Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Open The Dark

In 'The Pleasure of Text', Roland Barthes wrote: "The more decent, well-spoken, innocent and saccharine a story is told, the easier it is to invert it, the easier it is to blacken it, the easier it is to read it against the grain".

Of course, this is the reason why many of the playlists I post are inversions of the titles of tracks of Boards of Canada - their most recent cd, "The Campfire Headphase", turning away from the haunting, Coil-like soundscapes of the "Geogaddi" album and turning towards "decent, well-spoken, innocent and saccharine" electronica.

Thus, the title of the following playlist, "Open The Dark", is an inversion of Boards of Canada's "Open The Light".

1. Chris Watson - "Low Pressure. Glen Cannich, Inverness-Shire, Scotland" from the "Stepping Into The Dark" cd;

2. Svarte Greiner - "Final Sleep" from the "Knive" cd;

3. Coil - "At The Heart Of It All" from the "Scatology" cd (which must be one of the most Bataillean cd's ever made);

4. Dead Raven Choir - "October Tragedy" from the "Death To Dead Wolves" cd (download it from DRC's site here);

5. Burzum - "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" from the cd with the same title;

6. Leviathan - "The Fourth Blind Wound" from the split with Sapthuran (download it from Southern Lord's website here);

7. Coil - "Ubu Noir" also from the "Scatology" cd;

8. Art Ensemble Of Chicago - "Thème Amour Universel" from the "Les Stances A Sophie" cd;

9. Ennio Morricone - "Fumeria D'Oppio" from the wonderful "Crime And Dissonance" compilation cd (originally part of the sound track for the 1980 film La Storia Vera Della Signora Della Camelie);

10. Goblin - "Sighs" from the utterly classic "Suspiria OST" (IMDB link here);

11. Xasthur - "Nocturnal Poisoning" from the cd with the same title;

and finally

12. William Basinski - "Shortwavemusic" from the Raster-Noton compilation cd "Archiv1".

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Gas - Zauberberg

"Zauberberg" by Gas - an alias of Wolfgang Voigt - is a seminal album, one of my all-time favorites.

Like The Third Eye Foundation and Svarte Greiner after him, Gas approaches very Continental-European darkly romantic themes from an unusual angle, in his case from a techno background (Voigt's other projects are much more dancefloor-oriented than Gas). The easiest way to describe his music is as a union between the foggy, throbbing minimal techno of the Berlin Chain Reaction record label on the one hand and dark late-romantic classical music on the other.

It is more revealing however to point to the many intersections between the trajectories that this particular album and the work of German painter Anselm Kiefer trace through the landscape of German culture:
  • the scale of Gas's music is huge, as big as a primeval forest, as massive as the dimensions of Kiefer's works;
  • many of Kiefer's paintings and "Zauberberg" share the theme of the Wald, so deeply rooted in German history;
  • both artists have been inspired by Richard Wagner - Voigt using Wagner's sound world as raw material, Kiefer exploring Wagner's mythical world;
  • 'Gas' - the sinister nom de plume Voigt employs - and much of Kiefer's work points towards the German Third Reich. Both artist's work generated intense debate over it's relationship to German nationalism;
  • the atmosphere prevalent in both artist's work is one of immense desolation, of ominous tragedies, of foreboding, of brooding over some loss;
  • both artists thematize the materiality of their art, Gas through the use of vinyl hiss (together with Coil's 'Music To Play In The Dark' one of the early instances of clicks and cuts) and Kiefer's through the thickness with which he applies paint to his canvasses.
Vinyl hiss, crackle and pop are for me the most beautiful aspects of the album ... they are the sound of the death of grammophone records, the carbon black vinyl slowly rotting, eaten by time ... the carbon which blackens the transparent PVC of which records are made, can be made of charred wood ...

On "Zauberberg" the hiss, crackle and pop, the sound of decripit vinyl, is also the sound of the Wald, the ancestral forest, slowly eaten by fire ... a magnificent conflagration in the darkness.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Performance II

What little time I had for myself this week, I spent on making the playlist in my previous post, on reading Michel Surya's biography of Bataille and on thinking about Donald Cammel's and Nicholas Roeg's cinematic masterpiece 'Performance' .

In a previous post (here), I already ruminated on the listlessness of the eccentric, decadent, bi-sexual rockstar character played by Mick Jagger in the film - mr. Turner. I think Turners artistic impotence is one of the key issues of the film, one that is often downplayed in reviews.

