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Mon, May. 4th, 2009 06:52 am
Unapologetic pierrot makes potato prints with ears

To make you understand how completely exciting it was meeting Aki Sasamoto for the first time yesterday at the New York gallery where, on Tuesday at 2pm, we start a two week performance show together, I'd have to take you back to London, on Friday.



I'd been incredibly nervous about filming my bit for the Creation Records documentary. The chosen location -- the 100 Club on Oxford Street -- sank my heart a bit. Like CBGBs in New York, it's the sort of rock toilet you're supposed to love for its "rich tapestry of rock history", but is actually a sticky-carpeted basement full of grandpa vibe. I'd only been there once before, to see Denim, but in my mind the 100 Club mainly symbolizes the famous Sex Pistols gig that everybody claims to have been at, but nobody was.

I talked for about thirty minutes, and I noticed a couple of things -- really things which are internalised assumptions in me, rather than anything to do with the people making the documentary. I noticed that when I described -- at the director's request -- what I was up to this month in New York, I adopted an apologetic tone. Saying "It's two performance artists in a gallery together, one framing the actions of the other", I felt I might as well have been telling him: "I'm a fucking pierrot these days, mate. I make potato prints with my ears."

Later, I was talking about hating Thatcher's anti-gay legislation in the 80s, and making this album called The Homosexual in protest, and coming up with the idea that straight people had to become culturally gay to fight the dual assault on gay people that Thatcher and AIDS had launched. But from behind the lights I sensed -- perhaps I should say I projected -- no quickening of the pulse, no sparkling in the eyes. I didn't get any sense that this theme would avoid the cutting room floor in a film dedicated to the "pills, thrills, spats, prats, success, excess, pick me ups, breakdowns" of Creation Records, a story which leads, as we know, to the gargantuan success of Oasis. And I can't help imagining what Noel Gallagher (who calls even Primal Scream "arty disco") would say about using an album to pretend to be gay when you're straight. He'd probably say "Why not be a fucking pierrot while you're at it, and make potato prints with your ears?"



Flash forward two days and one continent into the future, and New York, and an art gallery with my name (the same artist name I used at Creation) up on the wall, and Aki installing her props, and me trying on the kuroko kabuki stagehand costume. In the gallery, I can become -- totally, unapologetically -- the pierrot you see on the Tender Pervert sleeve, a man (as I told the Creation rock doc) "planting tiny, slow-acting sticks of dynamite into the crevices of social contradictions".

Malcolm McLaren's line that it's better to be an interesting failure than a "benign success" was in my mind the whole time I was talking to the Creation doc people, because I think he's completely right: the mastodon triumph of Oasis has taken rock music to a conservative place, a place where -- no matter how much money it makes, and how many tickets it sells -- it's doomed to dinosaurdom because it's terrified of being a pierrot and making potato prints. Scared of expanding its horizons, it's doomed to contract and shrink away to nothing.

Before coming up to West 24th Street I saw the Younger Than Jesus exhibition at the New Museum, and God, it was impressive! Not just the Ryan Trecartin stuff I blogged about before, but pretty much everything in the show just blew me away. I absolutely won't stand for any cynicism about young visual artists -- they're the rock stars of our times. They're taking exactly the kind of risks music people ought to be, but aren't -- the kind of risks that ensure the relevance and longevity of a medium.



So, anyway, Aki Sasamoto in person had the exact kind of quirky energy and disinhibition I'd detected in the videos I'd seen of her. She's fantastic (and, as it happens, dates girls, which is perfect for the "unrequited love" theme). The two of us, alone in the gallery, with the rain cascading down outside (as it's due to do all week here in New York), did some preliminary performances for each other: ten minutes in which one acts out and the other observes, and the performer makes up movements and sounds and words without any limits on what's acceptable or attractive or whatever.

In my performance I sounded out the acoustics of the room, tried to imitate the sound of rainwater in the pipes, copied a hunting cat and a curious rabbit with my body. Aki, in hers, lay on her back, wiggled her toes, slammed the wall, uttered Yoko Ono-esque cries, writhed. Later, she ran through some of her absurdist mini-lectures. We worked out the lighting: I'm this "invisible" kabuki stagehand running around the darkened gallery holding a follow-spot on a long lead, picking out Aki's actions in dramatic lighting.

I know, with a glow of warm confidence, that this show is going to be great. It's going to work. People will enter this darkened gallery, and find these people running around with lights, doing a strange theatre piece. Knowing, now, that it's going to work -- and stoked, no doubt, by New York's manic energy, the kind its homeless yelling freaks and its performance artists share -- I feel delighted to be alive. Like a pierrot, in fact, making completely fucking amazing potato prints with my ears.

29CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 11:42 am (UTC)

hella


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 12:44 pm (UTC)

it's better to be an interesting failure than a "benign success"

What about "interesting success"?


