Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: digital
Friday, 28 October 2011 15:26

Internet as Body

The Internet has been lauded and criticized from all sectors of society in recent years, especially in light of the role of social networking and the internet in the Jasmine Revolution and the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement but also in in areas as diverse as anthropology, the music industry and documentary film-making . Recently, in an interview with Renlai, Taiwanese director Wang Molin gave his two cents on the discussion as below:

Young people see an open society, they'll very easily suppose themselves to live in an open society, a freer, more democratic society. What concerns them are issues surrounding their own individual bodily desires, it is the bodily desires that stimulate them. Youth subcultures have become increasingly centered around the individual, this is the inevitable path of capitalism. Individualism should in theory lead to a more rich and multifaceted world, but people of the younger generation seem to think that computers constitute the world, they try to cram the world into a black box, and their bodies start to shrivel, leaving them with less physical energy. In this kind of era, it is impossible to get the youth to identify with society through protest a they lack a "body" or a physicality.

This might lead one to question then the value of medium like the internet, as it takes from us the physicality of our actions, and we enter the semi-real world of Baudrillard's simulation. So this month eRenlai re-examines this notion of 'reality' with a broad range of articles, some of which reinforce this impression, with the internet isolating them from society, giving them the compulsion to spend more than 8 hours a day on online games, and debilitating their social skills, for others it opens up the world, giving a voice to the disenfranchised within society and opening up new opportunities for love; others still suggest that online activity actually reinforces social norms, and as such should not be endowed with such a mystic reputation, that it is in fact the dynamic nature of human society itself and its institutions that are just harnessing a new medium of representation.

No matter where you stand on the issue, the internet has definitely changed the way we live our lives, whether we grew up before the advent of the internet proper, or if we were born digital natives and have grown up as the internet evolved and developed, and as the space requirements of maintaining the technology expanded exponentially.

Illustration by  Peri Shroom



Tuesday, 29 June 2010 20:54

Josh Homme and the rise of manufactured mystique

I have watched two seemingly distinct phenomenon over the last 15 years with considerable interest: the growth of the internet from a niche tool of academics and geeks to a brobdignagian digital life form; and Josh Homme’s transition from cult desert guitarist to supergroup-worthy rock god.  As people around the world now begin to ponder the long-term influence of the internet on society, I believe that analysis of Josh Homme’s career and can help shed some light on this evolution, in particular with regard to the mystique of artists.

Fifteen years ago, I was a curious high school student, who, among other teenage pursuits, was discovering the world of rock and roll.  Having dipped my toes into grunge, g-funk and somewhat mystifyingly, grindcore, I was trying to find my way in the mid-90s alternative music market.  In 1995 I bought a heavy metal compilation that featured One Inch Man[i] by Kyuss, a short-lived rock band from Palm Springs California featuring the then 22 year-old Josh Homme on guitar.  I was instantly transfixed.  This bass heavy track rode a groove that got my head bobbing while at the same had heavy enough riffs to make me feel tough.  Vicarious toughness through music was important to me at that age.  As my funds permitted, I bought all four Kyuss albums and listened to them endlessly.  In fact, 15 years later I still listen to Kyuss quite frequently.  They were that good.

In an odd turn events, only one week after discovering Kyuss, I read in Hot Metal magazine that they had just recently broken up.  At this stage I was still about 18 months away from using the internet.  Information on Kyuss was almost non-existent.  I found a band profile in a second hand copy of Hot Metal from a few years prior but other than that, nothing.  Apart from albums in record stores, an underground band that died in 1995 had little chance of maintaining any sort of profile.  With that being the case, to me Kyuss was nothing more than a well-orchestrated collection of highly listenable sounds.

 

In late 1996 I graduated from high school, eager to enjoy a summer of parties and cricket.  As events transpired, the only guy I knew who had internet access was having a party and I was invited. Sambucca and Southern Comfort were drunk up on the roof, girls were kissed and garden furniture was broken. I even have hazy memories of watching the clip for Wannabe by the Spice Girls. Wiiiild times, let me tell you my friend.  Early in the night I managed to get in a session on the internet – something to me that up until that stage was nothing more than a nebulous idea that media pundits liked to talk about – either as some whiz-bang medium of the future or as a dangerous forum for disseminating The Terrorist Handbook.  None of these options took my fancy.  For me, the internet was there to find out about Kyuss.

