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May 27, 2004

Truth and lies

I was a bit disappointed when my Liars review in Slate seemed to disappear into a vacuum, so I'm glad that there are finally a few responses to it. One critic temporarily revoked my poetic license, but I'm happy to say that it's been handed back to me (and I didn't even have to buy any tickets to the annual poets' ball in order to get it back -- the defendant is relieved).

Andrew Beaujon, who wrote the review in Spin that was a partial jumping off point for my piece, also chimed in, back in April, though I've only just now seen the posting.

For what it's worth, and I hope this doesn't sound horribly waffly of me, Beaujon is pretty much on the mark with his comments, and I didn't intend to imply that he had an agenda in granting the album an "F."

I went into that review asking myself two questions -- why were critics so split over the record, and what did I hear in it that suggested exactly the opposite of what the negative critics heard? (I was especially curious since I'm not generally favorably disposed towards much of the shapeless noise-rock emerging at the moment.) But I also wanted to move beyond the minutiae of personal taste and attempt to divine what seemed like a kind of cultural pattern, to read the reception of the Liars' disc as a barometer of the current status of the retro-rock project itself.

Of course, reception is always tricky territory, and I had occasional doubts as to the validity of the approach. At one point I included something like a disclaimer on behalf of Beaujon and also Rolling Stone's reviewer, something to the effect that these are surely writers with record collections and historical knowledge as deep as (if not, as is likely, much deeper than) mine -- but of course that would have been silly, an even further attempt to psychologize their decisions.

(Although, at the same time, I'm not sure that characterizing Liars' new approach as indicating "contempt" for their audience doesn't make the same move down the slippery slope of authorial intention.)

I don't regret writing the piece, and I don't (exactly) regret my approach, but I also don't think I really nailed the argument as I was trying to make it -- and maybe that's because it wasn't there to be made. I'm still not sure. I do regret what Beaujon perceived as a snotty tone, which is something I try to reserve for people like, say, Nick Hornby (despite the apparently increasingly combative quality of my blog lately -- maybe it's time for me to switch anti-depressants?).

May 26, 2004

Nina Sky is fantastic, but their record company is on my shitlist

Whose bright idea was it to release "Move Ya Body" with an instrumental -- and no bloody a cappella? Instead we get "In a Dream" -- fine track, sure, but useless for a house or techno set. What about the DJs? What about the bootleggers? This is nothing less than a slap in the face of pop cultural self-determinism. I demand satisfaction!

July Addendum; or, read the following before posting a comment:
(Updated July 3, 2004) I suppose I should be pleased that somehow, all of Nina Sky's fans are finding my site -- how, I have no idea, since I'm way, way, way down in the Google rankings. But whatever, since you're here, make yourself cozy. But before you go adding an inflammatory comment in the comment field, as several dozen readers have seen fit to do, let's get a few things straight:

1. Maybe I should have clarified in the above post from six weeks ago, which was tossed off in a state of record store fatigue and buyer's remorse. I'm not hating on Nina Sky, "Move Ya Body," Latinos, Nina in the Sky with Diamonds, moving bodies, bowel movements, or anything else really. The whole point of the quip was "Gee, I sure love that song 'Move Ya Body.' In fact, I love it so much that I really wish there were an a cappella version, because I'd love to be able to play those vocals over, like, every other record in my entire collection. That's how much I love it."

2. So ok, actually, yeah, I may have been "hating," as so many of my commentators have so astutely pointed out -- on the record company executives who declined to release an a cappella (that means purely vocal -- the opposite of the instrumental; a fact I wouldn't think I'd need to point out except that several of my readers proceeded to ream me for my post before asking, "What's an a cappella?" So there you go). See, that's what drives shit these days, kids. It's certainly what gave Jay-Z's last album such long, long legs. And I'm sure it's at least partly behind Missy Elliott's success -- or at least her ubiquity and longevity, since the many a cappella versions of her singles were available for bootlegging and remixing in any number of contexts. Perhaps someone, maybe even Nina Sky (though I doubt they have this much say in their context) didn't want there to be a bunch of "Move Ya Body" bootlegs floating around. Fair enough, although as an armchair record exec I'd say that's a mistake: if a bunch of bootleg versions of the tune suddenly cropped up, I'm sure this would be the tune of the summer. And anyway, as I noted, they did include the a cappella of "In A Dream," so they can't be against the concept in principle. They just bet on the wrong dang horse, because "Move Ya Body" is throwing up clouds of dust and "In A Dream" is, well, fit for glue.

3. I'm racist? Because I dared to say something negative even in the general vicinity of a group that happens to have two Latina frontwomen (a fact I did not know until it was generously pointed out to me)? Some of you are clearly much closer readers than I. You have a career in literary criticism ahead of you, I'm sure. (Those of you unfamiliar with my work may be intrigued to know that I've been covering music by many Latino musicians, notably Chileans, Argentines, and Mexicans, for years, though I'm hesitant to point this out for fear of lapsing into a "But some of my best friends are ____" stance. If you're curious, read the pieces and then judge.)

4. Did I mention that I love Nina Sky, or at least "Move Ya Body"? Man, whatta tune. Somewhere that point got lost; just figured I'd reiterate it.

5. I'm told that Nina Sky are hot. That's great. That's really cool. I'm glad for them, hope it gets them dates. Really had fuck-all to do with what I was talking about, but whatever. Worked for Britney, I guess.

