Two of the courses I’m currently teaching — the intermediate-level “Environmental Literature, Art, and Media” and the senior-level “The Culture of Nature” — require introducing an eco-critical framework appropriate to a wide range of artistic forms, from literature to visual art, music, film and new media.
The process-relational framework developed in Ecologies of the Moving Image is synthetic and holistic in its scope, but it is too advanced for introducing in itself — accompanied by the philosophical underpinnings it requires — in these undergraduate classes. So I’ve been forced to rethink its categories to make them both more accessible and more broadly applicable.
While this doesn’t have much to do with the usual themes of this blog, it is an interesting case study of media culture and political protest (and one that my Ukrainian studies background qualifies me to comment on).
It’s the case of Pussy Riot supporter Inna Shevchenko, an activist with the Ukrainian feminist protest group Femen. Let’s figure it out:
A (western-style) feminist activist-performance group best known for (literally) exposing themselves to gain media exposure (with the help of happily obliging male photographers) chainsaws down a cross commemorating Stalin’s Ukrainian victims as an act of solidarity with anti-authoritarian punk-feminists Pussy Riot. (Those are the three musicians recently sentenced to two years in jail for their “sacrilegious” anti-government performance in a Russian church. More on them later.)
Some Landscapes has a great post about landscape artist/musician Richard Skelton. As evident in works like Landings, Skelton is an artmonk, an eco-process-relationalist extraordinaire, and very much the musical equivalent of the kinds of artists I wrote about here.
Threads Across the River (which follows Scar Tissue in the video below) is beautiful: View full article »
A couple of off-line conversations about the inspirational power of music and of SF (science/speculative fiction) have gotten me to dig up this old Facebook piece and to share it here. See bottom for details.
I dedicate it to Little Rinpoche.
1. My best friend in kindergarten used to mix up mind and matter; he would say “It doesn’t mind” and “I don’t matter.” Somehow that’s stuck with me. I think he was on to something.
2. My first radio was in the shape of a little soccer ball and played a very tinny version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” when my cousin and I turned it on for the first time. We danced to it until it broke.
3. I joined the Columbia Music Club in seventh grade and promptly ordered some Black Sabbath albums. The name sounded cool. My intuition was right: I loved ‘em, and would go around playing (electric) mouth guitar in middle school.
4. I was a plump little kid until I went to boarding school in Rome for a year at age 12. While there (my parents hoped I would grow up to be a Ukrainian Catholic priest), I got good at foosball and billiards and got turned on to Jethro Tull and Amon Duul II. I was a sucker for dramatic electric guitar openings and unusual chord changes. “Sitting on a park bench/Eyeing little girls with bad intent/Aqualung.” Some days we walked in the fields outside the city and wondered about the used condoms; other days we went into town and saw graffiti saying “Fuori Americani!” I was glad to be Canadian.
Tim Morton seems not to have liked my comment suggesting that reality is a mix of stability and instability, and that stability is an achievement rather than a default position.
The universe, I would say, is an achievement as well. His much-loved (?) lava lamps are achievements, as are Graham Harman‘s Lego blocks. They don’t fall from the sky; they are made into objects that withstand a fairly high degree of turbulence in their environments. Humans have become great producers of such things — of things that can be shipped all the way from China (as Leonard Cohen used to sing) and that work for a little while according to their instructions, before we tire of them and order next year’s model.
But even in a world without humans, there are achievements aplenty: planets and galaxies (amazing achievements, they); oceans teeming with life, some of it organized into social groups; and ecosystems, geological formations, bacterial networks, individual organisms, and all the rest. Even the things that do fall from the sky — asteroids and meteorites, for instance — are achievements, though the more impressive achievement is the atmosphere that protects those other things from the onslaught of the meteorites. They all take a fair bit of work being made and maintained — not necessarily work by “themselves” (though that, too), but work on a multitude of levels and scales. And they are all in process (or, to be more precisely, in various kinds of process), always modulating between stability and instability but, fortunately (for us) crafting enough stabilities to make a pretty richly diverse world possible. View full article »
From the very first moment of hearing Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s Trout Mask Replica many years ago, I was hooked. The first crashing guitar chunks of “Frownland” followed by the Captain’s growling happy voice “My smile is stuck, I cannot go back to your Frownland”… When I read Lester Bangs’ lines, they rang true:
‘Trout Mask Replica shattered my skull, realigned my synapses, made me nervous, made me laugh, made me jump and jag with joy. It wasn’t just the fusion I’d been waiting for: it was a whole new universe, a completely realized and previously unimaginable landscape of guitars splintering and spronging and slanging and even actually swinging in every direction, as far as the mind could see…while this beast voice straight out of one of Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantras growled out a catarrh spew of images at once careeningly abstract and as basic and bawdy as the last 200 years of American Folklore…I stayed under the headphones and played Trout Mask straight through five times in a row that night. The next step of course was to turn the rest of the world on to this amazing thing I’d found, which perhaps came closer to a living, pulsating, slithering organism than any other record I’d ever heard.’ – Lester Bangs, New Musical Express, 1 April 1978
He was inconsistent and probably more than a little crazy, but his blues-derived experimental rock-and-roll was one of the most original things to have appeared in its time or since. Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart, died yesterday, at 69, from complications associated with multiple sclerosis. Rest in Peace.
