RADIO EROS AND RUINS

pleasuresofruins

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Gregory Whitehead – The Pleasure of Ruins (19MB)

This is the title track from Gregory Whitehead’s The Pleasure of Ruins, without a doubt the album that has held the most personal meaning for the longest time, for me. It’s not for everyone – maybe not even for you, but it melted my mind and opened doors of possibility when I first heard it ages ago, and still does.

*A brief aside in the form of required reading for anyone who has ever aestheticized ruins: Bryan Finoki’s brilliant essay The Ruin Machine. This is a deep one, give it your time.*

I’ve written about Whitehead on the old version of Mudd Up! (the one that is slowly turning into Cyrillic-spammer semantic compost-ruins), rather than link there I’ll just reprint what I wrote five years ago:

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QUALITY CREEPY + DEAD-ON SMARTS

In 2004 I got to meet with 2 true giants in my audio/cultural landscape: the Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane & the American radio artist/wound technician Gregory Whitehead. Who?

UbuWeb just posted an MP3 anthology of 20 years of Whitehead’s radio plays, performances and outcasts, along with a few of his writings. The MP3s range from his early tapes (where I first heard Ziggurat) to an 11minute excerpt from The Loneliest Road, a 2003 radioplay for the BBC with music composed by The Books (as soon as I heard Thought for Food I sent it to Gregory, he loved it, contacted them, and the rest is…)

I’ve always been impressed with the way Gregory’s work circulates- looking for it directly is never the best option because his material moves simultaneously via several seemingly unrelated channels: cassettes traded in the old experimental mailswap circuit, pseudonym 7″s, screamscape studies for local radio & audience telephones, commissions from the BBC, articles here & there, editor behind some definitive books on sound & radio. He sidesteps the usual categories of musician/critic, academic/street, high art/no-fi art, documentarian/confidence man, thanatos/eros, etc. Even at its most theoretical, his writing remains rooted, relevant.

I heard the tapes first. Whitehead’s soundwork is viscerally compelling- a lot of it is simply words, gasps, and utterances. Additional sounds set a psychological mood or unnerve. Yet it’s playful–overtly funny, flirting with desire. It tells or suggests stories, though the narrative may be linear, cyclical, disarticulate, or straight-up impossible. Quality creepy + dead-on smarts.

from Gregory Whitehead -“Drone Tones and other Radiobodies”

Radio is mostly a set of relationships, an intricate triangulation of listener, ‘player’ and system. It’s also a huge corporate beast, and the awareness that you?re working within a highly capitalized network. Finally, there is the way in which radio is listened to, frequently in an extremely low-fi environment, with people listening on a car radio, or they’re in the kitchen and they’re cooking and they’re listening with only half an ear. To me, radio art comes to grips with all of that, it comes to grips with both the context of production and the context of listening.

& further quotes from Whitehead:

…I try to use [the disembodied radio voice] in a way that’s constantly hinting to the listener that they’re NOT listening to the voice of authority, though I will constantly play with the expectation for authority, because Americans are trained from a very early age that anything we hear on the airwaves has got to be the truth, that’s the voice of authority. Orson Welles seized on this with his famous Martian invasion, which in turn provoked a wave of regulation of the airwaves, as the government need to restore the fiction of authority and authenticity. Then there was the master radio delusionist , Hitler, who had an immediate grasp of the tremendous power of the microphone, and the amplified voice, and who mesmerized an entire generation to obey the projections of his own apocalyptic myth. I’m astonished at what people will believe, just because it comes down the tubes.

I mean if you think of the kind of news that you get on commercial radio: You give us 22 minutes and we’ll give you the world…

So for me, to listen to those formats and those hideous delusional aspirations and those grubby commercial models in a way, and think of ways to get inside them and take them somewhere else, is very intriguing. To begin with the arrogance of absolute certainty — the world in your ears —- and then gradually bleed, minute by minute, into a nebulous zone where all boundaries, bodies, voices, themes and ideas blur into a each other, or into a fog of thought and feeling that is closer to some kind of lived truth. The voice of authority is part of what I call ‘radio Thanatos’, the side of radio that vibrates with death, as weapons or as control over communities. Then there is ‘radio Eros’, a radio of play, and attraction, a radio of productive illusion, a radio that brings ears together into some kind of fresh network. The best radio art hangs in the turbulence between the two. I want my next work to be a kind of navigational system for the turbulence, between the scream and the laugh, perhaps, or between the horrific shudders of a sort of cultural Grand Mal seizure – for what else can we call the Age of Bush? — and the stubborn insistence of some other vibe: eros, affirmation, call it what you will. Life?

CHAABI: AL FIRKA AL DAHABIA

It is a sad and beautiful world. People die, absence happens, tiny ants eat through wood and houses fall down. Our task: to take care of ourselves. to remember everything. to open the hand. to listen.

