Saturday, December 30, 2006

Drkrm. Performance

Donald Cammell's and Nicholas Roeg's 1970 film "Performance" is one of my favorite films, a masterpiece of 'psychedelic expressionism'.

In the film, Chas, an over-eager, too-violent London gangster has to go into hiding after getting into a conflict with his boss. He finds a place to stay in a crumbling London mansion, where a eccentric, decadent, bi-sexual rockstar called mr. Turner (Mick Jagger) and two beautiful girls (Anita Pallenberg and Michèle Breton) form a drug-addled ménage á trois.

The threesome initially resists Chas's entry into their secluded world, but the determined Chas manages to enter into their languid, claustrophobic, almost airless household anyway.

Taken aback by Chas's domineering personality, the three bohemiens endeavor to playfully and mockingly destabilize Chas's identity as a 'normal' heterosexual person through bisexual eroticism, fly agaric mushrooms and rock and roll ... and finally, to obliterate it. This project of destabilization is symbolically violent: when Chas has been tricked into consuming some fly agaric mushroom, Turner says, 'I just wanted to go in there... This blood of this vegetable is boring a hole… penetrating the hole of your face, the skull of your bone…' - foreshadowing the hole Chas will create in mr. Turner's skull when he finally shoots him. It this sense, the symbolic violence visited upon Chas is a brutal violence, a violence that is directed outwards, a hippie 'normalcy' attacking a white heterosexual cockney criminal 'normalcy'.

This normalizing project points towards the reason why mr. Turner has become indifferent, dispirited, uninspired and frustrated by his own lethargy (“Don’t you get it?” shouts the Michèle Breton character: “He’s stuck! Stuck!”): from being a destabilizing, transgressive force, his decadent hippiedom had already become (so soon!) a stabilized force.

And thus the film goes beyond a mere politically correct, moralistic destabilization of 'normal' white heterosexual identities: the bohemian rockstar himself cannot escape the mise-en-jeu of selves either - isolated and listless, mr. Turner is drawn towards Chas's world of violent action, as a moth is drawn towards a flame. What started as a symbolic putting to death (execution) of Chas as a 'square', as a normal person, gradually slips towards a sacrifice of both self and other.

In the end, the symbolic violence visited upon Chas's normalcy is reciprocated by that normal world with literal violence - but by then, Chas and mr. Turner as seperate persons have been dissolved and both moths burn their wings and fall - together. In the final analysis, the violence in the film is not cruel or brutal, but tragic.

The editing of the film is truly disorienting, as the storyline is cut up - fragmented - and projected as if by a kaleidoscope, presenting the viewer with an infinitely-shifting succession of sound, colors and narrative patterns. The film has a wonderful Moog soundtrack by Jack Nitzsche, and stirring musical performances by a bvery young and truly beautiful Jagger - not that I am a Rolling Stones-fan, mind you. Not surprisingly, the film was sampled by Coil on their magnum opus 'Love's Secret Domain'.

Currently, there's an exhibition about Performance at the Drkrm. gallery in Los Angeles, CA. The gallery will display prints of photographs by Cecil Beaton of Mick Jagger, made when Performance was filmed. The gallery's website has an interesting interview with Donald Cammell by David Del Valle.

Also - continuing on the theme of the last post - here is a link to an interesting essay which sees Performance through the lens of Jorge Luis Borges's work.

And here is another link to an article on the film.


On many blogs, on many internet magazines, the last days of the year are marked by a profileration of lists, generally of the 'best of ...' kind. As the previous post shows, not even this blog is free from this impulse to classify, to order, to fit "(...) what exists into a frockcoat, a mathematical frock-coat". Countermeasures appear to be necessary "to affirm that the universe resembles nothing at all and is only formless (...)" (from the Encyclopedia Acephalica).

Thus, now is the right time to bring into play Jorge Luis Borges' famous list of animals from "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" (reproduced here). In this list, purportedly taken from "a certain Chinese encyclopedia, the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge", it is written that animals are divided into:
  1. those that belong to the Emperor,
  2. embalmed ones,
  3. those that are trained,
  4. suckling pigs,
  5. mermaids,
  6. fabulous ones,
  7. stray dogs,
  8. those included in the present classification,
  9. those that tremble as if they were mad,
  10. innumerable ones,
  11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
  12. others,
  13. those that have just broken a flower vase,
  14. those that from a long way off look like flies.
Thus, I'd like to use this post as a platform to call for end-of-the-year-lists full of "...ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies...", for end-of-the-year-lists that declassify, for formless end-of-the-year-lists....


