Evocation Poème Symphonique

Once in a blue moon, (or in this case a blood moon), I shed my polished sophisticate exterior and get a little creative.  Tonight is that night, so light the incense, don your beret and check out what’s cookin’.

I seldom get into poetry, doing my best to avoid anything with a rhyme scheme or regular meter.  But I do fancy a particular strain of poem – nonsense verse and cut-up/plunderphonia.

John Lennon developed his own delightful style of jabberwock in his books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works which inspired my first exercises writing “Lennonish” in college.

And in more recent years I found a fascination with the history of plunderphonics, perhaps best-executed by James Joyce is his masterwork, Finnegans Wake.  This evening I tried my own hand at the cut-up method, constructing something of a self-portrait from fragments of my music library. The library will be my legacy and I hope it will survive far beyond my years, so its content seemed well-suited for such a task.

Evocation Poème Symphonique

pulse steady
a chance operation
in and out of phase
from houdini’s musical box
deep distance kontakt
and the kosmische braindance
i sing the body electric
strange overtones
intergalactic echowaves
funky breaks and solo flute
one finger snap and the jazz of tomorrow
tricks of the light
cirrus minor
the broken radio of Istanbul station
turn me loose
walking like a shadow
voodoo fusion or synesthesia
a prayer for the paranoid
an index of metals
walkin’ the blues
it’s wonderland syndrome
tones for mental therapy
justified
ancient
and bird’s lament
straight no chaser
alone again with the dawn coming up
we are the music makers
fast ‘n bulbous
and the curse of ka’zar
all this and more
tonight at innerspace

Regular readers will undoubtedly pick up on 20-30 references to favorites from my collection.  But I think it functions just as well without the cliff notes

Thanks for indulging me.  Back to our regularly-scheduled exercises in library management.

Philosophical Wax – Artistic Influence Comes Full-Circle

With the whole of my Saturday evening at my command I decided to delve deeper into the culture surrounding a yet-unread title on my bookshelf – The notorious Illuminatus! Trilogy.  Little did I know that the exploration would bring a number of my artistic and musical favorites full-circle in a sphere of related influence!

Discordia and Illuminati sm

Having read Malaclypse the Younger’s Principia Discordia, (a wonderful bit of counter-cultural madness), I already had a fundamental (mis)understanding of the lunacy that is Discordianism.  But in my readings, there were multiple references to its earlier incarnation – the social revolutionaries known as The Situationist International.

For those unfamiliar with the group, their philosophy is, for the most part, summarized thusly:

[Situationism] is derived primarily from anti-authoritarian Marxism and the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century, particularly Dada and Surrealism.  Overall, situationist theory represented an attempt to synthesize this diverse field of theoretical disciplines into a modern and comprehensive critique of mid-20th century advanced capitalism.

Essential to situationist theory was the concept of the spectacle, best-illustrated in Guy Debord’s 1967 book and found-footage film – each titled, La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle).

The Spectacle is a criticism of advanced Capitalism, where real-life experiences are replaced with the commodified consumerist culture of living through one’s possessions.  The Situationists viewed this passive consumption as damaging to the quality of human life for both individuals and society.  Instead of living vicariously through one’s purchases and property, the Situationists sought to create situations – moments of life deliberately constructed for the purpose of reawakening and pursuing authentic desires, experiencing the feeling of life and adventure, and the liberation of everyday life.

The film, The Society of the Spectacle (1973) is available in its entirety, dubbed Fr subbed Eng here:

And only a few years later, the film Network (1976) would similarly address the societal dangers of mass media.

network

This philosophy was clearly an influence on the hippie art scene of the 1960 with their staging of nearly-spontaneous Happenings.  I was honored to attend the first Happening of the season in Buffalo for an impromptu performance of Terry Riley’s In C with participation from children in the audience.

Tracking the influence back even further (and then again, to the present) I learned of the French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou known as Lettrisme (Lettrism) and his concept of Hypergraphics in 1954.

Here is an Orson Welles Interview featuring Isidore Isou and Lettrist poetry – rich with Dadaist influence.

In 1958, Columbia Records issued the very first recordings of Letterist poetry – Maurice Lemaître presente le lettrisme.

This poetry adds another level of historical context to the performance I attended by composer Ethan Hayden at the University at Buffalo this past January.  While there was likely a Situationist influence on his work, “…ce dangereux supplément…” (2015) for solo voice (with optional electronics & video), Hayden’s piece is phonetically and linguistically more refined (though equally absurd!) both in its content and his delivery.  While I absolutely recognize the importance of Isidore Isou’s philosophy and his primitivist poems, Hayden has a far-greater command of language (or perhaps of nonsense?) and I look forward to his future performances.

