Thursday, October 30, 2014

recreativity / curativity / curationism / appropriationism / anechronosis

Momus does a pop-up video  version of a new song "Bathyscape" with "attributions" overlaid. His rationale:

"This is something I’ve planned to do for a while: take a videosong of mine and try to attribute the source of every element, visual and musical, as it comes up....  This is a dangerous thing to do, because we still live in a world in which copyright is ostensibly enforced, and clearly I’m in breach of lots of copyright protection (unless this is all considered “fair use”)...."

One of the attributions flickering across the screen is to Nicholas Bourriaud and his bible-of-recreativity Postproduction:

"Curators like Nicolas Bourriaud advocate a much more lax and supple approach to intellectual property, proposing...  artists as basically curators themselves, pulling together their exhibitions from multiple existing sources.... Once it was mainly provocateurs like Richard Prince who did this, but now, Bourriaud argues, every artist is basically a dung beetle, using whatever’s lying about.

"What interests me is that although I work alone, I am actually making a collaboration with dozens, even hundreds, of people when I make one of my videosongs. Rather than the Romantic image of an artist on a mountaintop waiting for inspiration, I’m a node on a human (and electronic) network, picking and choosing, framing and reframing, bending the data as it rushes through my wires and screens and sending it on (via social networks) through other people’s. ...

"... I’m no longer a songwriter: thanks to free programs like iMovie, and the enormous archives on YouTube, I can become a powerful wrangler of all sorts of data. Since, for me, writing songs was always about capturing and repackaging sensibilities, and laying claim to areas of culture that I’d got interested in and researched, things like YouTube and iMovie vastly extend my semantic reach. It’s become so much more than songwriting. It gets closer, for me, to the whole process of being passionately interested in culture, and reaching out towards it, and making it one’s own, while trying to influence others to appreciate the same things.

"With the archives so available and manipulable, sensibility is more important than ever. My experience is that most cultural content bores or even repels me, but that I find things all the time that I admire and covet and want to flag and share with others. Whereas in the last decade I would have done that with blogging, I now tend to do it with the most powerful thing I know: videosongs. This is like moving from being a songwriter to being a journalist to being a film director.

It sounds -- from the sound of the music but also some of the Momus-discourse around the music - a bit like Momus-does-hauntology:

"The meaning-patina and retro texture encrusted in the original (and by “the original” I mean, usually, a glitchy and lo-fi YouTube copy) is so much more interesting and evocative. I even like the shitty digital glitches and soft resolutions of things you find in the public domain and sample. If you love culture, you often love the telltale technical limitations of each era: the grain and colour of 1950s film combined with the sampling and bandwidth limitations of today’s digital approximations of it. Far from searching for the original experience, I’m excited by the weird sedimental layers of cultural history, the borrowings of borrowings and samplings of samplings. I keep all those in my videosongs." 

But if  - as the recreativity / uncreativity ideologues argue, endlessly, and to my mind anachronistically (backwards-projecting today's exhausted, overloaded sensibility onto the past) - if  all cultural creation both now and in the past is and has always been just a tissue of preexisting elements, then what, pray, is the added value of the overt citation and attribution?  You're being honest, upfront, about what every one else veils?  It demystifies the aura and mystique of the Creator? 

Personally, speaking as a punter, it spoils my potential enjoyment of the piece, and I'm glad that, say, Ghost Box have never thought to do this, although of course if you ask them, or Moon Wiring Club, they'll happily and freely divulge inspirations, reference points, recent listening / reading / watching that's informed the latest output. As Momus himself says at the end:

"We should either thank everyone, or thank no-one and just get on with making the stuff and putting it out there. Bending the semantic rays as they pass endlessly though our machines."


This reminded me of a recent Momus post on a new book - Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else - by David Balzer, who argues that: 

"since the mid-1990s, we’ve been living in the curationist moment. As power-curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev told him in 2012, “The curator is the most emblematic worker of the cognitive age.” 

But Balzer also apparently warns that  “excessive fretting over attribution and precedent is paralyzing to dynamic intellectual thought"

And apparently "ends his text on a note of confidence that curationism’s moment may be about to pass," citing various indications that "the mass obsession regarding anxiously displaying the signs of one’s own distinction" is waning.
Momus's reference to "provocateurs like Richard Prince" also reminded me of Our God Is Speed's recent flagging up of responses to Prince's latest / lamest provocation, "Instagrams".

