Man, I need to stop teaching. I was watching a preview for the movie “Killing Me Softly” in Japanese and I thought they said the name of the group they put all the older kids in at Japanese pre-school (“Kirin-Gumi Softly”).
3/14 The Pleasure Principle- On Conceptual Music
During my trip to Tokyo last weekend Kei made sure to fill me up with all sorts of pop. I’m planning on following up on my last article in a future update but in the meantime ponder this:
Despite the obviously topical relevance and poor photoshopping I am actually not responsible for this image. You can see it in it’s native home here at Something Awful. Seeing this image, I felt vindicated that I am not the only person comparing modern pop to the synth-pop wave of the early 1980’s.
But, like I said, that is for another update. Last weekend I went to Tokyo and I hung out with my friends, visited various arts food establishments, and met Cornelius (CORNELIUS!!!). That’s all fine and good, but what I’d like to talk to you about is this Merzbow/Lightning Bolt concert we all attended.
The opener was a band by the name of Y2K Problem. If there were a dialog to describe the emotions I felt while watching this band it would go something like this:
Easily Persuaded Dan: “Hey, this band’s kinda cool. They sound like Buffalo Daughter only without all the electronics.
Skeptical Dan: “But, aren’t the electronic additions what make Buffalo Daughter interesting?”
Easily Persuaded Dan: “Oh yeah”
Then came a DJ on three turntables with a set that lasted too long. His work combining pop tracks and beat-less songs into a strange hodge-podge of noise was intriguing though not quite attractive. The set was unbearably long; I think an hour and a half.
Around this time a group of tall hipster American kids pushed their way in front of us, taking no notice of the people they were dislocating until I was pointing at one of their large backpacks, now jammed up against the front of me, and making funny faces at my friend. The guy turned around and said, “hey, sorry about that…no hurt feelings, right?” and asked me whom I was there to see. Resisting the urge to punch him I said, “meh, Lightning Bolt, I guess” and he replied that he was there to see Merzbow, “the most extreme music ever!” I listen to music because it’s extreme no more than I eat Doritos because of their extreme nacho cheese flavor, and seeing Merzbow play afterward only served to confirm my suspicions that American indie-kids have no idea to what they are listening.
The soundbite from my friend June is, “Merzbow is extreme all right. Extremely painful”. I can agree with that but I’d like to extrapolate on how incredibly un-interesting Merzbow is. I imagine there are probably two arguments for why people would listen to him: 1) his music is good or 2) you have to understand experimental music to like Merzbow. The first argument seems pretty easy to refute, Merzbow is straight-up white noise filtered slowly over long periods of time in a painful and non-complementary to the human ear way. He essentially defies thousands of years of human musical history to create a sound very unlike anything remotely related to classical music theory.
You can state it like that and make it sound like he’s breaking through barriers and developing something wholly original, which is the crux of argument number 2. Merzbow also fails in this regard, however. When people like Karlheinz Stockhausen manipulated noise sources with filters to produce scripted musical scores in the late 1950’s they were doing something no one had attempted before. It was, in short, an experiment; one that would pave the way for the development of subtractive synthesis that would eventually lead to modern electronic music. Since then, however, the same process was shown by artists like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream to be malleable: electronic instruments are analogous to traditional instruments. To claim that Merzbow is interesting or experimental (or extreme!) to filter white noise is to deny nearly half a century of progressively improving electronic music. For Merzbow to play such music in front of an audience that grew up on synth-pop is about as experimental as doing Newton’s apple-dropping gravity experiment in front of a room full of physicists.
After Merzbow came DMBQ, as far as I could tell a Black Sabbath knock off band. They weren’t too bad but at that moment I would have liked to have heard something a little more relaxing.
Finally came Lightning Bolt, who are a conceptual band of former art students from the US. When I heard they wore costumes I wanted to believe they were like Gwar, but that was a mistake. They were mediocre. I have developed a standard for judging art based on “concepts”. If I can grasp your concept, and if when I imagine your concept I imagine a significantly better execution of your concept then you have expressed through your art then you have failed as a conceptual artist. With Lightning Bolt it seemed like they wanted to go for a simple, droning, monotonous music, which is fine by me. However, they’re drummer was far too skilled for that type of music and would frequently change to a more drum and bass style pattern. The effect was of a genius drummer practicing over an incompetent and monotonous bass player.
