The Art Gallery Guard: Radical Geometry and Sartorial Abuse at the Royal Academy

Has an essay called The Sartorial Style of the Art Gallery Guard been written for Frieze magazine yet? If not, it should be. Surely there's much mileage in the sartorial signifiers that abound in cloth, colour, style and cut in relation to the guarding of artistic objects. 

Is the quasi-militaristic uniform worn by some not a symbol of the bourgeoisie protecting their financial interests via the imposition of authoritarian imagery, which in turn represents the exclusion of the common (oppressed) person from the Art world? 

Are galleries holding contemporary Art not akin to bank vaults around the world, framing millions of pounds instead of storing them deep in vaults (where Art also resides, of course)? Hence, the common person (ie, not connected in any way via administration, promotion, purchasing power or, heaven forbid, creativity) is confronted with the menace of forceful ejection or worse whilst inside the gallery. Their position as lowly viewer teased by the site of such wealth and it's guardians therefore causing increased feelings of total alienation from, and intimidation by, the Art world. 

The uniform also symbolises the tightly controlled marketplace in which, like society, the few hold so much power, rendering The Market and therefore the Art World itself a fortress of privilege into which only the uniformly-behaved are granted access. 

Those who behave in a disorderly fashion may actually be Artists and as long as they are also the product of a good Art school before residing in a fashionable area of London, preferably acting as a gang, getting drunk, dancing and selling their first post-modernist masterpieces in shops that were once purveyors of kebabs or such like, they may be bought and accepted into the inner sanctum, where their multi-million price tags pieces will be guarded by lowly sorts who could never dream of being Artists.

At the Royal Academy of Arts' Radical Geometry show yesterday I tore my eyes away from Waldemar Cordeiro's Visible Idea...

...only to be confronted by a sight that was diametrically opposed to the contents of this excellent exhibition...a display so ragged, crumpled, ill-fitting and ugly that the contrast quite upset me. There stood the guard, staring at his feet, perhaps in shame at the state the Royal Academy had forced him to appear in, his hands barley visible beneath the sleeves and his trousers rumpled on his shoes due to so much excess cloth as to suggest he was wearing several small tires around his ankles, which seemed unlikely. The poor soul! Not only was he being paid per hour what Tracy Emin earns in the blink of an eye, but in doing so was humiliated by a suit that looked worse than those worn at weddings by men who only dust them off for such occasions (along with funerals, of course). 

I discussed with LJ the possibility of complaining to the management about the ill treatment of an employee and the effect the resulting visual abomination had on me. There, amongst the beautiful symmetry, the perfectly arranged shapes and tasteful colour palettes of these South American artists, stood an insult to humanity, namely, the employee. Was he being punished for allowing someone to take a photograph, or worse still steal a postcard from the shop last week? Would he object, I wondered, if I photographed him, even though I wished to use the photo as a symbol of how the elite Art world regards the common person? Instead of a photo, you must make do with this geometric (ahem) representation of the poor guard...

Thankfully, this sartorial horror and abuse of a human's rights to look reasonably dressed by employees could not ruin what is a truly superb show.

Seaes - Seaes II (Meds)

(something like a review)

I had a little fun at the expense of Chris Douglas when 'reviewing' Niaiw Ot Vile on PAN last year. Thankfully he didn't hold it against me, which proves that despite the nature of his music he has a sense of humour...or was simply being tolerant. Someone once praised me for 'writing about music as if it mattered', a comment I'm still trying to understand... much does music matter? It matters as light relief from the humdrum world of Work? It matters as a means by which to contemplate the very nature of ourselves as reflected in reaction to sound? It matters because it's an art form that can be both instantly accessible, understandable, joyous and baffling, frustrating, intriguing or annoying? Why does some noise annoy? Because it represents all that is shallow, insignificant, disappointing and tragic about a world based upon greed, celebrity-worship and desperate materialism? Oh, the unbearable lightness of being dependant on a diet of cultural dross including aural candyfloss... or hate Seaes II the last thing you could call it is 'dross'. Unless you were a total idiot, which I know you aren't.  The Idiots Are Winning was an album title by someone who's name escapes me, but let's look at things another way rather than defeatist cynicism. Let's say that every time the idiots reveal their idiocy they lose again and they'll never win. They'll never own what you and I do, such as Chris Douglas recordings, but more seriously, the spirit of an eternal (no, we don't live forever, but in the afterlife I will still be hoping to find El Saturn records in a junk shop) quest for all that is profound, deep, meaningful, adventurous, intriguing, special, complex, challenging in this thing we call culture. Oh, and the super stupid, namely by Funkadelic, but also in the form of, say, Laurel & Hardy, because don't get me wrong, I don't spend my life like some highfalutin' intellectual who understands Joyce and post-structuralism (again - hah!). The idiots can win. They're on a loser's treadmill of constant mediocrity, so pity them...

