Monday, October 12, 2015

alien nostalgia

D. Harlan Wilson at Los Angeles Review of Books on the "alternate near-past" pomo-s.f. metafiction of Douglas Lain, whose After The Saucers Landed -

"depicts an alien invasion set in an alternate near-past where people have been dehumanized by the worn-out specter of consumer-capitalism and electronic media. From beginning to end, the pages are littered with kitschy pop detritus, including references to Soundgarden, UFOs, B-movies, Bill Clinton, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Macy’s, “garbage pail lid-shaped” flying saucers, Yoko Ono, body snatchers, name-brand autogeddon (Studebakers, Volvos, Toyotas, Mercedes-Benzes, etc.), MTV, Pepsi, Proctor & Gamble, Heineken, Duran Duran, espressos and cappuccinos and Maxwell House French roast, Elvis, The Carpenters, Playboy and Penthouse, the Gap, junk food, Swatch wristwatches, Good Morning America, Magritte, ZZ Top, Jazzercise, soap operas, laser light shows, IZOD shirts, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Herman’s Hermits, comic books, and Toys “R” Us … 

.... Lain has been called a postmodern SF author. What that means in the 21st century isn’t necessarily what it meant in the fin de siècle 1990s or the paranoid ’80s, let alone the anti-disestablishmentarian ’70s and the freewheeling, psychedelic ’60s — all decades that Lain jaunts back and forth between in After the Saucers Landed as he conveys the characters’ backstories while underscoring the evanescence and displacement of time itself. There is no stylistic experimentalism or playfulness with narrative structure; Lain more or less shoots straight, with a palpable beginning, middle, and end, and he writes in prose that is smart yet colloquial. On the postmodern register, two coordinates jump to attention: metafiction and nostalgia.....   the way we create mythologies and stereotypes about the past rather than try to represent or reclaim an authentic sense of history. Lain’s novel is an iteration of this pathology.

"The narrator and protagonist is an English professor, experimental writer, and UFO enthusiast named Brian Johnson. In a short prologue, he recalls the first landing of kitschy “Nordic-type alien[s] from the Pleides” on June 11, 1991. “It was exactly like something from a B movie from the ’50s,” Johnson recounts. “The landing was another sequence of moving pictures set between commercial breaks.” Punctuating the corniness of the event, the leader of the Pleidiens, dressed in a sequined jumpsuit, introduces himself as “Ralph Reality.” This is bad news for Johnson and his mentor and colleague, renowned artist and ufologist Harold Flint, whose research on the prospect of alien life is foiled by the brazen “Reality” of their goofy (and seemingly good-willed) arrival in flying saucers straight out of Amazing Stories or Plan 9 from Outer Space.

"....The Pleidiens were prompted to make contact with the human race because of Flint.. as well as by his colleague, fellow artist and semi-rival Charles Rain, who, in 1953, orchestrated World Contact Day, an event premised upon a message that was paid homage to in a song (“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”) written and recorded by the band Klaatu in 1976 and covered by the Carpenters in 1978....

"The first rule of (post)modernity is there is no (post)modernity, which is to say that real truth is a fiction, and identity is a slippery changeling. On the surface, Lain’s engagement with these themes might seem antiquated and cliché, but it works on the level of nostalgia, as if Lain is sentimentalizing what it was like to read Foucault or Derrida for the first time as a graduate student when theory was fresh and new, difficult and challenging and enlightening, rather than Old Hat. I’m uncertain of Lain’s actual university experience, but he is conversant in some schools of theory and satirical of academia; to an extent, After the Saucers Landed is a campus novel....

"Alien nostalgia, however, points to the broader nostalgia conveyed by the entire book for pulp science fiction aesthetics, which were once “amazing,” “astounding,” filled with a “sense of wonder,” and so on, whereas now, in the realm of Baudrillardian hyperreality... such media has become a mere insignia of “the death of the real” — a death that is very much alive in After the Saucers Landed."

