Send As SMS

February 20, 2006

One Drone, One Life, One Purpose

Throbbing Gristle gave two concerts in Berlin recently. I could start foaming at the mouth and tell you that these were the two best concerts I've ever been at, and go on and on heaping superlatives. But it would be oversimplified, because other gigs I've been at were musically more interesting, intellectually challenging etc. To put it more precisely, on these two occasions, I had an encounter with My Music, period. As in Gysin's laconic statement: "You know your music when you hear the tune". So, if this concert would never have ended, I would have been content to stay there and have my batteries recharged endlessly.

For the first concert on new year's eve, Genesis wore pink net stockings, a pink top and a skirt with metal sequins. In comparison, other band members were a lot more unobtrusive, Sleazy particularly, at the back of the stage, kind of blending with the technicians even further back. Soundwise, Mr. Christoperson stood out, though, the general vibe seemed rather Coilish to me, but closer to the old TG aesthetics. Equipment was unobtrusive, too, gone were these elaborate self-made analogue synth switchboards of yore. They had gone digital, so Chris and Sleazy remained crouched over their Mac laptops during most of the performance. Chris also had something like a little theremin which he attacked occasionally. Cosey switched between laptop, guitar and trumpet, Gen between laptop, bass and voice. They didn't perform many of the olden songs, only "Convincing People" and "Slug Bait", plus, I think, the rhythm of "Still Walking" popped up somewhere. In the end, they performed "Hamburger Lady" as an encore, according to Genesis the "first encore they ever gave" which is probably true judging from all the tapes I've heard. Generally, the sound was less abrasive and primitive now, tendentially more similar to "normal" synth sounds, and most of their new material not only had regular song structures but even actual melodies. Some of it I really didn't appreciate all that much, but that was fine, too, they were checking out possibilities, so at least weren't copying themselves. Best were the new instrumental parts involving massive noise walls. Occasionally, my body got lost in these massive condensations of the sound you hear every day, layered so densely it takes you to another place that is somehow more real than every day (and which first looked like some sort of shopping mall to me, later like a battlefield). When the noise peaked, I felt at the height of my power too, for a few seconds, no body could have filled the space of my body better than my body at these few precious moments. From time to time, they were battling with technical problems of Volksbühne equipment, but they bore themselves admirably. After the main left speaker for some reason couldn't be made to work anymore (but didn’t blow, apparently), they just went on playing and one hardly noticed.

After the concert was over and I had come off, we walked across Alexanderplatz, dodging the new year's eve fireworks of former NVA soldiers, and visited two designer friends of my companion at Stalinallee (which is called Karl-Marx-Allee since Khrushchev and is now also called Frankfurter Allee in parts, but who cares). This location is rather interesting: the Stalinallee flats were a big architectural project, built almost immediately after the war, designed for privileged socialist living involving party members. They're big apartment houses in Stalinist style which I'd call classicist brutalism, somewhere between Art Deco, Nazi architecture and birthday cake decoration. Lots of white doric pillars in small entrance halls. We had a nice chat there, then went back to the Volksbühne for their new year's eve party. Rechenzentrum and T.raumschmiere played, which was sort of okay, but mere whipped cream compared to TG.