Here is a link to Foucault's introduction to "Les mots et les choses" which is amongst others a beautiful essay on Borges's list.

Here is a link to a documentary on Borges, from Ubuweb.

Here is a link to an interesting thread about lists.

Absent records

Such a sad list: a top 10 of records I should have bought in 2006 ... but failed to.

Skullflower - Tribulation
Om - Conference Of The Birds
Nachtmystium - Instinct/Decay
Boris - Pink
Current 93 - Black Ships Ate The Sky
Deaf Center - Neon City
Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
Scott Walker - The Drift
Matmos - The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast
Stockhausen - Gruppen, Punkte

Friday, December 29, 2006

Velvet Cacoon - resurrection?

Velvet Cacoon's website is up and running again, following a long hiatus after the 'plagiarism scandal' (see my earlier posts on this phenomenon here, here and here). Especially intesting is the cryptic poetry (or is it some kind of mission statement?) published on the website under the heading 'Etc.':

"Plush evening in Katharine, we'll bring you something gentler this winter.

Velvet veined and vesselvined
Vanilla varnish on the violin
Strung up over f-holes
Very very v, very

Legs part like v
We curve like violins
Resonant through our f-holes
The virginal tone

Klonopin daiquiri heather honey, fur coast escargot crush

PS: We only treat the world like a puppet because we know how to.

PPS: The puppet enjoys feeling alive.


The text conflates musicality and eroticism, violins and human bodies by bringing these together in the orifices (f-holes, some kind of four-letter-word) of the violin's body and in human bodies that curve together as one (an ecstatic 'we') like these musical instruments. With the erotic nature of this text the earlier tricksters' tales of asexuality seem to have been abandoned - only the words "The virginal tone' refer to the earlier asexual position.

Klonopin is a drug that can induce euphoria - the new drug of choice for VC after dextromethorphan? With daiquiris (laced with Klonopin and heather honey) replacing grenache wine? With "Fur coast escargot crush" as a rather unusual tapa?

I hope they'll bring out new material soon. The "... we'll bring you something gentler this winter" seems like some kind of promise!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Barbara - "Nantes"

Of all French chanson artists, Death has made the strongest mark on the oeuvre of Barbara. Below the lyrics and a YouTube video for her song "Nantes", one of the most mournful of her sombre repertoire. The subject of the song is the death of her father, whom she had not seen for ten years. In her autobiography, Mémoires interrompus, it is implied that she was raped by her father when she was 10 years old.

Il pleut sur Nantes
Donne-moi la main
Le ciel de Nante
Rend mon cœur chagrin

Un matin comme celui-là
Il y a juste un an déjà
La ville avait ce teint blafard
Lorsque je sortis de la gare
Nantes m'était encore inconnue
Je n'y étais jamais venue
Il avait fallu ce message
Pour que je fasse le voyage:

"Madame soyez au rendez-vous
Vingt-cinq rue de la Grange-au-Loup
Faites vite, il y a peu d'espoir
Il a demandé à vous voir."

A l'heure de sa dernière heure
Après bien des années d'errance
Il me revenait en plein cœur
Son cri déchirait le silence
Depuis qu'il s'en était allé
Longtemps je l'avais espéré
Ce vagabond, ce disparu
Voilà qu'il m'était revenu

Vingt-cinq rue de la Grange-au-Loup
Je m'en souviens du rendez-vous
Et j'ai gravé dans ma mémoire
Cette chambre au fond d'un couloir

Assis près d'une cheminée
J'ai vu quatre hommes se lever
La lumière était froide et blanche
Ils portaient l'habit du dimanche
Je n'ai pas posé de questions
A ces étranges compagnons
J'ai rien dit, mais à leurs regards
J'ai compris qu'il était trop tard

Pourtant j'étais au rendez-vous
Vingt-cinq rue de la Grange-au-Loup
Mais il ne m'a jamais revue
Il avait déjà disparu

Voilà, tu la connais l'histoire
Il était revenu un soir
Et ce fut son dernier voyage
Et ce fut son dernier rivage
Il voulait avant de mourir
Se réchauffer à mon sourire
Mais il mourut à la nuit même
Sans un adieu, sans un "je t'aime"

Au chemin qui longe la mer
Couché dans le jardin des pierres
Je veux que tranquille il repose
Je l'ai couché dessous les roses
Mon père, mon père

Il pleut sur Nantes
Et je me souviens
Le ciel de Nantes
Rend mon cœur chagrin

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Svarte Greiner - Knive

A review of 'Knive', the debut album of Svarte Greiner - an incarnation in musical form of Erik K. Skodvin, half of the Norwegian ambient duo Deaf Center.

