Friday, July 31, 2009

Welcome to the Intellectual Apocalypse; "Pseudo-Modernism" and Dr. Alan Kirby's Assertions That We're All Irrelevant Now.

In a comment to my last entry, C. Charles ("xian") Dyer left a link to this fascinating article. Thank you, Mr. Dyer.

It's by Dr. Alan Kirby, from a 2006 issue of Philosophy Now magazine. Dr. Kirby asserted that post-modernism is dead, and that the way that contemporary pop-culture, technology, commerce, and social-dynamics operate have made any thought that goes beyond observational/ critical realism outdated and irrelevant.

I'm well aware that this article is 3 years outdated. But, it's new to me... and now that I'm familiar with Kirby's idea of "pseudo-modernism," three-years-out seems like a pretty good juncture to take a look and assess his predictions, especially since many of his claims are intrinsic upon the idea of how rapidly-changing, ephemeral and transient our culture has become.

For more on this debate on "what comes after post-modernity," I've actually found that (surprisingly) the Wikipedia entry for "post-postmodernism" actually provides a helpful overview (Dr. Kirby's article and nomenclature is mentioned here as well.) I've personally been partial to the ideas of "reconstructionism" for some time, but I tend to view this as an extension and development of postmodern thought, rather than a replacement of or rebuttal to it.

Since my next entry will feature my own response, reaction, and reflection on Dr. Kirby's article, I figured that I should probably post the link before-hand so that anyone who wants to know what I'm talking about can get a jump-start on reading it.

Overall, it's a really interesting read... I understand and agree with many of Dr. Kirby's observations, but I have some definite questions and reservations about the conclusions that he draws from them. (As I scribble all over the copy that I printed out, I'm also starting to get the impression that his own line of reasoning invalidates and contradicts some of the points that he's making [not to mention the fact that anyone's reading it]... but don't we all sometimes.)

What do you think?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lady GaGa as Post-Modern Identity-Art.

When we speak of post-modern art, it is commonly understood that elements of pop-culture play an important role. What this role typically involves when we say this is that artists (who are typically functioning (or attempting to function) in certain ways OUTSIDE of the pop-culture, utilize elements of mainstream cultural trends within their work, as components of the pastiche that they employ. Think of pop-culture as a shade of fluorescent paint, not the painting itself that the pigment is utilized to make.

As my girlfriend was recently reading elements to me of the Wikipedia bio for the current ironic pop-princess Lady GaGa, it struck me that a bit of role-reversal within these conventions may be finally coming into play. From what I can piece together from the wiki and some further digging into similar info available on the internet, here’s a brief synopsis, and my analysis of how and why it works-



“Lady GaGa,” A.K.A. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, is first-and-foremost an Artist (and not in the same way that we might off-handedly refer to Britney Spears as a “recording-artist,” rather in the “Fine Art”/ “Conceptual Project” sort of way) She’s trained at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and maintains a “collective” (“Haus of GaGa”- of which she claims “this is my own creative team, modeled on Warhol's Factory. Everyone is under 26 and we do everything together.”) This is decidedly NOT the resume of someone who (like most of her peers) signed themselves away to a talent-agent with a hysterical (and hysterically naive) cry of “Whatever it takes to make me a staaaaar!”

In her own words, rather; "I consider what I do to be more of an Andy Warhol concept: pop performance art, multimedia, fashion, technology, video, film. And it's all coming together, and it's going to be traveling museum show."


For a couple of weeks I had near-constant exposure to “The Fame” and streamed videos of the songs from the GaGa record… not exactly of my own volition, but not quite in a “kicking and screaming” sort of way either… I honestly don’t mind this stuff nearly as much as I feel that I probably should. From the first time that I heard it, the record struck me as conventional, clich├ęd, saccharine, girly pop (albeit with better-produced dance-beats and glammed-up electro than most of that ilk) of a sort that I don’t usually like…but somehow, this one felt… DIFFERENT. That difference, I believe, is IRONY. By this point I feel like I could write an entire book analyzing the double-entendres in each song and the mixed metaphors and tongue-in-cheek references in each video… but I’ll spare the close-read for now. Suffice it to say, there isn’t a single song on the record or official video released that doesn’t have an undertone or possible translation that doesn’t suggest the sort of pastiche that I’m speaking of. This is something a bit too artistically-serious to be called “spoof,” but a bit too ironic to be taken serious in the context that it’s presented… which presents another layer of irony- this pastiche is far more serious and legitimate than the genre that it takes as it’s subject. Think the way that Don Delilo, Salman Rushdie, Andy Warhol (a name you might have noticed GaGa herself seems quick to drop), or Sheppard Fairey repurpose pop-culture as a facet of their art. This is basically the same idea, but the formula has been cleverly inverted.

