HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Author: Matthew Boyd

Nisennenmondai (にせんねんもんだい) - Fan (2009)

Nisennenmondai Fan

Nisennenmondai Fan (美人レコード、2010)

Nisennenmondai (にせんねんもんだい) - Fan (2009)

Nisennenmondai (にせんねんもんだい) - Fan (2009)

Fan is not music. It is not the deliberate construction of an emotional narrative employing intervals of sound and silence. At thirty-five minutes and a single track, Tokyo trio Nisennenmondai’s (translated loosely as “the Y2K Bug”) 2009 recording for 美人レコード (Bijin Records) thwarts the listener at every turn.

It is played like a record, meaning you cue it up in your mp3 player or CD player or what have you, and, there in the room where you are located, your stereo’s DA converter decodes the acoustic impulses that have been converted into electrical signals in a faraway recording studio back into sound. It has a beginning and an end. But what has been recorded? After the initial sample of ambient room noise and birdsong, is the arrhythmic thrumming that begins and constitutes the core of the record actually the sound of an electric fan put through some kind of effects box? Is what you are hearing musical instruments or objects in a room that happened to have been mic’ed up?

Nisennenmondai guitarist Masako Takada (HESO Magazine)

Nisennenmondai guitarist Masako Takada (HESO Magazine)

Your attention is drawn back to the recording after some five to ten minutes. Some very slight new variations have been added and you, as listener, realize you’ve been engrossed in other thoughts. The recording has, by now, become part of room’s atmosphere, but the introduction of new rhythms has reminded you to listen. This new development bears some resemblance to musical buildup. It renews your expectation that the “song” will suddenly begin to follow the development arc you’ve come to expect from music. You expect the development of tension, its eventual resolution by way of some climactic point. But here Fan frustrates you again, because, though new repetitive elements are added to the composition, and the familiar sounds of traditional instruments such as drums or bass guitars do make their way into the mix, these developments occur over such a long period of time that the effect, in the end, when the mix is thinned back to silence, is that nothing seems to have happened at all.

Nisennenmondai Drummer Sayaka Himeno (HESO Magazine)

Nisennenmondai Drummer Sayaka Himeno

How about a list? Fan is the juxtaposition of ritual and the continuous, predictability and fatelessness, tenacity and adaptation, subject and object, ambience and artifice, ambivalence and intent, participation and affectlessness, action and passivity. It is practice elevated to the extreme that it becomes something emptied of, or even impervious to, intent. Going beyond itself, the practice of musicianship on this record becomes nature. It becomes sound as such. Fan is not music, but the paradox is that it needs a listener to exist at all. Without the listener, it’s just objects going bang in a room thousands of hectares of unknown forest distant, oblivious of itself, unaware of whether it can even be heard. Without a listener it is equivalent to that minute sample of birdsong that starts the record off.

Fan is a clever virus that pushes the listener to come to grips with the idea that, in as little as thirty-five minutes, manufactured objects such as fans, cultural objects such as music, and, by association, culture and human subjectivity can easily and without argument blend back in to the everything from which they were demarcated.

2666 - Roberto Bolaño, FSG 2008 Cover Design by Charlotte Strick (HESO Magazine)

Lost Analogs A Critique of Global Capitalism in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666

“This is increasingly emerging as the central human right of advanced capitalist society: the right not to be ‘harassed’, that is, to be kept at a safe distance from others.”

— Slavoj Žižek, Against Human Rights


We can thank people like Bob Moog for his eponymous synthesizers, Tsutomu Katoh for his Korg brand of musical instruments, Gershon Kingsley for his musicianship, and all of them collectively for introducing our common musical associations with the term “analog” into our everyday vocabulary. When the word comes up, we can bring to mind music that is the soundtrack to an antique electronic future—one that rushed into our sensorium with the advent of the telephone, but whose sheen is still undiminished after all these years.

This musical context of the term refers to the production of media that is directly analogous to another condition or occurrence in the natural world, in this case the shaped production of a noise through the controlled interaction of electricity and set circuit paths. Digital technology differs from analog because it does not posses the same direct reversibility to an original set of conditions. Unlike analog, it is not traceable back to a necessary original condition. It exists without a negative. No matter how we may program digital to function in lieu of analog in our cameras, musical instruments, and tape machines, the important precondition necessary for digital

to function is only the identification of a need, even if that need is eventually not decided on by present actors but derived from the framework of the system itself.

