Archive | June 2012

The day ‘the Torch’ came for us….

I just wanted to get on with my day. All I could do was to try to ignore the anticipation for the Olympic Torch being carried down roads in my local area. ‘A waste of money when savage welfare cuts are being made’ is the most easy to grab sentence attached to a web of reasons why the London Olympics should be a cause for concern. But it (in the form of the Olympic torch) came for us all; up  down the country it danced in the hand of a willing participant; the tune it played may have sounded like one for the people, for the joy of global participation, but it was playing the tune of nationalist pride so as we didn’t forget it so soon after the Jubilee. And, as soon it came close to your home, it was now an event one must not miss. ‘But don’t protest or anything, because that would send the wrong image to the rest of the world’.Like with the sudden interest in ‘Kate Middleton’s dress’ by those previously disinterested, those who weren’t at all interested in the Olympics are now eager to see ‘the torch’ as the spectacle passes nearby. Why? What feeling does one get that concludes that it is something they MUST witness?
The old feudal identity of such nations as Britain clings on! Now, I am obviously not suggesting that the Olympics has anything Empirically to do with this feudal order, which openly continues in an opaque form, and secretly exists in a solid form, but all the events in such a country as ours exploit this feudalistic nature of this culture to demand interest form the population when push comes to shove regardless of their objective interests previously; old Europe, despite its superficial advancements is still pretty much the beast it was in medieval times. Of course, the best one can do is to ignore the entire spectacle; ignore the shouts for us to open our doors and run out onto our streets waving flags; don’t give it the power it gains from hype, be it positive or negative. But the media doesn’t allow this: it makes the hype so omnipresent that we cannot but help robotically repeat the latest gossip.I would argue that 2012 as been a year of great counterrevolutionary endeavours by the power structure of this nation especially: all attempt has been made by the state to pacify growing conscious/and pure reactionary dissent (such as the riots) that to an untrained gaze seemed to spring from nowhere in 2011 to oppose the entirety of the insanity of capitalism under the easy to grasp banner of opposition to the cuts . I think anybody who wants a better future for us all had good reason to be optimistic at the end of 2011 that awareness and distrust in the system was growing. But this growing and justly felt threat the nation state feels, as it tries to protect capitalist interests from the people it claims to protect, had a great chance to be eased this year with so many ‘events’ which it could exploit to both distract people and give them a false sense of belonging and happiness, in the hyperbole that precedes the climax of such events – from which the ensuing emptiness one should expect to feel has hopefully (for the state) lost track of any of the likely causations. So far this year, it looks like they have done a very good job at distracting us.

But there again, once all this dies down and we all wake up to a society even worse than before the hype set in, things could actually really kick off.  But with weather patterns more dodgy by the year applying a background crescendo to the unavoidably obvious uncertainty about a century still in its infancy, what so scares me about all of this is also the source of what gives me most reason to get out of the bed in the morning and convince myself that I (with what little I actually do) may be part of a new human force to change things for the better.

Miles away

Traces of a genuine article seem to generate the emotions that the genuine article used to generate but cannot any longer.

“If you can see your friend through this tiny lense, then you know that there’s no way home” Touch and Go, John Foxx.

Now the world-wide-web has finally encroached (via laptop) upon the territories where I use my time to make artwork, I have begun to use Youtube to play new music/new sounds to my ears, which are thirsty for just this due to my exhaustion of the music I have listened to way too often, because it resonates with my methods of artistic production. Moments, and certain sounds, in those songs are very important to me, so as well as forcing an initiation with new sounds, I am tempted back to my old staple, but with alternate versions of the said exhausted sounds.

Not as good quality, not as good versions, cover versions, poor live performances, these rejuvenate shivers in me that the original/and landmark (to my ear) ones can no longer create. The ghosts of the past seem to be only awoken through the second hand versions of those special (for bad or worse) moments in my life: the replicas of the songs that bind my life experiences together move me more than the originals can do now, and the issue of replicas extends to other aspects of life (although I’ll not go into all that right now).

The original is of course always a replica (arguably the case even before the first days of mass production), but now we are surrounded by so many replicas of replicas of replicas that the illusion that there can be any genuine article is completely dethroned,often making that closest to the original unable of emotionally touching us;  and the further away the replica sounds from the original (and I mean in terms of distance not in re-working of the song structure) the more it moves us possibly by allowing us to have in mind that distant genuine article, that cannot move us once it is at hand. 

