Thursday, February 07, 2008

TRIGGERED 2

What did you do in school class that's had any real relevance in your life? That is, beyond jumping through hoops in order to do the same thing all over again in further education. I suspect we learn life's most useful lessons despite school and not because of it.

Within our academic system (both in schools and in universities) and beyond, I've always found the heavy emphasis on the analytical over the behavioural quite frustrating; and it was a significant moment for me when I decided to focus energy on learning how to affect things rather than how to do things or about things.

The topic of TRIGGERED is a good example because you can discover fascinating and useful behavioural implications to the analyses of the wider effects of having a bed called 'Lolita'. In fact, it was through the use of this knowledge that the New Britain album was deliberately and conceptually designed - often considered one of the most 'extreme' albums within the canon. I briefly alluded to this in the recent Whitehouse feature in The Wire magazine.

If you carefully deconstruct the components of New Britain, one would be hard pressed to find anything that's particularly contentious, and yet because of these filters and the overloading effect of multiple juxtaposition and the absence of an overt rationale, it creates the (intended) rather sinister aura, one which will captivate the imagination enough to drag the listener well away from their comfort zone. Or to the metaphorical forest that I often refer to. This is achieved through the careful design of the song titles, colour scheme, typeface, label logo all placed (unusually) on the front cover, and all set up before a note of music had even been recorded! (Ironically, Tony Blair's New Labour were to permanently adopt the 'New Britain' epithet a few years later.)

While I've used this technique on other occasions, never was it so successful as it was with New Britain.

17 comments:

SYpHA_69 said...

One of the things that interests me about "New Britain" is how it's almost impossible to make out what the vocals are saying, and I guess I could say that about most of the Whitehouse Come Org. era releases. I don't know how much time I've wasted trying to figure out some of the lyrics on the "Total Sex"/"Dedicated to Peter Kurten"/"Buchenwald"/"New Britian" albums, though sometimes if I listen carefully I can sometimes manage to catch a phrase or two ("Coitus" & "Phaseday" in particular).

Brian Conniffe said...

i think the drive towards straining to make out these lyrics is an example of what william refers to in his kitakyushu talk as an example of psychological "propulsion systems". another example would be how certain listeners want a translation of what is being spoken in "munkisi munkondi". one can either take the vocal as another texture of sounds, with its own unique qualities of rhythm and timbre, or one can take them in a purely literary sense. i suspect the absense of lyrics for certain tracks, or indeed certain entire albums, in the liner notes of releases is, in the case of whitehouse, very much intentional. it's an interesting example of how the context - or "frame" - in which something is placed often determines in what manner it is perceieved.

personally, i think "new britain" is one of the strongest of the come org era whitehouse albums, both musically and aesthetically. the visual context of it is remarkable, what i personally find to be very elegant others may perceive as sinister. the content is empty of statement, yet the few words describing it on the sleeve automatically point towards a context, but only in eye of the viewer. a certain clue may also be interpreted - if one wishes to do so - in the large portions of silence on the album itself. people reacted very strongly to this album, yet these were people who had no problem with at all with buying joy division records. just as many self-rightious whingers complain about the contents of "great white death", yet have no problem buying slayer, carcass, burzum or even fucking boyd rice albums.

it reminds me of a girlfriend of mine who very much enjoyed whitehouse's music, but despised rap music for its misogyny. i recall asking her how she didn't have a problem with whitehouse's "mummy and daddy", and she replyed that - unlike whitehouse - gangsta rap sets its lyrics to music that is designed to be easy to listen to, hummable, pop chart climbing, danceable in clubs, and so forth. and like so much heavy metal, she pointed out that rap never had a musical base which reflected the violence of the content. finally, she pointed out that the reality of violence - completely avoided in the cartoon excesses of rap and metal - was totally and unhypocritically evidenced and explored through the inclusion of "private", which was tellingly about as long as the musical songs on the album.

on another topic, rock journalists are really just such a consistantly blinkered lot. look at the wire: positive reviews of rap, ragga, reggae, dancehall records with lyrical content that can hardly be called politically correct. positive reviews of non, and even sutcliffe jugend. but when it came to whitehouse being reviewed, the same tired dance: step one, mentioned they did an album named after a concentration camp and that they have songs with sexual titles, step two, refrain from mentioning anything about the new album itself, step three, write a disparagging and extremely vague criticism that cant even be called a review in reality. does the editor warn the reviewer off even listening to album or opening the booklet? i wouldnt be surprised. when edwin pouncey asked if the "erector" cover artwork was dangerous, i wonder if he could recall drawing a cartoon featuring disembodied erect cocks engaged in violent sodomy for that old coil 7"... as always the responses only prove revealing of those who choose to respond in such a way.

