LAST NIGHT'S AUDIO SERMON - TRANSCRIPT AND PLAYLIST
By special request, here is the full original script of my broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM last night. Many thanks for all the kind comments I've already received. It was one of the most nerve-racking experiences of my life but I loved doing it thoroughly.
Sadly because of lack of time I had to omit a couple of the tracks listed below from the actual programme, namely Don King and Bikini Kill, and some of the script was edited or minor amendments made.
CLEAR SPOT: THE FEMINISATION OF NOISE
Resonance 104.4 FM - Tuesday 21 January 2003
Good evening. You are tuned to Resonance 104.4 FM. This is Marcello Carlin, proprietor of the Church of Me website and writer for the Wire and Uncut magazines, presenting this evening’s edition of Clear Spot.
We know you want to go back. So let’s return. Let yourself swim in the aqueous lactations you so clearly desire. Return to the place of origin. Realise its selfless, compassionate comfort. You are aware of the noises, seemingly random but already organising themselves. The purposeful organisation of noise is not the exclusive by-product of testosterone; indeed, when feminised, its theoretical cul-de-sac transmutates into a dreamed highway.
But to go back to the beginning, you have to be aware of the circuitousness of life. You have to be aware of how it will end; because the first noise you will hear in your comfort is also the last noise you will hear…but played backwards.
Track 1: Carla Bley/Paul Haines: This Is Here… (5:56)
That was the opening proper of the greatest, because the most infinitely meaningless, record ever made, Escalator Over The Hill by that supreme feminist of noise Carla Bley. Among the musicians and voices which flashed inside your ears were Jack Bruce, Don Cherry, Don Preston and Jeanne Lee. Everybody exists within her world; her totality is dependent upon your readiness to accept the world as she has remade it.
There are many ways in which to assemble the elements of noise in order to feminise them. Let us not be naïve: by noise I signify all the unregulated, random sonics produced, or already extant, in the world. For now we concentrate on the voice, the most elemental instrument, yet also the one most capable of timbral and emotional variety. The prologue to Escalator Over The Hill can imply either a new dawn, or the dawning awareness of an apocalypse. At this time I prefer to interpret and absorb concepts of a new dawn. For an example, we turn now to the voice of a woman who can be whatever you prefer her to be. Liberated Inca princess or Welsh coal miner’s daughter? Amy Camus – note the ineffable infinity of that surname – or Yma Sumac? It’s up to you to decide what she makes of it.
Track 2: Yma Sumac – Xtabay (3:19)
The title of that song “Xtabay” is irresistibly associated with ecstasy. There is certainly awe in Amy or Yma’s ecstasy; but imagine a longer road, a highway dotted every ten seconds by 44 different emotions, all of which the woman must go through, experience and express – shorn of decoration, of ornamentation. The voice must speak for and to itself and be its own therapist. In this recording of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III for Female Voice, the voice of Cathy Berberian is obliged to undertake the journey of a life. There is nothing random about this seemingly spontaneous articulation of these 44 emotions; each is a stage, a post of a slalom, around and through which Berberian must deftly travel in order to reach – well, what or where does she reach? Fulfilment or compromise?
Track 3: Luciano Berio/Cathy Berberian – Sequenza III for Female Voice (6:48)
But what purpose, should a purpose be necessary, exists for such a virtuosic odyssey? Personal purposes, certainly, if not social ones. But what if the same elements, the not dissimilar organisation of noise, were to be applied to a specific social or emotional need? Adjust the concave mirror and listen now to the voice of Abbey Lincoln, in duet with the drummer Max Roach, from Roach’s 1960 We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. This excoriating piece of music is entitled Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace. The delineation between the three sections will be obvious. What you need to focus on, however, is why she is doing what she is doing. Birth/awareness – anger/violence – satisfaction/death. The sexual, to pilfer Lacanian theory, is the subtext of the political.