Throughout the whole thing Cornelius talked with his friend from Violent Onsen Geisha (who shouted “apologize!” from the rafters at Lightning Bolt during their opening bout of technical difficulties) and conducted business arrangements; watching him during the concert was like watching the wedding scene during the Godfather. If only I could have asked Cornelius what he thought of Merzbow.
3/3 Things That Tear Up My Heart – The Lose Credibility Issue
I sat aghast. On the television screen was the video for Nsync’s single “Pop” and sitting next to me was my then 14 year old sister, beaming smiles. Up until this point I had comfortably mocked Nsync, at times singing their songs and awkwardly dancing for humor. But “Pop” was different, there was this weird glitch-pop beat-box thing at the end and this was in 2001 before it was cliché to be creative with electronics in pop music (I later found that the single was produced by BT, producer of the best breakbeat single ever, 1997’s“Orbitus Teranium”). I told my sister that I was concerned, if Nsync continued to push creative boundaries I would have to take them seriously. I mumbled that there was the possibility they could go the way of another massively famous pop band, the Beatles. And mind you this wasn’t praise, this was spoken out of complete and utter fear.
It’s been a while since then but that fear still persists. This week Nsync’s JC released his first solo album, “Schizophrenic” in Japan. Are JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake the new John and Paul…I don’t know, but it makes an interesting match up.
I haven’t had time to faithfully analyze either album but it strikes me that JC seems more willing to step away from genre. “Justified” is pretty straight pop-RnB, defined by a fidelity to Michael Jackson guided by the hands of today’s hot RnB producers. I’m still not sure if I like pop-RnB, but I find that if I were to like RnB this would be a really good album. The album, aside from its title (I like my music like I like my text: “Justified”), is at least credibly cool.
JC, on the other hand, maintains similar influences to pop from the past (both JC and Justin were members of Nsync and the Mickey Mouse club) but adds a lot more diversity into his tracks. Back when my sister forced me to watch Nsync on TV, I liked him the most because he (at least claimed he) was the guy responsible for their music, which made him the “music” guy as opposed to the “heartthrob” guy Justin (or the “edgy” guy Chris and “why won’t that guy go away” guy Lance). Maybe then, he brings his own musical interests to the table (he purportedly loves electronica which is how he became friends with BT in the first place), which explains the diversity in his music.
JC is also somewhat less cool than Justin Timberlake. In his days in Nsync he always seemed like the laid back respectable guy in the band. However now he’s releasing songs about lesbians and aliens. I don’t know, he sounds like the guy who everyone thought was cool and then he “tries to be himself” and ends up acting like a dork trying to show that he’s not acting cool. But then you get quotes like this too, “Nobody takes a rock and roll attitude to pop music anymore. Nobody talks about love in an elevator anymore. Everybody is too busy being cool. I didn't worry about being cool on this album.” He’s sort of intriguing in his willing to combine things and charming in his naivety.
So, what you get is not so much a John or a Paul from JC as you get a Ringo. And even then the connection is tenuous. What you have is Justin as this trend setter pop icon who isn’t really doing that much new but is terribly cool, and JC as this guy who sort of idolizes him but is kind of doing his own thing but is also almost hopelessly uncool. And it strikes me that as time progresses we’ll see these two stars differentiate themselves, Justin towards a more refined, edgy and adult pop-RnB and JC towards a unique, semi-obscure pop point. I don’t know, maybe Gary Numan and David Bowie are better pop reference points. By the late 1970’s David Bowie was making straight pop laced with disco while Gary Numan was singing songs about aliens, masturbation and schizophrenia. However you do look at it, modern pop music needs refinement and it looks like these two are our the most likely candidates for the job.
Speaking of uncool, in researching this article I found some pretty cool pics (Left picture is Justin Timberlake, right picture left person is JC Chasez)!