 
At one extreme you have the obsession with String music compositions of famous indie tracks (such as The Smiths’ There is a Light That Never Goes Out, and The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry), and at the other, the even more peculiar 8-bit video-game sound replicas of landmark albums such as Radiohead’s OK Computer. The latter is most intriguing; there’s something strangely moving about listening to the sounds of an album that once made a massive impact on one’s life in the late 1990’s using a kind of sound that made an impact on many caught up in the late 80’s/early 90’s video console era; almost a fusion of two parts that can no longer move in their initially-experienced form. And it works; it reminds you of both more than the original replicas would do if you were to listen to them! It’s almost like having to put an original document through a photocopier to have a copy 100 times removed until you can take the original subject matter from it.

We live in a time where it is evidential that technological advances have done entirely away with the possibility of there being originals/genuine articles. Yet, rather than culture merely being in catch up (as is usually argued), I would speculate that it has actually gone into reverse: it is obsessed with cultural products from the past (which is another much more extensive issue), but can only truly reap their fruits by allowing technology to make it sound/or look further and further away from it’s perceived home (like somebody singing our favourite song to us from a high mountain top), it relies on a medium to deliver the past in ever more detached forms because we cannot get close to the original, because we (culturally) cannot accept that it doesn’t exist. Strangely enough, the musicians who seemed to deal very much so with these issues were artists who were recording music right when we were moving from a capitalism based on analogue technology to a capitalism based on digital technology (the late 1970’s to early 1980’s shift from fordist modes of production to post-fordism); the likes of John foxx, whom the blog title and above lyrics are accredited to, Gary Numan, whose famous album was called ‘Replicas’ and of course the quintessential band of technology; Kraftwerk.

The digital, by multiplying the possibilities for multiplication of already-existing products/works of art threw a culture already confused and distressed by the questions technology asked of it, into a world where anything can be altered/arranged/multiplied at will – the age of the computer. We now live in a peculiar time which (with the potential of sounding daft) is far more futuristic than it seems, and I would speculate that this is because we are desperately rooting through our collective archives trying to find the genuine article, saturated as we are in culture that still demands it exists (and does anything exemplify this better than the phenomenon of Youtube, which is basically one giant tin of photos, seemingly holding all the past – almost acting as a force-field separating us from being able to perceive a future?).

BORDERLINE BALLARDIAN: exhibition by Globalsapiens

 Open night Friday 6th July 2012 @ 6pm onwards with live poetry and discussion!
7 Smithfield, St Vincents, Shalesmoor, S3 7AR Sheffield, United Kingdom

“It is the psychological effects of technological, social and environmental developments I am interested in.” JG Ballard

To question the environment around us, to take a step back and create reality in a world ruled by fictions. Is this the artist’s true role?

Bordeline Ballardian is an exhibition of works that questions and observes British society and the psychological effects of technological, social and environmental developments.

The word ‘Ballardian’ originates from the works of British novelist, James Graham Ballard and is defined as resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, especially a dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects mentioned above.

Ballard’s novels, classed as science fiction are now seeming to resemble the real more than ever, as our 21st century lives hurtle towards huge environmental and psychological uncertainties.

Reckless industrial growth is slowly killing the planet, as air and Water is polluted and littered, food is grown chemically and unsustainably, and oceans are turned into acid pools. What little democratic rights we have are being shaken to their core by the intertwined forces of runaway capitalism and the nation state, which require nothing more of us than alienated consumers. We are stolen and then sold back as make up and fashion.

All this certainly Sounds like a Ballard novel to me… But do we ever ask ourselves the question, in all seriousness “could the world I’m living in now be rightly classed as dystopian?” It can be hard to the see the world for what it truly is whilst you’re in the midst of it.

The exhibition aims to take a step back, observe and inform.

Exhibiting Artists:

Clinton Kirkpatrick (Lisburn)
Gary Steadman (Barnsley)
Jade Morris (Sheffield)
Jonathan Butcher (Sheffield)
John Ledger (Sheffield)
Kim Thompson (Manchester)
Mikk Murray (Sheffield)
Nancy Richardson (Sheffield)
Robert Norbury (Holmfirth)
Ryan Vodden (Sheffield)
Stuart Alexander (London)
Leeds Annonymous (Leeds)
+ friends!

