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The Red Krayola - Fingerpointing

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Artist: The Red Krayola

Album: Fingerpointing

Label: Drag City

Review date: Sep. 3, 2008

One thing that’s always fucked me up when it comes to art is the idea of ontological primacy. Ontology is the study of being – what it is to be, to exist, or for certain things (books, humans) to be – and the idea of ontological primacy is that there are things that exist prior to or have a more fundamental being than other things. The idea really goes back to Plato, but it gains a lot of traction when it becomes wed to our scientific program (see how physics and biology become about smaller and smaller particles – quarks, strings, genes – that are said to be the building blocks of nature). As it manifested itself in relation to music, the idea of canon became an idee fixe for me: that there was a specific document created by the artist that had primacy over any other versions really meant something. Thus, a live version of a song was an ontologically degraded version of the song, as was a cover version, as was a remix.

This concept wreaks especial havoc on The Red Krayola’s Fingerpointing, where lines blurs between original and remix in such a way that the concept of the primacy of the one over the other no longer makes any sense. Fingerpointing itself is the original mix of the 1999 album Fingerpainting. The official line is that Mayo Thompson wasn’t happy with producer Jim O’Rourke’s mix, so it was shelved and Thompson’s own mix was released. Eventually though, Thompson reconsidered.

So, if the original mix is now essentially the remix, which album is more real? It’s impossible not to see the two albums as related, and that relation surely affects the way we listen to Fingerpointing, but the effect is not just one way, it’s reciprocal. The second album reflects back upon the first one in such a way that they enter into a binary existence. These aren’t two albums where one is a different version of the other, but rather they are two albums that are both separate and inseparable at the same time.

I haven’t really lived long enough with Fingerpointing to say much about that dialectical inseparability, but I do want to comment on some very specific things that O’Rourke does well with his mix that changes our understanding of the music. The first is the form. O’Rourke worked with the structure Thompson wanted: alternating “songs” with “free form freak outs” (although to be honest, having to differentiate the two seems to devalues the “freak outs” as if they’re not songs in and of themselves), but instead of splitting up the tracks, Fingerpointing is singular – a single XX-minute track. The strategy behind this reminds me a bit of William Gass’ The Tunnel. Extremely difficult to read and very much lacking in a standard plot, one is forced along by both the beauty of the prose but also the length of the work itself. That is, once you plunge into it, there’s no stopping, there’s no taking a break. As much as I lament the fact that there’s no chapter breaks on the Mulholland Drive DVD, one can see Lynch as holding the same strategy.

The mix itself, which, while following that alternating format I discussed above, is arranged in such a way that the sections aren’t easily divided, but rather interpenetrate and invade each other. Form and content then are shown to be inseparable themselves, since a single track necessitates this strategy to a degree. (Though I suppose one could cram 10 individual songs together on one track, but for most, that doesn’t make any sense). The flow of the music implies the format of the album as the format necessitates the way it was mixed, neither having priority over the other. It pushes us towards accepting the real, actual holistic nature of art that the reductive model has been obscuring for so long.

By Andrew Beckerman

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