 Peter Schjeldahl notes the "fated"-ness (or less kindly, predictability) of his exhibiting " thirty-eight Instagrams harvested from the Internet and inkjet-printed on canvas", for "had Prince uncharacteristically dozed, some other artist was going to notice that Instagram recasts Andy’s proverbial fifteen minutes by urging everybody to be famous fifteen times a day".  The rhetorical question "Is it art?" is followed by "Of course it’s art, though by a well-worn Warholian formula", The real question is: it good or new or interesting or powerful art?  What does it make you feel? Schjeldahl does in fact go on to answers those questions by saying that his reaction to Prince's Instagrams was "something like a wish to be dead—which, say what you want about it, is the surest defense against assaults of postmodernist attitude. Come to think of it, death provides an apt metaphor for the pictures: memento mori of perishing vanity. Another is celestial: a meteor shower of privacies being burnt to cinders in the atmosphere of publicity. They fall into contemporary fame—a sea that is a millimetre deep and horizon-wide."

Schjedahl's twist on Warhol's "famous for fifteen minutes" as "famous fifteen times a day" recalls nothing so much as Momus's "in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people" maxim of over two decades ago.  That's the nature of microfame today -- shrunk both in scale and duration, approaching the degree zero of parochial and ephemeral. 

"Wish to be dead" also, if you'll  pardon me, reminded me of anechronosis: my term (anachronism + necrosis) for the "curious 'undead' quality exuded" by retro culture artifacts.  Explaining it an interview, I said: "It's a really unpleasant sensation. Things under the sway of anachronosis are just nothing. You might as well be dead." 

Paddy Johnson is more blunt:  "Richard Prince Sucks"

"The most remarkable feature of the show is that the printouts are reflected perfectly in Gagosian's shiny floor. Thin offerings for anyone who is in possession of a brain....

"We can trace appropriation precedents back to Warhol, and Prince as an early adopter, but who cares? Copy-paste culture is so ubiquitous now that appropriation remains relevant only to those who have piles of money invested in appropriation artists....
"There's no reason for the reproductions to exist, except to make Prince a little cash—the prints are apparently going forup to $100,000 a pop. This makes the show exceptionally vapid. Don't go see it. Don't ever buy the work."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

this was tomorrow (not-so-slight return)

images all nicked from Ghosts In The TV tumblr

the future, restarted?


a piece by Kevin Drum about the final, long-awaited coming of nuclear fusion as a source of vast and "Clean, Green" power at Mother Jones, following the announcement by Lockheed that they'd made a breakthrough

"If Lockheed Martin can actually pull this off, it would mean huge amounts of baseload power using existing grid technology. It would mean cheap power from centralized sites. It would mean not having to replace every building in the world with high-efficiency designs. It would mean not having to install wind farms on millions of acres of land. It would mean not having to spend all our political efforts on forcing people to make do with less energy.... Given the obvious difficulties of selling a green agenda to the world—and the extreme unlikelihood of making that 2020 deadline with existing technologies—I'll be rooting for Lockheed Martin to pull this off." 
Some historical theories relatethe confidence in progress and the rampant neophilia of the post-WW2 period, especially 50s and early 60s, to the economy-dynamizing effect of cheap energy, which resulting in full employment, bolshy unions, and a cash-empowered youth culture. A sort of delusory bubble of irrational exuberance that ended in the early Seventies with the oil crisis, and whose pricking was also connected to ecological worries about resources running out, pollution, overpopulation etc, the publication of The Limits to Growth, and various other cultural abreactions and backlashes that were mass symptoms of "future shock". Deceleration.
Question is, will a new era of cheap energy, this time with hardly any of the harmful effects of fossil fuels, spawn in a new period of full-tilt economic growth, a shift of power to organised labour and to young people, and bring with it spirit of future-focussed neophilia?
Cheap fusion energy also possibly under-writing a new Space Age with long-term colonies in space and on other bodies in the solar system, resource-extraction in the Asteroid Belt, etc 
i.e. the Future my generation read about in s.f. in the Sixties and Seventies.
Possibly, although I wouldn't be surprised if Humanity finds a way to fuck it all up...
And besides, all this will only really kick off by the middle of this century by which time I'll either be dead or doddering 'n 'senile. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Reading this Alex Ross New Yorker piece which argues that the  (deserved) deification of  Beethoven has had a stifling effect on the art form LVB helped to invent, i.e. classical music...

... it struck me that The Beatles have a similarly problematic place in rock history as deities casting a daunting shadow.

