Leaving Things Out

From Paul Morley, “On Gospel, Abba and the Death of the Record: an Audience with Brian Eno,” The Observer 17 January 2010 (Features section, p.10)

“A way to make new music is to imagine looking back at the past from a future and imagine music that could have existed but didn’t. […] One of the innovations of ambient music was leaving out the idea that there should be melody or words or a beat… so in a way that was music designed by leaving things out — that can be a form of innovation, knowing what to leave out.”

The Slits


Zoë Street Howe, Typical Girls? The Story of The Slits (London: Omnibus Press, 2009):

Keith Levene: “Viv [Albertine] was the one who made me aware of the Pistols when they were more a myth than an actual band…” (p. 4).

Ana Da Silva: “I remember very well this article that Vivien Goldman had written, she mentioned The Slits, which I thought was great, this band hadn’t done anything but it was there in the papers and everything” (p. 17).

Vivien Goldman: “Tessa was sitting on the bed with Budgie, who had this necklace with a pair of scissors because her group was called The Castrators. It was more of a conceptual thing. Put it this way — I don’t remember the music but I remember the scissors!” (p. 19).

Gina Birch: “…and that’s probably why Vivien Golman was able to write about them, because they’d envisaged what they were going to do before they did it” (p. 18).

Tessa Pollitt: “I started a group called The Castrators with two other girls called Budgie and Angie, but none of us could particularly play, it was just an idea. Suddenly the News of the World was knocking on the door — they wanted to do a sensational article about punkesses. There’s this classic line that says, ‘These girls make The Sex Pistols look like choirboys!'” (p. 18).

Rumour Bands and Tease Gigs


Here’s an extract from David Johnson‘s “Spandau Ballet, the Blitz Kids and the Birth of the New Romantics” (The Observer Music Monthly 4 October 2009, p.38):

…Such was the rigour that Spandau [Ballet]’s coalition of 20-year-old talents brought to executing the whirlwind wind-up that it became a template for every New Romantics “rumour band”:

(1) They staged secret “tease dates”, never “gigs”, at clubs and venues calculated to annoy the rockists, such as the Blitz, an art-house cinema, or a warship on the Thames. The audience got in only by looking good — which applied to critics, too.

(2) They refused to send demo tapes or invite inviting record companies to shows, so few insiders actually knew how the band sounded.

(3) Seemingly a band with no past, Spandau crafted an artful creation myth around the Blitz’s postmodern themes: Bowie’s “just for one day” notion of disposable identities, and of bricolage in which the band’s baffling name was supposedly plucked arbitrarily by Elms from some graffiti in Berlin. The Blitz’s motormouths and myth-makers were a gift to the media. …Spandau Ballet had played only eight live dates before signing an unrivalled contract worth £300,000 in today’s money. …

Auto-Destructive Art


Jonathan Jones, “How Dada Spawned the Art of Anarchy,” Guardian Art and Design Blog 29 September 2009

“…Punk and dada, across the decades, share a savage hostility to the security and luxury of artistic respectability. The true anti-artist is never interested in compromise: for Lydon, to class the Pistols as high art was to tame them, contain them. This same anti-art rage is exemplified by Gustav Metzger, whom I interviewed recently, and whose concept of “auto-destructive art” is yet another variant of modern art’s impulse to smash reality.

This impulse to destruct, efface, obliterate cannot be confined to a single kind of modern art. There is as much negation, as icy a contemplation of the void, in the Rothko Chapel in Houston as in any dada collage.

This is why [Greil] Marcus writes so well about dada and its legacy, because he sees its bitter, liberated heart and does not take for granted what it was. It is also why to dismiss “anti-art” tendencies today is to be blind to the way they permeate the entire history of modernism — in short, to be a stuckist.”


