Saturday, May 17, 2008


Mischievous, I know. After hearing about Asmus Tietchens' inclusion of Racket in a new German-language book Kopfhörer (a compilation of music reviews without the various contributors having listened to the music in question), I felt it worth extending the experiment by reviewing the book without having read it. Someone at the forum cuttingly pointed out that it was hardly a novel idea since The Wire have been doing that for years. Quite.

Actually, to me, the relationship between music and words (reviews in particular) is a rather interesting one.

In those barren days of the 70s when music was in far shorter supply and not ubiquitous as nowadays, for a teenager it was most challenging to gain access to much beyond trashy pop, rock and classical. And it was in this climate that I now vividly recall reading record reviews (from the NME and the like) and enjoying the 'sounds' through visualisation. Phrases such as 'a vortex of spiralling shards of sound'; 'blisteringly frenzied fretwork'; 'lyrical anarchy'; 'thundering percussion from the depths of hell itself' would be most arousing. Sadly, like a young girl dreaming of her Prince Charming arriving to gather her on a white horse, this was a case where one's imagination would lift you to magical sonic mind orgasms that, of course, no worldly music would ever be able to satisfy - and thus routinely end in a disappointing anticlimax upon hearing the real thing. And, as you may correctly remark, surely went some way to explaining an impatience with what was perceived as a general lack of ambition and conservativeness within the artform.

Since Kopfhörer is in book format, and employs this unique strategy deliberately (not as a hack's exercise in laziness), I give it the benefit of any doubt about its intent. There are around 20 contributors, many of whom are musicians themselves, and it's highly likely that a fair few will enjoy this opportunity to shamelessly plug their own work. However, in all probability, much of it will be a fascinating insight into the writers' souls regardless of their respective opinions.

And this kind of personalisation is to be encouraged. Many press reviews are often too perfunctory for my own liking and don't engage enough on an emotional level. This format promises far more as the reviewer has to call upon her own familiarity with the artist (both acquired and researched), and somehow synthesise that with who they themselves are, and what they represent - or indeed wish to represent.

Did Asmus choose Racket himself? If he didn't, then he got the short straw. Whitehouse provokes such wildly disparate responses and carries so much potential baggage that he will be walking through a minefield. In that sense, it's bad enough making this music, let alone someone as venerated as Tietchens himself having to discuss it, blindly. I have a lot of time for his work, and respect his output even though we undoubtedly have very different approaches to composition - and I won't like him less should that respect not be wholly reciprocated. Either way, my gut instinct tells me that it won't be very different to what he'd write if he did listen to it. (At the same time, I'd certainly be disappointed if he displayed the wilfully reactionary ignorance of a David Toop.)

Most collections can be hit and miss, and this book is surely no exception, yet the experiment is so unique and interesting that my virtual conclusion is that I would recommend checking it out. If you can read German.


the mullah said...

I will ask Asmus to send me the text, and I will translate. I have known him for about 25 years, and he is, if nothing else, a man of great integrity.

the mullah said...

and yes, he chose it.

flora_mundi said...

spending my "formative years" in a city where it was difficult to get really interesting music (and in circumstances where it was difficult to afford that music), i used to read the NME and (later on) music from the empty quarter to get much the same effect you describe. i always see those sorts of things as being porn for music geeks (of which i am one), creating a fantasy that could never be replicated in real life, but that establishes a sort of ideal to pursue.

n-rich said...

Drat! I should have written a comment before reading your post. Too late!

Thomas Transparent said...

Sounds like an interesting read- the premise of the book confirms my belief that music reviewing (or any arts reviewing really) has much more to do with re-shaping the world in the image of the author than it does with a mere selfless quest to "turn on" people to new and exciting forms of music. As a reviewer on a mission, is listening to the music really necessary when you understand all music as being a confirmation of your beliefs, rather than presenting the occasional challenge to them?

This kind of behavior seems mushc more common when we come to more 'abstract' / non-didactic styles of music, where a clique of reviewers can pounce on some perceived socio-political meaning within the sonic stew and monopolize listeners' imaginations before any of them ever have a chance to hear the music themselves. Not that this is always a bad thing, but this does get irritating when the hacks previously mentioned on this blog
try to explain all recorded music from a neat little teleological perspective.