6. Diana, thanks for the link to the reggaeton tune -- you rock.

7. This concept of "hating" has really got to go. A critic is not necessarily a "hater" -- though I hate lots of things, among them lost luggage, bad coffee, buying records for an a cappella but finding out that the a cappella included is for a different track than I thought when I plunked down my six bucks, and people who accuse me of being a hater. People, "hating" is a bankrupt concept. A capacity for argument, logic, persuasion -- now that shit puts money in the bank.

8. Please don't go accusing me of making up words if you spell right "ryte," because "bkuz," fucking "fuxiin," etc.

9. In private correspondance, one of my readers accused me of sounding like "a snotty white rich kid" for using the phrase, "a slap in the face of pop-cultural determination." The phrase was ironic. As for my own demographic of one, I'll help you out: snotty, yes; white, yes; rich, no; kid, no.

10. Did I mention how much I like that tune "Move Ya Body"? Wow, I sure wish someone would press up the vocals on vinyl so I could play that shit over, like, every other record in my collection. That would be neato. (Thanks, by the way, to the astute reader who gave a step-by-step explanation of how to make your own a cappella. You also rock, and your audio engineering skills are so far beyond mine that it makes me ashamed I even bother owning a computer.)

11. If you have read all of the above and feel like you have mastered some basic grasp of my stand on Nina Sky, "Move Ya Body," a cappellas, orthography, the Latino takeover of the Billboard charts, bootlegging, and the curious ecology of the summer jam, feel free to leave a comment below.

Is that a hedgehog on your breast, or are you just happy to see me?

Consider this a public service announcement for those geeks who, like me, never seem to be able to find the microhouse t-shirts of their dreams. All of you who are above such matters -- which, I trust, is most of you -- quit reading now. A trip to FluxBlog would make a good alternative; there, you can download the new Mocky single, which will hopefully drown out your sniggering about Philip's microstyle.


Right, with the haters and sartorially insensitive sniggerers gone, I'm pleased to note that Kompakt's online shop has a few remaining Musik Krause t-shirts available, size large only ("definitely large," according to Kompakt). Anyone who has heard the new Robag Wruhme single "Wuzzlebud 'KK'" or the forthcoming album of the same title knows that this is a crucial purchase indeed for all those who wear their predilection for crackly kinetic microfunk on their sleeves.

Hopefully this little tip will count as my karmic contribution towards eventually procuring myself a Perlon t-shirt. Until then, I pine.

May 25, 2004

Made a pakt with the devil, sold my soul for a fistful of dots

So: Kompakt 100. What's to say? Where to begin? I'm still absorbing -- and pleased to note that there's enough grit beneath the gleaming surface to keep me occupied, soaking, sponging. Nothing, so far, is as I'd expect it to sound. And I'm pleased to note that this is going to send me back to my shelves for reference purposes, because a lot of the originals I haven't heard in ages. But by way of introduction, how hot is it that Jochem Spieth's mix of Mayer's "17&4" is punctured again and again by a glistening, pointed bleep that sounds straight out of "Tainted Love"?

Top tune so far: Reinhard Voigt's Closer Musik Megamix.

Runner up: Jürgen Paape redoing Schaeben & Voss's "World Is Crazy."

Cheekiest move: Schaeben & Voss remixing themselves.

Surprise pan-Latin masterpiece: Matias Aguayo & Leandro Fresco remixing Fresco's "Cera Uno."

Disappointment so far: Kaito's version of Superpitcher's "Tomorrow." Lovely and breezy, yeah, but I wanted someone to suck the darkness out of that sucker and fill up a vial with it, a potent little cyanide capsule for the days you need it most. Then again, one of the interesting and risky things about a project like this is the inevitable disappointment that ensues, at least for fans like myself who have spent too much time playing Sim Kompakt, wondering what would happen if Jonas Bering took on Dettinger, or Dettinger attacked Closer Musik (another disappointment here, I must add; perhaps that track just couldn't have been improved?). It's not just the relative success or failure of a particular track, but the lost possibilities. If Kompakt is going to go this far with it, I want them to go all the way, a total many-to-many remix free-for-all, each Kompakt artist remixing every other one in a sort of massive distributed simultaneity that would gather together the collective essence of Kompakt and parcel it out into thousands of little truffles. I know that the format of this comp was that Kompakt's core artists chose their favorite tracks to remix, but that's too much choice for me. Wolfgang is a powerful guy -- why couldn't he just have ordered his minions to undertake the most massive remix project of all time? (And yes, I realize I'm being greedy.)

May 22, 2004

An army of Sadists

Toward the beginning of the “War on Terror,” a number of Arabic-language experts – some of very few in the U.S. military – were dismissed when it was revealed that they were gay; they – as well as the United States’ intelligence-gathering capabilities – were victims of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

It’s ironic that this ideologically-rooted decision to cut off our nose to spite our face – that is, to decide that it was more important to keep “alternative lifestyles” out of the military than it was to bolster our intelligence-gathering efforts in the Middle East – led, however indirectly, to the sexual humiliations at Abu Ghraib. After all, if the torture and abuse were carried out in the service of interrogation – a theory which remains speculative, and may be diminished in the light of recent Washington Post reports that the soldiers inflicted abuse on prisoners as punishment or for their own amusement – then presumably, if we had strengthened our intelligence-gathering capabilities in the first place, such interrogation tactics might never have been deemed necessary by a desperate and floundering military leadership.

