After Wyndham Lewis and The Vorticists, after Vague no.21, after all, why not? This is Page 1, provisional draft. Complete version will be in PDF. Or it will never be shown, or it will be written, printed, soaked in milk and eaten with Cornflakes, or posted to the Houses of Parliament in an envelope also containing one of those joke shop snakes that spring out, or a stink bomb. The original source of inspiration is here.
The Man, Machine and Motion moved from the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle to London's Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1955. It was the second show to be organised by Hamilton as part of the Independent Group.
'Man has realized an aspiration which lies deeper than thought, the longing for a power with no natural limits; he finds himself in real life the super-human inhabitant of his dearest fantasy'
(L. Gowing and R. Hamilton, 'Man, Machine and Motion')
Richard Hamilton panels for the show. Screenprints on formica.
Finished any good books lately? I have. Yes, I finished a good book. They're the only kind I finish. I start more books than I finish. Is that wrong? The unfinished aren't bad books necessarily, they just aren't good enough for me.
What's good enough? As with all things relating to taste, that's not easy to define. I can't say 'I only love great stories', or 'Pulp fiction rules', or 'Radical texts that are meta, or plain mental is all I'm interested in' etc. Like most avid readers my taste is cross-genre. Perhaps 'genre' is a key word.
There are 'genre novels' and the rest, apparently. I'm not sure what constitutes 'the rest'...unless it's contemporary novels by the likes of Ian MacEwan...Zadie Smith (don't start me on her), whoonce met JG Ballard, of which she wrote: 'Every book I championed he hated. Every film he admired I'd never seen. (We didn't dare move on to the visual arts.) The only thing we seemed to have in common was King's College Cambridge,' That last line says it all. Although Ballard studied medicine at King's College for a couple of years in the late-40s and despite (or perhaps because of) his stuffy, bourgeois background, as you know, he went on to first embrace that lowly thing called 'genre fiction', worst of all, science-fiction, before exploring inner space and riding the New Wave in his unique, psycho-suburban, very English way.
Salman Rushdie's another one...and Martin Amis (although I respect his mind, I've never finished one of his novels). Anyway, that mob, the so-called 'golden generation' and their heirs, the ones too highbrow for genre and all attendees of 'good schools', which means university, which means they're not just writers, but Clever Writers who were, and probably still are, the Literary Mafia here in the UK. Them. They're the only ones qualified to make truly profound observations about life, of course. Not just profound, but profoundly Literary, which is what non-genre books are. That means not only 'big words' but an ability to harvest them from their throbbing brains and create fiction which gets to the core of life, usually life lived in a middle-class environment where trouble takes the form of extra-marital relationships...the price of a Frappuccino...er...sex (waning of during mid-life crisis)...I DON'T BLOODY KNOW! I've never read one of their damned novels. 'So,' you ask, 'how can you judge?' Just read the blurb! Or the reviews. That's enough. The day I mature into a sensible, well-read adult for whom that mob are the pinnacle of literature instead of Jim Thompson or James M. Cain, shoot me.
There's no shooting in Dorothy Hughes' In A Lonely Place, but despite that I loved it. Shooting is a good thing in books, especially those written between, say, 1920 and 1950. Shooting detectives, private eyes and pitiful desperate men or women on the verge of a nervous breakdown on mean streets or in small towns where the postman always rings twice and sheriffs are psycho killers, that kind of thing.
Despite the Pocket Book pulp cover In A Lonely Place is not your average pulp novel. Well, we know that even the greats got the cheap pulp cover treatment. In retrospect, that's a good thing because readers just looking for an easy thrill would have discovered brilliant writing instead and maybe even liked it. Written in 1947, it's too late for the classic pulp era anyway, although pulp equivalents were written long afterwards. It falls into the general category of Crime Fiction, but that hardly covers it despite the many crimes committed. It's an exploration of how a serial killer might think, the traumas he suffers and his desperate need to be loved.