I discovered a website lovingly put together by a Kyuss devotee and printed off some fan-made guitar tablature.  At this party I also saw Kyuss film clips for the first time.  The band was a strange looking bunch, swaggering around the California desert belting out psychedelic metal riffs.  In the Green Machine filmclip, Josh Homme cut a very unfashionable figure – shorts and boots worn together have never been very rock and roll[ii].

Three months later I was enrolled at university and the internet was suddenly at my finger tips.  None of my lecturers had worked out how to use the internet as an educational tool and most of the content on it was made by amateurs.  In spite of this, the internet was a revelation to me (like it is to most) and I spent many an hour using Hotbot to scour the neighbourhoods of Geocities, as one did on the Information Superhighway in 1997.

Over the next two years I eagerly checked Kyuss fan sites, hoping for news on upcoming projects.  Occasionally there was a tidbit – Homme and his mates were jamming in the desert, the singer had a new band, the bass player had opened a pet store in Palm Springs, the old drummer was playing with Fu Manchu and so on.  But these stories were rare, and there appeared to be no system for digitally disseminating them.  It was more or less gossip or info culled from Californian street press and then uploaded on to fan sites.  And there were only a handful of these sites on the whole World Wide Web where I needed to look to find out anything, most of which were not much more than digital versions of zines.

Following Kyuss riding off into the sun, Josh Homme re-emerged in 1997 with Queens of the Stoneage, dropping the first track on the silly genre-naming compilation Burn One Up: Music for Stoners.  For those in Australia and without the internet, this event would likely have largely gone unnoticed.  When their debut album appeared a year later the only clue that Queens and Kyuss had some sort of connection was the sticker on the CD case – “Featuring ex-members of Kyuss”.  At this stage there was very little promotional material about Homme’s new band, who were dragging themselves around Europe playing small clubs and festival side stages.

Queens of the Stoneage toiled in the musical underground over the next 5 years.  Another album, R[iii], was released in 2000 and despite getting some play on alternative radio stations in Australia, it seemed that most of the band’s followers were all Kyuss fans first, Queens fans second.  Queens were still yet to cross over into the mainstream.  This changed in 2002 when ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and ex-Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan came on board. Queens released Songs for the Deaf[iv] and then became alterna-rock royalty.  For the rest of the decade the band chugged along, releasing albums, enduring personnel problems, all the while maintaining a solid fan base through regular tours and a generally positive critical response.  This success made Homme a bonafide star and brought public attention to his previously underground side projects, such as the Desert Sessions and the Eagles of Death Metal.  While it would appear in the eyes of most critics and many casual listeners that Queens will never top Songs for the Deaf, the band has still managed to somehow straddle the line between commercial acclaim and critical success, all the while producing a distinctive sound.

Of course, over the duration of the 2000s, the internet swelled with more and more folks getting online.  As magazines and newspapers shifted their content into digital format and tried to work out how to keep making a buck, music blogs grew to become the arbiters of trends and memes.  And then there was the explosion in social media (mySpace, facebook, youtube, twitter et al) that, theoretically at least, allowed people across the world to access media with ease that most of them couldn’t conceive of 15 years earlier.  I certainly couldn’t have predicted this digital landscape when I first heard One Inch Man and wondered who Kyuss were and how they could make such transcendent music.

Now I can log onto youtube and watch Kyuss performing live in the Californian desert at one of their legendary ‘generator parties’[v].  Once upon a time I knew that these videos existed but not being familiar with the obscure world of tape trading (what tapes did I have to trade?) these gigs stayed a mystery to me.  As did the performance at the Bizarre Festival in 1995[vi] or the Italian TV gig from around the same time[vii].  For my friends and I, the unattainability of these shows created an aura of mystery.  We certainly weren’t at the shows and had no chance of watching them.  This let our imaginations run wild.  We already had the soundtrack – then we just had to dream of the desert, the drama and the drugs.

Now I can watch all these videos from the comfort of my sofa.  Beyond the initial investment of a laptop, modem and internet access, the world of Kyuss is at my fingertips.  My Taipei apartment couldn’t be further from the shifting sands of California’s Sky Valley but the internet has knocked down that time/space barrier.  That Kyuss’ history has been uploaded is fantastic and in some ways I wish it had happened 15 years ago when my curiosity was at its peak.  But then my appreciation of the band might not have become what it did.  My imagination had to fill in the gaps.

