Friday, August 1, 2008

Elton John (and band) - Funeral for a Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding (1973)

Another (long) clip from the Classic Albums series from Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Some nice solo piano from Elton at the beginning of the clip, but then there's a breakdown of the mix, at the desk, at around the 7 minute mark, with a hint of the vocal harmonies just after.

This song shifts from a its first section - an elegy - to something angrier: like the work of mourning in reverse. I suppose it made sense of the world in 1973 when the Fordist/Keynesian/welfare-stateist system collapsed and was lost as the post-war boom whimpered off stage.

Acapella Dreams - Fleetwood Mac 1977

This is a long clip from the Classic Albums series, on the making of Rumours. There were two couples going into the recording, neither of which survived it. In this clip you get some sense of the relationship drama that is imprinted on the final mix when the engineer describes how physically close Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham were as they sang harmonies, on songs like Dreams; especially as they sung a line like "players only love you when they're playing" - which must have been directed at Buckingham.

You need to go to about the 5:20 minute mark on this clip to get to the 'acapella' section, but to hear the three voices (and one overdubbed Stevie Nicks) together is worth it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jet - Wings 1974

First released Feb 16, 1974 Jet is one of the songs that seems to have been with me from the moment of taking proper notice of the world for the first time. I suppose a moment in which my world was organised by a sense that songs were something that you could 'control' - that they appeared and left; that you could request them on cassette in the car; that if you timed things right and listened to the top 40 on radio you could hear certain songs.

Australian 70s pub-rock band 'Jet' are apparently named after the song, and around the web there is a story that McCartney wrote this about his dog, or maybe his horse. Well, he was busted for growing marijuana outside his Scottish farm around this time, so, sure, that little lady Suffer-a-gette could well be his dog. I do beg to differ however, and my reading of the lyric is of an older suitor and his desired one (Jet). Jet tells her strict parents that she wants to marry, and Jet is 'liberated' (suffragette) so when her parents refuse, she is lonely. Our suitor however has his eye on her, and protests his love to her Mater (Mother) with the caveat that he will wait to marry - 'much later'. Jet deserves freedom, and the lyric ends with the balladeer promising to take her on a ride to the sky.

That said, I can't quite get over how affecting this song is for me. Ok it has a fairly standard rock feel and opens onto a glam-like verse, with a tenor sax driving the walls of sound - complex and lush harmonies included - but then the whole thing just dips and the wall drops away - the scratch-skank guitar and McCartney's voice 'And Je-taaaaaaaaah' just this side of melancholic (for me anyway). It just breaks me. The feeling of the song is like Springsteen's 'Born to Run' - there's somethin Fordist and big R Romantic about both songs: perhaps it's the young couple escaping to freedom on the road. Or something like that.

ps: After listening some more here's how I now interpret the lyric:

Jet - I can almost remember their funny faces
That night you told them that you would be marrying soon
*the singer recalls the reaction of Jet's family when she told them she was going to get married*

And Jet- I though the only lonely place was on the moon
*Jet is lonely because she wants to leave home and be with her beloved*

Jet - was your father as bold as a sergeant major
How come he told you that you were hardly old enough yet[?]
*Jet's father lays down the law to her and tells her she's too young to marry - he acts like a sergeant major*

And Jet - I thought the major was a lady suffragette
* This is ambiguous but I'm going for this interpretation: the singer expected Jet's father to support her in wanting to get married because he supports female suffrage (feminist liberation)i.e the major is a lady suffragette. It's an awkward phrase, but lady suffragette sets up the perfect rhyme with 'Jet'*

Ah Mater want Jet to always love me (x3)
Ah Mater . . . Much Later (aside-ad lib: What she said - oh what she said)
*Here the singer declares his desire for Jet's eternal love, addressing his reciprocal committment to her mother (Mater). However the adverbial phrase - "Much later" - is Jet's mother's reply. If you listen to the live version above and the single you can here an ad lib - "what she said" - which I take to mean: Jet's mother is also putting the brakes on the singer and Jet's nuptials: she can love you forever when she's older*

And Jet - I thought the major was a lady suffragette
Ah Mater want Jet to always love me (x3)
Ah Mater . . . Much Later (aside-ad lib - What she said - oh what she said)
* same as above*