Early on Hughes displays her talent with the kind writing that gets my vote: 'He didn't follow her at once. Actually, he didn't intend to follow her. It was entirely without volition that he found himself moving down the slant, winding walk. He didn't walk hard, as she did, nor did he walk fast. Yet she heard him coming behind her. He knew she heard him for her heel struck and extra beat, as if she had half stumbled, and her steps went faster. He didn't walk faster, he continued to saunter but he lengthened his stride, smiling slightly. She was afraid.'
See what I mean? The fact that Hughes does not describe Dix Steele's worst activities goes towards making the novel so great . You'll know what I mean if you read it.
On the subject of pulp fiction, here's a detail from something I made recently...
...it is, of course, an homage to Mimmo Rotella. Here's one of his works in the Museum Of Modern Art, Nice. I couldn't get that poser to move so I took the photo anyway...
Has an essay called The Sartorial Style of the Art Gallery Guard been written for Frieze magazine yet? If not, it should be. Surely there's much mileage in the sartorial signifiers that abound in cloth, colour, style and cut in relation to the guarding of artistic objects.
Is the quasi-militaristic uniform worn by some not a symbol of the bourgeoisie protecting their financial interests via the imposition of authoritarian imagery, which in turn represents the exclusion of the common (oppressed) person from the Art world?
Are galleries holding contemporary Art not akin to bank vaults around the world, framing millions of pounds instead of storing them deep in vaults (where Art also resides, of course)? Hence, the common person (ie, not connected in any way via administration, promotion, purchasing power or, heaven forbid, creativity) is confronted with the menace of forceful ejection or worse whilst inside the gallery. Their position as lowly viewer teased by the site of such wealth and it's guardians therefore causing increased feelings of total alienation from, and intimidation by, the Art world.
The uniform also symbolises the tightly controlled marketplace in which, like society, the few hold so much power, rendering The Market and therefore the Art World itself a fortress of privilege into which only the uniformly-behaved are granted access.
Those who behave in a disorderly fashion may actually be Artists and as long as they are also the product of a good Art school before residing in a fashionable area of London, preferably acting as a gang, getting drunk, dancing and selling their first post-modernist masterpieces in shops that were once purveyors of kebabs or such like, they may be bought and accepted into the inner sanctum, where their multi-million price tags pieces will be guarded by lowly sorts who could never dream of being Artists.
At the Royal Academy of Arts' Radical Geometry show yesterday I tore my eyes away from Waldemar Cordeiro's Visible Idea...
...only to be confronted by a sight that was diametrically opposed to the contents of this excellent exhibition...a display so ragged, crumpled, ill-fitting and ugly that the contrast quite upset me. There stood the guard, staring at his feet, perhaps in shame at the state the Royal Academy had forced him to appear in, his hands barley visible beneath the sleeves and his trousers rumpled on his shoes due to so much excess cloth as to suggest he was wearing several small tires around his ankles, which seemed unlikely. The poor soul! Not only was he being paid per hour what Tracy Emin earns in the blink of an eye, but in doing so was humiliated by a suit that looked worse than those worn at weddings by men who only dust them off for such occasions (along with funerals, of course).
I discussed with LJ the possibility of complaining to the management about the ill treatment of an employee and the effect the resulting visual abomination had on me. There, amongst the beautiful symmetry, the perfectly arranged shapes and tasteful colour palettes of these South American artists, stood an insult to humanity, namely, the employee. Was he being punished for allowing someone to take a photograph, or worse still steal a postcard from the shop last week? Would he object, I wondered, if I photographed him, even though I wished to use the photo as a symbol of how the elite Art world regards the common person? Instead of a photo, you must make do with this geometric (ahem) representation of the poor guard...
Thankfully, this sartorial horror and abuse of a human's rights to look reasonably dressed by employees could not ruin what is a truly superb show.
