liberation through a lack of interest: jorge boehringer on the no-audience underground

December 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground | 5 Comments
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Jorge Boehringer, best known ’round these parts for his guise Core of the Coalman, is an indefatigable, shaggy haired polymath knee deep in all that is musically intriguing. When he got in touch recently to ask about writing an article on the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ it was with great regret that I couldn’t find the time for an email interview. In contrast, I was knee deep in Duplo and nappies full of brightly coloured toddler crap. That wasn’t going to put him off though and, using a few links I desperately chucked his way and adding some original research of his own, he wrote it anyway. Good man. The finished piece appeared in Czech magazine HIS VOICE. Jorge explains:

…it is sort of like The Wire, it’s called VOICE – “his” Voice, which is a stupid name in English but it’s because h.i.s. stands for “hudebni informace spolecnosti” which means “musical information society” which is in fact a really important and great group of people for experimental music over there, a magazine of “other” music is what they call it…

Cool, eh? Ermm… probably. Alas, and to my shame, I can’t read a word of Czech so I had to sheepishly ask for a translation. Jorge obliged and I was flattered and excited to find that not only had he nailed it, but had called on some surprising sources new to me too. A flurry of interest on Twitter led to me asking permission to reprint it here and Jorge obliged again. What a gent. Following the article are the links that Jorge provided at the end of the original, following those are links to the magazine and Jorge’s own site. Please investigate – there is apparently plenty going on in the Czech underground that we should get to know…

Over to Jorge:

Liberation Through a Lack of Interest: The No-Audience Underground

there is no ‘audience’ for the scene because the scene IS the audience

– Rob Hayler, Radio Free Midwich

Rob Hayler is an electronic musician and sound artist working under the name Midwich. Hayler is one-half of Fencing Flatworm Recordings – a micro-label releasing a plethora of musical abstractions by various colourfully named personages – and editor of the blog Radio Free Midwich, which, among other things charts the development of a Northern England DIY experimental music scene that nobody cares about, and one that doesn’t care about anyone else either. In other words, Hayler is a very active example of the type of musician responsible for the local continuity of DIY and experimental music in his region, and by extension the sort of person one finds in the substrate of underground music scenes everywhere. What is different about Hayler, and according to him, many of the musicians whose work he is most involved with, is that they do not care whether I write this or not. They don’t care if you listen either.

When I first coined the phrase at the turn of the century it was because I needed a succinct way of referring to a scene that contained wildly diverse creative endeavours: from blood-and- spittle power-noise to the daintiest bowed singing bowl.

– Rob Hayler

Hayler coined the term ‘No-Audience Underground’ several years ago to describe a scene in which there were no passive listeners, but rather an energetic community of active contributors. It is no secret that the audience for many experimental music gigs consists of other musicians firstly, followed by a layer of artists from other disciplines, and then finally, perhaps a few “standard audience” members, by which I mean people coming to the concert simply to listen, with no personal artistic relationship to what is happening onstage. A friend of the bass player on holiday from Zlin, perhaps a colleague tagging along to the gig after a long shift at the ice cream factory, or someone’s mom account for this small percentage of listeners. Meanwhile the rest of the audience consists of people who might normally be found on a “guest list” for a mainstream band at a larger venue: the friends performing in or promoting next week’s concert, publishing the recordings, or writing criticism. As audience members are seen as active participants, the entire social role of the audience and the function of the music produced there is redefined:

The roles one might have – musician, promoter, label ‘boss’, distributor, writer, ‘critic’, paying punter and so on – are fluid, non-hierarchical and can be exchanged or adopted as needed.

I must stress that this is not a snobbish clique of insiders obsessively tending to every aspect of their hobby … but a friendly and welcoming group who have realised that if they want it to happen then they have to make it happen themselves.

Video of Posset Live, Northumbria Arms, 2010

It is also interesting to note that whilst the idea of N-AU (an abbreviation for No-Audience Underground credited to Joe Posset, an extremely active Northern English noisist) could, in many obvious ways, counter views expressed by Milton Babbitt in his much sited essay “Who Cares if You Listen?” (High Fidelity, February, 1958) there are some important points of contact as well. For example, Babbitt expressed a problem in his essay’s exposition:

This composer expends an enormous amount of time and energy- and, usually, considerable money- on the creation of a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value. He is, in essence, a “vanity” composer. The general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music. The majority of performers shun it and resent it. Consequently, the music is little performed, and then primarily at poorly attended concerts before an audience consisting in the main of fellow ‘professionals’. At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists.

The solution to this problem, at least in part, has been to embrace electronic music. A practice in which the performer, composer, and audience could be the same person, in which the process of the creation of the work lay solely with the creator of it, and one for which the aesthetic criteria for the sonic artwork would be determined by the decisions and aspirations of the creative musician alone. These are approaches so common today as to be completely taken for granted as normal in the production of music as an independent artist, even though in context Babbitt worked in very much an ivory-tower studio while today’s experimental musicians materialize their noisy visions in their basements with charity shop cassette recorders and hacked guitar effect pedals.