On the next day, entering Volksbühne for the second TG performance, I heard how the checkroom attendant disconcertedly asked a friend, if a Neonazi band was playing today, because "all these people with uniforms and badges and stuff" were walking around. The friend reassured her. That day, TG did a live score for "In the Shadow of the Sun". I think I already ranted about that movie, it's definitely one of my favorites, so this was a particular treat. In the centre of the stage, there was a big movie screen, the band hovered in the shadows, in front of two laptops at each side of the screen, Chris and Sleazy at the left, Cosey and Gen at the right. Gen wore rather unremarkable thingies and mainly worked on his guitar. They were improvising, their glances flitting back and forth between their laptop screens and the movie screen. Very subdued and restrained, but really powerful. The sound was trance-inducingly magnificent, a bit more conventional than the original soundtrack, but also more open and dense. The only problem was that I had had the notion that it might be a good idea to sit in the third row in order to see the band better. What's the big rule everybody? Yes, stupid people are always in front. So, to my right, some would-be freaks were chattering loudly and enthusiastically and stupidly through a fair amount of a set which demanded undivided attention. To my left, an alt.rock boy-girl-unit didn't appreciate the music much and made sure everybody knew. Behind me, a group of teens with Saxon dialect kept banging their boots in the back of my seat. It was hard to really give myself over to the sound under these circumstances, but when I got on the right frequency, it was like standing on the sun, the fire everywhere making very clear statements about the evanescence of life and the need to abandon all its so-called accomplishments pretty soon.

The Shadow Knows

Saw these old horror movies by Jacques Tourneur (e. g. "Night of the Demon", the old "Cat People", "I Walked With A Zombie"). Storywise, the stuff is fairly predictable, and the dialogues are far from magnificent, but Tourneur has an impeccable sense of lighting and handles shadows like nobody's business. One could say that shadows have the lead role in these movies; darkness becomes a splendidy rich and pregnant force positively eager to dissolve and absorb the human form. Nothing much else happening in these films, but it's plenty sufficient. Highly recommended.

Please Stay Tuned

An interesting film I've seen not long ago was the experimental "Ein Tag im Leben der Endverbraucher" by Harun Farocki. It's basically a one-hour feature composed entirely out of TV ads (of the Seventies and Eighties), arranged so that they seem to depict the life of an average family. The effect is ridiculous bordering on the surreal. E. g. the wife is visiting the dentist. The event is cut together from several toothpaste ads of the same brand. First she's in a lady's toilet talking to a colleague. She announces that she's going to see the dentist, the colleague commiserates, our heroine says, no, no, my dentist always congratulates me on my teeth, that's because I take so-and-so which has been clinically tested by andsoon. Next she's in the waiting room (another actress now, but that hardly matters), all the other patients are suffering more or less quietly, but to console them she just tells them that her dentist always congratulates her on her teeth, and that's because she takes so-and-so which has been clinically tested by andsoon. Next she's with the dentist, and what do you know, he does congratulate her again on her teeth, the forgetful slob, but on the other hand, it's no wonder her teeth are in such a dandy state, he says, that's because she takes so-and-so which has been clinically tested by andsoon. Next, we are in an office, several men and women standing around in business suits, troubled about her colleague who has gone to see the dentist, what must she be going through, the poor thing. Enter our heroine (yet another actress avatar) telling everybody that it was no trouble at all, her dentist congratulated her andsoon, andsoon, you get the idea. The whole sequence takes about five minutes, and somehow there's something genuinely scary about it. News from the undead. In a few years, all blockbusters will probably look more or less like this.

Alles blickt erwartungsvoll auf Siegfried, welcher über der Betrachtung des Ringes in fernes Sinnen entrückt ist

These days, I've watched a DVD of Wagner's "Ring", the production from 1976, directed by Chéreau and conducted by Boulez. Never cared much for Wagner, but was quite impressed with the music now, it's like the raw mother of all movie soundtracks. Good production, too. I couldn't shake off the idea that I'd very much like to see a Marx Brothers opera scored by Wagner from start to finish. How about an adaptation of "A Night at the Opera"? Can't you all just see the huge Bayreuth stage with Groucho Marx rising from a dinner table in a lush restaurant and singing with a big baritone voice over a typical Wagnerian chord progression: "Niiiiiiiine dollars foooorty for diiiiiiiinner?" Violins dramatically fiddling in the background, Groucho stretches out his arms, booming over two octaves: "Thiiiiiis is an ouuuuuuuutrage!." Dramatic crashing of drums, the wind instruments go ape, Groucho turns toward the woman he had dinner with, throws her the bill, cymbals crash, he starts singing in a lower key, with tragic determination, accompanied by low strings: "If I were youuuuuuuu, I wouuuuuuuuldn't paaaay it." Then he walks off in his archetypical walk to the sounds of the Siegfried theme, while everybody else faints. Heck, I'd like to see that. Anyway, I think I like the "Götterdämmerung" part best, especially the beginning, but what's with that ending? It doesn't seem to make any fucking sense, the Rhine daughters (or whatever they're called in English) have got the ring back, so why does Walhalla burn down? Insurance fraud? I mean,if a James Bond movie came out in which bloody Secret Agent 007 saved the world yet once again in the last minute, by blowing yet another Eastern European/terrorist/whatever bogeyman into tiny bits as usual, and then the world would end anyway, just for kicks, people would complain about the logical inconsistency. But since Wagner is supposed to be Kultur, no one complains if he does the same thing. I mean, am I the first one who's complaining?