Svarte Greiner's debut album reminds me strongly of a certain part of Rainer Maria Rilke's strange 1910 faux-autobiography 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge'. In this part of the novel, the author as a child is rummaging around in the dusty, rarely-visited attic of the Danish country manor of his aristocratic forebears. He finds a lot of disused clothes and uniforms, some decades old, and dresses up in them, using them for playacting, as costumes, like an actor would. Then, the child finds a mask, dons it, and descends towards the empty guest room to see himself in an antique mirror, a mirror so ancient it has acquired a personality. Inadvertently, the child knocks over a table with all kinds of knick-knacks, which fall and break into pieces, aggravating the child. Then, he sees himself masked and in disguise in the mirror and the mirror uses that reflection to avenge the broken things: the mirror reflects "... an image, no, a reality, a strange, incomprehensibly monstrous reality, which suffuses me against my will: because now the mirror was the stronger one, and I was the mirror". On seeing this ghostlike apparition, the child almost faints and flees the room in terror*.

Why are these images called forth so strongly by Svarte Greiner's music?

First of all: 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge' is a very continental-European novel, and likewise 'Knive' is a very European album, notwithstanding the fact that American bands Earth and Angelo Badalamenti are namechecked as influences. Though the influence of both Earth and Badalementi can indeed be recognized in the music, Svarte Greiner doesn't have that quintessentially American epic sweep, that vastness in space that they have: Svarte Greiner's proper dimension is time, that most European of dimensions, that dimension which plays such an important role in 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge'. In the dimension of time, Svarte Greiner is vast too.

Svarte Greiner repeatedly mentions liking horror films, and the horror films he reminds me of are not American slasher films, not David Cronenberg's biomechanical horror, not Romero's zombie films, but European cinéfantastique films like Harry Kümel's 'Les Lèvres Rouges', Lucile Hadzihalilovic's 'Innocence', Georges Franju's 'Les Yeux Sans Visage' and Borowczyk's and Robbe-Grillet's erotic horror films.

Musically, Svarte Greiners closest agnate is The Third Eye Foundation - the same type of continental-European phantasmagorical pseudo-soundtracks, albeit without the drum and bass rhythms - in fact, Matt Elliott is so continental-European in style that it cannot come as a surprise that he has moved from the UK to France**? Like The Third Eye Foundation, Svarte Greiner comes at darkly romantic themes from an oblique angle, from the angle of ambient electronica rather than from the more obvious angle of gothic music or black metal.

Second, like that of Rilke, Svarte Greiner's style is late-romantic, sensitive and introspective. "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" is described by the author as "Introspective and retrospective, mystical and sensitive, and much concerned with loneliness, fear, suffering, and death." The same might be said of Svarte Greiner's music: the atmosphere of 'Knive' is dreamily mournful, romantically minor-key, with sensitive cello and string instruments, with mystical Dead-Can-Dance's-Lisa-Gerrard-style singing. Svarte Greiner's mix tapes (here, here and here) are something of a revelation also: highly introspective and retrospective landscapes of ambient music, jazz, modern composition and improvised music.

Third, it is the way Svarte Greiner uses found sounds and field recordings. The album is replete with beautifully sinister sounds of wind, rain, wood creaking (á la Nurse With Wound's Salt Marie Celeste), digging, sawing, rusty metal scraping rusty metal, footsteps through the underbrush, someone yawning, the call of crows and other black birds, antique vinyl hiss, crackle and pop, the grammophone needle running out of the last groove... Svarte Greiner uses these sounds, which he must have purposefully sought out and found in an attic of the ear, for dramatic effect, much as young Malte Laurids Brigge used the clothes found in the attic for playacting. For example, in the last track, titled "Final Sleep", the conjunction of the song title with the sound of digging evokes horror film burials or exhumations ... Svarte Greiner or the listener transforming into grave robber John Gray, played by Boris Karloff in Robert Wise's 1945 film 'The Body Snatcher'. Found sound hasn't been used this well since C-Schulz & Hajsch eponymous album.

