Apr. 18, 2017: Catching Up, Barely
What's happening? Here are some things from me: what's going on domestically in Syria (and Turkey, and North Korea) is depressing, horrifying, but bombing the hell out of them isn't the way to fix it. Get Out is a great movie. The Young Pope and Veep are great shows. Girls is a decent show that ended well. Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. is a great album. Fleetwood Mac's Rumours has grown on me slowly for years but still doesn't convince me it's a total masterpiece. Nyege Nyege Tapes is an exciting label that deserves the hype it will continue to receive. George Kubler's The Shape of Time is obviously a foundational text and (without my realizing) outlines much of my own position on art, but it's also a bit tough to get through, even if it's pretty short. I wrote this article, which I'm more proud of than I am of most others.
And then, I've been reading Calvin Tomkins's biography of Marcel Duchamp, Duchamp. It's a great read—well-written, engaging, and certainly a good defense of Duchamp's being the absolute most influential western artist of the 20th century (the Wayne Gretzky of modern art, as I sometimes think to myself and chuckle). Namely through its history and analysis of Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, the book has also helped me articulate some ideas I had previously concocted about what I'm calling (in my head) "barely music." In an interview with Pitchfork, Phil Elverum noted that his new record, A Crow Looked at Me, which is of course one of the most worthwhile (and maybe best) listens of 2017 thus far, is "barely music." The lyrics are prose-like and lack metaphor; the songs unfold at inconsistent paces, and in unpredictable directions. While they come across as somewhat typical singer-songwriter fare, it doesn't take long for them to reveal themselves as missing some of that fare's crucial elements. Hence, "barely music."
On a related plane, Duchamp once asked if you could make a work of art that's not art. His Bride wasn't an artistic picture in any traditional sense; made of glass, its artistic guts moreover were totally exposed, leaving a space for the viewer's physical and metaphysical reflection. Elverum's album is much more specific than Duchamp's piece, even if the latter does in fact outline a specific narrative (revealed in Duchamp's numerous published notes), which might disable the listener's subjectivity. But I would argue that it actually emboldens it, for reasons that I don't feel like explaining—and probably can't—right now.
I would argue, too, on a different note, that there's a lot of electronic music out right now that's "barely music"—that's "bare," reflective, and gutless (in a good way), like Duchamp's glass piece. Club Sound Witches, Hype Williams, and Yeongrak are my go-to examples—all of them have released albums this year that are skeletal, glass-like. They're recognizable as music, but only barely so. And in being this way, they involve the body and mind of the listener in a way that's perplexing and discomfiting but also strangely (sexually) alluring. (There could be a connection here to Young Marble Giants, too.) Anyways, these are ideas I would like to develop.
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