<----Not Jordan Ceccarelli
And speaking of music that should suck but doesn’t, I checked Dragon Ash’s album “Harvest” out from Tsutaya and it is surprisingly not bad. I mean, it’s not excellent by any sense of the word but if you accept, as American college radio recently has, that Mad Capsule Markets is good, Dragon Ash is about 3000 times better. If none of those bands sound familiar, than imagine 311 with electronics and not nearly as bad.
I have a favorite Japanese phrase, “eto desu ne”. It means absolutely nothing and is awesome (“um it’s yeah”). You use it to start a sentence when you don't know what you are talking about. I’ve also found a new most hated Japanese phrase, “sore wa are desu yo)”. It also means nothing and you use it to answer a question when you don't’know what you are talking about.
Howard Dean has withdrawn from the Democratic presidential primary; Dean’s message will be absorbed into every other Democratic candidate’s platform though what we see is a victory for neo-conservativism. I made this image, and then made up that last part.
I’m not entirely lying though. It strikes me that a win for Kerry is a win for Bush. You know, Bush:
It’s like a metaphor for his term in office: a frame for each year. Jeez, this is going nowhere.
Change of subject: This weekend was the 55th annual Tokamachi Snow Festival. It was a blast!
Snow sculptures were absolutely everywhere, though the main attraction was a large ceremony held on a gigantic stage made entirely out of snow (1300 truckloads full of snow, they say). For roughly two hours we watched musical performances, kimono exhibitions (Tokamachi was formerly a major manufacturer of kimonos) and fireworks. They say the festival is as good as the Hokkaido Snow Festival.
2/15 Goodnight Proverbial Ladies
In case you were wondering, the last post wasn’t mean to be a Valentine’s Day post. Also for the record, the best Valentine’s Day song not specifically about Valentine’s Day ever is Lou Reed’s “Goodnight Ladies.” I’m going to bed now.
“Oh, woh, woh. Something tells me that you’re really gone/you said we could be friends/ but that’s not what I want/ Ah, Anyway, my TV dinner’s almost done, it’s a lonely Saturday Night.” ~Lou Reed
2/13 I’m Single Ladies!
Sorry for the lag, I went to an international education conference all day last Saturday and needed the time off. I will attempt to make this update short so as to allow time to complete updating the archives page before my English class tonight.
Somehow, I don’t think I was the target audience for the conference. For one, the conference focused on activities to question our own (and out students’ own) perceptions of foreign countries whereas I teach international pop-culture. I feel inadequate when I state my job that way so let me rephrase that; I teach international pop-culture in order to show my students that people in foreign countries make things (and feel things) similar to their own country in the hopes that they find something interesting enough to learn more about the foreign culture from which it comes. In short, the conference and I were on polar opposites of the international education spectrum.
It didn’t help that bad timing combined with the conference format resulted in me presenting an absurdly bad image of myself. Example: The self-introduction process took three steps; the first was that we explain our name, position and hobbies to a partner, then that partner introduces us to two other people, then that four-person group introduces us to the audience at large. I introduced myself to my partner as thus; “Hi, my name is Dan, I’m a Coordinator for International Relations. I like movies, computers and music.” She asked me what sort of music and movies I liked, and I replied, “well, lately I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies but mostly I watch romantic comedies, I like all sorts of music.” She responds, “ “well, do you like rock music?” and I counter, “yes, I like rock music too.”
So, then she introduces me to the group, “This is Dan, he’s an Organizer for International Relations in Matsunoyama. He likes horror movies, computers and rock music.”
The group asks what I do at my job, “organize international events, translate, and teach English at the local Junior High.” Then they all introduce me to the crowd, “this is Dan, he teaches English conversation in Matsunoyama. He likes rock music and watching horror movies.”
Gyaagyagyagyaaa, I should have corrected them when they introduced me, “Hi, my name is Dan, I like horror movies and rock music and I want to date your daughter.”
2/2 Style Capitals Joetsu and Chuetsu…What the hell did I just say?
Sometimes I get too carried away when I talk about architecture. I was reading through four paragraphs of a site update I planned to upload yesterday when it struck me how dry architectural writing can be without pictures. I scrapped the article and am re-writing it today…and next time I veer into architectural analysis (gastrointestinal window installation not withstanding) I will take photographs of what I am talking about.
