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The metonymic source of all freshness - click opera
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Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 11:50 am
The metonymic source of all freshness

1. At any given point I'm paying attention to perhaps just one area of cultural movement, and that one area sums up "the contemporary" sufficiently well to justify the metonymic power I've awarded it. This area becomes an index of indices, the exemplary production of the moment.

2. In the 1970s, for example, this was -- for me -- David Bowie. I exaggerate (but this is the unique privilege of the metonym, to be an omnivore, an omnispore), but in the 70s anything of any creative significance was going to turn up in the work of David Bowie, so all you needed to follow, to be entirely calibrated to your times and their ch-ch-ch-changes, was Bowie's latest album.



3. Records, and perhaps the press that covered them, continued to be the exemplary creative culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. You would go to a record shop like Rough Trade and look at the New Releases section, or flip through a magazine like Zigzag, and that was pretty much all you needed to do to reset your style clock.

4. I still want there to be something like this out there, but records have long since ceased to be it. Perhaps five years ago a trip to a Berlin record store like Dense or Neurotitan would have felt vital and exciting to me, but it no longer does. CDs feel fusty and neglected now, they wilt slowly in fusty racks. If you have some at home and hope to sell them... well, don't set your hopes too high. Nobody wants them.

5. As a creator of culture, you sometimes do "stock-checking", which is an existential activity, not a commercial one. "Where do I exist?" you ask yourself. There needs to be a shop you can go into and find wares you've authored. Recently, stock-checking in Waterstone's on Piccadilly, I looked through various encyclopedias of rock and realised that, as a music artist, I really no longer exist. I could only find a Momus reference in one, titled something like "Off The Beaten Track", which mentioned that I'd worked with medieval instruments in 1999. However, in the bookshop of the Palais de Tokyo it was easy to find evidence that I exist, in magazines like the new 032c, or the paperback edition of the Phaidon Ice Cream book, which has a report on my performance art career.

6. What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that if I think the rock world is "fusty", it thinks I'm "fusty" too.

7. The place I currently designate as the metonymic source of all freshness is a certain kind of art and design bookstore. It's a place that's both local and international: although it contains publications from "all over the world", I couldn't really say this kind of bookstore exists outside Berlin. Sure, there are places in Paris, London and New York that resemble it (Ofr, Magma, Printed Matter), but they're not quite there. They ruin things by being too much oriented to fashion, or commercial graphic design, or skateboarding, or character goods. Subtly, somehow, these bookstores only feel right in Berlin. Only here do they have the necessary gravitas and exciting sobriety.

8. There are four such stores in Berlin. Pro-qm, Do You Read Me, Walther König, and Motto. My partner and I -- and this is very much a "my partner and I" thing -- might visit them once every two to three weeks. We buy very little, but draw a huge amount of inspiration from them. They're sufficiently far from our house that they require a dedicated trip "uptown". We're in agreement about the importance of these shops in recalibrating our sense of now, but we're also constantly anxious that these places might stop inspiring us, and become fusty. Hisae will ask me, on leaving one of these stores, "Did you see anything interesting?" In her voice I can detect an edge of anxiety, and the implication: "One day we might get bored with this stuff." Yes, I answer, I saw a few interesting things today.



9. Our visit yesterday took in Pro-qm, Do You Read Me and König. We were put into a very good mood by eating at a new and excellent Korean self-service eatery on Alte Schonhauser Strasse before beginning our browsing. Yam Yam occupies the site of the Best Shop, a former fashion outlet, and is run by the same people, fashion retailers who decided (in a recessionary gesture) to make food instead. You can still read their Look Book magazine files as you eat their delicious Korean canteen food at the white tables. Great!

10. The books that impressed me on our visit to "the places that matter"? Art School: Propositions for the 21st Century (seriously would like to have bought this), Learning from Japan: Single Story Urbanism, a magazine-style publication in the Zak Kyes style (restrained, didactic, sans serif) featuring photos of various SANAA projects, schools, museums and the like. Why does Ryue Nishizawa's architecture fill me with such calm optimism? When a Nishizawa structure sprouts somewhere, all seems right with the world.



11. I just want to interject here that I really, really exist in Pro-qm; at the till they have stacks of both The Book of Scotlands and The Book of Jokes. It's probably the most densely-packed "Momus exists" area in the entire world! So obviously I walk on air as I walk around the store. It's nice to exist!

12. And I just want to interject here that by no means can computers, blogs, Facebook pages or websites supply the thrill that being in one of these bookshops does. The internet is new every day, and yet somehow fusty in a way these print publications aren't, although they're obviously all made on computers. I think the edge the bookshops -- these particular bookshops -- have over the internet is that they're curated by extremely intelligent people. Sure, sure, you can easily move within tight circles of reference and relationship when you get inside them -- Utrecht Nieves AA Casco Dexter Sinister Merve -- but they're intelligent circles. Your Friends List may be talking about Halloween, but these people will be talking about art. (Funny moment at Konig: gibbering shrieks of Halloween zombies passing the door drowned out -- if that's the right phrase -- by quiet, intelligent art conversation amongst shop staff.)