While views like Rush Limbaugh’s – in which forcing prisoners of war to masturbate or perform oral sex on other prisoners, in front of soldiers and cameras, is merely a fraternity prank, a practical joke, an emotional release – are, one hopes, extreme even for the right, it’s worth asking if the repressive mindset of U.S. military culture leads directly to the atmosphere in which rank-and-file soldiers see nothing wrong in the sexually-tinged humiliation of Muslims. It’s doubly ironic, of course, that soldiers choose to exploit a taboo that most of them, certainly the Christians, share with their chosen enemy. The conservative Christians hate and fear homosexuality as much as traditionalist Muslims.

In this light, how can the sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners – especially when captured on digital camera, seemingly for the express purpose of circulating amongst appreciative friends and spectators (and, according to Susan Sontag’s piece in the New York Times, interspersed with homemade pornography of soldiers having sex among themselves) – be seen as anything but the acting out of repressed erotic desires? Only by choosing an enemy whose culture is even more sexually repressive could they safely act out fantasies already prohibited by their own.

Obviously, sex crimes are not entirely about purely sexual desire; rape is equally a crime of violence and hatred, and likewise, jumping feet first into a pigpile of naked Iraqi men can’t exactly be seen as indicative of a desire to snuggle up and make sweet love to them. But while forcing Muslims to eat pork and drink liquor speaks to a barbarous and perhaps even genocidal cruelty – and certainly should be counted as a war crime – delighting in their sexual humiliation has pornographic overtones that speak to a far more conflicted mindset amongst the soldiers and commanders responsible. And perhaps it’s idealistic, but I can’t help but wonder whether, could the U.S. military only could come to grips with the reasons behind its own homophobia, we could have avoided this mess altogether.

The yellow rose of techno

Enormous ups to Austin’s AMODA crew for the great times in Texas rock city. My cholesterol count curses you (fried catfish… drool) but that’s surely counteracted by the adrenaline thrill of playing for a bona fide up-for-it crowd who bravely came out despite Ellen Allien’s tour cancellation and the fact that, as headliners go, I’m worthy of about 8-point type, and placement right below the weather listings (speaking of which: Austin is bloody hot).

AMODA, the Austin Museum of Digital Art, has been doing their thing for nearly five years now, and it’s beyond inspiring to see what an all-volunteer crew can do with scant funding and not even a permanent space to their name. The show, which also featured DJs 0x86, John Gomi and Alba, was a combination dance party/digital art exhibition, complete with fairly stunning computer-generated prints from New Mexico’s Keep Adding (soon to be working with Richard Devine, apparently) and several screens showcasing video work from artists from as far away as Japan and the UK. The video presentations combined a gallery ethic – complete with a lo-fi catalogue listing which works would be showing on which screens in a given timeframe, generously rescuing the work from the usual anonymity of club visuals – with a real-time VJ sensibility in the hands of the artists who processed their visuals with live audio feed.

Extra props to AMODA for managing to erase all traces of the venue’s goth decorations – complete with faerie posters and a plastic white picket fence lining the rim of the DJ booth (goths in suburban domestic fantasy shocker?) – by the skillful deployment of video screens and black bedsheets. (Sorry, faerie.)

Highlight: the dude who approached the DJ booth bearing two shots of Jagermeister – one for himself, one for me – and later returned with a proper fistful of shots, similarly divided.

Confirmation: the Chemical Brothers’ mix of Kylie’s “Slow” still kills it, and that other mix, with the “Save a Prayer” breakdown, kills it so hard you don’t even know you’re dead.

Bizarre sighting of the night: an actual tip jar on the DJ booth. (More bizarre still: people contributed $5!)

Number of 80s requests: one – but fortunately, the requester asked specifically for “Depeche Mode or Cabaret Voltaire,” so she’s off the hook. You can ask me for Cab Volt any day.

Number of indie requests: one – but it was for OutHud’s “Street Dad,” after I’d played !!!’s “Me and Giuliani,” so again, absolutely within bounds.

Undisputed highlight of the night: standing outside the bar after the show, a good two or three hours after the end of my set, and hearing what at first seemed to be the sounds of Bob and Doug MacKenzie’s “koo-loo-koo-koo” theme being sung by a foursome who came staggering arm-in-arm up the street. On further inspection it turned out to be none other than the nonsense chorus from !!!’s “Me and Giuliani,” and the ringleader of the quartet was the same guy who’d requested OutHud. He caught my eye, gave me a high-five, and the four continued on up the sidewalk, uninterrupted in their singing. All the Jagermeister shots in the world couldn’t produce the buzz of that accidental encounter. I felt like I’d unknowingly unleashed a benevolent rhythmachine (pace Eshun) on the world, and the Boomsday Device would go on ticking long after the subwoofer had cooled and the faeries had resumed their rightful place on the walls.

