Monday, April 21, 2008

33 1/3: 20 Jazz Funk Greats (a few notes)


Yeah. The Throbbing Gristle album. Someone wrote a whole book on it. Which, if you're a TG fanatic, you know of by now (it's been out for a few months).

The book reviews the whole album, piece by piece, from cover art, release, to each track. And, my god. I knew TG were brilliant before, but the amount of thoughtful subversion that went into each and every track is simply amazing. An album I previously found mediocre in the Gristle ouevre is now, in my mind, perhaps their most brilliant. Beneath the simple beats of each track is much more than distorted pop, funk, jazz, or exotica: it is its own perverse and subverse mindbomb - it's own LOCALE, if you will.

What seems to be a quaint, somewhat cheesey cover happens to be the location of a suicide spot. Seemingly half-assed attempts at jazz, techno, rock and other conventionalized genres are really clever, undercover mockeries of such popular modes of expression. Rife with odd references to Mesopotamian goddesses, Polanski films, Margaret Thatcher, the industrial workplace, and so forth - the album is all over the place. And the lyrics for Six Six Sixties? They're cryptic messages recieved by Gen from a spirit calling himself "Mebar". Hot on the Heels of Love is a dangerous flirt with what may be one of the first true examples of techno music. And so on and so forth. Ah...I really can't explain how fascinating some of this stuff is in a few quick paragraphs; this just glosses over the obvious. Each song has its own charm, as do the numerous diversions into other social, political, philosophical, musical and even magical territory.


***

Of particular interest:

C&C explain that the track Still Walking is much like (what it seems to me) a spoken version of the Surrealist exquisite corpse, in which two people are having a conversation with a seperate person in their head, and, taking turns, fire off consecutive phrases to create a new, hidden conversation, analogous in manner to the cadavre exquis and analogous in purpose to the cut-up. Once the lyrical text has been completed, each member of the band recites the text - so it is being heard four times, from four people. The purpose, as Gen describes, lies in the fact that "an overlay of multiple streams of information produces a new space that is not merely additive", and compares it to a musical form of a cabalistic square (with its four sides). Possibly the most interesting song on the whole album. Music like this is fascinating - that which can go beyond being merely sound, and can affect people by doing more than simply relaying audible information, or working on a certain emotion - music that can affect brainwaves, become magical, or, as Steven Stapleton of Nurse With Wound once suggested, could elicit violent reactions such as vomiting or orgasm in the listener. Or, perhaps, one might even call for music that causes physical pain. That is, music that affects "a new space that is not merely additive" - music which goes above and beyond. (This is something I've tried to target in my own music at times). Why resort to a traditional mode of expression, when you can target someone at the gut, the genitalia, or even invoke the world of the spiritual?

Hot on the Heels of Love, being a proto-techno song, is, as Cosey (if I remember correctly) describes as an "attempt to combine the systems music of riley and reich" with trance music. Hot on the Heels of Love is also described as a "mini-eternity", a "momentary illusion of an infinite horizon, a smooth plateau peirced by the transient spike of each momentary kick drum, sprindled upon the beat but spiraling outward in all directions". The author adds, "thankfully, help from above never arrives". Nice.

Gen remarks of his own writing, "I was exploring options, trying to take the lyric to the final level after the VU, where the lyric could be journalistic and anecdotal (think slug bait!), with lou reed using the...Factory and the downtown underground scene as his source...everything is fair game for the lyric." Also,

"It's the job of the artist to reflect their times and...illuminate some of the dark shadow side of society's guilt and fear, and expose that for the hypocrisy and danger that it represents." ... Gen was (unlike Whitehouse, as he makes clear), "trying to discuss motives, the dynamic of how people behave, because...I believe that human behavior is the key to change, to evolution. If we don't behave differently, we're doomed. Art has to ultimately deal with issues of human behavior, and why we behave in ways that are counterproductive, cruel, desctuctive, aggressive. Why is it that we keep falling back into the same loops, damaging ourselves, when anyone...knows that pain and violence are not good? That's what I want to find out: Why? Why do people keep repeating this aberrent behavior? Why are people titillated and stimulated by second-hand descriptions of other people's aberrent behavior? ... If we can find out what that is, what that story is, that has stopped us from evolving with our technology, then maybe...we can finally let go of our prehistoric behavior and actually become a species that we can truly be proud of when we look at ourselves."

And also, "It's obviously my responsibility as a writer to propose some escapes, some alternatives." Gen explains that 2nd Annual Report was supposed representative of "here's the problem", and 3rd Annual Report explains the severity of it (it even goes down to personal relationships, as with Weeping), and 20 Jazz Funk Greats represents "some escapes, some alternatives". Just what those alternatives are is not so clear.

Noteworthy for anyone interested in permutation, cut-ups, or musical repetition, Gen notes, drawing on Burroughs and Gysin, that "by the repetition of certain phrases, there is a subvocal resonance of meaning that is inarticulable with straightforward language. It exists in the actual act of repetition rather than in the linear sense of meaning." He also reiterates Burroughs theory of Language as a Virus, going into an interesting discussion of how he believes language to be literally alive, among other things. (I happen to be reading a Crowley book right now where he discusses much the same thing - no doubt this is where Gen draws this from). A sample of that discussion:

DREW: "So with the repitition of phrases you push the cadence toward hidden associations, and...the repetitions stack up for the listener, they become hungry for new information, and so they try to hear something new even in the repetition of the "same" phrase?"

GEN: "All words are alive, in a literal sense...They have the ability to create and pressure people to bend and manifest the agendas of those very words. Certain words are vying to control the direction of what you write. They work a bit like the gene strands of DNA. " [shades of burroughs]

DREW: "We are all in the prison house of language?"

GEN: "Tape recorded loops. As Burroughs asked: in a pre-recorded universe, who made the first recording?...Words are trying to push me to reveal or hide, to camouflage certain things that need to be discussed. I'm always looking for ways to trap words in little games so that their particular agendas are confounded and something that's a little closer to the real story of what is happening comes through."

***

There's all kinds of great stuff you can pull from the ideas expressed in this book (or, rather, the album itself). These are just a few particular parts that caught my interest. This is no review, and certainly no summary; it is merely the isolation of certain ideas that may otherwise be overlooked as unimportant. For the TG fan, it's essential. For anyone else, it's highly intriguing - bursting will all sorts of radiant implications, each song, and each discussion, is its own set of LOCALES. Right?

1 comment:

Andrew Meehan said...

Hooray! Thanks for the review. I remember seeing this particular 33 1/3 in a record store, shrugging, and moving on. Knowing if I opened my mouth it would be in dissent. A book about TG -- demystifying. But, it seems that the book just provides another layer of depth to the sonics of the album.

I'll pick this one up for sure!