To the victor the spoils, as true for culture as it is for war. Making enduring art isn’t enough, one has to be able to commandeer the writing of history to be said to have conquered. Witness the boomer tropes that refuse to lie down and take their place in the cannon; these living gods have their nostalgic presence continually reified by the culture industry in an orgy of self-congratulation, lapped up by the generation that actually has the money to consume it..
This would irk more than it does if it wasn’t so blatant and the end were not already in sight. I can only imagine the lachrymose hyperbole that will accompany the demise of these icons. And fair enough for a die-hard fan, or even contemporaries mourning the passage of time and their own youths. But I suspect, that rather like the passing of Diana Spencer, there will be an expectation of visible mass-grief from the media machine that feasts on such spectacles. How tiresome.
Rather more insidious is a phenomenon that appears to be on the rise – that of digital culture believing its own myth.
I’m a digital adherent. Longtime Linux user, occasional hacker etc; one who generally enjoys frolicking in the open source wilderness. I like the flexibility, recall-ability and power of these tools. I no longer believe that they represent a new frontier in human collaboration nor, in their current organisation, are they likely to usurp the mainstream. Would that even be desirable or do these tools best exercise their power from the margins? Jaron Lanier effectively debunked the utopian premise of Free Software some years ago in ‘You Are Not a Gadget’ but since then, a new ideal has crept into digitalia.
That is, the notion that digital culture is now so omnipresent that its objet d’art no longer require resonant aesthetic content. The narrative is the tools and the tools are (in line with Moore’s law) becoming more powerful; this alone will spirit us the new. A profound misinterpretation of the medium being the message as digital ephemera doesn’t change in a linear fashion along with the power of the tools. I’m sure you can think of a few tracks that are decades old but still sound like music of the future, the tools were but a part of their creation, the vision endures.
Great swathes of international funding are now devoted to ‘new digital art’ at the intersection of ‘art and science’ for ‘practice based research’ that ‘explores the workings of our perception’ and even ‘intersects with broader culture’.
Serious digital culture has always lived at the intersection of art and science, it doesn’t require intervention.
As a piece of fine or performance art, I’ll defend your right to stick sensors into meat or plant products and sonify the results as you cook / feed them WonderGro (respectively) until the cows come home. If I can enjoy the process, bonus. If I can enjoy the outcome, I’ll want to see / hear more. Which really is the point; how does the diversion of scant arts funding into art that requires explanation in order to function help build sustainable practice and/or new audiences?
Some hand holding via workshops, essays, liner notes etc can be both useful and engaging but if the artwork doesn’t cut it, it should be allowed to die a natural death.
No matter how much explaining takes place after the fact, I may not have the faculties to discern bad science. But I got a radar for suspect art and so do many punters.
Today was a red letter day.
Given the little time one has to fritter during working hours under the auspices of paid leave, a family trip was called for.
We had our hearts set on an expedition to the local mediaeval theme park, our curiosity about it had to be sated.
That this place exists in a rural Australian setting is a testament to our ability to accept the unreal.
Queueing at the entrance, none of us truly expected to get our ‘Game of Thrones’ once inside. Game of Thrones being an entirely accurate portrayal of European mediaeval geopolitics of course.
And yet there we stood, all of us content to part with ninety fun tokens to gain entry to this placeholder for a culture from another land and time.
Whilst I won’t spoil any surprises for you and yours, it’s worth every cent, should you have a predilection for 70′s style theme parks, full of desperation and mild dereliction; fun, in short.
Evidently, kitsch doesn’t always imitate history so removed from our daily experience.
Artists are free to exploit their own beautiful histories for gain. Witness Melvin Glover in that recent car advert. It hurt to see him do this; ‘The Message’ being a part of my youth that sounded vital and real. And yet, now that Salt-n-Pepa have essentially replicated the same advert, I expected nothing less from them. They were MTV from their inception.
Besides, I’m not perturbed that Melle Mel exploited his own back catalogue for lucre from the utilitarian form of advertising (rather him than a proxy), just that it serves as a reminder that all artists have to negotiate worldly concerns in an era where pastiche is only an internet meme away.
Digital replication and networked dissemination make the processes of appropriation and emotional gratification instantaneous.
No work is involved, no rigour required.
Whilst I am a big fan of artistic endeavours not relying on the observing public having to know the critical history of the work in order to ‘get it’, the sheer speed of absorption of cultural information renders the cold consideration offered by distance a relic from a different time.
Some of the information by which we used to try and assess a work, legitimacy, integrity and artistic intent is consequently harder to gauge than it ever was.
Is it worth the effort any longer?
Who better currently represents the authentic sound of the ghetto – Azalia Banks or Iggy Azalea?
If, like me, you’d sooner express a preference between cat or dog excrement than answer the above question, perhaps it’s time to forgo much corporate cultural output.
Easier said than done for many; corporate well understands the methodology of digital meme dissemination and can buy up swathes of media real estate, spending money on the appearance of ‘indie’ if it will purchase cachet (and it frequently does).
For, as much as we cope very well with kitsch, pastiche and the ersatz, we still seem to yearn for the experience of the real.
However, looking to the long-standing gatekeepers of pre-digital culture to deliver us the urgently vital or genuinely new is no more rational than visiting an Australian mediaeval theme park and expecting anything other than a guilty pleasure.
The self-referential mythology of corporate means it wouldn’t recognise the new if it saw / heard it. Whereas, decoupled from the ‘stream’, we just might.
The simple beauty of turning the pedals brings much pleasure. The rhythm of exertion, balancing breathing against the insistent pain in the muscles.
This week has brought high wind and rain, which whilst not pleasant per se, still somehow contribute to the vitality of the activity. A solid battering of precipitation, buffeted by freezing winds, will connect you to nature faster than anything else I’ve encountered.
External to the endorphin rush and the elemental exposure, there is a curious reward in turning the pedals in and of itself.
The predictability of the motion and its outcome, the direct relationship between exertion (cause) and speed (effect). My expectations are met and reinforced with every sortie.
So it is with drumming, drop the stick and it will rebound with predictable consistency. You can, with sufficient time and assiduity, harness this kinetic energy into something like playing the drums. Not that the drums can ever be conquered but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
For all the understanding these repetitious activities promote; of self, the body and the physical realm, there is an evasion with them.
Every cycle of motion takes time, that is, time has passed, but the experience of the practitioner is one of timelessness. Every stroke is an attempt at living in that exact moment, personal time slows and the demise of body and soul seems somehow pushed back a little.
We lose ourselves in such activities; the promise of demonstrable progress, excellence even, is all the allure and excuse we need to engage in their habitual pursuit.
Compulsion borne of neuroses perhaps but at least there’s a tangible, even laudable, outcome. One has to spend one’s time doing something after all.
That being said, I’ve never been able to really enjoy straight-up duff music. It’s perpetual loop of one beat seems like too obvious an attempt to cheat the reaper through repetition, it asks you to do the work without the enjoyment of getting better at anything.
We have to make sure our repetition doesn’t become mechanical, which can be harder than it sounds as it’s easy to deceive ourselves in this regard.
Still, time will not be cheated and I have made the self-evident decision to document my practice here. Right now, for me, there is no practicing of the instrument that isn’t focussed towards a performative outcome. On video. For your delectation.
Now to magic up the additional time required to make the fetishised music product (LP?).