Tuesday, 6 October 2009

tropa macaca

Are a portuguese band that I saw quite a while ago at Museu do Chiado in Lisbon fairly recently. It was a concert that I initially forgot about fairly quickly, then remembered a day or so after and started looking for some recorded material. And now, even later, I'll try to describe what I remember from the live set jogged by audio ive got hold off, apologies for any inaccuracies.
Two musicians: Ju-Undo on samples, keys, and effects and Simio Superior on guitar with various pedals (i didn't check the tech set up precisely. i used to do this a lot after shows, but have found it sometimes kills things). The room was blacked out aside from squiggly thin green lasers that refracted through glass plinths and wriggled all over the walls. Often silly light shows are distracting, but here it aptly complemented the mobile starkness of the music.
The two start slowly and deliberately, eventually playing off each other, lolloping along arrhythmic valleys, building to stilted peaks of throbbing sound and a steadier pulse. Ju undo lives up to her soundalike, flicking and tampering with samples that are dry and itchy but with an almost concrete like clarity of tone rather than glitch. This is augmented by obtuse and skronky guitar phrasings by simio superior, often taking the instrument very far away from itself.
The qualities of some of the sounds used here are almost gauche, a rawness, but have a vitality in the details of their usage. some parts of it are close to the timbres, riffs and rhythms of earlier dance and soundsystem music (by earlier I think Im trying to mean not over-produced and filtered). This carries an energy and primacy, not just by association.
A strong momentum is created, but not under anything you could call a consistent groove; at the same time stasis is distorted and any sort of regularity evaporates quickly, caught between stepping and tripping. this tension is a taut and delicious space to be in. its almost funky but not not greasy enough, club-suited music but not consistent enough. it doesnt have heavy low end but makes you feel it does.
The choices that are made in the live composition have the interspersions and bursts redolent of jazz or improv languages, the duo work through parts patiently, playing and repositioning, all the while engaging in a real time analysis of the possibilities of the material. Often there is stark space left uninhabitated, serving to emphasise the baldness of the some of the palettes they are using at the base of it all. They seem to have many different options, rather than the all-on-assault setting, or the quiet-loud-louder-gunge compositional strategy of many groups of their ilk.
In that sense, for helpful closest reference points, black dice would be the first, but not in a directly sonic way, more in the approach of how they overlap and toy with sounds. Its balances in rhythm sometimes come close to astral social club, but not the floating over exposure of its mix.
Tropa macaca make you mentally project other rhythms and sound memories into the spaces they open up, a difficult feat that many attempt to do by sheer dousing you in layered sludginess. This is immersive, but pretty skimpy in relation to the traditional perceptions of what this is meant to sound like. They walk the tightrope on a lot of fine balances, and succeed in mapping something really fizzy and rewarding.

reference mania/found images

Something I have been turning over in my head recently is the use of references as the major component of a work in the field of cultural production, or more critically, I sense, as a justification for its relevance or quality.

The idea discussed here is manoeuvrable enough to cover music, critical theory and cultural journalism, amongst other things, but here it is mainly a reaction to contemporary art.

What I am concerned about is when people will use a lofty or esteemed concept, predecessor, historical event, scientific fact, cult musician or suchlike, usually in essence something really fascinating (but sometimes not) that will bestow quality or profundity by association.

Of course it is difficult to ascertain ultimate possession of ideas or material in something that is presented, or even, at a more prosaic level, in everyday conversation when talking about interests. With some people i know i find it difficult to have a conversation without name-dropping things, rather than actually discussing them properly. Branding something, in the media or even to the level of intimate interaction, is rife within cultural practices and its attendant and layered spheres. And of course, there is not enough time to talk about everything in detail, or even the inclination.

I am not disputing the form of appropriation as a critical and relevant procedure, it has formed a large part of many practices for a long time. Indeed it is very difficult to contribute something significant without reference the network of things it relates to, and indeed there are many people who investigate this processing of information and cultural artefacts in an involved and committed way. Talking about the network of ideas that a work exists in is essential to it having any relevance, and I am not suggesting that it should be isolated and pure from any interference or discussion.

Somebody (among many) who I see as doing this well is the publishing house Dexter Sinister. Recently I went to see a talk by David Reinfurt (one of the founders) with whom it was obvious that the fluidity of references or cultural objects circling between contexts and the consequent reflections and subversions of these machinations really made him tick.

(Here i go, referencing something without talking about it in depth! This is consciously the only example I want to use here-a complimentary one.)

What I do feel I am seeing often, however, is uninteresting work using something that is actually interesting as a crutch, that the ideas referenced are actually more the substance of the work than the work itself.

This is wholly passable if the practice in case is mainly discourse itself, but sometimes I feel I am seeing something pretty being linked to something interesting that makes it seem clever, with no mediation and transformation of this something into the work presented. An empty name-checking to insulate from a lack of actual creation, and taking someone elses work as the content for your own without an engagement of it or a defined critical perspective on this contributing to the work itself, without acknowledging this borrowing as a deliberate strategy, rather assuming it as a given right. Here lies an uneasy balance between medium and intent, to clarify I am not trying to divide form and content. If the work is about solely about discourse, maybe an essay is more appropriate, or even a proposal of a new format or context of presentation, rather than tagging an irrelevant image to something in a gallery space.

This relates to context a great deal, and artists' attendance to the matter that they can decide where, how, and in what form to show, and that maybe putting discourse based practices that need a certain sort of attention in a certain sort of gallery space is not always appropriate or insightful to create its best reception.

To be fair, often this is sometimes the outcome of discourse based practices trying to sell work in a commercial gallery environment. I think in this context its understandable and I have less of an immediate problem with it due to issues of financial necessity. But in another context, and claiming more than purely monetary worth, less so.

As a slight diversion, this idea of referencing has a parallel in another more object-based manifestation I have been noting: found images, unaltered or virtually unaltered (literally framed), uncredited on a gallery wall. While I wouldn't propose it to be stealing creative content outright and presenting it as your own I would say it gets pretty close sometimes. Discussing the boundaries of authorship is not a new topic in art, but often now there seems to sometimes be no arena of criticality for it.

To speculate, is the context for this is an overwhelming density and immersion in cultural production, and its availability through multiplying media, and the attendant lack of focus?Everything has to relate to something else, or essentially be something else as well as itself, rather than have its own presence and dignity (I am not advocating pure modernism here). Do people feel that nothing can be independent, or exist in its own space, or define itself without other things, or specifically the support of something more illustrious or recognised?

Maybe what I'm asking for is a mediation of an idea through the visual practice (the most difficult challenge), and an honesty about the dimensions of what is presented and what you are intending, and the amount of work done with the material.

I'm not against references, or creating links, I believe they are essential artistic procedures to create worth and significance, moreover that influence and interdependence are essential and inevitable traits of cultural practice. What I’m trying to outline here is what I percieve to be the occurence of the disengaged, lazy and/or na├»ve use of these connections to present something underwhelming and try and render it overwhelming or unassailable, and a lack of commitment to the method, integration and actual transformation and distillation of a selected subject matter.