I had a little fun at the expense of Chris Douglas when 'reviewing' Niaiw Ot Vile on PAN last year. Thankfully he didn't hold it against me, which proves that despite the nature of his music he has a sense of humour...or was simply being tolerant. Someone once praised me for 'writing about music as if it mattered', a comment I'm still trying to understand...
...how much does music matter? It matters as light relief from the humdrum world of Work? It matters as a means by which to contemplate the very nature of ourselves as reflected in reaction to sound? It matters because it's an art form that can be both instantly accessible, understandable, joyous and baffling, frustrating, intriguing or annoying? Why does some noise annoy? Because it represents all that is shallow, insignificant, disappointing and tragic about a world based upon greed, celebrity-worship and desperate materialism? Oh, the unbearable lightness of being dependant on a diet of cultural dross including aural candyfloss...
...love or hate Seaes II the last thing you could call it is 'dross'. Unless you were a total idiot, which I know you aren't. The Idiots Are Winning was an album title by someone who's name escapes me, but let's look at things another way rather than defeatist cynicism. Let's say that every time the idiots reveal their idiocy they lose again and they'll never win. They'll never own what you and I do, such as Chris Douglas recordings, but more seriously, the spirit of an eternal (no, we don't live forever, but in the afterlife I will still be hoping to find El Saturn records in a junk shop) quest for all that is profound, deep, meaningful, adventurous, intriguing, special, complex, challenging in this thing we call culture. Oh, and the super stupid, namely by Funkadelic, but also in the form of, say, Laurel & Hardy, because don't get me wrong, I don't spend my life like some highfalutin' intellectual who understands Joyce and post-structuralism (again - hah!). The idiots can win. They're on a loser's treadmill of constant mediocrity, so pity them...
...As Serious As Your Life is the title of a book by Val Wilmer and music like Seaes II is as serious as your life, as fathomless, even, but therein lies the mystery. Wilmer wrote about John Coltrane, who recorded a track dedicated to bass-player Paul Chambers called Mr P.C. There's a track called PC here too, recorded in 2004. I mention it as a standout and because it's title reminded me of the Coltrane one. Other than that, sonically, you'll not be surprised to learn that there's no connection....
...I'm not sure who has influenced Douglas. Much of his music sounds, as all the best stuff does, as if it springs from him, rather than being the result of having listened to and absorbed too many others, thus freeing himself from the burden of influence. PC is one of the tracks in which he imposes a sense of, if not strictly speaking the actual structure of, rhythm. But it's a rhythm that's off-kilter, irregular, languid and profoundly unsettling. On TC (2004) too, the deadened drum beat suggests that as we travel way off the map, here be dragons, or rather, demons. ZG (2004) offers a rare (for this comp) assault, a battering as if to wake any who may be dozing...
...with so much to digest here, it would be easy to drift....to lose focus, but that is why you will return to discover the diversity which may not be apparent at first. Unlike some music, here the depths and subtleties are not so clearly signalled. But you probably know that about Douglas anyway. Layer-upon-layer is revealed with a closer listen. The physical enormity of this release suggests he has so much music that's been withheld, as if he too can find no end to it all; there is no end to the journey, no definitive closure. Only this narrative, in sonic chapters, from the ongoing book of Chris Douglas...
(If you missed out on the hard copy I believe it will be released in digital form at some point)
Reissued on vinyl with free CD by Schema, for those who haven't already got it from file-sharing blogs, or music-lovers wanting a cleaner, more 'authentic' experience and wish to support the boutique limited edition (500) industry. It's as good a cause as any to support. It won't save a rainforest or endangered species, just one element of cultural history which currently teeters on the brink of extinction or, if other reports are to be believed, is undergoing a revival, like a rare animal that's been cloned, in this case. Ennio and the gang play Free-psyche-beat-Improv...because they were crazy men, spirited men, making music...