Jet - with the wind in your hair of a thousand laces
Climb on the back and we'll go for a ride in the sky
*OK I can see the horse references here - the black mane as 1,000 laces and the climbing reference. But why can't these be metaphors for Jet's desire for freedom and the singer's desire to be with Jet? Also this is a Fordist image of freedom similar to Springsteen's line in 'Born to Run' 'Just wrap your legs round these velvet rims and strap your hands 'cross my engines.'*

And Jet - I thought the major was a little lady suffragette
*Same as above - little lady is sexist but emphasising Jet's youth*

And Jet - you know I thought you was a little lady suffragette
*Right, here there is a slight turn. Rather than Jet's parents preventing her from eloping/ marrying, it's Jet herself that the singer is now directing his query at: Aren't you liberated enough to make up your own mind about me and be with me?*

A Little Lady
My Little lady . . . Yes.
*In the end, a romantic sax phrase ends the song on a bitter-sweet note, veering toward the schmaltz that Big Mac can so easily fall into. But the meaning is fairly clear: it's a song of fidelity and encouragement with a hint of sadness at its edges - a sadness that is performed in that sweet way that McCartney often perfects (cf 'She's Leaving Home' - 'Something inside that was always denied for so many years').*

Here's a 1987 live version.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lists, memes, Necks and postpunk articulations

Not sure if anyone visits here, but in case someone pokes their head around the door for a quick look - and listen - there are some posts on musical matters over at the blog that I give most of my procastinating time to -eurhythmania

audio meme

One of them tag games that gets passed around - name current 7 favourite songs. I've put u-tube links up for most of these.

a couple of long necks

Sydney experimental trio have some live performances available for downloading - free. Post-fordist improvisation that moves me to purple prose and widely extravagant interpretations. Better to have a listen or even go and see them if you get the chance. 'Nuff said!

independents day
A poll of Australian independent Record Label releases currently being taken, which will be announced 4 July 2008. Ironic much! The short-list is heavily slanted toward the golden age of Independent records: 1980s to mid 1990s. Excellent.

Christos Tsiolkas and post-punk
Tsiolkas is a brave and ferocious writer of fiction. His debut novel Loaded is one that features in the thesis I should be working on now rather than writing this up for fuck knows who. This post links to a talk he gave at the recent Sydney Writers' Festival on the theme of influences, of which he mentions postpunk music of the 1980s. Go Christos!


Meeting over."

- Anthony Junior to Meadow Soprano after dropping one.
The Sopranos

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Notes on sociology of musical form and rhythm

from Bill Martin Avant rock: experimental music from the Beatles to Bjork, Open Court: Chicago. 2002

In the first half of the twentieth century, a good deal of ink was spilled in comparisons of Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. Indeed, there is a dynamic to this comparison that describes well what happens when traditions seem on the verge of exhaustion. Schoenberg was extolled by Theodore Ardono for his systematic deconstruction of tonality, while Stravinsky was sometimes denigrated for his expressivism and exoticism. . . Schoenberg's move to the dodecaphonic (twelve-note) system can be seen as the next step in the progression from the extreme chromaticism of Mahler. . . In some sense Stravinsky, who comes after Mahler . . . instead of asking what the next step was for "the scale" and for harmony, asked what this "scale" was all about, anyway [:] a desire to be liberated from Western tonality altogether. [9-10]

[P]art of what came out of the attack on "the scale," and the concomitant turn to other scales and sounds, was an elevation of percussion. . . .In some sense, even in "classical music" . . . the "rhythm section" steps forward [11]

Robert Fink Repeating Ourselves: American minimal music as cultural practice, U California P, 2005

repetitive music implicates creators, performers, and auditors in repetitive commercial culture like advertising and television [xi]

[We] trace the presence in minimalist music of both Eros and Thanatos, of dialectical entrainment to desire as well as libidinal liberation from it, never forgetting that these lofty psychoanalytic terms are just metaphors for the bodily effects of material social constructions. [7]

[T]he repetition-structures of American minimal music broke into the Western cultural mainstream around 1965, the precise moment that the complete transformation of American network television by commercial advertising established the medium's distinctively atomized, repetitive programming sequence. Minimalism, whatever judgement of taste one might pronounce upon . . .takes on a unique cultural significance: it is the single instance within contemporary art music of what Raymond Williams called "flow," the most relentless, all-pervasive structural trope of twentieth-century global media. The sheer scope and intensity of this media torrent index an aesthetic effect that we might call the media sublime. Minimal music turns out to structure its repetitious desiring-production in much the same polyphonic way as a spot advertising campaign spreads out across diversified media vehicles . . .; its effect on the listener is the sublime perception of all those campaigns and all that desire creation perpetually coruscating across the huge expanse of mass-media flow . . .[I]n an aesthetic effect absolutely characteristic of consumer society, the sheer excess of processed desire turns out to be the biggest thrill of all. [10-11]

