Friday, December 26, 2008

"Such a cold winter/ With scenes as slow as..."

RIP Harold Pinter, friend to Samuel Beckett and Quentin Crisp, greatest English playwrite of the twentieth century, opponent of imperialism and force majeure. It is common in these circumstances to come up with some apt quopte from the recently deceased autho, but the extraordinary thing about Pinter's writing is that, unlike such a purported minimalist like Beckett, is that there simply are no purple passages to quote from to attach a spurious profundity to one's discourse. Pinter charted the abstract movement of forces (power, desire, language), especially attuned to their use and abuse, their potential for domination and violence. Now he is silent.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Random Catchment Area

And the quote of the week goes to ....Infinite Thought :

"When I look back at earlier episodes of my life, I always seem to think that each of them had been a slightly depressing period of time, which makes me wonder whether the whole thing hasn't been one big long slightly depressing period of time, although I do hope not."


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Send and Receive V.10 - Part 1

Saturday 18 2008 - Vintage Futures

So Send + Receive is celebrating its 10th year this year and after a launch party

and a very pleasant afternoon’s workshop involving Dearraindrop, paint, homemade bricolage electronics, children and magic markers

the performances began at Ace Art. A low-tech night with almost no laptops in sight. Fletcher Pratt began manipulating tape sounds from conventional tape players and a small reel-to-reel through effect pedals. Pratt’s performance was interesting in a number of ways: as a performance, it was a success (for the most part) insofar as the audience could actually see the punctual origins of the sounds being produced as Pratt struck play buttons and cassette decks and twisted the reel to reel back and forth. A very physical performance, very different from the stereotyped “bald guy looking at laptop”. Sonically I really liked this project (Pratt is one of those artists with several different personae - this tape manipulation performance is called Mindgunk), reminding me as it did of the vintage Berio/Xennakis post-music concrete. Again, that sense of the mass of sound that a lot of older electronic work seems to maintain.

Next up were Dearraindrop of Virginia Beach. Oooh, trash aesthetic:

Its hard to know what to make of something like Dearraindrop - the trashy bricolage aesthetic (so Mudd Club, so B-52’s) is ok and everything, but it somehow tends to leave me somewhat unsatisfied. As with their performance (a lot of banging and crashing with some drones going on beneath) so with their visual art and video work - colours, images (abstract and kitschy) mashed together is a way that calls to mind the art bruit of Wolfson et al. Some of it is really funny. Some of it is lame. As with their set - some of it was fun and boisterous. But as I ducked the Double Bubble being thrown at me I was beginning to wonder why this was happening? What is Dearraindrop’s purpose? I still don’t know. And I don’t think I care enough to find out.

Keeping in theme with the retro-electronics we moved from reel-to-reel’s through 80’s sub-Dada to vinyl records with Vancouver’s Kenny Roux, who also sported Ironic Moustache No. 3:

The turntables are fitted with magnetic tape heads rather than styluses, the result being a surprisingly heterogeneous array of sounds that Roux clearly had worked through. Again, a performance qua performance with the sounds produced not in some interstitial cyberspace but by the physical work of the artist. Sonically it was a bit uneven (as was Fletcher Pratt) which might be a congenital part of any improv performance - some parts are going to be more interesting than others. But there was plenty there to be interested in. And yet….

Some nagging questions that I walked away with: Sound art as such seems to be moving away from the technocratic have-Powerbook-will-travel in a similar way in which electronic music as such moved from hardware to software in the 90’s. And this is just fine - there are always basement wierdos like Pratt and Roux tweaking old technologies to do things that they aren’t supposed to do. But certain questions emerge: what is the meaning of this return to low-tech? Has the tape cassette machine become something like an acoustic guitar or some sort of new folk instrument? There seems to be a theme of some kind of futurological atavism at work here - a Mad Max / Neuromancer situation in which the future is not sleek and clean but dusty with poorly connected terminals that need thumping from time to time. The deliberately low-tech see-the-input-cables aesthetic on offer this evening is perhaps addressing some kind of shadowy millennial anxiety about identity and autonomy. Bugs in the program, grit in the keys, grime through the amp say nothing as much as “I am Here” at a time when all the words in that statement are problematically functional at best.

So is this a way of pulling the breaks on the engine of digital data? A revolutionary gesture? Or the sound art equivalent of those dvd’s of fireplaces you can play during Xmas holidays?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fatigue and Disgust

Well, I've been working onthe omnibus Joy Division post lately which is coming along very slowly indeed. But here are some notes that I took while watching the documentary. Hopefully these will shape up into something:

Find source of Marshall Berman quote.

Emphasis on Manchester psychogeography

The pre-birth

“They are rebuilding the city…yes, always”

Why was Deborah Curtis not interviewed?

