The Aroma of Post-Modern Pretentiousness

No doubt I could do my taxes on my own.  People do it all the time.  But because my mother has made her living, off and on over the years, as a book-keeper, I turn it over to her.  There is, of course, the apparent loser quotient of a single adult guy having his mom do his taxes, but, as she handled all the financial paperwork for the family bookstore, we've all become dependent upon her.

Anyway, as I call myself a self-employed filmmaker — a field that doesn't pay so well in San Antonio, Texas — my recent tax returns, even though augmented by income from various other part-time temp work, looks outrageously low.  Damn straight — I'm fucking poor.  But I understand my mother's concern.  I call myself a filmmaker, yet my income from production work is so paltry.

However, this year, I have income from 9 production gigs.  In fact, the majority of my income is production-related — for the first time ever.  Most of the $$$ came from working to promote film events, but that still counts.  I'll refrain from quoting how much money I'm talking about.  Really, it's not much.  If you add in the money I made early in the spring from my occasional gig scoring standardized tests, I will be lucky if my income for the entirety of 2007 comes to more than 12,000 dollars.  This sad total is what I would be making if I returned to the world of retail.  And it's pretty much living at the poverty line.  No security, no insurance, no pension fund.  But, I'm working for myself.  I'm having a lot of fun. And I'm living in a pretty cool neighborhood.

If I were a responsible adult (and if you haven't been reading this blog, I'm not), I'd be appalled … scratch that — I'd be fucking paralyzed with fear and depression to realize that what I make in a year, folks my age with my education spend on vacations.  To other countries.  Exotic countries.

Oh, shit.  Now I've pulled myself into grave depression.

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I'm listening to one of my favorite albums, Baader Meinhof.  It was a one-off conceptual album by a band of the same name.  I picked up the CD in a bargain bin some years back.  And I'm not sure why.  Perhaps, with that double “a” I thought it might be some good old fashioned Kraut Rock.  It wasn't until I bought the album, listened and grooved to it, that I tried to find out more about the band.  I discovered that it was created by Luke Haines, of the brit “glam revival” band, the Auteurs.  I'm not familiar with the Auteurs or even Luke Haines.  I also discovered that the Baader Meinhof Gang, AKA, the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion), was a leftist militant organization in West Germany active mostly in the 1970s.  And as this album came out in 1996 (before 9/11 gave terrorism a bad name), it creates a warm romantic tone within the narratives of the songs about people who take their ideals to the streets in violence.  Ah, yes.  Some of us can still recall (at least within the celluloid world) the sex-appeal of sleeper cells and dangerous east European women in leather coats who wore more eyeliner than Twiggy and whose bleached hair sat atop inch-long dark roots.  Code words, high signs, samizdat, ouzo in basement bars, and camaraderie, even unto death.

Ah, sweet conflict!

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Earlier tonight I attended a “live sound and video performance” with my friend Alston.  It was over in the Salon Mijangos space in the 1906 S. Flores building — where you can find Flight Gallery and other cool spaces.

Two artists were scheduled to collaborate.  Sound artist Giuseppe Ielasi (from Milan), and video artist Michael Grill (from Vienna).  I heard about the event through the local art blog Emvergeoning … or was it through a MySpace bulletin from the record store, 180 Grams?

Anyway, it sounded intriguing, abstract, and with just enough aroma of post-modern pretentiousness to sell me.

The space was cold and dark when me and Alston walked in.  They never turned on the house lights of the gallery — otherwise I would have taken some photos.  By the time the show began, there was a decent attendance — certainly for a miserably cold Sunday night.  Maybe fifty people.  And there were probably sixty chairs set up.  My neighbor, the artist Marlys Dietrick, was there.  She pointed out some people who I knew of, yet had never met (such as the three folks who most often write on the Emvergeoning blog).

We started off with some video art from various people.  This was presented to us by Leslie Raymond, of UTSA.  Some of the pieces she shared with us were created by Potter-Belmar Labs (a collaboration between herself and Jason Jay Stevens).  All very nice experimental stuff.

