned roles within the class hierarchy.  It is only when the revolutionary arrives that "hell on earth" is even possible, assumingly because it allows people to question their station without actually being able to alter it.  One could argue that the film believes that it's violent revolution, with its tribunals and terrorist bombings and inevitable descent into totalitarianism, that renders false hope, that causes people to ignore their ethical sanctity in the interest of social justice as blind fundamentalism.  It'd perhaps be easy to make this case if you knew what the hell Gotham felt about Bane and his anonymous cronies, who all bafflingly seem to be American blue collar workers.

Brady cites a passage by Abigail Nussbaum which states: "Bane claims to be acting on behalf of the city’s underclass, and establishes a policy of violent persecution against the upper classes…we are kept entirely in the dark on the question of how the people of Gotham feel about this.  Do they support Bane?  Do they oppose him?  Do they think he has the right idea but the wrong methods?  Are they, as seems most likely, divided between these options according to their social status in the pre-occupation world?"

It seems silly and cartoonish to think that people would all of the sudden place unresticted faith in someone, even someone with appealing rhetoric, who just blew up large parts of their own city, likely massacring scores of friends and family members in the process (the "greeted as liberators" strategy).   Yet, Bane's revolution seems to have been given some relish by many onlookers gleefully looting the homes of the rich and dragging them from their luxury apartments. But, as the Brady article indicates, this is not some grandiose attempt to pain the masses as cynically motivated by greed and untrustworthy; it's left ambiguous by way of indifference.   Still, that the city is ruled under fear and an iron fist crushes all insinuation that this is actual and not forced revolution.  The lack of social action either for or against seems to indicate a collective impotence that can only be overcome by the brute force of statist violence. 

Yet,  even after the good guys seem win, their resolution is not even palace revolution, it's a complete restoration of the old social order.  Wayne Enterprises, which built the frickin' singular unauthorized weapons reactor that held all of Gotham hostage and produced the CEO that masterminded the entire coup, is fully operational at film's end and rethinking ways to rebuild its empire.  No trial. No prosecutions.   Selina Kyle is properly domesticated, her quip about the rich getting to "live so large and leave so little for the rest of us" is negated by her entryism into the world of living large vis a vis her luxury European vacation. Bruce Wayne revives his mild philanthropy, which really is the only outcome of any note for any of Gotham's permanent lower echelons, proving that through it all money really is the only power through which social change can be enacted and illustrating that the defeat of income inequality is a pursuit that can only be overcome through the consent of the entitled.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Extended Play

Time Wharp- BLK EP

Stephen Farris


Arca- Stretch 1

The Killer Never Acts Alone


"But after graduating, it seems that Holmes had difficulty finding a job. According to a neighbor, Tom Mai, he ended up working at McDonald’s....A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that “youth unemployment is associated with an increased vulnerability to psychiatric disorder.” Unemployment, the study found, can also influence the course of pre-existing disorders. We don’t know yet if this bears on the Holmes case. But we can be sure that for young people facing a tough job market, the chances of tragedies increase: suicide rates spike, as does the incidence of violence. Budget cuts, shredded safety nets, and flawed health insurance make finding help more and more difficult for those who are suffering distress."- Lynn Paramore, Alternet


"But there's a more general problem here. Some of the rightwing commentators condemning Calum's List have deplored the "politicisation" of mental illness, but the problem is exactly the opposite. Mental illness has been depoliticised, so that we blithely accept a situation in which depression is now the malady most treated by the NHS. The neoliberal policies implemented first by the Thatcher governments in the 1980s and continued by New Labour and the current coalition have resulted in a privatisation of stress. Under neoliberal governance, workers have seen their wages stagnate and their working conditions and job security become more precarious. As the Guardian reports today, suicides amongst middle-aged men are on the increase, and Jane Powell, chief executive of Calm, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, links some of this increase with unemployment and precarious work. Given the increased reasons for anxiety, it's not surprising that a large proportion of the population diagnose themselves as chronically miserable"- K-Punk, The Guardian, one week before the Aurora shootings

