Category Archives: fine print

RICHARD SKELTON: LANDINGS

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My article on Richard Skelton - a musician whose work I’ve returned to perhaps more than any other in the past year – has been published in the current issue of Frieze magazine. At newstands now (or soon), and available online. Excerpt:

“His music proceeds as if by geological processes: time feels stretched out, layers accumulate and interlock into complexity, and it’s underpinned by a gravity and drift whose appeal is at once emotional – Skelton’s biography looms large – and elemental, as if these sounds have always hung shimmering in the spaces between air and land.”

LIKE REALLY LOUD SILENCE

The current issue of Bidoun magazine features a lengthy interview with Kelefa Sanneh and I on the topic of “noise music”. How we got into as kids in the 90s, what all that racket might have meant. It took me 1.5 subway rides to read it!

(Racial corrective: the intro says that I’m of a mixed race marriage. That’s not the case.)

Here are a few excerpts. If you’ve ever cared about the Gerogerigegege, wondered about Toby Keith’s perversions or what that distortion pedal has to do with American race relations, then this article’s for you. Also, K is really, really funny. 19 SlideShow 01

Kelefa Sanneh: Often with a subgenre that’s like a noisier version of X – often X is a black music, and the noisier version involves white people. Very recently that could be, adding noise to jungle. But we can go back and talk about distortion and amps. We can talk about rock abstracting itself from blues.

Bidoun: Post-punk abstracting itself from funk.

KS: Right. And often the impulse to make something noisier is to make it less black.

Jace Clayton: I agree completely. Party my mixtapes come from… reversing that process? Certainly by the time my interest in breakcore faded, it was this formulaic, “Okay, here’s the sample, here’s the distorted Amen break.” With the sample being so obviously a black male Jamaican voice serving as a sonic signifier of hyper-masculinity, of violence and danger.

KS: But even there, when you’re talking about a distorted Amen break-what does the distortion add to the break, sonically or culturally? Is it a way of insisting that you’re not overly reverent?

JC: Yeah, definitely.

KS: But in the hands of white producers and DJs, what does it even mean for them to be insisting strenuously that they are not overly reverent of the Amen break? Or to have a punk-rock attitude towards it? I mean, I’m fully prepared to admit that this is part of the appeal of noise music; the racial coding of it is kind of interesting. I think for a generation of white music fans, there is an association of noise with a certain kind of authenticity or pugnacity, related to the conception that that authenticity is what’s missing from commercial black pop music. Until Timbaland or whatever. [Laughter]

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KS: These days, when you say something is “noisy”, that’s another way of saying it’s old-fashioned. In this decade, there’s no reason anything ever has to be lo-fi.

JC: In this decade, noise would be the sine wave wave. If anything, it’s the clean digital sound that is the noisy sound.

KS: Is this the point at which noise converges with its opposite?

JC: Yeah! The sine wave is at once of the cleanest and most piercing of sounds…

KS: Because if a sine wave is noise, what’s the opposite of noise? I guess, silence… if it’s quiet [Laughter]. I mean a lot of those old noise records really sounded like loud silence.

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KS: . . . Obviously things change, and it’s not impossible to imagine a world where noise signifies its opposite. Which would be totally interesting – a world in which, in America, treble signifies black and bass signifies white. [Laughter] But for now, anyway, white people’s attachment to noise seems pretty primal. I’d almost call it primitive. It seems to touch something in them…

NYC TODAY: RADIO TALK, REAL TALK

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I will be on WNYC’s Soundcheck at 2pm today, along with Sleater Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein. We are both contributors to the De Capo Best Music Writing 2009 anthology, and will be reading from that, chatting with host John Schaefer, and playing to some excerpts from my upcoming mix, Solar Life Raft.

As I mentioned recently, the De Capo book has a reading and release party at Housing Works Cafe, 7pm tonight, with afterparty at 9pm. Come join Greil Marcus and a handful of us as we read selections and field a bit of Q&A.

Also at 7pm – my weekly radio show on WFMU 91.1. fm. The show, as always, is preceded by Douglass Rushkoff & followed by Trent – a nice sandwich.

Lamin will help me simultaneously manifest in SoHo and Jersey City. Key figures from tonight’s show include: Michael Watts, Chief Boima, Geeshie Wiley, Roll Deep, Victor Deme, & Mike Ladd explaining How Electricity Really Works.

Just returned to the States, lots of new music to share. The tree outside my window is half of what it was. Fall.

BEST MUSIC WRITING 2009

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I’m pleased to announce that my essay Confessions of a DJ, originally published in n+1, has been selected for inclusion in Best Music Writing 2009! It’s a honor to be part of the Da Capo series, especially on their 10th anniversary, with guest editor Greil Marcus.

The anthology is floating around some bookstores now, and will be everywhere next week.

