Tuesday, 24 January 2012

James Kirby, The Caretaker - Downloading (The Past)

Most net-savvy people out there will have downloaded entire careers in an hour or two. Do we listen to all we download? Is it about having everything? Does too much availability of an artist’s work leave us confused about where to start listening? Is easy access to an artist’s work slowly blunting our desire or ability to connect with it?
                                                                                                   - James Kirby (The Caretaker)

We follow James Kirby into the ballroom of the Overlook Hotel, Stockport, where he is the caretaker during the winter recess (winters are very harsh up North). He orders a drink whilst an orchestra materialises in ghost form, shimmering, transparent, playing an old Swing tune. He drinks up, leaves the room, goes into another and sits at his mixing desk until a woman enters with a tray of sandwiches and a hot drink. He rejects her offer, grows increasingly psychotic, telling her 'When you hear this sound' (he presses a few buttons) 'That means I'm fucking working!' She flees, trembling. Later she returns when he is elsewhere and plays back what he's been creating. All she hears are the words 'All work and no play make Jack a dull boy' over and over...

Do we listen to all we download? Or are our memories capable of retaining so many files? The Caretaker remembers things for us, delivering snippets of old music which we may not even have heard before...and it returns, as memories often do, in distorted, fragmentary forms. 

It's fitting that someone who once embraced file-sharing, but has now turned his back on it, should deliver past music as a broken entity, corrupted by time, made impure by technology. Through the digital domain, either on disc or, yes, file, his music spreads further than was ever possible before. Perhaps he would rather it remained elusive and demanded more effort and attention on behalf of the buyer, although he once gave it away. 

We photograph everything according to whim and store the images. How many snapshots in time and place remain dormant on hard drives, never to be looked at again? Kirby has a point. Be it music or images, saturation frequently prevents proper connectivity. 

This is a time of panic amongst avid downloaders as one storage facility after another bows to the law. Right now many will be grabbing what they can - everything must go! - before the next store closes. Yes, people hoard for the sake of it, but in the light of the clampdown, many will now be examining what they have. Suddenly files become more precious. Uploaders are going to find new ways to share, and the will to do so, coupled with people's desire to hear obscure music, means other methods are necessary.

The Caretaker's 'Repetition Of Phrases' shares a disc with Gino Marinuzzi's soundtrack to 'Planet Of The Vampires' in my collection. I can't recall why I put them together, but it is not an unsuccessful marriage. I can imagine Kirby working wonders with Marinuzzi's orchestral sketches. Copyright lawyers, meanwhile, wage war with 'vampires' who they fear may suck the very lifeblood (royalties & other sources of cash) out of the entertainment industry.

Kirby's latest work, 'Patience (After Sebald)', is a continuation of his mission to remake musical history. In this case, Schubert's 'Winterreise' (1827). The song here certainly does not remain the same, the voice being altered beyond recognition, rendered as barely human sound. Classical music has long been appropriated, often resulting in cheap attempts to marry beauty and the beats. Kirby's immersion in memory and sound, however, ensures that the grace and poignancy of the original are retained.

Essential Caretaker music: Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia  

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