An Email To Mike About Panda Bear

Friday, April 20, 2007

this and goodbadqueen are both nasty compressed mush - difference is
that with panda it's a deliberate aesthetic (and not nasty).  like you
said about earworms, mantra, hypnosis - you're not meant to be able to
touch the sounds in person pitch, they're not meant to be sharp,
accurate, hyper-real; they're sensually surreal, the mix and mastering
is indistinct to allow your mind to drift, to lose concentration of
specific sounds and float in an amniotic haze on top of the music,
rather than inhabiting it's space.  it's a flotation tank.  you don't
like IT; you like what it DOES.

whereas goodbadqueen is actual songs with distinct parts and
instruments, mashed-up so they hurt your ears.

good compression vs bad compression.  it can be an amazing tool.

have you heard the electrelane?  or any of their records.  that's how
rock with instruments and songs can sound.  dirgey, still, simple,
still, dark, still; but precise.  not hurting.


Friday, April 20, 2007

No Pithy Title

Perhaps I’m wrong, and it’s not screamingly obvious that broadcasting the footage Cho Seung-hui posted to NBC mere minutes before shooting dozens of his college-mates dead is a little… insensitive… sensationalist… wrong...

The thing is, as soon as I think or type about it being “screamingly obvious” why not to show the footage, myriad reasons why the footage of Cho should be shown flit around the edges of my consciousness. There isn’t an answer; just recursive questions. Does showing the footage mean that he has somehow “won” because he wanted it to be shown? Does showing the footage reveal his motives? Does showing the footage disrespect the dead and their families? Does showing the footage merely satisfy the public’s morbid hunger for schadenfreude, rubbernecking, and celebrity gossip? Does showing the footage make Cho a posthumous celebrity? 24 hours before, Prince William was the most talked-about 20-something in the World. Now it is Cho Seung-hui, and has been for several days.

I don’t think the footage will reveal Cho Seung-hui’s motives for the simple reason that I don’t think most people who have seen it have paid it any attention, and the reason they haven’t paid it any attention is because they’ve been too busy looking for hidden meanings and Freudian slips, poses jacked from Oldboy and references to his isolated childhood. (Speaking of which; where the fuck are his parents? We know they run a dry-cleaning business and are “inconsolable”, but nothing more. This seems odd to me, to almost discount them.) Cho’s motives are clear; he spells them out. Perhaps it did start all over a girl, but that is not all of it. “Your Mercedes is never enough for you.” He hates rich people. He hates privileged students. Perhaps on a meta level he hates capitalism and its mechanisms which encourage an isolationist society, which he feels he is a victim of for whatever reason; maybe because he is psychologically unable to cope with it. Yes, he’s psychotic, perhaps sociopathic. No, no one can condone what he has done. But I think it’s perhaps easier to understand why he has done it than some would suggest. Liking Oldboy did not make him shoot 32 people dead and then turn the gun on himself. Being spurned by a girl did not make him shoot 32 people dead and then turn the gun on himself. A huge multitude of things did. Every hurt and injustice he has ever suffered, real or imagined, or perceived to have been suffered by anyone else or perpetrated by anyone else, made him do it.

George W. Bush has indirectly killed more than 200 people in Iraq this week, simply by insisting on keeping troops there in order to “help”. Had Cho Seung-hui not been able to buy guns over the counter, it is unlikely that he would have been able to shoot the people that he did. Perhaps the university campus should have and could have been shut down (I doubt Exeter could, but then we would never have a plan of action in order to do so, having much less reason for one). Perhaps his mother could have hugged him more.

We watched two films yesterday - Borat and Dot The i. Both are examples of doing things just because you can, to see if you can. Whether we can do something shouldn’t be a concern anymore; we can do anything. Whether we should, and whether we will, are the important bits.


Friday, April 20, 2007

So It Goes

Friday, April 13, 2007

A few years ago Billy recommended me Slaughterhouse 5. He said it was a semi-autobiographical war story with aliens and time travel. I read it, and it was.

Kurt Vonnegut is one of the people I would name as a hero. I’ve not read every book by him, far from it, and I don’t know that much about his life, but he just seems…

I once had a dream that left me with a vague impression of a pair of giant scissors, I think. I might not have, but that’s not the point. The point is that as well as a vague impression of giant scissors, I also had a vague impression that the giant scissors in question, as big as a house or maybe a mountain or perhaps just a can-can dancer, were the greatest scissors ever.

