Friday, December 4, 2015

Hippies vs Punks: Lee Ranaldo's Clouds (1997)

Clouds is an edited and reworked recording of a May 1997 performance by Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo and free jazz drummer William Hooker at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. Reminiscent of the sound of free jazzers Last Exit, Clouds is better than its dismissive AllMusic review, but it is not the Lee Ranaldo record I have been listening to all week. All week I have been listening to his 2006 Ambient Loop For Vancouver, a quiet 50 minutes of droning electronica that also features William Hooker; sadly, it is not available for streaming on YouTube.

Which should be the main theme of this post -- the shortcomings of our purportedly fully-retrievable, enhanced digital World Wide Web.

By happenstance, last week I started listening to a lot of Aphex Twin, in particular Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994). It is a quiet album of electronica. I need quiet. The year is in its last month and I'm limping to New Year's Eve. I feel no vigor and am waiting for the clock to run out while I expedite my remaining goal for 2015, one last race.

But so far in December as each day arrives I have been trying to think of at least one thing I want to accomplish, not only in the New Year but during the day itself, even if it is so humble as taking two tablets of vitamin C. So far I have been successful. But I need the musical accompaniment to be subdued.

Last weekend I got to thinking about a performance of Lee Ranaldo's that I saw with a friend and coworker back in the dark days of the post-9/11 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Ranaldo was playing guitar in a theater at the Experience Music Project while a film by his wife, Leah Singer, was projected on a screen above him. He was joined on stage by a guy (maybe two, I can't remember) with a stack of electronic hardware. This guy, if my memory serves me, was introduced as "Golden Aphex Twin."

The show itself was excruciatingly painful. My friend Tony and I laughed about it, saying it was akin to torture (very timely since torture was being embraced by U.S. policymakers as "enhanced interrogation techniques" permissible as long as it did not result in organ failure).

The problem is that the only record on the Internet that I can find of this show is a tiny announcement in The Stranger. Plus, there is no such electronica artist as "Golden Aphex Twin," or at least one searchable on the Web. There is Aphex Twin. But my sense is that Richard David James is too big time for a gig as a sideman for Lee Ranaldo's free jam accompanying an esoteric art film.

Ranaldo is important not only as a founder of the enormously influential Sonic Youth (just about any alt rock produced post-Grunge is inflected with Sonic Youth), but also as a keeper of the Beats flame.

An intellectual foundation of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs underlies postwar U.S. cultural revolt -- both Hippie and Punk as well as Grunge -- leading up to the millennium. But I don't think it pertains any longer.

I think something has shifted post-millennium, and it has to do with the all-pervasive digital milieu we find ourselves in today. But as my experience shows, the Web is not a repository of consciousness. It might seem so, but it is not.

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