"The other cornerstone of the conservative argument is this: that madness and evil belong outside of society, therefore implicitly outside of politics. The depoliticisation of the Utoya massacre, the attempts to characterise Anders Breivik as a madman whose stated motivations couldn’t be taken seriously or at face value, much less be linked back to the people and the groups that he acknowledge to have been inspired by, might seem uniquely egregious, but how can gun violence on this scale be depoliticised at all? How is the society that isolates, the society that overlooks, the society that arms exonerate itself from all political responsibility, as it did after Columbine and is in the process of doing after Aurora? Acts of madness are like acts of God, outside of our control, claim these voices. Nor was there a chance, in the country that grants its authorities extraordinary powers of surveillance, to detect and raise alarm over the online purchase over two months of over 6,000 rounds of ammunition, in part perhaps because such purchases are not only legal but also not necessarily unusual. At any rate, says the FBI, the only defence against Lone Gunmen is other citizens reporting their suspicious behaviour. There is no technological solution, no mechanized system of control nor sweeping power of enforcement that could protect society against such a threat. "- Giovanni Tiso
"People who live in freedom always prevail over people who live in oppression."- Guiliani, at the RNC, 2004

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Neverending Sequel

As a supervillian, James Holmes is not the Joker, he’s the invisible man.  All reports indicate that he barely had any trace.  No one knew about him.  No one cared.  His only social interface was an old Myspace page where he was shown to have no friends.  No one has come forward to call him a friend.  The only person who even acknowledged him at all was his mother, who simply said "You have the right person". He was the quintessential atomized loner. In our wonderful world of social connection, which we've been sold is the inverse solution to the lonely crowd phenomena, he drowned in plain sight.

There have been a number of sites that have been set up to help the victims of the Aurora violence and certainly I wouldn’t discourage anyone from contributing to any of these, but what we should do to prevent this kind of thing-which seems relatively unpreventable- from happening again is actually fairly simple on the scale of rhetoric, if a bit more complex in terms of logistical implementation:
Don’t let anybody fall through the cracks.  Don’t buy a gun, ever.  Encourage your friends and family members not to buy guns.  Stop conceal and carry laws.  Stop shooting and eating animals.  Stop the need to ever own a weapon whose purpose is to put holes in living things.  Stop wanking off to cinematic violence.  Stop celebrating representations of violence that don’t seem concerned with the repercussions.  Recognize that violence is overwhelmingly a problem represented by one gender and discourage the culture of competition and emasculation by men who don’t fit the stereotype of “winning”.  Stop encouraging state violence.  Legalize drugs, create living wage employment opportunities for minority youth,  and stop the inner city demand for illegal weapons.  Stop perpetuating the idea of a society that can’t be trusted. Stop allowing corporate ontology to turns our lives into cinema.   Stop giving people like James Holmes the headlines they want.  Stop airing grievances by those who encourage violence as a legitimate methodology for correcting undersirable state behaviors that can be overturned through democratic means.  Stop the culture of solipsism. Hold each other tight with the knowledge that we can’t prevent all bad things from happening.

The Onion is right in that we know how this whole sloppy affair will play out because we’ve seen this movie before.  It’s time to grow up.  If that means taking away the toys of those who’d rather pretend they live in the wilderness than a society, so be it.   Of course, if you’d like to keep on reading these headlines in the years to come, you’re welcome to continue on as it’s been.

CORRECTION: Apparently, Holmes's mother is claiming that she never indicated that she knew her son would be the correct suspect in a cold blooded killing spree. Her answer "You've got the right person" was a response to police asking her whether she was Holmes's mother. Yet, it's unlikely this mythology will ever disappear completely since it fits so nicely into the narrative we'd like to believe about lone killers and how there's nothing we can ever really do to stop them from striking us again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It Takes a Nation of Indifference to Hold Us Back

Like Austin Cooper, I was 9 years old when I first heard Public Enemy.   I too was a bit of a hip-hop novice at the time.  The first “rap” (as we used to call it back in the day) song that mattered to me had come out two years previous, Run DMC’s cover of the “Ghostbusters” theme, but I largely ignored the genre after its gangsta phase became polarizing to my white suburban reflexes.    

