Sunday, March 18, 2012

Underworld - Peter Loveday

The other day old Pantypal Peter Loveday sent me a link to a music video he'd recently made. It's called Underworld and it's marvellous. But don't take my usual dodgy word for it, go see and hear for yourself. Why review when you can preview! Well, I say that but do check below when you're done seeing and hearing because there is a bit of a story there...

In my wild enthusiasm, I offered to write a blog post and spread the glee. I emailed Peter to send me the mp3 file because our crap internet service wasn't exactly creating ideal listening conditions. Mount Larrikin is apparently in the way of something vital that would enable a 4-minute song to actually play out in four minutes rather than stop every ten or so seconds to catch its breath. And then something really embarrassing happened. Peter reminded me in his diplomatic reply that this song is on an album he sent me a couple of years back. Oops.

Naturally, I popped straight over to Food for the Brain and took their 15-minute test for dementia. No joy there. Perhaps it's actually dimentia I have.

Only partially daunted, I hunted out the CD in question, Moving Along from 2006. This is a fine collection of songs, which I'd not listened to for a while but had remembered fondly. You know how it is. We've all seen Toy Story. I put the CD on and concentrated intently for the first couple of songs and then I started drawing pictures and, while still enjoying, my focus had shifted to my own activity. This is not unusual. I always listen to music when I'm drawing but my consciousness of it quickly becomes subliminal.

Before I knew it, the CD had finished. Mmm, I thought. So, I cut straight to Underworld, which is placed at number ten in a collection of twelve tunes. I played it. It sounded good. I didn't quite get the same buzz as I'd got watching the video though.

This morning, I made myself wake up at 6am. In our little corner of the world, this is far and away the best time to view a YouTube video. I watched Underworld. Buzz. I watched it again. Zing. Mmm, I thought, etching a mental note not to make a habit of thinking hard before breakfast too often.

I thought about it for several hours. Quite a bit of that time was spent desperately trying to figure out a way to appear less stupid to my long-time friend. And then it struck me. Zeitgeist. Boy, that zeitgeist packs a punch when it sneaks up on you. But, even I know you just can't pull zeitgeist out of a hat and call it a white rabbit.

So, I busied myself on research of a very non-scientific nature, i.e. the type that supports whatever hypothesis you are positing. Because, dear friends, I was positing for all I was worth. I had come up with a theory. My theory is three-fold. Firstly, I think Underworld might be a song whose moment in time has come. This strand of my theory is easily evidenced. I submit, courtesy of Songfacts, this list of tunes who belligerently slept through their first release and then shone when given a second life. Quite a few classics in there - and who could believe the likes of Gangsta's Paradise would need a redux to get noticed?

One that isn't mentioned is River Deep Mountain High. That's right. The Ike and Tina Turner perennial failed to bud in its first spring. Interestingly, to me at least, Underworld invokes that very song with the inverted couplet,

It's all magnificent when I sleep,
mountain high, river deep.

Maybe it's an omen.

The second part of my theory has to do with the positioning of the song on Moving Along. I don't think there's anything wrong with the arrangement of these songs. There are twelve, distinctly individual songs, and some of them will end up nearer the end than the beginning. Thinking about it, the CD format advantages concept albums far more than it does collections. Your old vinyl LP required you to get up and spin the disc over, giving the songs on side two second-act status. Tracks at the rear end of a long CD have a hard row to hoe.

Some songs don't like siblings, especially if they're show-offy ones. I submit in evidence, courtesy of Yahoo! this list of quiet achievers who hurled themselves to stardom from the ignominy of B-side relegation. Suffice to say that Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock was a B-side.

Underworld seems to me a song not entirely happy to be a pea in a very long pod. It doesn't stand out in this collection as anything exceptional and I'm sure its writer didn't intend it to. Admittedly, this is the shakiest strand of my theory. Forgive me for going a bit Toy Story II on you. Prepare yourselves for a strong finish...

For the last thirty years the pop song has had a unique opportunity. It can make itself seen as well as heard. Some tunes are natural companions for visuals. And now, this combination is a desirable product in itself and an art form in its own right. Underworld has a strong, driving pulse and a generous tonal palette - qualities perfect for a short film.