No fresh air here then...  just the exhausted and clogged atmosphere of the lingering 20th Century

Friday, October 9, 2015

"unusually burdened by the excellence of its past"

"That’s not to say that pop music is ‘over’, as one or two of my friends have been heard to say. They have their Neil Young records and feel that nothing more is necessary. It’s just that pop’s present is unusually burdened by the excellence of its past. Music fashioned long ago for instant gratification has proved to possess extraordinary staying power. Over the years I have met one or two pop performers socially and if I have been drunk enough, I have asked them how it feels to have songs they wrote (in some cases, dashed off) in their youth still being played and loved decades later. And they can’t quite get over it either. How did that happen? I bet even Paul McCartney asks himself that question from time to time.
"The music industry, delightful behemoth that it remains, squeezes this music dry, of course. I’m not sure there are many manifestations of modern life more dispiriting than the jukebox musical, wherein much- loved hits of yore are attached to a story so thin and ridiculous that only Ben Elton could have written it. At the same time, we shouldn’t be too hard on people who are just trying to make a living. The other day, I met someone else who had grown up and grown old with ABC’s 1982 album The Lexicon Of Love, and we sat and discussed it with wild glints in our eyes. Needless to say, the song we both liked the most was a non-single album track that many people will never have heard of (‘Date Stamp’, in case you are similarly afflicted). Teenage elitism never dies, and as far as we were concerned, neither does that album. Thirty-three years on, The Lexicon Of Love sounds only slightly less than current. ABC’s Martin Fry has never come close to equalling it, but he is still out there, playing it live. It’s one of my favourite albums, and it’s his pension."
- Marcus Berkmann announces the end of his 27 year tenure as pop critic of The Spectactor
Sounds like he didn't exactly start from the strongest of footings though:
"I was 27 when I started writing this, and I am 55 now, but I was an unusually crabbed, creaky and ill-tempered 27-year-old, who already felt left behind by the way pop music was developing, and preferred the music of his own teenage years, as almost everyone does. This hasn’t changed much. I still think hip-hop is a waste of ears. Grunge was spectacularly uninteresting. Of Britpop I now listen to only Blur and Supergrass. And so on"
Fun fact - when Berkmann started his column, I was actually the pop columnist of the New Statesman. My tenure lasted about two years. I wasn't aware that I had an opposite number, as it were - not sure I ever picked up the Spectator. I would have just assumed they wouldn't have had a pop columnist at all.

(He's right about "Date Stamp" though - best song on Lexicon)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

spreadsheet culture

1/   Digital recording and editing often feels like working in a spreadsheet—it's not always a place for dreams
-- Chris Walla -  quoted in press release for Tape Loops, project by ex-Death Cab for Cutie man whose says of his choice to go analogue: I can't change a closed, physical tape loop with a mouse-click or a keystroke, and that’s precisely the point"

2/ The code of ones and zeros found in the pits of a disc’s surface was, at its base level, no different from the ones and zeros that represented the code of a spreadsheet program."
-- from  Mark Richardson's excellent piece about Oval's 94Diskont  reactivating his Resonant Frequency column at Pitchfork. (94 Diskont - 20 years old! or is it 21?)

Mark further notes: "This marked a philosophical shift, because data implies flexibility and transportability" and adds "Popp... once said that what Oval did was not “art” or “capital-M music” but rather could best described as “file management”—a term so functional that it can’t help but shatter the persistent myth of creativity. What we are doing, Popp seemed to say, is sitting in front of computers, opening folders, creating files, and arranging them. The work was, at base level, no different from an administrative functionary in a large office tracking inventory with Microsoft Access: You figure out what needs to be done and engage the software and hardware tools at hand in completion of the task.


Walla's Tape Loops thing is really nice actually

hear a track from it here

interview about it here

Monday, September 21, 2015

low bit rate nostalgia

Pitchfork's Adam Ward with a piece on the poignant turn-of-millennium associations of 128 kbps, 64 kbps, even 58 kbps...

"For a certain point on the timeline of music discovery, quality wasn’t a defining factor. In the dawn of mp3 players, the big draw was the amount of music you could carry with you....  Low bit-rate mp3s colored the experience of music discovery in the early 21st century.... Especially considering the original iPod had only 5 gigabytes of hard drive space, listeners wanted to bring as many songs along with them as possible. 128 kbps used to be the baseline... I’ve come to love these awful quality files. In most cases, listening to their lossless versions just doesn’t sound right to me.....  With each layer of compression you can practically hear the thousands of others who shared and copied the same mp3, like a destructive digital fingerprint. Songs ripped from CDs, uploaded to streaming sites, shared via P2P, and burned back to a CD mixtape have incredible amounts of distortion, something akin to today’s over-compressed Instagram memes. ....

"....There’s a certain point where the desire for flawless sound is outweighed by your nostalgia for hearing it in a familiar way. It explains the near universal admiration for a crackling vinyl record, or the recent fascination with VHS distortion....

"The underwater compression of a low-quality mp3 is our generation’s vinyl crackle or skipping CD. It’s a limitation of technology that defines the experience of an era......  When we talk about the coldness of digital music in comparison to the "warmth" of vinyl, we neglect to highlight the peculiar characteristics of digital compression."