July 10, 2006


1. Giving voice to Autobiography


Some thoughts on Simon's response to my Scritti post...

It's not that I doubt that much of the material for the new album's lyrics comes out of and refers to 'specific misdeeds and actual epiphanies in Green's dare one say it real life'. My point was a fairly simple deconstructive one, though, that, these experiences - which, like all experiences, can never be entirely separated from fiction - are not simply 'expressed' but written, pushed not only through a linguistic but also through a musical grid. The autobiographical effect is always produced by particular techniques (for instance, if we suspect that 'Mrs Hughes' refers to one of Green's schoolteachers, even before we 'know' - thanks to other textual evidence - that it does, that's due to a certain stylistic and structural clues/ cues).

I agree with Simon that 'it's more self-subversive of Green to go in for this veiled autobiography than if he'd really just picked up where Cupid left off and recapitulated the old concerns', with the proviso that it's not only selfsubversive. In many ways, White Bread does what Cupid did: it unsettles and undoes the dominant global Pop brand of the time. The subversive work is much more urgent now that it was in 85, when the target/ inspiration/ object to be undone was Michael Jackson (who, already conspicuously falling apart, already dis-integrating the organic body of Soul into a Duchamp-collage of machinic gasps, whoops, and yelps) was scarcely in need of much deconstruction. But there has never been a more urgent time to question authenticity and presence now that the voice of global Pop - James Blunt, K T Tunstall, Chris Martin - is White in a Wholesome, Whole Earth, Whole Grain way (nothing but organic carrots for baby Jake). Instead of giving us the option of alienating ourselves through Jackson's tics and hooks, present day Pop offers us these plain-speaking White faces as pallid mirrors - the myth of no myths, Oedipus unmasked, supposedly, domesticity for all... Once we believed (and once we were critical), now we just know (who we are)... In offering a fragmentary version of current Pop's 'confessional mode', perhaps the elliptical, elusive/ allusive White Bread, Black Beer deserves the description ' Modernist MOR' even more than the Junior Boys' new LP does. (Speaking of the Junior Boys, some people have asked when the album is due to be released: in the UK, the 12" single, 'In the Morning', is out 14th august, followed by the LP on 11th september.)

Simon is right to note 'the sheer size of the voice in the mix, unnervingly upfront, asphyxiatingly intimate, criminally cloying....'

    White Bread: you could say that Green removes the wholesome Grain of the Voice as theorised by Barthes, the element that bypasses or undercuts through all the expressive artfulness of singing and instead comes directly from "the body of the cantor", from pre-culture/pre-langue

    and yet even at its most ethereal, the voice is where the Real of breath/ exertion/physical longing-loathing-fear/embodied-will meets the textual machinery of the lover's discourse/utopian politics/religion/etc

    it's the uncanny hinge between presence and absence

Compare Dolar:

    Every emission of the voice is by its very nature ventriloquism... It is not the haunting voice impossible to pin down to a source; rather, it appears in the void from which it is supposed to stem but which it does not fit, an effect without a poper cause. In a curious bodily topology, it is like a bodily missile which separates itself from the body and spreads around, but on the other hand it points to a bodily interest which cannot be disclosed - as if the voice were the very principle of division into interior and exterior. The voice, by being so ephemeral, transient, incorporeal, ethereal, presents for that very reason the body at its quintessential, the hidden bodily treasure beyond the visible envelope, the interior "real" body, unique and intimate, and at the same time it seems to present more than the mere body - in many languages there is an etymological link between spirit and breath (breath being the "voiceless voice", the zero point of vocal emission); the voice carried by breath points to the soul irreducible to the body. ... The voice is the flesh of the soul, its ineradicable materiality, by which the soul can never be rid of the body: it depends on this inner object which is but the ineffaceable trace of externality and heterogeneity, but by virtue of which the body can also never quite simply be the body, it is a truncated body, a body cloven by the impossible rift between an interior and an exterior. The voice embodies the very impossibility of this division, and acts as its operator. (A Voice and Nothing More (70-71)

See also Dolar's footnote to this section:

    This is ... why formulas like those posed by Barthes - le grain de la voix, the grain of the voice, "the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue," "the body in the singing voice," and so on ... - will never do. The problem is that the voice cannot be pinned to a body, or be pinned to a body, without a paradox.

Dolar's point is that there is no 'mother tongue'; the tongue and the throat are the sites of an invading alien structure (an alien structure wihout which, nevertheless, you could not be who you are...).

In mainstream Pop, the foregrounding of the Voice connotes depth, authenticity ... But partly what makes White Bread so uncanny is that Green's Voice is as obviously synthetic as the sequencers with which Cupid & Psyche was constructed. Like Ferry and Sylvian, Green has always sung in a borrowed accent. In fact, Green, like Sylvian, has used more than one assumed accent - first it was Robert Wyatt mockney, then it was Michael Jackson's super-sugared Americandrodyny. (There are ways in which White Bread bears comparison with Sylvian's Blemish, an LP which was similarly elliptically fixated on shame and trauma: in both cases, the stripping away of instruments highlights the de-natured, confected quality of the voices.)

