Like you, I’d never heard of Carey Nutman until recently. Now you’ve heard of him too. I like to share. I like the name so I’ll say it again: Carey Nutman. But who is he and what does he do? He’s a qualified pharmacist and, more to the point, has a Masters in composition, not of chemicals, but music. So, I came across ‘Saxophone Tapestry’ the other day and, man, it’s blowing my mind (and listening to psychedelic music is also possibly changing my mind back to thinking/speaking like a hippy). It’s from the album ‘Pour Une Francaise’. Dave Allenby plays saxophone - overdubs, multi-tracks and effects mutate the harmonious into something alien as Nutman works the technological magic to greater degrees through the 17minute duration. Through the cans it will blow your mind as what sounds like a Martian (you know what they sound like, don’t you?) jams with a concert saxophonist – Adolphe could never have imagined the kind of musical universe his invention would end up sharing in the 21st century, surely.
‘Avant-garde is French for bullshit’ said Lennon. Well ho-hum – trouble is, devotees of both The Beatles and philistinism have probably used it a million times to justify their failure to give Picasso a chance – ha!
I, on the other hand, as opposed to the dear misguided hordes of avant-garde haters, do like a challenge. That’s it, in a nutshell (but I’ve no intention of presenting you with something nutshell-sized, so read on).When I listen to Cecil Taylor I do so precisely because I can’t come close to fully comprehending what the hell he’s doing, or why, or where he’ll end up as he travels that wobbly rail which he also laid (now that’s no bullshit). Hail the pioneers, I say, and to hell with the dissenters.
Joyce, Burroughs, Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, Stein, BS Johnson, Cage, Stockhausen, Taylor, Ayler, Pollock and other big-hitting bullshitters – take your pick – reject their work, but me, I still applaud their existence alone. I find that, in being challenged I’m finding out something about myself, my limits, preconceptions, abilities etc. And if nothing else, the radicals of culture place the conservatives in context, don’t they? Yes, I know that both ‘radical’ and ‘conservative’ are subjective terms. Didn’t Spector radicalise studio techniques? And we know that what was once thought of as radical can become acceptable according to mainstream taste (I cite jazz, Punk and, hell, even Rock’n’Roll, m’lud).
Lennon’s quote sprang to mind a few days after I’d dived into Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia and quickly found myself out of my depth (I’m no great swimmer, preferring to be able to feel my feet on the ground, if I’m honest). So the nature of ‘difficult’ works in all areas was something I began to ponder.
There’s something to be said for not understanding a work of art. And it’s this: the alternative is easily comprehending everything. I don’t know if that’s worth saying. But if some people had their way all music would be reduced to three-minute songs and hummable tunes, all painting to literal representation and all novels to straightforward storytelling. I’ll never forget the SWP member I once dated telling me that her comrades frowned upon abstract art – seriously – as if it contravened their idea of what ‘the people’ wanted/deserved or, more likely, what artists should only produce (ie paintings of smiling farmhands gathering spuds...or miners trudging cheerfully towards the pit). Perhaps they were on to something, after all, the proletariat would not choose to storm the palace to the tune of ‘Free Jazz’, more’s the pity.
It’s no surprise that from cradle to grave we’re wrapped in the blanket of culture that comforts in some way, even if that comfort takes the form of hellfire Rock’n’Roll. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you, perpetuated by all who control what we see and hear. ‘Nonsense!’, you may reply. Perhaps you’re right...but...the pacified mind makes for a better-behaved citizen, I’m sure. The mind that is not open and enquiring is less likely to challenge the Status Quo.
When I bought Cyclonopedia I knew I was in for trouble. You might call it an act of pure indulgence in...intellectual ignorance? Of course, there are a million other books on a variety of subjects which I could be sure of never understanding, but this one does flirt with the idea of fiction and apocalyptic vision and I do like a good apocalypse now, and again.