“Things that Aren’t There”:
Electric Circus
Pips Disco
TJ Davidson’s Rehearsal Room
The Factory

Bernard claims to be the one who discovered Ka-Tzeknik

Tony Wilson and everything that involves

Rob Gretton’s notebooks – if only!

Revelation #1: Keep On Keepin On


Why does Peter Saville look like such a dandy?

Ian’s glamour … & Ian’s awkwardness
(he does look like Mark E Smith sometimes)

The Disorder montage – great, and then shit

Psychogeography – Wozencroft - Interior Manchester landscape

“To talk of life today is like talking of rope in the house of a hanging man. Where will it end?”

Annik speaks!

Genesis P Orridge looks really ill. And always inciteful. Poor old Gen, I hope s/he’s ok

Wozencroft and Ian’s “shamanism”

Trance --------------------- Possession

Revelation of Vulnerabilty

Its stigma – Terry Mason seems very upset

Stephen Morris – inarticulate, sad, the only one whose memories haven’t become anecdotes

“Its surprising that no one would pay attention”
&Tony “Its art”---- “He really means it”

He had made his mind up

Hypnotic regression:
Just reading
A book about laws
I’ve been reading it for a couple of days
Going over it
Keeping notes
Something I do at night

Stephen’s anger
Regrets of Peter Hook
Paul Morley frozen

Their entry into RnR Fall of Hame and “vibrancy” Manchester

Sk8 boards and sneakers

Ian Curtis as reverse Sylvia Plath
“Perhaps its time we started facing the future. When will it end?”

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Deeper Into Movies 4

A Few Notes on My Winnipeg

1) From the moment the film starts, you know that you are watching a Guy Maddin - the silent movie expressionism, the strange old ladies, the cod-noir cinematography, incest, great intertitles (“Passive Aggression!” being a favourite). He progresses by means of minimal difference (cf Tim Hecker post from last year). It seems that a lot of my favourite artists in just about all mediums do this - maybe is a comfort level factor, I don’t know. The trick for Maddin will be to avoid the Wes Anderson trap, when stylistic signature becomes stereotyped gesture. This trap seems to snare almost everybody eventually, but we can always keep our fingers crossed. Anyways, I think we have a lot of time left on that one anyways; Maddin’s material is so idiosyncratic and personal (sometimes watching his movies is a bit like eavesdropping on someone else’s psychoanalytic sessions, which as it turns out, are that of the Winnipeg’s collective unconscious) that he has a vast seam of material to mine.

2) Compare My Winnipeg to Noam Gonnick’s Stryker: different ideas of history. Maddin’s historical view of history is mythopoetic - a mixture of allegedly Aboriginal ideas about secret rivers converging under the Red and Assiniboine juncture; sommambulance through time and dream, time as dream, history the nightmare that we are trying to recapture. The “present day” shots of the MTS Centre, the Winnipeg Arena jar because they seem undigested detritus is the fluidly oneiric images that surround them. Even actual historical events and personages (the 1919 Strike, Steven Juba) semi-dissolve into the ghosts that keep the narrator trapped in Winnipeg, despite his repeated protests about his need to leave, to wake up from the dream. Even if Revolution Girl at the end of the movie (great, by the way) were to succeed in reversing the wound sustained by Maddin’s Winnipeg, the narrator seems to feel bereft: what is a place without ghosts. (More on Stryker at a later date)

3) I was initially going to end these brief notes by stating that this film wouldn’t make much sense to anyone not from Winnipeg. But the more I think about it, this film is as hauntological as you can get. Take note K-Punk!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Put the Book Back on the Shelf 1

Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian (Rita Honegger)

… an Austrian writer, and anyway the name didn’t matter, the person didn’t matter, no writer’s person or biography ever mattered, his work was everything, the writer himself was nothing, despite the despicable vulgarity of all those who insisted upon confusing the writer’s person with his work. The general public had been corrupted by certain historical and literary processes of the first half of the nineteenth century into daring, with the shameless impertinence characteristic of them, to confuse the written work with the writer’s personal concerns, using the writer’s person to effect a viscous crippling of the writer’s work, always shuttling back and forth between the writer’s private person and his product, and so forth, all of which lead to a monstrous distortion of the entire culture, bringing into being a culture which was a monstrosity, and so forth…
- Thomas Bernhard, The Lime Works

In 1989, Thomas Bernhard succumbed to the lung disease that had been plaguing him for almost all of his life, having scored a double “triumph” of sorts; his play Heldenplatz, had made him the most reviled (and most adored) literary figure in Austria, and his final will and testament had forbidden the publication and production of any of his published or unpublished works in Austria “however it defines itself” until the estate’s copywrite expires and the work enters into public domain. And this fits in with the image that even the most attentive reader might have cobbled together: the austere, solitary misanthropic author living in his farmhouse in Upper Austria preparing invective in his sparsely furnished rooms (all of which are painted black) with big bars on the window etc., occasionally to be found restlessly reading newspapers in Viennese cafĂ©’s while diffidently giving interviews with more than a concealed level of hostility.