"Music is closer to us, then; it streams toward us; we stand in its way, but then it goes right through us. It is almost like a higher air, we draw it into the lungs of spirit and it gives us a greater blood in the secret circulation" - Rainer Maria Rilke

*Strange that K-Punk has no yet mentioned this most hauntological novel of all European literature.
** Post script: check out this YouTube link to a video made for Matt Elliott, the sad and haunting 'Kursk'.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Blut aus Nord

Continuing the French theme of the last few posts, a review of French Black Metal band Blut Aus Nord's recent cd MoRT ...

A few posts ago, I proposed the idea that Black Metal has drunk deep from occidentalist wells - the term occidentalism referring to Buruma's and Margalit's hastily put together but interesting enough booklet on the western origins of antiwestern thought. In this post, I'll explore this idea a little further.

One of the characteristics of occidentalist thought is that it contrasts wild and rural landscapes with urban landscapes. The urban landscape is portrayed as an inversion of the values of the wild and rural landscapes. The urban landscape is associated with capitalist greed, soulless rationalism, vice, dishonesty, superficiality: the city is both a whore and an automaton. The rural landscape on the other hand is unselfish, spiritual, soulful, deep, pure and true. This vision of nature versus nurture has roots going al the way back to Tacitus' Germania and had some of it's ugliest proponents in the German nazi era.

In Black Metal, rural and wild landscapes, especially those of Norway, are highly significant. The cd cover art of Emperor's "In the Nightside Eclipse" features pictures of Norwegian landscape (one of a fjord and one of a ruined castle) and the lyrics of that album repeatedly portrays the lyrics' narrator in natural surroundings: "Beyond the great vast forest / Surrounded by majestic mountains / Dark rivers float like tears of sorrow / Frost submerge the holy ring of fire" or "As the Darkness creeps over the Northern mountains of Norway and the silence reach the woods, I awake and rise... Into the night I wander, (...) Under the moon, under the trees. Into the Infinity of Darkness beyond the light of a new day, into the frozen nature chilly, beyond the warmth of the dying sun. Hear the whispering of the wind, the Shadows calling... (...) I gaze into the moon which makes my mind pure as crystal lakes, my eyes cold as the darkest winter nights, by yet there is a flame inside". Many Black Metal bands subscribe to deep ecological or ecofascist beliefs: misanthropic, biocentric ideologies that put nature before man.Burzum's Varg Vikernes occidentalism is apparent when he states in a rather disgusting interview "Ironically, the only thing that can save mankind is a stream of pandemics, natural disasters and other human catastrophes, wiping out most of us. In fact, I think the catastrophe is inevitable - unless something drastic happens very soon, - and to be honest I even welcome it. The sooner this world order collapses the better. We don't even need to do anything for it to collapse in chaos. The best and only thing we can do is to get away from the tidal wave, and make sure the best amongst us survive, along with our Pagan culture. We can physically move away from the modern world and all its moral, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual decay and depravity".

Given that Black Metal despises the city, it is all the more surprising and original that Blut Aurs Nord presents urban Black Metal. Just visit Blut Aus Nord's unusual and interesting website (not completely up to date as their most recent cd is not yet included in the discography) and you will see why this strand of the Black Metal web is an urban strand: the site lets the visitor stray through a mazelike, somewhat futuristic but derelict city, vaguely Blade Runner-ish, with Piranesi-like subterranean vaults and Gothic churches, and sombre high rise buildings. Click on the oriental glyphs and be led astray in a decaying urban world, the Paris of a nightmarish future, light years from nature.

Blut Aus Nord's recent cd (MoRT, 'Metamorphosis of Realistic Theories) continues this urban atmosphere. No 'natural, spiritual simplicity' here, but academic intellectualism and philosophical concepts. No blastbeats and 'simple, authentic, rural' folk music but industrialized, complex, almost-IDM-like rhythms and mention of Webern, Ligeti and Stockhausen as sources of inspiration. And aren't academia and industry the epitomes of urban existence?