That’s kind of how I feel about Vonnegut. It’s the same with Eno (who I’m writing about for Stylus at the moment). Not Bill Drummond though, possibly because I met him and have had a conversation about his penis with the mother of his child, although I might name him as a hero too. (Not because of his penis.) With Eno… I am content to have a handful of his records, to love his work on, say, Remain In Light and Fear of Music, to own a set of Oblique Strategies and tell that story about piss-drinking every so often. I own maybe half a dozen Vonnegut books, and have read all but two of those. I don’t read much, certainly nowhere near as much as I should. I shall read the remaining two (Galapagos and Cat’s Cradle) pretty quickly now, I guess, and probably buy a bunch more, too. But I don’t want to use up everything he did in his life and end up with nothing left for later. Ditto Eno. And now Vonnegut is dead, his works are not only finite but specifically numbered. Everyone’s works are always finite, obviously, but if someone is alive there is at least chance of one more.

Kurt Vonnegut is up in heaven now.

So it goes.

I imagine everyone in the world has written that on a blog by this point.

Oh well.


Friday, April 13, 2007


Thursday, April 05, 2007

In parsing Krauss I have become enamoured by the idea of “the redemptive obverse”. It’s my favourite idea that I’ve come across this month. As loaded with post-modern obfuscation as the phrase is, I think it’s pretty easy to understand if you break it down and use some simple, everyday props as examples. So let’s do just that! tells us that an obverse is “the front or principal surface of anything”; generally it means the side of a coin or bank note that contains (in Britain) the Queen’s head. Consider a five pound note. I don’t really think of a fiver as having a “front” or a “back”, yet if you look closely, all the import of a fiver is on one side – the Queen’s head; the promise to “pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds”; the hologram; the chief cashier of the Bank of England’s signature; the serial number: the back just says “Bank of England” and “five pounds” over an arbitrary picture of a figure from British history. The front is what the note DOES, what its intention and function is, its purpose; the back is just garnish added to make it look pretty.

An obverse as a philosophical (or theoretical) tool doesn’t need to be a literal flat face, then; it just has to be the initial purpose and intention. So the obverse of a mobile phone, say, is the idea (of / and the function) that it allows you to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time, on the move, without being tied to a physical location. This idea, of infinitely location-flexible communication, is pretty utopic; it makes the world better. Likewise the idea of a fiver is pretty utopic – it allows you to carry “money” anywhere, where we understand “money” as real physical gold stocks that are cumbersome and difficult to move. A fiver is not “money” itself, then; it’s the promise of money (but the promise is so entrenched within the thing in our minds that the fiver becomes the money, to all intents and purposes).

In the same way that the image of a figure of British history on the back of a fiver is just garnish, so multi-functionality is garnish to a mobile phone; the obverse or function or purpose or utopic intention of a mobile is not helped by the handset also having a digital camera, a walkman, Bluetooth capability, hard disk storage for data files, downloadable polyphonic ringtones or detachable fascia. In fact, this garnish, or added-value, actually detracts from the obverse by assuming greater fiscal importance – the money spent on a mobile phone is not paying for the communication it offers anymore, but rather for the extras, the multi-functionality, the garnish, the added value. The added value or garnish only exists, then, because of commodification; in order for capitalism to survive, it needs to maintain the status of the mobile phone as desirable commodity, and so it adds extra functions in order to perpetuate the desire for a mobile phone in people who already own mobile phones. The original intention of a mobile phone, its utopic function, its obverse, is obscured: you don’t want a new one because it allows you to communicate wherever you are; you want it because it has sat-nav or a death ray or some kind of thermo-nuclear self-propulsion system.

I imagine you understand this idea of the obverse now, but in the time-honoured manner of all theory-talkers everywhere, I am going to repeat myself with another clever example.

Consider the iPod; the iPod’s utopic function or intention or obverse is to enable you to listen to a choice from a wide selection of music, wherever you are. Music is a beautiful thing, and not having to cart around cumbersome CDs just in case you want to listen to Battles instead of Electrelane on the bus, is a utopian dream. To simplify even further, the obverse of an iPod is that it plays music. The procession of generations of iPods have added further functionality, gizmos and added value though. Being able to store text files, view photographs and play U2 videos obscure the obverse. Simple.