Blog here: http://borderlineballardian.wordpress.com/

Open night Friday 6th July 2012 @ 6pm onwards with live poetry and discussion!

Daft Punk, Discovery: late dreams of a capitalist hyperreal utopia

About half a year ago I wrote about how two different albums by the band Primal Scream ‘are actually the same record, just flip-sides’ (or more like the contents of the first album had been brutally emptied out creating a nightmarish inversion that guided the second album). However, when it was written the first album was 20 years old and the second was 11 years old. Despite making it clear that my objective wasn’t merely to review the albums/or to say how much I liked them, I still felt wary that an initial sloth-like pace could be attributed to me (accredited the usual reaction of “where have you been for the past 20 years?”). I felt that the more sober message in the latter had been staggered in our culture by its latent denialism which the album attacked, and could now be of value in the present tense to aim to fulfil the hopefulness generated in the first album. By my standards, this blog was very optimistic.

During the time that has passed since writing this piece I have been occupied by the notion of certain media products being heavily pregnant carriers of the prevailing cultural Geist; more so after reading Steve Shaviro’s Zero books Publication Post Cinematic Affect (2010), which excellently explains certain media products which are symptomatic of the brutality of the logical conclusion of neoliberal capitalism. I have a bit of a fixation with many albums from the first 18 months of the new millennium because I believe there are some which are profound embodiments of  the then cultural Geist of the naive liberal dream of a capitalist democracy where things could work out OK, after the disastrous communist regimes in Eastern Europe had fallen down a decade earlier, and the 1990’s had such fun and cool surface to it, with its recycled swagger. I have this fixation because they almost seem to embody a crossroads with our world and another; a world which could never have been, yet they reside here, a now distant past of naive optimism. To me it still seems relevant to look at music/film from this period because of its other-worldliness to the present, just over ten years apart.

Even albums from this period which contained a dosage of sadness, a confrontation with the postmodern condition, were still meekly satisfied with the world: The Strokes’ Is This It and the Super Furry Animals’ Rings Around The World (both released in 2001) sound like albums sighing at the realisation of the End Of History, or perhaps from post-modern relativism; accepting that nothing grand is going to happen, and nothing can be better than it is now under liberal capitalism; but it is just a sigh, no more, and it is rather quite comforting; today it has the sound of something from a totally different world. But more than anything there was a naive optimism within society in the late 1990’s to the morning of September 11th 2001. It looked towards a millennium that could never be; one which seems more than a full millennium away from the post-Sept 11th world of increasing state authoritarianism alongside runaway neoliberal capitalism, which Shaviro depicts with such frightening insight.

The album that seems to embody such a late dream more than anything else is Discovery (2001) by the French group Daft Punk. Purchasing Discovery from the second hand store CeX for one pound last year (a store in which the collapse of civilisation already seems to have occurred, as one feels that they are almost looting products once deemed to have value but now so cheap) I was instantly taken back to a place I used to frequent; old day dreams tied to a world that seemed like it could have been, which still seems there if one puts on headphones and looks nowhere in particular. There was in a period in my mid-to-late teens where I used to visit the local Gymnasium; the singles from Discovery remind me of that period; a soundtrack for such an attempt at personal betterment from within a ‘non-place’ reminiscent of the virtual. But this self-betterment, like all of them in our culture, isn’t narcissism but (to quote Jean Baudrillard) “frantic self-referentiality: … It (the body) is the only object upon which everyone is made to concentrate” (America, 1986). It is a demand that we conquer ourselves. The opening track One More Time is an order not an encourgement.

Discovery evokes a fantasy world, a virtuality free of friction, a world specific to the Utopian longing in capitalism. It gloriously embodies the work hard/play hard ideal of liberal capitalism, from where friction, if it occurs at all is only situated under the ‘life is a game’ banner of ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’; rejoin The Game tomorrow. All well and good if life worked that way, but it is an illusion, that to some extent, the entire premise of maintaining of positive attitude is balanced on under neoliberal capitalism. One which became more difficult to believe in after September 11th 2001, and then the Financial meltdown in 2008 (Philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s book First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009, Verso Books) uses Karl Marx’s ‘correction of Hegel’s idea that history necessarily repeats itself’ but that ‘”(h)e forgot to add : the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”‘ to deal with these ‘two events which mark the beginning and the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century…’). Although, it is arguable that in such times the need becomes greater for us to cling to the illusion of a Utopian capitalist world free of friction, thus a necessarily virtual one, (which itself brings to mind ‘the phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, that it is
easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism’, Informed by Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, 2009, Zero Books), the geist captured in this record seems ancient.

