Attack and Decay

March 16, 2010

French, noisy and full of capitalized "A's"

SebastiAn, French electronica producer and premier dancefloor wrecker, has thrown down the gauntlet with his latest track, Threnody (go ahead and look it up; I had to), which is 13 minutes of buzzing, grinding build.

But why? Why this, rather than his patented stop-start, bump-n-grind roughhousing? A statement of intent? A celebration of electronic tweakery? The key beginning piece for a cohesive whole?

Or is it just a contentious audio “fuck you,” disguised as an artistic statement? A test of your limits as an electronica fan?

There’s a lot to be said for confrontational art. When done well it can change people’s outlooks or remove barriers. Too much of it, though, is rarely a good thing.

I may not know art, but... I have no idea how to finish this sentence...

Check out Andres Serrano of Piss Christ infamy. Does anyone even care what he’s doing now? (Wikipedia says: “His most recent work uses feces as a medium.” Hmm.) You cause a bit of stir, fuck with the moral majority and… what? If “confrontation” is all you have, it quickly changes from “art” to “gimmick.” And just because it doesn’t offend me doesn’t mean I think it has more artistic merit than a Normal Rockwell painting.

"Just a word of caution to those in the front two rows: you WILL be forced into my crotch."

Or take G.G. Allin, the death of rock and roll personified. An evening in the company of his band (which contained J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. at one point) meant you were taking a chance at being showered with any combination of feces, urine, semen and blood before the night was over.

It’s tough to tell what his motivation was. He liked to say something muddled about making rock and roll “dangerous” again. But all he really seems to do was show every aspiring punk rocker just how low the bar could be lowered.

Oddly enough, this is one of the few times where I welcome the censor's black bar.

Then there’s Bob Flanagan, a self-mutilating performance artist. Feeling betrayed by his own body (thanks to cystic fibrosis), Flanagan took to abusing it violently in public. (And in private: he married a dominatrix.) While I have no idea what his headspace was filled with, it does make me wonder who would pay perfectly good money to watch a man hammer a nail into his penis.

And perhaps more importantly, when does self-mutilation become “art?” When it outgrows My Chemical Romance?

Artistic statement. Artistic Intent.

These phrases seem more like excuses when it comes to genital mutilation or jerking off into the crowd. If it’s defined as “art,” does it suddenly make normally inexcusable behavior excusable? Do you draw the line somewhere or have we only got another decade or so before the Palm D’Or graces a snuff film?

I’m not trying to sound alarmist or even expressing some vague concern for today’s morality. I honestly don’t consider this fringe entertainment to be somehow indicative of the whole. I’m just wondering whether the word “art” is being abused too frequently.

Ironically, due to a printing error, the poster itself is reversible.

Another example: Irreversible, directed by Gaspar Noe, which was declared one of the most “difficult to watch” films by none other than the Onion A.V. Club (among many other listmakers).

The film includes brutal and lengthy scenes of rape and violence. It makes some good points about the futility of revenge (most of which would be undone if the story were told in chronological order) and obviously stomps all over the sensitivities of its audience.

To sum up: a film that I will never watch.

For the most part, I tend to watch films that I will enjoy, rather than regulate my DVD player to the role of impartial observer (observee?) in a battle of wills (me vs. filmmaker). I have read extensively about this film and come to the conclusion that I’d be better off not viewing it. I have no urge to watch something that’s going to make me want to shower for three hours, ask for a brain transplant and exterminate what little faith I have left in humanity.

Well, the Dandy Warhols are on it, so it's probably an all-ages film...

Another film I Will Never Watch: 9 Songs, directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People)

Ostensibly a love story crossed with a concert doc, 9 Songs is the first “mainstream” motion picture to feature non-simulated sex. I’m not sure what Winterbottom was hoping to achieve here, but it still ends up looking like chin-stroker porn.

At least in real porn, everyone knows where they stand. The performers are paid to “perform” and the porn consumer pays to watch it and get themselves off. Or buy it for the “bachelor party.” Or whatever.

To sit back and claim that this is “art” asks your audience to ignore the fact that you (and your studio, producers, etc.) paid two people to have sex while you filmed them. You can dress it up with a storyline, but so can Vivid. And at least Vivid doesn’t pretend it’s anything more than jack-off material.

Somehow I doubt that the presence of a “real” director and “real” actors will take away from the hollowness this project presents. Sex by proxy is always hollow. Calling it “art” makes me feel as used as I perceive the two principals to be. With porn, you can be a voyeur. With art, you’re just intruding.

It just seems very disingenuous to present a film that features two people fucking for most of the runtime and then dare your audience to cheapen your effort by getting an erection.

Sorry to bother you, but I'm dragging you back into this exceedingly long post...


What does all this have to do with SebastiAn?

It all comes down to what each person is willing to put themselves through. Granted, no matter how grating or self-indulgent a song is, it will never have the impact of nine-minute long rape scene or a man pounding a nail through his dick, but I still think you have to question the intent.

Everything listed here seems to presume an unhealthy amount of masochism in its audience.

Is this all “art?” Is it nothing more than pushing just to be pushing? Has it become better to be hated than ignored?

I don’t know.

I do know this. I like the full version of Threnody but I’m already predisposed to lengthy electronic fuckery, thanks to a major in Techno and a minor in Industrial.