So, in light of all this, it amuses me to see musicians getting a chance to play the culture scribe game, and I will pay the ridiculous import price to see what Asmus and others come up with.

the mullah said...

here's the German version:

Whitehouse RACKET (CD auf Susan Lawly)

"Racket" hat im Englischen mehrere Wortbedeutungen, unter vielen anderen "unerträglicher Krach", "einträgliches Geschäft" und "Erpresserbande" (Langenscheidts Großes Wörterbuch, 1984).

Da sind sie also wieder, die Dinos der Kraft-Elektronik, und immer noch wollen sie uns in den Arsch ficken, uns vergewaltigen und uns zu ihren Pissbecken machen. Das ist ihr gutes Recht. Allerdings steht den meisten der alten Kombattanten (und den Nachgewachsenen sowieso) mittlerweile der Sinn nach anderen, zeitgenössischeren Vergnügungen. Und schon aus Zartgefühl sollten wir William Bennett und Phil Best nicht zu sehr beim Wort nehmen, denn oben genannte Zwangsmaßnahmen könnten für die beiden Herren im schlimmsten Fall zu einem geriatrischen Problem werden.

Auch Whitehouse wagte schon vor Langem den Schritt in die Digitalität. Das Lärm- und Schmerzpotential ihrer Musik ist nach wie vor erheblich, wer immer noch will kann "mit Schmerzen hören", und "physical evidence" ist zuverlässig gewährleistet. Auch auf RACKET. Nur - power electronic in digitaler Darreichung wird randscharf, fast sauber, und vor allem wird sie transparent, Krach hin, in-your-face-vocals her. Diese Metamorphose zum sauberen, digitalen Noise konnte bereits bei Merzbow deutlich gehört werden und wurde von Hardcore-Noisern bitter beklagt. Nun werden wir von RACKET immer noch sehr kraftvoll angebrüllt, aber Whitehouse scheint inzwischen mit Kondomen zu vergewaltigen, die Pinkelbecken sollen aseptisch sein und die Huren kommen zahnlos, ohne die Möglichkeit des Zubeißens daher. RACKET läßt vermuten, daß Bennett und Best schlecht oder gar nicht krankenversichert sind: Nicht der Hörer bekommt Angst, sondern Whitehouse h a t Angst. Das ist sympathisch, hilft aber uns verstockten Gottesfernen nicht weiter. RACKET klingt wie ein Reflex auf gewesene anti-ästhetische Potenz, ein überzeugender Nihilismus ist nicht mehr herauszuhören. Nach zehn Minuten RACKET stand mir der Sinn danach, meine Kamelhaarpuschen überzustreifen, ein Glas Rotwein einzugießen, die Zigarre anzuzünden und den Abend, mit mir und der Welt zufrieden, in einem Schwall von Glückseligkeit zu beschließen. Sic transit gloria mundi!

Asmus Tietchens Oktober 2007

Ea-M. said...


Tietchens has a healthy sense of humour. Had a few moments of torn between spitting tea in the keyboard or pissing myself.

I'm looking forward to recieving my copy (which should be here in the beginning of the comming week)

Anonymous said...

Dangnabbit, ea-m, you beat me to it! ;) "Rape with condoms"? Arf! A good, humorvoll review. I'm going to have to pick this book up meself.

Richo said...

I may be straying from the course slightly here (just for a change), but I believe the role of a good music reviewer amounts to his or her own relationship to the reader who may then come to trust this judgement. Nothing inherently bad or wrong with that notion, although I'd have to stress most music reviewers can't be relied upon for all manner of reasons. There are no Lester Bangs or Nick Kents in The 'fucking' Wire, that's for sure...

Miss Kerry said...

"And already out of delicacy we should William Bennett and Phil Best not to take very literally, because above coercive measures could become a geriatric problem for the two gentlemen in the worst case. "
"RACKET suggests that Bennett and Best are poor or no health insurance: Not the listener gets scared, but White House is afraid."
Even in translation one must wonder where this persons heads at.

Miss Kerry said...

One of my saving graces to having a life that required me to live in a fantasy world, a great deal of the time ( to keep sane )- was that I was also raised by scientist father not to be full of shit.
Which meant, he was fine with me being a total lunatic as long as I never took it seriously.
Which works very well. One comes off as a schizo-typical, but not everyone appreciates ones personal character armours.

To this end, it has been one of the interesting issues of the rise of the internet and social media, that official critics of movies, music and such- really means very little when anyone can post their two cents of whatever.