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Sunno))) Is No)))t Exactly Like Minimalist Sculpture, pt. 1

Pandit Pran Nath: Sunn No)))

'Scuse; I am flying by the assseat of my facepants etc. this morning.

In case you missed the "Huge Friggin' Sunno))) Piece in NYT Magazine", go give a read, because it's important, and I say that without a smirk. I spent a good part of the weekend listening to drone/minimal/stuffed animal enthusiast Charlemagne Palestine and his sometime Kirana vocal teacher, Pandit Pran Nath (who I’ll post more about within the next few days). In between, I was giving Sunn's Black One some more listens, but to no great gains.

Okay, so it's great that Sunn0))) are getting more coverage. It would be dumb to act like a guard dog at the gates (of what? Purity? Integrity? Not sure, but someone’s barking).

Of course, it's the kind of coverage they're getting that is making people prickly: the art references; the "metal for smart people" tack (are metal fans supposed to rejoice? Feel the growing pains of their collective IQ surging, what with the addition of cosmopolitan and well-educated NYT mag readers? Offensive!). It's definitely the whiff of what Frank Kogan talks about with the PBS-ization of rock music; how placing Sunno))) in a certain light/context—contemporary art, in this case—makes it "important," "relevant" or worse, "worthy" (of time and dollars, I guess).

Well, I'm divided on the PBS debate really; I mean, I think that the primary design of anyone that cares enough to write about music is to, roughly speaking, get other people to recognize its value in the world—by listening, supporting, learning about, etc. So in the process, maybe Sunno))) gets vaulted into the more rarified world of minimalist sculpture, but maybe minimalist sculpture gets brought down from its pedestal, just a little bit. A great equalization.


I've actually always loved the art/music division and comparison, and though it's way too big of a topic to tackle here, I think it's important to take note of and flesh out. (I did it a couple times, once with Gang Gang Dance, more recently—and a little sarcastically—with Scott Walker, and I've got the same things in my head for The Pipettes (more to come on that).)

Actually, my biggest problem with the Sunno))) article is the comparisons they make. The sculptor Banks Violette says:

For me, what Steve and Greg are doing bears comparison to Donald Judd's work, particularly his boxes of the 60's and 70's. Their sound is serial, repetitive, plays off of mass and is as much a physiological phenomenon as an acoustic one. It stops being an aesthetic experience and becomes a body experience. There are exact, direct parallels there.

Here’s my issue with the Judd (or Robert Smithson) comparison(s) [take a look at the links]: In their work, the viewer/participant is essentially the active part of the experience; your space is disrupted, but only when you’re moving through it. This experience doesn’t seem to square at all with the idea of Sunn’s physical/oppressive/endurance approach, which is constantly not only referenced, but upheld as something distinctive, impressive and crucial to their sound. Sure, it’s “monolithic,” but it’s a monolith that moves, or at least expands, squeezing air out of the room, challenging the listener’s physical presence by just BEING there (again, different from the Judd, which is more passive—you can occupy the same room with it and not necessarily feel its power until you approach it).

Sunno))) does remind me a little of something like Bruce Nauman’s Green Light Corridor because to experience it at all, you have to walk through it (which is physically demanding). The “squeeze” aspect is crucial, I think; it makes the experience aggressive and present rather than just passive/contemplative (which is basically how I feel about Judd, at least up until the point that you decide to, you know, walk around the sculpture).

Anyway, this is only the tip of these ideas; the article also, and seemingly accidentally, ties together ideas of minimalism/minimalist sculpture/obstruction to the durational/hypnotic/drone aesthetic when, of course, they’re different. Or at least seperable. Think about the article: it's not just the fact that Sunno))) are so goddamn loud, it's that they happen for an hour. And while I could take the canny formal approach of making this post another 2000 words long, I'll save some for the next few days.


Blogger blackmail is my life said...

I actually take issue with the notion that they are "minimal". There are few bands that devote so much energy to an all-encompassing aesthetic. After all, it's the spectacle that separates them from Earth.

Sunn are more akin to Paul McCartney's All Star Jam in metal, somehow taking disparate elements of Southern Lord and thatching them together, from Attila Csihar to Malefic and other USBM worthies, and stamping it with the Sunn brand.

Now that that brand has reached a level of salience that the mainstream press can't ignore, it had to be overthought for mass consumption, rife with inaccurate comparisons, etc. that have nothing to do with purity/authenticity as such, and more to do with just trashing a metalhead strawman to give the piece meaning.

Where's the seven page magazine piece on Napalm Death!?

9:53 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

What do you think of David Byrne's take on it?


1:38 AM  

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