From the few interviews that I was able to read back in the day, I built up an image of Josh Homme.  He came across as chill, and didn’t seem to have the agro that is part and parcel of the metal world.  Then when Queens first started getting press, he claimed to want to create music that makes girls dance, a noble desire in the sweaty dude-filled moshpit that is the world of rock.

Now I can find out almost anything I want about the man.  From Homme’s collection of weird guitars[viii] to the somewhat infamous footage of him loosing his cool at a concert in 2008[ix].  Everything is there, pixellated and ready to download.  Fortunately Homme has maintained his sharp sense of humour and while he has developed something of a rock star attitude, he generally comes across as a likeable guy, someone you could sink a beer or two with.

What does this mean?  Without his ever-growing web presence I think it would be harder for Homme to maintain his career. The music audience has come to expect a steady stream of interviews, live footage and miscellanea to sustain interest in an artist.  Fan-made clips and shaky camera phone recordings augment the glut of professional digital media available, padding out an already large cyber presence.  But by no means has Homme saturated the market.  In the current climate of Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and their ilk he still remains on the fringe, even with Them Crooked Vultures, his latest project where he has reunited with Dave Grohl and rounded out the band with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

TCV hit the ground the running and over a period of months went from nothing more than an intriguing concept flagged on a blog post to headlining venues and festivals around the globe.  Tantalising fans with a well-conceived drip feed of studio footage and live clips, TCV (and their management) cleverly used modern communication channels to drum up interest prior to their album’s release.  In a world where illegal downloads threaten the livelihoods of all those involved with recorded music such an approach is now necessary.

This manufactured mystique captured the public’s attention but ultimately left me feeling a bit hollow.  Yes, I watched a bunch of youtube clips and got the gist of what was going on.  But of all Homme’s many projects over the last 15 years (he is a truly prolific collaborator) this one left me the least intrigued.  The whole gestation of TCV had been manipulated to the extent that when the band finally entered my world, I didn’t really care.  There was no magic.  Despite the behind the scenes spontaneity that Homme, Jones and Grohl undoubtedly experienced, I felt like the whole product was being force fed to me.  Not that TCV is a bad band – their tunes seem to be more or less worthy given the group’s much heralded genetics – it’s just that they somehow seem to lack that magic that Homme’s earlier recordings have.

As it becomes easier to build up an extensive archive of an artist, where every recording and performance can be downloaded, where every interview and blog post can be scrutinized, artists have become more accessible than ever before.  Fans have almost instant access to the minutiae of their idols.  It is easier for established artists to step away from this trend.  Their fanbase is already established.  But struggling artists seeking to make a name for themselves need to harness the digital media machine to get their ‘product’ out there.  To do this and somehow maintain an aura of mystery seems to me to be a challenge.  With over-exposure it is easy to tire of an artist and move on to the next emerging sound, of which there will be always be a dozen emerging micro-genres to pick and choose from.

Who knows, Homme is an artist who fortunately shows no sign of burning out after two decades of recording.  There will no doubt be much more to come from him.  And sure enough, I’ll be at my keyboard, waiting for news of the next project he has up his sleeve.  I just hope that it blows in like a cloud of sand from the desert rather than appear on my twitter feed as a micro-managed meme.

(Photo by Craig Carper, source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/giarc80/3976623459/)


[i] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAXGu81Rk1g - ‘One Inch Man’ from And the Circus Leave Town (Kyuss, 1995)

[ii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fc-7FXzbeA0 - ‘Green Machine’ from Blues for the Red Sun (Kyuss, 1992)

[iii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAXPUN2z2CE - ‘Feelgood Hit of the Summer’ from R (Queens of the Stoneage, 2000)

[iv] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s88r_q7oufE - ‘No One Knows’ from Songs for the Deaf (Queens of the Stoneage, 2002)

[v] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPFhyd3fabs - generator party in the Californian desert (Kyuss, c.1993)

[vi] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pMfqZGg-FA ‘Gardenia’ from Welcome to Sky Valley, live in 1995 (Kyuss, 1994)

[vii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-j4A2iGgQQk ‘Asteroid’ from Welcome to Sky Valley, live on Videomusic (Kyuss, 1994)

[viii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vY_O3eo1m1Q ‘Josh Homme’s cathedral pipe guitar’

[ix] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfZm32tpWY8 - ‘Josh Homme (QOTSA) pissed off @ Norwegian Wood’