...As Serious As Your Life is the title of a book by Val Wilmer and music like Seaes II is as serious as your life, as fathomless, even, but therein lies the mystery. Wilmer wrote about John Coltrane, who recorded a track dedicated to bass-player Paul Chambers called Mr P.C. There's a track called PC here too, recorded in 2004. I mention it as a standout and because it's title reminded me of the Coltrane one. Other than that, sonically, you'll not be surprised to learn that there's no connection....

...I'm not sure who has influenced Douglas. Much of his music sounds, as all the best stuff does, as if it springs from him, rather than being the result of having listened to and absorbed too many others, thus freeing himself from the burden of influence. PC is one of the tracks in which he imposes a sense of, if not strictly speaking the actual structure of, rhythm. But it's a rhythm that's off-kilter, irregular, languid and profoundly unsettling. On TC (2004) too, the deadened drum beat suggests that as we travel way off the map, here be dragons, or rather, demons. ZG (2004) offers a rare (for this comp) assault, a battering as if to wake any who may be dozing...

...with so much to digest here, it would be easy to lose focus, but that is why you will return to discover the diversity which may not be apparent at first. Unlike some music, here the depths and subtleties are not so clearly signalled. But you probably know that about Douglas anyway. Layer-upon-layer is revealed with a closer listen. The physical enormity of this release suggests he has so much music that's been withheld, as if he too can find no end to it all; there is no end to the journey, no definitive closure. Only this narrative, in sonic chapters, from the ongoing book of Chris Douglas...

(If you missed out on the hard copy I believe it will be released in digital form at some point)

Music Round-Up: The Group, Dieter Moebius & Some Truths

The Group - The Feed-Back (Schema)

Reissued on vinyl with free CD by Schema, for those who haven't already got it from file-sharing blogs, or music-lovers wanting a cleaner, more 'authentic' experience and wish to support the boutique limited edition (500) industry. It's as good a cause as any to support. It won't save a rainforest or endangered species, just one element of cultural history which currently teeters on the brink of extinction or, if other reports are to be believed, is undergoing a revival, like a rare animal that's been cloned, in this case. Ennio and the gang play Free-psyche-beat-Improv...because they were crazy men, spirited men, making music...


Dieter Moebius - Nidemonex EP (More Than Human)

More than good, it's very good. 'Hey, Dieter sounds good...for his age' (back-handed compliment) - he is 70, after all and should have retired, in silence, to only contemplate his glorious past, namely as co-founder of the legendary K(C)luster, instead of continuing to make music. And this, this easily competes with anything made by whippersnappers today...because behind these transmissions from the machine mind of Moebius are all those years of experience in creating interplanetary sound vibrations. Listen to Zytos and tell me it isn't so. Even the potentially comic 'ghost voice' on Zytos is not funny because it floats in, or is drowned by, the sonic terror of Hellraising dread. Wonderful.


Some Truths - Some Friends I Lost To Bedlam, Others I Abandoned There (Mordant Music)

Planet-rocking Electro Acid Jazz trombonist Ralph Cumbers calling occupants of interplanetary, most extraordinary craft (inc Spaceship Earth) on another ravishing exercise in how to ingest influences but regurgitate them as something tasty rather than the contents of a bird's stomach, which wouldn't be tasty to us, but is to chicks, obviously. If you're not a slave to his rhythms as Bass Clef, you should be. Meanwhile, this is another magnificent Mordant Music release for modern star people.

Do You Like To Draw?

it's not art * I don't know what I'm doing * to hell with it all * beyond reason * beyond logic * beyond Art * 'No, I don't need a bag, thanks' * bollocks to Digital Art * 'When are you going to be serious?' * ££££££££

Ornette Coleman's Virgin Beauty - Welcome Home Old Friend

Thankfully, when it's very hot like it is today, you can always find shade in the canyons of this concrete jungle called London. Ornette made a track called The Jungle Is A Skyscraper for the Science Fiction album, cleverly inverting the common analogy...'cause he's clever.

