Roland 9/09 Celebration
Between 1967 and 1980, prolific British keyboardist Harry Stoneham released about two-dozen lifestyle-themed albums of electronic music for the Hammond. With titles like High Powered Hammond, Hammond Hits The Highway and Hammond Heat Wave, these records featured tacky organ versions of old standards like “Stardust” and “The Way We Were”—what we might now consider Muzak—among hipper, funkier fare like “Green Onions” and “The Hustle”. Offensive on multiple levels (see consistently sexist sleeve art) Stoneham’s work is less talked-about in certain circles than, say, Kraftwerk or Delia Derbyshire today. Though it nonetheless helped enshrine Laurens Hammond in 20th century music history.
Before revolutionising electronic instruments with the 909, MIDI and Roland Corporation, Ikutaro Kakehashi started his first company, Ace Electronics, in Japan in the early 1960s making a modest drum machine called the Acetone. A metronome-like accessory pre-programmed with Waltz, Swing, Samba and other generic rhythms, the Acetone was conceived to sit smartly atop Hammond organs. Doubtless, Stoneham used one.
Sure, the Acetone wasn’t as sexy as the Hammond. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that Kakehashi never got a dinner here: Stoneham didn’t name even one of his records something like Acetone’s High, or Acetone Of Spades, or Acetone In The Hole. So this 9/09, nominations are open for some courageous contemporary electronic artist to put out a series of albums using “Roland” in their titles. Initial ideas: Rock N’ Roll N’ Roland; Permission To Roland; Roland Playing Games; High, Wide And Roland; Roland Ho!
Technics SL-1200 GAE
In 2015—among the most lucrative recent years for vinyl record sales according to the RIAA—about 56,000 people bought turntables in the US. In the first quarter of 2015 alone, Apple sold 74.47 million iPhones. I don’t have statistics on hand, but observational evidence suggests that most people now listen to music on their phones. Any talk that turntables are “making a comeback” is academic, and hyperbolic, and technostalgic. “Making a comeback” is when there’s a chance you’ll come back and win. Rocky made comebacks. Record players will never again be the reigning playback device for sound recordings.
Still, I got suckered into watching seven painful “unboxing” videos of some yo-yo clumsily assembling Technics’ outrageously expensive 1200GAE turntable reboot. Robert D. Hof of The New York Times observes that this novel genre of online video, part humble-brag and part advertisement, is generally for either tech enthusiasts or children. The first thing the guy dropped was REO Speedwagon. Draw your own conclusions.
Then it hit me. This turntable isn’t really for listening to records. (Not good records, anyway.) It’s almost solely for unboxing videos that have to be broken down into seven-part series on YouTube. It’s pure simulation. Like so many next-generation luxury products, it’s simulating a bygone, out-of-reach lifestyle and doling it back out in bits and packets—a lifestyle, by the way, that until recently was pretty much standard issue—so near in texture and time that you can almost feel it being unwrapped through your screen.
Apple’s Headphone Jack-less iPhone
To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, when you bite into an apple, you’ve bought the whole apple.
Sia – “The Greatest” – Monkey Puzzle / RCA
There’s something particularly grim about Sia’s video for “The Greatest”—in which a youthful girl with rainbow-streaked cheeks apparently grieves children who, at the clip’s end, fall into a floppy pile of inanimate bodies—co-opted by an Apple product launch. This video is ostensibly a tribute to the forty-nine Pulse nightclub-shooting victims. But beyond America, media and recent visual culture more frequently conjure dead refugee children, or children in factories manufacturing millions of consumer electronics. Leo Tanguma looks like Walt Disney these days.
Yoko Ono Reissue Project – Secretly Canadian / Chimera Music
I’ve been meditating on failure. I’m writing a chapter for an upcoming edited volume about how Dennis Hopper’s 1971 film The Last Movie, a commercial catastrophe for a major Hollywood studio at the time, has subsequently been reclaimed through a form of hipster revisionism as a lost American avant-garde cinema masterpiece. The exclusivity of the excluded carries its own bohemian caché, and curating failures has given rise to a new kind of expertise—an academy of the underrated.
Yoko Ono wasn’t a failure, but her music was commonly misunderstood—regularly the butt end of a joke. Contrasting Hopper, who habitually behaved caddishly and made impenetrable artwork, Ono’s impenetrable artwork required higher moral character and remarkable nerve. I wonder if this rather modest reissue series will further encourage the reconsideration of an artist for once worth reconsidering?
Listen to September’s “Play Recent” Playlist