The way Blut As Nord uses guitars deserves special mention. In an interview with a German website, band member Vindsvall states "We have moved far away from every theory of harmony. This was the perfect way to work more modulations into the guitar sound. If one plays the guitar fast, one has no possibility to hear the last vibration of the sound. But there exactly began our work: we used these last vibrations, gave them a new tone". In an interview with a French website, band member Vindsval tells that they wanted to use the guitar like a piano, "with eight fingers on the neck to obtain the same variations on the different parts played simultaneously by each of the hands", and have started to work with a touch guitar to optimize such techniques. "This broadens enormously the possibilities on the harmonic level, and when you do away with the frets you even multiply those possibilities".

All this makes for a discordant, seasick, murky, disturbing, haunting album, an album of writing tentacles, as formless as a spider, an album that does not sound like it is composed but like it is emanated, emanated like a Victorian trance medium emanates a cloud of ectoplasm, an album that is " (...) part of the human body, external to it, unstable, sometimes soft, occasionally hard, from time to time vaporous, variable in volume, visible only in semi-darkness, making an impression on photographic emulsion, presents to the sense of touch a humid and slippery sensation, leaving in the hand a residue which, when dry, has under microscopic examination the appearance of epithelial cells, without odour or definite taste, in other respects fleeting and transient, whether projected or otherwise, of uncertain temperature, fond of music" (from the DaCosta Dictionary's entry on ectoplasm).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Palais de Tokyo

The place in Paris I love most must be the Palais de Tokyo. It was built for the '1937 Exposition internationale des arts et des techniques dans la vie moderne', which drew over 34 million visitors during its five month run. Today, the exhibition is remembered mostly for the fact that the bombastic Nazi-German and Sovjet-Russian pavillions where built opposite each other, facing each other across the Ponte d'Iena in an "I'll meet you in Poland baby" arrangement. Also, it is remembered for the exhibition of Picasso's Guernica in the pavilion of the war-torn Spanish Republic. (designed by architect José Luis Sert in collaboration with Juan Miro, Alexander Calder and Picasso).

Here and here are some links to sites with 1937 photographs of buildings and pavillions for the Exposition Internationale.

The Palais de Tokyo was designed by architects Dondel, Aubert, Viard and Dastugue. The monumental architecture presents two autonomous buildings, seperated by a large terrace but held together by a huge portico. Nowadays, the building is used minotaurically: partly as an official museum of modern art (with some wonderful cubist and surrealist work) and partly as a temporary autonomous zone for contemporary artists and skaters. The building itself reflects it's minotauric use: built in the sternly martial building style of the nineteenthirties, it is now covered in a caleidoscopic explosion of colours by many graffiti artists.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Hand of God or the Devil's Hand?

A YouTube video of Barbara's 'Chapeau Bas'...

Another video of Barbara, playing "La Dame Brune" with Georges Moustaki...

Faces of Paris

Visiting Paris, it was one of my goals to buy three cd's:
  • 'Presque Rien' by Luc Ferrari;
  • 'Barbara Chante Brassens et Brel' by the eponymous chanteuse; and
  • 'No Longer Human Senses - Et Fugit Interea Fugit Irreparabile Tempus'* by Spektr;
  • and write a post about it called 'Faces of Paris', the post's title being a riff on the notorious 'Faces Of Death' video nasties of the 1980's.

    The nexus of the post would have been Pierre Klossowski's 'Sade - My Neighbour', more specifically the chapter of that book on the Divine Marquis' relation to the French revolution, where Klossowski describes regicide as the killing of God by proxy. The post would have linked the three cd's thematically through:
    • the violent, sadomarxist, even selfdestructive aspect of existentialism, that philosophical movement of which Barbara was one of the figureheads (didn't Sartre write in his preface to Frantz Fanon's 'The Wretched of the Earth' that ".... by their mad fury, (...) by their ever-present desire to kill us, (...) have [the oppressed] become men"?);
    • the violent, regicidal aspect of the may 1968 Paris uprising, where 'Soyons cruels!' was one of the slogans and where De Gaulle was to play the role of sacrificial king; the uprising of which Luc Ferrari's 'Music Promenade' is a music concrete collage of field-recorded sounds; and
    • the sadean aspect of Black Metal, which needs no commentary here. "Les Hordes Noires", cruel deicides par excellence, would have been presented as the heirs of the Sadean regicidal revolutionaries.
    However, as I came down with the flue during the visit to Paris, I only bought Ferrari's cd, so this post will never be written. It is up to you, dear reader, to imagine it's shape from these contours.

