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Lou Reed & Metallica: Why all the #WTF?

Jennifer Lucy Allan

lulu lou reed and metallica

Sitting conspicuously at #9 in our 2011 Releases of the Year chart was Lou Reed and Metallica's Lulu, one of the most hated albums of the year. Reactions to its charting have ranged from noisy retching to charges of conspiracy. What's struck me, looking after The Wire's various digital channels, is the nature of these reactions - it's not the fact that hardly anyone likes Lulu that's unnerving, but that the response has been so over the top.

A few readers were bemused by the fact that James Ferraro's Far Side Virtual was our album of the year, but the reaction was rather more considered to say the least. As a result of Lulu's Top 10 placing, we have been accused of constructing the chart purely as a hyper-ironic statement, received an email (on Christmas day) that referred to it as a "piece of shit", and otherwise been variously slagged off. While every music magazine is used to receiving its fair share of beefs, the reaction to Lulu (and its appearance in our chart) has been uniquely venomous.

Interestingly, people seem to think the Loutallica album is objectively bad music; not just something that few people like, but something it is impossible for anyone to like, at all. It's a bizarre response to a record that is essentially a mix of overwrought beatnik poetry and overwrought Metal riffing, especially in the context The Wire - there's really nothing in it that's so shocking to modern ears it warrants the reception it's been getting. Why is it legitimate to react to it like this? What's the key difference between Lulu and other 2011 albums that people didn't like, the one ingredient that pushed everyone over the edge?

The obvious answer to that is Lou Reed himself, who has been (intentionally) whipping audiences into a hate-filled frenzy since at least the mid-1970s, and even once released a live double album, Take No Prisoners, full of obnoxious crowd baiting routines (sample line: "Give me an issue, I'll give you a tissue, and you can wipe my ass with it"). But that can't be the whole story. There's also the attitudes of Metallica fans to take into account. And of course, the ever present trolls.

Perhaps because there's been little consensus on what's definitively great this year, there's relief to be found in a consensus on what's terrible. In some ways that happens easier online – the balance of negative and positive in comments sections, YouTube and sometimes on Twitter tends towards the former. Add the objections of Metallica's more conservative fans to the group going way off message, stir it up via a YouTube preview and a set on Jools Holland, add some scathing reviews, and hey presto, Lulu's branded as safe to hate.

But not all zines, papers or sites thought Lulu was awful (although it garnered 1.0 ratings and "one of the worst albums ever made" type assessments). Ultimately, the reaction to it is a testament to Lou Reed's ability to still get up the noses and under the skin of even the most open-minded listeners. He's probably laughing his head off at it all this very minute.

(The above image comes courtesy of Rock Sound magazine, whose office is just across the corridor in the same building as The Wire's. They think Lulu is a joke too - obviously)

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Analog alchemy: Auris Apothecary and the anti-cassette

Jennifer Lucy Allan

Indiana based label Auris Apothecary is only a record label in part. A package sent from them recently contained cassettes and CDs, but also a small spice mix, a tin full of dirt, and a small wax sealed scroll printed on acetate.

Sitar Outreach Ministry's Spring Of 1970, a two track cassette, is wrapped and bound in a dried sunflower leaf. Unwrapping it made a dirty mess on the floor of The Wire's meeting room, and coated my hands in a dusty organic scuzz. Wrapped like it was, once I'd starting tearing layers of green leaves away, I'd never be able to wrap it up neatly again. I had to tear it apart piece by piece, and now I've got a plastic bag full of crackly old leaves that smell like earth, and a cassette in cardboard case, and I'm not really sure whether to chuck out the leaves or not.

This packaging challenge is something that's been explored by other artists and labels: Entr'acte's vacuum packs, and Dreams Of Tall Buildings's plaster cast William Morris box. The packaging must be destroyed for you to access the music, forcing the listener/owner to choose between the physical artefact and the cultural artefact, between being a listener or a collector.

But there's more than that simple dichotomy at work in Auris Apothecary's releases. The packaging that I find most compelling is the one I find most crudely titled. Unholy Triforce's Sandin' Yr Vagina is an "anti-cassette" (Auris Apothecary makes a number of different "anti-cassettes", including one nailed into its plastic casing). It's filled with black sand, the holes plugged with Scotch tape, and bound in black emery board. Silly? A bit. But interesting too: the sand poses a direct risk to your cassette player - play this tape, and you'll almost definitely ruin your machine.

This is all part of the plan. Dante Augustus Scarlatti, Auris Apothecary founder says: "We spend countless hours perfecting each fold and drop of ink on our releases, part of the absurdity in what we do is that we also promote absolute destruction – sonically, physically, socially, spiritually and mentally. If that happens to entail destroying part of the package we worked so hard to make, it was all part of the greater plan and should be considered an acceptable casualty in the pursuit of understanding.

