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some thoughts on making art
  • I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I make music and performance art, and what I want the products to convey. But since I’ve been out of school, it’s been hard to find people with whom I talk about these things, as they involve a wide range of ideas. So! I thought I’d turn to you guys, since you’re all brilliant and compassionate! Maybe you can help me think through things? I hope so anyway. (And challenge my assumptions and all of that good stuff!)

    1. So as some of you know, I’ve been working anonymously making music, with other largely anonymous folks, for a while now (yes, I get the hilarity of coming out as anonymous). The reason I decided to do that is motivated by two things that are important for everything else I’ll be getting at later.
      1a. First: anti-capitalism, which as I see it, can only really exist in artistic practice if it’s anonymous, otherwise products are recuperated for capital exchange. Obviously, this can happen anyway, and anonymity must be accompanied by forceful resistance to the movement that all objects in our day have towards commoditization.
      1b. Secondly, and equally as important, is the non-egoic framework of Buddhist practice. My ego is satiated by attention and recognition, so I’ve decided not to feed it. In this way, anonymity stems from both political and highly personal motivations.
      1c. Third, anonymity is an equalizer that allows the complete dissolution of the barrier between performer and audience. It’s radically democratic and totally inclusive, as we see in black bloc demonstrations, as well as the gatherings of groups like Anonymous.

    2. In addition to anonymity, it’s important to me that my work reverse the recuperation of all products by transmuting the sounds and visuals of mainstream capitalist culture into work of resistance, ie detournement.

    3. Along with this, I’ve always desired a certain element of the avant-garde to be present in whatever I make, but this is becoming increasingly difficult for me, as I have less and less an idea of what it even means to be avant-garde in 2013. (Any thoughts on this would be exceedingly helpful.) Is it incorporating modes of alienation of confrontation with your audience as the historical avant-garde has done? I don’t know.

    Points 1c and 3 sometimes seem to me to be at odds. Though I think this is a problem faced by modern day leftism at large: How to be confrontational while totally inclusive. How to confront individual and social prejudices, ideologies, and defense mechanisms while inviting them into the same confrontation with greater capital society. The “We are the 99%” slogan I think was a genius solution to that issue. (I think Buddhism has some answers here as we are, as practitioners, repeatedly confronting our egos without giving into the game of aggression that only perpetuates our own suffering.) But I wonder what my own solutions to this obstacle might look like in terms of music and performance both, especially as performance is the space where I’m really able to bring people into something larger than all of us; to give them the movement.

    And what to do with the relationship between 2 and 3? What should this even SOUND like? So many elements of pop music today are recuperated remnants of the historical and neo-avant-garde. Do those fragments get preserved? Is that even challenging anymore? Should things therefore be harsh but catchy? In regard to the relationship of these points to 1c, I think a great equalizer is dance, but what would avant-garde truly danceable music be like? Are desiring wide appeal and wanting to be avant-garde totally at odds?

    Something else I’ve been thinking about in terms of visual aesthetic—and it’s less related to everything else—is what does a combination of these styles really LOOK like? Is it militaristic? (I’ve been thinking a lot about Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation: lately) Is a military aesthetic at odds with anti-capitalism or is it a playful inversion of the state’s enforcement aesthetic? Is the black bloc reminiscent of military; I mean do the two correlate highly in the public mind, or are they unrelated? And how should that military style be problematized by Buddhist visuals, or the signifiers of other cultures (I’m particularly interested in the styles of west african and southwest united states tribes)?

    A lot of this boils down to prefiguring a post-capitalist world. How can I use what I have now to make art that is of a world against and after capitalism? And, just as importantly, how can it be exciting and fun and new and challenging and sexy?

    Alright! Sorry that was so much! I hope some people are interested in having at least a little bit of convo around these things. If not, that’s cool too, I’m sure I’ll work my way through things.


  • there’s a lot to respond to here.

    I usually like the idea of anonymous artist but it’s tricky because a lot of art appreciation is built around buying into whatever mystique the artist (or their pr) has constructed. The care about this song or painting because it’s made by this artist they’re interested in, I mean. A brand-loyalty kind of approach. Which is a good thing to break, in my opinion.

    I kind of assume you’re into vaporwave from what you wrote above, although what I’ve heard of your stuff has a distinctly more personal touch.

    when you talk about anonymity do you mean the listener doesn’t know who you are, specifically, or that they don’t even know who the artist is? The second case is a bit more interesting to me but also trickier… If I think of burial or jandek who both did a kind of anonymous thing, but even before they “came out” people who liked their music created this kind of mythology about who they could be… even in nobody knew who they really were there was still a very strong Artistic Identity that was not at all secret (and in both cases producing fairly easily recognizable music)…

  • As far as dance music, i tend to think it’s trendy enough that anything avant-garde basically just serves as a trend spotter. New sounds and rhythms will either get co-opted into the club or not? You need to find some way to retain your message, whatever it is.. while the music is being used to sell alcohol or a whatever consumer lifestyle clubbing promotes.

    of course, dancing can exist outside of the club scene, and it will get people to listen to the music differently (more deeply?) than they would if they were scratching their chins in the back of the room somewhere..