    *The title of Spektr's cd is a paraphrase of Virgilius "Fast flies meanwhile the irreparable hour".

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    Almost nothing - Luc Ferrari vs Chris Watson

    Presque Rien is quite something.

    In Paris this weekend for a short holiday, I got the flue and wondered through the city's old and rain-swept streets feeling sick and bleached out like a ghost on a Victorian photograph. Nevertheless, I was able to buy my third Luc Ferrari album - Presque Rien - at 'Wave', a nice little record store on the Rue Keller (near the Place de la Bastille). 'Wave' is also an outlet for the avantish 'Disques du soleil et de l'acier' record label and distro.

    Luc Ferrari (1929-2005) was a French composer, whose work is both highly varied and unorthodox: his compositions show influences from serialism, minimal music, music concrete, classical music and Cagean aleatorical music. Humour is an important element in Ferrari's musical world: on his 1985 composition 'Collection de petites pièces ou 36 enfilades pour piano et magnétophone" he quotes famous classical pieces such as Strauss's 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' to great comical effect. Ferrari also some wrote humorous spurious autobiographical texts; all in all, he comes across as a very likable person. With Pierre Schaeffer and François-Bernard Mâche, Ferrari founded the Groupe des Recherches Musicales (GRM, 'Group for Musical Research') in 1958, a studio whose contribution to electronic music cannot be overestimated. Since it's inception more than 200 composers have worked at GRM.

    Presque Rien means 'Almost Nothing'. It is a series of field recordings, which have been treated electronically by Ferrari - in some cases only slightly, in other cases intensively. The first of the series, "Presque Rien n˚ 1, le lever du jour au bord the la mer", was recorded in 1970 in a tiny fishing village on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia (in those days part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). In an interview for the Paris Transatlantic magazine, Ferrari recounts:

    "I was in this Dalmatian fishing village, and our bedroom window looked out on a tiny harbour of fishing boats, in an inlet in the hills, almost surrounded by hills-which gave it an extraordinary acoustic. It was very quiet. At night the silence woke me up-that silence we forget when we live in a city. I heard this silence which, little by little, began to be embellished... It was amazing. I started recording at night, always at the same time when I woke up, about 3 or 4am, and I recorded until about 6am. I had a lot of tapes! And then I hit upon an idea-I recorded those sounds which repeated every day: the first fisherman passing by same time every day with his bicycle, the first hen, the first donkey, and then the lorry which left at 6am to the port to pick up people arriving on the boat. Events determined by society. And then the composer plays!".

    And then the composer plays... To see how the composer plays, it is perhaps rewarding to compare Luc Ferrari's method on 'Presque Rien N˚ 1' to that of another great field recordist: Chris Watson, former member of industrial innovators Caberet Voltaire and The Hafler Trio, and now best known for field recordings made in nature reserves around the world. Both musicians edit field recordings of a long duration into relatively short tracks. For example, both Ferrari's 'Presque Rien N˚ 1' and Watson's 'Ol-Olool-O' telescope a day's recording into almost 20 minutes of music.

    The composer's choices become visible first of all in the choice of material. The human world intrudes only slightly on Chris Watson's sound world (church bells on his recording at Embleton Rookery, Northumberland, England, on "Stepping into the dark"; talking Kenyan nomads on the first track of "Weather Report" and wellingtons sloshing through a rain-drenched Scottish landscape on the second track): the sound of nature always plays the main role for Watson. With Ferrari's field recordings however, it is the human world that takes centre stage: Ferrari records the fishing village slowly waking up, one hears motor boats, a truck driving away, villagers talking, chickens, goat's bells chiming, some singing.

    Chris Watson is a dramatist - he creates beauty by dramatizing the recorded material through editing. The most telling moment is that moment in 'Ol-Olool-O' where a thunderclap is immediately followed by the roar of a lion. Juxtaposing these sounds creates drama by presenting together two powerful forces that both are threatening and frightening to mankind (the lightning and the predator). On the second track of "Weather Report", where three months in Scotland are condensed into 18 minutes, the dramatic moment is provided by the sound of a large bird flying away, followed by the sound of the wind - creating the dramatic illusion that one is flying ecstatically through Scottish stormclouds. Watson's 'wide-screen' editing style certainly helps the dramatization strategy.

