Friday, March 27, 2015

black liberation atemporal maximalism

"The new album is a thicket of inspirational, historical references; you’ll find critical race theory, George Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Richard Pryor, Exodus 14, respectability politics and six separate levels of meta-analysis about the meaning of Lamar’s success and messiah status. It seems almost designed for parsing in a college classroom.... 

"Lamar, himself, might not quite know what he has created. There is a hoarder’s mania to this album – he seems to have gathered every idea and influence he could find without too much care for what all that clutter reveals, knowing only that there is something beautiful in it. When he homes in on what exactly that is, hip-hop will have another classic. Until then, we will have to be satisfied with watching him make an exciting but still-unfinished transition"

- Jay Caspian Kang, "Notes on the Hip-Hop Messiah", New York Times magazine.

Of course, there's a big difference between the atemporal maximalist archivalism of Kendrick Lamar and the atemporal maximalist archivalism of, say, Ariel Pink. The difference is that the Lamar album is about stuff that actually matters, that couldn't be more urgent or present-attuned. (In that sense not atemporal but totally timely). Whereas Pink and most other white history-bingers serve up banquets of perfect inconsequence.  "Retrolicious", but not nutritious, not soul food.   

(This ability to escape into havens of the jumbled-up past = white privilege? Well, it's a thought). 

A negative angle on the maximalist excess of To Pimp A Butterfly from Passion of the Weiss. Not sure I agree but a sharply argued take-down: 

"Kendrick parrots back all his influences, but there’s no synthesis. He’s excessively complicating sub-genres that worked before — songs that felt vital because of their simplicity and directness." 

Listening the first time I immediately thought of the analogue maximalism of D'Angelo's Black Messiah, an album I was surprised to find myself digging quite a bit, despite being ideologically averse to neo-soul as a proposition. (I was intrigued by a comment of David Toop - who mentioned not being able to remember anything about Black Messiah afterwards because it's so dense, while being wholly absorbed while actually listening to it, on account of its "brilliance of execution").

But To Pimp piles it on even further by being both analogue maximalist and digital maximalist at the same time (all the Sa Ra, Fly Lo element)....

Another thing that struck me instantly is how "this kind of thing" is a genre now: it's a record in the tradition of  Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), Common's Electric Circus, The Roots Phrenology, Outkast's Aquemini and Stankonia  .... the sprawling, influence-omnivorous, conscious and/or politically charged aspiring-Masterpiece that evokes, draws on, and honors the Seventies run of musically ambitious, lyrically radical black albums from Sly, Gaye, Wonder, P-funk, Isleys, Mayfield, Last Poets, Scott-Heron, Miles et al. 


Another retromaniacal / hauntological aspect to To Pimp A Butterfly, the ghost "interview" with Tupac. Kang, again:  

"At the end of “Mortal Man,” Lamar finally steps out of his dense thicket of references for a conversation between himself and Tupac. (Reviving Tupac has become its own odd industry in recent years. This exhumation was done by taking audio of an interview Tupac gave two years before his death in 1996 and splicing it together with Lamar’s new interjections.) "

'Tis the season for awkward, honorable, likeably earnest if not-fully-realised attempts to repoliticise music - i.e. Jam City's Dream A Garden

STOP PRESS:  very interesting (albeit, as he freely admits, unfinished post by Aaron at Airport Through The Trees, titled "The Aesthetics of Politics", and grappling with issues related to To Pimp A Butterfly and Dream A Garden

It contains the line of the year, when addressing the futuristic form versus regressive lyric-content mis-match that you get with Mustard style ratchet rap and modern R&B -  

"It just seemed like: even if we put a colony on Mars, there'd be nothing to do there but get drunk and try and meet promiscuous women at clubs."

which serves as set-up to the important point:

"the highest expression of Capitalist Realism is the concession of the contemporary, the new, the modern, and, especially the future, to Capitalism"

recursive disco

Is it too soon to be nostalgic about Random Access Memories and the Daft Punk discourse explosion of 2013?  Disco(urse) fever that seemed to evacuate itself from collective consciousness within six months of its eruption?

Niek Hilkmann writes about all that in  "The Greatest Recursive Disco Medley in The World", referencing Retromania upfront:

"Two years after Reynolds published his stream of thought, Daft Punk released an album that almost seems to be tailor-made to illustrate his ideas".

And it's true, if I'd written Retromania for 2014 publication, I could have dedicated a whole chapter just to Random Access Memories.

Hilkmann writes about the retro traits within disco itself,

"In 1978 a Dutch popstar called Theo Vaness decided to release his first disco record. It was called ‘Back To Music’. The record starts with the sound of machines rattling and beeping in the background while a voice declares:

This is the year 2501.
Our world is no longer a place where you can dream of the future.
Only of the past.
We use our time machine now and then to go back to nature, back to music.