Track 4:Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln – Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace (8:02)
Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln performing the Triptych from Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. It is clearly time to take stock. You are tuned to Resonance 104.4 FM, and you are listening to this evening’s edition of Clear Spot. This is Marcello Carlin spinning some askew theories around the notional theme of “The Feminisation Of Noise.” Two unsentimental love songs now, both recorded by temporarily expatriate American musicians in Paris at the turn of the ‘60s and ‘70s; both utilising but ultimately subverting accepted male patterns of noise making into a decidedly feminist perspective. Firstly, Archie Shepp’s group of 1969, featuring the unutterably sexual but utterly untouchable vocal stylings of Jeanne Lee, performing the title track of Shepp’s album Blasé. It is one of the greatest feminisations of noise ever attempted within the confines of the popular song. Listen for the still astonishing punctum which suddenly makes itself known about seven minutes into the piece.
Track 5: Archie Shepp/Jeanne Lee – Blasé (11:22)
Why those determinedly out-of-tune harmonicas? These were played by two comparatively obscure Chicago bluesmen, Julio Finn and Chicago Beauchamp, entirely in their own key and seemingly wholly oblivious to the timbre and tonal centre of the piece. It’s almost as if they have been satirically cut and pasted onto the song, as a signifier of extinct male potency which has long since lost its signified. It is a terrifying moment. The bassist on that piece, Malachi Favors, also appears on the next track, Theme De Yoyo, recorded by the Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1970 as the theme to a seemingly unreleased French avant-garde film Les Stances Á Sophie. The crucial element here is the singer, Fontella Bass, the then wife of the Art Ensemble’s trumpeter Lester Bowie and clearly long since rescued. Hear her exultation in demolishing the attributes of the film’s supposed “heroine.” Hear what I can achieve, girl, the repeated freeform explosions signify; I can do it every 30 seconds. Observe also how drummer Don Moye invents drum ‘n’ bass.
Track 6: Art Ensemble of Chicago/Fontella Bass – Theme De Yoyo (8:00)
Now take those rhythms and subvert them from below. Apply them to a pre-post modern song of social commentary which was released more or less as New York City was about to declare bankruptcy. The primeval makes its own way back in, one way or another; but if feminised, it will always be diverted up far more interesting avenues.
Track 7: Joni Mitchell – The Jungle Line (4:20)
Joni Mitchell, from 1975’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, with assistance from sundry Burundi drummers, and “The Jungle Line.” In order to maintain a meaningful balance in this recital, we need to derail chronology, if only temporarily, for a linked foresight into how the most male-driven of musical forms ended up thoroughly feminised – and for the same reasons. Even if for as crass a reason as song titles.
Track 8: Sonic Youth – Hey Joni (4:22)
Sonic Youth and, hey, “Hey Joni” from 1988’s Daydream Nation, a presage of the aqueous deluge to come. You are tuned to Resonance 104.4 FM, and you are listening to Clear Spot, presented by Marcello Carlin of the Church of Me, considering the question of “The Feminisation Of Noise.” But how did we get here? Time to return to the none-more-feminised arena of No Wave, in which dwelt the none-more-manly James Chance, some say White. On his “White” album of 1979, “Off White,” credited to James White and the Blacks, we can hear how Chance tries to be a man but is beaten by the very act of adopting the musical template of the man who did more than any other man to feminise noise: Ornette Coleman. Ornette deserves his own programme, indeed a week of his own programmes. His importance here, however, is how he altered the perspectives of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. In his playing there is no Chuck Yeager-style attempts to break the sound or barline barriers; no cries of look how many sheets of sound I can generate in ten seconds, look how big mine is. Instead his playing is literally selfless; it exists for the sake of the surrounding music, is frequently subsumed in the surrounding music. On this James White track “Stained Sheets” the askance avant-funk music, clearly derived from Ornette’s contemporaneous Prime Time group, subverts White’s claims to manhood, which are later dealt a fatal blow when he surrenders to his never-more-assertive telephone sex “partner” Stella Rico, portrayed by Lydia Lunch.
