by carl wilson

Quasi-Participatory-Objects: More Matmos, Portland,
Pick 7, CCL1, & the Canada Council

Matmos shaves Jonny Dovercourt's head at the Music Gallery in Toronto on Monday. Photographer unknown, lifted from

First, a note that I didn't note yesterday because I was sniffly in bed with a post-Pop cold: My omnibus Pop Montreal review appeared in The Globe & Mail. Its main value, aside from kvetching about the flaws of the PopMtl program, is its mention of The Nymphets.

Now to the meat: By all reports, Monday night's Matmos show was even more dazzling than the night before, including - as in the picture above - a performance of Germs Burn for Darby Crash in which MC Schmidt gave Music Gallery programmer Jonathan Bunce (aka man-about-Torontopia, Jonny Dovercourt) a Mohawk on stage, while Drew Daniel turned the buzzing clippers and falling hair into music, and another piece (I'm not sure which?) in which a volunteer had his butt flogged, with the spanking similarly sampled and processed. These plans had been hatched the night before over a lovely, way-too-big, late-night Chinese dinner on Spadina - I helped talk Jonny into it! - so I was sorry to miss the outcome. I also wanted to mention that Matmos and So Percussion encored on Sunday night with a new piece composed on tour in the past couple of weeks, consisting of the percussionists playing Aaron Copland excerpts and Schmidt reading excerpts from Hugo Chavez's infamous "Bush is the devil" speech to the United Nations. (I suggested later that it could be titled Appalachian Spring for Hugo Chavez.)

I've been reflecting since Sunday on what makes Matmos's electronic work so special, since when it comes to beats and samples it's not that they're the most sophisticated technologically or any such thing. And it's not even the stunt and satirical value of the use of unconventional sampling materials, though certainly humour is always a welcome element and one too often scant in the testosterone-race to be the most hyper-genre-cool in that field. Rather, I think it's the deeper effect of that technique, which is to return a referentiality to electronic music - to make it, in an oblique way, a representational form. I had a little outburst last week on the blog panel at Pop Montreal about how much I dislike the anti-geographical tendency in cyberspace - the way many websites withold information on what city or region they come from. I always want to know. It's my first question about a band, for instance, much ahead of what genre label is attached. I was surprised by my vehemence about it at the panel. I think the reason is that I value these anchors and hooks back into a grounded physical, historical and, generally, material set of circumstances - while they're by no means determinative of category or quality or content - as a counter to the abstracting leveller of international commerce and capital. Just like the on-stage shaving and spanking, the names of cities and towns (and even of authors and artists) return to a human scale. Perhaps unlike many techno-utopians and transhumanists, I don't wish to escape that scale nearly so much as I fear losing it. It's rather like, in a disaster or war, the difference between casualty statistics ("109 dead in Baghdad today") and reading the names and backgrounds of the fallen. Geography and mortality; objects and names. The problem with digital culture - despite all its positive aspects - is that, like Hollywood or the pop chart, it becomes an enclosed self-referentiality, in which not just individuality and community but subject matter itself threatens to become irrelevant. Matmos's performances, like their new album, mitigate against all that. And they do it while every moment being fun and - crucially, in a manner from which other interactively inclined artists definitely can and should learn - with every aspect also being integrated with a fierce attention to aesthetics. Two great tastes that don't often go together, you know what I mean?

On Tuesday night, I was fortunate enough - along with about 40 other people at Sneaky Dee's in Toronto - to witness another blow struck in that cause, the Which Side Are You On tour by a small crew from the Portland, Ore., scene. It was a fantastic blend of concert and lectures, mostly given by Power Point, on the subject of humanity's relationship to technology, specifically our personal computers. Sounds a little dry, I know, but it ain't so: It was full of built-in little tricks and misdirections, all kind of revolving around the fact that this relationship is loaded with failure, and that this fallibility is the human element that we wish away at our peril. It was sort of a hybrid of a night of Trampoline Hall bleeding into the distinctively mixed-up Portland storytelling-and-song performance style familiar from the work of The Blow and, another layer back, Miranda July. Highlights included Jona from Yacht along with Claire L. Evans ("Universe") singing duets with their suddenly come-to-life laptops, and Aaron Flint Jamison's entire, RPG-meets-metapolitics performance as "the messenger" coming to bring "the particle workers" the good news about the forces of darkness and light - and a tough choice between them, which had real consequences on the spot, including being "banished" from the show - though again in the end things were not quite as they appeared.

Plus they were followed by a Yacht set and then the official reunion, now as a three-piece, of The Barcelona Pavilion, in their first gig under that name since November of 2004. TBP is, for me, the real founding band of Torontopia, with a definite attention to geography ("to see that thing you'll have to leave the building/ all of these things are in different buildings") and real-life subject matter, and that neverendingly fundamental slogan: "How are you people going to have fun/ If none of you people ever participate?!" (They also announced their current plan to release covers of the entire discography of Beat Happening.) Not to mention, one of the best avant-rock dance bands ever. (Although I wish some of the larger boys would recognize the anti-participatory effect of throwing yourself into the pit with maximum force, velocity and violence, especially in groups: There's a fine line between slamdance-playfighting and actually making the pit an impossible place for smaller people, women especially but also the bespectacled and wimpy, to inhabit. I get pissed off when the bigger guys stop respecting that line, even when I know they don't mean to.)

A couple of more peaceable participatory-minded events in the offing include the next, Oct. 14 17th installment of Pick 7, the theatre-meets-music event at Hub 14, which is part-lecture, part-talk-show, and part-concert. The musicians who will perform and converse with each other and the audience this time are Toronto's Sandro Perri, aka Polmo Polpo (whose new Constellation album I mentioned here) and Montreal's Eric Craven, the composer/percussionist whom you might know from Constellation band Hangedup. Highly recommended.

And I wanted to remind you of Thursday's opening (probably tonight, as you read this) of the apartment-based "open-format project and art centre", the Centre for Culture and Leisure 1, right here in Parkdale. This is the new space run by Emily Schultz and Brian Joseph Davis. Whether you can make it or not, you should read their Mike Watt-inspired manifesto, which makes several strong points on community-based culture. And they don't just talk the talk here: First off, you would be welcome to propose a project for the space. Second, their own work displays a similar spirit - for instance, check out Emily's Pledge Me, an exercise in mutual plagiarism in which people are invited to submit writing that will be incorporated into a "curated novel" - which cheekily challenges writers' claims that they don't actually steal their material from friends, lovers, family, etc...

Since this is Canada, one of the issues that these multi-source, crossdisciplinary, etc., projects always face is one of funding. It can be sidestepped, of course, but really if this is a country where one of our collective choices is that we provide funding to culture, the kind of work involved in all the foregoing projects shouldn't just fall through the cracks. Today the Canada Council announced that it was going to make its "Artists and Community Collaboration Fund (ACCF)" permanent. This is welcome news immediately, as the fund supports work such as artists teaching video skills to inner-city kids, or oral history work in aboriginal communities, or parades or dances or plays put on jointly by professional artists and neighbourhoods and towns, etc. But I wonder whether this area of funding will consider more sidelong approaches to collaboration, ones that are less obviously about social amelioration, ones that explore interactivity and open-source techniques without the same kind of altruistic cover story? I know that many of the kind of artists I'm discussing here bypass government funding as too much trouble (or, sometimes, ideologically unwanted), but I hope that they apply to this Fund frequently enough, even if they get turned down at first, to help stretch the funders' definitions of community-based art a bit beyond the easy Worthy Initiatives, to pull them a bit into the Unknown.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 11 at 8:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)




Zoilus by Carl Wilson