It’s a pretty picture taken from central casting. Sontag: “He (for the type is male of course) is a Jew or like a Jew; polycultural, restless, misogynistic; a collector; dedicated to self-transcendence, despising the instincts; weighed down by books and buoyed up by the euphoria of knowledge. His real task is to not to exercise his talent for explanation but, by being witness to the age, to set the largest, most edifying standards of despair.” Sontag groups Bernhard with Elias Cannetti and Walter Benjamin in this group, and certainly this He is one of the more enduring, not to say, compelling stock characters in European continental literature. The figure is European without a doubt, and the pathology is strictly that of central Europe, where the dead hand of even the most recent tradition hangs heavy. (It is apparently impossible to throw a brick in Prague without hitting some kitschy Kafka landmark.) Impossible to know what this He would make of New Europe’s MacDonalds, ID cards and Euros; the middle class do not exist for Him. All attention is focused on the (remains of the) past.

Rita Honegger’s book has two main purposes: to pour some cold water on the Bernhard myth sketched above (with some rather interesting results) and to situate Bernhard as not an anti-Austria figure, but as the most Austrian of them all, Austria “and all that comes with it.” The two purposes operate in tandem; Bernhard took some undeniable pleasure in presenting himself, of allowing himself to be presented, as the Scourge of Austria, dragging its skeletons from the closet – be they Nazism or a more generalized impulse towards brutality and depravity. Honnegger’s aim is to show that this is true, but up to a point. Yes, Berhard was absolutely a Nestbeschmutzer, but his attacks presupposed the permamnce, or at least the symbolic efficacy, of Austria-Europe’s past – Aristocracy, Church, Kultur.

Certainly Bernhard’s novels (I am not as familiar with his plays) are filled with black sheep deliberately (either through obsessive concentration on some intagible, impossible goal or with malice aforethought, usually both) ruining their illustrious heritage. And yet, Honnegger shows this heritage was not Bernhard’s by birth. Born out of wedlock (possibly the result of a date rape) and not exactly embraced lovingly by his eventual step-father, he found himself in the “oppressive” peasant atmosphere that informs his earlier novels such as Frost and Gargoyles. In these novels, the wonders of the Alpine forests are overshadowed by universal sickness and debility, madmen in locked attics and women dying painfully giving birth to damaged children, families committing joint suicide to avoid insanity.

All of this seems to change overnight – that is to say, the time when young Thomas moves to Salzburg to train as a singer while working as a court reporter (which always comes to mind whenever I read The Voice Imitator) is glossed over fairly quickly. Honegger does contextualize Bernhard’s participation in the Bohemian avant-garde scene, including, tantalizingly, the Vienna Gruppe scene, but, as frequently happens in biographies, the context sometimes overtakes the subject. The transformation of Bernhard the hick from the sticks to Thomas Bernhard the author and theater-maker is passed over rather quickly, but also constitutes one of the great surprises of the biography.

Honegger’s book is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, which has certain advantages, but one main disadvantage – it is hard to get a sense of the sequence of events. How, for example, was the publication of Woodcutters affected by and affected other events (e.g. Bernhard’s homosexual affairs, one of the BIG surprises that is almost entirely glossed over here, or the public reception of Heldenplatz at the Burgtheater.)* So rather mysteriously, we move from the unwanted child in very grim post-War circumstances (it is to Honegger’s credit that she doesn’t let Bernhard’s, shall we say, expressionistic versions of his childhood override the facts and details she pieced together through hard biographical slog – interviews, archival research etc.) before little Thomas gets out of Salzburg and heads to the big smoke/Vienna to seek fame and fortune as an actor at the Mozarteum. Again, a familiar narrative, a familiar set of characters:

His public image in those years, somewhat mythologized by himself as well as by former friends and colleagues, alternated between the raw peasant misfit who preferred driving a beer truck through the rough streets of Vienna to socializing with the city aesthetes, on the one hand, and the impeccably dressed, painfully shy poet, inhibited precisely by his outsider status and his lack of urban finesse, on the other.