Underworld has cut itself a lucky break. Its composer, Peter Loveday, is also an artist of exceptional vision and skill. I've known him for about thirty-five years now and he's always had that in spades. Declaration of interest - I'd rather hoped Peter would become famous for his art as Galleria Pants has quite a few original Lovedays in its collection.

The third strand in my theory is that the animation of it has propelled this solid song into a higher league altogether and given it a whole new life. Very Toy Story III. It's a tune made for YouTube times. Now, all that remains is for it to get noticed. Over to you...

Friday, March 09, 2012

Bottle blonde

Shearing Shed Saturday Night by Pants

Since Barney arranged for me to work as his assistant at Larrikin Shire Council, I've trousered more readies than a mining magnate with a top tax lawyer - quite legitimately, I hasten to add. Barney's dealings are, of course, anything but. You know Barney. He certainly had a feather-bed landing when we moved here.

You may recall that I have tried without success to modestly squander this little nest egg on some bits of art. I'm not fussed about the investment potential - although, given that I have exceptional taste, anything I buy will hold its value.

Recently, a small assemblage by Rosalie Gascoigne came up for sale. I enquired about it, thinking it would be about five or six thousand dollars. The answer came back - $46,000. Perhaps not. The art fund remains intact.

Back in 1985, shortly after the National Gallery in Canberra opened, I made a return trip to Australia from my London base. I was in a band. We had just made an album. One of my band mates and I made a visit to the gallery and saw, for the first time, Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly paintings. On returning to London, we contacted Nolan, who was living there too, and asked him if he would kindly design the cover for our album. As you do. Inexplicably, he declined, so we made our own Ned Kelly cover. And very lovely it was too.

Miffed by the annoying 4 in front of the amount of money I could comfortably pay for a genuine Rosalie Gascoigne, I made my way up to Larrikin's End Trading Post, a grand cavern of junk, with a view to reprising the Nolan solution. Gascoigne sourced from the tip. Sadly, one can no longer get free stuff from the tip and all you find there these days in any case is grimy Tupperware and broken, even grimier fridges. The back room at Larrikin's End Trading Post contains, amongst other things, bits of old wood and bottles. I got the makings of the work above for a grand total of $6. Now, some people might think that's an outrageous price to pay for a tatty old drawer and a chipped bottle. But, I say it's a bit of a bargain for an artwork. Not exactly in Gascoigne's league but I'm pleased as punch with it.

I'm a fan of the great maker of art in boxes, Joseph Cornell, as was Gascoigne. Cornell's take on assemblages is that they are sight poems. Making art from found objects is the converse of painting, in a way. Paintings take little time to plan and a long time to execute but boxes are a long time in gestation and then, whammo, they're flung together in an instant once the arrangement comes right. I like to have both on the go.

I once became incensed, and still haven't quite gotten over it, when someone who really should have known better, referred to Gascoigne as a 'florist'. She was never a florist, but rather a dedicated and highly talented student of Sogetsu Ikebana. To call her a florist is a bit like calling Elsa Shiaparelli a seamstress. Ikebana is a high art, a discipline. I'm not saying that florists don't conjure beautiful arrangements but art needs more than just a trained eye, it needs an injection of intelligence. A work of art is the map of a thought. The viewer must be able to read that thought, which means that you have to insert knowledge, something that Gascoigne and Cornell did with both insight and charm. An item made from found objects must be intriguing. That's its only source of intrinsic value. I hope I've achieved that with the piece above.

The first box I ever made came about because Ma Pants suddenly decided to relinquish to me the small collection of items that accompanied my entry into the world. There's a little faded card with my date of birth, gender and weight neatly recorded in fountain pen, a tiny rubber bracelet, a calico strip attached to a huge safety pin and an envelope marked 'Special Privilege'. I have no idea what that means. I also have no idea why Ma Pants would want to part with these precious items, since it's almost impossible to pry anything from her possession. To call her a hoarder would be an insult of understatement. I've often wondered whether I should have been hurt by that.

Anyway, I thought for a very long time about what to do with these bits, proving the theory outlined above. And then I decided to put them in a display box. Craft shops had just started to appear and I found a very convenient and inexpensive little pine box with a glass front in one. Everything fitted perfectly. The pine has faded gracefully and I must tell you that this work is much admired, not something I ever would have expected. Sometimes art is the solution to a most perplexing problem. I can highly recommend it for awkward possessions you can find no good reason to keep but can't bear to consign to landfill.