The parallels recur throughout the piece 

[Beethoven] not only left his mark on all subsequent composers but also molded entire institutions....  After Beethoven, the concert hall came to be seen not as a venue for diverse, meandering entertainments but as an austere memorial to artistic majesty. Listening underwent a fundamental change. To follow Beethoven’s dense, driving narratives, one had to lean forward and pay close attention. The musicians’ platform became the stage of an invisible drama, the temple of a sonic revelation.”

substitute long-playing 33rpm record for "concert hall"
Above all, Beethoven shaped the identity of what came to be known as classical music. In the course of the nineteenth century, dead composers began to crowd out the living on concert programs, and a canon of masterpieces materialized, with Beethoven front and center. As the scholar William Weber has established, this fetishizing of the past can be tracked with mathematical precision, as a rising line on a graph: in Leipzig, the percentage of works by deceased composers went from eleven per cent in 1782 to seventy-six per cent in 1870."
More than anything, it was the mesmerizing intricacy of Beethoven’s constructions—his way of building large structures from the obsessive development of curt motifs—that made the repertory culture of classical music possible.... No composer labors so hard to stave off boredom, to occupy the mind of one who might be hearing or playing a particular piece for the tenth or the hundredth time.”
And so Beethoven assumed the problematic status of a secular god, his shadow falling on those who came after him, and even on those who came before him.” 
Another parallel is the way that The Beatles (and Dylan) (and the Stones) instigated, catalysed, but also necessitated, demanded a new kind of criticism -- rock criticism (before, there was no rock'n'roll criticism, as such - just music biz reporting, gossip, entertainment journalism profiles).  So Ross says of E.T.A. Hoffman’s early 19th Century hype 'n' hosannas re. Ludwig Van “this is criticism in a new key. Music is being accorded powers at once transcendent and transformative: it hovers far above the ordinary world, yet it also reaches down and alters the course of human events. “ 
He further notes how Beethoven’s music has subsequently come to soundtrack world-historical events, as if his compositions  bottled the lightning that is the world-will..... making it abstract but thus suitable for applying to later weighty occasions of grand drama upon the stage of history.
Yet the idolatry has had a stifling effect on subsequent generations of composers, who must compete on a playing field that was designed to prolong Beethoven’s glory. As a teen-ager, I contemplated becoming a composer; attending a concert at Symphony Hall, in Boston, I remember seeing, with wonder and dismay, the single name “BEETHOVEN”emblazoned on the proscenium arch. “Don’t bother,” it seemed to say.
"For this conundrum—an artist almost too great for the good of his art—Beethoven himself bears little responsibility. There is no sign that he intended to oppress his successors from the grave.”
In Ross's account there is an echo of the argument in Retromania that it is above all the decade of the Beatles - the Sixties - that in a twist of ghastly irony generates retro culture through its very "charisma" as an epoch, its hold on the imagination.  Neophilia begets necrophilia.

How did Beethoven become “BEETHOVEN”? What prompted the “great transformation of musical taste,” to take a phrase from William Weber—the shift on the concert stage from a living culture to a necrophiliac one? The simplest answer might be that Beethoven was so crushingly sublime that posterity capitulated.

Yet he argues that Beethoven was the creation of his time as much as a force shaping it. Just like those Beatles

The scholar Mark Evan Bonds, in his new book “Absolute Music,” describes the “growing conviction at the turn of the nineteenth century that music had the capacity to disclose the ‘wonders’ of the universe in ways that words could not, and that the greatest composers were in effect oracles, intermediaries between the divine and the human.

Even the self-deprecating comments Beethoven made about his own work find a parallel in Lennon (and also Harrison’s) frequent disparagement of many Beatles tracks, including the ones they wrote, as “rubbish”, “garbage”, “junk”.
A final parallel: Beatlesology is a book-trade industry, and likewise “the continuing strength of the cult is evident in the accumulation of Beethoven books”. Ross mentions recent efforts by  Jan Swafford, John Suchet, Matthew Guerrieri, Michael Broyles, and  Sanford Friedman -- which “join a library of thousands of volumes."
This tasty apercu from Mr Ross - 
 "The canon is a grand illusion generated by the erasure of a less desirable past"

 - emerges from the suggestion that we better understand Beethoven in the context of all the now forgotten music made by others at that time, as well as his own failures, botch jobs, hackwork.

So listen to Beatles, but also to Moody Blues, Hollies, Herman's Hermits, and The Temperance Seven