Thursday, 13 March 2008 23:45

When I was a kid, records were my teddy bears

Have you ever bought music on the Internet? I purchased my first couple of MP3s on the Web last week and it was the most depressing shopping experiment I have ever had. No illustrations or liner notes. Not even a receipt that I could have kept as a souvenir in case my computer would be destroyed by a killer virus. Just a file on my desktop, which name consisted of a series of random letters and numbers. That is not what the whole music industry had promised me. Music purchased on the Internet was supposed to be the future of music: a future where my shelves would not be clogged up with plastic CD boxes anymore, where my favorite song would not systematically be corrupted by scratches, and where I would only listen to the music I like, instead of having to buy those full-length albums in which half the tracks are rubbish. But for me, this future looks like more of a regression.

For Walter Benjamin, the mechanical reproduction of works of art (films, records or photographs) had led to the erasure of their sacred value. Now, the digitalization of such devices leads to a further loss: that of our affective attachment to all these daily objects, vinyl records, CDs and cassettes that used to clog up our shelves. The thrilling sensation of unfolding a new disc and putting it gently on the record player has been replaced by a cold and impersonal click on your mouse. The whole ritual that constituted our listening experience is vanishing as our old musical objects are being replaced by immaterial files. In these dark digital ages, maybe the time has come to sing a happy requiem to our old and beloved records – before we import them all in our iTunes libraries.

Among my memories of childhood, some of the most vivid lie in these countless hours spent in my elder brother’s room, browsing through his huge rock and punk records collection. I was only five or six years old by that time, and I would probably have received a good pair of smacks if I had dared to put any of those black acetate discs on the record player. But however, I was still allowed to watch the covers, and that is how I discovered most of what were to become my favorite bands and artists: by looking at pictures printed on 12-inch cardboard squares. For the middle-class child that I was living in a cozy suburb where the only annoyances where the dogs and pigeons’ droppings that made the streets look like Jackson Pollock paintings, such images were like these exotic names you discover when reading an atlas: sources of dream, curiosity and excitement. At a time when reading a book gave me the most terrible headaches, record covers were like a window wide open to the world, from where I could glance at white rockers and black jazzmen, leather jackets and three-piece suits, sexy girls and freckle-faced kids. They were also a way for me to develop a rather personal culture: before the age of ten I was already able to namedrop a few hundred names of bands whose music I still had not listened to.

I can still remember vividly some particular items of such sulfurous iconography. There were the covers that paralyzed me with fright, like these Motörhead LPs full of skulls and fat bikers. There were also the mysterious ones: this big yellow banana on a Velvet Underground record drawn by a guy called Andy Warhol; or that immaculate disc by P.I.L. with just a dark triangle of hair in the middle. But my favorite covers were definitely these of David Bowie’s records: each of them seemed to portrait a different person. The young guy that still looked like any other folk singer on Space Oddity suddenly became an androgynous character on the front illustration of Aladdin Sane, before turning into a strange creature, half-man half-beast on the Diamond Dogs cover. As a channel for Bowie’s perpetual self-reinvention, these covers conveyed an almost mythological meaning that in many respects exceeded the music itself. Looking at such a rich and extravagant iconography, I think now that my teenage fascination for rock stars was created as much by images as by the music itself.

So whatever the future of music looks like, I will still cherish my good old vinyl records. LPs are not just about music and sound – they also have a smell and a specific touch quality. I guess they also have a taste, although I never tried to eat any of those old plates. But most importantly, they are primarily ritual objects. Here is my problem with computer-purchased music: I’d like to take care of my MP3s, to clean the fingerprints on their surface and to store them in nice comfortable boxes. I also would like to be able to break them, to make scratches on them, to dirty their covers with my graffiti. MP3s make me anxious: they make me fear of a world where objects would have disappeared, where books and records and all sorts of devices would become simple digital artifacts displayed on a screen. I want to have my bookshelves clogged up with things, even the most useless ones. Because objects do not only fill empty spaces on your bookshelves: they are living parts of your memories, they belong to your heart and flesh, they make you feel less lonely when you are alone. When I was a kid, records were my teddy bears.



Help us!

Help us keep the content of eRenlai free: take five minutes to make a donation

AMOUNT: 

Join our FB Group

Browse by Date

« October 2019 »
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      

We have 2976 guests and no members online