My smile is stuck
I cannot go back t` yer Frownland
My spirit`s made up of the ocean
And the sky `n the sun `n the moon
`n all my eye can see
I cannot go back to yer land of gloom
Where black jagged shadows
Remind me of the comin` of yer doom
I want my own land
Take my hand `n come with me
It`s not too late for you
It`s not too late for me
To find my homeland
Where uh man can stand by another man
Without an ego flyin`
With no man lyin`
`n no one dyin` by an earthly hand
Let the devil burn `n the beggar learn
`n the little girls that live in those old worlds
Take my kind hand
My smile is stuck
I cannot go back t` yer Frownland
It’s difficult to say this, but I’ve decided to – [sob, sniff, sob] – sell my record collection. It took many years building it, though there was also a lot of sifting through and whittling down every time I moved (including two major cross-country moves in the past decade). From what remains (about 900 pieces), I’ve compiled a list of categories and approximate number of units in each; you can find that list here.
I know this goes against the current, just as records have made a solid comeback, at least among the hipsters in the know. But they take up a lot of space, I’ve duplicated most of the best of them in CDs and digital files, and, frankly, I could use the money for a new (used) car. (Horrors. Cars can’t take you where music does…)
I’m planning to post the list to eBay, in case someone wants to take the whole thing as a package off my hands. But I also have an interested buyer here in B-town — the excellent Burlington Records — and I’m not willing to watch it go in drips and drabs, or to do all the work that that involves. It will go as a collection, back into the flow of soundable vinyl that’s been circulating around the planet for some 120 years now. This little dam will break and will release a long, steady flow of very good music (with tears and memories mixed in), the product of many years of searching, finding, and delighting in vinyl and the magic that happens when the needle hits the groove…
For any jam band lovers out there (for some reason, the term has always made me think of “ham”; I guess it’s the French jambon that comes to mind), here’s a set of clips that remind us that the genre peaked about forty years ago. (H/t to Gary Sauer-Thompson at Conversations.) It’s actually from 38 years ago, but I think the version of “Dark Star” that’s on “Live Dead” is much better — less flat and more dynamic, graced by a more central Jerry Garcia and much more mellifluous keyboard than the clunky one here. But I guess it was just that kind of August day this time around. For those who think it all sounds like a far-too-endless stew of mushy and blandly flavored noodling — and whose suspicions are confirmed in the listless version of “El Paso” this turns into part-way through the fourth clip — there is a moment in the Live Dead version that demonstrates it really doesn’t have to be that way at all. (This 1969 version comes closer to the Live Dead version, though I can only see Part 1 online, so it’s missing the moment in question. But taken as a long moment, it’s all still a pretty good one…)
Tom Verlaine used to lament that Television’s “Marquee Moon” was often compared to the Grateful Dead. This 2005 concert version displays both the reasons why it was (especially if you like the Dead) and why it shouldn’t have been (if you don’t) — though at around the 3-minute mark of this second part they show that they still can’t duplicate what happened in that studio in 1977. (Compare, for instance, with the 9-minute mark of the original.) But they do their best to recover.
All of which brings me to relationalism, ecology, earth jazz, and the summer solstice. (Warning: this gets long and complicated, and if you’re not interested in the objects-relations debate, you might just want to skip through most of it. Just don’t miss the Miles Davis clip at the bottom.)
If there’s a musical demonstration of relationalism, and by extension (as Skholiast points out) of ecology, it’s the kind of improvised music that the Dead are supposed to have excelled at (and occasionally did). The universe gives rise to many wondrous entities in its long history of spontaneity, relational responsiveness, habit-formation, and form-building. The habits start as rhythms, melodic chirps that turn into territorial refrains and calls, and that gradually maneuvre their way into verse patterns, melodies, harmonies, polyrhythms. Distinct songs develop for particular purposes and gradually get freed from those purposes, taken up into improvisational routines and performances, some of which crystallize into larger-scale architectonics, but only ever temporarily.