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While writing this newsletter I listened to:
Purple Mountains - s/t
75 Dollar Bill - I Was Real
Leven Signs - Hemp is Here
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Acedia
week of 18 July 2019
 

Hi. It’s been awhile. No excuses or justifications are forthcoming. People keep telling me how much they miss this newsletter, so assuming that sample extrapolates to the rest of you, well ... here it is. And if this isn't welcome, then you can easily unsubscribe, I suppose.

What is responsible for my sudden motivation to write here? I’ve started a bit of a personal archiving project, which in turn has triggered immense feelings of nostalgia, awe, wonder, etc as I sort through material; this, in turn, stokes my fears and insecurities about being ‘productive’, about having something to show for my life. An email newsletter is, after all, the highest form of cultural dissemination.

I’m not sure what inspired this archival impulse, but it’s been fun. I enjoy dealing with stacks of burned, decaying CDr and DVDr media, containing hours and hours of musical outbursts from past years, mostly involving myself but sometimes just recordings of friends playing without me. I’ve recovered plenty of raw, messy, unedited sessions from Lied Music, Intro to Pterodactyl, and other past bands, as well as one-off improv sessions I barely/don't remember, some with people who I barely/don't remember. I enjoyed buying a filing cabinet to start working through paper material, and I will enjoy buying a flatbed scanner soon. And cloud storage is cheap with Wasabi.

After starting this, I was approached by someone curating an exhibition on DIY spaces in Helsinki from 2000 to the present, who wanted Ptarmigan to be a presence in it. Coincidence or synchronicity? It provides a great opportunity to start dealing with the Ptarmigan archives as well, which are (digitally) scattered remnants, and (physically) a drawer full of miscellany containing everything from rental contracts to hand-drawn brainstorming mind maps. 

But back to my own stuff: I’m continually amazed at what I’m finding. Not by the content itself –– I haven't listened through to many of the recordings –– but by the sheer proliferation of them. This amazement is directed towards myself, and how I’ve changed. In the summer of 2004 I stayed for two months in Glasgow (before returning ‘permanently’ in autumn 2005, ha ha), and it seems like during that brief time I played with people almost every day, recording everything. Wide-eyed and eager, I approached different people, which often led to aimless jamming, as I tried to make sense of the israj I had just dragged back from India. But I just threw myself into the experiences, and now I have more musical evidence of these two months than of all the the subsequent years combined.

Over the last 15 years, my documented output diminishes, dwindling to almost nothing. During this same period, culture has moved towards Big Data –– generating an over-abundance of photos, videos, comments, tweets, and other indicators of experience. I’ve resisted this to varying degrees (depending on which time you might be asking about). My frustration is not necessarily with graphomania itself (though it’s important to buttress against nostalgia, and the narcissism that Big Data engenders), but with how this data is used. You don’t need to read yet another screed against surveillance capitalism here, but know that while my engagement has ebbed and flowed over this time, I’ve always resolutely preferred to control my own means of digital existence; hence, the numerous homegrown content management systems and digital platforms for projects I’ve been involved with.

The resulting paradox is that during my most active and fertile periods of cultural production, I probably have the least to show for it, as I tried to emphasise the ephemeral moments in projects through the Ptarmigans, Pixelache, Temporary/Kuusi Palaa, etc. And all while the rest of the world has generated a noise-to-signal ratio that is overwhelming at times, so much that navigating through it must be step #1 in building any new culture.

Last month I participated in the inter-format symposium at Nida Art Colony, on the topic of humour and absurdity in art –– we did a reunion show of Serious Introspection, a chaotic mess that you can watch at seriousintrospection.fi. There was a lot of good stuff in the symposium, but one highlight was the artist Kasia Fudakowski. She presented some recent work built around an absurd narrative concept where speech is found to be the main cause of climate crisis, and thus words have to be rationed. Among the many ideas this stimulated was that a scrupulous withholding of documentary practice could sharpen and enhance expression, again in resistance to the prevailing winds.

Even in my peak recording days I took the word ‘release’ quite seriously, only allowing carefully-sculpted, finished products to get ‘out’, rather than dumping a plethora of tape and CDr releases into the world, as many of my peers were doing.  Does scarcer music mean better music?  Of course not, but at least fewer shitty music releases are easier to sort through than many.

MEDIA INTAKE
I used to always put a ‘media intake’ section in this newsletter and I see no reason to stop, though since it’s been a year and a half since the last issue, there’s been a lot of media consumed.

Just read: Anna Garréta’s 1986 novel Sphinx, translated into English a few years ago and published by Deep Vellum. Garréta is a member of the Oulipo (though she joined in 2000, not when this was written) and Sphinx uses the constraint of being genderless, which is a more difficult accomplishment in the French original. But while the translation also has to jump through hoops to stay true to the text, this constraint was not my primary source of enjoyment in the text. Rather, it was the intense emotional underbelly of the narrative, completely gripping and immersive, which felt ahead of its time in terms of identity politics, and had little (but not zero) lighthearted play, as Oulipo novels are generally known to have.

I recently discovered the films of Lucrecia Martel, or at least her first three – I haven’t yet watched Zama, though I’m interested as I enjoyed the novel it’s based on. But her ’Salta trilogy’ films (as they are known) are all stunning; searing in their attacks on privilege, but secretly funny (and precise). From the first few moments of La Ciénaga I was thrown into a near-hallucinatory state, and I never quite emerged from it as I watched it and the following films unfold.

The third and final work of the Nocilla trilogy by Agustin Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Lab, finally got an English translation earlier this year. I actually haven’t finished it yet; after the mind-blowing style of the first two novels, this one is relatively straight-forward, almost like a documentary ‘how to’ about the others. I’ve been taking it slow and letting myself become intentionally distracted by other things, which is sometimes nice, though it belies the amount of anticipation I had for it.

OTHER STUFF
This is where I usually collect links to miscellaneous things, but again with such a backlog I’m not really sure where to start.

I’ve soured quite a bit on The Guardian, but this recent article on Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, one of my favourite books, was beautifully written and made me want to revisit the novel.

During a recent drive through the Baltic states (which has become a summer tradition), I caught up with my friend Will, the founder of Deep Baltic. So this seems like a good time to plug the site, which I may have mentioned here before; it features excellent English-language writing on Baltic culture and current affairs. Recently, Will published an article on the unbuilt Riga metro, which is a must-read for anyone interested in the region.

Have you ever seen Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees? It’s an utterly unclassifiable film that dances between fun faux-personal essay and being a full-fledged psychedelic mindfuck. It was made during the first Gulf War and uses a heavy amount of video art effects and then-cutting-edge computer animations to re-examine the American west, the 20th century drive towards speed and destruction, and the spectacles of media and popular culture. 

OK, that’s all for now, but it’s good to be back. As always, I’d love to hear from you.

Best,

John
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