  • I have a lot of thoughts that I’m having a hard time getting in order. In the meantime, is it okay if I pass this along to a friend of mine?

  • I’ve got thoughts too - wonderful thread fitzhugh. Will post something more when I’m not drinking PBR in a sports dive.

    Meanwhile, my favorite anonymous art of all time is probably the 100 copies of Blind Joe Death that John Fahey planted around the DC area at the start of his recording career. Will add a link to the liner notes when I get home.

  • yeah!

    Thanks for the replies!

    Pants, I totally agree with your “brand-loyalty” assessment, and dissolving that sort of relationship with art is a major reason why I’m trying what I am. With regard to anonymity, I’m thinking more of the second sort you mentioned: Burial, Zomby, Holy Other, etc—total anonymity (a bit of a trend in the UK Bass scene…). But, to me, these maneuvers seem only to go halfway. What I mean, is that it’s apparent, because of these artists’ styles of engagement in interviews and in live settings that they’re still only one person, so the role of authorship isn’t fully complicated. (In fact, I might say, that once the audience knows that they’re only one person, it’s not complicated at all, it’s simply a different mode of interaction with commoditizing yourself, eg Mtv and Mtv2. It feels to me slightly disingenuous, though we can’t attribute intent, so that’s a pointless line of argument, just a pathos reaction.) What’s WAY more interesting to me is stuff like WU LYF and Various Production, where it was, for an exciting time, both unclear who the artists were, and how of them there were. I think this situation can be even further problematized by obliterating that boundary entirely and inviting EVERYONE into the project in whatever capacity they choose to contribute.

  • Just to respond top a small part of this was my personal feeling - to say that as well as brand loyalty, there’s also something to be said for appreciating the creative arc of an artist beyond any particular, individual release, which if I understand you correctly would not be possible with such anonymity. Sometimes, an understanding of the wider context of a piece of art (in terms of the body of work from which it comes, if not its broader situational context) adds a lot to how it can be interpreted and enjoyed. Themes, leitmotifs, progressions and reversals connect the dots and allow the listener more access to the music.

    I also personally enjoy creating narratives as an active part of listening. It’s a dynamic of enjoying music for me to ‘read’ discographies, to appreciate ‘With The Beatles’ as the prologue and ‘Let It Be’ as the final chapter.

    But I’m not sure whether we’re talking about anonymity in the Burial/Jandek sense or to mean that the musician isn’t identified at all. If it’s the latter, then personally, rightly or wrongly, I find I can more easily lose interest, as happened with the recent Untitled series on Home Listening.

    I realise I’ve completely ignored the main, political dimension to it, but I don’t really have an opinion on that side of things, I’m afraid - sorry!

  • fitzhugh said: What’s WAY more interesting to me is stuff like WU LYF and Various Production, where it was, for an exciting time, both unclear who the artists were, and how of them there were.

    But while this is the exception and not the rule, it’s still as much of a ‘brand’ as anything else. The mystery/umbrella aspect of Various Production if anything strengthens their identity.

    fitzhugh said: I think this situation can be even further problematized by obliterating that boundary entirely and inviting EVERYONE into the project in whatever capacity they choose to contribute.

    As an oppositional concept, it’s intriguing (they say everyone in Bristol has at one time or another been in The Blue Aeroplanes), but it’s imagining a world where art is all stripped of ‘brand/identity’ that I find bleak. It seems to sacrifice the humanity of art, ultimately.

    But sorry if I’m talking at cross-purposes because, as I haven’t really thought about half your points in the OP.

  • i think its possible to still find a creative arc in a body of work produced by a loose collective. certainly it’s difficult if people can just attribute work to the collective (something i like in theory, but have otherwise not thought enough about). though if this were the case, perhaps noticing that arc would determine what is or isn’t the “authentic” work of the group, or, even cooler, it would make it possible to create multiple arcs, piecing together works that are and are not “authentic.”

    with regard to branding:
    i should have finished my thought on what i meant my “dissolving” that relationship. i don’t mean destroy, but perhaps deconstruct, thereby enabling a healthier reconstitution. what i mean by this is truly democratically opening up a brand. now this is interesting, especially in our day-in-age because that’s in fact how post-post-fordist capital purports to operate, eg web 2.0 and viral marketing. we’re “participating” in brands via their presence on facebook and twitter. we’re “participating” in the facebook and twitter brand as well.
    it should be obvious that i feel we’re really not participating, rather being made machines of our own desire. our perhaps, less dramatically, we’re being engaged as shadow marketers for these brands. that’s the level of our participation, no more.
    in contrast to this model, i’m hoping to work with a much deeper sort of involvement, where the brand itself is only what you are. this is mirror-like, in a sense, and i hope very inviting and radical.