Solitary Refinement


Left: Jeannie Hopper of WPS1.ORG. Right: Tim Goldsworthy and Tim “Love” Lee.

“Against Nature,” a weeklong series of performances inspired by the careening decadence of J. K. Huysmans’s novel of the same name, is a multidisciplinary collaboration at the ten-month-old theXpo Gallery in DUMBO. The neighborhood is deserted on summer weeknights; the gallery was an oasis of activity. Eric LoPresti, a painter, had hung his high-grade Photorealism—mostly paintings of bundled extension cords, with the remarkable exception of a knot of eels—on the walls. They are done in industrial OSHA hues and are placed on flat colored grounds carefully chosen for maximum “zing,” as they say in art school. LoPresti’s dilemmas as a painter—psycho-optical ones like, “We know the cords are there, yet we cannot see all of them, so how do we know they are there?”—are a bit long in the tooth, but he impressed them upon me with appealing earnestness. Tim “Love” Lee, a recording artist and founder/boss of the stalwart Tummy Touch record label, curated the series of spontaneous analog sound performances to accompany the paintings and commemorate the release of his new album. On the night I attended, the second of the week, Lee was playing a custom-made synthesizer named Macbeth while Tim Goldsworthy, fifty percent of cerebral disco ducks du jour The DFA, played his version of the Muse, the legendary and rarely seen machine built at MIT in 1972 in the hope that computer-generated tone sequences might completely replace the hi-fi as a source of sonic ambiance in the home. Daniel Reich Gallery’s Gavin Russom had modified the Muse to further pervert its outer-space patterns. Goldsworthy and Lee were warming up as I surveyed the scene.

Neither LoPresti nor Lee were particularly keen to discuss the finer points of the astonishing, encyclopedic rhapsodies of Huysmans’s splenetic classic, and their concerns did not outwardly seem to reflect the Frenchman’s. His ruminations—on flowers, Goya, Christianity, wine, fabric, Gustave Moreau, jewels, Incunabules—run the gamut of preoccupations available to a loopy and enfeebled aristocrat shuttered in a chateau. “I was trying to get out of a [music] publishing deal,” Lee told me while a taped mazurka played between the live sets, “so I said ‘I’m gonna make an album in a week, just make noise with two synthesizers and hand it in and free myself.’ Then I started enjoying it, and it took me three years. I ended up loving it. That’s Against Nature, which can also be translated as ‘willful difficulty.’ I learned the joys of willful difficulty.” He returned to the stage and started twisting knobs and sliding sliders with Goldsworthy and I began to understand how Huysmans’s book had inspired him; why a man who is best known for releasing populist dance music for cheery clubbing was tonight turning out hiss and interference, making ping-pong echoes bounce in and out of phase; and, most nightmarishly, channeling a detuned Suicide at Max’s in 1980 with the grimmest of synth lines. Lee had uncovered a central lesson of Against Nature: Being a misanthropic, self-absorbed bitch does not prevent you from expressing complex ideas clearly; in fact, the solitude it affords can take you far out, man, in a most useful way.

Left: Eric LoPresti. Middle: The Muse. Right: Artist Melissa Dubbin, who also performed as part of “Against Nature.”

“We are creating an oral history,” said Jeannie Hopper, a woman with three business cards and seventeen years of experience in radio programming. She’s the chief curator of WPS1.ORG, one of the truly great free-form radio stations on the Web and she was beaming the event live to the Internet from her laptop, interrupting the wall of sound now and then to pitch whispered comments to her listeners. Suggesting to me that “if we record these events we can return to them, we can figure out what they’re worth,” Hopper’s work was entirely in keeping with the evening. In documenting this moment for solitary future listeners she was complicit in returning it to the isolation in which it was conceived. “I believe in radio,” she told me. Another person in charge of programming, theXpo director Jan Larsen, spent most of the evening hidden in his office. But by the time we met he too was clearly caught up in the candid, contrary spirit of the evening. “This music would not be my choice at all. I like it a bit more bubbly and bouncy. You know. . .” a beat, then the coup de grâce: “Straight retail.” Even though there wasn’t a soul there who wanted to talk to me about Moreau’s Salome, or even Against Nature for that matter, I was plenty fueled to go home and argue with myself, in solitude.