Track 9: James White & the Blacks/Lydia Lunch – Stained Sheets (5:51)
For an equally selfless but more thoughtful take on the same elements, listen now to this performance by the trio Don King, which evolved out of the undeniably extreme No Wave group Mars. Lucy Hamilton is most evident on bass clarinet, Mark Cunningham patrols the borders on guitar, Duncan Lindsay holds the fabric together on drums. This piece is entitled “Marajó.”
Track 10: Don King – Marajó (3:40)
You see now how organisation of noise does not necessarily equate with volume, but more with perspective. Listen to this completely subversive but equally persuasive performance by Portobello’s finest, the Raincoats. The title of the piece “Dancing In My Head” is a clear reference to Ornette’s 1977 album – one of the half-dozen or so most important records of the last 40 years – but its approach is that of blissful, and yes, aqueous, dub. Selfless and beautiful.
Track 11: Raincoats – Dancing In My Head (6:20)
The Raincoats, and “Dancing In My Head” from their 1981 album Odyshape. There are so many artists which I have unforgivably been unable to include in this programme – amongst innumerable others, the Shaggs, the Slits, Diamanda Galas, and, if you’ve an alert mind, Christian Wolff, Chet Baker, Jimmy Scott, Lester Young, Andy Williams and Karen Carpenter. One group which we cannot exclude, however, is My Bloody Valentine. Their 1991 album Loveless represents perhaps the most extreme process yet recorded of male guitar noise being feminised, being detached from its bass-driven bearings, ethereal in its all-encompassing embrace, its very speed being deliberately fluctuated, in tune with, shall we say, more important rhythms. Who’s doing what on this track “Only Shallow”? And yes, it does matter.
Track 12: My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow (4:45)
My Bloody Valentine, from the Loveless album, and “Only Shallow.” And I haven’t even considered the Cocteau Twins. There is a very strong case for saying that we haven’t necessarily progressed from what is still a frontier.
Still, we can’t leave out Bikini Kill. A more obviously driven assault on male rock, but a more palpable and joyful one. This is what I suppose remains their anthem, “Rebel Girl.”
Track 13: Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl (2:30)
Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill, with “Rebel Girl.” And I haven’t even considered Suzi Quatro. A further incursion into male domains – this time into bedroom/laptop avant-techno – has been achieved by the American duo Blechdom from Blechtum. Their performance at the ICA last year was one of the most exhilarating I’d seen in some time, vacillating between sublime trash-pop and explosive laptop atonal outbursts. The best compromise on record between the two approaches so far can be found on the solo EP by Kevin Blechdom – the name is Kevin, but she is a she – I Love Presets, and in particular in this song, a number one single in a better and fairer world, “Mr Miguel.”
Track 14: Kevin Blechdom – Mr Miguel (3:08)
And now, it’s time for the reckoning. A conclusion? A hyperreal utopia where noise can only exist if it is feminised. As with Escalator Over The Hill, with which we opened this programme, we return to an idea, some say an ideal, of the popular song. A song which begins by describing an ideal life, then the reasons why the singer is excluded from that life, a frustration which becomes first poignant, and then batters itself to a preliminary death against a brick wall of noise. Then there is quiet. The male progenitor has to plead with her not to reject life, not to co-exist with unfulfilled silence. That the female is necessary for any noise to have even the most elemental of meanings. From the soundtrack to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Musical: Once More With Feeling, the rejection of the simulacrum and the embrace of unironic humanity that is “Something To Sing About.”
Track 15: Sarah Michelle Gellar – Something To Sing About (4:40)
And yes, the words of the quiet verses have personal significance. For all the lives we ever lived, and all the lives to be. To make this short story long, please click on http://cookham.blogspot.com to access The Church Of Me. You are tuned to Resonance 104.4 FM, and you have been listening to Clear Spot. This is Marcello Carlin speaking. Thank you for listening.
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