Now the redemptive part. The obverse of an object is revealed twice; initially at its birth or inception, and then once again when the object is made obsolete. New generations of iPod with video functionality explicitly reveal my battered and obsolete 3rd generation’s utopic purpose of “playing music” because it simply does not do anything other than this, and furthermore redeem it from the schematic added value of capitalism that makes newer, more technologically advanced versions more desirable as commodities. That is, because my iPod no longer has any exchange-value due its lack of video-playback and a colour screen (i.e. it being technologically obsolete) the reason I bought it in the first place (the fact that it plays music) is brought to the fore, and “saves” it from being just another product that advertising makes me want to spend money on. Essentially this means that the redemptive obverse is that which saves something from being just a commodity; you could call it an ideal intention or an essence. It is something’s reason for existing. Capitalism obscures the purpose of a thing by adding garnish, but realising the purpose once again redeems the thing in question from the process of commodification. The redemptive obverse.

Why am I so enamoured of this idea? Because it’s idealistic, and because it can be used to reveal the idealism behind almost anything to which you apply it. Consider the redemptive obverses of things; on a simple level, a university’s redemptive obverse is to extend academic knowledge of (and within) the world. A car’s is to transport people; a musician’s is to play music. A Compact Disc’s is more specific and so seemingly more complex – to provide greater durability, convenience and sound quality (via increased dynamic range) than vinyl.

The redemptive obverse allows us to re-establish what it is that a thing or a person or an action was meant to be doing, before it or we became distracted by capitalism. It takes us back to an idealistic state, but not an adolescently idealistic state, because we are now enlightened and matured via experience, and thus (one hopes) less likely to once again lose sight of our true intention.

In A Voyage on the North Sea Krauss suggests that the post-medium condition of art (roughly microcosmic to the post-modern condition of everything) allows the redemptive obverse of (forms of) art to be revealed. If postmodernism is “incredulity to meta-narratives” then we can take meta-narratives as the capitalist garnish that distracts us from ideal intention, and incredulity as the tool which enables us to reveal and re-establish ideal intentions. Humanity through emancipation. Our evolution has ceased to be spiritual and has become a capitalist evolution of the market; if we can redeem ourselves from the market, we can start to evolve properly once again. This is why post-modernism is important, possibly, because it makes the world a better place by freeing us to fulfil potential; unfortunately the protracted semantic battles that so many theorists and writers get caught up in obscure the writers’ own redemptive obverses, i.e. to tell us how to use post-modernism in order to make the world a better place.

Now that that spurt of woolly and non-specific idealism is out of the way, I shall do some very specific bitching and swearing. I hate garnish and added value; I have written in the past about my distaste for ornaments and also for the inclusion of peas and carrots arbitrarily alongside any given “British” cuisine in certain types of eating establishments, and also specifically about added value with CDs. The redemptive obverse of an album is the music it contains. Garnish or added value is an obfuscation that allows, in this case, bands and musicians and record companies to get away with substandard actual product; i.e. bad albums (whether that be because the songs are poor or the music is over-compressed during mixing and mastering or whatever other criteria you would consider to contribute to an album’s music being bad). Adding a bonus DVD or some stickers or a poster distracts from that substandard product, from that compromised reductive obverse. I don’t want a free DVD with an album; I just want a fucking good album in the first place. The garnish makes me less likely to buy a record; capitalism becomes self-defeating because the thing it is selling gets lost in the packaging. This is so obvious that it hurts. So let’s go back to source and make the album itself better.

But what reveals the redemptive obverse of the album? The MP3 – the new technology which makes the “album” obsolete. If an MP3 is of shitty music you cannot hide that behind a special edition DVD or a holographic cover sticker or a “UK bonus track”. Far from killing the album format, where the album format is a cohesive collection of songs presented together in a physical format (be it vinyl or CD), the MP3 has actually compelled me to go back towards it, to rediscover its redemptive obverse, to see that the album, stripped of garnish, is not a capitalist unit of fiscal exchange but rather a utopian artistic process. It transcends its status as a commodity. I seem to remember that phrase being used as a definition of “great art”.

Speaking of the redemptive obverse of the CD - Imperfect Sound Forever has been selected to be in the 2007 edition of the Da Capo Best Music Writing Anthology, which I am, needless to say, quite chuffed about. It kind of reminds me of my own reductive obverse as regards music writing.

Some quick thoughts, that may or may not be related.