The making of assemblages is a bit of a metaphor for life as it requires you to create an order from things that have no importance but nonetheless cry out to be made meaningful. It makes you wonder why you spend so much of your day on tasks necessary for keeping your life going, like paying the electric or sourcing replacements for products that barely limped past their one-year guarantee or fixing all the bits that got knocked about in the bad storms that seem to have been a feature of our so-called summer. Makes you wonder about the kind of life a travelling shearer might have had...

Friday, March 02, 2012

Don't follow me, I'm lost

Alchemy by Pants

In a state of controlled terror, I have followed the wise counsel of the smart and justifiably paranoid seers of this world and deleted my Google history before it was set in, er, vapour? I also hit the button that invited me to 'pause history', for whatever that's worth. Presumably, like Kubrick's HAL, Googledroids can very easily override their don't-be-evil chip and appropriate my data anyway. I'm sure they could find some greater good/god to cite as justification, and its name would probably begin with a P.

They say that if you're not paying for the product then you are the product. If that's the case, then I'm a bottom-dollar toilet brush. There's no algorithm yet invented that could create a credible profile of my life from electronic records. And that's actually really worrying because that algorithm will try, like HAL, to 'understand'. And, when it doesn't understand, it will simply make shit up.

Algorithms are not unlike people in that they are designed to answer questions. The more accurate the information they are given, they more likely they are to be able to use their considerable reasoning capacity effectively. But I don't want to give these hypothetical algorithms information that might enable them to identikit me, no matter how accurate a picture they might form. Remember Tom Cruise legging it through a mall in Minority Report only to be the target of personalised marketing? Who needs that when you're trying to put the world to rights?

Unlike humans, algorithms can't discern when you're being serious and when you're joking. If, in the future, we're to be defined by our online profiles, then what happens to those of us who only feel like updating our Facebook when we've had a skinful or fictionalise our online diaries because it would be too awful to write the truth?* What worries me is that if algorithms are unable to create a complete picture of me at random, then do I become an outcast by default? Dickens would have loved that scenario.

I give very little of my true self to 'the cloud' - a real entity that sounds more like a Dr Who villain every day. I only shop online if there is no other choice. I certainly don't bank online and I get cash out for all my perishables. I don't want some doctor down the line refusing me treatment because I ate too many lentils.

Being human is defined by the possession of an inner life. To relinquish the rights to that inner life would be to voluntarily emigrate to a kind of mental North Korea. It would be a desolate place distinguished by a perpetual famine of imagination, leading to intellectual starvation. But, by choosing to reveal a false or incomplete picture of myself, do I invite condemnation? Am I a liar? In the future, will everyone who writes gratuitous fiction be a liar? Will the occasional deployment of a metaphor single one out as mad? Lonely as a cloud? - whoever heard of such a thing! To Bedlam with that Wordsworth of a miscreant.

I am a bit sensitive about this sort of thing because I have recently been the victim of a disfigured personal profile. An unflattering judgement has been made about me in an official record which is based on completely false information. The 'information' which supposedly led to this judgement did not come from any declaration on my part but from snippets that were first misheard and then fed through a Chinese Whisperizer to come up with something that sounds, frankly, mad. And then it was re-framed to appear that these mad utterances had come from me. Fortunately, this misinformation is easily discredited. But, it has been stated. And damage has been done. It is a very Joseph K moment and I'm afraid we're all going to be experiencing more of them.

It used to be that we valued our freedom and the privacy on which it depends above all else. If you don't think it's such a big deal, then go ask someone who grew up in the GDR. It's one thing to choose to reveal yourself in all your gory glory, but quite another to have someone else make that decision for you, and, to fill in the gaps with liberal deployment of their own prejudices. And how far are we from a point at which a prospective employer who fails to find an online presence for a candidate assumes that he/she has something to hide? Surely such a situation is beyond any thinking person's pale. I hope I never see the day when people become slaves to rogue algorithms serving some equation bent on world domination.

Word to the wise - get off the bus, ain't no one driving.

*Does not apply here at Seat of Pants where we don't do Facebook and life is permanent idyll - Barney, more vodkamisu. Quick as you like. There's a good fellow...