May 21, 2004

Nobody listens to techno: an open letter to Aquarius Records

Sayeth Aquarius Records, my neighborhood credit-card magnet (oh, would that it would actually demagnetize the sucker -- it'd save me a lot of money) and generally excellent purveyor of experimental music:

"None of us here really like 'techno' all that much. That's why we were always so attracted to the mutant strains of techno that manage to turn what often to us seems to be vapid, plastic dance music into cool and creepy, murky weirdness. Chain Reaction's brand of so-called 'heroin house' for one. And of course Kompakt's beloved minimal thump. That German label's output was however always really close to being just straight up four on the floor house music, but somehow they always found a way to be sonically creative enough to turn their techno into something new and exciting."

I've been brooding over Aquarius' head-in-the-ass approach to "dance music" for a long time, and I've been meaning to write something about it since last week, when they they decried Erlend Oye's descent into "faceless formulaic fodder," eg "dance music," on his DJ Kicks CD. At the risk of alienating some people whom I like very much -- and, possibly worse, being banned from from one of the best stores in town -- I must finally respond.

Now Aquarius, you know I love you: I've given you enough money in my six years in San Francisco that I hope this is evident. You're just about the only place I can reliably go to satisfy my occasional fix for Japanese noise, indie rock, microsound, books on sound art, the Metallica Drummer VHS tape, Jonathan Coleclaugh, Smalltown Supersound, African field recordings, Henry Flynt, Alvin Lucier, etc., and, yes, Kompakt 12"s.

And I, in turn, know that your mailer is no more than a reflection of your individual and occasionally collective opinions, and I realize that you couch your aesthetic judgments in phrases like "what often to us seems to be" -- properly subjective, non-authoritarian, etc. Ok.

But for crying out loud, listen to yourselves! "Vapid, plastic dance music"? You sound, well, a little like Nick Hornby.

You've built your business -- and indeed your reputation -- on excavating the nuances of every subgenre of a subgenre of a subgenre; you can take what, to unschooled ears, sounds like the most generic indie rock or black metal or inaudible hiss and elucidate the subtle distinctions that make it notable, exceptional, worthwhile. Your range is laudable: you rank Missy Elliot right up there with Sachiko M. Not many critics or retailers on either side of the spectrum can manage that.

And then you turn around, again and again, and define techno as some monolithic beast with no variation, no development, no digression from the norm. Except, of course, in the work of Kompakt and Chain Reaction, full stop. It does make me wonder: have you heard much techno lately?

With all due respect, it's a little baffling that a collective that can discern the subtlest shades of grey in a 60-minute drone piece, say, can't identify the rhythmic variations that characterize the most interesting techno today. And it seems strange to me that if you hold such respect for Kompakt, you remain unaware of the vast array of artists and labels being released under the umbrella of Kompakt's own distributorship -- much of it actually more sonically and rhythmically inventive than Kompakt's own releases.

It's also hard to ignore the irony that Oye's mix CD, so full of "faceless formulaic fodder" -- henceforth to be known as FFF, in the grand tradition of IDM -- actually includes not one but two tracks off the label you so lionize: both Justus Köhncke's "2 After 909" and Jürgen Paape's "So Weit Wie Noch Nie" are, of course, Kompakt tracks. As for the rest of the fodder, most of the tunes on Oye's disc are in fact made by acts oozing mediated personality: Cornelius, The Rapture, Royksopp, the execrable Avenue D. Of techno in its most generic state -- the "shicky-boom, shicky-boom, stab stab boom boom" template -- really, only Jackmate fits the bill. I don't mean to turn this into a defense of Oye's disc, but rather to ask what you mean when you say "techno," and what you've actually heard.

(As for the question of techno’s purported anonymity, once upon a time, techno's "facelessness" was actually regarded, in some circles, as something of a revolutionary, or at least radical, rejection of the music industry's star system, its currency of personality. The only person this seemed to bother was Michiko Kakutani, and her shocked, bougie vehemence was such that it almost certainly validated the practice. If you piss off Kakutani, you know you're going down the right path.

Today, I'd argue that techno's facelessness barely even exists. Ok, I don't know what Adam Beyer looks like, granted -- but what are Ricardo Villalobos, Michael Mayer, Superpitcher, et al if not attempts to re-infuse techno with a cult of personality? If you've ever seen the cover of a trance CD, in fact, or a poster advertising a progressive house DJ appearance, you'll know that it's all about the face nowadays. (That and the sunglasses.) Kenny Larkin is reputedly the first techno artist to have adorned an album cover with his own headshot; if you've seen his scarily glossy portrait on the cover of his new album, you'll realize that techno's infatuation with fame is so well-ingrained that now it may even be parodied from within the scene: Larkin's album is called The Narcissist.)

And since I’ve mentioned narcissism, I apologize for my aggrieved tone. I don’t mean to sound huffy. It’s just that techno – in its broadest definition – is something to which I feel particularly committed. I can even be a bit evangelistic about it: techno can be a wildly inventive form, precisely for the way it must weigh experimentation against formula, innovation against constraint. Techno will always be an exercise in genre -- just like indie rock, metal, soukous, salsa -- and part of its thrill, its musicality, is in hearing this tension played out, just as you hear it in Kompakt and Chain Reaction. But to suggest that these are the only two agents working in an otherwise debased and decadent form only reinforces conservative notions of what music can and should be -- whether in the defense of rock, pop, or "experimental" music.

Is techno the only worthwhile form? Hardly. But I also believe that there can be no “bad” forms, in and of themselves, and it’s frustrating, even painful, for me to hear an institution whose opinion I generally value and trust fall victim to such an intellectually lazy strain of received wisdom.

