Sunday, May 18, 2008

Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void

Sunday morning, praise the dawning, as Lou once said. Blogs are obviously narcissistic. Just like all the other electronic crap out in the 'Internets' (you know, the one with tubes connected to other tubes) is also narcissistic. Facebook, myspace, your own nauseating website dedicated to oh-so-adorable pictures of your baby. Narcissism and nausea. What's the point? I'm not making a judgment call on narcissism one way or other. Maybe it's a good thing, maybe not. But I do take a somewhat incoherent albeit principled stand against narcissism. As such, if I'm so principled about my animus to narcissism, why do I even write here? Because I'm a hypocrite? Because I wallow in the misguided belief that this blog is not narcissistic? That it's merely the musings of a humble person in the electronic ether who's just innocently writing about music? I clearly suffer this delusion -- for this blog (and everything that you do on-line) is one or another form of gratuitous navel-gazing.

There's also the relationship between self-revealing and [blogging/facebook/etc.]. We love to reveal things about ourself, especially our consumer preferences ("I loved Brown Bunny!"), but also our frenzied activities (birth, school, work, death), our feeeeelings, our opinions on everything from Reading Lolita In Tehran (numbingly moronic) to Flipper's Sex Bomb Baby (fucking brilliant). It's always our, our, our, our, my, my, my.

In Joseph Heller's book Good as Gold, the narrative is about trivia. It's a wonderful book about the mundane in a person's life in the backdrop of a sudden cataclysmic event. When I (once again, the 'I') read the book as a teenager, it profoundly shook me. There is something really fascinating about trivia, about the mundane, empty daily gestures and movements of people. I'd say that 99% of our lives are banal, trivial, actions of habit and devoid of conscious thought: walking to a bus station, going to the bathroom, dropping your pencil and finding it again, trying to fit your foot into your shoe, straightening out your underwear, checking our mail box. You get the general idea. Yet, our fiction, our art, our movies, reflect nothing of that. That experience is shut out of our notions of 'art' and 'expression.'

Until now. I think our recent collective ability, because of the internet, to let everybody in the world know electronically what we are thinking and doing at any given moment has given agency back to trivia. Blogs are filled with absurd amounts of personal trivia that no one in their right minds would want to read. The irony is that we like to think our trivia has gravitas, we like to think that our world of looking for pencils between the cushions on our couches are filled with symbolic import. My blog is better than yours 'cause I know shit about shit. I know politics and culture and crap. My opinions are informed (so close, a homophone to unformed). Fuck you.

So, in that spirit, I offer something truly trivial here: what I think of a certain album. It's completely meaningless, there's no reason anyone should pay any attention to this. My opinion is technically worth nothing. I once heard an album. I liked it. I will now write here about it. That's essentially the arc of this narrative. It's a relatively empty gesture devoid of value.

Which brings me to Harmony Rockets, who released a single full-length CD in 1995 entitled Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void. The music on this CD consists of one single piece of music lasting 41 minutes and 40 seconds. One website calls it an "experimental album of epic proportions," and I would not disagree with that description. The band set up shop in a hotel in upstate New York and just played. They forgot about verses and choruses and beginnings and ends and scales and chords and keys and just kind of improvised some spacefreak music of magnificent proportions. Yet, there's some precedent for what they do: I detect bits and pieces of Sun Ra and even parts of the Velvet Underground's unreleased (at least in a studio version) "Melody Laughter."

But you don't have to know or care about that. How does it sound? For all of its so-called experimental nature, it actually sounds rather cordant (I know that's not a word, but I wish it was) and not at all cacophonic. The band--seven people--use guitars with massive effects, a rumbling bass, a saxophone that weaves in and out. A voice murmurs words and sentences for a while. It builds, it ebbs, at one point sounding like you're literally in the middle of a cyclone (in the key of C). The music slows down everything and puts your existence to total slow motion. Great to listen to while you're waiting for someone to show up. And the conclusion is like a reprieve, you feel the light sweat on your upper lip, as if you're just coming out of a dream. I highly recommend it for those who might be a little adventurous and have about an hour to kill late late very late at night.

Point of note for artifact fetishists: the original CD came in a beautiful package, with silver embossed writing on the cover. The CD also comes with a picture of the tape machine used to record the album. The liner notes say the following:

Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void was performed live at Rhinecliff Hotel by the group Harmony Rockets. It was recorded on a hand-held Arrivox-Tandberg 183 analog cassette recorder. Due in part to the out-dated [sic] nature (ancient by today's standards) of this machine and an inadequate P.A. system . . . periodic portions of the music undulate and appear to distort. . . . Thus, the sounds on this disc are unaltered, and remain true to the nature of the original performance.

An important point to make here is this: Harmony Rockets was basically a side-project of the much better-known band Mercury Rev who produced a bunch of great albums in the 1990s, including the classic Yerself Is Steam, one of the most insane albums of that decade. Speaking of Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void, Jonathan Donahue, the lead singer of Mercury Rev, later noted, responding to an interviewer:

Donahue: It's mostly instrumental, but there's some vocals on the beginning of it, it's me singing. Basically, what it is, is most of Mercury Rev, that you see up there [on stage], were trying to kill a Friday night in the mountains, got really wasted and wandered down to a local Civil War bar. They needed an opening band, so we brought some old analog effects with us and some guitars and just whooped up whatever we were doing for, like, forty minutes and stopped. Somebody had a tape, figuring it was ya know, Mercury Rev, so they sorta recorded it shittily.

Interviewer: So, the entire album is live?

: Yeah, just made up on the spot. There's not a damn thing that was practiced ever, it just sort of happened, but it came out really nice. We like it, we were pretty surprised.

Looking up my trusty 1,088 page version of The Great Indie Discography (2nd ed), I see that Harmony Rockets released one other thing, an e.p.. That stuff is very very different from Paralyzed Mind: on the e.p. they cover "I've Got a Golden Ticket" from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and (of all things) Vangelis' "L'Apocalypse des Animaux." The music veers from disco to moody instrumentals. Not really worth tracking down.

iTunes has a clip of Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void here. [this will launch iTunes]


BobLogger said...

any chance you could post that Golden Ticket ep? I haven't been able to find it :/

spaceman said...

Sure, I have it somewhere. Gimme a week or so and I'll post it as a new post.

BobLogger said...

Great!! Thanks.

I guess they recently (in the last few years) released some other Harmony Rockets performances on Excelsior Melodies too!