In the previous post on Performance, I ascribed Turner's passivity to the possibility that from being a destabilizing, rejuvenating transgressive force, his hippiedom had already become a stabilized force. Why had his hippiedom stabilized? I think it is important in this regard to observe that the sequestered little world mr. Turner lives is sexual in nature - the sensual but claustrophobic, intimate yet cold ménage a trois is his entire world. But Turner's sexuality is not that of Bataille. Turner's is a 'liberated' sexuality, the sexuality of a libertine, a sexuality which does not see sex as "the darkest and most bloody part of yourself" but as a naive, optimistic pleasure which must be freed from interdictions and taboos. 'Liberated', eroticism has lost it's transgressive potential.

"Speaking of death makes us laugh in a strained and obscene manner. Speaking of sex no longer provokes the same reaction: sex is legal, only death is pornographic. Society, having 'liberated' sexuality, progressively replaces it with death which functions as a sacred rite and fundamental prohibition. In a previous, religious phase, death was revealed, recognized, while sexuality was prohibited. But today, the opposite is true" (Jean Baudrillard, 'Symbolic Exchange And Death', 1976).

Here we have the key to 'Performance'. Because he has 'liberated' eroticism from interdictions and taboos, made eroticism into a stabilizing formation instead of a destabilizing factor, Turner has been abandoned by the daemon that inspired him. Therefore he needs Chas as his daemon, to rekindle the flame of inspiration. Chas is the violent gangster, the homoerotic sadomasochist, the killer: the one who operates under the sign of death. And when Turner is finally inspired, the imagery of the song he sings is suffused with violence (see the lyrics for 'Memo From Turner' reproduced below).

From this perspective, 'Performance' can be read as a veritable potlach. While the first exchanges between Chas and mr. Turner are economic and military in nature (Chas pays to rent a room from Turner; Chas invades the mansion, the threesome retaliate with fly agaric), the character of the exchanges slips and a series of gift exchanges ensues. Chas gives inspiration - Turner gives a performance, singing the "Memo from Turner" song - Turner seduces Chas - Chas gives his body to Turner - Turner gives his life to Chas - Chas gives his life, too.

Memo From Turner
Didn't I see you down in San Antone on a hot and dusty night?

We were eating eggs in Sammy's when the black man there drew his knife.

Aw, you drowned that Jew in Rampton as he washed his sleeveless shirt,
You know, that Spanish-speaking gentlemen, the one we all called "Kurt."

Come now, gentleman, I know there's some mistake.
How forgetful I'm becoming, now you fixed your bus'ness straight.

I remember you in Hemlock Road in nineteen fifty-six.
You're a faggy little leather boy with a smaller piece of stick.

You're a lashing, smashing hunk of man, y
our sweat shines sweet and strong.
Your organ’s working perfectly, but there's a part that's not screwed on.

Weren't you at the Coke convention back in nineteen-sixty-five

You're the misbred, grey executive I've seen heavily advertised.

You're the great, gray man whose daughter licks policemen's buttons clean.

You're the man who squats behind the man who works the soft machine.

Come now, gentleman, your love is all I crave.

You'll still be in the circus when I'm laughing, laughing in my grave.

When the old men do the fighting and the young men all look on.

And the young girls eat their mothers meat from tubes of plasticon.

Be wary of these my gentle friends of all the skins you breed.

They have a tasty habit - they eat the hands that bleed.

So remember who you say you are and keep your noses clean.

Boys will be boys and play with toys so be strong with your beast.

Oh Rosie dear, doncha think it's queer, so stop me if you please.

The baby is dead, my lady said, "You gentlemen, why you all work for me?"

Hey Rotting Sun

Another playlist, a rather shortish one this time, it's title once more a parodic riff on a Boards of Canada's song title ("Hey Saturday Sun"), it's contents inspired by Georges Bataille's visions of Sol Niger, the black sun ... of a solar anus ... of a sun bursting open at the top of one's head like an overripe pimple ... of a sun that is the denucleated eye of a dead priest.

Various Artists - Hey Rotten Sun

1. Godflesh - Sungod Dub (from the 'Messiah' ep);
2. Weakling - Disasters In The Sun (from the 'Dead As Dreams' cd);
3. Skullflower - Rotten Sun (from 'IIIrd Gatekeeper');
4. Leviathan - The Idiot Sun (from the 'The Tenth Sublevel Of Suicide' cd);
5. Swans - I Am The Sun (from 'The Great Annihilator' cd).

Here is a link to an article on Georges Bataille and Marquis De Sade, titled "Black Sun".

Here is a link to an article on Georges Bataille and vampirism - relevant here because the article discusses vampirism and the sun in the light (or should one say - unlight?) of Bataille's philosophy.

Here is a link to the lyrics of 'I Am The Sun' by Swans; here is a link to the lyrics of Leviathan's 'The Idiot Sun'; and here is a link to the lyrics for 'Sungod' by Godflesh.