Long Days, Long Months [1]

24 July:
Finished watching The Terminator. Born in 1979, I suppose I was too young to have seen it around the time it was released in 1984, though I remember the hoopla over the sequel in 1991. An excellent "action" movie overall - and of course an exemplary "Eighties" artifact.

Re-read "Of LPs, EPs, DJs and Payola," chapter six of Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and Its Effects on Music by Michael Chanan. Not so much a history as a collection of essays, filled with lovely vignettes and intriguing facts. As with all fine essays, you recognize where things might've been left out - no, you notice what's being emphasized. You are, essentially, commanded to go searching yourself, explore other foci. With this chapter, the reader is given a brief historical review of systems of record production; reminded that "independent" record labels, in the U S A at least, reached their apex in the 1950's, with Atlantic Records especially; and told of the trumped-up nonsense known as the payola scandal; among other always-compelling insights.

Began the new Frederick Barthelme novel, Waveland. As with its predecessor, Elroy Nights, the author's moving beyond minimalism, not in the actual prose, but in the narratives. Perhaps he realized that, with Painted Desert and Bob the Gambler, he'd ended up with novels that passed by too quickly. Waveland presents the Mississippi Gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina, Elroy Nights before (some context for English teachers - immediate canonization - assign these books); the storm rendered a lot of things disposable we'd prefer not to be: buildings, humans. An inspiration perhaps for serious treatment of the trash culture of the Delta?

Continued watching the the third season of Weeds, a sort of comedic version of Six Feet Under you could say. Entertaining, at least, given that it's a comedy. But like the latter, remarkably stupid. Yuppies want to see crazy (and, strangely, quite violent) things happen to boring people. No surprise. Like any half-decent T V program, it's quite addictive. And Martin Donovan, brilliant star of the Hal Hartley films Trust, Simple Men, and Amateur, plays a bad guy - a charming surprise. I only find Kevin Nealon's character sympathetic.

Re-watched No Country for Old Men. A beautiful film - giving us realistic horror, miles away from the likes of The Terminator. While first impressions probably focus on the doomed bravado of Josh Brolin's character, the centrality of Tommy Lee Jones's character becomes clearer with this second viewing: the vanity of self-styled conservatives who claim not to understand the modern world is revealed to be little more than the carping of weak ignorant men who never understood the death wish that underlies humanity's progress. Jones brilliantly portrays such a pitiable individual (on a similar note, see him in a minor role in Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion).

25 July:
Read more of Waveland, listened to a lot of music [see the Listening Log], and read chapter 8 of Repeated Takes: "The Record and the Mix":

The book's peak - split in two: a brief introductory philosophical exercise and a longer history of the relationship between musical artistry and recording capabilities. The first portion both fascinates and annoys this reader. The nice semantic duality, of photography-phonography - which I'd often savored myself - leads the author, perhaps not on the best intellectual grounds, toward a discussion of differences between them of greater significance than a mere letter. Music's abstract nature lies at the crux of the matter. "There is no equivalent, for example, to the photographic negative, as if the recording does not so much copy the original sound as recreate it." This sentence - though it hints at the right direction - is pure bunk. The original recording - the magnetic tape - is indeed an equivalent of the photographic negative. Both photography and phonography copy and recreate, simultaneously, in constantly-shifting proportions, both within themselves and in comparison to each other.

The bias toward the visual manifests itself time and again: specifically, a tendency to think of what's seen as more stable an entity than what's heard (very likely an acceptable position). The waves of sound seen in the digital era on the interfaces of computer programs like Pro Tools and Cubase indeed do not "represent" music. Music is not visual, it's aural. The very question of what could represent music, or what music could represent, is probably best left moot. Indeed, once you get beyond such concerns, music begins to refer to so much more.

However, Chanan gets back on track by pointing out that, "In phonography [...] the purely documentary vocation of the medium, its mimetic objectivity, completely predominated. And in its most naive form - as if photography and film had not turned documentary into a highly poetic artistic genre." He laments, rightfully so, that "phonography had been captured by music and non- or extra-musical uses were downgraded and marginalized." This capture by music, demoting recording to the task of "overt mimesis," of course ironically comments upon the non-representational reality of music. Apparently we were all terribly frightened, too busy even to begin the ponder, the extraordinary worlds opened up by phonography.

Chanan is unfortunately also intrigued by another duality, music-noise. Chanan seems to understand the problem: "if non-musical sounds were to acquire the potential of becoming artistic symbols, then by the same count they became music - unless music were to change." But he defers to Douglas Khan on the concepts of both noise and "Audio Art" (apparently what we now call "Sound Art" - it was the 1980's, yuppie culture was young, not as clever). Published in 1995, we hope that recent shifts toward "noise" as the hip social construct of the moment would make the author see the nonsense at work: dithering about the revolutionary potential of "noise" only reinforces stringent understandings of what constitutes music. Kahn hadn't even published Noise Water Meat yet [it came in 1999], and we've gone on a long decline since, resulting in the mental doggeral of Paul Hegarty's Noise/ Music [2007].

The history part picks up where "Of LPs, EPs, DJs, and Payola" left off: the producers became less like conductors of classical music, more like film directors (or, more literally, less like screenwriters). As advances in recording technology arise, they let the artist handle the traditional compositional tasks and focus on newer tasks, in the process usually finding themselves further removed from the management side of the equation (ideally). The discussion of mixing takes the reader up to Dub and Hip Hop: "not so much recordings composed for the medium, like the studio albums of art Rock groups, they are rather composed out of it" (perhaps better to say, though, that they - or Dub at least - offers both).