The cool kids have long delighted in reviling techno for its repetitive beats, its supposed plasticity and vapidity. One wonders if your almost apologetic recommendation of Kompakt is an attempt to save face and mollify the indie rockers who might begin doubting you if they suspected you'd gone rave on them. Aquarius, you’re smarter than that. It worries me that the cottonballs of cool seem to be stoppering your auditory organs. Your ears have always been in excellent condition. Perhaps it’s time for some ear candles.

May 19, 2004

If it's got a Southern name and Caramanica doesn't like it, you know it's bad

Why didn't anyone tell me that Jon Caramanica has a dadburned blog? About time, say I. Especially gratifying that today's entry is an evisceration of Black Eyed Peas. (Ok, ok, fish-in-a-barrel targets for sure, but fun shootin' nonetheless.) I wish Caramanica had been around the other night when I saw the BEPs performing on Letterman. It was late and I was more faded than Kid's (of Play, Kid and) coif, but damned if that wasn't one of the more surreal things I've seen in a long while -- their boisterousness was so over the top (including an unfortuante moment of intraband moshing), their choreography so theatrically "hard," that it would have been better suited for a Brazilian children's program, preferably the kind where the hostess would have pulled each of them aside, one by one, and given them the spanking they all deserve.

May 18, 2004

Blinded by minimalism

It's true: everything in Cologne looks like minimal techno.

10 gallon techno


For any readers in the vicinity of Austin, Texas -- it's a small state, right? -- I'll be playing this Thursday night as a part of AMODA's (Austin Museum of Digital Art) Dance Music Edition. Initially the event was to feature Ellen Allien, but US Immigration turned her back at the border due to, as I understand it, Ellen's incomplete paperwork. (Hm, America's newfound isolationism translates into more gigs for me... maybe I'll vote Republican in November! I kid, I kid.) But seriously folks: if you're planning to tour the US, dot your i's, cross your t's, and get those visas. We're feeling isolated enough over here; we don't need artists' slackness making it even easier for Immigration to keep them out. Tell you what: you put up with pain-in-the-ass visa requirements for a little bit longer, and we promise to vote the bastard out of office. Deal?

May 17, 2004

Ich hab' ein sugar-induced hallucination

Thanks to the fact that it was invented by geeks in the employment of the military industrial complex, the Internet really has only two uses: the proliferation of porn with sci-fi themes, and the rapid dispersion of wire stories like this one, about a squadron of UFOs spotted and filmed by Mexican Air Force pilots.

Fortunately, I have recently come into evidence of something that should get the cubicle-bound corps of cruller-munching code monkeys really hot and bothered: an Unidentified Flying Donut, hovering over Cologne.

(Officials in the Defense Department of Krispy Kreme could not be reached for comment.)

May 14, 2004

Too much stuff

A suggestion or two for Simon and Karl. Admittedly there are two problems being discussed here: "a type of anxiety over the amount of fantastic art, music etc out there, the fact I have missed out on so much" is one thing, and then "the thought that potentialy my favourite track is only out there..." is another.

The first I'll call autodilettantophobia, which is a condition I know well (known in the vernacular as "pie-in-the-face syndrome" or "foot-in-mouth disease"); it crops up every time I have to write about something for a "serious" magazine, especially of the fine art variety. Fortunately my editors there are too busy Learjetting off to some biennial or other to read my confession of unworthiness here.

The second condition, that sort of yearning faith mixed with doubt, is probably the universal condition of the obsessive record buyer; when you make that committed crate-digger a certified hack who receives as many freebies in the mail as he or she buys, it intermingles the yearning faith and doubt with the unmistakeable bitterness of the professional. Anyway, for this condition I offer these possible prognoses:

The anxiety of effluence
Information overloss
Mo' promos mo' problems

And for Jon, there's only one solution:


Three observations about deejaying

1. The Chemical Brothers' remix of Kylie's "Slow" gets people dancing every single time.

1a. Ok, who am I kidding, it gets women dancing every time, but that in turn gets the men on the floor. Bush should use that shit for a campaign theme, because it is a uniter, not a divider!

2. No matter what you're playing, or where you're playing, someone will ask you if you have "any 80s music." Even if they are French, pronounce it "muzik," and you are already playing house music that's about as 80s-inflected as possible.

2a. Eg, wasn't she listening when I played the other bootleg of Kylie's "Slow," the one that dropped like manna from the heavens into my hands yesterday, the one with four bars of the synth line from "Save a Prayer" grafted shamelessly into the breakdown? I ain't sayin' where I got that sucker, and don't even know who made it, but it is the record of my month -- microgoth microhouse with tinny little Casio tones, an oddly mournful undertone reminiscent of Lawrence, and jittery drum programming straight outta Robag Wruhme/Wighnomy Bros territory. The flip side swaps out Kylie's vocals for a low male voice (akin to the Geili Kylie mix of "Can't Get You Outta My Head") over the most weirdly rutted tracky underpinning ever -- sort of like Joakim's "Come Into My Kitchen," but not really -- and breaks down the most ridiculous interlude of congas, bells, and handclaps in which a woman intones something about "Pa' comer." Seek and be destroyed.

