COLUMNS

  • Cybernetic Serendipity Music

    THE OPENING of “Cybernetic Serendipity” on August 2, 1968, at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts was nothing if not timely. The seminal exhibition centered on “computer art” and drew its name from the burgeoning field inspired by Norbert Wiener’s analysis of technological and social systems in his 1948 book Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. The discipline was then making waves in both mass culture and the arts. Indeed, a few months before the show opened, 2001: A Space Odyssey hit movie theaters and implanted artificial intelligence into the collective

    Read more
  • Viv Albertine’s autobiography

    VIV ALBERTINE was the guitarist for the Slits, the female London punk band that could have been called Upheaval. Her autobiography is a great book. It can stand next to Chuck Berry’s Autobiography (1987), Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One (2004), and Jenny Diski’s The Sixties (2009). But no genre can hold it.

    The title refers to Albertine’s mother’s judgment on the only things her teenage daughter cared about—and the title hits home near the close of the book. “Side One,” the first half of the story, ending with the demise of the Slits in 1981, is a tremendous ride, coursing through infinitely

    Read more
  • Aphex Twin’s Syro

    IN THE 1990S, producers of IDM—so-called intelligent dance music—faithfully observed three unwritten rules. One: Stay anonymous, hiding your true name behind an arras of aliases. Two: Keep pushing the music into the future; nostalgists, stay away. Three: Never show your face. Time and again, Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, broke these cardinal rules and many others besides. Despite or because of his intractability, he became an early poster boy for the new generation of bedroom producers. His music, forged in the afterburn of late-’80s underground rave culture, heralded an altogether

    Read more
  • Grimes

    “POST-NEVERMIND describes Nirvana’s effect on the music industry at large. When Nevermind toppled Michael Jackson’s Dangerous from number one on the Billboard charts in 1992, it alerted label executives that Nirvana could make money like MJ, resulting in the signing and marketing of punk acts like Green Day and the Offspring. Post-Nevermind lasted less than a decade, as online piracy soon decimated the industry, forcing major labels to focus on what still worked: mainstream radio. As “alternative” radio was long dead, less commercial artists took to the Internet to produce, promote, and distribute

    Read more
  • William Anastasi

    IN THE ANNALS of visual artists employing sound, William Anastasi occupies a curious position. Audio is integral to much of his output, yet he’s never made music as an extension of his visual art practice à la Yves Klein or Jean Dubuffet, and the sounds he favors are certainly more straightforward than those preferred by many practitioners of “sound art.” They are not hidden or latent, nor are they fabricated with the intent to map the dimensions of a given space in acoustic terms; instead, Anastasi’s aural components are simple, even banal field recordings, easily recognizable as everyday noises

    Read more
  • X-TG’s Desertshore/The Final Report

    WHEN A SONG OR A PIECE OF MUSIC is reimagined, we find ourselves in a loop, where points in time echo one another and reverberate, as if the original and the interpretation simultaneously emerge from speakers positioned to our left and right: the auditory as a form of mnemonic stereo. So it is with X-TG’s “reimagining” of Nico’s 1971 album Desertshore, a project with a circuitous backstory. X-TG comprises the trio of Chris Carter, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Together with Genesis P-Orridge, in 1975 they formed Throbbing Gristle, the pioneer of industrial music. As with

    Read more
  • Robert Johnson

    ON FEBRUARY 21, 2012, at the end of a White House blues night, President Obama sang a chorus of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” Two weeks later, on March 6, to mark Johnson’s centennial, the Apollo Theater in New York staged the tribute concert “Robert Johnson at 100,” featuring, among many others, the Roots, offering “Milkcow’s Calf Blues,” Living Colour with “Preachin’ Blues,” Elvis Costello with “From Four Until Late,” both James Blood Ulmer and Taj Mahal taking on “Hellhound on My Trail,” Bettye LaVette with “I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man” and “When You Got a Good Friend,” Shemekia Copeland

    Read more
  • Bob Dylan’s Tempest

    IN 1962, the year this magazine was first published, Columbia Records released Bob Dylan, the debut album of an all-but-unknown twenty-year-old. Now, fifty years later, Dylan gives us Tempest, his thirty-fifth studio release, unlike anything he has done before. By 1964, the artist was self-aware enough of his shifts of identity to title his fourth album Another Side of Bob Dylan; every subsequent release could have been named the same. In his 2004 autobiography, Chronicles, he wrote that he had wanted to be like Picasso, the greatest changer of persona of all—an ambition that would seem

    Read more
  • Neneh Cherry’s The Cherry Thing

    IN THE VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM’S recent blockbuster “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990,” there was a room where fragments of pop videos flashed on overhead screens and small eye-level monitors. The show’s effect was mostly deflationary—various poses of art-historical irony, a wan sifting through the ruins. In this room, though, there were sparks of the New, of what, temporality aside, was clearly modernism, in the sense of the London modernists (or mods) of the 1960s—a love for machine-made surface and technology-aided drama, with no hint of melancholia or antiutopian

    Read more
  • DOME and Groovy Records

    ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON in 1966, when Pink Floyd and the improvised-music group AMM were sharing a bill at the Marquee Club in London, AMM’s Keith Rowe laid his guitar flat on a table and dropped various objects onto it, eliciting an array of radically dissociated sounds. The Pollock-inspired technique fascinated Syd Barrett, Floyd’s guitarist. An early example of rock communing with true experimentalism, this episode may have just been a case of one former art student relating to another—even though at the time British art schools tended to attract aspiring rock musicians rather than

    Read more
  • “Home of Metal”

    RIDING THE IRON HORSE from London into Birmingham, I am always struck by how green and lush the outskirts still appear. Canals cut through the approaches, their crisp edges capitulating to the creeping undergrowth. You pass empty, smashed factories and brick warehouses to reach the city center, recently a riot battleground. Yet the green is a reminder that Birmingham and its satellite towns are inventions of the industrial revolution. This was a peaceful rural heartland until the eighteenth century, when the loom became the new plow and peasants were forced into the new city to work for the

    Read more
  • the Omar Souleyman Group

    YOU SWAY; a kaffiyeh-clad man wearing aviator sunglasses struts across the stage. This is no mere tableau of shades-and-scarf radical chic, however: There is a definite tension to the scene, a fervency. The singer, who is Syrian, is chanting lyrics in Arabic while a fellow band member, a poet, whispers intently into his ear. As he intones choppy refrains, the singer’s every phrase is answered by a wind or string instrument tuned to a Middle Eastern scale. You venture closer to scrutinize the musician behind him and discover he is playing a Korg synthesizer, dishing out lightning-fast licks on

    Read more