Thursday, 17 July 2014

The! Projuis-arrrghz!

Dunn gaht sumfin stuck in mah craw.

One day the metal internet woke up and discovered production. The next day it learned about mastering. Someone used the word "dynamics" and with an unnaturally intimate connection with wikipedia the modern armchair producer was born.

Make no mistake, I am appreciative of the technological leaps that occur year on year, the kind that make the prohibitvely expensive studio tools of yesterday, today's plugins and freeware. Cockos' Reaper DAW changed my life in all the right ways.

However, just as these innovations brought me joy, so too did they turn somewhat annoying audio-nerds into opinion belching internet annoyances. Their knowledge is kind of like a fart in an elevator or a sexist remark by a "friend" in the wrong/worst possible context - inappropriate and unwanted.

That is correct, dear reader - they hear a hard mastered album and scream "brick walled". They run it through their favourite audio editor to proove for once and for all that they are objectively right! They proclaim judgements of value, complain loudly and say how it should (have) been...

Yet languish at home without a single audio production credit to their names...

All the while listening to low-bitrate streams through cheap/laptop/smartphone speakers... somebody better be collecting my sighs because they could be making a lot of money.

A Southern Paradox.

I am from the south. Not that South, but a south. And not the "south of the world"that Sepultura sang about. Further south than The South but by fluke of geography and the British Empire, merely an oversized outpost in view of the Southern Cross. Though if that's not south enough, then being born in the year of the horse, the corresponding year of said annum being south (look it up - or check out the diagram below) surely qualifies me to some extent.

So where does all this come from? It is not about authenticity but it also is in part.

Ever since I played the Civil War computer game, North South at my friend's house as a child, I was enamoured of The South. As a child, I always cheered for the baddies. Not necessarily because I believed in their "causes" but because they always had the better colours, better uniforms, better tech and more interesting characters. In North South the south were the baddies but the game let you play as them.

It was not and is not the case that I am a proponent of slavery and other parochial, exploitative and unjust traditions embedded in the society and geography of the time. Rather it is that I am a country boy myself. I grew up surrounded by agriculture, I remember a time when rivers were not just dirty, polluted drains for industry. I remember a time before franchises and pride taken in local production.

It is the deeply felt connection with nature so critical to constructing images of the south that still resonates with me. The smell of warm mud after rain in the summer, cicadas, willow trees and endlessly blooming oleandar, crepe myrtle and local flora, the humidity... just as an agrarian lifestyle was wrenched away from the south at the conclusion of the civil war, so too was the torpid pace of my own historic homelands.

What most people tend to think about the American Civil War is that it was all about slavery. In reality, slavery as a condition of unification and motivation for the Union was a late (yet rational and necessary) addition to the cause. The American Civil war was first and foremost political and economic. It was a war over the right of secession and a war of (futile) resistance against the march of industrialisation as the new economic standard.

Of course, it would be ignorant to say that slavery as a custom and socio-economic system was somehow separate to secession and "way of life". It was not. Nevertheless, it was the last gasp, the rallying of resources on an American scale, the gall to resist that rings true with me.

I have no gilded view of the south in the United States. This little essay is not an attempt to mask or otherwise obscure the real and pernicious, ongoing legacy of deep racism, the psychological and intellectual mauling of people's hearts and minds by peculiar American interpretations of Christianity as well the crippling and far too common blight of poverty on numerous communities.

However, this troubling little writing is about the loss of connection between metropolitan, always connected human lives and nature. It is about generations of children born into a world in which the subjugation of nature is simply given. It is a lament (to follow a previous tearless lament) to an economy that existed before unsustainable, neurotic scales of economy. The civil war was won by the industrialists. The industrialists went on to rule the world.

Yet, a little version of the confederate flag waves within me. Sure, it is dirtied by wrong deeds and injustice, it is bloodied and often wrong headed. But it dares to stand proud and remember a past that for only concepts remains tangibly close.

I got both head and heart, both North and South.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Done got taken: a distant, tearless lament.

Before hope and desire could congeal around digital (semi) immortality there were quiet, inarticulable dream spaces. Nascent revelations, explorations clung to the extreme peripheries of consciousness. A kind of reverse nostalgia, a premonition of deja vu, a familiar echo from the futures. Bound concepts, so familiar yet too subtle, too fragile to be teased into the concrete.

