Sunday, May 31, 2009

Further to...

the recent post here on TOoT that featured, within its 'Soundtrack', a mention of Sonic Youth's magisterial performance on BBC TV's 'Later...' - especially of their fabulous new song 'Antenna' - which then proceeded to ramble at some length about SY & referenced a selection of articles by Simon Reynolds & k-punk essentially critical of the band & their continuing musical output, comes this riposte to those specific & wider criticisms & issues thus raised from 'And you may find yourself...'.
And thought-provoking stuff it is mentioned previously, I've invariably enjoyed more than a fair amount of 'retroreferentiality' - which, incidentally, I'm enjoying in turn as a new word - in either music (the oft-quoting of the Velvet Underground as an influence by all manner of artists - most of whom subsequently paled fatally in comparison - led me back to them, for a massive instance), the visual arts, cinema, etc, & am certainly not averse to such in my own work: in effect, it's 'the postmodern condition' I grew up within & an essential contextualizing device (by the very nature of, (self-consciously)'scholarly' & 'curatorial' in some way).
Thus, as long as the end product is pleasing to the old ears (an almost-entirely subjective aesthetic process, a direct empirical 'nervous reaction' that bypasses any prior intellectualizing), it's personally not a problem if SY or anyone are referencing any other bands, or even themselves & their earlier work.
It's a good point well worth reiterating too that Sonic Youth in their day - those mid-80s boundary-pushing ones of their early career (which as we've already established might well be something of a dread, deadly word & self-defeating concept in terms of the vitality & validity of rock groups) - did break new sonic ground, in the way that few bands or musicians do, like the VU, Cabaret Voltaire, early Public Image Ltd & Martin Hannett's production of Joy Division also did, for me, for example: I genuinely had never heard such sounds - exhilarating, intriguing, troubling - even if not all of them or the song-structures necessarily appealed unilaterally, uncritically (but that's of course what makes the good stuff so transcendentally wonderful). And Sonic Youth have cast almost a quarter-century-long shadow in terms of their undeniable & oft-explicitly-referenced influence upon the sound of what might be termed many a more 'experimentally-inclined' guitar band, from the Pixies to the grungesters and on.
As long as the retroreferentiality doesn't disappear up itself, isn't too reverential or is otherwise used for mere pastiche or 'tribute' purposes, is recombined in some 'new'(ish) & meaningful way, exhibits some degree of creative inspiration, then it's an enriching experience to be profoundly enjoyed, as evidenced in the work of many an SY-influenced band. Boards of Canada & Moon Wiring Club are fine examples of those who have reconfigured aspects of, for another instance, Cabaret Voltaire's influence (& others besides) to suit their own aesthetic ends in satisfying ways: often, it's this very dialogue - with the nearer or more distant, obscure past - that provides the catalyst for some of the more progressive (small p) music produced, as occurs within visual art & design, & cinema too. Much of such work could be termed 'curatorial' in nature - predominantly, even - & criticized by some for being so, but this forms an essential &, indeed, culturally-necessary aspect of its purpose.

Returning to the point at which I began (often, via the facility of the BBC i-player), 'Antenna' continues to mesmerize: for all that it self-referentially echoes SY's own past (in addition to, apparently, other sources, purposely) &, indeed, adheres to a repetitive template itself (essentially, the song's structure is the same thing times 3), still it's a thrilling work of art, the delight being in the subtly-accruing details of additional shimmers of guitar overlaying the sparkly continuum, for example: it's not 'Kotton Krown' (which I've also been listening to a lot recently), it doesn't perhaps possess that quality of never-having-heard-anything-quite-like-this-before (from its opening foghorn-blast & rattle of guitars), but it might in some way be a honing, a perfecting of such a precursor & is not at all diminished in the brilliant glare of the earlier song - 'Antenna' serves as a wonderful complement to the previous work & acquires significance & purpose through this mutually-enriching relationship.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Done to a 'T'

Today the opposite of tomato is FC Barcelona's Champions' League Final victory

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

Returning after a 2-week hiatus, TOoT is back on the road again with a resumption of the 'roadkill diptych' series of drawings, this found-object subject being chosen for the arresting 'alternative' shape into which it has been compressed, folded & thus transformed. At this point in time, the drawing is unique in being made from the original object itself, more properly a still life, rather than an 'aesthetically-distanced' photocopy as has been the habitual case thus far over the course of the project, with the light-reflecting - & thus fugitive-in-appearance - surface of the aluminium can presenting a new set of challenges in the effective pictorial representation of.


