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Love... or "remasturbation"? - click opera
February 2010
 
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Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 10:32 am
Love... or "remasturbation"?

Here at Click Opera we like to keep you up with the biggest cultural developments of the noughties. How, then, could we pass over the exciting news that The Beatles have a new album out this month?

It's called Love, and it's a sort of self-sampling remix project, a piece of creative re-interpretation with a practical application: it's also the soundtrack for a Cirque du Soleil show called "Love".

"My brief," says mash-up remixer George Martin, 80, "was that I could use any sound I wanted, that I'd made with The Beatles since 1962".

"We took all the Beatles catalogue from tape," says his son Giles "2ManyMartins" Martin, who's been roped in as a fresh pair of ears, "from the original Beatles 4 tracks and the 8 tracks and the 2 tracks, and had this sort of palette of sounds and music to create a sound bed where people were sort of reliving the whole Beatles lifespan in a very condensed period".

And so this Frankenstein's monster of a record puts the bassline from "I Want You / She's So Heavy" under the backing vocals from "Oh Darling" and the lead vocal from, you know, some other famous Beatles song. "They just match because it's all the same voices," says Giles.

It gets better; not only is the old music in new places, with lots of new sound effects and stuff, it all sounds so much better than it did first time around. Digital technology, you see. Now The Beatles have access to the kind of studio effects that previously only Coldplay and Oasis did.

"Set to a noisy dawn chorus, complete with fluttering wings, the three-part vocal harmonies of 'Because' arrive with the clarity of an ice blue sky," raves Neil Spencer in The Guardian. "The chugging introduction to 'Get Back' hurtles out of the mix like a train. The pumping fairground organs of 'Mr Kite' reek of steam and sawdust. ...Ever notice the pizzicato violins on the middle 8 of 'Something'? You will now".

Personally, what I noticed about the song "Something" was that it was about sexual longing, about love, about being attracted to the specificity of someone's body. "Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover." I listened to it in Greece, when I lived there in the actual 1960s, so it's drenched, for me, in Greek sunshine. It's of its time, totally embodied. Who knows -- and who cares -- whether I heard the pizzicato violins, and whether they were even there? What I heard was love. And nota bene, the song didn't say "Something about the way she moves makes me think that if you cut off her head and stuck it on Twiggy's body, Anna Karina would be an even more gorgeous woman, not to mention a great circus show." That's because it was a song about love, not remasturbation.

Yes, if there was a word that summed up the music industry in the 60s, it was love. And if there's a word that sums up the same business this decade, it's remasturbation. Paul McCartney thinks it's great, though.

"I would liken it to great people like Churchill, or, you know, great writers like Tolstoy. Their original papers are in museums, they're only getting browner and more crinkly. But the Beatles tapes are getting shinier and newer and cleaner. It's like magic."

The thing is, you'd think the people who used all those backwards guitar and piano effects would understand that narrative goes backwards too. There will be kids who now hear "Tomorrow Never Knows" and think it samples the beat from "Within You Without You". Love's generic crappy sleeve looks like the poster for a production of some nightmare spectacle entitled "The Beatles on Ice!" at the National Exhibition Centre, Manchester. And now, if you put "Beatles" into a record search engine on a store site like Barnes and Noble's, its "View by popularity" default shows you the ugly digipak 5:1 audio DVD of Love as the first hit, the ugly CD of Love as the second, and only then actual records released in the 60s by the actual Beatles, the young, cool Beatles.

And they were cool. Cool enough to commission the beautiful sleeves which are next on the Barnes and Noble list from the leading avant garde artists of the day. The White Album sleeve is by conceptualist Richard Hamilton, the Sgt. Pepper sleeve by pop artist Peter Blake.

Old Beatles (the ones who survive, anyway), to be that cool, would have to have commissioned Martin Creed or someone to do the sleeve for Love. They haven't. But they do pack lots of promo punch, so whatever they do release will obscure what they released when they were cool. At least for a while. Old Beatles might have come full circle back to an appreciation of 2-, 4- and 8-track recording via the basic realization that Ariel Pink is much, much cooler than Coldplay. But they're not that avant garde, so for them being daring is simply delighting in the fact that today's digital soup makes everything infinitely fluid, plunging us into "the mire of options", allowing us to sample ourselves and put on a big show with computerized lighting in an arena where the crew are all old blokes with grey hair, and the audience is too, and nobody remembers Mark Boyle and his exploding lava lamps with insects inside them.