When on past occasions, when extracted from cognitive-mystic space, a concept's initial reach was less than today but the price of restricted distance was balanced with an increase in depth relative to time in rumination.

Before the tools for forgery, for forging, exceptional will was required for the process of extraction and so many facets, possibilities received gentle nourishment in daydreams and in the spaces created by forgetfulness and the misremembered.

In-betweens and never-weres, such sad yet beautiful non-existences. Their form, their cling to the unique contours of inexpression, given passion through elision. Just when apprehension appears certain, they retreat, millions of filaments realigning with myriad other ideas.

So I am left with an explicable red man, cyberpunks who lost the war and friends who cannot but still return to familiar paths. We meet at these intersections and glimpse, just close enough to recognise? Question and cherish the tender squeeze on my heart.

Slight return but not to the same. Each and every flight and fancy, seeds both immature and premature are carelessly broadcast. Each one, on its own insignificant but with the grim weight of repetition become not monstrous in the sense of chaos but monstrous in its ordinariness.

So that which should have been left in dreams, left between cognitive interruptions, eruptions is born as a forever-incomplete chimera hardened into permancy through high frequency oscillating electric signals.

And so I lament what never was, and shed not a tear.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Skrew - Universal Immolation

When I was sixteen years old, I saw the video clip to "Picasso Trigger" on a video cassette recording of ABC TV's rage music video program. That song zietgeisted hard, three guitars, beefy electronically supported beats, strobing and distorted vocals.

I got to hear all of Dusted. several years later (don't laugh, Napster was just getting born) and never really recovered from my disappointment.Over the weekend, I got to hear Universal Immolation. Somewhere along the line (unlike the djentlemen from three years ago), Skrew picked up on the best bits of Meshuggah (hypnotic, tribal, repetition), started programming better beats and soundscapes and actually became good.

Universal Immolation won't blow your mind but it is a rather good representation of what industrial metal can and should be in the Twenty-first century.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Corrosion of Conformity - IX

Didn't see this one coming.

I sighed, I listened, I sighed. The first few tracks off COC's latest, IX left me rather unimpressed. Their previous album and first post-Pepper was rough around the edges, punky and jammy. On first listen, so was IX. But deeper into this new country, better jams, more obscene solos and in fact, new ideas were unearthed by me.

Minus one sigh.

Plus one, woah.

Some of these grooves cry out for a bit of Pepper manipulation, a melodic spit here and a harmonic polish there with actual vocals in place of Dean's scratch tracks would make this album a five star winner.

As it stands though IX is another Southern winner. What makes this sound fresher and better than the current naked emperor, Down? It is hungry and vital - as though it is seeking something, trying something. It's a rickety ride in a rickety ride but a hell of a lot more fun than it ought to be.

Just do it, align the stars, agents, managers and contracts. Dudes need to re-Pepper pronto.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Allure of Jojo and Different Masculinities

New academic year and a new job. Well, same job, better pay, different route.

The funny thing is that due to the current internet situation without a smartphone or portable wifi modem, I am essentially stranded in a an internet free zone. The world of my everyday has been blocked, filtered and sanitised into something which is , quite frankly, quaint and very retro. It is not exactly 56K days again but due to imposed limits on access, it sure feels like it.

The upside is that it means less distraction and more time for concentrating on things that matter - such as my current study. Unfortunately it also means the premature end of a project I had hoped to sink my teeth into: contributing to a definitive, high quality (unofficial, fan) translation of Part 6 of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.

For those unfamiliar with this title, let me explain. Jojo's is a Japanese manga, Part 1 of which was originally published in the late 1980s. At present, Jojo's is in its eighth part. However, the only part of the story that has received an official translation and publication in English is the now out of print Part 3: Stardust Crusaders by Viz in the US. Why is this the case? Apparently, author Hirohiko Araki (first name, family name) although approached by publishers in the past, has refused to compromise or change certain aspects of his manga which currently prevent its release in the West.

While this might sound potentially scandalous, it is not. Its relevance here, however, requires some exposition.