The nearest I can gather, “Lady GaGa’s” current public persona was created as a performance-art stunt. She seems to have taken the current media-driven pop-music market as her canvas, and decided that on it she would paint a construction of herself, an intentionally fabricated pop-star.

Let’s face it. They’re ALL fabricated. That’s part of the deal; the entirety of what currently “sells” in that realm. It’s about time that an Artist stepped up and made themself and their identity into the canvas itself, dedicated themself to creating their own identity into a “pop-star” in order to achieve, in a more extreme and all-encompassing way, the points that nearly all dedicated post-modernists, “pop-artists,” and post-post-modernists are intending to make about the world that we live in and the fleeting natures of “truth” and “reality,” by merely referencing or lifting elements of pop-culture, rather than diving right in, as Lady GaGa has.

Pop-culture is no longer merely a shade of paint dabbed on for effect or to make a point. Pop-culture IS the point, but the post-modern point remains the same. The identity is still the canvas, the artist becomes that canvas, the paint is both the artist and pop-culture itself. Lady GaGa seems on a crash course to prove that artists can BECOME the very thing that they’re critiquing (without devolving completely to satire), and this may prove to be the most extreme and compelling way of making this point to date.

That is, if anyone bothers to take notice that, regardless of the surface-level similarities, there’s something decisively DIFFERENT between Lady GaGa and Christina Aguilera.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What IS LeVautourChronique? ( A Mission-Statement, Expanded Scope, and Updated Aesthetics…)

As my readership begins to gradually diversify a bit, I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been fielding more questions about what the theme and purpose of this website is. I’m aware that it’s not always completely evident from one entry to the next what, if any, is the connection between them…. So, this is probably a good time to establish the ground-rules…

My theme with LeVautourChronique is intentionally and by its nature pliable, but there are definite guidelines, and I feel that thus far I’ve adhered to them fairly consistently. Basically, this is an Arts and Culture blog dedicated to the Poetics and Politics of Identity. Critically, I’m of the belief that all Artists and public figures (and most individuals in general, whether consciously aware of it or not) are actively engaged in a project (or projects) of Identity-Construction, and that for artists this often even goes so far as being a facet of their catalog, one of their primary artistic creations (sometimes even their master-work, the larger piece that all of their other works are merely elements of… I’ve done academic work attempting to assert this about Walt Whitman, for instance.) Therefore, on this site, critique of nearly any element of art, culture, society, myself, my projects, daily life, etc is and has been fair game, as long as it is viewed, observed, and analyzed through this lens.

Now then, over seventy entries in and with those parameters finally clarified, I want to also make it clear that, when I started this site, I never intended to be the sole contributing writer to it in the long-run. My ideas for this site and reasons for establishing it, like most projects, seemed to require to be done in stages, and I think that it’s time to move a small step up that ladder.

So, from this point forward, consider this an open call. Keep in mind the theme just discussed (to reiterate, in a nutshell: An Arts and Culture blog dedicated to the Poetics and Politics of Identity and Identity Construction), let your mind spin, and send me some essays, reviews, musings, guerilla-journalism, poetry, abstract creative writing, whatever. I want it to be known, too, that I’m not only speaking of or to my close friends or frequent collaborators here; this is open to ANYONE if I think that your ideas fit well with what we’re trying to do and say on this site (…although part of me would like to start off with a couple contributions from artists/ writers in my own inner circle that I know and trust, just to test the water a bit [wink wink, get at me, kids.]…)

To get a few potential F.A.Q.’s on the subject out of the way…

Will you get paid for contributing your writing to LeVautourChronique? Yes and no. You will get paid in the same way that I get paid for maintaining the site. For the time-being, therefore, your compensation comes in the form of promotion, readership, networking, the free exchange of creative ideas, etc.

Will contributions published here be limited exclusively to ideas and opinions that agree explicitly with my own? Absolutely not. In fact, a desire for differing ideas is one of the driving forces behind my interest in the inclusion of additional writers. Open dialogue is definitely one of my goals here. Contributions from authors other than myself will feature by-lines, and probably an introductory blurb so as not to confuse my own thoughts with those of others. I will not, however, publish here anything perceived as intolerant, ignorant, or unnecessarily negative, however well you might think that your writing with those traits might adhere to the blog’s theme.

