Cahiers Collection © – Spine #2

February 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

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Surrealism naturally resists the hermeneutic. But let’s be very clear; Daedelus’s Exquisite Corpse is no more an authentic work of surrealism qua surrealism than The Avalanches’ Since I Left You or Susumu Yokota’s Symbol. Rather, it would seem to be his first work not deserving of this title. Still, one gets the sense that, among Los Angeles’s near-mystical hotbed brood of sample musicians, it is Daedelus alone who—through his bold, Schaefferian exploits in jeu—has finally managed to tap into at least a minimal pocket of the kind of automatist compositional nirvāna first rumored by the infamous obscurantist himself, André Breton: the Marvelous event of song.

But if we do take Breton as Daedelus’s model, then are Stern and Price the philosophic manifesto of—let’s say—hip hop beatmaking? Madlib—in addition to being the only artist to ever match aesthetic wits with the late J Dilla—carries much more than your typical hip hop pun moniker. Intentional or not, “Madlib” can also be read as an implicit allegory of the sample genre itself. Although it was Breton himself who first made out Exquisite Corpse to be a parlor game, it was not until the popularization of the art game[1] that Modernity was finally able to commoditize this spirit of pure invention—or perhaps, more sinisterly, rechannel it as obscenity—into yet another perpetuator of standardization. With Mad Libs came the golden age of western Modernity, and pure, psychic invention came to be seen only as a subject of ridicule, eventually even taking on a criminal element. Yes, we are free, but never too free. In this way, Modernity altered the very way we perceive creativity, reifying libertarian expression into the striated space of corporate property.

What else is Daedelus’s mission but to revive that which was lost in this devastating alteration?

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Schaeffer: The Vitality of Play
  • Daedelus: The Event of Song
  • Synopsis: Exquisite Corpse
  • Tracklist
  • Bonus Features
  • Notes

Schaeffer: The Vitality of Play

“In music there are new things—synthesizers, tape-recorders, etc.—but we still have our sensibilities, our ears, the old harmonic structures in our heads; we’re still born in DoRéMi—it’s not up to us to decide.”

— Pierre Schaeffer[2]

Sometimes it seems as if all great legacies of the western intellectual tradition trace their nativity to the Greeks. Not only is the name itself, Daedelus, taken from Greek mythology, but Daedelus’s primary musical predecessors—from Pierre Schaeffer to Varèse himself—only operated within a space already opened up by Pythagoras and his conception of acousmatic sound, sound freed from physical means.

Still, it is only today that Pythagoras’s draconian pedagogy has finally found its artistic fruition within our ever more numinous digital realm. To be fair, the extent of technological disparity between Schaeffer’s 1963 “boiler plate” universal phonogene—revolutionary for freeing pitch and duration controls from each other—and Daedelus’s stunningly minimal Monome—which can do just about anything—is nothing when compared to the leap between the first chromatic phonogene in 1953 or the invention of magnetic tape and the phonograph or, for that matter, the invention of the phonograph in 1877 and live instrumental performance. Indeed, it has taken this long for acousmatic sound, precisely non-physical sound, to find a means of physical performance as occurrantly imminent and still wholly embodying of musique concrète as—let’s say—a traditional orchestral instrument.

But while hip hop grounds musique concrète in a uniquely African American viewpoint—that is, as the extant incarnation of a gradually building aesthetic totality beginning with the birth of jazz—Daedelus attempts to return concrète to the frankness of Schaeffer by freely reopening the field of stylistic possibility to other aesthetic or even non-aesthetic systems. He does not, however, choose to embrace Schaeffer’s naturalistic focus, instead situating himself in the dance hall milieu and all the rhythmic confines that come with it. Still, as Schaeffer said, all things, even nature itself, are machines.

One only needs to see him at work to grasp exactly how Daedelus “plays” his instrument, and there is simply no other way to understand his performance on the Monome other than as an instrument, however self-contradictory this might appear in light of the claim that the Monome is, at the same time as it is an instrumental presence, nothing less than the first dynamic realization of the Pythagorean veil in music.