Another advantage of living here is the amount of charity shops. I called in a regular haunt today and found this old friend on vinyl. We hadn't met for about 20 years. Good albums are old friends, aren't they? Unlike the human variety, they never let you down; they just give themselves completely, apart from a track that you never liked, which you skip, because really good albums can still contain disappointments, just like people. In the olde days we'd have to get up, go to the turntable and lift the needle over that track. That's why there were less obese people in the world then. No, really. Perhaps the government should insist that all kids (forget adults, they're a lost cause) should have record players...well, it's some kind of exercise, isn't it?

I had to part with Virgin Beauty in order to get some cash. I'd regularly sell as many albums as I could carry. You don't get much for the average record, but not much is better than nothing when you're desperate. Who's Crazy? was a soundtrack album Ornette made in 1966. Perhaps I was crazy to sell Virgin Beauty along with all the others, but I had space in the bedsit to consider along with basic survival. 

Seeing this album again today I just had to reacquaint myself with it. There it sat, a beautiful thing forced to lean against so much shit. It was as if Ornette himself was having to endure the indignity of rubbing shoulders with artists not fit to brush the fluff from one of his extravagant jackets.

The album features Prime Time, the band Ornette unleashed on the world when it was released in 1988. They didn't record again until 1995. Perhaps the reviews weren't encouraging. Cook and Morton in their Penguin Guide To Jazz called it  'dull, MOR funk, in which tougher material is obscured by a clotted rock mix.'. What were Jazz fans to make of a band containing two drummers, bassists and guitarists? Crazy! You know what some Jazz fans are like, banging on about creative expression and the joyful spirit of improvised music until someone breaks the rules. Many are still recovering from Bitches Brew, no doubt.

I was lucky enough to see Prime Time at The Town & Country Club. It must have been around '88, to promote this album. There's a snapshot in my mind of standing there with LJ in the crowd marvelling at what the legend had gone and done. We hadn't been so excited by the sight and sound of two drummers since The Glitter Band. I don't think they influenced Ornette, though. 

I'd forgotten how insanely catchy the opener 3 Wishes is, the genius way all the instruments dance together like courtiers in a complex mating game. The funkiness, without ever lapsing into a run-of-the-mill riff, of course. This is Ornette, after all, doing what Miles could not when he tried to modernise earlier in the 80s. To close the album, Unknown Artist, which for the first half is Ornette on his own, playing as if to destroy every fool from the last 30 years who had the nerve to say he 'couldn't play' - destroy them with beauty.

Kinetic Art magazine 1966

Found this recently. It's falling apart and most pictures are in black and white. But the cover is great.

Gregorio Vardanega in his studio

The Pipes, The Pipes Are Calling - Rufus Harley

I've been Rufusized - this morning - but why? I don't know what started me looking for Rufus Harley's music, not having heard any since the 80s, when I was lost (blissfully) in Jazz World for the whole decade. Had I seen his name somewhere recently? Whatever, I hit YouTube and first found this, which proved a joyful wake-up call...

Whoever killed John F. Kennedy (if you know, do tell) inadvertently gave Rufus Harley his new career as a bagpipe player. The Black Watch pipe band played at Kennedy's funeral (they'd been guests at the White House a few days earlier) and they inspired a certain young black man who was watching to buy a set of pipes. The rest is his story and although hardly going on to set the Jazz world alight he could claim to be utterly unique.

But there are similarities with Roland Kirk - the eccentricity, Kirk's three-horned attack and the three, er, whatever those attachments on the bag are called. The transformation of the chant into a medium for blues, Jazz and renditions of Pop tunes - the chant of the weird. Unlike Kirk, who was accepted as a wayward genius of sorts, Harley remains to this day simply wayward, off in a cul de sac of his own on the vast map of Jazz history.

The 1972 album, The Re-Creation Of The Gods (Transparency reissue) has been filling my ears today - a wonderful thing - fusing the musical mood of the times via Harley's strange drone yet serving up the 'street' sound (Funk) with bite and boosted by Bill Mason's organ. Here's a track I uploaded.... 

Harley was also a guest on Laurie Anderson's Big Science album...

