Stop press: 2010 is the year sound art broke. We were in the final throes of putting The Wire 2010 Rewind issue to bed when the news trickled in that Susan Philipsz had won the Turner Prize with Lowlands Away, in its original form a sound installation of herself singing a Scottish lament mounted under three bridges across the Clyde in her native Glasgow. Once again the prospect of art that is not pinned to a wall walking away with the UK’s ‘most prestigious award’ was all the mainstream media needed to intensify their sniggering campaigns against Difference, suspending their supposed impartiality to roll out parades of professional scoffers loudly blustering “This is not art” in cutglass, tweedy vowelled voices bespeaking the best education class privilege can buy against Philipsz’s accented, untrained, wobbly rendition of a timeworn ballad. Pardon me for stating the bleeding obvious, but “Is it art?” is the wrong question. Let’s try again with “Does it move me?” And something about that wavering voice, artfully projected in public spaces where it competes for your attention with traffic rumble, crowd mumble, the elements and whatever happens to be on your mind as you come within range of it, plants an earworm that carries on wriggling long after you have moved on, its threadbare weaves of word and melody entwining with memory traces of love and loss to spirit up a rare moment of true feeling that cannot be faked. Was it good for you too?
Of course art is personal and it never works the same way for everyone, so please forgive the end of year indulgence of what follows. Here’s a few far from scientifically arrived at pros and cons of 2010, scrambled together to more accurately reflect the discomfiting, ambivalent reactions generated by all the things that compound my failures to lead an easy life. The 30th anniversary celebrations of Einstürzende Neubauten and Laibach were a bittersweet reminder of how long this has been going on. For the first time ever Blixa Bargeld appeared to be more energised by his extracurricular ANBB project with Carsten Nicolai than he was onstage amiably performing an artsong set with Neubauten. Under the shadows cast by Europe’s largest chimney and the Gothic cement works guarding the approaches to their hometown Trbolvje, Slovenia, Laibach’s re-enactments of a soot-encrusted handful of songs from their Industrial roots played on analogue synths by new recruits too young to remember their original struggles underlined the lesson that you can’t go home again.
Returning to Poland for the first time in a decade, however, it was tremendously exciting to catch up on 20 years of outsider music activity, and releases from The Complainer, Wojtek Czern’s Obuh label, cellist Mikolaj Palosz, Robert Piotrowicz, Anna Zaradny and Scianka have since dominated much of my listening. Cieślak I Księżniczki, the self-titled album by Scianka leader Maciej Cieślak’s new group Cieślak And The Princesses, is a late contender for my album of the year. Driven by his female string trio, it’s a gorgeous set of melancholy neo-baroque pop songs that reopen paths not taken by artists associated with the Harvest label back in the early 1970s.
Its arrangements also recall the artful pop side of Psychic TV Mk 1, the post-TG group Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson formed in 1981. In his personal tribute to Peter, who recently died in his sleep in Bangkok, Stephen Thrower vividly describes the unspeakably beautiful things Peter did to a string arrangement at the end of a marathon drug-binged recording session for Love’s Secret Domain (page 14). I recall a more sedate yet, for me, no less memorable an encounter with Sleazy in Tokyo on Christmas Eve 2006. I was queuing for an afternoon show by Merzbow when, from behind, a warm, thick arm coiled python-like around my neck and I felt a hand on my ass as a smiling voice whispered in my ear, “I bet you never expected to be goosed in Tokyo by someone you know.” The music he made in his late incarnation as Threshold Houseboys Choir was similarly seriousminded and mischievous, its dark sensuality pregnant with unknown pleasures. Chris Bohn
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