I haven’t written this because I am critical of the album, quite the opposite: it is an incredibly seductive record. But it is what it seduces with which is of concern. So, as informed by Steve Shaviro, the aim here isn’t to place Discovery as a record that deliberately endorses the then prevailing geist, or as a record that aims to depict it: some bands can embody it without possibly being aware of doing so, and thus become brilliant historical artifacts. It is often said how Post-Punk music of the late 1970’s embodied the feelings of misery and fear in western countries during a time of mass decline and decay of the old industries; likewise the dance music scene of the late 1980’s/early 1990’s embodied a sense of optimism and a desire for freedom, at the dawn of a naively optimistic decade after the fall of many bad things such as the Berlin Wall.
Discovery continues that optimism, but after the freedom of early 1990’s dance had been largely co-opted into a lifestyle of self-betterment rather than freedom as such; now for nightclubs, gymnasiums, and holidays to the Mediterranean, and Festivals that have become corporate theme parks (track 5 Crescendolls, sounds a like an mp3 compression of a fairground ride). Discovery encourages us to transcend the screens around us, and live inside the Myths its media weaponry have been programming us with our entire lifetime. The album half transports you to a place that feels like it is waiting just beyond view in a capitalist society.

The cartoon characters that feature on the videos for the singles from the album (which one can never quite forget when hearing the songs, as they are the only spectacle for it, and they seep into your thoughts) could be anybody. Indeed the smoothness, lack of dimples, lack of split hairs on the characters (as with many more human-based cartoon characters) is the logical conclusion of life-as-conquest over our mortal bodies; our only destiny in a depoliticised world. This conquest is very alluring, and is a very seductive. As is Discovery: it is the music over which to plan your next trip to the gym, night out/holiday; a permanent betterment of physical and social self.

The desire to become cartoonised (cleansed of all mortal ailments) in such a society in turn cartoonises our desires. In fact this is the narrative of the single taken from the album Digital Love, where the content isn’t as threadbare as it possibly intends to be

 
“Last night I had a dream about you
In this dream I’m dancing right beside you
And it looked like everyone was having fun
the kind of feeling I’ve waited so long”
A virtual liaison, where nobody really touches; a simulated encounter
“There’s nothing wrong it’s just a little bit of fun…”
The liaison in our listeners mind becomes one between a cartoonised listener and a cartoonised desired person.
“Why don’t you play the game?” the song then entices us with. The purely capitalist game; a Utopianism that is of course virtual. One consisting purely of a ‘work hard, play hard’ ethic without the consequence of the physical/mortal world.
“Work It/Make It/Do It/Makes Us Harder/Better/Faster/Stronger” (Discovery, 2001)

Jean Baudrillard, in his accounts of the oldest Hyperreal place, America (1986), writes “America is neither dream nor reality. It is a hyperreality. It is hyperreality because it is a utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it has already arrived”. Of course, Baudrillard, like many writers before him, went to America to give a cultural diagnosis to what would spread from this “centre of the world” to everywhere else. Baudrillard was from France. So are Daft Punk. Judging by this, their prophecies are true to form. If Utopia is achieved already, reality cannot really be accepted; simulations of reality become the place in which to play Utopia out. Daft Punk’s Discovery encourages us to dive right in.

But could this world truly be believed in before the rude awakenings of the the first decade of the twenty-first century, especially the world after September 11th? Daft Punk’s Discovery still has more in common with many albums from that time than may at first seem apparent. Although without the jubilance of an avatar-like existence of Discovery, other albums from the period such as the aforementioned Rings Around The World by Super Furry Animals, and Is This It? by The Strokes (realised literally on the brink of the world-changing event of September 11th) still possess a sentiment that if we sink away from the problems of the physical world, ‘well, that’s all we can do. Nothing will really matter anymore, but that’s OK, because we’re safe here’. A sentiment that seems so far away now.