But, like I say, it's these old blokes, with their notably worse skin, hair, bodies and taste than the young blokes who were also called "The Beatles", who are cluttering up the catalogue with Frankenstein stuff, and with remasturbation.

Why is the music biz so bad at telling you when an album was made? If it weren't for small print legal agreements, we'd have no way of knowing what year any given album came from. I think it's because the music biz has a vested interest in "timelessness". It's almost a metaphysical belief -- the idea that some songs and records become "evergreen" and can keep selling forever, and "transcend" the time and conditions of their making. The problem with timelessness is that it's an argument against embodiment -- physical embodiment, technological embodiment, cultural embodiment, temporal embodiment. If records are still records despite losing all association with the young bodies that made them, and their own "flesh" in the form of the sleeves they were given at the time, and their cultural "flesh" in terms of the context of the year and nation they were released in, then you can rehash everything forever. You can be Dr Frankenstein. You can be a remasturbator rather than a lover.

The thing about love is that it's specific, and embodied. "Something in the way she moves..." Young Beatles knew that. But they were into love, not remasturbation.

44CommentReplyShare

riotdorrrk
riotdorrrkz riot
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 10:23 am (UTC)

i was hoping this was going to be a big-budget 'Liverpool Sound Collage' courtesy of Sir Paul... sadly, let itnot to be.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 07:21 pm (UTC)

Actually, I think George Martin, or hell, even Ringo, is preferable to Paul nowadays, the magic touch Paul had is long gone


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 10:33 am (UTC)

I want to add: the reason the music industry is so into the idea of the "evergreen" is that it fits so well with the high-Gini, winner-takes-it-all worldview of the major labels. The whole industry, backed up by a radio system run on the principles of recognition and repetition, is geared to the "hits that transcend their time and the conditions of their making". (The profits often "transcend" the artists who made them too, assuming they're still alive.) These "evergreen, timeless classics" are the spike on the power laws graph, not the long tail. It's all about inequality.

Of course, you might think that just making everything available and letting the public decide was a good sales strategy. But record execs don't want to be sociologists -- for whom any record from the 1960s would presumably say as much about the decade as any other, and would have a legitimate place in a pluralistic spectrum. No, they want to be Machiavels, to control. And so, even though record shops have expanded, in my lifetime, from little rooms to vast warehouses, the music biz hasn't (except in Japan) used that space to stock as many different titles as possible. Instead, they've used it to display the same selected, promoted titles -- often remixes of sure-fire hits from yesteryear -- over and over again, until they fill the whole shelf. This obviously ties in with a certain conformity in the record-buying public, who seem to want a guarantee that there are big promo bucks behind an artist before they buy. And we wonder why music doesn't seem to mean as much in culture as it once did...


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nickink
nickink
Nick Ink
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 11:20 am (UTC)

Interesting, as always - thanks.

Also, have you seen this? ~ http://www.dustedmagazine.com/reviews/3256


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 11:28 am (UTC)

Ah, I hadn't seen that, no. What a refreshingly intelligent and well-written review! I wonder who "Brendon Bussolini" is? The last review of Ocky I read turns out to have been written, pseudonymously, by Simon Bookish. Sorry for blowing your cover, Simon!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 11:46 am (UTC)
love lost

Cool sleeve design and Martin Creed? I think they woudl have to try harder than that!


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 12:01 pm (UTC)
Paint a vulgar picture

I've never really been a Beatles fan. That is, I tend to enjoy their music, but I've never really felt it was mine. If I ever had, I'm sure this would really upset me. As it is, it just makes me a little sad.

To win, is, in fact, to lose.

(That McCartney quote strikes me as typically inane, too.)