Jonathan Jones, “Gustav Metzger: The Liquid Crystal Revolutionary,” The Guardian 29 September 2009 (p. 19 of the Arts section)

“…In the 1960s, his argument that destruction is a form of last-chance creativity in a terminal world had a subterranean influence — not least on Pete Townshend, who was Metzger’s student at art college and credits him with inspiring the Who to destroy their instruments. …

In 1974, Metzger called an Art Strike: for three years, from 1977 to 1980, he refused to make, sell or exhibit art, or to promote himself as an artist in any way. …

Today, at the Serpentine, I ask him why he invented auto-destructive art, what he meant by it. ‘It was a summing up of my entire life until that period,’ he says, in the German accent he has never lost. ‘It was my childhood in Nazi Germany, coming to this country as a refugee, as a survivor. And then when we had peace, the entire planet being transformed by nuclear weapons. That is at the centre of my life.’ …

Of watching the [Nazi] parades, he says now: ‘Certainly the brutality of seeing 10,000 people marching like machines — as a child I must have rejected it.’ Did it make him the artist he is? ‘It could be that I saw so much power that I needed to get rid of it in myself. That’s one way to understand the origins of auto-destructive art. In Judaism there is a tradition of rejecting power: the Prophets rejected power. That was part of my childhood, giving up rather than acquiring.’ …

You could say that Metzger is the Kindertransport’s greatest failure: instead of building a constructive life for himself in postwar Britain, he invented a destructive life — or a destructive art. His art is a refusal to forget, to assimilate, to move on. His anger at the world is almost that of an alienated child: he tells me that, in a photograph he once showed me — of a child holding his hands up during the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto — he sees himself: ‘I identify with this child.’

Violent art is Metzger’s response to a violent world. In his exhibition, that same Warsaw photograph will be shown concealed behind a barrier, like the other images in his series Historic Photographs. These are his most enduring and remarkable works: you crawl on your hands and knees across the images as a way of remembering what happened. …”

Link to the Gustav Metzger exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery.

Blank Art


Hermione Hoby, “Nothing Ventured, Something Gained,” The Observer 16 August 2009 (page 3)

As one band asks fans to fill an album of silence, Hermione Hoby looks at the history of blank art

How to proceed when your eight albums have already plundered pretty much every musical landscape out there? The unflaggingly experimental brother-sister duo, the Fiery Furnaces, have an answer: a silent album – or Silent Record to give their recently announced project its proper name. Yet those seeking balm for overstimulated minds and ears might be disappointed – the “record” is in fact a book of music notation, reports and illustrations and includes plans for a series of “fan-band concerts” where fans will “perform, interpret, contradict, ignore, and so on, the compositions that make up Silent Record.” Sounds noisy. But the history of emptiness is a rich one …

John Cage’s 4’33, 1952

The avant-garde composer’s four-minute, 33-second recording of a pianist not playing the piano wasn’t, in fact, the sound of nothing: its unavoidable ambient sounds indicated the impossibility of silence. And, in a stroke of etymological irony, Cage’s explorations of silence paved the way for the genre of Noise music.

Yves Klein’s The Void, 1958

Klein’s empty, white-painted room at the Iris Clert gallery in Paris had just one concession to colour: blue cocktails at its opening. Thousands queued to see it.

Anne Lydiat’s Lost For Words, 2000

The only words in Lydiat’s book of 100 empty pages are those on the dustjacket: “About this book I have promised myself to say nothing,” is the sagely evasive declaration from philosopher Maurice Blanchot. Many parted with £9.99 to own a copy.

My Penguin, 2007

Judging a book by its cover becomes a tempting exercise when the cover’s drawn by the reader. Penguin’s blank-cover editions of eminently illustratable classics – Alice in Wonderland and Animal Farm among the most popular – drew on the irresistible desire to scribble all over a white space.

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul, 2009

It was a legal impasse rather than artistic high-mindedness that prompted this pair to bypass their record company and flog a blank CD, including a note encouraging punters to illegally download their album. No marks for meditations on emptiness but all props for so craftily dodging a lawsuit.