Monday, September 29, 2014

future ennui / the glancicle

Ian Bogost in The Atlantic writing about  about the Apple Watch and how we've become numb to future shock, exhausted with and by innovation: 

"Technology moves fast, but its speed now slows us down. A torpor has descended, the weariness of having lived this change before—or one similar enough, anyway—and all too recently. The future isn’t even here yet, and it’s already exhausted us in advance.
"It’s a far cry from “future shock,” Alvin Toffler’s 1970 term for the post-industrial sensation that too much change happens in too short a time. Where once the loss of familiar institutions and practices produced a shock, now it produces something more tepid and routine. The planned obsolescence that coaxes us to replace our iPhone 5 with an iPhone 6 is no longer disquieting, but just expected. I have to have one has become Of course I’ll get one. The idea that we might willingly reinvent social practice around wristwatch computers less than a decade after reforming it for smartphones is no longer surprising, but predictable. We’ve heard this story before; we know how it ends.
"Future shock is over. Apple Watch reveals that we suffer a new affliction: future ennui. The excitement of a novel technology (or anything, really) has been replaced—or at least dampened—by the anguish of knowing its future burden. This listlessness might yet prove even worse than blind boosterism or cynical naysaying. Where the trauma of future shock could at least light a fire under its sufferers, future ennui exudes the viscous languor of indifferent acceptance....

"Our lassitude will probably be great for the companies like Apple, who have worn us down with the constancy of their pestering. The poet Charles Baudelaire called ennui the worst sin, the one that could “swallow the world in a yawn....  When one is enervated by future ennui, there’s no vigor left even to ask if this future is one we even want. "

Maybe the problem isn't so much the "pestering" frequency of the changes and upgrades causing us to succumb to boredom, but the triviality of these changes - how they enable us to do what we already did reasonably easily anyway, even more easily.... 
These devices don't look spectacular, and they don't promise or threaten spectacular changes in the way we live our lives -  just increments of convenience.  Access to information that we probably didn't really need, in unmanageable quantities.  Images and (vicarious) experiences we quickly forget, that don't make much impression because we're hurrying to the next image and (vicarious) experience....

Bogost touches on this with his reference to how the Apple Watch heralds "the emergence of a new, laborious media creation and consumption ecosystem built for glancing. The rise of the “glancicle,” which will replace the listicle. The PR emails and the B2B adverts and the business consulting conference promotions all asking, is your brand glance-aware?"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

classic rock versus classical

In an archivally-overloaded atemporal age, with all eras of music equally "present", classical can be as hip - or hipper - than pop/rock, Paul Morley argues in The Guardian:  
"If you are going to go back to the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s to find music that still sounds new and challenging – because then it was an actual risk to look and sound a certain way, whereas now it is the norm – you might as well go even further back in time, to the beginning of the 20th century, to the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries. Now, with all music available instantly, and pop more a nostalgic, preservative practice rather than one anticipating and demanding change, classical music comes to fresh, forward-looking life.

"The alluring, addictive sound of pop does still evolve, but what is sung about remains more or less the same; the poses, controversies and costumes repetitive and derivative. It is machines that are now the new pop stars, the performers and singers like travelling sales workers whose ultimate job is to market phones, tablets, consoles, films, brands and safely maintain the illusion that the world is just as it was when there was vinyl and the constant, frantic turnover of talent, genre and style. There is today a tremendous amount of sentimentality in making it seem as though things are as they once were, a desperate future-fearing rearrangement of components that were hip 40 years ago. But pop and rock belongs at the end of the 20th century, in a structured, ordered world that has now fallen apart.
"For me, pop music is now a form of skilfully engineered product design, the performers little but entertainment goods, and that is how they should be reviewed and categorised. The current pop singers are geniuses of self-promotion, but not, as such, musicians expressing glamorous ideas.
"Most rock is now best termed trad. I like a bit of product design, even the odd slab of trad, and have not turned my back completely on entertainment goods, but when it comes to music and working out what music is for, when it comes to thinking about music as a metaphor for life itself, what tends to be described as classical music seems more relevant to the future.
".... Now that all music is about the past, and about a curation of taste into playlists, now that fashions and musical progress have collapsed, discernment wiped out, classical music takes a new place in time, not old or defunct, but part of the current choice. It is as relevant as any music, now that music is one big gathering of sound perpetually streaming into the world."

Morley has been writing about classical music with fiery energy over at Sinfini for a couple of years now... Indeed the Guardian piece seems to be something of a remix of this manifesto-like oration (his keynote speech at the 2014 conference of the Association of British Orchestras) as well parts of this 2013 appreciation of Holst's The Planets. *

It's quite a self-reinvention. One that appears to date back to the extraordinary impact on him of The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross. (See also that learning to be a composer TV program Morley made).

Except it's not really a self-reinvention, in fact it's the same Morley as ever. Read the whole of that Guardian article, look at the Sinfini columns, and you'll notice that he's simply transposed the way he wrote about JoyDivisionSmithsAutechre onto DebussyMozartShostakovich, barely adjusting the style or approach. And showing once again how unabashedly subjective his writing always has been.... how the real music here is the "song of myself" that is his life's work...  The writing is really about the places that music takes his mind, the journeys on which it propels his thought, the effect on one individual's consciousness of organised sounds....  and not so much about pointing to intrinsic properties or features that the music might have in and of itself.... 

That's not a criticism.    

That's what we all do to, to some extent. He's just more honest about it. 

The Planets was actually my favorite classical work as a boy, rivalled by Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony maybe. Used to lie on the coverlet of my parents double bed, bathed in the sunlight streaming through the big glass window, and drift off as  "Neptune, the Mystic" wafted out of our old-fashioned wood-encased radiogram. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

this was(n't really) tomorrow - slight return

Bruce Sterling acerbic in Artforum on the art of Omni magazine, as compiled in a new book called The Mind's Eye

I think this stuff looked camp, or just naff, even at the time.