Pavement 'Brighten the Corners'
Tricky 'Knowle West Boy'
Portishead 'Third'
Low 'Things We Lost in the Fire'

Friday, May 15, 2009

Butterfly Effect

Today the opposite of tomato is Total Trash (& it’s a natural fact)

graphite, watercolour & putty eraser/30x20cm

There are some occasions on which one form suggests another, & the shape into which this particular found-object ‘roadkill’ aluminium can had been compressed two-dimensionally provided just one such example. Placing both planes of the reconfigured object beside each other within the space of the drawing formed what might be regarded as being analogous to the shape of a butterfly, especially when also considering the brightly coloured design upon the can’s branded surface, even if the resulting ‘wing pattern’ does display an asymmetrical nature.
Under the particular circumstances of the object’s physical transformation, one thinks of the notion of ‘breaking a butterfly on a wheel’, of course...


Sonic Youth ‘Daydream Nation’
Go-Betweens ‘The Friends of Rachel Worth’ & ‘Bright Yellow, Bright Orange’

Searching out the mighty Sonic Youth for a listen became necessary following the band’s monumental recent appearance on ‘Later With Jools Holland’ (not a programme I often watch, given what amounts to its fundamentally unsatisfactory nature & format, its (stereo)typical mix of incompatible elements), where their seriousness of purpose, their working at the creation of art, their hewing of sound from guitars & drums, the weight of their performance, separated them markedly from the show’s other guests & the instantly-forgettable, inconsequentiality of their contributions. SY ended with a fine interpretation of ‘Teen Age Riot’, from ‘Daydream Nation’ (an album illustrated with a pair of Gerhard Richter’s candle paintings, no less), but prior to that unveiled a new song, ‘Antenna’, from the dreamier end of their sonic spectrum, the guitar sound of which – edgy, with a hint of impending menace as always, abrasive in a manner embodied in the distressed objecthood of Kim Gordon’s beaten-up guitar, the edges of the body of which were frayed to the bare wood, appearing as if nothing but gnawed - was just hair-raising in that most wonderful, sensuous way: I’ve long believed that the sound of guitars can be in some way tuned to the same wavelength as one’s nervous system (& yes, the address of the official residence of the author of this blog is Pseuds’ Corner, Pretentiousness, PA), & when such correspond, the effect is transcendent, to transport the listener to fabulous places, as was the case on this particular occasion. There is, perhaps, something of Francis Bacon’s ‘brutality of fact’ in such an experience (a phrase especially pertinent in the context of SY’s glorious noise?), of ‘the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance’, of feeling the music, or, more fundamentally, the sound, the noise, directly, viscerally, before any other formal, narrative properties that might constitute a considered, aesthetic appreciation of music. Of any Sonic Youth ‘song’, I think perhaps that ‘Kotton Krown’ best exemplifies such a theory, the manner in which the guitar sound chimes (their signature sound, descended from Joy Division), slow-fast-slow, like no other (excepting New Order’s magnificent, stately ‘Lonesome Tonight’, which scales similar peaks to like effect), emerging from a veritable squall of noise, has always produced such a thrill, being a thing of intense, exhilarating beauty.