Still, during this timeframe, I was able to conceive of an era three years before I was born.  It did seem distant, but the music of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, and later oddball eggheads like PIL, Throbbing Gristle, Brian Eno, and Joy Division often spoke to me in a language that seemed more palpably vibrant and understanding of the complexity of teenage disconnection than the angsty grunge and virulently macho gangsta of the time.

Though it was the merger of metal (which I loved) and hip-hop (with which I was only familiar) that brought me to that same collaboration track that Austin Cooper used as curated background noise for his Tony Hawke sessions (see above), it was the wailing atonal sirens of “Lost at Birth”, the righteous indignation and dread-filled creeping stagger  of “By the Time I Get to Arizona”,  and the both poetic and psychedelic mixture of news clips, chaotic dialogue, and black music history sound samples  that made Apocalypse 91 a game-changing event for me.   It was an album that sounded like a Riot Goin’ On, like the walls caving in.   It wasn’t music that clicked, but music that sounded like something was wrong, like the comfortable suburban world I had been raised in wasn’t the only one out there. 

When NPR threw Cooper out in front of the bus to publish a “them kids” review of Public Enemy and Cooper came back with a middling “not feeling it” determination, the internet predictably responded with disgust and vitriol.  I’m not here to join the stampede against poor Cooper, who is obviously in way over his head.  He’s obviously a victim of NPR’s pursuit to drive high traffic towards low-level content.   I do think however that it is important to respond to this retort in The Guardian by Alex Macpherson.

Macpherson’s argument is that Cooper is defying the albatross of the “canon” by his gleeful ignorance of it and we should all applaud anyone who has the ability to navigate the wild turf of the internether without the imparted judgment of received wisdom.  If this was the whole story, I’d certainly be on board.   No canon should be writ in stone and it’s important to issue punctual swipes at illegitimate authority when it rears its head from a high above altar. 

The problem is that Cooper’s article doesn’t follow this model at all.  Chuck D’s cited denunciation of the canon (“Elvis was a hero to most/ But he never meant shit to me”) carried with it the context of the history that followed, which allowed Elvis to prosper and the black artists he coopted to flounder or die penniless (“Straight up racist that sucka was”).  These same grounds for critique are open to Public Enemy as well, be it in their condoning of Terminator X’s anti-semitism, their homophobic branding of their militant noise in contrast to hip-house, or their fumbling perspective on the place of women in “the movement”.    Macpherson makes reference to this, but fails to see how simply sharing the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t like the same band isn’t the same thing as challenging popular perceptions.

Public Enemy themselves – angry, political, serious, masculine – have, as one of the token few hip-hop acts permitted within the rock canon, been used as a stick with which to beat the rest of the genre: the lyrics are too ignorant, the beats are too danceable, the hooks are too catchy and so on”, Macpherson says, which is a fine point, but Cooper adopts none of these vantages.    Instead, he reveals his own prejudices repeatedly, summed up aptly in the line “It's rough, rugged, built like a tank — and I'm coming at it expecting a Bentley.”

Cooper’s criticisms of the album- harsh, non-melodic, drill sergantish- are exactly what many found enthralling about the album when it emerged, but there’s no curiosity as to why these could be positive attributes.  Instead, they’re seen more as buzzkills, polar contrasts to the silky smooth “Bentley” hip-hop he has found in Drake, Hudson Mohawke, 808s-era Kanye, and Clams Casino.  His admission that the music goes against the grain of his listening habits is proof that this is not just about recontextualizing once challenging music whose edge has worn.  Macpherson hints at the crux of the problem though, perhaps unknowingly, in his own article:

Underlying the primacy of the canon is perhaps the most damaging, insidious assumption of all: the belief that an objective response to art is possible in the first place. It's a belief that stifles honesty: witness the widespread dismissal of Cooper as a troll rather than engaging with his piece as a reflection of how he actually responded to Public Enemy. And witness how many of the more paternalistic responses, such as Questlove's, emphasised the necessity of gaining "objective" knowledge about the context of the album – as though this has anything to do with the kind of music one is naturally drawn to” (emphasis mine).  

