November 30th, 2009


My noughties 4: Otto Spooky, googlepop

"It is not necessary that you leave the house," wrote Franz Kafka, perhaps anticipating Google. "Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet." Otto Spooky is an odd album, a treasure trove of worthless things found whilst googling, or, as I wrote at the time, "the record David Bowie would have made if he'd worked on Lodger with ex-members of The Incredible String Band instead of ex-members of Roxy Music".

Otto Spooky is the first Momus album made in Berlin (and arguably the only one, since Ocky Milk was half made in Osaka and Joemus half made in Glasgow), the first post-blog album (Click Opera already existed, and in fact was financing these songs via a donation system). It's an album made in an age of iPods and Web 2.0 applications. I think of it as a neo-Elizabethan googlepop record: an aleph-album, with google as "the place from which everything in the world can be seen simultaneously". It's an album on which everything is visible and nothing matters. It's rich but lost, observant but dizzy. Digital form has become a rush, a torrent leading us anywhere and everywhere and nowhere. From Elizabethan England to Tripoli to Eritrea to Chinese immigrants in Morecambe Bay, the album melts and flows, carried along by John Talaga's mind-warping transitions and the constant sound of water.

"The 2005 Album From Momus" was recorded in my apartment on the Stalin-esque Karl-Marx-Allee between April and July 2004 and provisionally entitled The Artist Overwhelmed By The Grandeur Of Ancient Ruins, a title from Henry Fuseli, the early Romantic painter of irrational nightmares. I was 44, and I'd moved to Berlin the year before after a somewhat nomadic three years in New York and Tokyo. By 2004 I was living with a fashion student called Ayako, writing for Vice magazine and various design publications, getting more interest from art mags than music publications (Modern Painters gave me four pages in 2003), rummaging in Berlin's flea markets, lusting after its hipster scenester girls, visiting art shows.

The year before I'd made a record with Anne Laplantine. Summerisle (not a regular Momus album, and therefore not included in the sequence here) referenced The Wicker Man and -- without bandwagon-jumping -- fitted quite neatly into the then-trendy Wicker Folk or Weird New Folk meme. Appropriately enough, Otto Spooky opens with a couple of tracks which sound as if they're mining the same meaning-seams as Summerisle -- experimental folk music -- slightly more articulately. But, as spring 2004 turns to summer, things diverge... and keep diverging, endlessly, exhaustingly. In April I record (and blog about; click the links) Jesus in Furs, Life of the Fields, Robin Hood, and Corkscrew King. In May I write Sempreverde, Klaxon, Bantam Boys, The Water Song, Cockle Pickers, Your Fat Friend, Belvedere and Lute Score. Things are rounded off in June with the composition and recording of Mr Ulysses, The Artist Overwhelmed and, finally, I Refuse To Die. In the summer I head off to Japan and Hong Kong.

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In retrospect, Otto Spooky feels like an oblique, exhausting album. It's like wandering in some sort of mad art biennial. The range of references is dizzying, mystifying, disorienting. The record is rich and strange, yet light and nebulous; political yet politically-incorrect. You get the impression of a cavern of junk treasure, a butterfly fluttering over jewels. A rush of information becomes a spinning globe, a kaleidoscopic blur.

This may be the weakest of my noughties albums, but if he's lost, Spooky Otto, the "artist overwhelmed", is lost in a respectable, calculated, arty, playful, gainful way. This absurdist interview, recorded at the time, may confuse you further.

Previous: Oskar Tennis Champion
Next: Ocky Milk

Otto Spooky can be ordered on CD here (UK) or here (US).