Apologies for having vanished up the spout all week: I was distracted by a miscellany of bright shiny objects, including last night’s shows by Laura Barrett and Bob Wiseman and others, at the Boat, and then Dollarama and the “secret” set by Cursed at Wavelength. They were all a pleasure, but particularly Hamilton, Ont.’s Cursed: I think it’s been about eight years since I saw a live hardcore band, and Cursed rebaptized me in blood and filth with such loving care that for a moment I flashed back to the time when I regularly sought out the sensation of feeling my body forcibly shaken by such music (which is closer to techno, like gabba, in a way, than to song-based rock - and the way Cursed play it, on the edge between HC and metal, not unlike the opera either). It was amusing too to see the more mild-mannered of the art-pop Wavelength kids’ eyes bugging out and their heads wobbling, unsure whether they’d loved or hated the experience.
Anyway, while I’ve been gone there’s been some news - which some of you have gleaned already: I’m going to be writing a book for the 33 1/3 series of books-on-albums. In my case, it’s about what may seem a highly unlikely object of study: Let’s Talk About Love by Celine Dion. I could explain why, but I’d rather let you puzzle it out for now. (Speculation welcome.) Suffice it to say I’m very excited about the project, which is going to be the most challenging bit of music writing I’ve ever done. And I’m also thrilled, and relieved, finally to be losing my livreginity. (The first of many atrocious bilingual puns to come in the Celine-fixated future, folks…)
Meanwhile, catching you up a little, I had a feature in the paper on Friday about the Untitled exhibition at the Diaz Contemporary gallery, curated by the terrific Toronto artist Kelly Mark, featuring sound-and-music-related art by artists including Dave Dyment, Pete Gazendam, Adad Hannah and (Zoilusian favourite) Brian Joseph Davis (the 10 Banned Records, Burned, Then Played project, which has been much blogged about around the Internet, in fact). The show is on till Feb. 11 and worth a visit. (Read more here.)
Also in Friday’s paper, I reviewed the new Rosanne Cash album, Black Cadillac, an immensely stirring collection of reflections on family, love and loss (prompted of course by the recent passing of her father, Johnny Cash, mother Vivian and stepmother June Carter Cash). It’s so much better than the last, Rules of Travel, which I now realize I overrated just because I was so glad to have Rosie back, but was too tempered and polite. This here is the real thing, the best since The Wheel from the artist my friend Gordon calls “the gal who put the cunt back into country.”
And on Saturday, I had the latest instalment of my rather irregularly appearing Focus section column, Thought Bubbles. Which actually includes a couple of spoonfuls of music content this time around.
The art of noise
By CARL WILSON
Friday, January 27, 2006
The Globe and Mail, R26
Perhaps it’s the era A.D. (After Downloading) that’s made music such a popular theme with visual artists, since it permits the studio-bound to cultivate their fixations - revisiting teenage pleasures or gathering fresh droplets from music’s bleeding edge - without straying too far from their workbenches.
On the other hand, with music now freed from its confinement to round vinyl or plastic discs, from the garter-snake-brown noose of tape and even from the localized limits of the broadcast radio signal, perhaps there’s a counterimpulse to recapture the sonic genie, to invent new material forms to bottle it.
Toronto artist Kelly Mark has assembled a dozen such efforts, several sparkling and some drab, at the Diaz Contemporary gallery as Untitled: Thoughts about Sound, Music, Silence and Confusion.
Not all the works involve music; any free-range noise is fair game. In fact each piece is about what is absent as much as what’s there. No answer comes to break the stalemate in Doug Lewis’s “I Dunno” Game - in which three stereo speakers faintly mumble the Ouroboric formula, “What do you want to do? I dunno, whadda you wanna do?” like disembodied slackers on some unseen stoop.
And Amazing Grace is missing in action in Pete Gazendam’s There Shall Be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth, a headphone piece in which a tongue clucks out the rhythm and tones of the inspirational hymn. Since it’s dated 2001, it’s tempting to take the piece as a manifestation of faith lost, or at least at a loss for words, after Sept. 11. But the tense, sardonic hollows of this mouth music seem unlikely to harbour such easy affirmation.
For a few works, what’s missing is a reason to exist. The music box in a tin pail offers merely cute tinkling and the implicit pun on “carrying a tune in a bucket.” Scottish artists Beagles and Ramsay’s video of bald-wigged losers glumly reciting Madonna lyrics is the kind of condescending goof that mars too much art piggybacking on pop culture: mediocre BBC sketch comedy.
Much more knowing is Adad Hannah’s video Band Practice. It seems at first to be a still image of a rock group in rehearsal in a grotty warehouse space. But soon you see it’s a moving picture, in which models strain to hold frozen poses, such as the drummer bent over his crash cymbal. It sends up the clichÈs of rock photography, but also pays tribute to the workaday band, rehearsing hard to stay in stereotypical place. Dynamic suspense, composition and colours repay the viewer for lingering over its unlikely objects of contemplation.
Dave Dyment, an artist who frequently focuses on music, provides a centrepiece with White Noise, which reproduces all the sheet music from the Beatles’ 1968 “White Album” in white-on-black silkscreens that are layered until they form a near-total white field, just like the cover of the album. It cocks an eyebrow at the overexposure of the Beatles, yet emulates their classical grace. The sight automatically suggests sound, as if all the music had congealed into a sonic wash - in fact, for me, the reflex brought on by the image was so clear that the recorded element (which does just that) seemed redundant.
Not so the mix of sound and vision in Brian Joseph Davis’s 10 Banned Albums, Burned, Then Played. Davis is a multimedia artist fluent in the codes of music and pop culture. As a writer he’s recently been praised for Portable Altamont, a collection of prose-poetic hysterias and hallucinations on celebrity.
This new installation works as advertised: Davis has taken 10 records that have been subject to censorship - from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to the Dead Kennedys and the raunch-rap of 2 Live Crew - put them ritually to the stake, and then returned them to the turntable. The charred remains hang on the gallery wall, while the music’s sputtering remnants play on headphones. (The project also can be found on-line at http://brianjosephdavis.com/banned.)
It’s cheeky, but not only that. The sounds show the physical weakness of art in the face of force, but also the resilience of mass culture (no matter how many Beatles records offended Christians burned, after John Lennon’s infamous “bigger than Jesus” gaffe, there would always be more). In fact some of the records sound positively funky even after they’ve been ravaged and warped down to scratched, skipping snatches.
Even more striking is the oddly apt - and texturally gorgeous - sculptural magic the flames have worked on each artifact. The edges of Louie Louie have melted and hardened into a protective carapace nearly as thick as its garbled (but not really obscene) words. Early 1960s comedy album The First Family is ripped apart by a second assassination, sequel to the one that turned its Kennedy-era satire into sacrilege. The green band across the cover of the Sex Pistols album has been scorched right into the vinyl underneath, lending the pockmarked tar a cadaverous tinge.
Whether purposeful or poetic accidents, these are details only the assured explorer can stumble upon. Davis is enough at ease in pop to embrace the confusion of Marks’s (un)title: He has a nose for what may linger after any attempt to bind that hobgoblin has dispersed to data smoke in a binary wind.
Untitled runs to Feb. 11 at the Diaz Contemporary Gallery, 100 Niagara St., 416-361-2972.