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 01:26 pm (UTC)

I'm not convinced this is anything more than "it were better in my day". First, your love versus remasturbation binary is not very far from the authenticity/inauthenticity binary that you've criticised before. Secondly, it's sentimental and inaccurate. The Beatles and George Martin always had a hard commercial nose. They may have been about love, but they also knew that "your lovin' don't pay my bill". As soon as they were a success, the Beatles licensed their songs out to easy-listening orchestras and for gloopy cover versions (some of them produced by George Martin only months after he'd done the Beatles versions). They were instantly rehashing their material even then.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 01:55 pm (UTC)

Well, if the Beatles can't be "better in my day" -- ie the 60s -- what can be? I think embodiment is a better angle to make this comment from than authenticity.

Take a look at this photo:



The reason U2 look so awful, and the Beatles so good, is all about bodies, and embodiment, not authenticity.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 02:33 pm (UTC)

after just having spent an hour in 'pronto' coffee chain listening to buddy holly and shit: i think rock is the new classical music and what they're doing is the exact equivalent of playing bach as if it was richard strauss a century ago. soon a nicholas harnocourt of commercial rock will come asking for authentic instruments/studios.


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bikerbar
bikerbar
bikerbar
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)

Theres a cafe I go to for Czech lessons that plays nonstop Beatles/techno muzak. Its this terrible screen of regurgitated Sixties soundbites with the same relentless backbeat. I despise this use of music as social wallpaper, alas it is ubiquitous.

I've just decided never to set foot in that cafe again ...


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Tue, Nov. 21st, 2006 12:14 am (UTC)
use of music as social wallpaper

brian eno would turn in his grave if he had one.


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butterflyrobert
RND
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 10:46 pm (UTC)

I was thinking the same thing!


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 06:09 pm (UTC)

the other side of this beatles gluttony: demos, alternate takes and half-finished songs. but i like a lot of those weirders, maybe for the embodiment, specificity reasons.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 07:19 pm (UTC)

naughty naughty george martin. i reckon old eno should have had a go at it with the telly horizontal. nearly got run over once on that zebra crossing picking up my bird from work. 4 cunts in a van washed by stevie wonder going: 'nice suit, my son !!' i didn't ansa. anyroad i can remix circus maximus for ya..drill a few more holes in it..he he he


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 09:07 pm (UTC)

Well, it could be that John was a lot less happy with the Beatles mixes that did emerge on the original records than Paul was. He hated the edit in Strawberry Fields and thought there was some sort of conspiracy to make his songs sound too "experimental", whereas Paul's were polished to prim perfection. So perhaps Yoko felt that alternative versions of Lennon songs might be 30% better than the originals, as John had said he believed they could be.


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tim_ellison
tim_ellison
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 09:06 pm (UTC)

The slagging of McCartney seems gratuitous to me. Blaming this thing on "Old Beatles?" McCartney and Ringo weren't involved. As for the Macca quote, I've also seen a quote where he said he wished it had been more adventurous.

Momus, have you read Barry Miles' McCartney bio? That book changed my thinking about him.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Nov. 20th, 2006 09:12 pm (UTC)

No, I haven't. I've only read Lennon biographies. Reading McCartney biographies isn't really "me". I would just be gritting my teeth the whole time, waiting for some half-hearted, semi-serious rehabilitation effort for atrocities like "Ebony and Ivory" and "Mull of Kintyre" and "Silly Love Songs".

But I know very serious composers -- Nathan Michel, for one -- who love Macca.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Nov. 21st, 2006 12:19 am (UTC)

I have your blog here hooked up to my Custom Google Homepage, and I must say, it's always fun to read the title of your newest article, even if I don't have time to read the entire article itself.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Nov. 21st, 2006 02:29 am (UTC)
Beatle brow

Great literary praise for the phrase "this Frankenstein's monster of a record". Mary Shelley smiles.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Nov. 21st, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
Your journal has been deleted. You can't post messages.

I couldn't be less interested in the Beatles. When I was 16 I fantasized that I had been deathly injured while saving the world, and the Beatles showed up to sing in my hospital room. Specifically John Lennon. But I sorta burnt out on the Beatles, and in this case, Momus, I stopped reading after the second paragraph. Boring.


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