COLUMNS

  • Christian Marclay

    WHEN CHRISTIAN MARCLAY began spinning other people’s records into his own music around 1980, his only like-minded contemporaries were DJs who used the turntable as both rhythm track and soundbyter, dropping in a little James Brown shout, say, to signify “funky”; their innovations made hiphop the cause célèbre of cultural-studies postmodernists. Marclay, though, hewed to a lo-fi, highbrow avant-gardism, exploring the sonic properties of records to effect his own version of musique concrète; he backed up not MCs but improvisors on the noisy fringe. He seemed to be a high-late-modernist holdout

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  • Woody Guthrie with Bill Bragg and Wilco

    NEITHER A TRIBUTE ALBUM nor a collaboration, Mermaid Avenue is one of those peculiar contemporary hybrids: music and performance by Billy Bragg and the rock band Wilco, words by the late Woody Guthrie, the great agitprop singer-songwriter whose influence on the folk revival generation of the late ’50s and early ’60s gives him a paternity claim on later rock. When Guthrie died, in 1967, he left a trove of half-songs—written lyrics without the melodies to go with them. The papers languished in boxes until Guthrie’s daughter Nora asked Bragg, a British musician whose consistently, nay constantly

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  • artist-owned labels

    “WE HAD FIFTEEN RELEASES that were stylistically diverse: it wasn’t a doo-wop label or a label to reissue Boston hardcore, ” David Grubbs says. The Chicago musician is talking about Dexter’s Cigar, the record label he ran with former Gastr del Sol bandmate Jim O’Rourke from 1995 until April of this year. They’re just a couple of the handful of obsessive musicians who ’ve recently formed archive-&-reprint-based labels. In addition to Dexter’s Cigar, there’s O’Rourke’s brand new Moikai, Tony Conrad’s Audio ArtKive, John Fahey’s Revenant, and Thurston Moore’s K/EY, which launches next winter.

    Granted,

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  • Tony Conrad

    THE LONG, SLOWLY MODULATING drones on Tony Conrad’s box set Early Minimalism Volume One (Table of the Elements) are totally uncompromising, even if they do relax the listener over time; the electrified violins that produce the sounds attack tiny intervals across the audible spectrum with slightly wobbly intonation, never applicable to the equal temperament of the piano. There are four discs here, each filled with thirty minutes’ to an hour’s worth of this truculent process music; the result is occasionally reminiscent of the blues, like Little Walter inhaling one chord on an amped-up harmonica

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  • John Lurie

    JOHN LURIE FIRST WENT FISHING when he played St. James (either the Lesser or the Greater) in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Jesus (Willem Dafoe) told his disciples to “become fishers of men,” and James, cranky and irritable as usual, misheard him and thought he said fisherman.

    Today, two thousand years later, Lurie is still at it, wandering the planet, tackle in hand, fishing for the fiercest game in the seven seas, from man-eating sharks to submarine-eating giant calamari. Fishing is an art, as anyone familiar with Moby Dick or Trout Fishing in America can presumably attest,

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  • the Poetics

    “IN THE END, this work is not so much a portrait of the Poetics as it is an examination of how a history is constructed. It concerns a period which is fairly recent and only now being historically considered. And in this examination, hopefully the prehistoricization of the Punk period will be perceived as a war for control of meaning—a war that one can still fully participate in. This history is not yet etched in stone.” The words are Mike Kelley’s, describing The Poetics Project, his multimedia contribution (with Tony Oursler) to last summer’s installment of Documenta. Incredibly rich source

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  • Komar & Melamid

    Used to be, Good and Bad were easy. Good was worthy, but a little dull: Little Nell, Jimmy Carter, the Queen Mum. Bad was dangerous but infinitely interesting: Byron, Lucifer, Mae West. But this century’s idea of the banality of evil has shifted the game, making Bad dull, and a turnoff. Komar & Melamid have been making hay out of the categorical confusion.

    Understanding that in America, moral or aesthetic judgments (Good, Bad) tend to conflate with statistical ones (most liked, least liked), the two developed a practice of designing paintings through market research. Now they’ve extended their

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  • Harry Smith

    WHEN I BEGAN PLAYING the Anthology of American Folk Music, I started bouncing the name of its compiler, Harry Smith, off art-world friends, and also the not completely coidentical group with whom I like to swap opinions about rock ‘n’ roll, and no one had heard of him. But Smith—born 1923, died 1991—was certainly some kind of artist, and rock music would not be what it is without him. Issued in 1952 as a set of eighty-four recordings from the late ’20s and early ’30s, all culled from Smith’s collection, the Anthology was hugely important to the musicians and audiences behind the folk revival of

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  • Bob Dylan

    I HEARD A TRACK from Bob Dylan's new Time Out of Mind (Columbia) on the radio a few weeks before the album’s release. I didn’t recognize the voice right away, but I was moved by its unique and powerful sound, like a venerable, shamanic Delta blues man backed by some weird, Tom Waits–like band. It was profound blues, ancient and future music.

    Before the song was over it hit me that it was Dylan with another new voice: deep, dark, aged in wood, like maybe the same wood Dante Alghieri wrote about rambling in. Dylan is a spiritual itinerant and his Time Out of Mind has ramblin’ music for all forms

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  • Digital Reggae

    MAKING LIKE A CROSS between Mondo 2000 and Condé Nast Traveler, Business Week recently offered its readers a peek at the business trip of the near future. The CFO of the twenty—first century, the magazine testified, will be a cyberpunk in all but name, required to don a pair of VR goggles and “‘fly’ over a 3-D landscape representing the risk, return, and liquidity of a company’s assets.” And damn if the accompanying computer graphic of one such landscape—a pastel mesh of aquamarine blue and salmon—didn’t make that glowing moor of financial data look as inviting as a sunlit beach in the

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  • Buzzsounds

    THE RANDOM PLAY button on my six-CD player is my own personal DJ. It’s free-associating discreet pieces of information, but that’s as bricolage-y as we’re going to get. I want my music to tell me something, not reflect my environment back at me in freaky fractals, and I’ve stacked this deck so the player will deal me meaning in spades. 1-2-3-4-5: 3 the machine stops and makes a joke, “Beep! Mark, it’s the wicked witch of the west, your mother.” It’s “Voice Mail #3” from the Rent soundtrack; talk about disrupting the narrative! Then the player goes meta on me—guitars like jackhammers and a voice,

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  • Polly Jean Harvey

    THERE’VE BEEN MORE than a few pretenders to the throne of New Rock Goddess—Courtney Love, Liz Phair, Joan Osborne, Alanis Morissette, not to mention sundry Bikini Killers, Breeders et al—but for whatever reason, nobody’s been willing to take the risk to come across as an artist with a capital “A,” a Romantic-style genius, someone possessed by her muse or her daimon, or even the hellhounds on her trail. Nobody except PJ Harvey: a nice girl from a small town near Yeovil, England, who, as the legend goes, was brought up by groovy boho parents in a house full of blues musicians and stonecutters.

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