Excuse the tenuous link, but The Scientist’s ‘Blood On His Lips’ has been a recent hit in the bunker. From the album, ‘Scientist Rids The World Of The Curse Of The Evil Vampires’, it’s just a killer bass and persistent, funky guitar riff, but in its simplicity there’s much to enjoy. Dub-wise, the arrival of a new Lee Perry collection may not have escaped your attention. ‘Sound System Scratch’ has had a good going over and now that the initial excitement has subsided, I’ve settled on a handful as truly great examples of Lee Perry at the controls. The opener, ‘Dub Plate Pressure’, has distorted vocals mixed right back, accompanied by fantastically messed up swishes of a cymbal. ‘Groove Dubber’ and ‘Groove Rider’ make the most of a dirty rhythm, especially as the latter steps deeper into the fog and funk of mixing desk magic. Then there’s ‘Jucky Skank’. You may know the rhythm well, but it’s given another great work-out here. ‘Chim Cherie’ is possibly the highlight, the drum machine-driven lo-fi basic thrust is irresistible.
In ‘Bartleby & Co’ Enrique Vila-Matas discusses Marcel Maniere’s same opening sentence for his book, ‘Perfumed Hell’ which, as far as I know, is a fictitious creation (both author and book). He describes the opening paragraph in which Maniere names the literary group he belongs to, as well as giving his name, as a sham. You get the joke. ‘Bartleby and Co’ is a reflection not just on the literature of the No, but the truth and falsehood of both writing and writers.
When I began to think seriously about how to start my next post I soon realised that I would do so by saying I did not know how to. It seemed logical because it was the truth. I had no intention of writing about a particular subject, least of all the subject of what I should write about.
As Maniere says, the second sentence is less compromising than the first and so, as it is with writers sometimes, a sense of relief sets in once the first is written. Problems occur, however, if once re-examined the first sentence proves unsatisfactory - the curse of the writer who falters, or the natural way of the would-be perfectionist, if you like. I realised long ago that to seek perfection in what I write is pure folly. And yet imperfection still bothers me sometimes when I become foolish enough to think that I could have written something perfectly.
The trouble with the classic opening sentence I’ve used is that it can only be used once by an author. Only once does it have a ring of truth, even if it’s a lie. I have told you that mine is a kind of lie, or an untruth dressed as fact. But looking at it another way, it is still true to say that I had no idea how to start what was not a fully-formed subject. How could I?
Vila-Matas’s footnotes to an invisible book make perfect sense to this writer who, over what feels like many years, has written texts that will remain invisible for all time. All writers have never-to-be-seen texts, whether they are successful or not. The unfortunate, famous ones have their draws raided once they are dead, and their intended invisible work shown to the world. After all, dedicated fans do want to read what the writer considered a failure. I take some comfort in knowing that this will never happen to me.
Vila-Matas includes famous writers such as Kafka and Rimbaud in his book, along with the imaginary; and the secretive, such as Pynchon and Salinger. The reader’s knowledge of a writer’s life is hardly important since Vila-Matas plays with notions of fact and fiction. His 1st person voice is fictitious to begin with, and so the deceptions multiply.
To say No without having written a word is an interesting concept, but akin to breaking rules which you are unfamiliar with, perhaps. Do you know why you are saying No to unleashing words upon the world? Or are you merely refusing to do it for fear of ‘failure’? It is so easy, after all, to claim to have a great book in your head.
They say everyone has a book in them and that, probably, is where it should stay, sealed within the impregnable fortress of the mind as a perfect entity which transference into the written will weaken considerably, or totally destroy.
‘Bartleby & Co’ is subtle exploration of what he calls ‘the literature of No’, that mysterious world of literary refuseniks, both real and imagined, who turned their backs on publishing and publicity. It does so not in laborious detail, but as a ‘story’ of one man’s pursuit of the idea.
Lawrence Block said in ‘Writing The Novel’ that the best cure for wanting to write fiction is to ‘take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass’ – before going on through nearly 200 pages to tell the reader how to write that novel. As he also says, any fool can write a poem but it takes a special kind of fool to write a novel. I would add that an even more special fool continues to write ones that will never be published.