13. Of course it's incestuous. When I'm drawn to a publication it's only a matter of time before I see Stuart Bailey's name, or Zak Kyes' name, or James Goggin's name, in it. This What's Left? book by Dave Hullfish Bailey grabbed my attention for the typeface, the sobriety of the yellow cover, and the heavy-duty plastic material it's wrapped in (like a manual designed to be kicked around by carpenters on a building site). It turns out to be designed by Stuart Bailey, for whom I'm working over the next weeks as contributor of The Ghost Materialist to his free Performa newspaper.



14. Sometimes you'll be pulled up by an art title that grabs your attention. A DVD of a Chris Marker film about Alexander Medvedkin. A book of photographs called Not Niigata by Andrew Phelps, in which you admire the way the old people live, and wish you could move into their wooden houses when they die, without changing a thing. A book of August Sander's portraits, and the impossibly German, wonderfully Weimar-Republic-looking characters within it.



15. And then you do actually go to a shop where you not only marvel at the design, but buy things. The Asia Mekong supermarket.

19CommentReplyShare

imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 01:08 pm (UTC)

Then again, if record shops were still able to muster a similar sense of freshness to the bookshops I'm talking about, I have the feeling they'd be like Second Layer in Archway, and stock vinyl, and feature instores by people like Baraclough performing eccentric texts over beatless, uncompromising, abstract music:



Only in this way could you estrange your way to the sufficient distance from recycled, exhausted commercial rubbish to provide -- at the very least -- the illusion of having a vital subculture going on somewhere. Your task would then be to distinguish the results from a 1979 Throbbing Gristle performance, and show that a return to limited-edition vinyl wasn't a retreat to the past. But I suppose the printed ephemera in the bookshops also faces a similar challenge: in what way are you not a bunch of Fluxus catalogues from the sixties?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)


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rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
Sorry, are these fish fresh? No they are very well-mannered

Don't know about the programme set up by the london record store, but was it in a way comparable with staalplaat working space? Between 25th of April and 1st of december there were live radio transmissions, interviews, exhibits, spoken word performances, live concerts, films, sound installations and super8 projections set up and curated by a variety of berlin based artists. It will stop activity because of lack of interest. November is the last month. If i remember right you are one of the performers in our nice little niche in dead end area.

If staalplaat/le petit mignon will continue to sell fresh fish and include in store performances I don't know. I tried at least: read it here http://staalplaat.wordpress.com


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Sorry, are these fish fresh? No they are very well-mannered

It's worth saying that Seiji Morimoto, Tomoko Miyata and I will play at Staalplaat Working Space on November 18th, at one of the last performances there.

As you know, Rinus, I've been supportive of your efforts in that space, and I know you'll continue them elsewhere. As for the lack of interest, it was only numerical; those of us who attended the performances were very interested, but there were very few of us. I sometimes think it's a worthwhile trade-off: very few people, but very deeply touched, as opposed to very many people doing something shallow and forgettable.

I mean, look at today's entry here on Click Opera; you and I are the only people to comment! Nevertheless, I'm happy to have written it. It satisfies me like a love poem. A love poem to some bookshops and to some people who make books. You improve my world, people, and I'm sorry I don't buy more from you. But my non-buying does not exclude love, and I hope you are able to survive despite it!

By the way, although Staalplaat Working Space's closure is very sad for Berlin, it's not as disastrous as this situation is for Glasgow, if you want cold comfort and small consolation of some kind!


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Sorry, are these fish fresh? No they are very well-mannered

Don't misinterpret the low number of comments and commenters as a general lack of interest. I quite like reading your thoughts on this topic, and having been to proqm several times can absolutely understand your position, especially the bit about the highly intellectual staff (and audience, usually) - I always feel a bit unworthy (yet welcome!) to sit on the steps and browse through the photography books and design magazines.


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rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Sorry, are these fish fresh? No they are very well-mannered

If only " very few of us" could have started at a presence of thirty persons. Maybe with a budget and 100 square meters more it would have developed into something happy, transparent and very hypeless: the end of hip.

Your support from dkfrf and topmodel days on has amused and amazed me every time we met up. I don't think many of your peers are willing to go down to the ultra margins and perform for 18 euro and a free beer.

As long as you are the lone wolf as described in point 12 I am afraid most 'underground' activity will continue in the digital area: though my prediction is that in three or four years people will be tired and fed up with the internet.

Greetings and see soon
rinus


ReplyThread Parent
parchesss
Parches
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)

Do you really think that all of recorded music has stopped being an important exponent of artistic advancement?

It strikes me as strange that you feel like the only art movement (or quasi-movement) that really matters today is that which contains you.

How do you feel about the Brooklyn scene that includes Yeasayer, TV on the Radio, Grizzly Bear, etc?