Listening to Califone on the train to London I was struck by how their spacious, uncompressed production made every constituent part of their complex arrangements (or sound-worlds) seem like a hook, because every part was distinct, existing within its own space, fully-formed, and a pleasure to experience to the extent that I wanted to experience it again, and soon. Now Califone’s music couldn’t be called “compositionally hooky” in any meaningful or traditional sense - their slowly unfurling space-country is often melodically dour or cloaked, their tempos are tepid, etcetera - and yet it is, phenomenologically, hooky, and much more so than, say, the current Thirteen Senses record, which exists in a much more obviously lineated pop landscape than the more experimental Califone. I’m sure there’s something to say about redemptive obverses there and capitalism’s compulsion of pop music to compress destroying the very hooks that pop music attracted people to itself with in the first place.

I had a vague compulsion to write something along the lines of “I am not my record collection. My record collection is something that I use to make my life better,” in the vein of this old Soulseeking column, but I lost the essence of what I wanted to say. It was triggered, I suspect, by my complete lack of sentimentality in the recent focus groups surrounding the restructuring at work; I have effectively talked my own department into obsolescence. Also, I purchased AppleWorks, which is allowing me to build a new database detailing my record collection.

Someone asked me what the high point of a (specific) band’s career was. (You can probably guess the specific band concerned.) As sad and self-defeating as it seems, my strongest instinct was to say “the period before I had heard their music, when I was only aware of them as a concept, and they were a shining, beautiful, golden concept full of amazing potential.” Potential is always greater than realisation, because the idea of what’s possible, the obverse, is always greater than the (necessarily flawed) reality.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Somebody's Watching You (and Me)

Two brief ideas.

Firstly, the conference I attended in London on Monday concerned copyright in the digital age. One tangential presentation detailed online identity authentication, specifically for students to access online journals and the like remotely. My overriding deduction from the information we were given on this topic is that ID cards are going to be effectively introduced via the back-door of higher-education digital identity management, which will, within the next few years, result in students (customers) being given online IDs at primary school which they carry through their entire academic career and which seamlessly integrate with their email, online social networks, and also banking. This is an inevitable truth in the digital copyright age. There may not be a literal, physical card to start off with, but there will be soon enough (student ID / library cards already existing, obviously), and it will doubtless have biometric metadata embedded in it. If you have to have one in order to be a student and use online and library resources, and 50% of people go through university, that's half the population of 20-30 year olds within the next decade. For the first time EVERYTHING rather than just financial transactions will be being monitored – who you’re friends with on Facebook, what books you read for study, what doors your card-swipe accesses – and all this information will be compiled together in one easy-to-browse system.

Secondly; in reference to the “talking CCTV” cameras that are making the news lately, I can only feel sad that Baudrillard died before this made the news; he would have adored it. He wrote extensively about the transformation of “man” into “the screen” (the idea that all our work time in the computer age is mediated via a screen, and that all our leisure time is too [be it TV or PC] and that soon enough almost all our communications would be too - video messaging, cameras in mobiles, etcetera). Psychologically people can't deal with their still image (i.e. photographs), let alone their moving image. Put a camera in front of anyone and they act weird, either going irrationally shy or irrationally extrovert or a combination thereof. CCTV has so far been a passive and largely ignorable part of life; making it interactive by having it talk, chastise, reprimand, etcetera the people it is watching, makes it a conscious and present part. People will go batshit because we can't deal with our own image. It is the same as when you show a cat a mirror; it does not understand what it sees. While we may do as a species on an intellectual level, I’m not sure we do on an emotional level. One only needs to consider the phenomenon of reality television (or just celebrity culture in general) to understand this.

Through a combination of technological development, environmental and natural resource concerns, happenstance, international relations and eye-on-history politics, the era of New Labour has shown Blair’s government to be the most heavy-handed of all time. And we have gone willingly into this age with seemingly no concern for freedom beyond the freedom to spend. Orwell was two decades out.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

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Nothing Here Is True
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Nick Southall was born in southwest England at the tail end of the 70s, and is the youngest of three brothers. He has a degree in popular culture and philosophy and has written about music for Stylus Magazine, The Guardian and Drowned In Sound, amongst others. He likes red wine, expensive headphones, spicy food, and the Hungarian national football team of the 1950s. His favourite record is the last one he listened to. You can contact him by email via sickmouthy @ gmail dot com should you so wish.

All material copyright Nick Southall 2006/2007/2008

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