After a break, Ielasi and Grill presented a piece which lasted about 45 minutes.  Each artist was stationed at a Mac laptop, one on each side of the room.  As this collaborative piece was purported to have an improvisational component, I must assume that each artist was making minor ameliorations to compositions which were already complete and laid out.  I was on the outside aisle and so I could peek at what Ielasi was doing.  He had some sort of nonlinear audio program running.  But mostly he was making physical adjustments not to the computer program, but to the dials on a small mixing board.  The computer was somehow plugged into a little pre-amp about the size of a trade paperback book.  Six XLR cables feed out of the pre-amp into the soundboard, and there was a single 1/4 inch audio plug fed into a hefty amp which was connected to some large speakers.  The guy spent most of his time diddling with the knobs on the mix board.  At the risk of sounding like a rube, I wonder if my experience would have been noticeably different if he'd walked away and taken a seat in the audience?

As for Ms. Grill, I'm even more curious what she was going to make novel, improv decisions on her computer for the video feed.

The performance, however, was very powerful.  The images were all abstract.  And the sound was somewhere in that realm where musique concrète meets “noise”  — soft, one moment, like Zoviet France or the Hafler Trio, and, the next, pure aural pain, like that of Merzbow.

I'm not convinced that were I to experience the video without the audio, or vise a versa, I'd have anything positive to say.  As it is, I loved the piece.  One of the problems with minimalism is that there is usually no room for subtext, and as such, it can often be tragically boring.  Take Merzbow (the quintessence of what has come to be called “Japanese noise”) — this is primarily swaths of aggressive sound.  Aficionados claim to discern beautiful forms within the feedback and atonal chunks of electronic screeches.  This says more about the human brain's ability to find order in chaos (as well as the usefulness of a good dope connection) than anything else.

There was a grand sense to the piece that brought to mind the psychedelic freak-out scene in 2001 when Dave, having reached an orbit around Jupiter, makes a journey through space and time … something like that.  With the performance tonight, the images, though moving through an orderly sequence, were abstract digital animations.  My interpretations, doubtlessly erroneous, was that what we saw was the entire unfolding of the universe, from the original singularity of infinite volume and density, to the big bang (and short-lived inflationary stage), and into the cooling phase where quanta condensed and grouped into atomic assemblages.  Order began toward more sophisticated structures as anther force, gravity, pulled gases together forming stars and galaxies.  We see a period in the performance where the images are yellow and orange like a stellar furnace, or perhaps the early molten phase of the earth.  There is a short period where the images are clearly organic.  But soon they return to abstract, orderly patterns — perhaps, or so I thought, the ultimate transition of any successful intelligent culture to that of an artificial intelligence.  We get a bit into the Frank Tipler territory as this binary mesh moves through a greater and greater degree of complexity until the increasing recursion of data makes it all appear random, like snow on a TV.  We cycle through a movement of intense audio as the visual static begins to jitter wildly.  The sound and picture begins to tone down and, after several transitions, we are back to the original washed out images of unfocused and unformed potentiality, as if it's all about to begin again.

And it ends.

I could, of course, be wrong.  I often am.  It could well be the story of two robots.  Their casual meeting (say, in a factory commissary), and the predictable seduction, foreplay, and the ensuing intense perfunctorily automated orgasm.  (I'm on the cusp of petitioning grant-funding for a new project: “The Amazing Arousing Robots: An Experiment in G-Rated Pornography.”  You know what I'm talking about.  “Insert flap A into slot Y,” oh baby oh baby!)

Or, it could just be sounds and images.  No meaning.

The bottom line is I am a very cheap guy, and I usually equate spending money on entertainment as pissing it away.  The show cost 8 bucks — well beyond my normal cringing base-line — and it was worth every penny.  I only wish we had more work like this in San Antonio.  I also wish one didn't had to put so much energy into tracking this stuff down.

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