I'm asking because I think in many ways, their are heirs to your own music career, by embracing postmodernism and taking elements from all ages and styles into their music, if only in a slightly less self-conscious (and perhaps, poppy) way. Frankly, I'm surprised Pitchfork reviews don't include references to you. You seem like the sort of artist they'd love to reference without ever listening to.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)

(Goes to watch most popular videos of bands mentioned)

Yeasayer
Seem more like my parents than my children, and leave me wanting strongly to rebel against them. Terribly adult, serious and dull; older than me, whatever age they are.

TV on the Radio
The funkiness makes this better. I don't find it sonically or lyrically terribly interesting, though. You really have to do more with the moribund -- I mean really seriously moribund -- format of pop music to stop it dying. I mean, you really have to tweak it HARD, otherwise you're just going to make people say "It sounds a bit like..." and name something made in 1986 or whatever. The basic sonic grammar here is not being re-invented hard enough. The medium rests on its laurels, which rest on the edge of a cliff of oblivion.

Grizzly Bear
This sounds like ELO fronted by Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet. I don't mean that as praise. Again, if you sound more conventional than, say, Black Dice, IMHO, you might as well not exist. Unless you're incredibly hooky and adorable, like MGMT. In which case you get a pass, but don't necessarily guarantee the survival of pop-rock as anything vital and essential.

I don't think Baraclough can guarantee that either, but they do something clean and startling in my ears. That second vid I linked has sounds you can actually listen to, rather than merely recognize from some ancient release.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)

Momus insultando a algunas de mis bandas favoritas (que yo le enseñé)

No es un insulto ellos, más una cuestión de decir "debe esforzarse más"!


ReplyThread Parent
parchesss
Parches
Mon, Nov. 2nd, 2009 03:42 am (UTC)

I understand your point about how perhaps the movement is not as big a shift in sound as it could be in theory. It's a difficult judgement to make after watching a couple of videos, especially the most popular ones (which tend not to be the most experimental). Still, I'm tempted to agree.

My hesitation comes when I try to think of a movement that reinvented the sonic grammar in the way you seem to be describing. There's the Beatles, of course, and perhaps the early rock 'n' roll movement, arguably.

But David Bowie? As much as I like him, I wouldn't attribute so much significance to his work. Perhaps, as you say, he was deeply tuned in to developments in art so that anything new would turn up in his work in some fashion.

That is what I'm claiming about the bands I showed you. Not that they are (yet?) the paradigm shift about to save pop music, but that they seem to be at the forefront of artistic advancement by mirroring its developments, in a similar way to what your bookstores seem to be doing.

I find it very interesting that you would say Yeasayer are older than you. I don't understand quite what you mean. It seems to me like you've taken your folk influences from artists that came before the folk artists that they've taken their influence from, and taken those influences forward with electronic and rock/pop elements that also seem to come earlier.

By the way, the 'old' part of the facebook comment is an inside joke with the person that commented before you, and not to be taken personally.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Nov. 2nd, 2009 08:02 am (UTC)

My hesitation comes when I try to think of a movement that reinvented the sonic grammar in the way you seem to be describing. There's the Beatles, of course, and perhaps the early rock 'n' roll movement, arguably. But David Bowie?

I strain to hear anything in these bands to parallel the "liftoff" strings in Space Oddity, the Kurt Schwitters-inspired babble interludes in Ashes to Ashes, the prepared piano in African Night Flight... But it's not as if I'm against Brooklyn bands per se; in answer to the three you mentioned I propose Black DIce and MGMT, both from Brooklyn. I would even endorse Vampire Weekend as much more innovative than any of the three you mentioned, or at least the videos I saw by them. I saw a lot more fresh thinking in the visuals than I heard in the music, and that's always a bad sign.


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la-terrasse.blogspot.com
la-terrasse.blogspot.com
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 11:48 pm (UTC)

> otherwise you're just going to make people say "It sounds a bit like..." and name something made in 1986 or whatever.

Based on not much but the proliferation of everything, I tend to assume that the opposite is the case: that it is good to have touchstones. If this 'sonic grammar' comes about as a result of the large scale approval of new and daring things, and the only large scale approval is now of old things (not because people have less adventurous listening habits now, but because they move in smaller blocks), then doesn't Pop fall apart somewhat? It is so about the cross pollination of ideas / sounds that have a certain critical mass that you can understand musicians wanting to hold on to their currency.

Your faith in the possibility of re-invention is refreshing, but it is hard to imagine it having the impact which would once have made a Pop moment, to be taken up and toyed with. If *everyone* is only famous for 15 people, don't we just arrive back at folk music, as if recording had never existed?


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 04:46 pm (UTC)

Man, I got so fucked up last night. Went to Fourteen first which was kind of dead, tho lots of amusing costumes. Then to Five Star had some shots of Rumplemints, danced my ass off then talked to some people in the parking lot aftewards.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)
beds beds beds

Momus, I have just started at university and am currently looking for a new bed. I remember that you used to sleep in an inflatable bubble. Where can I find those? What are they called, even?

Thank you in advance,
Terri.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
Re: beds beds beds

http://www.blavish.com/chill-out-inflatable-room/


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)

Yay Hisae :)


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC)


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sun, Nov. 1st, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)


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