Time was it took so long to get from one tiny dot on the planet to another, the travails of getting there helped educate travellers in the social graces required to greet strangers without committing some faux pas so insulting that nothing short of a declaration of total war could satisfy the honour of the inadvertently offended host. The ever-accelerating speed of communication throughout the 20th century might well have shrunk time and space to the blink of an eye for the millions of Earth dwellers able to press Send or Receive on a nearby internet platform. The trouble is, few minds have gotten any quicker in their ability to process the data delivered to them at such an alarming rate. More than promoting dreams of world peace, love and understanding as envisaged by the entrepreneurial hippy pioneers of the Electronic Frontier, today’s access to lightning-fast global transmissions of information has blasted yawning canyons of incomprehension and anxiety through the vast mountains of knowledge on offer. How to negotiate these canyons, rather than bridge them, is a loose theme running through this issue. It begins on the Letters page, which opens with reader Richard Smith’s words of praise for Phil England’s Collateral Damage piece (The Wire 339) weighing up the costs to the Earth of internet-distributed music. In her letter belatedly responding to Nina Power’s year-old review of Cut Hands’ Afro Noise album, La Bruha Desi La deconstructs William Bennett’s post-Whitehouse project as yet another post-colonial fantasy of Africa as the dark continent. La Bruha Desi La doesn’t speculate about Bennett’s sources of information, but her criticism of music invoking fear of the unknown experienced from afar as an exotic cocktail of threatening drums and Noise terror touches on the problem created by the instant availability of sounds, pictures, anything barring heat and smell, that brings anywhere in the world into your backyard.
Awesome Tapes From Africa blogger and collector Brian Shimkovitz is acutely sensitive about misrepresentations of the exotic Other. But driven by a love of the continent’s myriad musics and cultures, this American has extensively travelled within Africa in search of new and different musics, combing market stalls for cassettes and cratedigging for rare vinyl from junkpiles of discarded records. He has then shared his finds with armchair travellers everywhere via downloads from his blog or as releases from his recently launched Awesome Tapes From Africa imprint. For all the kudos and minimal profits he might have gained maintaining his operation, he argues, his blog/label is essentially a portal for artists he admires and respects to engage economically, politically and culturally with the rest of the world that used to be inaccessible to them before the internet.
The downside of the global outreach of art is what its creators are prepared to sacrifice to facilitate the international understanding of it. In her On Location review of Laibach at London’s Tate Modern, Agata Pyzik makes the argument that their work was most powerful when it was deeply rooted in the local issues that directly concerned them: the downfall of communism and breakup of post-Tito Yugoslavia. Their desire to maintain their international status 30 years on has fatally weakened their music by uprooting it from the place that once so effectively shaped it. The roots of the music Ralph Cumbers makes as Bass Clef or Coseph Jonrad sink deep into the soil and filth beneath the broken pavements of the London borough of Hackney. It’s not immediately obvious what’s Hackney or London about his work, but it would be nowhere near so richly absorbing if nothing of Cumbers’s daily life had affected or informed the making of it. Chris Bohn
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Issue 340 June 2012 £4 ISSN 0952-0680
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Words Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Dan Barrow, Clive Bell, Marcus Boon, Michael Bracewell, Britt Brown, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Sam Davies, Brian Dillon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Mark Fisher, Phil Freeman, Louise Gray, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Richard Henderson, Ken Hollings, Robin Howells, Hua Hsu, William Hutson, David Keenan, Rahma Khazam, Biba Kopf, Tim Lawrence, Alan Licht, Dave Mandl, Marc Masters, Bill Meyer, Keith Moliné, Will Montgomery, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Alex Neilson, Andrew Nosnitsky, Ian Penman, Richard Pinnell, Edwin Pouncey, Nina Power, Agata Pyzik, Simon Reynolds, Nick Richardson, Bruce Russell, Peter Shapiro, Chris Sharp, Philip Sherburne, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Joseph Stannard, David Stubbs, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Dan Warburton, Val Wilmer, Barry Witherden, Matt Wuethrich
Images Thomas Adank, Jon Baker, Dusdin Condren, Mauro D’Agati, Tara Darby, Jonathan de Villiers, Glen Erler, Jason Evans, Jason Fulford, Luke Gilford, Leonie Hampton, Brad Harris, Jamie Hawkesworth, Jak Kilby, Heinz Peter Knes, Tobias Kruse, Shane Lavalette, Benjamin McMahon, Tom Medwell, Jason Nocito, Fergus Padel, Cristobal Palma, Savage Pencil, Jaap Scheeren, Michael Schmelling, Bryan Sheﬃeld, Ben Stockley, Chris Verene, Eva Vermandel, Kai von Rabenau, Jake Walters, Jeremy & Claire Weiss, Val Wilmer