After this a disco beat starts thumping and a countdown commences. Year after year passes, until the listener reach 1978, the year ‘Back To Music’ was made. The journey through time is far from over, as Theo Vaness starts singing a medley of Beatles songs and other popular hits from the fifties, sixties en seventies. After a couple of minutes the trip reaches an euphoric climax and the listener is safely transported back to 2501, the year where there is no place to dream about the future and people go back in time to experience music. The story that ‘Back to Music’ tells can be seen as a mere piece of science fiction, but Vaness’ thoughts on how music might be perceived in the future isn’t so far off from Reynolds stream of thought, or what Daft Punk illustrates on ‘Random Access Memories’.

He also discusses the ‘Stars On 45’ golden-oldie medleys made by Jaap Eggermont for Van Kooten of  Red Bullet Productions

"These bootleg disco records feature soundalikes who sing bit parts of popular songs and artists. For instance, ‘the greatest rock and roll band of the world’ features seventeen Rolling Stones songs accompanied by a relentless disco drumbeat that goes on and on and on. The beat regulates and unifies the songs and takes them out of their context. The  records were scorned by critics, but made a lot of money. The first record, comprising of Beatles hits, sold over a million copies in America and went gold in several countries. In essence, ‘Stars On 45’ appropriated existing melodies to a contemporary sound, much like Theo Vaness did. However, like Daft Punk, there is a recursive mechanism at work. The lengths the producers went through to make the records sound ‘alike’ are quite extravagant compared to today’s standards. It takes some skill to distinguish a ‘Stars On 45’ sample from a snippet of the real deal. There surely is some art involved in making inconspicuous covers, but with current sampling technology this whole process has become so easy that the process, or even ‘recognition of the ambition’ of sounding alike is not that interesting anymore. This makes the Stars on 45 a little anonymous nowadays and it’s hard to feel any form of nostalgia towards the records."

Plenty of other examples of retro tendencies in disco culture, from DrBuzzard's Original Savannah Band  to (as someone pointed out here in the comments not so long ago) the glitterball itself, which harks back to the 1930s and the era of dance marathons as in They Shoot Horses Don't They.... and for that matter I Remember Yesterday, the Donna Summer album on which "I Feel Love" appeared, which was conceived by Moroder as a conceptually linked series of songs about different eras (1940s, Fifties, etc) culminating in a song about the future. 

dead end culture - hipster critiques

An essay on hipsterism-critique that references Retromania and Douglas Haddow's Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization.

Hadn't realised that Haddow sounds such a Retromania-ish note in this pronouncement:

"Haddow even goes so far to claim that the hipster “represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning” or “a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new

That's a decadence argument, in the tradition of Spengler and "pattern-work", the devolution of vital cultures into effete civilisations....


New issue of the New Enquiry examines concepts of the future

from the editorial intro: 
"In the future food will be 3D-printed, or there won’t be any food. In the future there will be no borders, or your passport will be embedded in your iris. In the future gender will be flexible, or nonexistent, or just like it is now but better. In the future there will be no cops, or cops will stop killing black people, or cops will be tiny drones the size of flies. In the future you will be happy, or you will be unhappy, or you will be dead. But the future never comes, because it’s not habitable by any part of the human body apart from language, and so the future is only ever a way to talk about the present and the past.
"In the past, the future was over. The punks and artists in industrialized countries who first sloganeered no future in the late 70s were resisting reactionary free-market narratives of so-called progress. But perhaps all along it was capitalists who wanted to abolish the future. Now we’re in the seventh year of global economic crisis, and ecological disaster is becoming ever more generalized. Governments careen from one crisis to the next, while work and life are more intertwined and enmeshed in technological orders of control and surveillance at the same time that reproduction has become increasingly precarious and unreliable. The future of the no-future seems as apt as it is convenient.
"For the European Futurists of the early 20th century, the future was the expansion and acceleration of the technological present. Subjectivity would be wiped out in the increasing speed and violence of motorbikes and warfare until everything was one great mass of energy. This fascist dream seems mirrored in the Silicon Valley fantasies of the Internet of Things, the Quantified Self and the Singularity. But technological innovation turns out not to secure social transformation, at least not in its own right: many of us live in an actualized sci-fi of globalized communication and multiple interfaces, but we are still also living in the long time of colonialism, slavery, and patriarchy.
"Fascists and eco-liberals alike use the first person plural when they talk about time to come: “tomorrow belongs to us” or “we are killing the planet.” They assume that we are moving through the same present together, as a unified population, a mass. But our futures are as fragmented as our presents, and just as fissured by race, gender, class, and ability. Who has no future, and whose future is guaranteed by the present? Who even has access to the present by virtue of their past? In rejecting dominant temporalities, we can also trace the shattered thought of the now. Tentatively, we want to believe in a proliferation of futures: black, brown, queer, femme… Rather than evangelizing a singular vision of the future, as liberals have always demanded of revolutionaries, might we instead be able to say “let a thousand futures bloom”?
"In all of this, the future appears as something prismatic and internally dissident. And that’s as it should be — after all, nothing about its past suggested it would be very evenly distributed. But the collected essays in this volume should provide some opportunity to reflect on what could be. Speculation of an extended present is worth less than criticism of the modes of producing temporality, at least we think so. The answer is still to come"
The Collection and The Cloud
Nostalgia For The Future
Memory and Preservation
The Precarious Minimum
The Time Bubble
On Neuronationalism: Austism, Immunity, Security
Real Human Being
Dear Marooned Alien Princess