Sarah Trotsky said...

School taught me how to turn my work in on time and take a beating.

I can't think of anything more relevant that that.

As to the educational emphasis, I disagree with you completely, High School is all about analyzing behavior. That's about 68% of all of it.

Like how to anwser enough of the questions correctly for your teacher to know that you're competent, but not so much to draw undue attention to yourself, thus marking you for mistreatment from your other classmates.

you have to balance how much praise you need with how much bulling you can take, in other words.

Then again, you and I went to school during very different times, and in very different places.

David said...

William, very interesting post as always. I'm most particularly interested, though, in whether you think that any of the listeners to New Britain ever got the point of what you were trying to express, or whether the range of responses was the whole point of it. I don't have any doubt that the exact same recordings, given the same song titles, but rebranded as (say) a John Zorn album, would be received, reviewed and understood in a totally different way. If it's important to you that your music is framed in a particular way, and that you are the source of most of those filters, do you consider it wrong if listeners strain to hear the lyrics and understand the whole meaning of the songs, rather than just accept it as a piece of pleasant (or painful) noise?

I might be missing the (metaphorical) forest for the trees, as I came to your music via the last four or five records, where the lyrics are right up front and centre, and what impressed me so much about it was not that there was ambiguity in the songs (which is pretty easy to create), but rather that there was a refusal to apologise for any particular feelings or ideas. So while there's still a 'sinister aura', it's far more grounded in what's there, rather than what people think might be there (based on those pictures/titles/logos).

David Cotner said...

The essential kernel of controversy about "New Britain" (and, in the same {jugular} vein, "Buchenwald") is this: does representation equal endorsement? It's the same issue brought up by the works of R. Crumb, Marcus Harvey's "Myra", and every disclaimer that ever said "Don't try this at home."

Got a nice postcard from Charles Manson the other day. He wanted to know when he should expect to see those "Für Ilse Koch" royalties in full. :)

William Bennett said...

on the contrary, sarah, I can't see how you could echo my own remarks about education more emphatically!

@david, to answer I refer you to http://williambennett.blogspot.com/2006/09/exoteric.html which I hope addresses your points better while avoiding any explicit deconstruction

@mr. cotner, cutesy bit of name-dropping there... ;-)

Andrew said...

What did others do in school class that's enabled you to have the time to find real relevance in your life?

Developments in science and engineering depend on people learning 'about things' and 'how to do things'.

William Bennett said...

"developments in science and engineering depend on people learning 'about things' and 'how to do things'"

andrew, I accept that totally and is exactly the issue I'm referring to - I think it's highly subjective whether those 'developments' are in our interests or not

Ea-M. said...

I loved school. I have been blessed with an amazing array of insoiring teachers.
Apart from that it gave me a place to be that wasn't "home".

Richo said...

Outside the mere handful of subjects I actually enjoyed, the education foisted upon me mostly amounted to having my daydreams punctuated by my holding court in the classroom. If anything, I left school mostly with finely-honed judgementalism, a bad attitude towards 'authority' figures and a step or two up the ladder of amateur psychology. Everything I learnt came from within or, indeed, went through my own filter system. Observing those around me was perhaps more educational than even the English and Art that I cherished...

Andrew said...

“andrew, I accept that totally and is exactly the issue I'm referring to - I think it's highly subjective whether those 'developments' are in our interests or not”

Most of us wouldn’t be here without advances in food production, storage and transport, along with medicine, sanitation and construction. This is because we fundamentally need food, water and shelter. Education systems prioritise meeting these needs. Our lives may be enriched by art, but they don’t depend on it.

William Bennett said...

@andrew, therefore we can also respectfully assume that you're an advocate of nuclear energy, deadlier military firepower, ecological devastation and pollution, global warming, animal and tribal extinctions, GM food technology, rapidly increased rates of obesity, sedentary lifestyles, multinational corporations... etc etc etc? you really think all 'scientists' and 'technicians' have people's interests at heart?

I'm being contrary; you might enjoy a wonderful lifestyle and we wish you well, the point is the notion that 'development' is beneficial by default is highly subjective and contentious, if not downright arbitrary

Simes said...

Case in point - the recent talk of adding Flouride to our water supply.... can this be considered an advancement and a development in dental health or actually beneficial considering the volumes of evidence that suggest Flouride can actually destroy tooth enamel let alone the detriment it has to brain function when taken in large volumes ie every time you drink water.
What ever happened to basic teeth cleaning with toothpaste?

Andrew said...

My first point is that people should not be surprised education systems are directed towards meeting basic human needs. My other point is that people should not dismiss science and technology completely because many aspects of their lives are only possible as a result of it.