Dieter Moebius - Nidemonex EP (More Than Human)
More than good, it's very good. 'Hey, Dieter sounds good...for his age' (back-handed compliment) - he is 70, after all and should have retired, in silence, to only contemplate his glorious past, namely as co-founder of the legendary K(C)luster, instead of continuing to make music. And this, this easily competes with anything made by whippersnappers today...because behind these transmissions from the machine mind of Moebius are all those years of experience in creating interplanetary sound vibrations. Listen to Zytos and tell me it isn't so. Even the potentially comic 'ghost voice' on Zytos is not funny because it floats in, or is drowned by, the sonic terror of Hellraising dread. Wonderful.
Some Truths - Some Friends I Lost To Bedlam, Others I Abandoned There (Mordant Music)
Planet-rocking Electro Acid Jazz trombonist Ralph Cumbers calling occupants of interplanetary, most extraordinary craft (inc Spaceship Earth) on another ravishing exercise in how to ingest influences but regurgitate them as something tasty rather than the contents of a bird's stomach, which wouldn't be tasty to us, but is to chicks, obviously. If you're not a slave to his rhythms as Bass Clef, you should be. Meanwhile, this is another magnificent Mordant Music release for modern star people.
it's not art * I don't know what I'm doing * to hell with it all * beyond reason * beyond logic * beyond Art * 'No, I don't need a bag, thanks' * bollocks to Digital Art * 'When are you going to be serious?' * ££££££££
Thankfully, when it's very hot like it is today, you can always find shade in the canyons of this concrete jungle called London. Ornette made a track called The Jungle Is A Skyscraper for the Science Fiction album, cleverly inverting the common analogy...'cause he's clever.
Another advantage of living here is the amount of charity shops. I called in a regular haunt today and found this old friend on vinyl. We hadn't met for about 20 years. Good albums are old friends, aren't they? Unlike the human variety, they never let you down; they just give themselves completely, apart from a track that you never liked, which you skip, because really good albums can still contain disappointments, just like people. In the olde days we'd have to get up, go to the turntable and lift the needle over that track. That's why there were less obese people in the world then. No, really. Perhaps the government should insist that all kids (forget adults, they're a lost cause) should have record players...well, it's some kind of exercise, isn't it?
I had to part with Virgin Beauty in order to get some cash. I'd regularly sell as many albums as I could carry. You don't get much for the average record, but not much is better than nothing when you're desperate. Who's Crazy? was a soundtrack album Ornette made in 1966. Perhaps I was crazy to sell Virgin Beauty along with all the others, but I had space in the bedsit to consider along with basic survival.
Seeing this album again today I just had to reacquaint myself with it. There it sat, a beautiful thing forced to lean against so much shit. It was as if Ornette himself was having to endure the indignity of rubbing shoulders with artists not fit to brush the fluff from one of his extravagant jackets.
The album features Prime Time, the band Ornette unleashed on the world when it was released in 1988. They didn't record again until 1995. Perhaps the reviews weren't encouraging. Cook and Morton in their Penguin Guide To Jazz called it 'dull, MOR funk, in which tougher material is obscured by a clotted rock mix.'. What were Jazz fans to make of a band containing two drummers, bassists and guitarists? Crazy! You know what some Jazz fans are like, banging on about creative expression and the joyful spirit of improvised music until someone breaks the rules. Many are still recovering from Bitches Brew, no doubt.
I was lucky enough to see Prime Time at The Town & Country Club. It must have been around '88, to promote this album. There's a snapshot in my mind of standing there with LJ in the crowd marvelling at what the legend had gone and done. We hadn't been so excited by the sight and sound of two drummers since The Glitter Band. I don't think they influenced Ornette, though.
I'd forgotten how insanely catchy the opener 3 Wishes is, the genius way all the instruments dance together like courtiers in a complex mating game. The funkiness, without ever lapsing into a run-of-the-mill riff, of course. This is Ornette, after all, doing what Miles could not when he tried to modernise earlier in the 80s. To close the album, Unknown Artist, which for the first half is Ornette on his own, playing as if to destroy every fool from the last 30 years who had the nerve to say he 'couldn't play' - destroy them with beauty.