How do you do this? (Underemployed aesthetes want to know!) Well, find a wealthy patron, of course! While in the Grafenhof tuberculosis sanatorium (described in Wittgenstein’s Nephew and Gathering Evidence) Thomas, who, it must be admitted, was a rather alarmingly attractive young man in a Germanic James Dean sort of way, meets the wealthy and 30 years older Hedwig Stavianicek. Honegger notes that the details of the relationship are difficult to determine due to Berhnard’s reticence on the one hand (although he does refer to her as his Liebensmensch, which is ambiguous enough) and some rather smutty gossip from the coffee-house chattering classes on the other (the campy overtones of Liebensmench and “Auntie”, the quasi-incestuous mother-son overtones). Buried in Honegger’s (vital) contextualizations and cultural histories is a clear picture of the relationship between Bernhard and Stavianicek, so essential to Berhanrd that he would describe her as “the woman who shares my life and to whom I have owed not just a great deal, but, frankly, more or less everything, since the moment when she first appeared at my side…. Without her, I would not be alive at all, or at any rate I would certainly not be the person I am today, so mad and so unhappy and yet at the same time happy.” This is strong praise indeed; unlike just about every other one of Bernhard’s friendships, there was to be no sudden rupture, definitive break or oscillation between affection and venomous derision.** In this biography, Bernhard overwhelms; as with his novels, women remain shadowy figures silently waiting in the periphery.

The dirt and grime of Bernhard’s life (no more or less dirty or grimy than yours or mine) are deemphasized so that Honegger can put forward her main thesis: Bernhard as echt Austrian, insofar as Austria in general and Vienna in particular are entirely constituted in performances whose veracity is subordinated to the degree to which they are convincing or even just plain novel. The care with which Honegger extricates the kaleidescope of performances of performances or performances (“the actor in the actor in the actor”) is impressive, although it does tend somewhat to blot out any other perspective. We could, for example, have stood for further exploration of the manner in which the works and legend of Wittgenstein gained the cultural prominence that they did among such people as Bachman, Bernhard and Handke. (We also could have learned more about the enmity between the last two, which is one of the funnier aspects of the book, for those who love literary gossip as I do.) Honegger more or less stops at noting the ways in which Ludwig and Paul Wittegenstein provided Bernhard with a useful repertory of masks (in Concrete and Correction in particular, which compare very favourably indeed to Bruce Duffy’s The World as I Found It believe you me). This is true as far as it goes, but surely there’s a bit more to it than that? In effect, there is something slightly monomaniacal about Honegger's determination to bend the life to the idea; in a way, she becomes a Bernhard character herself, as does everyone who spends too long in the vicinity of the man and/or his works. And it is precisely this danger that makes Bernhard’s work so endlessly compelling – the radioactivity of consciousness tuned to a feverish pitch that is so relentless in its destruction that no amount of pose-assumption or critical distance is even possible.

* Is it a sign of a successful biography to have to include a basic timeline which I needed to consult frequently while writing this piece in order to piece together what happened when? Its a shame that all of our lives aren't organized thematically; it would save a lot of the "what the hell am I doing with my life" moments that darken certain evenings.

** The publication of Woodcutters launched a libel suit from Gerhard Lampersberg, wealthy patron of the arts (and particularly young artistic men of pleasant mien, including Bernhard). While all of this took place before Thomas Bernhard became Thomas Bernhard, one wonders what on Earth they expected? Honegger suggests that for the Viennese, it was all very well when Bernhard was laying into someone else, but when the corrosive gaze turned your way, well, that was a different pile of schnitzle.

Deeper into Movies 3

What was all the Fuss About? - Death of a President

We watched the Mondo Cane "documentaries" where it was impossible to tell the fake newsreel footage of atrocities and executions from the real. And we rather liked it that way. Our willing complicity in this blurring of truth and reality in the Mondo Cane films alone make them possible and was taken up by the entire media landscape, by politicians and churchment.

- J. G. Ballard, Miracles of Life

Death of a President is more of a technical achievement than the grand political statement it was cracked up to be. Manipulating footage to make Dick Cheney sound like he's giving GWP's eulogy (admittedly the phrase President Cheney sent shivers down my spine) was pretty impressive, and the overall tone managed to avoid any faux-ironic giveaways. But what really was all the fuss about? Is it really that much of a shock to learn that a person from Syria with some roughly unsavoury connections somewhere in his past would be more-or-less framed into being found guilty, to be scapegoated? That a Gulf War veteran suffering from PTSD would feel resentment, or, good heavens, even anger that his son(s) or daughter(s) died for oil a second time?

Or was it that the fictionalized documentary seemed so seamleesly done that, yes indeed, it looked real, the very definition of the simulacrum? But don't we know all about that already? Known it for sometime, almost bored stiff with the idea that "Reality" is nothing here but the recordings?

Beyond the undeniable jouissance of GWB getting his just desserts, and the wearily omniscient sense that, had George the Younger actually been assassinated, things would probably have been much, much worse than the film predicts, this movie doesn't really tell us anything particularly new or shocking. A technical masterpiece absolutely, but hollow - iin the same way that, at a different register, Borat was both funny and obvious at the same time (rednecks and fratboys have retrograde attitudes vis-a-vis women and ethnic minorities, crickey, who'd 've thought?!)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

New Posts Forthcoming

New posts forthcoming. Sorry for the extended delay.
Upcoming: Thomas Bernhard biography review and notes on Death of a President and My Winnipeg
She's back, Gentle Readers