"Anti-cassettes are our extension of that idea, promoting physical alteration to a degree that it would appear unplayable or damaging to perform in its presented state... They are obstacles designed to provide tangible insight into otherwise abstract concepts, and we encourage the listener to perform whatever tasks are necessary to hear the audio. They also represent a basic test of logical reasoning, serving as a mental measure of common sense. If you believe it will damage your equipment, why would you play it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to solve whatever is preventing it from playing correctly?"

The cassette is given an agency it doesn't enjoy otherwise. Playing this tape, it's your machine that becomes the transient, finite thing in the equation, not the music. It's a direct opposite to the current discussion about the direction of music consumption. This cassette leaves reminders of itself everywhere – there are still grains of black sand on my desk.

"I imagine folks view [the cassette] too often externally and write it off, thinking it’s created as an art-object that holds no audio value. We present a challenge, and we hope people attempt a solution. But that's not to say that we don’t entirely condone people destroying equipment by shoving a sand-filled tape into their perfectly-functioning tape players."

The music lives on to destroy another machine, and will (presumably) change from one play to the next, depending on the dispersal of sand on the tape and in the reels, and the hardiness of the machine you've chosen to sacrifice next. This cassette is put together to be a mechanical aggressor (which probably explains the title), hell bent on ruining your listening for years to come, as you hoover grains of sand from your Walkman.

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Adventures In Modern Music 4 November 2010

The Wire

4 November 2010 on AIMM: New music brought to you by the team behind The Wire magazine, presented this week by Derek Walmsley. This week, to celebrate the forthcoming launch of his new label, we have two exclusive new tracks from former Skull Disco man Shackleton. Now based in Berlin, Shackleton's organic, ethnically tinged style of dubstep was one of the most original strains of electronic music to emerge from London in the late 2000s. His new label, entirely dedicated to his own work, is named Woe To The Septic, and we'll be airing its debut 12" release.

Every Thursday 21:00-22:30 (BST), 104.4 FM for Londoners, streamed live at resonancefm.com for the rest of the world.

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The Wire Salon: We Hear A New World: Microphony, Technology & The Rise Of Sound Art

The Wire

At the turn of the century sound art reached a new level of visibility with a cluster of high-profile shows and countless below-the-radar initiatives. Meanwhile, new thinking about sound has led to an extraordinary proliferation of practices, and in recent years a phalanx of sound recordists and sonic artists has emerged to stage a revolutionary coup on behalf of sound, demanding its right to exist both in and of itself, free of the competing agendas of music or the visual arts.

The emergence of this new world of audio was accelerated by the dual technologies of microphony and digital processing, and can be heard in the examples of acoustic ecology and anthropology; desktop synthesis; the form-destroying praxes of Noise makers; Reductionism's amplification of previously occult sound events; frequency experiments with waveforms and pure tones; and more.

A cluster of recent books on this area has showcased the range of thinking behind the new sound art. For some, this work calls for a renewed focus on the perceiving body; for others, sound art offers new perspectives on the circulation of cultural meanings; for others still, sound has removed itself from the realm of the human to occupy a world where we simply don't figure.

For this edition of The Wire Salon, artist/writer Salomé Voegelin, author of Listening To Noise And Silence (Continuum), Helen Frosi, curator of the Soundfjord gallery, and critic/sound artist Will Montgomery discuss the new philosophies and practices that have emerged in recent years to map and calibrate the new world that has been revealed by 21st century sound art.

The Wire Salon: We Hear A New World: Microphony, Technology & The Rise Of Sound Art takes place at London's Café Oto, 2 September, 8pm, £4 Ticket on the door only.

Plus: take part in an audience-participation sound art quiz and have your perception of the audio world around you reshaped!

In anticipation of the night, we've put together the following reading list with links to online MP3s, videos and texts:

Listen:
• Anne Hilde Neset hosts an edition of The Wire's Adventures In Modern Music on Resonance FM. Anne was joined by Dont Rhine and Robert Sember, members of the international activist/art/music collective Ultra-red.

• Steven P McGreevy specialises in recording natural Very Low Frequency (VLF) Radio phenomena, "The (very beautiful) Music Of The Magnetosphere And Space Weather"

• Recordings of Futurist composer Luigi Russolo's compositions using his noise making Intonarumori instruments (page also contains a downloadable PDF of Russolo's The Art Of Noises manifesto from 1913)

Read:
• "Return To Form: Christoph Cox On Neo-Modernist Sound Art" from Artforum, November, 2003

•Seth Kim-Cohen's "The Hole Truth: On Doug Aitken's Sonic Pavilion" from Artforum November, 2009

• Francisco Lopez's essay "Environmental Sound Matter" on La Selva, the sounds of nature and 'profound listening'

• Read about Konstantin Raudive and Electronic Voice Phenomenon

• Mike Kelley's essay: "An Academic Cut-Up, in Easily Digestible Paragraph-Sized Chunks or The New King Of Pop: Dr. Konstantin Raudive"

Ubuweb's Kenny Goldsmith on sound art

David Toop on The Art Of Noise

Watch:
• A selection of video work by Brandon LaBelle: Concert #2: working with participants to stage the tension between sight and sound; Perspectives: writing and listening action in public space; Z: writing action utilizing motion-tracking to generate sound in real-time.