Justin Winkler, Space, Sound and Time: A choice of articles in Soundscape Studies and Aesthetics of Environment 1990 - 2003, 'Rhythmicity (2002)'

Rhythm is defined by the approximate repetition of a cycle – thus standing out from measure, the precise, identical repetition of a cycle. I would like to make the point thatalthough rhythm thus implies many kinds of elasticity and resilience it is actually a structure of extreme robustness. We can, together with Lefebvre, imagine that rhythmic systems develop a strength similar to those well entwined paper fibres which serve as a bridge capable to support heavy weights. Rhythm is concrete, worldly time, rhythmicity its systematic aspect. [2]

Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth Sequel to History: Postmodernism and the Crisis of representational time Princeton UP, 1992.

In this conjugating rhythm, each move forward is also digressive, also a sideways move. A postmodern narrative submits to the sequential nature of language grudgingly and at every juncture keeps alive for readers an awareness of multiple pathways and constantly crossing themes. Rhythm is parataxis on the horizontal and in motion: a repetitive element that doesn’t “forward” anything, one that is always exact but never “identical.” Narratives where time is rhythm give readers an opportunity to take up a new kind of residence in time, a way of staying in the narrative present – often literally or effectively in the present tense – that requires new acts of attention.
Rhythmic time – the time of experiment, improvisation, adventure – destroys the historicist unity of the world by destroying its temporal common denominator. In rhythmic time mutual reference back and forth from one temporal moment to another becomes impossible because no neutrality exists between temporal moments; on the contrary, each moment contains its specific and unique definition. Each “time” is utterly finite. [53-4]

[P]ostmodern narrative forces readers into a new kind of present: not the dematerialized present of historical time but what Nabokov calls the “Deliberate Present” of rhythmic time. [54]

Jacques Attali, Noise: the political economy of music, U Minnesota P, 1985.

Composition thus leads to a staggering conception of history, a history that is open, unstable, in which labor no longer advances accumulation, in which the object is no longer a stockpiling of lack, in which music effects a reappropriation of time and space. Time no longer flows in a linear fashion; sometimes it crystallizes in stable codes in which everyone’s composition is compatible, sometimes in a multifaceted time in which rhythms, styles and codes diverge, independencies become more burdensome, and rules dissolve. In composition, stability, in other words, differences, are perpetually called into question. Composition is inscribed not in a repetitive world, but in the permanent fragility of meaning after the disappearance of usage and exchange . . . It is also the only utopia that is not a mask for pessimism, the only Carnival that is not a Lenten ruse. [147]

un-hooked on classics: Beethoven after tonality and recording

Professor Robert Walker from School of English, Media and Performing arts University of NSW, Sydney responds to Mark Bahnisch's opinion piece in The Australian 'Fable of the Cultural Elite'.

Walker isn't interested in the political and social context into which Bahnisch's essay is situated: the current round of culture wars that are in play, albeit with less vigour than before the ALP victory last November, and how battles in these wars turn around issues of public funding, the politics of recognition and redistribution, and History and English curricula. Walker's riposte instead contents itself by rehearsing the Kantian discourse of judgement of the sublime: the discourse which Pierre Bourdieu has done so much to historicise and to analyse for its use in the reproduction of stratified social classes. Walker will have none of this sociological infection invading the religious experience of sophisticated art: the sort of art that only an emotionally, intellectually, musically and aesthetically educated, and thereby sophisticated, person is capable of understanding and appreciating. Not the three-minute pop song (philistine, rubbish, appealing to the base emotions), but rather a Beethoven symphony.

I have some sympathy for Walker's view. I'm interested in literary and musical form, too. But Walker's Adorno-esque disdain for 'uneducated-art' stops short in a number of ways. Walker's elitism is ignorant of the sociology of form.

An example. Adorno's sociology of musical form saw him support Schoenberg's modernist innovations in advancing musical form into a break with harmony and tonality: twelve tone music. How an audience heard this music would, of course depend on how they heard the tonal music of Beethoven. That said, Adorno wasn't content to talk of the sophistication and education of the experience of Schoenberg's performances (where Walker ends his formal-cultural lessons). For Adorno the break with tonality marks a break with the logics of commodity exchange and reificiation.