which addresses this starkly well-articulated paradox: 

"Capitalism posits a future of endless innovation in products and production processes, but no possible change in the social relations that move them"

a little bit of history repeating... and repeating

Repeating like something you've eaten keeps reburping itself to the surface again....

Viz, the Seventies revival, or re-revival, or re-re-revival

pieces in the Evening Standard, Daily Mail, New York Times, and god knows where else

"Who can help but plunder fashion’s past when its imagery is everywhere? The epoch was captured on film in “American Hustle” and, more recently, in “Inherent Vice,” the hemp-saturated reimagining of the Thomas Pynchon novel. It’s vividly present in rock memoirs like “Just Kids,” Patti Smith’s recollections of coming of age in downtown Manhattan, and in trips through the decade by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and by Joni Mitchell, muse to the designer Hedi Slimane, who highlighted the singer in his Saint Laurent spring marketing campaign.

A wealth of pop ephemera is but a click away on Pinterest boards that worship at the altar of Ali MacGraw, looking womanly-provocative in the plunging silk dress or suede trench coat she wore in “The Getaway”; or Marisa Berenson vamping for Vogue in high hippie caftans, turbans and multiple rings; or Lisa Taylor, legs splayed suggestively as she poses for Helmut Newton in a Calvin Klein dress.

Clearly the period retains an emotional pull. In retrospect, the decade that spawned the DVF wrap dress, maxi-coats worn over hot pants, and Ladies of the Canyon in battered jeans seems a garden of earthly delights.

“We didn’t have the consequences that we do for our actions today,” said the costume designer Mark Bridges, whose film credits include “Boogie Nights” and “Inherent Vice.” “People smoked without pause; you made out with who you wanted to; and on all fronts we were in an experimentation mode. 
Why not? The stakes weren’t as high.”

That age before AIDS and drastic budget shortfalls, Dr. Arnold said, “seems like the most exciting period of decadence ever. There’s an element of the ’70s that can still seem somewhat outré, kind of glamorous, but a little bit sleazy as well. It’s got an edge to it.”

see also

Macrame, the art of decorative knotting which was once the preserve of home-spinning hippies and later a Seventies staple, is the latest retro trend enjoying a resurgence in interiors. 


"The subtitle of "A Four-Colour Psychochronography" refers to the idea of psychochronography, an offshoot of the artistic concept of psychogeography. Psychogeography is a practice originally developed by the Situationist International as part of their efforts to forcibly dismantle the established social order. Psychogeography is the study of how physical spaces impact social, cultural, and personal lives. Its central technique is what is called the derivé, or drift, in which one wanders through an urban area according to some idiosyncratic logic that causes one to cut against the usual lines and paths traced.

Psychochronography applies this notion to our internal landscape. Taking seriously Alan Moore's notion of ideaspace, psychochronography suggests that we can wander through history and ideas just as easily as we can physical spaces, and that by observing the course of such a meander we can discover new things about our world." - Philip Sandifer,

interesting concept, although a lingering philistine reflex with in me toys with idea that, just as "psychogeography" is a fancy way of saying "taking a walk",   "psychochronography" is a fancy way of saying..... what exactly? Writing? thinking (and thinking aloud)? musing?  given that the vast bulk of our pondering must concern the past - our own past, the collective past - because the future is unknown to us - because wherever the present may be going, all that we can really apprehend mentally is the processes that brought this present into being...

Our internal landscape is 90 percent memory plus unrequited longings, anxieties / wishes re. the future. 

However, it is certainly easier to "walk through history" than ever before, this is true - the vast archival materials of the internet

this was tomorrow (cosmic library)

retro-quotes # 900

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time #  900

“Nothing dates the past like its impressions of the future”

-          Philip French, Sight and Sound, 1990