• Footage from Sound Seam, Aura Satz’s collaboration with Aleks Kolkowski, shown as part of the AV Festival 2010

• Mike Patton and Luciano Chessa test out reconstructed Futurist Intonarumori noise machines.

• Join the Soundasart mailing list

• More sound art links (via Seth Cluett)
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The Wire Salon is a monthly series of salon events, hosted by The Wire magazine, and dedicated to the fine art and practice of thinking and talking about music. The evenings, which take place on the first Thursday of each month, will consist of readings, talks, panel discussions, film screenings, DJ sets and even the occasional live performance.

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The Wire Salon, Revenant Forms: The Meaning Of Hauntology

Nathan Budzinski

A new series of monthly events in East London curated by The Wire Magazine. The evenings will consist of readings, talks, panel debates, film screenings, DJ sets and live performances. The first instalment is Revenant Forms: The Meaning Of Hauntology at London's Café Oto, 1 April, 8pm, £4 on the door only

Mark Fisher (K-Punk) leads a panel with Adam Harper and Joseph Stannard debating the uncanny quality of so much contemporary audio, from spektral disco to dubstep, Hypnagogic pop and beyond. Plus screenings of films by Julian House (Ghost Box, The Focus Group), a live set by Moon Wiring Club and eldritch vinyl interludes courtesy of Mordant Music.

Below we've compiled a short online reading and listening list in anticipation of the event:

Ian Penman's Black Secret Tricknology, first published in The Wire issue 133

A transcript excerpt from Joseph Stannard's interview with Broadcast, which formed part of Stannard's cover feature on the group in The Wire issue 308

Mark Fisher's K-Punk blog
Phonograph Blues
Nostalgic Modernism

Adam Harper's Rouge's Foam blog
Hauntology: The Past Inside The Present

Joseph Stannard's The Outer Church
Revenant Forms: Future-Past Preview

Website of the label and design project Ghost Box

Jim Jupp's Belbury Parish Magazine

Mordant Music home to Baron Mordant, Admiral Greyscale, Sam Shackleton and more

James Kirby's (aka The Caretaker) History Always Favours The Winners

Listen to some tracks from Moon Wiring Club

Broadcast and The Focus Group "I See, So I See So"
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlVaRcNf9nc]

Phenomena And Occurrences
, a Ghost Box film by Julian House.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ogUcIIn_cU]

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Parallel Lives: Maja Ratkje & Kathy Hinde

Nathan Budzinski

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10539469&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=1&color=ffffff&fullscreen=1

Exclusive footage of Maja Ratkje and Kathy Hinde's collaborative work, Birds And Traces. The composition was created during a week long residency at Aldeburgh Music as part of Faster Than Sound, a series of residencies set up to promote crossover between classical composers and artists working with electronic media. Inspired by the themes of bird migration, the season of Spring and climate change, Birds And Traces involved school children local to the Snape area reinterpreting Norwegian songs about birds and Spring along with making origami birds and mapping out migration routes.

Alongside the resulting composition, the artists created two installations which included research materials produced during their residency and a multimedia film sculpture. The performance featured Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli. Parallel Voices was curated by The Wire.

Also performing at Parallel Lives was Marina Rosenfeld, watch exclusive footage of her installation and performance here.

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Parallel Lives: Marina Rosenfeld

Nathan Budzinski

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10526337&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=1&color=ffffff&fullscreen=1

Footage of Marina Rosenfeld's composition Cannons, created specifically for the space at Aldeburgh Music's Hoffman Building at Snape, Suffolk during a one week residency leading up to the performance on 20 March 2010. Cannons features a custom built sound system comprised of four large resonating 'bass cannons' made out of steel pipes fitted with subwoofers, along with two steel horns, all created in collaboration with the sound engineer Paul Geluso and the Suffolk metalwork firm JT Pegg & Sons in Aldeburgh.

The work was made with Paul Geluso and players from the London Contemporary Orchestra: Robert Ames (viola), Lucy Railton (cello) and Sarah Cresswell (percussion) and was curated by The Wire.

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The Ex & Brass Unbound on camera

Nathan Budzinski

Check out footage of the Ex's unreleased track "Double Order" put together as a teaser for their UK tour, 29 January – 6 February.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=8060711&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=ffffff&fullscreen=1

Tour supported by The Wire and produced by Qu Junktions featuring the veteran Dutch group, combining their precision-honed punk with the brass weight of Mats Gustafsson, Roy Paci, Ken Vandermark and Wolter Wierbos. Video by Emma Fischer. Full tour info here.

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