Now the point here is that there is a homology established between musical and social forms, and that the dominant nexus (harmony and commodity exchange) is broken by a new organising logic: twelve-tone music. But while Adorno's sociology of musical form is exemplary it is only one version of how the logic and order of harmony and tonality in musical form is broken with.

Robert Fink has written, in the shadow of Adorno (the new musicology), about the emergence of pulse-pattern-minimalism music: Steve Reich's compositions, for example. Fink's argument, which sits alongside that of Jacques Attali's in Noise: the political economy of music, is that Reich's music is a form in which we can think the media sublime. The way Fink puts this is to argue that Reich's Music for Eighteen Musicians, like Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "Love to love you baby", are both musical performances of a refiguring of the desires that advertising's repetitions play through us.

Anyone that has heard that extra-diegetic musical section (music that is incidental to the action) in an American sit-com, or movie, even in Australian movies and dramas, where mallett instruments (vibraphones, xylophones etc) play a motiff that is counterpointed and repeated (often signifying the repetition of everyday cyclic time, and often what is experienced in a city-office job) will have heard the after-echoes of Reich's piece. This form has entered popular culture and it's condescending for Walker to invoke the elitism of his Kantian judgement while not recognising that we use the forms of Reich's, and let's admit it, disco's, music to make sense of a world in which media repetition is constantly shaping our desires.

Another break with tonality is that which arises out of the drone-noise movement, of which John Cale's mentor, Lamonte Young, was a practitioner. Cale, trained as a classical viola player, moved into the Andy Warhol Factory orbit in the mid 1960s, joining up with Lou Reed and formed the popart band the Velvet Underground. While the VU did employ pulse pattern music ("Waiting for my Man") it was Cale's electrified viola drones, overdriven valve amplifier noise, that has had such a lasting influence on popular music. The drone and noise, also break with the tonality which Walker's examplar - Beethoven - would, on this (the post-Adorno sociology of musical form) account, be locked into. And the drone, the electrified noise, are now commonplaces of popular music.

That we make sense of the contemporary world through the forms of popular music that we experience through TV shows, as disco and its afterwards, as the electrified noises and drones of a million pop songs, doesn't mean that we cannot experience the sublime. It's just that unlike Walker, we learnt how to live with, sometimes resist, sometimes negate and get around the media and commmodity sublimes of the contemporary world by taking these forms and putting them to work in our everyday lives. To call us lovers of the pop sublime uneducated, philistine, capable of only appreciating the *spits* music of base instincts is precisely the performance of distinction that Bourdieu exposed as deelpy imbricated in class stratification.
Loosen up Professor: there's not much you can do for the barbarians have long ago moved into the house of fine music and locking the gate won't stop us from getting out.

After Fordism: Australian textual and American musical cultures

This is a riff on a quote from former editor of the Melbourne Left literary journal Overland, Ian Syson. Syson both articulates a sociological explanation for these dirty realist novels of inner-urban angst, and also takes a swipe at the name 'grunge' which he dismisses as marketing hype. While I agree that the labelling was indeed 'marketing spirit' I also think that as the label still adheres to some of these novels, it might be worthwhile to refigure the meaning of grunge itself away from the fairly obvious and, let's face it, fairly shallow critical formula: pop/rock music = expression of authentic teenage emotion. Syson forecloses on any homology of cultural form, and thereby sociology of cultural form, shared by grunge music and grunge literature, when he poses what his argument takes to be the absurd attempt to equate rock with fiction: a modernist or realist guitar solo doesn't make any sense!

Underscoring the fragmentary points made below is the notion that fordism in the USA is sensually experienced due to the sheer weight and size of industrialization in the American North. Conversely, in Australia Fordism is less urbanly concentrated and it is industrial citizenship as a form of script-text culture which dominates: hence the importance of The Bulletin in forming keystones in Australian Labourism and the radical nationalist movement in the post-war period. By thinking grunge music as Fordist, Grunge lit becomes more comprehensible as a response to the decline of industrial citizenship in Australia.