Music helps, even when words escape us.

These two tracks come from an excellent album, Chaabi Marocain. I love Moroccan chaabi for many reasons, sliding violins and rhythms whose complexity is social, requiring multiple players interlocking, structures of more than one.

Listen to the way that in the first song (this is two tracks on the CD, which is a nonstop medley) a 4/4 beat accelerates into the polyrhythm around 33 seconds in. Life is good. Irrepressibly so – how can you not be moved? We dance, we die. The melody from the second one versions a song – a wedding song if I remember correctly – called 55 in Arabic, a word I write as Hamza Hamzin, weird oral fragments transliterated into Castillian Spanish: they way I learned them. To step towards a language, a tongue, a body. To be gentle with what we love. To dance. Magic numbers painted on a shuttered storefront. Underneath the pavement, the beach! But underneath the beach, more pavement. Life’s line – the space of possibilities – is thin. To burn these minutes in a useful way. If you can’t count out the music let your body, it can. The songs stop abruptly because this is a medley; they are not supposed to stop.

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Al Firka Al Dahabia – tracks 19+20

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Al Firka Al Dahabia – Hamza Hamzin

MOMENTS IN MIXTAPE

moomentsmixtape

“Moments in Love” is a great title for a super sensual 10-minute epic which always ends too soon. Over in Los Angeles, Nguzunguzu can watch drag races and hungry coyotes from their backyard and build scale models of hillsides in the garage. The key is openness. Together we can make everything last.

as they say: “CARD CRAP CANDY FAT FLOWERS DIE THIS TUNE TIMELESS”

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Nguzunguzu – Focus Mixtape Volume I: MOMENTS IN LOVE

tracklist:
MOMENTS IN HOUSE: ESSENCE
GO DOWN BABY: DIAMOND K
MACHETE MOMENTS: ERIDSON VS. LUCIFER (NGUZU EDIT)
SUPERSTAR REMIX: DJ (7)+>
ART IN MOMENTS : DJ QUEST VS. LIEBRAND (NGUZU EDIT)
TONITE: 2 SMOOTH
MOMENTS IN LOVE: ART OF NOISE (A.MC EDIT)
EVERYDAY: DJ DEEON
MOMENTS: DJ GODFATHER AND STARSKI
TOOTSIE ROLL (QUIET STORM CLUB REMIX): 69 BOYZ
MOMENTS IN LOVE: ART OF NOISE (CASPA REMIX)
TIP OF MY TONGUE: JAGGED EDGE FT. GUCCI MANE AND TRINA
THE ART OF FUNKIN: DJ FUNK
MOMENTS IN LOVE: ART OF NOISE (UNKNOWN DRUM N BASS REMIX) (NGUZU VOCAL EDIT W/ AALIYAH)
MOMENTS IN LOVE (BEAT BOX REMIX): RHAZEL
MOMENTO ENAMORADO: LOS DADDYS
DOING IT WELL (REMIX): LL COOL J
MOMENT: JT AND THE BIG FAMILY
MOMENTS IN LOVE (EXTENDED MIX) SNIPPET: ART OF NOISE
MURDA MO: BONE THUGS N HARMONY
THE WORLD HAS TOO MANY FREAKS: KRAYZIE BONE FT. ADINA HOWARD AND PLAY N SKILLZ
PONY (BOOTY BASS REMIX): GINUWINE
RNB 24 INSTRUMENTAL (ART OF NOISE REMIX): DJ SMOOTH4LYFE
MOMENTS IN LOVE (LIVE AT HIGHLINE BALLROOM, NYC): HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE

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TIGHTENING A CORD

from Islands in the Net, Bruce Sterling (1988):

Then one of the Inadin produced a flute. A second found an intricate xylophone of wood and gourds, bound with leather. He tapped it experimentally, tightening a cord, while a third reached inside his robe. He tugged a leather thong — at the end was a pocket synthesizer.

The man with the flute opened his veil; his black face was stained blue with sweat-soaked indigo dye. He blew a quick trill on the flute, and they were off.

The rhythm built up, high resonant tones from the buzzing xylophone, the off-scale dipping warble of the flute, the eerie, strangely primeval bass of the synthesizer . . . “He sings about his synthesizer,” Gresham murmured.

“What does he say?”

I humbly adore the acts of the Most High,

Who has given to the synthesizer what is better than a soul,

So that, when it plays, the men are silent,

And their hands cover their veils to hide their emotions.

The troubles of life were pushing me into the tomb,

But thanks to the synthesizer,

God has given me back my life.