2b. Back to the 80s thing: I blame cocaine. What else would explain the deluge of parties in SF with names like "Bump," promising electro, new wave, punk rock, disco, rock 'n roll, and never a shred of techno -- and never, ever beatmatched? Is cocaine so disruptive to attention spans that people just can't be bothered with mixed transitions any more? (This is a genuine question -- I wouldn't know.)

3. Carsten Jost's mix of Turner's "After Work" is one of the greatest opening songs ever. It also one of the most gripping end-of-night records there is, a huge swirling undertow of loss and promise.

May 13, 2004

Torturous logic

Well, of course Rush Limbaugh doesn't "see the big deal here", regarding the abuse of prisoners in Abu Graib -- that bitch is addicted to painkillers, for Christ's sake. You could beat him til kingdom come and he wouldn't feel it.

Rush also noted that the abuse was no different than what Skull and Bones inductees go through. Sorry, Rush, I wouldn't know; I'm not a member of the extreme upper-class being groomed to inherit the full riches of American political and economic power. If I knew that I'd spend the rest of my life as a fabulously wealthy man dictating the fate of the rest of the world, I might not mind taking a broomstick up the ass as a condition of my privilege. But unless the Iraqi prisoners are about to be given directorships at Halliburton and penthouses on 5th Avenue, I suggest that your analogy is lacking.

May 11, 2004

Sound at the speed of thought

Marina Rosenfeld: "I've always thought sound was the closest thing to a diagram of thought in the sense that, to actually hear and apprehend it, you have to simultaneously forget and remember, instant by instant."

May 10, 2004

Feeling fragmented

I've lost my footing with this blog, and am not sure how to regain it. Even writing that sentence sounds so horribly LiveJournalish that it makes me want to close my browser and do something, anything else. It's not writer's block, but something else -- purpose block? The sense that I don't know who my audience is, or what the reason for this blog is -- simple self-promotion? An outlet for my more unguarded thoughts? I've come to see much of my work as too confessional as it is, almost too maudlin at times. I'd kill for a breezy, cut-to-the-core analytical style that said its piece and got the hell out, but that's not me. Can one invent a style? Is style "natural," or is it learned -- and if so, can it be unlearned? I suppose that depends on whether you think writing is expression, and if so, to what degree.

I'm also feeling a bit adrift in music lately. Stacks of CDs pile up on my desk, and as the eye scrolls down their spines, nothing jumps out. Things I'd expect to love sound passable. Things that should be passable I throw in the trash. It can't be that there's nothing good right now; am I simply glutted? Sated? Full to the point of bursting? Do I simply need some silence? Would listening to that compilation of covers of 4'33" help?

I'm tired, at the moment, of writing about the note-by-note. I certainly don't want to read it. I want to read stories, and tell stories, if I have any worth telling. But what kind of stories -- that's always the question, isn't it? Is it time to start making shit up?

One thing that has been consuming me of late is the creation of a schaffel mix CD for Sónar's "Musica a la Carta" listening stations, which is turning out to be one of the more difficult mix projects I've ever attempted. To begin with, there aren't that many tracks from which to choose, relatively speaking -- I'd guess that I have perhaps 40 in my collection. Easily half of those are Kompakt, and for reasons of balance, I'm trying to limit the disc to being only 25% or so Kompakt-related. (They did pretty much invent the form -- and corner the market -- so it's impossible not to lean heavily upon them.) And then schaffel ain't exactly easy to mix -- schaffel tracks' individual rhythmic signatures vary pretty widely, from lockstep triplets to drunken lurching to ghost-schaffel with an implied techno pulse underneath. There's also a huge range of densities, from the garish, overdriven girth of Electronicat to the lithe clickiness of Wighnomy Brothers. My set list is about 20 songs long, for an hourlong mix, and I have listened to each of these tracks -- singularly and in various combinations -- more times than I care to think.

I will say this, though: it's gonna be pretty cool. Just trust me.

And I will say this as well: on days when I can't stand words any more -- and most other days, come to think of it -- deejaying is about the most exhilarating freedom in the world.

May 06, 2004

Rescued notes: Mexico

(Only about six months late, here's a partial text about MUTEK Mexico that was written for, and rejected by, an American magazine. It's incomplete, angled particularly for this non-specialist magazine, and only one of many possible accounts that I could have written. Consider it a draft, but one that I hope is worth sharing.)

You fly into a blaze of smog; the plane pitches as if being resisted, as if the particle mass could not stand the displacement. A lake gleams below. You pick out a bull-ring, the futbol stadium adjacent, a strange strip of pink-roofed buildings lying between. The Golden Arches rise up triumphant above it all. Piling into the promoter’s SUV, minimal techno from Detroit’s Matthew Dear is slurping out of the stereo, and if it weren’t for the fact that we roll up the windows and hit the autolock as we approach the red light outside the airport, it would almost be as though we’d never left home.

