The Awkwardness Exchange: Boy George at EMI

This video (of unknown provenance, AFAIK) of Boy George and his manager Tony Gordon going in for a meeting with Daniel Glass has been doing the rounds. It’s worth dwelling on this, watching and rewatching it, just to try and pick apart the discourse of awkwardness which so often characterises this kind of encounter.

What is it about this exchange that’s so excruciating?

The art versus the commerce? (YouTube commenter mystic23LanaD: “if this is what one has to endure to create art and music i’d rather be tortured”)  – maybe, but tedious by now, surely.

The friction of cultural norms? (Plain-speaking Brits up against the ebullient vegetable-loving MBA positivity of the US exec) – definitely some of that in there.

Something about (in)authenticity? (George: “the music starts to sound weird, it doesn’t sound as good as it did when you made it”)  – closer to the mark, I think.

There’s something there about the music – and the ‘mere artist’ (if you can describe BG as such) – displaced and out of context, that gets us.

“It’s just so weird”.



Let’s Get Physical: Against the Vinyl Revival

Last week Jack White reached number one in the US album charts with Lazaretto, which sold forty thousand vinyl LP copies in its first week, and comes replete with format gimmicks like three-speed play and holograms.

Record Store Day is growing every year and Cassette Store Day is returning for a second year this year. The trend for record shop closures is starting to buck.

As digital streaming services gain legitimacy as much as they court controversy, every week there is yet another article about the joys of physical music and the Guardian are currently crowd-sourcing photos of people’s record collections.

This weekend there is a two day conference on the materiality of music in the digital age at Sussex University.

Conversations about physical media are thriving in the digital era – but is the ‘physical revival’ actually preventing the most interesting debates from getting through?


Lyotard on Libidinal Regulation Through Musical Grids

From the Driftworks essay ‘Several Silences’ (1972).


What is called music is a device:

1- that invests libido mainly in the sound region: a commutator of libidinal energy into audible energy and vice versa; which implies to start with that quantities of energy are constantly used to circumscribe this region, on the body particularly (e.g., to disconnect the phonatory and auditory cavities from the motor organs: dancing);

2- that in classical and baroque periods in the West, has appended musical prostheses, instruments, to this partial body; an adjunction which required new investments onto certain parts of the body: the hands, the fingers of the pianist or the flutist, but also the arm-shoulder-chin complex of the violinist, the torso of the percussionist, the knees of the cellist and harpist;

3- that produces only discontinuous sounds whose pitches can be located to the nearest half-tone in a fixed division of soundspace;

4- that favors the key of C and treats five out of twelve halftones as subordinate, “transitional” notes;

5- that, in the name of tonality, tolerates only that distribution of intervals between pitches given by the “Pythagorean” mode;

6- that privileges, in the name of chords, aggregates of three degrees separated respectively by intervals of a third;

7- that in the key of C, gives preeminence to major chords called perfect, placed on the first, fourth, and fifth degrees;

8- etc., I hand this matter over to those more knowledgeable than myself, it isn’t difficult .

The purpose of this list is to show what a device is, i.e. a superimposition of grids that filter flows of energy, in this case, sound. These grids are not things (there are no things): they are libidinal investments that block the entrance and exit of certain sound-noises, and that maintain and transmit themselves. A major portion of the libidinal potential is used in these policed-policing functions.