Greil Marcus surreally misquotes my piece in his introduction: “I’ve died in more than two dozen countries…” (La petit mort? I’m not dead yet.) But apart from that unusual typo, Best Music Writing 2009 contains a spread of fascinating, varied writing.

It’s easy to fall prey to online narrowcasting, with the result being that you only read reviewers and blogs who cover music you like. Anthologies crack things open a bit (read: I wouldn’t seek out a three thousand word essay on Jay Reatard, but there’s one here, so I’ll take a look). Many entries are short and sweet, like Aidin Vaziri’s hilarious opener, but it’s the longer pieces (like, cough, mine) which are particularly welcome in our era of dwindling word count and blog-optimized blurbs. (Not that I don’t like a good blog-optimized blurb; it’s simply a very different pleasure when someone dives deep into long-form prose, and when people do that online I’m usually too impatient or distracted to scroll down to the end.)

Books as a medium whose metanarrative, in 2009, is slow down?

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Slow down and listen. Bowed strings pinpoint a mood, amplify it, submerge us.

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A Broken Consort – The River (buyable)

from the album Crow Autumn Part Two, self-released as CD-r with lovely, attentive packaging.

A Broken Consort springs from Richard Skelton, whose music I cannot stop listening to, who maintains an infrequent diary on sound, art & the landscape.

EPIPHANIES

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Back in 2003 I wrote an essay for The Wire’s ‘Epiphanies’ section. The piece detailed my high-school encounter with a bootleg cassette compilation of Japanese noise stitched together by RRRecords. It was published in their April issue (coverboys: Autechre). Here’s an except:

The RRR cassette was polarising, but it was also personal and fragile; and I had the sense that if I didn’t listen closely, it might pass unnoticed. I knew nothing about these groups, but it was obvious that an individual with photocopier access and a dual cassette deck could make a substantial difference in their world. This scene had a tangible scale. It stood within grasp, which suggested that I could actively participate in music – any music, especially the weird stuff – rather than remain a well-informed consumer.

…and here’s a PDF of the entire article.

EL VERDUGO

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Esopus is an art magazine, in the sense of magazine-as-art. The current issue contains a CD. They asked a group of musicians to select a black & white film to serve as inspiration for a song. I chose Luis García Berlanga’s El Verdugo (1963). It’s worth seeing. Berlanga made several impressive movies, not an easy feat under Franco, and much can be said about this one, although not by me at 2am…

Esopus wrote:

7. ‘El Verdugo’ by DJ/RUPTURE. The business of death is the central framework of El Verdugo (1963), the pitch-black comedic tale of José Luis Rodríguez, in which a young undertaker (Nino Manfredi) agrees to take on the job of a retiring executioner in order to marry his daughter Carmen (Emma Penella). Through his characteristically brilliant use of samples (including the evocative creaking of a cemetary gate he recorded in Lodes, Spain), DJ/rupture holds a sonic mirror up to the dark, fractured world of this cult classic.”

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[El Verdugo screenshot]

the Disquiet blog hosts a brief excerpt. Listening back to it makes me want to gather the noise/ambient/texture pieces I’ve done, make some new ones, and release them as an album. Tentative title: Soap Bleach Softener.

(In other non-news about albums which don’t yet exist: an offhand comment by Geoff at Postopolis has sparked a massive ‘preemptive soundtrack’ concept… recording starts in June, details soon. Think ‘resplendor’.)

Esopus is having an issue launch party at NYC’s Housing Works Bookstore Cafe (an oasis of sorts, great place) this Wednesday, May 13 7-9pm.

PITCH PERFECT

The Berbers, cracked audio plug-in software, Donna Haraway circa 1991, Jody Rosen contemplating drained negro emotionalism, a high-end recording engineer, Tallahassee Pain, a Muslim producer named Wary: AUTO-TUNE UNITES US ALL.

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This is another way of saying: check out my essay on Auto-Tune for the current issue of Frieze Magazine.

Auto-Tune is something I’ve been thinking about – and chasing after – for awhile now. It was a great pleasure to be able to condense my thoughts on it, which began a half-dozen years or more, picking up auto-tuned Berber music in Barcelona & Madrid.

Vocal purists hate Auto-Tune. They hear in its robotic modulations some combination of sugar-rush novelty, bulldozed nuance, jejune synthetics, loss of ‘soul’, disdain for innate vocal talent, teen-optimized histrionics, emotional anemia, and/or widespread musical decline. It’s ugly.

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INKSTAINS

two pieces of mine are currently in print:

“Laulu Laakason Kukista”, a consideration of Paavoharju’s 2008 album, can be found in the current issue of Frieze. (not online)

“Mould has conquered the cave studio”, reports Lauri Ainala.

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and Past Masters, a piece about the Master Musicians of Ja.. Jou…. Zahjhouka, in The National.

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[Brigitte Engl / Redferns]

It’s a hippie’s dream: a brotherhood of musicians live together, exempt from work. They hang out all day, drinking tea, smoking weed, jamming.