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 12:46 pm (UTC)

Hey, come on. We're all guilty of rationalizing the outcome of our lives. It's not just Momus.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 01:00 pm (UTC)

To be that truly rare thing--genuinely interesting--is success in itself.

D.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 12:44 pm (UTC)

I went over to a friend's house and their two infant children gave this very same performance. They crawled around the floor and made noises.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)

This sounds like something you should mention at your Pedophiles Anonymous meeting, not Click Opera, yeah?


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womanonfire
Auriea.
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 12:52 pm (UTC)

awesome momus
have fun!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)

I don't much like Oasis either but I don't recognize this stranglehold you imagine they have on music. I think they loom large for you because of your association with Creation but you're overstating their importance and influence.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC)

Agreed. Oasis briefly loomed large in the mid-nineties, which is quite a long time ago now. They're still there, sure, but they're not really the zeitgeist any more, are they?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 01:07 pm (UTC)

Well, I know they loom larger for me than for others. Or do they? I came into the UK on Thursday and the first thing I saw on the magazine racks at Stansted was this:



Edited at 2009-05-04 01:08 pm (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 01:36 pm (UTC)

The only interesting/amusing thing about Oasis now is that they insist on their importance, that they are still relevant, even tho they must know that things have passed them by. It's a joke. So one of them was on the cover of Q. So what? Is Q especially relevant?

Interesting that this post features mention of both Yoko Ono and Noel Gallagher. So Noel would probably hate what you're doing in New York, but the person you're doing it with emits vocal noises similar to those of Ono that John loved. But then, I never did get the Beatles comparisons with Oasis. How can you deduct all the weird/experimental stuff from the Beatles? At least Robbie Williams grows a beard and nobs off into the desert to search for UFOs.

One thing is you go for these polar opposites- eg if it's not poverty then it's ferraris. Here- If it's not your position of interesting failure, then it's Oasis with benign success. I know it's going off the Creation thing, but where do, say, Sonic Youth fit in that? They're certainly not failures, but neither are they a benign success. Just one example occupying the huge space between the two.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)

Oh sure, every binary is a continuum too. In the Creation doc I cited My Bloody Valentine's Loveless as the most significant release, because it really did and does sound extraordinary, and did and does expand the possibilities of the medium. And you can hear Sonic Youth in Loveless, for sure.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 5th, 2009 07:59 am (UTC)

I get the feeling that a touch of FAIL (a.k.a. wabi sabi) is necessary to pique Momus interest. This makes for a polarity, since the degree of failure necessary to interest Momus is one makes "benign" success difficult (There might be some overlap, of course).

It is, in other words a question of taste and not worth fighting about. And Momus (and for the sake of disclosure, my own) interest in culture that teeters on the brink of FAIL is not unlike Buddhist monks finding beauty in decay or gourmets enjoying moldy cheeses. Obsession within a field tends to breed a taste for the strange (in case you're wondering which field the monks are active, I'd submit it is "staring at stuff"). This, however, despite the buddhist monks' conviction to the contrary, is not positive or commendable. It just is.



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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, May. 5th, 2009 10:06 am (UTC)

Thank you, this is a very successful comment about FAIL!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
The British Eagles

In a culture where no-one really knows what they are doing, or what they are out to promote, where everyone wants to impress everyone else along the chain, enough to keep their jobs, the tendancy will be to find culture which looks a) big b) strong c) power-based and 'dominant'. This is not because, culturally, those attributes are superior, but because associating yourself with those attibutes might be seen as reflecting your business' preferred market position.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
Re: The British Eagles

In that case I'm buying shares in Woolworth's right away! And M&S! And the Virgin Megastore! And AIG!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
Re: The British Eagles

Someone's still buying shares in Oasis. Once you associate yourself with the overpotent, scale, success, the Union Flag, you can seemingly trot it out forever..


ReplyThread Parent
kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)

Their shadow still falls heavily across UK "indie" music (which, for the most part, is owned, lock, stock and barrel, by the Big 4 major labels), in the form of primitivist "lad bands" like Kasabian, The Enemy, The Courteeners, the Arctic Monkeys, &c.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC)

Creation Records may have been "important" in its time, but all the world's fleeting record labels, and publishers, critics, and journalists, for that matter, mean next to nothing to me. Next to nothing compared to the fresh breath of art that nourishes me. Momus/Pierrot, all your antics, all the childlike exploration, the joy and mystery of life--ah, but that means so much!

Dot, a bit dreamy, and wishing for just a moment she were in NYC, too


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
delighted to be alive

Well in a grandfather way "Hals- und Beinbruch, “ I think or "Gokouun o inorimasu!"


