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Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 01:36 am
Nonsense is harder to achieve than you believe

This weekend I'm being flown into Luxembourg to do my job. What is my job? I think basically it's to learn a little bit about something, then use that as the basis for making something up, something that surprises and in some way refreshes people. In Luxembourg on Saturday evening this will involve looking at the art in MUDAM and making up some tall tales about it. "Acting as an official Mudam guide," says the museum, "his unorthodox tour through the exhibitions has no intention to inform visitors about the art works and their content... his mission is clearly that of misinformation. His intent is to challenge art-world pieties and unsettle museumgoer expectations.” Nice work if you can get it! So how did I get it?



Watching the instant portraits Matt Jacobson at Le Grand Magistery continues to post on his YouTube channel (see Sunday's entry for others), it seems to me that I began writing my own job description about ten years ago, and the job I created for myself was this sort of unreliable guide role, this spur-of-the-moment liar-who-tells-the-truth. Having failed at the pre-existing social roles I'd previously been trying for ("pop star" or whatever), I came up with this one-off role, a sort of mockumentarist, an honest quack, a turner of nothings into somethings. It's a sort of showy-offy highwire act, and not something just anyone can do.



Watching these clips now, I grin but also squirm in embarrassment. There's every chance that these improvised portrait songs will go horribly wrong; insult their sitters, bore the audience, make me look bereft of inspiration. Mostly, though, they don't. They're saved by the high stakes, the inherent drama of risk, and the final triumph of sense over nonsense. Because actually -- and this is the secret behind this act -- nonsense is harder to achieve than we believe, and sense comes easy. Sense is "the sentence of every sentence", the fate of all semantic units like words, chords and melodies. They can't not signify something.



Chords and rhymes and songwriting conventions coax the few biographical facts I select to work with in directions I can't even know about until I'm actually singing the stuff, but what emerges -- sort of amazingly, like a rabbit coming out of a magician's hat (and Matt of LGM, filming all this and undoubtedly influencing it too, is a magician himself) -- is relatively coherent, and surprisingly relevant.



The reason it works as entertainment is that the listener, in on the discovery and hearing it at pretty much the same moment I do, almost feels as if he's up on the guitar string high wire with me. Somehow something songlike emerges, to everyone's relief. Yet it stays scrappy and silly and imperfect enough -- awkward as a stumbling, kicking new-born calf -- to make you laugh.



Sometimes a song will express unexpected violence, like this one, in which I imagine a psychiatrist giving electric shocks to a colleague. (How did Michael feel about that, I wonder?) Or like the Kahimi Karie song, where I take her favourite colour (red) and find it soon enough on the tip of a breadknife, recalling the Pygmalism song I recorded with her that same year, which sees the Kahimi character "plant my dagger in your breast" to get even with that paternalistic Pygmalion, her creator (in the song it's an explicit reference to Blade Runner, and the scene where Roy Batty kills his creator Tyrell):



Even if, as in A User's Guide to Layna, the chords go all awry, the song can still work if the concept is strong. Here it's Layna's job as a technical writer which becomes the hook, as I imagine writing a manual for the writer of manuals (and again it's this theme of the tables turning):



The artist Justin Lieberman once staged an advertising agency in Zach Feuer's gallery. That's very much what I was doing onstage on the Stars Forever tour; making adverts for people after hasty meetings hashing out the kind of things they wanted said about their "products"; their lives and selves. Sometimes the slogan surprised its copywriter, as in this song in which I tell Carrie -- who's not having much luck dating men -- "why not swing the other way?":



What I like about these videos is that they show something eccentric and excessive. After all, you're really just supposed to stand on the stage and sing your songs, not do this kind of thing. But what you see here is a man a bit bored with his role, determined to write another one for himself. What he's writing, apart from songs, is a new job description for himself, one that leads directly to Saturday's little stint as an Unreliable Tour Guide.

17CommentReplyFlag

eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)

I like the tri-directional communication at work here:
artist-song subject-audience.

And yes, nonsense is far , far harder to produce than we think. Often the best nonsense is by damaged minds - take the likes of Syd Barrett who was undergoing mental trauma, schizophrenia and the legacy of LSD. Or take those 'spamland' videos I think i posted on an entry earlier this year - based on computer generated texts. It seems that meaning and sense are so deeply ingrained in us, we have to become almost superhuman - or lose our rational minds - to short-circuit it effectively, and break free from the order it imposes. 'Man is something that must be overcome', said Nietzsche - Wonder if he had this in mind!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 01:08 am (UTC)

Yes, I remember those spamland videos you posted! They were rather impressive poetry.

The story of my subsequent songwriting career is all about moving away from glibness and hackery -- of which these instant portraits are perhaps the ultimate, though not uncharming, example -- towards things that take longer to make sense, things that are more mysterious and textural and sphinxlike. I had ten years of "adventures with form" ahead of me, but I did shed some of my audience in the process. And in a sense I retreated somewhat to the ivory tower of the art world.


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jdcasten
J.D. Casten
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC)
Astrology Typos

I think there’s a bit of a difference between randomly generated nonsense, and that produced by some Schizophrenics and LSD users (I’m schizophrenic and had LSD experiences dating from age 2 (btw: I don’t think they are related, even though there is some evidence that teen use of marijuana correlates with higher incidence of schizophrenia))— With the random, it’s purely up to the observer to project some sort of sense; while with “confused” humans, it’s often a matter of delving into an idiosyncratic world (the same with some poets and “postmodern” writers). Most of my nonsense, I’d hope, is a matter of typos… I don’t talk about my brain probe delusions that much.