Other people may be able to find what they like in Piss Christ, Irreversible or a handful of Allin’s feces. That’s not something I’m willing to look for.

Maybe, when it’s all said and done, the transgressive nature veers more towards “artifice” than “art.”

Here it is – all 13 minutes of Threnody:
(Give it a little time on the player. It’s a 30 gb file. 320K.)

SebastiAn – Threnody.mp3

If you’d prefer a condensed version, which veers dangerously close to danceable, try this:

Threnody (Capt N Cooked Mix).mp3

[Unused tags: You Call That “Art”? My Kid Can Piss Better Than That!; You Call That “Music”? I’ve Got More Feces in this Little Finger Than You’ve Got in Your Entire Hand; “Performance Art,” Eh? Maybe It’s Just Me, But I “Perform” Better When My Dick isn’t Nailed to Something] 



  1. I was reading an obituary on David Foster Wallace recently in the New York Times (yes, I realize he died in 2008) and had one of those wtf moments accompanied by an eerie sense of familiarity. It was like I was reading YOUR obituary. An excerpt from the Times:

    “David Foster Wallace used his prodigious gifts as a writer — his manic, exuberant prose, his ferocious powers of observation, his ability to fuse avant-garde techniques with old-fashioned moral seriousness — to create a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification, and to capture, in the words of the musician Robert Plant, the myriad ‘deep and meaningless’ facets of contemporary life.”

    “A prose magician, Mr. Wallace was capable of writing — in his fiction and nonfiction — about subjects from tennis to politics to lobsters, from the horrors of drug withdrawal to the small terrors of life aboard a luxury cruise ship, with humor and fervor and verve. At his best he could write funny, write sad, write sardonic and write serious. He could map the infinite and infinitesimal, the mythic and mundane. He could conjure up an absurd future — an America in which herds of feral hamsters roam the land — while conveying the inroads the absurd has already made in a country where old television shows are a national touchstone and asinine advertisements wallpaper our lives.”

    BTW, brilliant commentary/analysis.

    • I’m humbled by this outpouring of compliments, no matter how borrowed they are. If I can secure a 1/4 of those sentiments before I die, I’d be pleasantly thrilled and more than a little well-off, hopefully.

  2. Ha, its not art. Its Lynchian for sure.

    • Lynchian best sums up indefinable things and ideas. Like: “The Aztec is a Lynchian monstronsity.”

      Thanks for the visit, FJ.

  3. Norman Rockwell was one hell of an artist; I hope you’re not dissing my boy. He was a tortured soul, a junkie, and all around deep dude. If you look at his work you can see that he was on mushrooms half the time and ecstasy the other half. You can see it in the texture.

    Maybe I’m prudish but I wouldn’t pay to watch someone piss on a wooden statue, throw shit…(but I do enjoy when monkeys do it) or hammer nails in their junk. This to me proves that Annie Lennox and even M.Manson were right; everybody is looking for something. Me though, I’d rather do shrooms and stare at some Warhol or Dali.

    Very enlightening post CLT!

    • I wasn’t dissing Rockwell as much as I was dissing Serrano, which I guess is still a left-handed slam against the old standby. He’s no Kincaid. And that’s a compliment. I had no idea about his drug habits, which may be why I speak so left-handedly about him.

      If not enjoying someone’s urination-covered objects or mangled genetalia makes me a prude, then I’m a goddamned prude.

  4. CLT,

    Once again, you have taken a combination of seemingly unrelated topics, and somehow related them. I am with you on the whole art idea. Where is the line between what is considered “artistic expression” and what is just plain demented? Are the mentally ill really just extremely profound artists?

    Great post, CLT. I could go on and on, but I would probably miss my flight back to the land of “wool toques and mediocre junk food”.

    • Hope you had a pleasant trip back to your homeland, bschooled and hopefully only a strip-search or two.

      I’m with you (and with me) on the whole “art v. crazy” debate. A lot of it seems too close to call and while there are and were some definite geniuses who were also “not quite right” in the head, there seems to be a very deliberate antagonism displayed in the artists listed above.

      And that’s not art. That’s just shaming people out of their proverbial lunch money.

  5. I don’t know what are is, but I like to think it has more than two colors and a lot of Elmer’s glue. Golly, I love my kids and so does my refrigerator. Isn’t that what art really is, the argument for a true definition? That SebastiAn thing reminds me of Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’.

    • I think you’ve nailed art down with your astute turn of phrase. Art can be whatever you want it to be. In the case of GG Allin, I think art is an apeman throwing his own feces,which is nothing I want to be near.

      That track does have the “fuck you” quality of Reed’s pretty much unlistenable album. Of course, Reed lives his life in permanent “fuck you” mode so it’s a pleasant surprise that all of his albums don’t sound like that.

  6. I personally support Bob Flanagan as performer and poet, however, I also support your right to vent about his work. You continually emphasize how it is “not for you” and I respect that because it still allows others the option of it being for them.

    If you enjoy Lou Reed, you may also enjoy Charles Bukowski’s poetry, and by extension Bob Flanagan’s poetry is along the same vein.

    Have fun and be safe.

    • Thanks for the comment, Andy.

      I’ll never shut down anyone’s right to enjoy non-mainstream art and other activities. I’d like that street to run both ways and just have my “not for me” taken at face value, rather than be treated like an unwashed Philistine for not seeing the point.

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