And in 2007 to celebrate the life of Isou, The End of the Age of Divinity was published in his honor.  The book is available for free below.

http://antisystemic.org/SW/TheEndOfTheAgeOfDivinity-Enkutatach409.pdf

Once again coming full-circle to more recent artistic movements, Lettrism brought me to aforementioned Lettrist hypergraphical art, pictured below.

GrammeS_-_Ultra_Lettrist_hypergraphics

While I am by no means a scholar of art history, the influence here is clear as day on the 1990s typographic art of David Carson (famed for his work in Raygun Magazine and for Nine Inch Nails) and on Karl Hyde and John Warwicker’s Tomato art collective, which created the deconstructivist typographical art for Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman.

The work of David Carson…

dfh_david_carsondfh_david_carson1

and of Tomato…

mmm...skyscraper-01

Art of this nature is rooted in the cut-up technique first employed by the Dadaists in the 1920 and again in the late 1950s and early 1960s by William S. Burroughs.  But it was the audio incarnation of cut-up that I first encountered in music culture, from the earliest (and quite literal) tape cut-ups of musique concrete, to the resurfacing of the method by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Eno, and others, to the explosion of sampledelica culture in 1980s and 90s hip-hop and turntablism.

And around the same time, the radical and subversive art of culture jamming was born.  The term, coined in 1984, refers to any form of guerilla communication, such as the vandalist works by The Billboard Liberation Front and the illegal-art sample-based music of Negativland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All of this brought me back, yet again full-circle to The KLF.  The documentary, On the Passage of a few People through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International 1956-1972 contains flashes of the phrase,

“The Time for Art is Over.”

This very notion was later reiterated by Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond of the KLF in the K Foundation’s cryptic adverts appearing in UK national newspapers in 1993.  The first ad proclaimed,

K_Foundation_-_Abandon_All_Art_Now_Print

The Situationist documentary is available on Youtube in 3 parts.

It is only now that I realize that John Higgs’ endlessly fascinating book, THE KLF: Chaos, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds directly referenced the Situationists, the Discordians, Alan Moore and “Ideaspace”, and Robert Anton Wilson – all of the key figures I am now exploring.

klf_paperback_cover_phoenix

Incredible discoveries are waiting to be made every day, and quiet Saturday evenings, like yesterday’s, are gleaming with potential for magic just like this. I’ve now a week ahead of me and a century of exciting new art to explore.

5’50” of Pop – The Sound of Muzak

5'50'' of Pop

As an archivist of historically significant recordings, I thrive on sound that is experimental, that tests the limits of and challenges the very definition of what we call music.  I’m grateful that, for most hours of the day, I have the freedom to immerse myself in cerebral and inspiring sounds.

But once upon a time, not so very long ago, I worked a job where that sort of musical luxury was the stuff of pure fantasy.  For I, like so many of my young peers, spent each day in a world of retail Muzak.

Perhaps you’ve worked a similar job at one point of your life.  Perhaps you see no problem with Muzak as you can simply, “tune it out.”  Unfortunately, we are not all so lucky.

The Sound of Muzak

The Sound of Muzak

The soundtrack of my former workplace was a Muzak station comprising 100 pop songs repeated ad infinitum for the entirety of my retail servitude.   It was eight hours a day of Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Nickelback and Amy Grant… enough to drive any reasonable man insane.  But instead of succumbing to the madness, I made it a personal mission to transform my situation into something expressive and artful.

The result was 5’50” of Pop – a complex, atonal and aggressive short film effectively simulating the experience of living inside a forty-hour loop of teen pop-idols.  5’50” of Pop aims to transform formulaic, predictable, homogeneous pop music into something challenging, something arresting, and something dauntingly complex.

The film composites the music videos for every one of the songs I heard each day… played from start to finish… all at the same time.  The result is a cacophonous stream of abstract noise and an indiscernible collage of light and shadow, presenting the viewer with a visual and auditory experience completely unlike the content of which it was composed.

If you’ve never had the misfortune of working retail, please indulge me, for a mere 5’50” of Pop.

Embittered pretension aside, 5’50” is first a reactionary piece, but also serves as an honest criticism of the pop music status quo.  Contemporary pop is made to be instantly forgotten and shuffled through in a constant stream of predictability and irreverence.  More product than poetry, its cookie-cutter lyricism and melodic structure have abandoned all that made-great the genres it’s co-opted and mimicked in empty pantomime.

Thankfully, I’ve since freed myself from that terrible environment, and now spend my days soaking-in Frippertronic solos and tape music soundscapes.  So to any of my readers still-trapped in a similarly vapid and soulless work environ; take heart.  There are scores of beautiful music waiting for you.  Until then, keep tuning in.  The music will set you free.

[NOTE: Due to copyright claims from Warner Music and the Universal Music Group, this video is not available in Germany and may include advertisements.]