Jojo's is originally the story of two young Englishmen thrown together as a result of tragic circumstances. Over the years they become fierce rivals and eventually enemies. Over time they learn to utilise "ripple" energy, a kind of force not unlike that found in kung fu legend which allows users to perform feats normally humanly impossible. From Stardust Crusaders, Araki abandons the "ripple" concept and replaces it with "stands". A stand is an external manifestation of a person's psyche and can take human as well as other forms. In fact, the conceptual looseness around what constitutes a stand is one of the key elements that makes Jojo's plots so exciting and unpredictable.

Where as characters in the first to parts were named after Western music artists (Cars, ACDC, Wham) in the third part stands, their owners and frequently their "powers" as well are also named according to this convention (from Terence Trent D'arby to Purple Haze, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Boyz2Men).

The use of such names is antagonistic to US copyright law which forbids other parties profiting from the names of existing artists. What's interesting to me though is that there has been no prosecution of this issue even though it has been occurring for over thirty years. Is this just a demonstration of the inability of US law to police copyright outside of its sovereign borders? Or is it the result of linguistic ignorance? Given the state of knowledge availability in the world today, I would say it is the former.

Why does this matter? It does to the extent that it explains despite its ongoing popularity why Jojo's remains largely unknown outside of Japan.

While this might appear cut and dry, closer inspection reveals a number of interesting issues. First, is linguistic - if we are to transcribe the names of certain characters into English as they are then AC/DC becomes Eishidishi, Wham is Wamu and Cars is Kaazu. Clearly while phonetically similar in appearance, as written words they appear significantly different to the brand/band names they are supposed to signify.

Second, it appears that the use of these names often only ever bears a superficial resemblance to the original. Stardust Crusaders' Boyz2Men is a disturbing monsterlike creature who grants twisted versions of its enemies' wishes. Purple Haze from Diamonds are Unbreakable is a golden spitfire shot from a guitar of a golden haired guitar god. It seems then that Araki is more interested in the evocative power of names and he frequently uses them in ways which are so oblique as to suggest that any connection to the original is either entirely random or else otherwise known only to the author himself.

Third and critically are the intertwined issues of masculinity and sexuality. While not particularly overt or explicit, the style of the artwork is frequently, implicitly homo-erotic in ways that would likely disturb or otherwise unsettle a casual Western reader unfamiliar with Araki's work.

In Jojo, bodies contort, attack, defend, are destroyed and healed in quite graphic fashion, however, regardless of what is done to them, faces and bodies remain beautiful. Readers familiar with Western style comic bodies are likely accustomed to depictions of strength, rigidity and implied (yet almost always neutered) potency. Jaws are square, brows prominent, eyes angry. Costumes, even when skin tight and revealing are frequently adorned with technology, weaponry and implied strength.

Yet in Jojo, particularly post-Stardust, not only are costumes adorned with fabulous belts, boots, butterflies, hearts, ladybugs – the very bodies that inhabit these costumes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Scrawny boys, athletic heroes, boneheads, an overweight special needs kid, old men, dapper dandies... then there are the lovingly drawn faces with curves, eyelashes, land lips that do more than just scowl and sneer (though they do that too!). Araki is not afraid to draw on a wide range of masculine identities from the manga canon to the fashion world in which he was once involved.

So, after reading all this, you want to read Jojo then? What to do, where to start? Unfortunately for the most part you simply won't be able to read the series legally. A good start for resources is The JBA Community. Check out your favourite torrent site for packages of single issues and whole series. But, a warning – fan translations vary wildly in terms of quality. Some of the more recent high-resolution scanlations are stupendous, done by folk with good equipment, proper language skills, access to high quality source material and an eye for detail. Some of the older translations are so bad as to be unreadable – full of stilted dialog, incorrect translations, Times New Roman cut and paste using Microsoft Paint and squares... translated into English from Chinese (not sure what dialect) translations of the original Japanese...

Work is still ongoing and we will see a point sometime in the next year or so where the good translations have not only caught up with the Japanese release schedule but will have finally eclipsed the older, bad translations in terms of availability. Obviously, the most favourable situation would be one in which the comic receives and official translation and Araki can be proper compensated for his work and Jojo receives a level of popularity corresponding to its quality.

Don't hold your breath.