Category Archives: Music


Impressed by gutsy covers that don’t always accommodate the viewer.1 Lightning struck twice when I saw two this week.

The first is by the Dutch designer Irma Boom for a monograph on Sheila Hicks. (I’ll tweet a Boom-related video later in the week.)

Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor

The second is the US release of a Metallica bio that has the cover image printed in grey, on a black background. It’s a little harder to read on the actual cover than in this .jpg. (Homage to Metallica’s 1991 black album. I remember the CDs looking like this.

Metallica: Enter Night

Gratuitous, media-related contextual footnote. 1 This is related to my attraction to three biting-the-hand-that-feeds-’em pop songs about record companies (NSFW): Song One, Song Two, Song Three.


Sensual Nothingness

I remember I wanted to get to non art, non connotative, non anthropomorphic, non geometric, non nothing, everything, but of another kind, vision, sort. From a total other reference point. Is it possible?

Eva Hesse, quoted in E. Sussman, ed., Eva Hesse, San Francisco, 2002, p. 17

I didn’t know how to smoke cigarettes, think about existentialism, appreciate the cover design (“add a rainbow to give philosophy some color”), or read the book:

What was the this nothingness? I kept finding it, the way that a new word is suddenly heard everywhere, like the air that whistles around the scalp as one drives in a convertible. There actually is a lot there. This is a journey that touches on all the senses.

1. Sound

I fared little better with Wittgenstein. Skipped to the end of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to get to the juicy part:

Instead of John Cage’s 4’33”, I prefer a little sound perforated by lots of silence, a la Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet.

2. Sight.

Like there is nothing ever really silent, there are very few things that are truly white: there are shadows, different layers of light, different shades, stray marks.

Robert Ryman, "No Title Required." Enamel on cherry, maple, and oak.

If you see Robert Ryman’s paintings in a gallery, it does untrivialize white (and, by extension, all other colors, shades.)

Likewise, color is not required to form an audience for an artwork. The audience is bending down, taking an unprinted sheaf of paper, holding it, and then doing whatever else they will do with it, going on with their life, and that is the artwork.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Passport), 1991. White paper, unlimited series, 10.16 x 60 x 60cm

3. Taste

Umami, the phantom “fifth flavor,” more like a sense of round fullness. Tomatoes and mushrooms have it. It takes this ghost to make a dish taste complete. Plus, everything that has ever been tasted only exists as a memory.

4. Smell

I liked Luca Turin’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide: hundreds of pages of poetic descriptions of small molecules. Rather, a book that allows you to “try on” verbal descriptions of things, like wearing words. If perfume is about the wearer’s mind, what they think they’re becoming, then I might become Jazz, for example.

Christopher Brosius’s idea for an invisible fragrance, or nearly invisible fragrance, has me thinking about a moment when nothing becomes something that can be sold: the marketplace as a kind of apotheosis for nothingness.

It would be selling the idea of nothing in order to facilitate human connection:

So as Brosius saw it, invisible perfume would be a psychological trick. He imagined two people meeting for the first time. Both of them would light up in euphoria at the smell of each other, and they wouldn’t know why.

It’s actually quite beautiful. This would lead to 5. Touch. What is it to touch nothing? Perhaps this is our intangible, ineffable mind. Perhaps it is related to Nirodha in Buddhism: a kind of cessation, or release.

Small Time Shot Away

Small Time Shot Away, Massive Attack (2003)

I listened to this track in a mid-range Singaporean hotel at dawn. I go back to the music as kind of travel, something that is, and is a reminder of, indeterminate time, rhythm, voice.

Because of a stimulus that seems terrifyingly more-direct-than-usual (buzzing earbuds to vestibulocochlear nerve), a more-than-usual amount of things appear possible. Such as: being soothed and jarred at the same time; speaking and singing at the same time; hearing something and hearing nothing at the same time, etc. These jaunts into the world of false simultaneity, I have to say, are like dilettanism, which makes them all the more pleasurable. This track taps into many things that I like. Without any knowledge of the tools of electronica that built it, I shall now do my best to describe it.

First, props to the rhythm of the title’s words (small, small, small, large). After that, there is something tranquilizingly dull about the whole thing, like a subconscious afterthought. (Afterthoughts are underrated, by the way.) It starts with a kind of frequency adjustment: the sound of someone turning a knob, as if picking something up on pirate radio, or like a hidden track on the Voyager Golden Record. This is followed by a kind of harmonics of plucked string, and then rattling cymbals and drumbeat. These seem like they’re not in any fixed rhythm – this intimates freedom. It reminds me of Elvin Jones, playing on one of those interstellar albums like Ascension: like someone hopping, then skipping, then crawling, then running.

Suck it in
Drop the line
Turn me on

This is elaborately not singing: subverbal, subconscious. (It’s actually hard to do, try it.) Then, a vocal effect that I just find so irresistible: taking a line, but cutting out certain parts out of it (or splicing two lines together?), so that the words is not entirely clear. It’s like watching someone move through a strobe light, or if someone tampered with the recording. More poetically, that your own thoughts are starting to register through that pirate radio signal and are coming across the airwaves.

That bass: a four-note descending line. This reminds me of hearing Jah Wobble and Bill Laswell at the Knitting Factory: the bass was so loud, it was like having molten lead poured onto you from sunflower showerheads in the ceiling. It was a sound that wobbled the bone marrow. Here, there’s a point at 4:10 where the line gets stuck – on either the same tone or one that is slightly different, I cannot tell.

The rest of it is variations on this. I emerge from the track like coming out of a pupa, or having my brain washed, or having my voice tuned up through remote control.