Digital came to prominence because it was able to quickly and portably fill the needs formerly met and defined by analog technology. As such, it has become the go-to form of production and recording. A seamless integration of multi-track recording and electronic production on the home computer has been worked into almost every dilettante’s life, alongside going to the gym for mandated maintenance of the corpus and sending graphomaniacal solipsisms to one’s Twitter feed. The blueprint provided by the analog forebears to digital is now less necessary for the unique abilities of digital to shine in their own right. Enabling digital technology to organize and emulate our material lives has increased our insincerity regarding the conscionable 1:1 avowal of our actions and the outcomes of those actions. It is for this reason that the debate between the analog and the digital is a political debate more than a simple aesthetic debate. Digital encompasses the ability to propose a new, total, closed system of meaning that does not need to refer back to a standard origin.


Bob Moog, Tsutomu Katoh, Gershon Kingsley for Lost Analogs (HESO Magazine)

i

There are aesthetic differences to be drawn between the art that can be created by the two types of technology, but one must keep the political differences that can be discerned at the front of all arguments. This is because, more than affecting the production of individually separated works of art or culture or their qualitative appeal, the debate separating the merits of analog versus those of digital are conceptual, and their concepts affect every aspect of our lives in global society.

Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is a work of fiction that tells the story of the 20th century, a century of people’s accelerating attempts to escape and obscure the lines binding them to analogy. It is a story that spans the globe, and one whose tendrils ensnare several different global class systems.

The 900-page novel is divided into 5 books: The Part about the Critics, The Part about Amalfitano, The Part about Fate, The Part about the Crimes, and The Part about Archimboldi. There are only two sections we need touch on to connect Bolaño’s book to the idea that the relationship between analog and digital is one of enabling the disavowal of consequence.

The Part about the Critics follows the escapades of a small society of academic specialists in the oeuvre of a Prussian who writes under the name Benno Von Archimboldi. The reader is taken through their bourgeois genteel Europe of personal achievement, petty academic intrigue, and tepid love affairs.

The Part about the Crimes is the story of a fictional town in the northern Mexican state of Sonora on the border with the United States. It contains the events that most of the book centers around—the serial murders of women living in and around the town of Santa Teresa, a town given over wholly to the activities of narcos and the massive ‘maquiladora’ factory parks.

Bolaño does not stop at describing the obvious interconnectedness of the lives of the characters, each of which traces a coincidental connection to the described lives and horrors in other parts of the world or in another epoch. He does not merely demonstrate a shared capability for violence in the first and second worlds by offering the professors’ beating of a foreign cab driver in contrast to the grim large-scale industry of poverty and murder in the Mexican factory town of Santa Teresa. Bolaño goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the characters’ lives are not connected to a shared tragedy by chance alone. The coincidence of chance connections are easily dismissed as novelty stories. Bolaño does the work to show that that which connects each disparate set of characters across social and economic borders is at the root of their respective societies.

Bolaño’s story demonstrates the point, similar to that made by philosopher and Lacanian scholar Slavoj Zizek in his book In Defense of Lost Causes, that both the first world of lettered achievement and the second world of tradition married to dehumanizing industry require one another to sustain global capitalism. The factory owner takes his profits from the information society denizen who buys his products. The first world consumer requires the cheap goods made “over there” to maintain her way of life. this connection is glossed over during the course of daily life in each separated arrondissement. It is the fact that the connection between each society becomes obscure that is important to bear in mind. Each culture perceives itself as the only legitimately mandated system. To each society the other, when conceived of at all, is perceived as a kind of anachronism strengthening the first society’s way of life before finally going away. As Zizek notes, capitalism functions in these gaps of understanding between each differing societal organization’s knowledge of the other one.

ii


The heart of Bolaño’s critique in 2666 is this: On all sides of the story, the reader is shown people who must step forward to recognize the origins of their way of life if the violence at its core is to be stopped. The diffuse, disparate, and desperate nature of global capitalism has a sheltering and obfuscating digital effect marked by the introduction of false analogs that prevent the acknowledgment of the origins, consequences, or resolutions of our plights. There is a voluntary excess inherent in the system that allows this gap in understanding, making these changes in perspective true only in its enactment. The enactment and making true of this excess is the expenditure that joins the world of global capital under a single system and enforces the separation of its disparate parts. The system of global capitalism requires the ignorance generated by the separation of its parts to maintain the frenzied, excessive activity of its cycle.