Purely in the interests of balance, its been very interesting to subsequently read two blog articles to greater & lesser degrees critical of Sonic Youth, at the essential k-punk & blissblog, the latter being a post-script to issues raised by Simon Reynolds during his Guardian review of SY's new album ‘The Eternal’.
I must declare here that my significant, considered experience & appreciation of Sonic Youth centres almost entirely on that sound-breaking holy-noise trinity of mid-to-late 1980s albums, 'EVOL'-'Sister'-'Daydream Nation', & that I've not troubled myself getting to know much of their subsequent output & its develoment or lack of, being aware only of the band's continued existence in the most general terms. This fact itself probably supports the implied criticism of both of the above bloggers in that the longevity of a rock band’s career mitigates against their continued relevance, that such can only become diluted over the course of an extended back catalogue, where a drift into formula(e) & consequent lack of ground-breaking creativity, of the dulling of the pioneering spirit, might well occur. Considering such essential bands of my own such as the Velvet Underground, The Smiths & Galaxie 500, for example, whose life-spans were short & succinct (also including such artists as Nick Drake & Joy Division, circumscribed by fatal circumstances), blazing brilliantly, comet-like through the cultural continuum, the corps of work - &, by association, the corpses – they left behind were as perfect or near-to as possible, their still-youthful beauty intact at the point of their demise, their wonders undiluted by (the risk of) repetition & over-familiarity. I might claim the same for the earlier, essential, 1980s incarnation of The Go-Betweens too, with the re-formed partnership of McLennan & Forster not really making any advances or significant additions to their wonderful canon over the course of their final 3 albums, & also such a band as Portishead, whose lack of output (3 albums over 14 years, still only 4 even if one is tempted to include Beth Gibbon’s wonderful ‘Out of Season’) has worked in favour of keeping things vital.
In support of the argument against longevity, one might cite the case of Belle & Sebastian, whose significance & vitality could be condensed into that astonishingly fertile period of their creative youth, their first 3 albums & the collection of 4 EPs that constitute the first CD-&-a-quarter of the ‘Push Barman..’ compilation: subsequent releases only serve to dilute the wonder of this aspect of their oeuvre, even though ‘The Life Pursuit’ offered something of a renaissance-of-sorts.
It's interesting to consider also the 'curatorial' aspect of Belle & Sebastian's work in relation to that of Sonic Youth, that explicit & 'tasteful' referencing of musical sources & influences, & its creation of an aura of (intended) 'cool-by association', criticized as detrimental to SY & an appreciation of their music, which might well be applied to the latter output of B&S, whose array of styles proved to be unsatisfactory in that it established some form of aesthetic distance between the music & listener, that such became in essence soulless exercises in versatility, a trying-out & -on of styles for little more than effect, however scholarly the endeavour might be. Of course, Belle & Sebastian's earlier obvious references to, e.g. Love, the Postcard Records stable & The Smiths were somehow less intrusive through my own earlier exposure to & thus familiarity with such sources (anyone who grew up listening to the Liverpool contingent of Teardrop Explodes, Echo & the Bunnymen, etc, were practically force-fed Love, the Doors, other psychedelia & Scott Walker, for instance), already well processed & experienced from source, but somehow the freshness of the songwriting, the overall novelty of their earlier career (as previously defined) helped assimilate such references in a much less intrusive & considerably more enjoyable, indeed lovable manner.
The distinction (from the k-punk post) between bands as either curators (a repository of references) or portals (suggesting both musical & other cultural avenues to be explored, for an altogether richer experience in the long term) is a fascinating one too, the latter often transcending just a musical influence to point one in the direction of film, literature, art/design & other cultural sources, such purpose as The Smiths, Velvet Underground & Nick Cave would serve, for instance, from my own experience, perhaps helping to explain their enduring, continuing relevance & status as objects-of-interest. It's just a shame that dear old Morrissey feels compelled to keep releasing records, with much-diminished creative returns, even if he continues to explore lyrical themes few other artists do...

Simon Reynolds' point in his Guardian review of the 'meta-referencing' nature of Sonic Youth's work is similarly thought-provoking, claiming that such practice has more in common, perhaps, with the art world: certainly, it's a familiar endeavour, not at all problematical to an appreciation of work made under such circumstances & with such intentions as to explicity quote & display its sources & influences (after all, it's essentially postmodernism in action), but I can understand how, in the reception of music, such practice can create an aesthetic distance, suggesting the music be appreciated 'knowingly', more as an intellectual pursuit than a direct emotional experience that would seem to characterize one's engagement with the greatest of music.

To end, further ammunition in the argument against especial longevity: the wonderful & much-loved Lambchop's relevance has diminished, regretfully, since the pinnacle of the note-&-interval-perfect glories of 'Is a Woman', mattering only slightly less than it used to initially, through 'Aw C'mon'/'No, You C'mon' & then 'Damaged', but the most recent 'OH(Ohio)' has nothing to offer in terms of something new, however subtle, comprising instead a series of familiar & formulaic songs that, well-crafted as they might be, are ultimately pale, worn & unsatisfactory imitations of the wonders that were: unlike 'Damaged', there appear to be no secrets that time will reveal, alas.

Of course, to return to the beginning of this ramble & the wonder & worth of Sonic Youth's new 'Antenna' is to fatally undermine the case against longevity & familiarity, given the obvious fact that, had SY ceased at some point in the past to produce music, it would not have come into existence & refreshed one aspect of their sonic template...perhaps, as David Hockney claimed, it is better to believe only what an artist does (rather than says)!

