Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The 2006 Whitney Biennial

Most writings on the 2006 Whitney Biennial focus on the canny way it reflects the “apocalyptic mood at the moment,” or on its above-board internationalism. Michael Kimmelman, in the Times, says that one of the exhibition’s unstated goals “hop[es to] recalibrate the image of the art world as something other than youth-besotted and money-obsessed.” The Village Voice’s Jerry Saltz calls Day for Night—the first named Biennial—“the liveliest, brainiest, most self-conscious Whitney Biennial I have ever seen.” He’s got the last part right, I’d venture.

Whitney Biennial logo

Call it the ‘artless’ Biennial. It’s no fun, homely, and solipsistic. Tyler Green calls itan awesomely bad exhibition,” citing poor installation and “curatorial gasbagging that turns wall text into wall essays.” (We part on his objections to curatorial ‘foregrounding,’ which seems to me to be a reasonable aim in pomo times—it’s just that the curators’ vector is, well, uninteresting.) Compare and contrast the just-opened Berlin Biennial, which has forsaken a focus on the new (or a metacommentary on the state of the art world) for one on place: Massimiliano Gioni—one of the curatorial triumvirate—spoke that “we came to understand in Berlin were the incredible layers of history and all the different ways that artists work and show here—not just in institutions, but in temporary spaces, apartments.” (Other exhibition sites include an office, a ballroom, the shuttered Jewish School for Girls, a former horse stable, a church, and a cemetery.) In the end, Christopher Knight best diagnoses what’s wrong with this and future editions of the Whitney Biennial: in jettisoning the show’s raison d’être without abandoning the Biennial itself, the curators doom their mission.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Death Disco

The joke, of course, may well be on me if fifteen years from now
everything on the radio sounds like this.
But it wouldn’t surprise me too much.

—On Second Edition, from the
August 1980 issue of
Stereo Review


PiL performing “Death Disco”
“Top of the Pops,” 21 July 1979

Simon Reynolds’s justly hailed (and newly released, stateside) Tear It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 [the book’s website is here, on Amazon here, and flogged on Slate here] has shone the spotlight on PiL’s first big American single, “Death Disco” (later redubbed “Swan Lake” for its Metal Box/Second Edition release on LP) : Reynolds cites the television performance on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops”—the UK’s answer to “American Bandstand”—as one of the seminal musical moments in his young life. Inevitably, a clip has surfaced on YouTube, and a small viewer is posted here for your listening pleasure (and more, with Lydon’s plaid suit and Wobble’s leering, toothy grin—he’s sitting on a dentist’s chair for the duration).

Death Disco clip
“Swan Lake,” 7" sleeve (1979)

“Swan Lake” still sounds great—it feels as alien and as winsome as it did in 1979, when I’d sit, hunched over a speaker, trying to make sense of what seemed like pop, but also quite unlike pop. Cannily transposing Tchaikovsky’s theme to anchor the composition, they are the only notes given to the guitar (Wobble’s bass shoulders the lead). But it was the new end tacked onto the LP version—and not heard on the TotP clip—that really got me, and still does: it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. Some 3:50 into the selection, a passage that is anchored by a bubbling, atonal bass line and punctuated by a shimmering synth aurora borealis (foreshadowed a few dozen seconds prior) is clipped, and cut-and-paste-repeated four additional times. More than a decade of studio magic—overdubbing and looping—had preceded the release of Metal Box, and yet there was something radical about the simple juxtaposition of the clip with itself, and its abrupt beginning and end that seemed to herald the dawning of a new pop. It may be that all music crit is an elaborate justification of taste, but Second Edition—hey, it’s less than $7, new!—is worth sampling at twice the price.

Labels: , ,

Opening day

Orioles logo

Before violent (and then brisk) spring weather returned to Baltimore yesterday, nature bestowed a few short hours of warm temps to Camden Yards as the Orioles got off to a winning start in 2006 by defeating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 9-6. (As I have said for a few days now, the battle for fourth place in the AL East has been joined.) Twenty-two-year-old lefty phenom Scott Kazmir started for the Rays, impressing with his fluid motion, but labored through the first two innings, throwing over sixty pitches and opening the door for the hometown ten. O’s starter Rodrigo Lopez was typically erratic, struggling at times but pitching well enough for the win. God bless Melvin Mora, and sweet-swinging rookie Nick Markakis (who made a ninth-inning appearance as a defensive replacement in right field)—things may never look this rosy for the rest of the season.

In some parts of Mobtown, Opening Day is a traditional holiday, the kind where old (and not-so-old) ladies hang decorations on the front of their house, or in the workplace. So it’s not as unusual as it might be that, while walking through the union cafeteria on Monday morning—I work in a large aerospace firm with a manufacturing facility—folks were stringing up black-and-orange crêpe paper, as well as large baseball cutouts, from the ceiling; covering buffet tables in white paper; and preparing for mass quantities of hot dogs with all the fixin’s.

This also marks the opening of the 2006 season for ffactory, whose proprietor has been laboring under the thumb of the man for far too long. Play ball!

Labels: ,