What our band did was basically make a big noise and create some movement with that noise. Slowly I came up with a kind of concept. A lot of it was based on the attitude of juvenile delinquency and general mental grievance that I'd gotten from these dropouts I was hanging out with, mixed in with the sorts of music I like: hard r&b, hard rock and roll, and the exciting elements of jazz, 'cause I was starting to listen to John Coltrane, and the unpredictability of that. And then an added element was to find something simple, monolithic, metallic, like a big machine - like the drill presses at the Ford plant, stamping out fenders. I'd listen to that and think. 'God those are impressive sounds, big sounds.' And they're so regular and simple, I thought, 'Those are sounds that even we could master.’ Iggy Pop

The early electric guitar emerged out of the role the acoustic guitar played in Hawaiin music forged from the desire for volume in the swing and big bands of the 1930s and 40s. The innovators of the electric guitar solo, at this early stage, were Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker. Can these early solos be interpreted as realist or modernist? To take the simplist understanding of the musical context here, the answer would have to be modernist, due to the jazz and blues context in which Christian played. While the electric guitar is and has played a role in jazz, it is the blues line in which its power and dominance over much post-war music has occurred. And in travelling up this line, effectively up the Mississipi to the heavy industry manufacturing towns of the American North, we can perhaps begin to hear that the electric guitar, even rock’n’roll, is fundamentally best understood as Fordist – a intimate part of a whole way of life, that sexualises, twists and rolls the rhythms and timbres of what Zygmunt Bauman calls heavy modernity with a loud, distorting electricity – the Chicago Blues.


A modernist guitar solo can be theorised – it is the guitar solo as most western ears know it: Charlie Christian, Chuck Berry, Robert Fripp. But this is the wrong question [Ian Syson’s question about modernist and realist electric guitar solos], put in the wrong terms, and it's here that the sense of incommensurable paradigms lead less to a knowing mocking, and more to a different way to conceptualise that might permit a smoother jump between what I’d like to argue are the shared structural tropes of Praise and Nirvana’s Lithium. For rather than attempting to set up a realism to modernism shift, it makes sense to begin with the notion that the electric guitar, and its solos, are only understandable within modernism. Indeed, what I want to suggest is that the forms and sonics of the electric guitar solo are intimately wound into that aspect of modernism, and modernity, Gramsci named Fordism.


Rock’n’roll takes the repetition of the train, the cars on the motorway whizzing past, the monolithic machinery thumping out car fenders in time, in tempo, and re-stages these textures, rhythms and timbres in a Chicago or Detroit bar. Rock says –‘yes, this is the rhythm and timbre of our modernity, but we can still be free, we can still feel the blues, take this car, this train, and fly – we can make love like a fleshy-machine.’ The guitar solo is the romanticism that gets released by the rhythms of the factory – we can live with and subvert the rhythms of the factory – this machinic repetition: we can keep our human feeling, move faster and with more freedom than the factory. Modelled on the Fordist factory, Berry Gordy’s Motown, marks the Fordist dream as a black dream of creative capitalism: a production line of stars and hits. The avant-garde, the inversion and ‘reframing’ of Fordism in culture, enters popular music slowly, but its hard to shy away from the profound influence that Andy Warhol’s factory plays in this stream of post-Fordism.


If the new pop of the 1980s (ABC, Scritti Politti, Human League, Frankie Goes to Hollywood even Prince and Madonna) celebrated, if not attempted to subvert, commodity culture, then the return to authenticity (over this ‘artifice’) is most measured in Grunge – real, true, authentic. Ironically, Grunge draws genealogical lines into post-punk, punk itself and the rock and pop bohemians – Iggy Pop/ Stooges and the Velvet Underground: artifice pop art, art rock. Cobain’s aspiration to meld aspects of the Beatles with Black Sabbath, heavy metal with modernist rock/pop, confirms that his musical head was in sync with that of the US’s (and by extension UK, Australia’s) white, male, suburban teenage heartlands. But what Nirvana also brought into the mix was this post-punk legacy – the pop art subversion and artifice that had been enacted as an accumulating endless loop through bands like the Pixies; the stockpiling of records and CDs; and MTV. What Grunge promised to deliver was the underbelly, the dirt and heaviness of authenticity – the antithesis to the gloss and surface sheen of pop.


Was America, then, like Australia, working with a sense of industrial citizenship as its basic subjectivity? Clearly not in the same way. The historic compromises in Australia, its lack of overt civil war and sense of manifest destiny, its lack of clearly sanctioned citizenship (compared with the U.S. Bill of Rights and constitution) produce a much thinner version of liberalism in Australia than in the U.S, and yet a version of liberalism that is more textual, more read than the American version which is more felt.

JF Archibald founder of the now defunct Bulletin & Henry Lawson.