I bought a guitar! Epiphone 1956 model Les Paul Goldtop reissue: it sounds pretty extravagant but you can buy them across Japan for around $375. The guitar had mocked me all across Tokyo too, with its retro-style soapbar humbuckers that alchemically convert the sound emanating from the guitar’s golden body into pure tin.
Out in the country, though, they don’t deal with the volume that stores in Ochanomizu would handle, so they have time to play with the instruments. Tighten the truss rod and tweak the pickups a little bit, and that Korean-made Les Paul knock-off starts to sound a lot better. I think I like inaka music stores.
My guitar is beautiful, with its luscious curves and metallic luster. I imagine that the paint job is similar to what my old car would have looked like when new. But I do not mention that too loudly, and definitely not in the guitar’s presence. I will be neither the first nor last person to compare either a guitar or a car to a woman, but I will tell you this: if the analogy holds I imagine my new guitar wouldn’t appreciate being compared to 1973 gremlin with a fat ass.
Anyway, while I was buying my guitar I found the first cool store I have seen in Niigata. It looked like a bunch of friends had pooled their money together and converted a single shop-space into a micro-mall with DYI T-shirt boutique, obscure comic book store and an underground music store. The music store was full of Pizzicato Five and Choclot CDs, and the makeshift walls were awash in Weezer shirts and posters. While buying Bird’s latest album I commented that the owner must be a big Weezer fan, the guy running the register retorted by saying I looked like Rivers Cuomo.
The great thing about living in Matsunoyama is that on the slightest whim I can run off to the hot springs. I had survived looking through maybe half of the websites submitted to the Tokamachi Multimedia Festival before it became irrefutably apparent that I needed to spend some time boiling myself in sulfur with a bunch of naked men.
The hot springs were probably the high point of the day since the multimedia festival was a bust. The majority of the festival was tech people from various Japanese companies showing off GPS devices and streaming video, which may have been interesting, I guess, if I didn’t happen to have grown up in Silicon Valley. The festival was held in Tokamachi’s Johokan (Information Building), a library meets convention center housed in an architecturally intriguing building.
While the exterior of the building was Spartan the division of its interior space into several tiers with a central foyer I found innovative. Well, that and the washitsu cubicles the architect had intended for magazine reading. I would have pictures here but there was an old man reading in the cubicle I wanted to photograph.
It strikes me that Matsunoyama, Matsudai and Tokamachi are all municipalities that try to compensate for their lack of people by amplifying their arts. The Johokan is only one example in a long line of architectural curiosities here; Kenali, the House of Light, Kyororo, the Matsudai Snowland Agrarian Arts Center, and The Dream House are all post-modern architectural oddities in otherwise traditionally Japanese villages.
You can click on these pictures by the way.
The fun doesn’t stop at architecture of course; there are modern art festivals and large outdoor sculptures (most of which are enveloped in ice right now), poster exhibitions and stop-the war concerts. And there’s no need to leave out the hip micro-mall in Joetsu. Add it all together and the middle of nowhere actually looks pretty hip.
This all struck me yesterday as I was paying for my soba in Matsudai yesterday. Next to the cash register was a display of soba Valentine’s Day gift sets with the most out-of-placedly hip design likely ever to grace a box of soba. The concept of soba for Valentine’s Day struck me as odd until I read the packaging, “Watashi wa anata no soba ga ii”, which translates to either “I like your soba”, or alternatively, “I like to be by your side” depending on how you translate “soba”. Naruhodo
I felt weird asking to take pictures at the restaurant so I bought a box to photograph. Maybe I’ll give it to my guitar for White Day. Actually, yesterday I got a letter from “suteki na deai” (translation: “a wonderful encounter!”), maybe I’ll send it to them.
Oh, for those of you new to the Szkandelous game, the old page has been moved to the archives, though you can also just click previous entry at the bottom of the page (I should tell you, it is late tonight so I am going to update the main archive page tomorrow. Until then just use the previous entry links.
All works this site copyright D. Szkoropad, 2001-2003 unless stated otherwise. This means don't steal it or I'll tell your mother on you. Domo-kun copyright NHK.