    Ferrari on the other hand takes a more understated approach: 'Presque Rien N˚ 1' sounds more like a chance meeting of John Cages 4'33'' and the Dalmatian sea coast on a tape recorder than an aestheticizing soundscape. Hearing it, it is easy to forget it was edited from a whole day of recorded sound, it is easy to forget that the work is a composition in the traditional sense of the world, i.e. sound organized by conscious interventions (editing) by the composer - even though no 'musical' sound is apparent.

    Where Watsons work draws attention to dramatical, violently beautiful moments of wildlife , Ferrari's ' Presque Rien N˚ 1' might well be characterized by Steve Roden's description of lowercase music: ''Lowercase music bears a certain sense of quiet and humility; it doesn't demand attention, it must be discovered. The work might imply one thing on the surface but contain other things beneath. It's the opposite of capital letters -- loud things which draw attention to themselves".

    For me, both Watson's and Ferrari's approaches are valid. After all, both ascecis and dramatization have been methods to achieve "an intimate cessation of intellectual operation" .


    As a postscriptum, I must add that in later parts of the 'Presque Rien' series, Ferrari as a composer does not hide himself as much as he does in the first. For example, on 'Presque Rien N˚ 2, ainsi continue la nuit dans ma tête multiple' (a 1977 field recording made in Tuchan, a tiny village in Corbières, France), Ferrari's voice is both part of the recording and simultaneously commenting on it; both a diegetic and a non-diegetic sound. In the last movement of this piece, there are clear, musical interventions in the sound recording which sharply and dramatically highlight the sound of thunder on the field recording. Much the same goes for later 'Presque Riens'.


    What if Chris Watson went to that very same Dalmatian fishing village and rerecorded, 'covered', 'Presque Rien N˚ 1'?

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Xasthur - A Haunted Burial, Postrock's Kindertotenlied

    In keeping with one of the constant interests of this blog (black and blackened music, Black Metal versus Dubstep), Phil Freeman calls "Xasthur (...) pretty much metal's own Burial..." on his ever-interesting blog 'Running The Voodoo Down': "... if you want hauntology, check out his cryptic wailing".

    Does Freeman misread 'hauntology' as spookiness? As K-Punk writes: "Hauntology isn't about hoky atmospherics or 'spookiness'...". The fact that Xasthur's wailing can make your hairs stand on end, does not make his music hauntological.

    On Dissensus, ' hauntology' is described as a concept that "... is deployed towards a music that employs certain strategies of disinternment - a disinternment of styles, sounds, even techniques and modes of production now abandoned, forgotten or erased by history". "Yet," writes K-Punk, " sonic hauntology, disinterment goes alongside internment, the deliberate burial of signal behind noise". Hauntological music is music in which surface noise is foregrounded instead of repressed: "There is no attempt to smooth away the textural discrepancy between the crackly sample and the rest of the recording".

    Can these concepts be applied succesfully to Xasthur's music?

    Certainly, the unusual sound of Xasthur's music foregrounds it's technological production, foregrounds 'layers of fizz, crackle, hiss, white noise'. As the Aquarius Records review of his 'Subliminal Genocide' writes on Xasthur's debut album 'Nocturnal Poisoning': "... the sound was murky and muddy and fuzzy, but above it, were delicate melodies, dreamlike minor key filigree over a bottomless black pit. (...) You could see the texture of the canvas and the individual brushstrokes beneath the art".

    In foregrounding technological production, Xasthur's music is not very different from much of Black Metal, a genre whose deliberate low-quality sound recording serves to introduce " ... the technical frame, the unheard material pre-condition of the recording, on the level of content" (to quote K-Punk again). Perhaps this is the third meaning of the lo-fi Black Metal production mode explored in the previous post.

    On the blackened laments of 'Subliminal Genocide', the Aquarius Records review writes: "Taken out of a black metal context, they'd sound like some sort of super emotional epic post rock, but as they are, buried under thick layers of blackened buzz and wrapped in huge swaths of fuzzy sonic fog, they become even darker and more desolate, lonely and mournful". Thus, Xasthur is both interment in noise and disinterment of the Postrock genre. Postrock, the disinterred style, sound, musical technique ... Postrock, now abandoned, forgotten and erased by history ... Postrock, a genre that died in it's infancy ... Postrock, already haunting us, like the red-cloaked child of Nicholas Roeg's tale of haunted Venice,"Don't Look Now".