Archive for the 'Music' Category

The Carters at the Louvre

Flanööri asked me to write about the new video by the Carters. I am not a fan of their music. I’m completely the wrong person to write about the topic, but that might make this interesting. The song sounds like it follows the common theme of bragging about how much money and stuff the artists have, which I don’t find interesting at all. Of course, all this has very little to do with music and everything to do with the video shot at the Louvre. So, I’ll put the new Death Grips album on and have a closer look at the visuals.

carters 1It begins with a very nice panning shot of the ceiling paintings in the Galerie d’Apollon. They look great in fancy lighting. We get a few close-ups of paintings I do not recognize, and then move to the Mona Lisa room with the Carters. They are dressed wonderfully throughout the video and play their part as celebrity royalty very well.

They change into white costumes and there is a wonderful shot of the Nike staircase with dancers lying on the stairs. Then, there is dancing, tilted shots of a few paintings and a bit more ceiling art. And many shots of the Carters who look very defiant in most of them.carters 2

There is more dancing and singing in front of Napoleon’s coronation, Nike and the Sphinx. There is a quick shot of David’s Sabine Women, after which the Carters take another meaningful look at the camera. I don’t know what they are trying to convey, but they look like they mean business.

carters 4Overall, there are not that many instances where our stars interact with the paintings and sculptures in a meaningful way, but I do get some of the points Sarah Huny Young writes about in her piece in Elle: that blackness is an art form in the video. There are a few shots where we see people mimicking the actions of statues, and a strange image of a man standing on a horse that somehow reproduces a Géricault painting. The latter looks interesting, because it obviously carnivalizes the original image of a Napoleonic officer. The man’s clothing mimics the stars and stripes, he’s wearing a cowboy hat, and he is standing on his horse. It would probably be my favorite image in the video were it not for another one that occurs a bit earlier.

carters 3It’s another David, his Portrait of Madame Récamier. Reclining on the floor under the painting, dressed in headgear that echoes the madame’s dress, are two women who also seem to recreate the symmetry of the strange sofa of the painting. There is a morbid parody of the painting by Magritte where the madame has been replaced by a coffin. I would have loved to have seen it in the background instead of the original. In any case, the Neoclassical dress and general setting of the image point to an idealized version of Ancient Greece, the socialite madame to contemporary ideals of beauty. The two ladies point to something else.

The Carters’s strange poses, defiance, intentional vulgarity (the song is called “Apeshit”) and all the rest of it seem to be aimed at creating a new standard of beauty through a commentary on European aesthetics. The plan still rests on the tradition it criticizes, but the critique does remind us of everything that has contributed to it, and of the fact that it’s still an ongoing tradition. The pieces in the Louvre are not preserved in the past. They are here with us in the present.

I guess that’s what I take home from this: aesthetics is never a theoretical exercise and always entangled with history. To quote Death Grips: “It’s a shitshow.”

Mick Goodrick’s Rules

Studying music has many, many benefits and can enrich your life in all sorts of absolutely amazing ways. One thing it does not do, however, is help you feel good about yourself in any simple sense of the word. Whatever you do, there’s always something you haven’t mastered and, as a result, you feel inadequate. Stuff you’ve learned before by taking great pains, perhaps even intricate virtuoso shit, feels lightweight and too easy. So easy, in fact, that if you were your own audience it would be an insult to your intelligence and talent to play that drivel.

This felt inadequacy can be used for good, as a motivating force, but its dark side can at times become too much, a source of stress and anxiety. Times like these require a good teacher. If there’s none of those around, you need a good book. The workbook I use for my own amateurish efforts is Mick Goodrick’s The Advancing Guitarist (1987). When I first started reading it, I noticed it had clever little jokes that at times seemed a bit off-putting, but it was easy to get used to the humor when it was submerged in so much theoretical information and, for want of a better word, wisdom. Check out this passage from a section titled “On Being Self-Critical”:

Students tend to think that eventually, after they learn whatever it is that they think they need to know (or they can do whatever it is they think they need to be able to do), they won’t feel insecure anymore. This thinking amounts to wishing that you didn’t dislike your playing so much. It’s fantasizing that things will gradually change for the better.

Well, as good as it sounds on paper, it seldom (if ever) happens. In fact, it tends to get worse. If you start off being critical, you tend to remain that way, and more likely, along with everything else, your criticalness will improve. If you try to deny your criticalness, that messes you up, because it amounts to lying. If you become critical of your criticalness, it’s the same thing removed one step. . . . Being self-critical actually has a lot to be said for it. People who are self-critical tend to improve in music because they always seem to see so many things to work on. They tend not to get involved in overly developed egos. They tend to be much less critical of everyone else. Often, they are compassionate. (98)

At first glance, this has very little to do with music. It’s just saying that your criticalness will improve as your playing progresses. But the book is not for brief glances. It’s for practice in the sense of rehearsing and active meditation. There’s very little “just” in it, except for the odd joke or two. Its advice is based on a pluralism that always has music in mind. There are many approaches to any given aural device, of which Goodrick gives a few, but it always comes down to the same two questions: What does it sound like and why does it sound like that?

By Each Let This Be Heard

Mike Ashton's Rough Draft