That, perhaps, and the woman with horns who is following us across Mexico. They are red and sparkly, certainly more jaunty than sinister, and affixed to her short hair with invisible clips. The first time we see her we think, “raver,” but she has come to every show wearing the things, always with the same inscrutable expression hidden behind her digital camera, and it quickly becomes clear that she’s no raver – certainly, not like the young man in Mexico City who dances wildly to every set no matter the tempo, frugging to his own inaudible rhythms while beatless ambiance steams forth from the speakers. No one but us seems to comment on the horns, and if they’re a statement, I’m at a loss for what they might mean. (Look up: Mexican trickster mythology, I scrawl in my notepad, and never do.) Cartoon Satanism? A Gothic reverse cuckold? Do these glittery scarlet appendages signify? The first time I remember seeing her was the first afternoon in Guadalajara, and then she was there at every event thereafter, and when we finally arrive in Tijuana, she is there all over again, as much a fixture as the smog and VW Beetles and the ubiquitous Götland Vodka, which seems to have sponsored this particular tour, much to our collective detriment, if only for our overimbibing. Is she for real? (Look up: Götland vodka, hallucinogenic properties thereof, I scrawl in my notepad.) One thing is certain: they’re enthusiastic, these Mexicans. We feel welcomed.

Who would have thought that a dozen Canadian musicians – laptop musicians at that, plus one DJ – would inspire such devotion in Mexico? We feel like emissaries, delegates, perhaps even evangelists – but then, everyone who comes to the shows has clearly already been converted, and besides, we believe in our mission, and we have come to share the Good Word with brethren like Fax, Murcof, the Nortec Collective. Electronic music may be a globalizing presence, but at least it’s an alternative to the Pepsi Chart TV show hawking blonde, bland imitations of the U.S. culture industry’s most debased products.

It’s hard to say why Montreal’s MUTEK organization has decided to come here for a nine-date tour. True, MUTEK, an annual electronic-music festival modeled after Barcelona’s Sónar, but with a bent toward minimal techno and still more esoteric forms of digital experimentation, has been “Latinizing” lately, mounting events in Chile and Brazil. And with a growing roster of home-grown talent like Akufen, Crackhaus, Deadbeat, Tim Hecker, Egg, and more, tours help to seed the way for international distribution at a time when domestic sales are shrinking and audiences further afield merely download. Festival director Alain Mongeau speaks of exchange and solidarity at the opening conference, where a hundred or so serious-faced young men and women hang on every word and an excitable, tattooed academic harps on about “capitalismo salvaje” and “la cuestión colonial.” Are we colonizers? Alain goes so far as to proclaim that the Quebecois are themselves Latin Americans, after a fashion, but the differences are too vast not to notice: a Canadian welfare state that funds the most unmarketable of art music, versus this place where more than 100,000 people are marching, the day we arrive, to protest a government privatization scheme, Kevlar-clad riot cops standing sentry like evil Samurai. At the protest, Tim Hecker – ambient noise musician, outspoken radical, and conflicted employee of some World Bank subdivision – mugs for a photo behind the shock troops while Crackhaus’ Steve Beauprea records the chanting masses on his minidisc recorder. Perhaps this is the next logical step after ecotourism: politourism. I envision bus tours to Chiapas, digital camera cards filling up on riots in La Paz. When I was in Ecuador, 13 years before, I had picked up a spent tear-gas canister as a souvenir. It bore U.S. governmental logos on its crushed side. I finally left it stuffed at the bottom of a wastebasket in my hotel, envisioning the inevitable customs nightmare. But today’s march is peaceful and -- aside from the police cordon prohibiting our car curbside access to the hotel, forcing us to lug records and laptops the last block, much to the promoter’s chagrin and disgust -- without incident.

There are nine dates in all, featuring not only MUTEK’s artists but some 40 Mexican acts ranging from respected names like Murcof and Nortec to eager up-and-comers and underground veterans. The shows and acts blur together. There are actually more performances, if you count afternoon and evening gigs separately. There are conferences with Mexican electronica luminaries; afternoon jam sessions pairing Montreal’s Scott Monteith (Deadbeat) in live laptop improv with Mexico’s Manrico Montero. There are innumerable, at times interminable, live laptop sessions in Mexico City’s Museo Tamayo, where motherboards birth pixel-pocked bastards and PowerBook-punching VJs explore every last expressive nuance of the pound sign. An enormous projection reading “Silencio” blankets the Tamayo’s cement walls, as though the weight of the building itself – an almost ominously legitimizing presence – weren’t enough to cow us into submission. In Guadalajara, there are shows in the ultra-modern Museo de Zapopan, the ultra-yuppie nightclub El Hangar (where every last detail is modeled after the airline industry), and the actually very cool El Gato Tuelto (or One-Eyed Cat) – despite an invasion of undercover narcotics agents who sequester several visiting artists in a side room while they unzip every pillow, but find nonthing – where Montreal’s The Mole plays stunningly deep disco-house on the cusp between Thomas Brinkmann and Theo Parrish. Every woman in the house dances, the men shelve their fronting, and for an hour or so there’s absolutely no question about why we’re here.

At the Tamayo, the sound man, whose bread and butter consists of equipping mariachi tours in California, gets drunk on Maker’s Mark – in which I cautiously join him – and dismisses computer music as mere “play.” He’s burned out on the music industry, wants to buy some nice little cabañas somewhere to rent out to tourists. He regales me with tales of field recording expeditions in the 70s, of lugging reel-to-reels to remote corners, sleeping on dirt floors, taking peyote. His stories echo as if from another century as I sit in the van later that night, swilling Götland from the bottle with the crew from Montreal. Götland, if I haven’t suggested this already, is evil stuff, especially when paired with with Boost, an energy drink the color and flavor of antifreeze. This is especially true when that combination is paired with tequila. I’m not in a position to go into detail on that subject, but you can ask my colleagues about the pavement incident – or, as other versions have it, perhaps the lawn incident – for confirmation.