Sunday, May 10, 2009


graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

Having touched upon Cubism once again, this most recent drawing in the diptych subseries represents a subject that illustrates the notion of simultaneity rather effectively, with the ‘roadkill’ found object being compressed in such a manner that presents both its top & bottom for view at the same time, within the same flat(tened) plane, in addition to its instantly-recognizable brand name being present in its entirety, albeit fragmented, divided, into two separate almost-perfect halves, & being able to be read as such from either of the halves.


Portishead 'Third'
The Delgados 'The Great Eastern'
The Go-Betweens 'Before Hollywood', 'Spring Hill Fair', 'Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express', 'Tallulah'
& '16 Lovers Lane'

Remembering, at this time of year – if a few days late, to be honest – Grant Maclennan, although no excuse should be required to indulge in the enduring delightful magic of The Go-Betweens.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Art & Football Again

Returning today to both the notion of the living of ‘the life aesthetic’, attuned to experiencing art any- & everywhere it may occur, & also to a theme touched-upon last summer, this time as related to the concept of artistic influence, which last night might be claimed to have extended so far as to have proved decisive in the outcome of a football match, no less. The occasion was the UEFA Cup semi-final 2nd leg between SV Hamburg & their North German near-neighbours Werder Bremen, which began with the hosts holding a 1-0 advantage from the 1st leg in Bremen.
Early in the proceedings, Hamburg scored & extended their overall lead to 2-0, before Werder rallied to score twice themselves, leaving both the match - by now deep into its second half - & the tie delicately poised as it approached its conclusion.
It was at this point that art took a hand. With the football travelling towards the Hamburg goal line, accompanied by a player from that team & effectively under his control, intending to pass it to a team-mate, it came into contact with an obstacle that had at some time during the evening been throw onto the pitch, namely a ball of scrunched-up paper, in the manner of Martin Creed’s ‘Work No. 88: A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball’.
This collision of spherical objects caused the football to significantly alter its trajectory, ricocheting in an upwards direction & wrong-footing the player, bobbling from his shin & thence over the goal line to result in a corner kick to Werder from which, once taken, they subsequently scored another goal, their third on the night &, crucially for the outcome of the tie, at their opponent’s venue for, although Hamburg were yet to recover one goal of their deficit in the tense & frenetic few moments before the match’s denouement, thus squaring the aggregate score at 3-3, this third ‘away goal’ for Bremen (comparing favourably with Hamburg’s solitary effort on their opponent’s turf, of course) determined that it would be they who progressed to the cup final under the competition’s rules that dictate such a deciding factor in the event of a tie.

Werder Bremen's Frank Baumann (right) celebrates his deciding goal with Claudio Pizarro

Thus it might well be said with conviction that the intervention of the paper ball was critical in deciding the result of the match & consequently the semi-final tie - a victory for art (after the fashion, anyway) in the context of a sporting occasion, courtesy of a goal assist by Martin Creed, at least via his influence upon a supporter!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Flat-out Fantastic

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

Being another example of the aluminium can ‘roadkill’ diptych sub-series, this found-object presented itself as a suitable model primarily through the sharp-edged folding to which its form had been subjected during the flattening process it had obviously undergone (seemingly over the course of numerous, repeated occasions, to the point of almost perfect two-dimensionality: in cricketing parlance, it appears to have been gone over, carefully, with a heavy roller). This in turn suggested a particular correspondence with certain examples of both Braque's & Picasso’s Cubist painting, of the period 1911-12 when such practice was developing into what might be termed a refined state (its so-called 'Hermetic' phase), characterised by an explicit flattening of depth towards the picture surface & faceting of forms into overlapping planes, giving the whole a fragmented, shattered appearance: note too the application of lettering in the form of truncated words & (brand) names which of course finds an echo in the brand identity of the can’s livery.

Georges Braque 'The Portuguese'
oil on canvas/1911

Pablo Picasso 'Ma Jolie'
oil on canvas/1911-12


New Order 'Movement'
The Associates 'Fourth Drawer Down'/'Sulk'
Portishead 'Third'

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Back on the Road

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

Returning to the drawing of the ‘roadkill’ drink cans within their full & proper roadside context (as found), the stripe down the design of this particular subject suggested it would be appropriate, in formal terms, for such a purpose as laying upon & thus echoing the double black lines gracing the road surface. As has mostly been the case with such subject matter, the drawing is a composite of two separate sources – the original photograph of the road surface & the more recently found & reclaimed can.


New Order 'Movement'
Prince 'Sign O' the Times'
Cat Power 'The Covers Record'