Leaving aside the assumption that anyone defending any single aspect of the canon is, by proxy or synecdoche, a loyalist for the entire old guard, Macpherson undermines his entire argument with the last sentence’s hypocritical essentialism.  It’s exactly this that was at the center of the response to the previous NPR intern controversy and which echoes in Cooper’s article; the notion that the self, as a superior model of rationale and logic, is the ultimate yardstick of a music’s value and/or worth.  Yes, surrendering completely from subjectivity is impossible, but to assume that one’s tastes alone, informed as they are the prevailing surround sound of circumscribing hegemony, is the only rubric needed to properly examine cultural artifacts is to surrender to those very forces of control that induce and perpetuate canons.   What makes criticism itself so valuable is that it forces examiners to look beyond the self, to engage with new or unknown energies to see if they can enhance, compliment, redirect, or overturn established and stagnant paths.    Cooper’s ultimate takeaway is “gee, music sure has changed”, which you don’t need an essay or an intern to figure out.   More interesting would have been an article on how and why music got better.

The NPR article is not proof that today’s kids are rejecting their parents’ music.  It’s evidence that they’re rejecting everything that’s outside of their iPod.   If it’s not on my timeline (3 years before I was even born!), it’s irrelevant to me.  Perceptions need not shifted routinely for the hell of it.  While relativism can raise interesting challenges to illegitimate authority, it can also kowtow to the fickle whims of marketization.  Furthermore, sometimes it’s imperative to have unique cultural signifiers (yes, commodity fetishes) that we can all understand or unite behind, particularly ones that give pause to our current station or which enlighten our understanding of bygone past.  Criticism- valid criticism/useful criticism- is not a soliloquy.  It’s a dialogue.  And ignoring the conversation altogether to focus on your personal feelings, particularly with the vast archive or music history and theory ever at your fingertips, is not criticism and it’s not challenging anything. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

RIP Jon Lord

There's, of course this:

And by golly, this:

But perhaps Deep Purple's greatest legacy is inspiring Koji Kondu's theme to Legend of Zelda:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Helium Shortage

Could there be a more apt metaphor for our disastrous course than the fact that the helium shortage will soon make balloons extinct?  Party's over, guys. We're suffocating ourselves.  Let's fix this shit.

Friday, July 13, 2012

WTF is Vacation?

Heh heh heh,  it's funny that some people think the corporate environment is like a prison.  It's so stupid because everybody just gets to have benefits and entitlements, right?  It couldn't ever be the case that people are terrified to take days because they might be laid off, be unable to pay their mortgage, lose health insurance for their children, and face a stagnant job market that's in a perpetual race to the bottom for all but the wealthiest citizens.

That one is called "Norma Rae".  Disgusted, yet?

Retirement's just a constant vacation, isn't it? Folks who work their whole life deserve a break, and thank God we live in this marvelous country where they all get to do that.   And waitresses are just dumb uneducated bimbos who can't count and thus don't deserve to run off to Vegas for as long as the rest of us, right?

But we all know what the real message is, right?   "Come to Vegas and gamble your way out of debt."  Because the real reason we don't go on vacation (whether we're lucky enough to have vacation days or not) is that we can't afford to. So, in order to sell to those who can't afford to, the incentive needs to be that we can't afford not to.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ending (An Ascent)

So long


Sad to see MNML SSGS go, but, as with AZ last year, it's sometimes nice to put a period on the end of a sentence. I'm glad they will be keeping the archives active. Though I've been following the blog since roughly around 2010 or so, after stumbling by accident upon a fantastic mix celebrating Drexciya's Heinrich Mueller, I haven't always been able to keep up (because of, you know, all that other music that gets released out there), let alone gaze backwards into the archives. I look forward to doing so in the future.

Am I the only on that geeks out on blog archives? Definitely a weird retromaniacal impulse, I admit. I find it interesting though to be able to go back and look at writers I respect to see what they were thinking about and how it matched my own thoughts as things unfolded this past decade.