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Greetings from Camp Victory (Alexander Provan)

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Where the beach ends and the ocean begins…

Greetings from Camp Victory (Alexander Provan)

Two contests, occurring simultaneously, will define the tenor of the coming years: exponential technological growth to the point of a singularity in which the human intellect as we know it is transcended; and the acceleration of global climate change beyond a point of no return, leading us into an epoch of unfettered natural disasters, humanitarian catastrophes, resource wars, and general discomfort. Both of these events, especially on an aesthetic level, would be totally worth checking out. The only problem is that the chances of any of us getting to witness both are slim to none.

Yeah, there’s some other shit that could happen—the apocalypse, David Lynch somehow harnessing all the world’s vibes and ascending to the role of Omnipotent Transcendental Meditation Emir For All Humankind—but I have a feeling these lesser developments will be encompassed (and ultimately crushed) by the singularity and climate issues, the creeping paradigms of intensity and extensity.

So, can there be poetry after the singularity? Will ponchos be accepted as the global standard for casual wear? Will we live to see the end of man as such, the beginning of the age of manimals? Will Providence endure? The following records have helped me parse out some of these issues.

The reiteration of metal
This is the other big story, a parallel one, maybe. Drones in perpetuity, tectonic riffs, Teutonic visages—a year of death tolls and rock and roll. Boris harnessed the horsemen and sent them out in spades, following two intertwining paths, riding the skies and the beating the dirt through the brazen, hyperactive scale jumping of a stygian Van Halen and the overly inflated mountain-moving of Norse gods. At Last: Feedbacker, Pink, and Akuma No Uta are the most compelling of this year’s compendium of earthen relics, pitting something as ominously mundane as a quaking power chord against the insistent strangeness of wailing high-register guitars. Imagine the violent sea of a Turner painting splayed across a thousand pathetically frantic cities.

Sunn O))) achieved similarly destructive symphonics, though much of the tension occurred on a microscopic level, the give and take of swirling riffs slowed to the pace of pre-history. The Black One, among other chest rattlers, threatened to play like the Temple of Doom and reach for the very hearts of listeners. Ironically, the record that best approximated the band’s oceanic impulses while steering clear of theatrics was Tibetan and Buddhist Rites from the Monasteries of Bhutan (Sub Rosa), a superb set of ringing chants and solvent invocations actually played from the top of the world.

Of course, there were more: Circle somehow shook the skeleton of metal until it smiled and sung, releasing and re-releasing a number of gleefully dark paroxysms. The band’s show at CMJ in New York was a serious peregrination from glacial dirges to kraut-inspired head-banging, rambunctious enough to convince the bassist to tear the shirt from his own chest, a widely applauded move.

Unsure egotists
On to the Bedouin, the itinerant tribes of noise and vendors of static. If any are to survive and thrive in the wake of another ice age or mandatory chipset implantation, its those who have stockpiled pelts and disowned the niceties of “technological fucking civilization” (thank you, Henry Rollins). Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice emerged from the shadows cast by a myriad CD-R’s and limited edition slabs of vinyl, unleashing Buck Dharma, The Flood, and Wooden Wand’s solo effort, Harem of the Sundrum. The Skaters, Double Leopards, Axolotl, Davenport, D. Yellow Swans, and a number of other battalions followed suit, dropping germinal treats across the country. An excess of recordings appeared and disappeared, at times revelatory, at times rough and monotonous, the result being a sort of palimpsest—traces of antiquity (or maybe just previous recordings) hissing beneath the most recent missive.

Burning Star Core beat all comers in terms of quality and focus with The Very Heart of the World, Mes Soldats Stupides, and a gaggle of other releases, turning Tony Conrad on his head and shaking the microtones out his eyes.

Magik Markers excelled at making audiences feel giddy and uncomfortable, strangers in their own shoes, in their own chosen cultural niche, even. This, despite the unfortunate poetry by Thurston Moore and Byron Coley lodged within I Trust My Guitar, Etc. , who have somehow become arbiters of something that might best not be referred to as culture. Their awkwardly ignorant column in the otherwise harmless. Arthur was a tepid simulation of relevance. (How high can you raise your own flag?)

Pixies and unicorns
Someone asked me a couple nights ago, “Don’t you believe in anything?” Before I could break into my “another world is possible” contingency speech, complete with a discussion of non-hegemonic cultural forms, someone threw on some Black Sabbath. Not exactly altermondialisme, but certainly an enclave of creative, if indirect, resistance. Paavoharju’s verdant Yhä Hämärää is an exemplar of that will to imagine alternate realities, greener pastures. Slightly removed from the rough-hewn jams of other Finnish gems, this is a hazy piece of science fiction without much need for the future, her disembodied voice peeking out above comparatively grounded landscapes undulating waves of distortion and Casio flourishes.

Six Organs of Admittance’s capstone, School of the Flower, conveyed the sentiment in a more familiar vernacular, one made to seem universal by Smithsonian Folkways’ transcendent Indonesian Guitars.

This year also saw the reissuing of Paebiru, by Lula Cortes e Ze Ramalho, and the Dreamies’ sole self-titled record; each is a hallmark patchwork of fuzzy experimentation and pop appropriation—the former warped folk music in the wilds of Brazil, the latter did something similar with the Beatles (and Nixon, and Vietnam) from a home studio in Wilmington, circa 1974.

Friendly fire, profligate symmetry
Torpor and turmoil, apathy and ecstasy, avian flu and government malfeasance—where do we go from here? If there’s an antidote, or a palliative, the Sublime Frequencies label is producing and distributing it. In a perfect world, Alan Bishop, the operation’s auteur, would be living like a king off government subsidies, building an international archive of obscure cultural remnants. Until the museum gets off the ground, ethno gems and radio collages like Choubi Choubi: Folk and Pop Sounds of Iraq and Guitars of the Golden Triangle: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar will suffice.

In real time, Konono No. 1 delivered similar goods, on Congotronics and in their inimitable live show—the sensation of seeing Can, Talking Heads, and Lightning Bolt at the same time, though with a weirdly spectacular feeling of cultural voyeurism.

At a Boston show, the world music season-ticket holders held court, shouting down the few who tentatively hugged the stage. Eventually, with the band’s encouragement, seats were emptied, critical mass achieved, and a legion of twenty to forty-year-olds enthusiastically, if awkwardly, commanded the space between the stage and the grumbling spectators. An hour later, as the floor was cleared, the faces of those remaining seated revealed a trace of elation. A Pyrrhic victory, maybe, but rapturous nonetheless.

The vibes were violent, yes, but death becomes us—here’s hoping the promise is kept, blood is spilled, nervous systems tonally disfigured while we still have them. Some further configurations to consider:
Growing and New Humans: Live, both bands offered forcefully physical, shape-shifting noise contrasted with delicate tonal meditations—a gracious mindfuck in a Zen garden.
Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto: Insen (Raster-Noton)
Bembeya Jazz National: The Syliphone Years (Stern’s Africa)
Ariel Pink: The Doldrums (Paw Tracks)
Excepter: Throne (Load)
Art Ensemble of Chicago: Certain Blacks (Free America)
Lightning Bolt: Hypermagic Mountain (Load)

By Alexander Provan

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