© t thaemlitz/comatonse recordings
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In The Wire, Issue 206, April 2001.
Despite an apparent gap between hardcore ideology and rad.faerie technopaganism, it's no surprise that Coil, Ultra-red and Terre Thaemlitz should be making out the most challenging electronica of the moment; it may turn out that, just as Queer club culture was way ahead in the 1970s/80s and bequeathed so many of the things now taking (profitably) for granted in straight culture, a similar thing is now happening down the curcuit boards of interior space...
I am moved to say that after the dual prongs last year of Coil and Ultra-red I have found a lot of electronica hard (which is to say: way too easy) to take: just boys playing iwth their knobs and nothing there beyond an exhausted - sexless and unspelled - formalism. There's no charge, or daemon - call it how you will.
Terre Thaemlitz's work is simultaneously iconoclastic and seductive: he is 'dragging' set ikons all over the (Photo)shop... using, as here, the 'icons' of jazz or discobeat, and dragging them into unknown territories, unsettling the oeuvere definitions, undoing the underpinnings: opening the set course to a flood of polymorphous indecision and fright and tongued articulation.
A real groove; and a groove on the Real.
Interstices is where Thaemlitz confronts the sexual/social bottom line (so to speak) - using samples of talkshow shame, hardcore role reversan and wan medico-ontological idealisms; all the while keeping his tongue firmly between (our) cheeks. Interstices is one of the only really challenging and convincing things I have heard where the much mooted breakthrough 'cut-up' techne actually works, sonically: disorientating and sad and wise.
Fagjazz - on his other hand - is a pianissimo play in the fields of the sonic imaginary: delight-full, flirtatious, camouflaged Ambient with a hardwired heartbeat; a stealthy cyberjazz of unlikely permutations and likeable harmonies. Thaemlitz deploys the gasp of pornography and the unsteady 'grasp' of cross-cultural mistranslation (Lacan's 'meconnaissance' writ bright in pianissimo flourishes) to beckon us in to a hall of mirrors. But even here the masque hides pertinent inquireies: if you call it jazz, will it come? How will it come? And, if it's fagjazz, will it come differently? Will it become categorized differently? Why so? What's behind such naming and claiming?
There's humour here and dare that could unsettle many safe nerdboy assumptions about cyber music as a safe place to go from the trouble and strife of gendered life, of sexual want, of lived lack. Although something tells me there'll be few takers of the soft/hard challenge Thaemlitz poses here (just as few have taken on the political implications of, eg, Muslimgauze). It may well be time ask: what ARE you doing with that laptop? What are you keeping hidden under there? The whole of Interstices might be subsumed under one question: How do we count? Or perhaps: Do we still count? What do we measure such accountability against? (A non-existent 'middle' line?) Howe do we count when it comes to sex? As Lacan once said, how many of us really know how to count beyond two? (And approach sex from any other angle than simply 'both' sides now?) How do we count sex in, when it comes to (male) music? How does sex count in music? Why does music rub us up the right or wrong way? (Interstices sent someone I know screaming out of the room.) How predetermined are we in our responses? What do we use to count on? (Starting from which all-too-solid One?) You can already see how fruitful a starting point this might be...
The worse thing Freud ever did was put the word perversity after polymorphous; if there is a perversion - in the strict sense of that strict word - then surely it's the phallocratic sexuality that's very definitely and (all too) properly a 'perverion': a fixation on and fetishising of a part to the exclusion of a wonderful blissful dizzying (w)hole. Similar constraints operate (not surprisingly) in music criticism: a fear of the grain, and of the cut; and the search - always - for solidly rooted, non-floating meaning.
If you need to count in two, then Interstices is the more 'difficult', cutting edge ideological Thaemlitz; and Fagjazz - as the titles might indicate - is the dressed up 'product' of a gayer science: beat driven, voluptuous, but still haunted, it does sound 'like' jazz in some ways, but glistens with an otherwise and sidewise play of the left hand. Fagjazz seems to have as an unspoken subject (perhaps the unspoken subject?) an idea that jazz, for all its liberation speak, is often deeply conservative and macho and too in thrall by half to unthought notions of technique. (How do theories of tonal liberation square with an often closeted or closed or disdainful mindset?) Likewise - and like Diamanda Galas, say - Fagjazz hints that should he choose to, Thaemlitz could burn down the house, technique wise, if technique was all there was to life/music; but this may be precisely one of the reasons that so many of us find mainstream jazz such a dead duck - its concentration (still!) on an athleticism of 'chops' which can only end in a kind of straitjacketed and self-important formalism which assumes that its sexuality and/or politics are 'self-evident'...
Thaemlitz's piano, despite - or because of - its kitschy disco backdrop, moves me more than anything I've heard in this vein for a long time. (Keith Jarrett puts on some blue silk disco bunny shorts and goes out trolling.) Thaemlitz is one of the few artists I know who can do this: unroll a music that is at once deeply affecting but sprung with glittery self-reflexivity, a glittering makeup of doubt.
The Fagjazz 'bonus' CD features an at-first more conventional Ambient piece: a piano-banked late afternoon drift, disclosing unexpected freedoms, melancholy conjunctions, and a thousand an one difficult questions: music as a polymorphous construct... and the polymorphous as our natural (e)state.
Or, to put it another way, perversion as our right, rite, legacy, way.
Or, one more (or less) time: tune in, strap on and show out...