In an early passage in The Part about the Critics, Bolaño alludes to the nature of this excess at work. The literary critics are at table with a former rural cultural events promoter. The promoter relates a story of his face-to-face meeting with Archimboldi, the writer who is the object of the critics’ study. During that meeting, the cultural events promoter told the critics, another guest, a widowed baroness, had dominated the conversation with a story from her trip to Argentina where she and her husband had been the guests of a wealthy rancher. Because her husband had been a great cavalryman, a series of races was staged between the baron, the rancher’s son, and the gauchos of the estate. The result was that the baron won all three races. Afterwards, a gaucho boy had pulled the baroness aside and told her that, because the ranchers had known her husband would lose the first race, it had been arranged that the second and third would be secretly forfeited to him. Disbelieving the boy, the baroness asked him, if that were true, then why had her husband won all three races? Her question was met only with a murderous stare.

This conversation haunted the baroness for years after, and the encounter came to appear to her as a riddle. The riddle was this: If it really were true that the ranchers were such superior horsemen they had to arrange to throw the last two races to honor their guest, what did it mean that her husband had won all three races?

Archimboldi himself then provided the answer. At the last moment, the rancher’s son, in a fit of demonstrable luxurious excess and sacrifice, had decided to throw the first race in addition to the following two. The capital of his assured victory, of his demonstrable superiority on horseback, was squandered in secret. It was given away as a kind of unspoken sacrifice, a contract whose terms are known only to one, in order to bestow on the ranchers a sense of power and superiority over their guests that is hidden in magnanimity. It was a making real of their position of advantage over the Europeans, but it was done in the language of their vantage point’s interpretation of capital. What did they actually have in relation to the visiting Europeans but an excess of human life, of visceral skill, their own personal dignity, to expend on bettering their position? At that expenditure they not only gain a winking unity amongst themselves, but also the power of a secret and shared enmity. The problem with this brand of compensation is that it requires ever more sleight of hand to continue to make it appear self-sustaining and true, to make it culture.

Had the baroness stayed longer to speak to the boy, whom Bolaño described as having “the eyes of a bird of prey,” and “the eyes of a clumsy young butcher” any longer, that product of the injury of sacrifice that is enmity, Archimboldi pointed out, would have been expressed, literally and corporally, with an act of violent sacrifice even larger than the thrown horse races. It would have been one that, with the disposal of both the baroness’ and the boy’s lives would have both created and justified a state of honor. The boy was less sophisticated than his elders, and so certainly would have killed her.

Moving ahead to the present day of The Part about the Crimes, the author brings this idea of one-sided contracts and excess into the present day of the maquiladora, where the wasted excess made of human life is not, apparently, present enough in the poverty and working hours and conditions of the super-manufacturing facilities. In the story, the reduction of human life to an excess of industrial material must be even further realized in the apparently unstoppable serial murders of women in the maquiladora’s surrounds. That the excess that is being expended is through the murder of women, not men, goes a greater distance to enforce the truth of the system; along with time, and of course, the environment, what is being expended frivolously by industry, as though its presence is too copious to be necessary, is the very life that sustains it. The murders go on and on with the police unwilling or unable to end them. No one steps forward to volunteer what someone must know to ensure the killers are caught.

The police go as far as to arrest Klaus Haas, a cold, distant, immigrant psychopath (and computer programmer) and, in conjunction with the civic and business leaders in the community, present him as a scapegoat for the killings of women in the city of Santa Teresa. Nobody contests that he is a rapist and a murderer and obviously inhuman, but, incarcerated, he is also incapable of being responsible for the serial killings that go on and on without surcease in the outside world. He is the foil Bolaño uses to alert the reader metaphorically to the nature of this thing that resides in the engine room of capital. Bolaño chooses Haas to convey this message because he is a monster not bound by the accelerating story without continuity that is capital’s social narrative. Bolaño’s monster can see and tell us what others given wholly over to convention do not. That thing is this: He is a monster, but he is nowhere near as terrible as that blind, murderous excess which the maquiladora calls to itself.