Finally, it could only happen in America? Harley on the quiz show To Tell The Truth. It's hard not to think of the audience applauding what they see as a freak show but the appearance presumably got him more gigs. They play Chim Chim Cher-ee, which John Coltrane recorded for The John Coltrane Quartet Plays in the same year. The performance starts at 6.54 if you can't be bothered to watch the quiz. 'Blow when ready, Rufus...'

Sooty The Artist (B.P.C Publishing, 1969)

In which Sooty accidentally creates a great painting ('SQUELCH! SQUISH! SPLOSH! SQUAGGLE!') and...I won't ruin it by revealing the outcome. Suffice to say that the writer obviously wished to instil in children the notion that chance aligned with creative desire can prove highly beneficial...

Collage: Everything tastes better outdoors...

Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane which apparently does not suit them. (Max Ernst)

You Are What You Listen To? / After The Gold Rush With Stevie Wonder and Mark Fisher

I was...
...actually, it's none of your business what I was doing...

Suppose blogs in which people posted what they've been doing in their personal lives, what their baby's been doing, what their dog's been doing etc didn't exist. Suppose there was a gradual decline in these blogs, they were all deleted and eventually not one existed. Suppose there was a return to privacy which included no tweets or Facebook posts about what anyone was doing which would previously have been considered personal and not for the public realm. No outpourings of emotion, no recounting of personal tragedies, nothing to do with close relationships. People only posted the music they loved. Could we tell what they were like as people by their taste in music?

Could we make assumptions about someone who posted Free Jazz and Noise, Pop and Country & Western, or classic Rock 'n' Roll and Blues? What does musical taste signify other than generalised assumptions such as the Pop addict being shallow, the avant-gardist being 'intelligent' etc? Do you know someone who listens to Pierre Boulez but doesn't understand Post-structuralism? Do you know someone who loves Paloma Faith and does understand Post-structuralism? Does anyone understand Post-structuralism? Does loving Katy Perry automatically mean you're an idiot? 'YES!' you shout, being someone with Good Taste and certainly not an idiot, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this blog. Or would you? Who are you, anyway? And how do we define idiocy? Liking Katy Perry might be a start, but it would be an assumption about everyone who likes her whilst there is somebody with a Katy Perry CD who also possesses a degree in ------------ (insert something that idiots couldn't study). How can this be? Well, to this imaginary clever person music is not so important that it need provide anything other than simple Pop tunes. They don't want complexity, depth or profound lyrics. That's not a crime, is it?

By the way, how hard is it to get a degree? I've never tried, but I have a theory that people who are stupid in every other way can still get one. It's only a theory, based on the need to reassure myself that without a degree I am not inherently stupid. Some people might look at my educational record and without knowing me assume that I must be an idiot. Imagine that! How dare they? I listen to Sun Ra...I can't be an idiot! To which they might reply: 'Well, that proves nothing. That music's awful.' Still, I do look at footage on the news of teenagers whooping with joy at their exam results and think: 'Look at those idiots!'. I can't help it. Why? Because I know that not one of them listens to Sun Ra now, or ever will.


I almost wept at Work yesterday. It's Stevie Wonder's fault. He made this track in 1976...

In Ghosts Of My Life, Mark Fisher writes, in relation to music, 'The feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush, is as omnipresent as it is disavowed.' Yes, that's a fact of being a certain age, but as he also points out, it is not merely a matter of nostalgia. It doesn't take a great music critic to realise that today there is nothing new in the way that all musicquakes, from Rock'n'Roll to Jungle, were new. New is over. 

At Work yesterday I almost shed tears for my youth being over, for time, cruel time, carrying me to this point where I groan bending over and exhale when sitting down - bah! More to the point, Stevie Wonder's album and this track in particular has, for at least two decades, made me feel a mixture of elation and sorrow, nostalgia and joy. Who could not feel elated as it gathers momentum from low-key Pop Soul to storming gospel via Herbie Hancock's funky keyboard-playing? Yesterday, my spine tingled, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up...I felt...perhaps something like church-goers do when they're possessed by that old-time religion being delivered by a testifying preacher. I don't know. I'm not religious. Was I also mourning the death of Great Music? I'm not one to harp on about that. We know it's a subjective term relating to age. That fact doesn't prevent me thinking that, yes, the gold rush is well and truly over.

Meanwhile, if music is a religion, here is another great example from the git down gospel book...

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