Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feeding the kids twice.

Someone asked us, "What do you think about musician's smashing their expensive gear? Whether they be guitars, drum kits, keyboards, amps. Do you think it makes the show or detracts from it. The Who were famous for it as were a lot others."

In the answers I saw that concept of "expensive" came up a couple of times. It was a "waste" someone said, the money for a guitar would "feed a lot of kids".

Perhaps I've lived in Capitalism Land for too long, but I really didn't get that bit at all. If a musician buys one guitar, it feeds the guitar maker's kids once. If a musician buys a guitar and smashes it, then buys another, it feeds the guitar maker's kids twice. The "waste" angle is odd when one is talking about refretting a speaker cab and putting a new neck on a guitar. It's a tiny piece of wood. The average American probably junks more packing material in a month than go to make up one neck and fretcloth. Every American, every month.

I remembered that Pete Townshend learned of Auto Destruction at Ealing College of Art. So I looked up Townshend's destructivist influence, who I found initially named as Metzke. Townsend first heard the visiting Austrian artist lecture at Ealing Art College. In The Last Party, a history of Britpop, John Harris writes:

Perhaps most importantly, Townshend was keyed in to theories of an Austrian named Gustav Metzke, the mind behind 'auto-destruction'. Metzke talked about sculpting statues that would intentionally fall from their plinths; at one lecture, he methodically destroyed a double bass.The result was that Townshend was the first rock musician to bring a conceptual vocabulary to what he did. His Britishness meant that he had no deep-seated ties to the music's roots: what may or may have not been "authentic" did not even occur to him. He steered The Who through a stream of contrivances: 'Pop Art Music', 'Rock Opera', the onstage frenzies of instrument-smashing that he squared with Metzke's theories. "Pop music is art, and it's vital that it should be understood as art," he said in 1965. These were not the kind of words that tended to be expressed in an American accent.

It was easier to find out about Metzke when I spelled his name the common way: Gustav Metzger. He was a member of the Fluxus movement (as was Yoko Ono before she met John Lennon), and his auto destructive art has been traced from Tinguely's Machine Happening of 1960 all the way through to Survival Research Labs (SRL). There's a long article about destruction art here on line. Note that it's been translated so it's a bit difficult to read. Selected Comments on Destruction Art.

Destruction art bears witness to the tenuous conditionality of survival; it is the visual discourse of the survivor. It is the only attempt in the visual arts to grapple seriously with the technology and psychodynamics of actual and virtual extinction, one of the few cultural practices to redress the general absence of discussion about destruction in society.

I remember hearing this line as a kid and thinking it was bollocks. The middle classes – the sort of people who go to art schools – may have not heard much about destruction at their wine and cheese parties, but the masses of people, the working class, deal with destruction, death and degradation every day.

Appreciation of getting pigs' guts thrown over you by a sneery artist who wants you to be shocked out of your complacency is limited to people who don't kill pigs for a living. I believe it was Ozzy Osborne who once said, "I used to work with animals. I used to kill them." I'm sure he had heard some discussion about destruction in his society.

Onwards, though, with Destructivism:

In this regard, one of the key psychoanalytic dimensions of destruction art is the charged emotional reaction to the anger and frustration these three experienced as the disempowered 'other' within the Western male culture to which they belonged and which they theoretically controlled. This sense of being 'out-of-control', in part, accounts for the violence of their rejection of the deceptive conventions of Western 'creation' and the repressive sublimations it demands. The range of their destructions and the objects or human actions upon which they were visited, however problematic, must be characterized as parody, a profound disgust and rejection of the patriarchal models of discipline, punishment, violence, and authoritarianism so accurately theorized by Klaus Thewelei.
Metzger was not a pigs' guts guy himself. At the time, his talk was of statues that would be programmed to self-destruct. Metzger's concept of art that destroys itself – auto destructive art – is still in demand. He was at Instal 08. He's in his eighties now.

But harpist Rhodri Davies will be collaborating with Metzger on a performance involving auto-destructive harp. There will also be sub-bass experiments in the bowels of The Arches looking at the way acoustic science allows sound to be generated and destroyed in the same instant. (It's how they proposed suppressing the noise of generators and pneumatic drills; I distinctly remember Judith Hann in a hard hat, shaking prettily but quietly on Tomorrow's World.)

Sound that destroys itself, self-cancelling sound, would be the ultimate 96 decibel freak-out. I hope it worked; I hope it was more successful than the infra-sound William Burroughs threatened to experiment with in his interview with Jimmy Page in Crawdaddy Magazine in 1975.

I brought up the subject of infra-sound, that is, sound pitched below 16 Hertz, the level of human hearing; as ultra-sound is abovethe level. Professer Gavreau of France developed infra-sound as a military weapon. A powerful infra-sound installation can, he claims, kill everyone in a five-mile radius, knock down walls and break windows. Infra-sound kills by setting up vibrations within the body so that, as Gavreau puts it, "You can feel all the organs in your body rubbing together."
SRL, who combine pigs and skulls with machines that roar and clatter themselves into flaming graves, are a burningmaniacal summit to this type of art. Talking of SRL, I have seen their DVDs but I have to make it to one of their shows before I die. Or before they die, which is increasingly likely given quite how much destruction they can pack into one show.

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