Monome creators Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain claim that their interface establishes “flexibility not as a feature, but as a foundation”ᶟ and—albeit in a rather cautious, self-conscious way, highlighting profitability—embraces the developmental potentials of open source. Their design is ingenious and almost poetically minimal. Essentially, the Monome is a flat, rectangular box with a evenly distributed array of identical, square buttons. The buttons light up sequentially in a single direction, mapping the temporal progression and duration of a inputted sample across these bottoms. For example, a loop would appear on the interface by a single row of buttons consecutively lighting up from left to right. When a single iteration of the loop ends, the light “returns” to the far left of the row and starts again. Unlike working with waveforms, the Monome completely dequalifies the musician’s interaction with a sound. In effect, the Monome interface serves as a veil against the incoming sound while, at the same time, providing the means for which the sound is to be dynamically remixed. While in principal similar to turntablism, the Monome provides for far greater complexity in manipulation than merely time and pitch modulation and with even greater ease of access.

In other words, the Monome not only allows for a totally unhindered creativity and solidarity with the pure creative force; it also presents the theoretical totality of sound, as it were, to the whims of the player’s fingertips against its Pythagorean veil of undifferentiated buttons. Although all the samples on the Monome are, of course, cut down and preprogrammed, it seems clear that once the musician becomes engrossed in the creative process, the buttons lose their equipmental distinction from the creative whim and actually become the subject of creation itself; this is in opposition to the resonated sound as the subject of creation. In other words, the veil is what is being composed, or rather weaved, during the performance.

Daedelus himself makes an issue of keeping the Monome accessible to the audience by slanting the interface downward to face them. He does not, in the style of Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 pyramid—or, for that matter, Pythagoras himself—purposefully mystify his relationship with the audience, relishing in the staging of an excessive and disembodied image. Rather, he focuses on the mystifying power of the sound itself by fully embracing Pierre Schaeffer’s notion of play or jeu. This is how concrète is reconciled with instrumentation, the very thing that it attempts to defy. The thing that is at play is not the Monome but rather the composition itself. The eccentric act of creation becomes the very subject of play. It is precisely this transcendental element that Daft Punk misses and overcompensates for with their big budget extravaganzas.

In religious terms, this sublime event that Daedelus intimately enacts for the audience is, of course, Genesis itself. To watch Daedelus perform is not only to experience the generation of entirely original arrangements of sound, but also to be amidst the space of conception—to stand opposite the figurative transubstantiation of equipment into pure creation, the very nature of a Spinozan God—the essence and vitality of play.

Daedelus: The Event of Song

Song is an enigma for Daedelus in the same way that extant species enigmatize biological taxonomy. In both cases, the question remains: what becomes of the interstitial? Or perhaps a better question: what discerns the song at all? For, since each song begins as a kind of sonic isomorphism from within the disordered cloud of jeu, they would only ever seem to glint perception through their very difference with the stuff of possibility. This being true, it is more of the cut rather than composition that gives a true portrait of the artist—at least for the artist never exclusive of jeu.

Song is then, for Daedelus, what the Surrealists called Marvelous: a self-satisfied incarnation of the uncannily beautiful gap in Hegel’s every-dialectic. In concrete terms, Marvelous is every time Daedelus momentarily releases his steady hold—when jeu seems to play itself. It is when, after climbing his long ladder of crowded arrhythmics and atonalities—automatistically plotting their eventual convergence—he finally lets go, astonishing both himself and the audience with the unforeseen beauty of their final trajectories. In mathematical terms, song is nothing less than Poincaré’s elucidation of the three-body problem: the analytically unexplainable emergence of juxtaposed possibilities.

Song is the precise moment when Icarus forgot his father’s caution.

This is why, when we look at any collective of songs like Exquisite Corpse, we should never perceive them through this crude ideal as some kind of telos to jeu, but rather as the castrated, subtracted bearer of anti-creation itself. But this cannot be a real critique, since it is most likely as close as we might ever come to tangibly encapsulating this truly startling moment of the musically Marvelous: the event of the song.

Conceiving this authentic event of song is the key to the symmetry that is already beginning to unveil itself in Daedelus’s still relatively young career of which Exquisite Corpse situates itself as a nexus. But the question to ask is never how the artist turns the album, but rather how the album turns the artist. There is always the risk with Modern music of sliding into the grooves of relentless market standardization—indeed, the very dream of properly recording of the event of song is completely antithetical to jeu. In light of this, it seems that however brilliantly Daedelus manages to navigate along this precipice in Exquisite Corpse, his very participation with the elementals of Capitalist musical space has already, as it were, unlocked the door to Pandora’s box. Still, this is not to suggest in any way that his best work is somehow behind him. To the contrary, he is quite possibly “better than ever” as an authentic and masterful practitioner of jeu, but this largely applies to his capacities in the live sphere alone—being the unlimited, organic arena of jeu that provides heart and soul of all his work, this retention should not come as a surprise. Nonetheless, recording an album for the purpose of capturing this uncapturable event, the very event of song, is another story.

Three years after the release of 2005’s Exquisite Corpse, Daedelus found himself in a difficult position, straddling at once the logical progression of his album technique and his much less grounded Schaefferian roots. The relative disaster of 2008’s Love To Make Music To and its unambiguous relation to Exquisite Corpse as the album’s ultimate stylistic culmination was more than enough to motivate his radical shift with 2010’s ethereal Righteous Fists of Harmony. Whether or not 2010 was a “return” to Schaeffer and concrète or an entirely new departure towards his more minimalist, electroacoustic tendencies—in the vein of his wife-partnered side project, The Long Lost—remains to be seen.

Perhaps the most fascinating—and offensive—thing about Love To Make Music To is how it so accurately misses its own point: the point of Exquisite Corpse. On one hand, we still have Daedelus’s trademark sampling of quaint, 1920s’ radio dramas and reverb-laced romantic big band; on the other, we have something new: subservient, undemanding electropop beats under unclever, sex-oriented rapping indistinguishable from the worst of contemporary R&B. The remaining tracks effectively bridge the gap, coming closest to what could be called a garish, pseudo-Schaefferian shoegaze.

We find Daedelus here a prisoner of song, or maybe a prisoner in a tower of song of his own construction.

Synopsis: Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse is the most hyperborean, least apocalyptic soundtrack to late, collage-period Ernst; in short, everyplace. There is nothing ostensibly cohesive about the Marvelous; after all, this is what makes it Marvelous. The Marvelous is also not the result of any kind of compromising mediation; no: it is all there. The psychic superstrings that bind and ultimately reveal the Marvelous are the underlying thing, the third man.

Viewed on its own, there is nothing Marvelous or revolutionary about exploiting the aesthetic systems of the Victorian Era. Ernst and Magritte, to just name two, made much of their names on creating violently bizarre, visual subversions of what they saw as the obscene apex of Bourgeois culture. So it follows with Daedelus and his recurrent self-image as a Victorian aristocrat performing wildly in a stiff, white tailcoat. It is more than simply ironic, the Surrealists would say.

But where the pop artist samples from and draws out the contradictions normalized by his/her contemporary sphere, the Surrealist sees signs of this neurotic stability in the past and in themselves. Indeed, Exquisite Corpse, like all of Daedelus’s work, finds itself largely in a state of continual reflection on and jeu with the pop culture of the past, often on the very era of Surrealism’s international explosion.

Daedelus is quite aware that, in today’s postmodern era, these particular cultural pasts—the roaring 1920s, the  ironic, depressed ’30s, the post-war economic paradise—are much more so the stuff of our starry-eyed dreamscapes than the repulsive, corporate aesthetics of present-day, mainstream Western Bourgeois society. In other words, it is far more than nostalgia that motivates Daedelus in passages such as “Dearly Departed”, “Now & Sleep”, and “I Sent Off II Sus Per Coil”. Daedelus is attempting to tap directly into the very aesthetic space of our dreamworld: the bewildered music of the unconscious itself.

Since 2002’s Invention—probably one of his most “straightforwardly” Surrealist works along with  2003’s Rethinking the Weather—Daedelus has been closely tied with the West Coast hip hop scene, working closely with underground innovators like Sach, MF Doom, and particularly Busdriver. However, especially in light of his Surrealist aspirations, here again appears a missing element. Again and again, Daedelus has shown his passionate solidarity with Schaeffer against the constraints of underground hip hop as such, and such a thing certainly exists. Hip hop for Daedelus is not as it is for, let’s say, Madlib; that is, the hermetically focused, blazingly revolutionary politico-artistic forum of the American African. For Daedelus, hip hop is nothing less than the emancipatory cry of the narrator in Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable. Hip hop is the Les Champs Magnétiques of a real, constituent cultural pride.