26 July:
Finished Waveland.

As with all of Frederick Barthelme's stories and novels, the equipoise attained by the culturally-enriched living amid the debris-strewn society of the U S A (in this case, literally debris-strewn, as the languorous post-Katrina reconstruction continues, supposedly) is portrayed with loving, though not painstaking enough, detail. A few informed souls, scattered about by fate, find each other, put up with each other despite each of them pestering, needling too much.

The main character once worked as an architect at major firms in Atlanta and Dallas. In Elroy Nights, the main character resembled the author more closely than Bathelme had tried before: a professor who at one point even comments upon a young man's knowledge of the 13th Floor Elevators, referring of course to Barthelme's own involvement with The Red Krayola. Either way, one enters worlds far removed from the cultral metropole, expecting the exotic, only to find the exiled. And most important: those content to be exiled.

The architect is confronted at one point by a young man dating his ex-wife. The dread the elder feels, having to communicate with an impetuous youth. Surely, the architect decades ago already reached the point where he began to look upon the young with little more than disgust - especially disgusted, indeed, that he once was even half-way as confused and ugly as the boy he is forced into contact with.

The broader theme of the novel is aging, and more particularly the travails of a sort of early retirement - one caused by lack of success. While in many respects, it seems to offer a depressing account of beaten-down individuals in a beaten-down part of the nation, again these characters are content with exile and defeat - no, in fact, they've rejected the opposites of exile and defeat.


Watched a couple of other well-known films I'd often considered but hadn't gotten to: Say Anything and All the President's Men. Neither are essential - Pakula's especially not compared to his The Parallax View.

And started listening to Stereolab's Margerine Eclipse and Chemical Chords, closely for the first time, a belated response to their excellent performance last year in Athens.

27 July:
The contrast between listening to these two Stereolab albums earlier in the day and listening to Kenneth Gaburo later... let's just say that once again I'm reminded that so-called experimental, or avant-garde, music is often more accessible - the "content of the form" more obivous - and especially less demanding of one's sentient space. The Stereolab tracks don't fit the mold of "catchy" songs, though ostensibly they're more "pop" than the albums preceding them. Instead, Lætitia Sadier's songs and the densely-packed instrumental accompaniment interlock like a tangled bundle of electrical cords; you have to take the time to lay them out, think about where they're going before you begin to unravel them (and this is true of Chemical Chords more than Margerine Eclipse - surprisingly, given that the latter is presented in dual monophonic - that is, the extreme form of stereophonic separation). These records demand your attention, and they reward it too - when you have the required mental energy.

Listening to Gaburo's compositions on the compilation Tape Play, many of them realized in the early primitive years of electroacoustic music, the spaciousness immediately relaxes you. Every single sound you follow, you get to know a little bit (just enough) regarding its limitless detail, like watching a cloud's morphing above the flat fields of Illinois and Iowa, where Gaburo once lived and worked. The notion that popular music's goal - and that of much folk music as well - amounts to possession of the listener... we often look with glee at the prospect, though it so rarely happens. But in the quiet moments, we find ourselves wanting to be with ourselves - and unless we have the likes of Gaburo to keep us company, the old demon Boredom shows its face: the money-making savior of consumer culture.

28 July:
Watched two more films I have wanted to in the past: The Shawshank Redemption and Armageddon -- both as "Hollywood" as one gets, the first the kind of film designed to win Academy Awards, bring in a decent amount of money in the slow winter months, the second the prototypical summer "blockbuster" - and as convoluted narratively as many of big-time action films have become in recent years (see: The Dark Knight).

Finished reading Metal Box: Stories from John Lydon's Public Image Limited by Phil Strongman. Quite a tragedy really, that a book named after such an extraordinary album is such a by-the-numbers Rock history.

Began reading Rough Trade by Rob Young, the second in the Records Unlimited series, after the first on Warp Records. A sort of coffee-table book; but unlike, say, Punk: The Definitive Story of a Revolution by Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan [which, I guess they'd say is so damn punk because they really did make a coffee-table book about Punk... sure, dudes] the text has a lot to offer, and the pictures are fantastic: many covers of 7-inch records I'll probably otherwise never see in person, and great shots covering the varied facets of Rough Trade: shop, record label, recording studio. Fans of The Red Krayola need to read this book as soon as possible for the pictures and quotes from Mayo Thompson, who with Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade, recorded many of the seminal albums of the time.

Both the PiL and Rough Trade books I read to accompany, and perhaps assist, the essay I'm working on regarding Punk/ post-Punk.

Meanwhile, I continue to listen to those two Stereolab albums, and the L A Free Music Society.

29 July:
Finished the third season of Weeds. Such absurdism, presented in a manner that exudes impulsive childishness. The turn towards the surreal/fantastic in contemporary humor - the shift from Seinfeld to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, from The Simpsons to South Park, from Gilmore Girls to Arrested Development, to some extent arises from the shift toward cable telvision (the lack of censorship). But one could also see a sort of response to the horrors of the W Bush administration, often quite absurd themselves - and, more importantly, the brunt of which Americans themselves rarely had to face (thousands of them, compared to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanistanis). Comedians like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher have replaced journalists for some - presumably those who don't want to deal with politics really, but love to rant about it - because the only response to a world that seems beyond one's control (like, say, the hideous planned communities, and the equally-hideous continued prohibition of marijuana, portrayed in Weeds) is a self-aware cynicism, a good-natured amorality that only damages oneself.

Also continued reading the book on Rough Trade, trying to make sense of the business side of the tale. The record shop and distribution service that turned into a record label and a publishing company, in the process falling into financial disarray. I'd like more detail on these matters than what's given. The Smiths seemed to getting a lot of the blame, while Geoff Travis's return from disgrace is presented glowingly. For this listener, the mere presence of The Strokes on Rough Trade Records was enough to announce the end of Indie Rock being even remotely relevant.