In his moments of delusion after his arrest, Haas rants to the other prisoners:

“…a giant is coming and the giant is going to kill you. A giant? asked the rancher. You heard me right, motherfucker, said Haas. A giant. A big man, very big, and he’s going to kill you and everybody else. You crazy-ass gringo son of a bitch, said the rancher. For a moment no one said anything and the rancher seemed to fall asleep again. A little while later, however, Haas called out to say he heard footsteps. The giant was coming. He was covered in blood from head to toe and he was coming now.”

2666 - Roberto Bolaño, FSG 2008 Cover Design by Charlotte Strick (HESO Magazine)

2666 - Roberto Bolaño, FSG 2008 - Cover Design by Charlotte Strick

iii

To return to the discussion of analog versus digital, we have established that what is analog is built on the direct relationship of one condition to another. Digital technology required analog only to get its start, to provide the early templates of its behavior, but is not any longer bound to such a model.

Bolaño has written the necessarily long description in prose of the accelerating nature of the unpayable debts the human race took on in the 20th Century. It is his point that there is something to which we have lost the ability to directly relate in the present day. Our attitudes defining our relation to labor, to luxury, and to human life are informed by this divide. His critics live in the comfort of their critical pursuit of an elusive author, traveling freely across Europe with full access to the luxuries manufactured in border worlds like the maquiladora, places whose ruthlessness is exiled beyond accountability to the fringes of states.

The denizens of the border world Bolaño creates face a world literally and corporally defined by industry, where access to the goods and genteel stability manufactured there for use in other parts of the world is limited or somehow mitigated by the interference of sinecure, family, or fear. The commingled interests of narco-traffic and the manufacture of goods for the first world, the extortion involved in border crossings, and the murders of women loom collectively large as the hidden axle around which all life turns.

 

About the Author

Sean "Smiles" Lotman is a writer based in Kyoto, Japan (Manny Santiago)

  • Matthew Boyd is a musician and writer based in Seattle, Washington. His website is here.

Copyright

Unless otherwise stated All images © HESO Magazine, 2011.

This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you wish to use reproduce any of this context in a commercial context, explicit permission is required. Please contact me directly.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

The National - Boxer

The National: Boxer


The National - Boxer

The National - Boxer

Part of the experience of becoming attached to an album is that surprising moment when it comes at you out of left field, when something doesn’t go quite as you’d expect. A good album gets behind your defenses and bypasses your algorithms of expectation. It makes you set new frames of reference and reconsider what you thought you ought to expect.

The inwardly-gazing bent of The National’s brooding humanity of subject matter and intermittently bombastic catharsis did just that on 2005’s Alligator, their last album. The deep, woodgrain timbre of Matt Berninger’s vocals chanting the stream of everyman’s consciousness brought the poetry of music for mass consumption into new, more personal spaces. In between nervous breakdowns, oddly-timed just as they are in life, the songs on that album taught the listener to wait and listen to learn how they meant, not just what they meant or how they sounded. Alligator was The National’s beautiful album of pop music without a user’s manual. With no one to ask how to hear it, you had to wait until the wash of sound and verses found a chink in your understanding and flushed in.

The personal settings and themes of the songs on Boxer, the new album, are not new ground for the band, but their delivery is. The songs are less accusatory. They are more often simply in the space they describe, at home with the facts they lay out, such as when Berninger intones on “Slow Show” (“I want to hurry home to you/put on a slow, dumb show for you/crack you up/So you can/Pin a blue ribbon on my breast/but I’m very, very frightened/I’ll overdo it.” We see vulnerability and the admission that to return home to the fake empire of interpersonal myths, like returning to Vonnegut’s all-important “nation of two”, to return to the myths that stand to privately glue people together, is the paramount desire. The concerns the songs are focused on are not with the world at large, but, as with the first single, “Mistaken for Strangers”, whether the play-acting and personal mythbuilding we all engage in severs or strengthens the ties we keep dear between each other.

