August 13, 2010

Optimistic Melancholia


In his debut post on Found Objects, Jon Brooks of the Advisory Circle associates the graphics and music of the BBC's Continuing Education programming with what he calls "optimistic melancholia". It's this "optimistic melancholia" that Jon's own music captures to an often painful degree. In my review of the Revised Edition of The Advisory Circle's Mind How You Go I wrote:

    Brooks’s analogue synthesizer doodles – all the more powerful, somehow, for their unassuming slightness – gently trigger drifts down (false) memory lanes, inducing you to recall a mass mediated past which you never quite experienced . Mind How You Go frequently invokes that talisman of 1970s paternalism, the public information film, and it’s perhaps no accident that the rise of Ghost Box has coincided with the emergence of YouTube, which has made public information films and other such street furniture of 1970s audio-visual experience widely available again.
    What Brooks captures here extremely poignantly is the conflicted cluster of emotions involved in nostalgic longing . “Mind How You Go” and “Nuclear Substation” summon remembered sunlight from childhood summers even as their doleful melodies are laced with a deep sense of loss. Yet there’s a very definite but subdued joy here, too, in the way that a track such as “Osprey” achieves a kind of faltering soaring. It’s not for nothing that the word ache is often associated with nostalgia; and The Advisory Circle’s music positively aches with a sadness that is simultaneously painful and enjoyable.

(There's something of the same sunlit yearning at work in Christopher Priest's A Dream Of Wessex - which, incidentally, I believe is the ur-text for Nolan's Inception.)

This notion of "optimistic melancholia" has a resonance just now, precisely because it's so alien to today's affective regime, to the relentless positivity that Ivor Southwood identifies as central to the sell-yourself culture. Even as it attempts to photoshop out all negativity, this mandatory positivity is only the other side to capitalist realism's hedonic depression. If nothing else, optimistic melancholia reminds us of a culture with a wider emotional bandwidth.

(Make sure you check out Jon's download-only label, too.)

Posted by mark at August 13, 2010 01:05 AM | TrackBack