It's sort of airbrush Dali  meets sword'n'sorcery paperbacks meets preview of the more cyberdelic rave flyers on the US West Coast

Amazed how long it went on as well, all through the Eighties and into the Nineties

Can't recall if I ever bought a copy - definitely saw it around, flicked through it at . W.H. Smiths I should imagine.

You can find a bunch of old Omni's archived online here and here

Sunday, September 21, 2014

the language of new

I expect you've noticed that Greil Marcus * has a new book out.

I haven't got very far into The History of Rock 'n' Roll In Ten Songs - been dipping in and out (amazing bits on Beyonce, on Joy Division / Control / "Transmission"....)

One bit that particularly struck me, though, is the opening section, which is titled "A New Language". It addresses, and stresses, the sensation of out-of-nowhere that rock'n'roll transmitted -  what you might call a true illusion ....  in so far as it didn't come out of nowhere, of course... in dreary historical fact it had an extensive tangle of roots and precursors **...  but equally, if  perception and reception can be admitted as historical facts too (which they should, surely)....  if feeling and seeming makes it so....  then it did come out of nowhere.

Marcus writes:

"Whole intellectual industries are devoted to proving that there is nothing new under the sun, that everything comes from something else - and to such a degree that one can never tell when one thing turns into something else. But it is the moment when something appears as if out of nowhere, when a work of art carries within itself the thrill of invention, of discovery, that is worth listening for. It's that moment when a song or a performance is its own manifesto, issuing its own demands on life in its own, new language - which though the charge of novelty is its essence, is immediately grasped by any number of people who will swear they never heard anything like it before - that speaks. In rock'n'roll, this is a moment that, in historical time, is repeated again and again, until, as culture, it defines the art itself"

He returns to make the same point, more or less, a little later, talking about Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs's 1960 hit "Stay":

"... The record seemed to turn the radio upside down. It was the invention in the music that was so striking - the will to create what had never been heard before, through vocal tricks, rhythmic shifts, pieces of sound that didn't logically follow one from the other, that didn't make musical or even emotional sense when looked at as pieces, but as a whole spoke a new language....   The ear of the new audience was fickle, teenagers knowing nothing of where the music came from and caring less, and why should they care? It was new, it was different, and that was what they wanted: out of a nascent sense that the world in which their parents had come of age had changed or in some deeper, inexpressible manner disappeared, a sound that made the notion of a new life a fact, even if that fact lasted only a minute and a half. To make that fact - to catch that ear, to sell your record, to top the charts, if only in your dreams - you had to try something new. You had to find something new"

Reading this, I nodded inwardly. Even though I wasn't alive when rock'n'roll happened and by the time I became properly aware of pop music, somewhere between "All You Need Is Love" and "Hot Love",  50s r'n'r already seemed ancient, like it came from another era altogether - the only exceptions really being "Summertime Blues" and "Shaking All Over", played by Radio One as Golden Oldies but still seeming contemporary in their starkness. So much "new" had occurred in the subsequent decade or so, it made Elvis et al seem quaint. It shoved them back into  The Past.

Reading "A New Language", I was also reminded of something I'd realised only quite recently, which is that, strictly speaking, in demographic terms I'm a baby-boomer. I just make the tail end of the baby boom generation (its cut-off point is 1964).  (Marcus incidentally was born in 1945,  one year before the baby boom's official onset, and on June 19 - same date as me).

So I'm teetering on the edge of Generation X and can understand its irony, can empathize with its feelings of belatedness and inferiority, etc. But at heart I don't really belong with that cohort. Deep in my fibres, my outlook is baby-boomer. I grew up into this idea of the New that Marcus writes about, absorbing it from a cultural atmosphere glowing with the fall-out from recent irruptions and still subject to their regular visitations.

Neophilia is native to me. It's my birthright. My mother tongue.

It's my truth, my illusion.

* Expect you have also noticed the existence of  - a trove of Marcus writings from across six decades, an unruly archive set up by Scott Woods of to coincide with the release of The History of Rock 'n' Roll In Ten Songs. I'ts full of surprises. For some reason I thought Marcus would despise Devo, but here is joyously celebrating the sheer poptastic thrills of their debut album.  And who knew GM ever wrote about dreampop? (Albeit focusing on The Cranberries and The Cranes, rather than MBV or Slowdive).  Or that he squeezed out some thoughts on the subject of The Verve! (I don't think "Bittersweet Symphony" is "whiny" but otherwise found much to agree with there).  I am waiting for Scott to dig out GM's favorable Village Voice review of Dire Straits's first album. 

** "dreary historical fact". Marcus differentiates his approach from an "official" historical account of rock / pop as an evolving form ("there is no reason to be responsible to chronology, to account for all the innovators, to follow the supposed progression of the form) and  instead proposes and pursues an irreponsible, anachronological history. (As he has for years, at least since the "secret history' of Lipstick Traces).  There's a  parallel with Kodwo Eshun's "discontinuum," where the new breaks through into the present like a ghost from the future. But unlike Eshun, GM's "new" is not indexed to technology or even necessarily breakthroughs in what can be done with sound. The emphasis is very much new language - on song writing,  song as a drama, a stage rather than a space.  Or as Will Stephenson observed in his Oxford American review of Ten Songs: "He views songs as documents of physical effort rather than as abstract, sonic experiences. He’s never shown any real interest in the recording studio as an instrument, in aura, artifice, or pure sound.... production for its own sake is of no use to his critical approach, which is built on public action.”