 

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TRYING TO TELL AMERICA

So. By now we should all know that MLK is beautiful and Auto-Tune is culturally complicated. A lot can be said about this video, from the elemental power of oratory to the ways in which technology can amplify or disperse political potential to the notion that rewiring history is an act aimed at future change.

But what keeps running through my head is a paraphrase from Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. here: I’m trying to tell America about a dream that I had.

PATTERNED MILLIONS

Global Bass Underglaze

bluewhite

[blue and white ceramic tile from dramagirl’s flickr]

For centuries, Persian potters had been using cobalt to paint underglaze blue decorations. In the early fourteenth century, some bright entrepeneur had the idea of taking it to China. The Chinese potters tried out this ‘Muhammadan blue’ on their highly prized white porcelain, and in about 1325 started to export the barbarous results back to the Near East. The shapes were based on those of Islamic metalwork, the blue decorations incorporated jolly chinoiseries. Soon, imitations were being made in Persia, then in Egypt and Syria. Later on, the Ottomans took blue-and-white to heart and put tulips on their pots; the seventeenth-century Dutch then fell in love with it, putting windmills and armorials on their pots, and tulips in them. The bastard transfer-printed descendants of blue-and-white still leave Stoke-on-Trent in their willow-patterned millions.

-Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Travels with a Tangerine

THE UNBUYABLE SUBLIME

monitor mix main

Two weeks ago Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney asked me to contribute a piece on her NPR blog, Monitor Mix. She was doing a series on ‘End of the Decade’; I looked back across a broad landscape.

You can read my post here: Free Music and the Unbuyable Sublime

It includes the following four sentences:

  • A decade, in music, is a terrifyingly long time.
  • Sounds now move faster than the speed of context.
  • Music confounds value.
  • I want the giants to fall even faster so we can see what weird flowers start blooming in the spaces left vacant.

FABLED

You heard the one about the scorpion and the frog?

150px-Biological classification L Pengo

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

The scorpion replies: “It is my nature…”

* * *

We can learn several things from this fable.

One: animals can talk to each other. Since scorpions have no vocal cords, this might indicate telepathy. If human scientists devoted more time to unlocking the mysteries of inter-animal communication and spent less time building weapons to be abused by those in power, then many conflicts could be avoided. I, for one, would like to talk to elephants.

Two: It is possible to feel the absence of feeling (“the frog feels the onset of paralysis”). In the amphibian world, drowning operates as a metaphor for the negative sublime. It is something the genus experiences second-hand, at an uncanny step of remove.

Herodotus alluded to certain unorthodox interpretations of this fable which cast the frog’s mortal feeling of no-feeling as a register of empathy for inert objects such as chocolate bars or computers. (Greek empatheia, literally: passion). Herodotus’ status as a liar and a plagiarist do not lessen the acuity of this scholarship. Unlike our telepathic insect, he was sponsored by the Greek goddess of victory.

Three: It is the scorpion that pulls humanity down. If you yourself are not a scorpion, or if you can’t swim, then you are unable to play every move of every game in the cooperation zone, because sooner or later you will meet a scorpion. A real scorpion. Many live in arid or semi-arid areas where unpolluted water is scarce. Yeats’ judgment that “things fall apart, the center cannot hold”, because “the worst are full of passionate intensity” is a recognition of the fact that scorpions are real.

* * *

reader response # 1 : I’ve always been fond of that Yeats quote. “The worst are full of passionate intensity” is an obvious but essential piece of knowledge. The first time I came across the story of the scorpion and the frog, it struck me as somewhat insulting and reactionary – a person’s nature is definite and static, and there is no hope for them to change, even as their lives depend on it. It’s a engagingly doomed-romantic notion, sure, and it’s been pretty much the basis for all of favourite films, book and plays, but the optimist in me doesn’t want to BELIEVE it.

Dear reader: Martin Heidegger’s ‘The Heraclitus Seminar’ references (somewhat inconclusively) a variant of the tale much more in line with your optimism: instead of stinging the frog, the scorpion performs a mad celebratory dance — the bug has realized that its essence can be changing, dynamic, just like Heraclitus’ famous river, into which one both can and cannot step twice. ‘Biology is not fate’, it thinks in its chitinous little head.

The scorpion expresses this epiphany to the frog via a mixture of pheromones and vibrational communication, putting it at odds with Herodotus’ postulations of animal-to-animal telepathy and leading to the historic suppression of this tale by a strangely powerful Flemish legal council, of whom Yeats was a sympathizer, esp. during his theosophist latter years, a time of intense public ridicule, when the poet’s wife George wrote volumes ‘automatically’, channeling the spirit of Leo Africanus, who does not read blogs because he is dead.

In the so-called Upbeat Heraclitian variation, the animal pair cross the river to safety. Upon reaching the shore, the altruistic frog returns into the stream for a swim. Moments later the scorpion gets eaten by a bat. Waves of positivity emanate from the human observer, gently touching all within radius, like the surface of a pond into which one has just thrown a bag of cats. The dark legend of poetry is that it is true.

TEHRAN: DISPATCH # 11

My friend, filmmaker B, whom I am not allowed to call Texan, is in Iran right now. Sending out dispatches via email. After the photo is an excerpt from dispatch # 11. The personal weight and texture of an email augments the realness of the situation, at least for me.

It is so easy to change your Twitter icon to green and read newsfeeds… the hard thing is anything else, information into action.

Returning to New York’s poverty and hi-rent capitalism was particularly strange after spending so much time this past tour in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. (Staying in a now-legal squat in Amsterdam, playing at some festivals with arts funding and kids paid to curate and produce them.) Northern Europe has its share of problems, yes, but also strong social nets for its citizens (health care, education..). The challenge is not to remain informed about large-scale upheaval abroad (although that is part of it), but to find things to push towards and fight for, here, on one’s block, neighborhood, city. Distance is comforting. Intimacy is the hard part.

Maybe I’m just saying I’ve got too many broke, talented friends in NYC who are just barely hanging on, and that I want this city to resemble us, our city, more than it does now.

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from Bani:

It is hard to know exactly what is happening in the top ranks, and what political phase the country is moving into. It is a time to be thinking, interacting, and planning. There is no real strategy nor an idea of what shape this action should take. It is refreshing to be constructing a movement with people and working towards something collectively without leaders around or political parties, but at the same time, there is no hope of having enough force to confront the regime without some structural help or some internal battles being fought at the top levels – that is unless we want this to become a bloody battle once again. But with the thousands killed during the revolution and the purges that took place afterwards on everyone’s minds, this is not what people want to move towards. Not now at least.

The resilience and the determination to change things peacefully is remarkable for me. It has made me think about a lot, and to watch how people work together to maintain silence during the demonstrations is beautiful. At yesterday’s quiet march, people held signs with sentences, slogans, photographs of the violence of the past days, and the names of those who have been killed. There was a feeling of mourning in the air, but also of tension. We all know that things are serious, and our great numbers in the streets are our only protection. This will continue until we achieve the minor request of announcement of election fraud, or until people tire and move towards other methods. There is the possibility that those imprisoned remain there, that Moussavi is done away with by some means (exile, house arrest, etc), and that Ahmadinejad remains the illegitimate president of an unlawful dictatorship. If this happens, the next four years would mean major organizing in the underground and a new stage in Iranian political activism. One thing is sure: people are no longer going to accept the self-censorship or fear that has been imposed upon them. It is already easier to speak to people on the street and in shops without wondering if they work for the secret service, or if they will tell the police. Our collective trauma from SAVAK times, and mainly from the Islamic form of ideology and socio-political cleansing that has taken place for the last 30 years, persists today. Yesterday was a reminder of that.

In addition to this psychological war that the regime wages upon us by cutting our connection to the outside world, and to each other, there are a number of ways that we are threatened. I cannot go into detail now, but starting yesterday morning, our house received phone calls every 15 minutes from an unknown number. The caller ID showed a number with many zeros at the end, which from our experience means that the secret service or police are trying to get in touch. We did not answer, and luckily I had taken all my videotapes and other things to another house, but there is a still a feeling of insecurity. Like many others in the city, our house had become a sort of unofficial ‘newsroom’ with people coming in and out, working, making phone calls, emailing, and sleeping in different spots around the house. We decided to calm things, now that Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and blogging have made it possible to announce our resistance to the world. But this is precisely what we are worried about, that the psychological games of the regime and the disappearances and arrests will begin again, at an even harsher intensity.

Last night Bassijis were roaming the neighborhood, going into some homes to gather satellite dishes. We got rid of a lot of things, hiding others. This is what will begin happening; and paranoia will set in again. We can already feel it. Now we have word that some of the reformists and other political figures are saying that they should put an end to the direct opposition to the Supreme Leader. This is disheartening for us. Right now, there is definitely a threat to the tight grip that Khamenei maintains over the people, and within the hierarchical structure of the Republic; a threat as well to the pillars of the 1979 revolution. As of today, we have reports of 500 people arrested: political leaders, students, activists, journalists, and others who have been suspected of dissent. The latest news is that the French Embassy in Tehran has been attacked. Fifteen members of our Documentary Filmmakers Association have been arrested in the streets since Saturday, despite having official permits to film in the streets. Many of them were beaten by plainclothes police or Bassijis, and their homes have been raided. There is a harsh crackdown. I am debating on leaving soon, before it becomes impossible to do so. We are strategizing, trying to be pragmatic, and intelligent. It is a hard situation to judge.