In a society where artistic merit, or value in general, is conflated with perceived financial worth, it is interesting to note some commonalities in the approach to economic thinking expressed above by Babbitt, a largely “academic” composer working in the 1950’s and the heirs to an ostensibly post-punk/noise scene. For example, to again quote Joe Posset:

The trade thing is a bit ‘our way of shaking hands’. It’s also a great way to keep the filthy lucre out of the equation. I sold one CD-R on that last tour. Just one; and if I ever find out who bought it I’ll give them the next posset slop report just for showing so much faith. But I came back with a stack of CD-Rs, tapes and vinyl the height of medium sized milk jug through trades with other bands, DIY labels and well-prepared punters. They will keep me spinning & smiling until December….Sociologically ‘alternative economy’ is one of the many interesting things about the n-au.

Another perhaps surprising parallel can be seen in Richard Serra’s characterization of the relationships between sculpture, architecture, and late 20th Century Western Culture:

…the ‘viewer’ is fiction. Basically this is my response to sculpture. I know there is absolutely no audience for sculpture, as there is none for poetry and experimental film. There is, however, a big audience for products that give people what they want and supposedly need but not more than they understand. Marketing is based on this premise.

In terms of architecture right now, a lot of people have a need to build and a lot of clients are concerned with what is considered ‘relevant’. This creates a situation in which both client and architect receive criticism and advice on how to serve. Since there is no audience for sculpture or poetry, no one demands that they resist manipulation from the outside. On the contrary, the more one betrays one’s language to commercial interests, the greater the possibility that those in authority will reward one’s efforts. Architects have justifying phrases for this behavior. They call it ‘being appropriate’ or ‘compromising’. When Robert Venturi’s pylons for Federal Triangle in Washington, D.C., were criticized for not being symbolic enough, he returned the next day with the American flag atop each pylon. This is the kind of self-justifying pragmatic compromise I am talking about.

– Richard Serra, in conversation with Peter Eisenman, 1983

So then, the No Audience approach, as characterized by such diverse artists as Hayler, Babbit, and even Richard Serra, can also be seen as an approach of No-Compromise to market pressures, as compromises have been rendered entirely unnecessary, whether in regards to the pursuit of money or fame, the two indicators of value used to characterize mainstream artistic production. Thus, when the celebrated music critic Simon Reynolds characterized Hayler’s approach as “melancholic” at a conference on DIY art and media in 2012 at Tillburg’s Incubate Festival, and suggested that the No Audience approach symbolized a general tendency within DIY culture which threatens to bring about its own “inconsequentiality” by eschewing a dependency on an audience, Hayler responds:

Video of Simon Reynolds on DIY culture

The extent to which you commit yourself is entirely your own concern. You don’t have to sound punk either, or cop a snarling attitude. Simon Reynolds, betraying an old-fashioned punknosity, suggests the underground should define itself in opposition to the mainstream. Quaint, eh? In turn I’d suggest that it is far more radical to ignore it. The machine loves to be raged against – what it can’t bear is to be shrugged off as irrelevant. Which, of course, it is.

Thus, we engage and commit ourselves to the level of our own concern, and determine our own degrees of engagement and interest in our artistic pursuits, which, after all, is what a whole lot of both post-Romantic and DIY post-punk rhetoric suggests that participation in music and art are all about. The No-Audience Underground further suggests a framework for engagement with society as a whole, and a liberating way of being in the world, in which each individual constructively opts-out, and while developed locally, it is interesting to consider that such an approach could have radical and global relevance.

—ooOoo—

Links included with original article:

Rob Hayler

Radio Free Midwich

Joe Posset

Kieron Piercy/Spoils and Relics

Cops and Robbers: DIY Gigs in Leeds

Eddie Nuttall/Aqua Dentata

Milton Babbit “Who Cares if You Listen” High Fidelity, 1958

Daniel Thomas/Sheepscar Light Industrial

Ashtray Navigations

Andy Robinson/Striate Cortex

Sara McWatt

Simon Reynolds on the No Audience Underground and DIY Culture, Incubate Festival, Tillbur, 2012

Some Radio Free Midwich articles of note:

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/simon-reynolds-diy-culture-and-the-no-audience-underground/

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/documents-of-the-golden-age-new-from-ashtray-navigations-aqua-dentata-and-helicopter-quartet/

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/our-way-of-shaking-hands-trades-and-largesse-in-the-no-audience-underground/

—ooOoo—

Further links:

Jorge Boehringer / Core of the Coalman

The original article in Czech

HIS VOICE magazine

 

 

5 Comments »

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  1. Wonderful article; much food for thought — I shouldn’t be bemoaning the lack of punters at wonkystuff shows, rather seeing the opportunity for liberation. Ta 🙂

    • Yes, they can choose not to come to our shows but…*bellows brandishing tub of CD-rs* THEY CAN’T TAKE OUR FREEDOM!! 😉

  2. Hey Rob! Thanks for publishing this, it’s super. Small correction – Czech ain’t Jorge’s native language, English is. Writing the article in Czech in the first place is the impressive linguistic feat here.

    • Hey Stuart, cheers – noted and corrected. Yes, Jorge is an impressive chap! Glad you liked the piece. I’m flattered, obviously but also glad to see the ideas get around… With love, Rob x


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