Friday 25th FebruaryFebruary 25, 2011
A very interesting CD indeed tonight, one that I suspect will annoy more than it inspires and become talked about quite a bit. I kind of hope so anyway. The disc in question is the second release on Miguel Prado’s aptly named CDr label Heresy, a solo work by Miguel named Comedy Apories.
Now, this disc is structurally no different to many Radu Malfatti compositions in that it contains a great deal of digital silence, amongst which, and at presumably carefully chosen points, sounds are distributed, or rather, one sound, used repeatedly, though occasionally slightly pitchshifted. So I must like it yes? I must be able to enjoy it in the same way I do when I sit back and enjoy the tension between sound and silence in a Malfatti work?
Well, maybe… but this CD differs in that the chosen sound is that of canned laughter, a small grab of it, maybe a second and a half in length, placed in spaces around a digital silence lasting thirty-sebven minutes. Now, Prado’s disc came accompanied by a press release that quotes from Zizek and Ray Brassier, but also points out that Prado has chosen this sample so as to
“work with these sounds apart from any other artifice or affectation. I tried to objectify the experience of generating noise, forget any eglomaniac gloating very typical of the artists” (sic)”
So, as a listener, I am presented by a CD, in a brown cardboard slipcase, which when inserted into my CD player does little but laugh at me every now and again. The irony of course, is hilarious. Now, the choice of canned laughter is a massively loaded, and thoroughly interesting one. There are of course the cultural connotations of this sound, the way it is used in the crassest, lifeless “entertainment” of our age to remind us when we are supposed to find something funny, when we are supposed to respond, and how we are supposed to respond… Then there is the relationship between laughter, humour, and experimental music. For some people I can think of, humour shouldn’t be there in this music, its something to sit and scratch your chin and consider carefully rather than laugh at. Those that laugh at the silly sounds made by experimental music just don’t “get it”…
So Prado has created a piece of music that conforms precisely to the aesthetic structure of a lot of Wandelweiser-esque music, and he has created it in a careful, precise manner, possibly with a system applied to the spacing of the samples amongst the silence, as the gaps are certainly irregular. He has though, completely changed a great deal about the music by replacing the solemn twang of a guitar, or a dry cello line, or a tasteful field recording with this ugly, vaguely insulting sound lifted from everyday garish life. In a recent, very intelligent piece written by David Grundy about the Audiograft concert I attended a week or so back, David wondered about how I, and others that hold the Wandelweiser aesthetic in high esteem might view the music, whether we placed it in some imagined ivory tower away from the rigours and horrors of the real world. I don’t think I do this, though it is good to be made to think about it, and certainly it made me smile to put this CD on for the first time a day or two ago and find it laughing at me, as if mocking the process I had gone through to sit down, make myself comfortable and try and focus on what was coming from my speakers. If there was an ivory tower it would have lain in rubble after listening to this CD! In many ways Comedy Apories is a more witty, more thoughtful update of Mattin and Taku Unami’s Attention release, in which Mattin verbally confronts the listener as they sit and listen- “are you paying enough attention? Is your CD player good enough for this CD?” Here though, very cleverly, Prado has taken a currently very topical, widely considered style of music making (and to be clear he calls the work a “Wandelweiser Detournement” in his notes, this isn’t just my reading of the work) and he has literally made the CD laugh at the listener, so replacing those aesthetically pleasing cellos and guitars with something that is roughly the polar opposite. It also has a lot in common with Unami’s Malignitat releases in the way it questions our ideas of what sounds should be considered worthy of a role in experimental music and which should not.
I don’t take this CD to be an affront to me and the way I listen to music, but it is certainly a firm reminder that if we are to hold up musicians as merely the purveyors of aesthetic beauty and little else then we are on a slippery slope. It begs the question- If you remove the aesthetically beautiful sounds from a composition does it still have value? Does it still warrant listening to in the same manner? As someone that is able to enjoy music on both levels, both as something that challenges me, makes me think, make me question my own habits and ethics, but also as something that is often inherently beautiful, this disc straddles the divide that I often subconsciously place within the music, a separation between the fundamentally conceptual and the aesthetically beautiful. Of course a large amount of music, if not all of it, embodies elements of both sides of this ‘divide’, but often I personally (as you may notice if you read these pages regularly) listen to things differently depending on how I seem to irrationally separate things. Comedy Apories then brings this under the spotlight and leads me to think again about such matters, just as I also want to go find the Zizek essay Prado quotes from.
A very thoughtful release. Available here.