As the Surrealist who is always barely part of the Surrealist project, Daedelus harnesses hip hop’s intrinsic exquisite corpse without irony; the corpse itself being a corpse-in-the-world that replaces pure, unconscious automatism with an emergent automatism formed by the cultural data of a marginalized people. For Daedelus, hip hop is always a stream of consciousness, albeit a rather focused, grounded consciousness with a precise style and vocabulary. The poetry that results is both utterly alien and uncomfortably familiar at the same time. We can feel this juxtaposition in MF Doom’s humorously cliché-ridden verse in “Impending Doom” and Set’s melancholic rebelliousness in “Move On”. All the while, Daedelus’s organically fluctuating collage weaves fluidly into and out of their uneasy musings. This unease is site of the Marvelous.

David Lynch is another artist who uses his medium to subject his audience to this unease of the Marvelous, even if most of the time his films are much more terrifying than what could normally be called “marvelous”. But for the Surrealist, Marvelous is simply synonymous with beauty, and what we find in Lynch is the beautiful terror of dream logic. Similarly, we have with Daedelus the cloudy numbness of the post-dream, and it too is beautiful. If Daedelus always manages to walk the line between Surrealism and that even more elusive “something else” universality of all collage music, it is because he is always partially waking from the depths of the dream.

His “Thanatopsis”, concluding Mush Records’ rerelease of Exquisite Corpse, exactly captures this kind of waking. There has simply never been a song so reminiscent of the sadness after a lost dream than “Thanatopsis”. Each Daedelus song is in fact is part of this conundrum. Each song works as an exploration of that painfully beautiful afterglow. Even the void following the Marvelous is Marvelous in its Marvelous lack. But “Thanatopsis” is like the roll of the credits to a Lynch film, since Lynch’s project is that of capturing the beautiful horror of the dream. We are left with this senseless afterglow of production names but without the answers we want. There is never closure to the Surreal since the Surreal never begins.

We are always in the Surreal or out of it. Daedelus exists after it.

Tracklist

  1. “Dearly Departed”
  2. “Impending Doom” (feat. MF Doom)
  3. “Just Briefly”
  4. “Move On” (feat. Lil Sci)
  5. “Now & Sleep” (feat. Laura Darling)
  6. “The Crippled Hand”
  7. “Welcome Home” (feat. Danse Macabre)
  8. “Cadavre Exquis” (feat. TTC)[3]
  9. “Drops”
  10. “Fallen Love”
  11. “Welcome Home” (feat. Mike Ladd)
  12. “I Sent Off II Sus Per Coil [Jogger Remix]”
  13. “The Trains Are Now So Clean”
  14. “Thanatopsis” (feat. Hrishikesh Hirway)

Bonus Features

Included on disc 2:

  • – 12 of the unaltered recordings sampled by Daedelus including “007 and Counting” by John Barry and “Constant Rain (Chove Chuva)” by Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66.
  • Impending Doom / Just Briefly EP
  1. “Impending Doom” (feat. MF Doom)
  2. “Just Briefly”
  3. “Impending Doom [Accapella]” (feat. MF Doom)
  4. “Impending Doom [Domu Remix]” (feat. MF Doom)
  5. “Just Briefly [Umod Remix]” (feat. MF Doom)
  • – Over two hours of live footage shot exclusively for this release
  • – New video interview with Daedelus by Busdriver

Notes

[1] In using the term “art game” I am not referring to an arthouse game or a videogame that emphasizes the audience relationship with that game’s artistic design over its gameplay. Instead, I refer to any sort of game that attempts to mirror the process of art and, in this way, rechannels the creative impulse into a socially tolerable outlet. The primary example of this is Stern and Price’s Mad Labs. Another is Robert Angel’s Pictionary.

[2] “An Interview with Pierre Schaeffer.” Interview by Tim Hodgkinson. RēR Quarterly 2 May 1986. Print.

[3] This is the position of “Cadavre Exquis” for Mush Records’ 2005 release of the album. The album was also released by Ninja Tune just two months earlier where “Cadavre Exquis” was the final track. All other tracks are in the same order as the Mush release. Since Mush’s release was in fact after Ninja Tune’s it seems possible that the Mush order represents a subtle rethinking on Daedelus’s part as to the most appropriate conclusion of the album. It is the opinion of the Cahiers Collection that “Thanatopsis” is indeed a much more appropriate finale and an issue is made of this in the synopsis.

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