This Week: Room 40
I feel spaced out. Hold up, I’m going to make some more coffee.
Met a feller, name of Lawrence English, the other day at Brisbane’s Powerhouse (a big converted space where all the city-funded artistries seem to take place). Outside, it was sunny and we discussed the impracticalities of trying to make a living from self-financed projects. (Lawrence runs a fine avant-garde label called Room 40 that releases CDs full of gentle magic and tape loops). Meanwhile inside a whole bunch of music business types ate city-funded canapés and drank city-funded alcohol while listening to ideas designed to help promote Brisbane as a “city of music” on an International Scale, something along the lines of, um, Seattle in the Nineties. The ironies seemed mutable. Perhaps they should enlist someone who helped turn Seattle into a city of…nah. Who’d bother coming all the way out here?
None of Room 40’s releases come in jewel cases—at least, not the ones Lawrence passed along to me. Now, excuse me while I’ll take a tangent, but I want to share with you a couple of primary impressions of Brisbane rock folk: 1) everyone loves Smashing Pumpkins, 2) everyone loves Brian Jonestown Massacre and 3) no one seems embarrassed by either fact. On one level, I find myself warming to my new friends’ lack of cool. It’s refreshing after so many years of being held in thrall to the zeitgeist in Brighton, England. On another level, it shocks me to my core: what demons lurk at the heart of loveliness? Gathered at a swarm of twenty-something female musicians roasting marshmallows over an open fire, I was deliberately exposed to a Smashing Pumpkins song (I’ve never consciously listened to the band before). “Ah, is this what Smashing Pumpkins sound like? Well then, that explains it,” I stated blandly. “Explains what?” my companion asked. “Why so much music is shit. After all, this band was enormously popular in its time.”
On another occasion, I was asked whether I preferred songs or soundscapes. Good question: the former, of course, otherwise I might be a Smashing Pumpkins fan, cos Corgan sure as shit can’t write songs. My (popular) musical education happened in a time and place (1977-8, England) when pop music was punk and punk was pop. It was all about the voice, the sound and the song—all equally as important, not one ripped asunder from the other.
Mr English passed along several of his CDs to me: much appreciated. I welcome anything that ISN’T ROCK, that DOESN’T WHINE AT THE TOP OF ITS VOICE. But here’s the weird contradiction at the heart of Everett True: much as I rail against rock music and cliché and form, that’s still what I appreciate most. Room 40 deals in soundscapes and landscapes and seascapes and escapes, and through the minimalism of loop and laptop and 4-track artists, such as Steinbrüchel [artwork for Basis above] and Qua and Leighton Craig, demands active participation on the part of the listener—yes, even though you believe this music is designed to immerse, foliate, soothe; and here’s the rub. Same way film is a crap art-form because 1) it’s dictated to by money and 2) it corrodes the need for imagination, I sometimes wonder whether my ears have been dulled by too many years of listening to FUCKING OBVIOUS verse-chorus-verse (however splendid the sound) and thus are unable to appreciate the micro-delights of Lawrence English’s own For Varying Degrees Of Winter album, because the changes of pace and texture are too small, too detailed. Month in, month out I read descriptions of this very music in the pages of Plan B and wonder: do I really need the visuals? Do I really need THE VOICE to appreciate texture?
But wait: my argument doesn’t hold. Because Lawrence’s music does everything for me—in its crackles and slight crescendos and silences and seagull-in-flight beautiful audio and miniscule frailties and oscillating synthesizers—that I’d hoped for, but not found, in the other Room 40 releases. It trips solicitude and unbidden memory and imagined other worlds, the same way The Residents’ Eskimo once overwhelmed my senses, but without the sense of mocking laughter in the background. It’s so nearly not there, it’s mesmerising. It feels like I’m at an installation, without the irritating video screens. It has entirely calmed me down.
I was going to talk about Tenniscoats—another Room 40 artist, who make me delighted the same way that Brisbane verandas and Melody Dog make me delighted—but that will have to wait now. I have the remainder of Mr English’s gentle rhapsody to listen to.