In response to your critique of science:

Universities are being increasingly run as businesses. Many academic scientists need to compete for grants to provide their own salaries. These grants are often awarded based upon publication rates. This encourages scientists to publish unnecessary papers, filled with poor (and sometimes dishonest) work, which they haven’t even read. Although these practices have existed for some time, they are becoming more prevalent. Much of the research for these papers is done while trying to meet teaching duties because student fees are the major source of income for many universities. These pressures are driving more and more scientists into private companies, including multinational corporations. The negative scientific outcomes you’ve mentioned –- which I’ve never denied -- should increase in number and severity.

Scientists and technicians are not implicitly evil, but naturally some of them are selfish and corrupt. I think you’ll find that many scientists are performing very mundane work such as monitoring quality control, rather than making plans to poison the world or wipe-out humanity.

Lastly, a few points about scientific applications to everyday life:

- The levels of elements and compounds need to be considered before people decry changes (e.g. how much fluoride is detrimental to brain function? How much is a person likely to consume per day? How much fluoride is expelled by the body per day?).
- Science enables us to identify unsafe levels of microbes and dissolved salts in drinking water.
- Science develops products that are beneficial, including toothpaste, which once contained cobalt in levels that were unsafe.

William Bennett said...

@andrew

we're way off topic now but
I need to respectfully correct you on something:
my post is not a critique of science

furthermore, your first paragraph is a piece of pure sophistry replete with false presuppositions and unreferenced vagueness which only serves to undermine your entire argument, ironically which (in turn) is a damning verdict on your entire pro-science agenda

I here reiterate my original point; and in case we have a misunderstanding, behavioural versus analytical study has nothing to do with art/s versus science/s: the flaw with the mainstream education system is not that it has bad intentions, but that its heavy emphasis on analytical study rather than behavioural creates subjective and arbitrary outcomes - your perfectly valid point about the negative effect of business pressures is a direct historical result of this entire cycle

Andrew said...

Would the world be improved if everyone attended behavioural study classes? Would Heads of State, CEOs and warlords become more ruthless and efficient, or would the behaviourally educated masses keep them in line? Would there be more Heads of State, CEOs and warlords, or just more competition for those positions? Whether the outcomes of behavioural study (or science) are good or bad (which is an entirely subjective assessment) depends on the people using them.

I am not opposed to behavioural study. Indeed, I am quite sure I would have enjoyed behavioural study classes more than the classes I was taught at school (including science). Nonetheless, I have pursued interests beyond my formal education, just as many other similarly inclined individuals have.

'false presuppositions' and 'unreferenced vagueness'

Re: "...people should not be surprised education systems are directed towards meeting basic human needs."

"What did you do in school class that's had any real relevance in your life?"

This implies you expect the formal education system to provide 'real' relevance to your life. Your relevance to 'the system' is how you serve it, not yourself. You have the freedom to pursue interests outside of 'the system', but you shouldn't expect 'the system' to foster these pursuits. You might prefer less emphasis on analytical study (Re: "I've always found the heavy emphasis on the analytical over the behavioural quite frustrating"), but you've also pointed out problems that can only be addressed by greater emphasis on analytical study (Re: "...ecological devastation and pollution...").

Re: "...people should not dismiss science and technology completely because many aspects of their lives are only possible as a result of it."

"I think it's highly subjective whether those 'developments' [in science and technology] are in our interests or not"

"andrew, therefore we can also respectfully assume that you're an advocate of nuclear energy, deadlier military firepower, ecological devastation and pollution, global warming, animal and tribal extinctions, GM food technology, rapidly increased rates of obesity, sedentary lifestyles, multinational corporations... etc etc etc?"

You haven't conceded any benefits of scientific or technological 'developments', aside from the implicit concession of using a computer and having a recording career.

'pro-science agenda'

In addition to stating, "Most of us wouldn’t be here without advances in food production, storage and transport, along with medicine, sanitation and construction.", I have also stated, "The negative scientific outcomes you’ve mentioned -- which I’ve never denied -- should increase in number and severity."


This exchange is probably reaping diminishing returns, but I wanted to respond to the second paragraph of your last post.

Miss Kerry said...

School taught me how to have lurid, hideous night mares for 20 years- about not knowing what class, what work was due, being to far to get to it, or late, or worse, not knowing how to get to it.
This isn't far off from what i experienced.

I recall 'mummy and daddy' disturbing me merely by hearing part of it, due to some bad childhood recall. someone who had worse ones than myself, ended up taking a chaste shower with me- yelling our own made up lyrics to the album.

very bad , very tasteless black black humour, that only the truly disturbed might find funny, to mock their own issues with.
its was some sick shit.
i don't recall having so much fun, in a long time!