On Boxer, there is an audible lack of those screaming outbursts that lent their urgency to standout tracks “Abel” and “Lit Up” on the previous record. There are no longer the bewildered pleadings and apologies of tracks like Alligator‘s “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” or “Friend of Mine”. Instead there is a tangible, studied space and pacing to the record. I said it before, but singer Matt Berninger’s voice is woodgrain, it is a part of the music that surrounds it. It ages, changes colors. It becomes better and more careworn the more time the listener spends with it. The subtlety of the production, the absolutely perfect timing of each instrument, the whisper of backup vocals at the decided-upon moment; touches like these, and touches like the mechanical puff of pink noise peeking like Kilroy over the percussion on “Apartment Song”– each of these things bespeaks a flagellant’s devotion to presentation, a maniacal drive and fury behind the scenes. There, behind the bluescreen, is where the twitch and ire worn on Alligator‘s sleeve has holed up, dug foxholes, dedicated pillboxes and bunkers whose cornerstones no one but moles will read where devotees of a long and meaningful moment, devotees of our episodic and continuous human lives, will drink black coffee and pore over maps and strategy in fevered isolation.

To conclude, it is fitting to quote from a poet Berninger’s lyrics’ imagery quite often evokes, Robert Lowell. In Thoreau 2, Lowell writes, ‘…For Thoreau/Life in us was like water in a river: “It may rise higher this year than all others.”/Adrift there, dragging forty feet of line,/he felt a dull, uncertain, blundering purpose…’

This reviewer is reminded of the scene in The Outlaw Josie Wales wherein Clint Eastwood shoots the ferry rope of the raft carrying his pursuers, capsizing the craft and buying him time to escape. Squinting into the sight of his rifle he prefaces the shot by telling the carpetbagger who had moments before crossed the river with him, “Out here we got a thing we call a Missouri boat ride.” To really listen to The National is to admit that you can relate to the foundering Missouri boat ride we drift on with friends, family and lovers, dragging forty feet of line tied to no shore and feeling a dull, uncertain, blundering purpose on our attempt to pull from one bank of life’s flood to the next.

Vonnegut self-portrait (HESO Magazine)

Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt (Or God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut)


Vonnegut self-portrait (HESO Magazine)

Vonnegut self-portrait

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died this past week, but it is not true to say that we suffered a terrible loss with his passing.

There can be no question that his passing will be noted. If not all of us collectively, I, at least, will certainly miss him. But Mr. Vonnegut described to us throughout his life the one true, terrible loss we all suffer without exception. His work was an obituary he wrote to us over and over to remind us of a thing we had already gone, but one that he exhorted us to become aware of. His reminders were intended to move us, finally, to take the steps in our power to gain that thing back.

Our true loss is our discarded humanity. It is our shared international cultural goal to slip out of the bonds of kindness, rationality, and responsibility to one another faster than the next human in the race. In short, our terrible loss is our missed chance to be good.

We should be bereaved to see our curmudgeonly kind man of letters pass. He treated us as a friend, and we need as many of those as we can get. But do not take off the black crepe when the customary time for mourning a man and a friend has elapsed. Mourn then that in his stead among men of letters in our day there are few but dandies. Mourn then that among men of peace there are few with influence. Mourn then that, because of this, once our selfishness has seen to it that we’ve used up the means to support everything we’ve become, once we’ve surpassed our capabilities to replenish all the clever devices that support who we are, and once our balance of mutual enmity passes into a permanent and irreconcilable surplus- our computers, our stereos, our printing presses, our guitar amplifiers, our televisions, our automobiles, our trains, our refrigerators, our airplanes, our libraries, our roads, our post offices, our museums, our clean water, our food, our stories, our poetry, our art, our love, our families, our cultures, our cities, our civilisation- all of this, even the letters that make up the words you’re reading now, will probably be irretrievably lost.

And then, Goddamnit, stop mourning. Be different. Be kind. Be good. We don’t have any more time to waste.

Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut! Would that you could have said at the end, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” Would that it might one day be true.

April 18, 2007
New York

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén