Thursday, November 02, 2006

Musical Notes

Clearing the decks, then:

So, LCD Soundsystem has put out a 45-minute “song”, financed by, and badged with, corporate money (viz., N*ke). Screams of “sell-out” have long been a rallying cry amongst the hipster cogniscenti, and they can be heard again now. First things first: it is a great track, designed to accompany the iPod generation on their jogging routine, but unlikely to be tested in that environment by me, given that I am now of the age where if I break out of a walk I can feel my man-boobs bouncing up and down, and I don’t even have man-boobs.


Patronage in the arts goes back hundreds of years, and you don’t see your average Renaissance painter being criticised for having taken “corporate” (or whatever it was then) bucks. I rather rashly formed the view, while on a visit to London 10 years ago, that advertising would be the dominant art form/medium of the 21st century (mainly on the strength of UK cinema ads, which were quite brilliant compared to anything seen in Australia), and promptly forgot all about it. But I think I may have been onto something. With the rise of the Internet we have seen “name” directors putting together tiny movies promoting (albeit loosely; remember we are now in the era where everything has to be soaked in “irony”) American Express and BMW. Locally, the cleverness of the “Flashbeer” ad and attendant campaign cannot be denied. (That is, if you don’t completely miss the point, as was the case for almost an entire table of people I was out to dinner with recently.) And I can’t see how doing something like this is necessarily any kind of compromise for an artist. James Murphy is one of the cleverest musical minds around, at least in terms of someone who has the uncanny ability to give you (i.e., me) exactly what you needed to hear even though you would never have realised it before he gave it to you. The offer to do a long track for jogging to would, I imagine, be just the kind of creative challenge he would have jumped to, no matter who was behind it. Unless the suits were in the control room holding a gun to the engineer’s head, it’s hard to imagine that his musical decision-making would have been any different whether he was doing it for himself or for corporate America (except for this: he would never in a million years have done something like this under his own steam, and that would have been our loss, not his). Anyway, as soon as you opt to release anything other than a home-made recording on a back-yard record label, you are most likely a cog, however small, in the big business machine. After all, in Australia the DFA catalogue is badged under the EMI moniker, hardly the last of the good old-fashioned steam-powered trains.

All of which is to say: the title, “45.33”, presumably echoes John Cage’s most well-known composition, while the cover art (and perhaps the concept behind the piece) brings to mind “E2-E4” by Manuel Gottsching. Which is very much in keeping with the LCD Soundsystem corporate strategy. Bitchin’.


Ricardo Villalobos is clearly mad. He looks mad. He does mad things. He djs for, like, six hours at a stretch. He puts out mad records. His last record, “Achso”, was almost more musique concrete than techno. And now there’s something called “Fizheuer Zieheuer”, part one of which I have had the opportunity to listen to. And it is not so much mad as completely fucking batshit crazy. (Sorry.) What you have is 15 minutes of counter-rhythmic percussion and echo-chamber dub, held together by a looped fragment of something that sounds Russian classical, “Peer Gynt” or some such, and occasionally something else of a similar vein but inna slightly more baroque stylee. It’s like a fast-paced fairground ride that you want to get off and yet at the same time you never want it to stop. And this is only Part 1?


Barbara Manning has always been slightly off my radar. The closest I got was Peter Jefferies’ version of “Scissors”, on his “Electricity” lp. This week I discovered that while she was in New Zealand she put together a record of seven songs with some of Dunedin’s rock royalty. This was cause enough for excitement, even without the added attraction that she brought with her messrs Burns and Convertino, a.k.a. the core of Calexico. Too good to be true, perhaps, but it is in fact true, not to mention extremely good. I never thought I would make another discovery as personally significant, in an I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-know-this-existed sense, as Arthur Russell’s “Kiss Me Again”. And yet here, at the end of Barbara Manning’s “In New Zealand” album, lies perhaps the unsought-after-because-unknown Stan’s Holy Grail: “Aramoana”, a completely beautiful, spellbinding 11-minute pastoral instrumental featuring David Kilgour. Thank you, Barbara Manning, thank you.


And while we’re at it, we may as well do another This Goes With This. This time I imagine it is purely my own mind making dubious musical association between one song and another, but whenever I listen to “The Valleys” by Electrelane (a rather beguiling song which I like very much, the way it puts something like The Raincoats together with something like Kate and Anna McGarrigle [or maybe that’s The Roches] and comes up with something else entirely) there is a certain point at which what comes into my head is the bit in that song by Spacemen 3 (I don’t have time to dig it out in order to find the title, you will either know it from the description or this won’t mean diddly) which goes, I think, “well come on, don’t let it happen to you”.


Oh. That’s it.