I’m obviously not suggesting that we are all suddenly wide awake in contrast with living in a dream beforehand. But it is much harder to hide from the problems of the world now. And although the troubles can still at times seem unreal, they no longer seem so far away. And as the need to cling to an illusion becomes more desperate, Discovery is still probably the best album to fit the headphones on us to drown out the world.  But, if others are like me, it is a fading sound of a late dream, now it is so hard to drown out the world; always expecting something to occur, where harmless noises that penetrate the music one is hiding under, become terrifying calls to remove one’s headphones, because the world is alive, not a playground frozen in time that such records embody.

But the ideology still tries to convince us to live in the world Discovery was brilliantly symptomatic of. The instrumental track Voyager sounds like a world in which the oceans have become an aquarium; the sky just a fantastic backdrop, as one flies through life. Again we see the ‘work hard, play hard’ ideal with no friction either side. In Ways Of Seeing John Berger describes the touristic ideal that capitalist publicity surrounds us with where “the entire world becomes a setting for the fulfillment of publicity’s promise of the good life. It offers itself to us. And because everywhere is imagined as offering itself to us, everywhere is more or less the same”. A place’s history, no matter how troubled, becomes a mere artificial backdrop to pleasure-seeking.

Voyager and the album title Discovery seem to conjure up a friction-free around-the-world trip, from where, in such an hyperreality, we become spectators of our own movies in our minds, and the latest logical extension of the ideology of self-betterment (self-conquest), social networking sites, allow us to display the movie shots in photo albums. Roland Barthes, in his essay The Lost Continent, (Mythologies, 1957) similarly describes a touristic approach to the rest of the world: “Penetrating (in this case) The Orient never means more for them (the producers of the documentary) than a little trip in a boat, on a azure sea, in an essentially sunny country”. But he warns that “the device that produces this irresponsibility is clear: colouring the world” (as in colouring in into a destination) “is always a means of denying it”

Many people I know are heading to Greece this very summer. All very excited; fun-times in bars/clubs staffed with English-speaking peoples. Live the  dream-scape that Voyager embodies, fair play to you, it seduces me from time to time also, but wait? Greece is in turmoil. The hell capitalism has created in the physical world has spilled out onto its streets; people cannot even afford to eat; will this cause a rupture to Voyager 2012?  It is the logical limit of late capitalist ideology hitting the roof of what is fighting back.

It is also useful to keep in mind that Daft Punk are maybe the digital heirs to the analogue world of one of the pioneers of electronic music: Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk were conscious of technological advancement, maybe ever-so slightly critical (one may be able to dance to Computer Love, but what it suggest is solitude and sadness). Daft Punk; digital equivalent; of neoliberalism and post Berlin Wall pleasure seeking; uncritical; embodying it; living it. And this is why Daft Punk are Kraftwerk version 2.0. First futuristic robot men, then cartoon kids who never get old, stay forever young. Possibly, Kraftwerk (before the melancholy nature of the 1981 album Computer World) is the sound of modernist thinking; progressive; a Utopia sought after, looked for. The Utopia in Discovery is the one of Baudrillard’s America: one already thought to have happened; an End of History utopia set in a capitalist hyperreality. Just keeping that virtual Game ticking over and over; “One more time we’re gonner celebrate it….don’t stop the dancing”. At the end of Digital Love, however, once the climax is over and the soothing synthesiser resonates to its audible vanishing point, I have the image of the smoldering twin towers just beginning to appear, as “that dream” was just a dream. Look Backwards now towards this dream-scape at the other side of the horizon. From here there is one fact of reality that is even harder to ignore that the rest: climate change has all but set in now; it alone can tear down any hyperreality

But if it is the sound of a capitalist Utopian dream that is now an utterly pathetic one, it is also the sound of an enslavement to the necessity of self-betterment/self-conquest at the cost of the power to try to change the condition of the human race; an enslavement that encourages us to want to be simulations of our mortal selves because of the impossibilities of a virtual perfection expected of us. Perhaps, in the current period of turmoil, and dread at the depths this system will happily take us to, unlike back then we can see this enslavement clearly for what it is?

(afternote: A friend pointed out with constructive criticism that I had failed to mention the important feature of Daft Punk’s song construction: that they are samples from other songs, altered. I already knew this, but had forgot to mention it. The use of samples, through digital technology is a method quite specific to music creation in a our post-modern (or post-fordist) times).