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)

lol momus are you staying in normandie court? it looks like it from the photo. i used to live on the 30th floor in that building too. and your gallery is right down the block from my office, i'll have to come say hello. small world. hope you enjoy your time in nyc. --paul


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC)

Weird, you're the second person to think it's that building! In fact it's about ten blocks south.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, May. 4th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)

Why did you bother to take part in this documentary, I don't imagine they paid you. We all know it's main focus will be Oasis and Alan Mcgee and the death of so called Indie labels. Muso bores spouting the same old music journalist crap. I for one will avoid it like swine flu.


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Tue, May. 5th, 2009 10:37 am (UTC)

Isn't this whole oasis thing a bit of a false comparison? they are (were) a band aimed at the mass market doing safe and utterly predictable tunes, striking a chord with your average joe who only listens to similar mainstream music on the radio and reads the likes of Q. Momus' stuff is adventurous, genre hopping and aimed at a whole other demographic, those who attend galleries and performance spaces. Not only do the two serve different functions and say completely different things, the whole context of their presentation/performance is a world apart. It's like comparing mcDonalds with, say, your local alternative/eco-restaurant - the differences are so vast they're obvious, and what, in any case, would such a comparison achieve?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, May. 5th, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)

Well, I don't think there's any such thing as a "false comparison" -- there are just comparisons! In this case, what makes the comparison a relevant one is the biographical fact that I've done my storytelling schtick in places as various as the Creation label and a New York art gallery, though I see it as pretty much the same activity, and use the same artist name for both.

The person above who mentioned how Aki's Yoko Ono-esque performance ought to evoke Yoko Ono's involvement in The Beatles, who are supposed to be Oasis' biggest inspiration, hit an important point. There were times -- and there are places -- when mainstream and avant garde practices are in the same frame. And what happens in the avant garde does have relevance for the mainstream, freshening and expanding its repertoire, preventing it from collapsing into repetition, habit, staleness.

I'm not ready, perhaps, to condemn the Q magazine world, the Creation documentary world. All it takes is for those commentators to show a little more respect for the R&D stuff, for the idea of originality itself. They need to temper their conservative impulses (and that has its place, it's the "true" part of the "new plus true" formula, eternal verities etc) with more vigilance about being constantly innovative. The very survival of the medium depends on that, because even the most trad audiences get bored eventually. You can't just keep serving up the same twangs and echoes.


ReplyThread Parent
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Tue, May. 5th, 2009 11:47 am (UTC)

"All it takes is for those commentators to show a little more respect for the R&D stuff, for the idea of originality itself. They need to temper their conservative impulses (and that has its place, it's the "true" part of the "new plus true" formula, eternal verities etc) with more vigilance about being constantly innovative. The very survival of the medium depends on that, because even the most trad audiences get bored eventually. You can't just keep serving up the same twangs and echoes."

How likely do you think this is? retro necro, to coin your phrase, is ingrained in the way these people think. It is reenforced daily by radio, and tv talent contests and fame schools. Even in the 70s you had the likes of mud, showaddywaddy and grease reviving the 50s in new blandness; in the 80s you had the likes of tight fit, stars on 45, shakin stevens, stock aitken waterman, jimmy somerville, and countless others reworking 60s stuff. As long as a few cosmetic changes are made, you can keep selling the same crap over and over again, recent history has proved that.

The major problem I think, is a structural one. It is traceable to the inordinate amount of record company mergers in the 80s and 90s, which consolidated the power of a handful of majors into a few electronics giants, so even fewer risks were taken - hence the fragmentation of the market, as indie labels (many often aspiring to be majors themselves!) filled the gap left by the absorbtion of all the smaller labels on the more 'plural' playing field made up of the plethora of smaller labels that existed in the 60s and early 70s.

At the same time, DJs , who arguably used to have far more freedom to play records they liked, and support acts they rated, became mere robots playing pre-arranged playlists. We were better off , I think, when DJs' idiosyncracies, and not corporate practice, could turn us on to good music.

To sum up, whilst I hope what you say does happen for the good of culture, I think it's a bit naïve to believe that this lot are going to 'temper their conservative impulses' and show respect for more avant garde stuff. Economic imperatives inherent in capitalism mean they prefer the sound of retro, or 'death warmed over' - dead guys don't (always) collect! It's easier, cheaper and familiar to the moronic audiences the same industry has shaped the tastes of.

we were discussing a very similar topic [URL=http://verygoodplus.co.uk/showthread.php?t=22816] HERE [/url] after another awful, retro necro Stuart maconie '90s review' programme - see what you think.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, May. 5th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)

I pretty much agree with all this, but I think lack of innovation strangles the baby in the cradle, throttles the goose that lays the golden eggs, and could bring the whole industry (what's left of it) down. I was trying to buy a Martin Rev CD yesterday, and Kim's St Mark's Place is gone, Virgin Union Square is closing imminently, Tower is long gone. It's over!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Tue, May. 5th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
Martin Rev

If you've repaired the burnt bridge, I would imagine Other Music would have a copy...


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, May. 5th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Martin Rev

Nope, checked, they don't have it.


ReplyThread Parent