Astrology was a way of making sense of the scattered stars: but the meaning seemed to be a projection of our own minds! (btw2: Momus is an Aquarius… who are typically eccentric, socially oriented, and scientific).


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 01:23 am (UTC)
isn't it also called a...

"a turner of nothings into somethings."

a magician?


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
Re: isn't it also called a...

no a wanker...

:)

but true isnt it? and what a grand wank it is...

anyways... my golly, momus, quite the stunning bit of history. And lucky it was recorded so well.

I like how your 3 last posts work:

bowie (and company) slightly scary fascism, to kewpie flavored cute fascism, to momus one-on-one weird/funny fascism...


ReplyThread Parent
darthhellokitty
darthhellokitty
DarthHelloKitty
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 02:31 am (UTC)

I had NO IDEA there was video of that! Oh my goodness! That was wonderful, even if I was hard to document.


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ishinagami
ishinagami
Isaac Fischer
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)

I think it's really impressive that your willing to go up on stage and do that. I'm glad to see you still do it. I figured that you'd have stopped since it wasn't something you wanted to be defined by.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 03:50 am (UTC)
Nonsense is harder to achieve

To make a persuasively meaningless mark is harder than it looks. Your little kid can’t do it. (Barthes points out that, when drawing, “a child applies himself, presses carefully, rounds things out, sticks out his tongue; it’s hard work to adapt oneself to the code of the grownups.”)









“The essence of an object has something to do with the way it turns into trash.”

Edited at 2009-10-07 03:56 am (UTC)


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)
Re: Nonsense is harder to achieve

great article. I have always loved his stuff. I remember when I first saw or remembered seeing his work... I was a teenager... And I remember looking at it and coming to terms with it as art,,, in the best sense... realizing that that was possible. I took in everything that article expressed.... at that moment....

basquiat... really took a lot from Twombly... and is one of the few artists I feel met it where it was and took it further... and where Twombly faltered... I think he prevailed...
what blows me away is how Basquiat is (was) able to do both so well... charge a surface with so much energy... or leave it... empty...


ReplyThread Parent
count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 05:51 am (UTC)
Re: Nonsense is harder to achieve

I think that there is a classicist-humanist/romantic-political divide between the two. Basquiat is more about appropriating recent negro-creole imagery whereas Twombly deals with decontexualized classical humanist themes such as consciousness, agency, myth and ritual - and the sweet shallow grey area between the ancient and modern. I suppose they were both searching in a way for roots, and both used elements of graffiti, but Twombly goes much deeper into the elemental past. Basquiat is Jazz, Twombly the first plucked string.




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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 06:01 am (UTC)
Re: Nonsense is harder to achieve

i'd like to suggest that there's an implicit racial element to your opposition of twombly and basquiat--the conscientious apollonian anglo compared to the visceral african (american).

moreover, i'm afraid i see the two the other way around: basquiat is the classicist and humanist (which you term "political") deeply interested in myth and ritual, whereas twombly is the earthy romantic, lascaux-like and primordial.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 05:51 am (UTC)
Re: Nonsense is harder to achieve + Basquiat, Barthes and Bebop

basquiat is wonderful; he's even more important than he gets credit for being; i predict he'll be known as the keats of modern art in centuries to come, not to mention the charlie parker of painting...

also, related to basquiat is the idea of jazz music; these impromptu creations of momus' are like a kind of post-structuralism--in terms of the free floating signification of language--crossed with the ethos of jazz itself--the democratic creation of something which only exists that one time (theoretically, that is).

momus, are you fond of (any kind of) jazz by chance?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 06:03 am (UTC)
Re: Nonsense is harder to achieve + Basquiat, Barthes and Bebop

I think most of the music I actually go out to hear live in Berlin these days is jazz, or what jazz has become. It's music I often characterise as "scraping a piezo mic up and down a balloon". In other words, it's improvised sound with a performative element, and its central instrument is a mixer with a spaghetti of wires, standing on a trestle table. "Trestle table jazz", if you like.

I'm even performing a concert of the stuff at Staalplaat Working Space on November 18th. I'm on voice, Tomoko Miyata is on water bowls, and Seiji Morimoto is on piezo / trestle / other.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 06:13 am (UTC)
Re: Nonsense is harder to achieve + Basquiat, Barthes and Bebop

i'd say your upcoming performance qualifies as pretty avant-garde jazz, yes. Cagesque, really.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 08:24 am (UTC)

whats happening in the the clip with the nicholas guy ("another nicolas")?

so difficult to hear sometimes... all the noise


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shadowshark
shadowshark
ShadowShark
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)

Should anyone ever ask you what you're contributing to the world in your role as an unreliable narrator of life, you can now add, among other things, that you're helping your audience to exercise their pattern-finding abilities:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/health/06mind.html?ref=science


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parchesss
Parches
Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)

Perhaps that is your job description.

Whenever I mention Momus and people ask me who he is, I'm at a loss of words. They don't really expect me to go into great detail as to all the things that you do, but somehow "a pop musician" does not cut it at all.

I recently came up with the term "culture designer" to describe what you do. I guess any artist could be called a culture designer, but I think the term fits you especially because of the way you take elements that are there and rearrange them in different patterns. It reminds me of how a graphic designer thinks.


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