Wednesday, January 22, 2014

to mix art with activism

In the distance is the city, hidden from view.

K9 moved back into the combat area – Standing now in the Chinese youth sent the resistance message jolting clicking tilting through the pinball machine – Enemy plans exploded in a burst of rapid calculations – Clicking in punch cards of redirected orders – Crackling shortwave static – Bleeeeeeeeeeeeeep – Sound of thinking metal – “Calling partisans of all nations – Word falling – Photo falling – Break through in Grey Room – Pinball led streets – Free doorways – Shift coordinate points –”

Nova Express. Burroughs

As a result, therefore, man (the worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions – eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.

Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Estranged Labour. Marx.

My four days of mona foma.

I was fortunate enough to get a festival pass to the 2014 mona foma. And so my thoughts.

Fishing boats high hot summer evening - wave upon wave fractal innumerable myriad. Ole timey working working places. The mystique of the proletariat. Sail boats sailing along the the setting sun wind.

So what did I like about the festival? The bands, the music. While I did not love everything I saw, and while I was not able to see every event, I have to say there was nothing I saw that was terrible; nothing I saw did not deserve to be there.

But the absolute highlights for me had to be Sun Ra Arkestra, The Julie Ruin, and the Ada Project. There were several acts that I was unfamiliar with and I was very glad to have had the exposure. I also greatly enjoyed The Ada Project. So much so that I saw it four times!

There was, as I said, very little I did not like. And the things I did not like, were more my perception as opposed to the music being made. For example I am not a great fan of the techno dance sort of sound. So I tried to understand the acts in what they were trying to do, more than what I would have liked them to do.

It is to the credit of the hundreds of staff that organise these events that very little went wrong. There was a slight hiccup on the first night, when the scanner had difficulties reading my ticket. But on subsequent days there was no issue. I am sure there where a few back stage dramas, but as a viewer I knew nothing of that, and things seemed to flow quite easily from one act to the next. Food and drinks were plentiful if a tad pricey, but not so much that one would think it was out of the ordinary. If one did not care about alcohol, and wanted to get a juice, there was no line and it was easy to purchase. I did notice some very long lines, but as it was not me waiting...

So at best only minor things went wrong, at least from an outsiders point of view, so any complaints are more in the category of quibbles and not complaints. Hats off the the many staff who worked on the stalls, and collected tickets and etc, as much as the musicians, this regiment of staff should be seen as integral to the smooth functioning of the festival. Or as Brecht said in his poem A Worker Reads History, “Caesar beat the Gauls. Was there not even a cook in his army?”

What would I change? I found the MAC Backstage room to be a stuffy, anxiety creating venue. This could have been just me, as the room was often filled with people, digging the music, bopping and having fun. Some people have complained about the ticketing and entry for the Faux Mo nightclub. I admit I did not attend this so I can not comment, but will note it as something I heard.

The smithies, working in the forecourt to create looped beats and a metal sculpture, were a great hit. As much as the work they were doing was interesting in itself, they also provided a focus for the gathering crowd. I was a bit surprised as to how little the forecourt was used by the event. To my mind there seems no reason why it could not be filled with local performers, buskers, fire eaters, spoke word artists and the like. This would provide an outlet for local artists, as well as giving them a bit of encouragement, and would also give spectators more fuel to allow them to speculate, and recharge.

And of course the main change I would make, would be to somehow make the event more woman friendly. I would like to see, in future festivals, something like one day of the four day festival be given over to only female artists. I know that some will say “ Do we have to have this discussion again?” While others can say the exact same thing, but with a slight change in emphasis and so “Do we have to have this discussion again?” But one only has to look at the program and see the overwhelming preponderance of male artists. Well over half were male, or male dominated performances. With only a few breaking this penile mold. The fact that The Julie Ruin was one of the few shows bent towards women proves in a rather ironic way this truth.

I know that such a suggestion would be controversial. But to me any back lash to the idea of creating a more gender balanced event would again prove the truth.

What did the festival make me think about? One thing that jumbled around my brainpan was the idea of the distinction between (for lack of better words) music driven and word driven music. Music driven seems to flow more organically and more freely, more like the proverbial river. With lyrics there seems to be more of an architectural feel, the music is built up around a scaffolding of words. Maybe a thing to do would be to investigate incorporating improvisational lyrics into songs.

I was to a certain extent disappointed with some of the electronic boyz and the sounds they were making. It seems to me, and I am happy to be proven wrong, that with all the computing power at hand, with the vast of array of electronics willing to due the maestro's bidding that something better than a constant pumping 1,2,3,4 beat could be found. It seems to me that we have the ability to make electric music that sounds like angels signing. There is no need for a beat, as the computer will never miss. I want something to dance to that is different. Of course the crowd went wild, so who the hell do I know. I did, for example, like the poly-rhythmic sounds of HIVE, their use of old and new ways to produce music.

In a similar vein the festival made me think and cower in wonder at the process. A puff of air, the vibration of a string or skin, the rush of electrons. More a way things happen, than a thing. Nothing but vibrations. Resonance. And I can not even find the words to describe the flow of images and thoughts that crowded my mind, like the crowded venue floor, surging and swaying. From almost nothing comes music, in the way that a monsoon is little more than warm moist air rising from the ocean, so to the music is simply the vibrations moving through the air. And both the storm and music emerge from the chaos become so much more.

Over the four days of the festival the temperature rose and fell here in Hobart. Dangerous climate conditions caused distress on the mainland. Bushfires burnt up the east coast of the big island.

Daily the news spoke of increasing confrontation in the northern seas. Shots were fired across the bow of ships filled with children.

Compassion is becoming a dirty word. The assault, the counter revolution, is gathering pace. Education and disability care, and education are all in the firing line. Same sex marriage is being brushed aside, howled down in a mocking chorus of convenient morality. The “be excellent to one another” idea of Jesus is being ignored, and in America anyway there is talk to rewriting the bible more in line with tea party politics.

We are trading our freedoms for the idea of an illusionary choice. Are we to control the machines, or are we to be controlled? Are we to simply be an adjunct to the machine, or the machines to liberate us. Computer technology in many ways starkly shows the Marxist idea of alienation, of working people building a productive capacity is which is then used against them. A vast network of control that can constantly monitor citizens. The greatest, never tiring, surveillance network every made. Is this to be our future? Should we not make the machines work for us? Maybe lower the hours of work to only 20 hours a week, allowing more time for creation of life, family, of art.

The PM is off skiing in France, while the media slumbers contently after a long and tiring campaign of social control.

We live in an age of urgencies. We are hurtling headlong into a crisis, into the abyss. I felt that foma missed the opportunity to highlight these urgencies. I did not see all the bands, so I may have missed some important things. Most of the acts I saw at best only hinted at, or spoke indirectly about what is to be done. From what I saw only The Julie Ruin seemed willing to discuss directly the problems we face, and to offer some sort of a solution.

The solution being to mix art with activism, to build community.

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