Big Think: Tracks and Traces, Absences and Ideals
The last couple days I've been caught in the web of the Focus Group's Hey Let Loose Your Love (which I finally ordered from Ghost Box after Simon Reynolds' piece in Frieze on the subject). I use the term "caught in the web" not only to indulge my flailing tendency to be poetic, but for metaphorical significance; it's had me thinking about a series of things I hadn't thought about in years, a new star in a conceptual constellation.
The Focus Group sound is a collage; my first thought was that it was like a daydream that the first Books album - which I still enjoy pretty well - might have if it dozed off after half a joint on Saturday evening. Either that, or if you excised all of the song elements of Broadcast and wove the intros and outros into a gauze. Musique concrete for technicolor woodlands. Voices pass in and out, disembodied sounds strobe in a kind of decentered, contingent way; no primacy, no vows, no golden bands; drift.
What really took me about the record was the notion of absence. The album suggests songs at every step, but it never delivers any; still, cognitively, it feels like I'm always chasing something bigger than I hear, following the proverbial thread through the labyrinth. It's thrilling, not disappointing; Woebot called them a "portal", and I'd have to agree, but it's a portal in perpetual collapse. Resistance to crossing over into a full flesh sound world makes the experience doubly psychedelic; reality and unreality flicker in the same space, the tactile and intangible constantly fade into one another.
Ariel Pink's House Arrest (to be reissued later this month by Paw Tracks) is plucking the same strings. I think there are two roads you can take with him: one is that his sound is solely that of a degraded ideal; you can hear the song he meant to create in some Porcelain Heaven, but now it's too far gone to recognize, and you're left with the process of an aural crumble. The other approach - which I do think is a different concept - is that his sound is a mold, a footprint, a negative, a series of suggestions that function independent of the ideal (the thoughts I'm having with Hey Let Loose Your Love). I used to think Ariel's thing was about degradation, but after three records, I realize that the wavering otherworldliness is the starting point of his aesthetic, not the sum of his decay. Similarly, I drag out Basinski's Disintegration Loops, itself a process. Sure, each iteration of each loop bears on the Alpha loop, the ideal, but as they proliferate, they begin to function with a kind of independence, creating, like Ariel or Ghost Box, a series of apparitional doors and uncrossable bridges into something unreal.
Am I making any sense?
I post the picture at the top as a kind of guide to my thoughts. A Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage collaboration. A record of a process, sure. Still, with the car passed, the tracks become the tires, they're no longer a record of something having transpired, but something unto themselves. In the back of your mind, the ideal flickers (headlights, exhaust); ahead of you is a void, but between, you're left with a kind of tremulous, uncertain enchantment.
The fall out is The Caretaker's new release on V/Vm test, available for free here. It's the tail end between this Feeling I'm Having and total abstraction; from the caverns and whispers, you eventually hear the distant echoes of "Greensleeves," a kind of reminder of the real world shining some kind of light down a dark hole. It's quite beautiful, actually. Ready for a megamix?
No, I am not on mushrooms right now, but the prospect is intriguing.
Former and further on Ghost Box:
K-Punk (commentary and Big, Sumptuous Pictures of the Lovely album covers)
Simon Reynolds on GB, blog-style
Patrick McNally in Stylus on The Focus Group/Eric Zann