Well, I salute every fool on the planet who writes against the odds. Blogging was made for them if they wish to use it for fiction. After all, this is so much digital paper which, let’s face it, cannot even be used to wrap fish and chips in the following day. It’s permanence in one sense does, however, make the medium a great conduit for millions of ‘invisible’ texts. It’s tailor-made for those of us who might otherwise beg for ‘proper’ publication but actually, in true Bartleby fashion, prefer not to.
Excuse me whilst I try to unravel my brain, which is aching from the roadworks noise outside and drilling from house refurbishments next door...
But still I’m trying to kick-start some thoughts about writing and writers in relation to a comment left on a recent post; especially that part of the quote from Orwell which says: ‘But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.’This idea of the writer as a noble creature pursuing some fantastically worthy goal has only ever been true to either those who worship scribes and their art or the egotistical writer him/herself. But as Orwell also points out in the same essay, ego is an essential weapon for writers in the war against the world and their own misgivings and insecurities.
It seems that in another age, before blogging, it was possible to raise the writer up to great heights, to share a pedestal with The Artists. But what happened? The modern (or post-modern) world is what happened.
I’m tempted to say ‘we’re all writers now’ because so many of us have blogs, but that’s not strictly true. Many bloggers hardly write at all but, instead, provide such essential services as free downloads and great examples of design in all forms...oh and, of course, tips on how to be a great blogger, attract more traffic to your site etc. I suspect the latter is a very popular form of blogging. As is the giving-stuff-away one, of course. Perhaps those who write deepest are the least read, although from my small amount of research I see that those very personal/confessional blogs can gain a huge following.
Anyway, before blogs, to say you were a writer immediately attached you to a school of Worthy Creativity even if you hadn’t yet been published. You were knocking at the door, at least, and inside, should you peer through the window, were Hemingway, Kafka, Tolstoy, Austen (choose your own role model). That is, unless you wrote fanzines, those precursors to the blog. In which case you might attract mild admiration from some, but mostly bewilderment on a worldwide scale since in my experience a ‘fanzine’ is meaningless to the common herd.
This democratisation of Writing is a good thing, yes. The fact that it doesn’t cut the mustard with those who hold ‘proper’ writing in the highest esteem is partly the point, and the main source of pleasure should you be of the persuasion that embraces the writing-for-all philosophy. The elitists just don’t get the point of self-expression as a valid activity. Manacled by such concepts as ‘professionalism’, ‘real talent’, ‘high art’ etc, how can they appreciate the idea that an ‘unknown’ writer’s work can be meaningful?
To get published by a major is difficult, but more because of their limited vision (and budget) than the need for greatness. Browse the shelves of WH Smiths and see how many ‘great’ authors fill the racks. Most of them have succeeded in packaging fiction in such a way as to fulfil (the publishers hope) a criterion dictated by ‘the market’ which, as we know, flits from fad-to-fad anyway.
When Orwell was writing there were still many more authors who simply offered mainstream entertainment of one genre or another, which negates his claim that writers are automatically ennobled through their dedication to living determinedly singular lives outside the ordinary world of Mr & Mrs People.
There are books filled with quotes from writers making special claims for their art. In one sense, they have to after all the time and effort they put in to producing work that, in most cases, barely earns them the minimal wage. Ego, again.
Now, at least, we are free to write without deluding ourselves that the aim is to ‘make it’ and join the Shakespeare Squad. Lower your sights and carry on, and someone once said.
I still believe in the power of writing, the self-empowerment, that is, as I said in an earlier post. What I do not claim is to be special in this respect. Perhaps the most any of us writers can hope for is to find a way of saying what we want to in our own voice, and that is difficult enough.
There are other way of creating texts, but for now I won’t discuss the alternatives. So-called ‘radical’ writing is, after all, respected even less than blogging.
This LP is downbeat but far from depressing; the grooves are too deep and squelchy for that. Imagine the hoover sounds of ye olde D&B cleaned up and smeared all over tunes bearing minimal beats. They move in such a way as to liquidise the music, like lava rolling across a sparse landscape. This is best illustrated on ‘Low Flow’, funnily enough. There are lighter counterpoints, as in the vibraphone/piano sound on ‘Luma’. The acoustic touches may only be impressionistic but in their simplicity they’re very effective.