To Beep or Not to Beep

I recently got myself a DVD with old Warner Brothers cartoons from my public library, because there were two cartoons directed by Bob Clampett on it, and I like his hysterical vibe very much. The rest was directed by Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. On this occasion, a nice conceptualization struck me: In his book "God - A Biography" Jack Miles talks schematically about the three great biblical prophets saying that Isaiah was the manic among them, Jeremiah the depressive, and Ezekiel the psychotic. You could say a similar thing about the three great WB cartoon directors: the psychotic would be Tex Avery (compare "Symphony in Slang" to Schreber), the depressive would be Chuck Jones (well, for example his "Roadrunner" cartoons sure breathe existential despair), and the manic would be Bob Clampett - and Fritz Freleng would be the normal middle-of-the-road guy. Not that I've got anything against Freleng.

The Utmost Bound of the Everlasting Hills

Not too long ago, I saw a something like a home movie by and about Pasolini called "Sopraluoghi in Palestina per il vangelo secondo Matteo". It basically consists of quite nice black-and-white images of Pasolini wandering around in some areas of Israel looking for good locations for his Jesus movie and complaining that the landscapes are not archaic enough, except maybe the desert, and the bloody locals can't be used as extras, because the Israeli faces are thoroughly modern and the Arab faces are thoroughly animalistic (ipsissima verba!) and both convey no sense of spiritual longing, so there you have it. A guy from the Vatican he dragged along sort of hobbles around all the time and keeps repeating that everything was more splendid here 2000 years ago, before the Arabs came, no, really. And Pasolini keeps saying that all this has been very interesting and illuminating for himself personally, but he can't use most of this darn place in his movie, and most of the landscapes remind him of Italy anyway. Turned out he shot his Jesus movie in Southern Italy, and the movie made a young Italian jurist named Agamben a star. And the rest, as they say, is history.

O Socrates, Would You Suppose That Such Vile Things As Mud And Dirt Have An Idea Distinct From The Actual Objects, Or Not?

Was rather intrigued by some ghost stories by Robert Aickman. What strikes me about them is that they give you not the comfy shivers you usually get from horror yarns, but a very real sense of psychic desolation; they're effective evocations of a certain kind of very English squalor. Often, the proceedings are quite enigmatic, and there seems to be no underlying scheme to figure out, just glimpses of really nasty and embarassing and unhealthy lives moving at the edge of vision. There are all sorts of (somewhat pretentious) allusions to mythology and cultural history, but nothing's spelled out. What really seems to make some of these stories special is a certain realism in the depiction of stagnant environments that keep folding into themselves and feeding on themselves. It made me think of my (nice) doctor grandmother with her basement full of old, useless pharmaceutical products and her fridge full of red beet juice. It also reminded me of some notion I first had while reading Amos Tutuola's "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts": if there really were ghosts in the attic and vampires in the basement, they would produce no dark glamour and sense of wonder at all. The dealings with them would be nothing but a darn tedious drag and you'd wish they all would just go someplace else and bother some other folks.