Our last night in Mexico City, we hold our afterparty in La Rioma, a dingy underground club on the site of a former pizza joint once owned by the iconic comedian Cantinflas. It’s all glass and mirrors and earthquake warning signs, and the meaty doormen search every pocket of our record bags – something about a gun problem they used to have. Akufen plays a bag full of skippy treats, and we ease our throbbing heads deep into the couches. On the cab ride home, we pass two of the bar’s patrons who have been stopped by local police brandishing black, complicated-looking weaponry. Club-going in San Francisco or Montreal has never seemed so carefree.

Guadalajara feels like some kind of accident: MUTEK is here as part of Quebec’s aggressive Voila! Quebec en Guadalajara cultural program, despite the fact that no one in the Canadian organization of authors and dramatists seems to know what to do with this crew of space-bar-pushers. Still, 8,000 locals come down to the outdoor concert where Egg, Akufen and Crackhaus showcase Montreal’s finest hyperkinetic house music. Despite the fact that both Crackhaus’ Scott Monteith and Egg’s Guillaume Coutu-Dumont are throwing up backstage before the show, their insides churning with what are later theorized to be microscopic scorpions (cf. equally implausible theory, devised mid-tour, by which Immodium A.D.’s efficacy derives from squadrons of miniature beavers which build intestinal dams to keep said scorpions at bay), the show is a success, and 8,000 teens and 20-somethings dance wildly in the reflected glow of the nearby amusement park to three artists of whom the vast majority have likely never heard. Upon chants of “Una mas! Una mas!” Crackhaus bravely tears into an encore, but the Voila! Quebec representative is clearly nonplussed and cuts the sound. Her crew begins striking the stage almost before the duo’s laptops have quietly clicked shut.

Leaving Guadalajara, we are a collective mess. Our 8 a.m. van arrives promptly at 9, leaving us perhaps 45 minutes to make our flight. Traffic, predictably, halts midway along the journey – an overturned SUV, or rather the charred husk of one, lies on the roadside, surrounded by grim-looking firemen. Alain leaves his window open the whole trip, highway exhaust gradually filling the van until our eyes tear liquid carbon monoxide. No words are spoken. Curbside, at the airport, an artist slumps against a column, spitting thin trails of vomit, as we unload the gear. As they say, “Beware the water,” but in this case the culprit is an errant hit of E dissolved in mineral water – on top of a pill or two intentionally taken – that broke the proverbial burro’s back. We spring for the gate and, much to the consternation of the Mexicana ticket-takers, board the plane.

My seat-mate, a stylish, twenty-something woman reading an American teen magazine, is met at the baggage claim by a brick wall wearing Kevlar and a sidearm hidden beneath his khaki vest. Governor’s daughter? Drug-cartel wife? I can’t decide whether I’m relieved or disappointed that I didn’t hit on her.

Tijuana we assume should be relatively normal, given its proximity to the U.S., but an air of residual strangeness hangs over it. Our hotel is perhaps half a mile from the American border, its snaking wall visible from our bedrooms. When we arrive, the atrium-like dining room, with geometric glass walls you’d expect to see in a well-financed Evangelical ministry, hosts a group of middle-aged women playing bingo, their children screaming as they receive intricately tied balloon figurines – Spider Man, the Little Mermaid – from a clown. Further back, in the hotel’s Caliente! sports-betting franchise, men stare impassively at banks of TVs broadcasting dog racing, football, Jai Alai.

The Tijuana promoter promises us “the best fish restaurant in Northern Mexico,” but instead we eat shoe leather slathered in canned cream of mushroom soup, every dish on the laminated menu complete with its own ™ sign. A forlorn keyboardist plunking out Christmas tunes in his own private tonal system fails to warm the cavernous, thatched-roof warehouse. 2,000 ravers come out to the event at Avenida Revolución’s disued Jai Alai palace but it feels less like a party than a prom, plagued with strange circulation and short attention spans. (The betting window, at least, was closed.) On our last day in Mexico, the Montrealers daisychain their laptops with those of Fussible and Murcof and set about pioneering a sort of North American Free Beat Agreement, democratizing the kick drum and deterritorializing the realm of 128 BPM. As with all such experiments, there are moments of brilliance and still more of utter dreck, but the way the growd gathers there in the shadow of the Centro Cultural’s strange, dun-colored org – hipsters and Catholic school girls alike sitting cross-legged on the floor, alternatingly giggling and rapt – excused every errant snare.

Catching a flight out of San Diego, I decide to cross the border by foot – I like the sound of that, walking home from Mexico. The border is as I have always imagined it, at once dreary and enthralling, ominous and banal. I snap photos of the sprawling, delta-like toll plaza until apprehended by a furious, uniformed official who questions me briefly and forces me to delete every image from my digital media card. Cowed and ashamed at the way I buckled beneath the power of Orange Alert, I slump into my seat in the trolley that will carry me downtown, belatedly thinking up snappy rejoinders and taking photo after photo of the rail cars, chain link fences, and “Land For Sale” signs that blur by as we roll north.

May 03, 2004

Nosotros somos electricos

An argentinian writer has been kind enough to translate my liner notes for Onitor's Politronics CD into Spanish. You can find his text here.