Also check out Owen's essential contributions to the discussion...

2. Bass magnet


DMZ on Saturday was the perfect cure for the ghastly murk of The End a week or so ago. The afficianados are right; this is not a sound that can be replicated at home or on headphones.* It's definitely not IPop. What you cannot simulate are the bass waves as they pass through the air and through the Massive. Bass as environment, its electrolibidinal power a mighty nonorganic force of which the DJs and producers are themselves in awe (and dread). The electrified enthusiasm of the crowd and the DJs a fascinating contrast with the implacable lumbering pulse of the sound, although a certain rave/jungloid E-exuberance is creeping back, most notably in the high end flitting sounds in Skream's productions. As Kode9 observes in the fascinating Invisible Jukebox in this month's Wire, if you were subject to intense exposure to jungle in the 90s, there is no need for the double-time beats to be actually present any more; you provide them yourself. Digital Mystikz and Loefah do so many rewinds their set is almost picnolepticaly chopped-up. Skream and Hatcha are more punitively seamless. Skream is wired, so tall and thin, so addicted to the bass it's almost possible to imagine that he's been emaciated by it, neglecting organic sustenance in order to maintain the bass habit. Even though I'm beyond exhausted, so tired that everything is punctuated by narcoleptic cut-outs, it's hard to leave. There's something soothing and lulling about the sound; it's possibly the most oceanic sonic environment I've ever been immersed in. Electro-compulsive therapy. Eventually I do manage to escape what Kode9 calls the 'bass magnet', blinking out into the dawn light.

(*Burial, by contrast, quite evidently does work on headphones. IP's comparison of Burial with ambient dub is certainly more valid than the wholly unconvincing parallels with Aphex made in some quarters. But the obvious precursor for Burial is what Simon used to call 'ambient jungle', even though, needless to say, Burial's isn't a recapitulation so much as a hauntological re-visiting. And the thing is, Burial does it much better than Goldie and the like managed in the 90s. Timeless succumbed to the 'jazz rock noodle' Good Taste attractor with obscene haste; Burial is well aware of those dangers. One of my favourite sections from the interview with Blackdown: 'There’s no ‘musicianship’ in my sound, that’s the enemy of my tunes. Fuck Rhodes chords, fuck that noodle stuff. There’s been a lot of times when producers I’ve liked have gone all ‘musician’ on me and just produced shit, not underground.')

3. Curse go back

The World Cup ends, with an act of self-destruction (whatever Materazzi said, it's hard to believe Zidane hadn't heard it before) and a team liberating itself from its past. Most of the reactions to my previous World Cup post concentrated on England, but the more interesting, more uncanny point concerned the way in which the tournament as a whole has a compulsion to repeat, so that it needs to be treats as a psychoanalytic subject. Italy - a former winner, a European team winning in Europe - confirmed so many patterns, but their emphatic success in the penalty shoot-out was a break with established form. Here was the thrilling spectacle of a team escaping a curse, refusing to be the agents for the past to repeat itself once again: a nice definition of freedom. Hard to believe that the French sending on Trezeguet - who famously scored the winning golden goal to beat Italy in the Euro 2000 final - wasn't a hyperstitional gambit, designed to erode Italian self-belief by reminding them of past failures. As it turned out, Trezeguet's miss acted as a kind of negative talisman, a Sign that events were with the Italians. The Italian victory was a triumph for a team ethic and for self-styled 'proletarians' like Gatusso (is he the only World Cup winner to have played in the Scottish League I wonder?) over the elite individualists. Evidently, it is possible to succeed with one occasionally brilliant, often anonymous midfielder (Totti) in your team, but not with three, as England tried to (Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard). One key to the Italian success was full backs who attacked; the tournament was conspicuous for its lack of width, with many teams adopting a 'South American' style - as boring in its own way as Anglo kick and rush - of pointless possession culminating in an over-ambitious attempt to thread the ball right through the centre of defence, or an an over-ambitious shot sailing over the bar.

4. Grey Nature


As a taster for my interview with John Foxx, which covers some of the same ground, here's the man, in brilliant form, speaking to the excellent Ballardian. Choice cuts:

    An intimate knowledge of urban ambiences is a joy as deep as anything in Green Nature. I have a fascination with Grey Nature, or Technicolor Nature – ecologies are emerging which are as subtle as anything Green.
    Songs are an interesting compound of music and words as chant — a hypnotic process, where the operator attempts to slip a piece of dream cinema under the door while the recipient is distracted. An attempt to persuade the listener to suspend disbelief long enough to watch the movie. But it’s an internal movie. One composed of the listener’s own experience. All you do is allow a space big enough for the listener to walk inside and construct their own movie, while believing that it is all someone else’s work.

(btw, on the grounds that it covers Harold Budd, Germany as a mediator for English Pop, the relationship between visual and sonic culture and Ballard - after Chris Bohn called last month for more Ballardian music - I offered my interview with Foxx to the Wire. Didn't even get a rejection lol...)

Posted by mark at July 10, 2006 11:49 PM | TrackBack