Things get a bit lively on ‘Breathing Trouble’, but to his great credit, Massel only skirts around such formulaic genres as Techno or Dubstep. ‘V8’ is a master class in proving that less is more (pretty much the maxim by which he operates). A drum pattern does kick in, but only after 3mins of stalking through John Carpenter territory. For this assault on the precincts of our senses Massel operates a fantastic sub-bass machine which, I like to imagine, looks like something built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, all iron girders and huge bolts. He certainly gets maximum use out of it. Some might say it’s overused, but if you love it, as I do, the fact that it defines the sound of the album is a big bonus. It’s currently competing with workmen drilling next door and a road digger outside...and winning.
Chandler famously pleaded ignorance when asked who was responsible for a murder when Howards Hawks was filming The Big Sleep, and like good old Raymond, I too shrugged off plot details as I kept on walking down Coover’s hallucinogenic mean streets.
‘Everybody’s on that train. Nobody’s an original. To be obsessed is to be a wound-up actor in a conventional melo, with everyone else, the lucky ones, bit players at best. So it’s not the story you’re trapped in, like everyone else, but, once aware of that, how you play it out. Your style. Class. The moves you make.’
Coover could be commenting on the dilemma facing any contemporary author trying to rewrite the golden age of detective fiction in the post-modern era. He places every chip on Style and wins, for me. He’s great at doing what the best crime writers did, which is capture the moody city at night and the presence, the character of the streets and the metropolis. It isn’t set in a particular time or place, which heightens the whole dream-like aspect of the book. How much of this is dream, how much memory? Time slips...in such a way as to recall Philip K Dick as much as Philip Marlowe.
The book is as much a puzzle to me as the case Noir is trying to solve. How much of this is down to my failings or Coover’s skill I don’t know. Anyway, I’ll be reading it again because as far as I’m concerned, The Case of the Vanishing Black Widow is not closed.
The electronic supergroup (!) Fenn O’Berg’s first two ‘live’ albums are available in one package called ‘Magic And Return’ – made up from gigs played in ’98 and ’99. I say ‘gigs played’, but the term hardly seems appropriate. Played, yes, well, you know, knob-twiddling, and ‘gigs’...I suppose they were, but perhaps I’m showing my age (I swear, I still say ‘taped’ sometimes when I mean ‘burnt’) because to call these events gigs is far too...Old World...and these sounds are very much of the New World or, if you like, the Possibly Timeless World Depending On How Much Technological and Musical Trends Affect This Kind Of Thing. This kind of thing is a long way from easy listening, although it’s not quite as much of a challenge as pure Noise.
There are moments on an album when you decide you love it, aren’t there? Perhaps it’s not the first, second or even third track...or it could happen halfway through one of those – so what sounds like a cat being squeezed to produce a strangulated ‘meow’ starts up on track 3, ‘Horst Und Snail Mit Markus’, and I fall for the recording. The fact that I’m not a great lover of cats has nothing to do with it, honest. Better still, whilst this goes on, much else is happening, like a submerged orchestra, fizzing electronics and a random drum-thump. This all evolves into something much calmer.
The war of the machines that is ‘Gurtel Eins’...'Escape From Hamburg’’s ferocious assault on your sense involving what sound like kung-fu movie samples. You can only say these sounds sound like something, rather than actually being something, and that is the wonder of this kind of music, the sound of sounds you’ve never heard before. That said, orchestral strings are often mixed in to great effect, rather than as faux lushness. Although, on ‘Fenn O’Berg Theme’, they opt for a shockingly (near) conventional use of a John Barry tune to create the perfect moody soundtrack for the wired generation. Imagine ‘Moonraker’ for the 21st century.
‘A Viennese Tragedy’ is possibly the magnum opus as far as melding classical and futurist music. It does just that, the machines whining, shrieking, crunching and creaking through the massed violins. It’s so awesome as to sound like the death of the old, a musical battlefield...or requiem for Strauss, perhaps.
There’s so much to hear across these two recordings that a few listens won’t reveal half, never mind everything.
Fenn O’Berg will rock you, but not in quite the same way as Peter Frampton.