Will I stop posting my own work here once I start accepting contributions? Absolutely not. This will still primarily be my blog, and primarily the online home of my own ideas, reviews, and essays. In fact, you will most likely notice that the next few posts are still my own, as I have a handful in the works and partially written… and that won’t mean in any way that I’ve dismissed the idea of accepting contributions, either.

How do I submit my contributions, or send additional questions, comments, or feedback? The best way is to email me, at bernard.levautour@yahoo.com.

With a newly-clarified mission-statement, and a widened scope for future entries on this site, I think that this is also as good a time as any to introduce a bit of a new look to L.V.C. I am therefore retiring the awkward/ outdated quasi-unintentionally phallic-looking B+W vulture logo (I’ll leave it up until the next post, in case you haven’t a clue what I’m referring to…) and replacing it with a brand new and far more appropriate-feeling logo(the aesthetic tone around here has evolved with the blog, I feel…)…




…which features an image from my portfolio of Miss Chloe Claustrophobia (herself a conceptual-art project pertaining to the theme of Identity-Construction) digitally modified in collaboration with Sara Jane of Alloy Images/ Swords We Swallow / Tipsy Cougar (who is also my wonderful and supportive girlfriend.).

So, stay tuned. Click the “Follow” link at the top of the page. Contribute your writing. Help this site become a home for active, constructive, and creative dialogue. In the meantime, enjoy my rants and rambles more thoroughly now that you hopefully have a better understanding of why I post them here.

Thanks for reading.


-Bernard P. Provencher LeVautour

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dissecting the Idea of “Journalism,” One Admitted Bias at a Time; Civil Vain’s New Retro Industrial.

Phoenix-based multi-instrumentalist/ Industrial conceptualist Wes Hopeless recently submitted to me a couple of tracks and videos from his current project, Civil Vain (a recent combination, or merger, of the material under that name and a prior outfit called Entropy 33) to take a look at and analyze a bit for him. These are demo-tracks that may eventually find their way onto an as-of-yet unplanned but speculated album project, and feature songs that will most definitely make their way into the project’s live-performance debut, tentatively slated for the fall of ‘09.



Bias alert- Wes is a frequent musical collaborator of mine. Together, we were the two primary halves of the Phoenix-based surreal doom-rock outfit The Green Sea, and since that project has been on hiatus per my relocation to the east coast, we have continued to frequently exchange tracks, ideas, bits-and-pieces, feedback, critique, etc. Therefore, keep this in mind, and take this review for what it is; a bit more informed and subjective than a blind listen, yet still striving to give the material its fair and honest due.

With that out of the way… first, a video.
La Femme Diabla

This song has evolved and been posted in various forms several times, and I’ve been keeping tabs on its progress. Wes’ current songwriting tactic seems to involve constructing gradually in sonic layers, like overlaying various screens over each other on an old-school overhead projector, and in the various versions of the song you can hear the colors and textures of each screen that’s been overlaid. What’s fascinating to me is that with each layer of sound and electronic chaos that Wes adds, the finished product seems to become somehow MORE coherent than the last, rather than less. This most recent video is therefore my favorite version thus far.

The latest recorded audio version of this track, unlike its live-video counterpart, features much more of a build-up, a crescendoed gradual layering; starting off almost sparse enough to recall early Depeche Mode or The Dead Milkmen’s “You’ll Dance to Anything” in an awkward-flashback sort of way, then building into the noisy Industrial electronic layering that the song has since evolved into. Of Civil Vain’s currently available audio material, the four newest tracks are definitely the stand-outs, as it’s obvious that Wes’ project has made great strides recently coming into its own in terms of arrangement, production, and songwriting. Of these four, two are original compositions (“Confession of a Killer” and “La Femme Diabla,” the song just discussed), and the other two are “covers” (“Electric Barbarella” by Duran Duran, and “Chalice,” originally by The Green Sea, which I wrote in collaboration with Wes. I‘ve never written a review of a cover of a song that I wrote before… this seems a bit awkward.).

For the two cover-songs, I’m trying to resist the urge to go back and listen to the original versions for comparison. I haven’t heard the Duran Duran song in long enough that I don’t remember what it sounds like, and it’s been a while since I sat down with the E.P. that we recorded with The Green Sea. More relevant, I think, is taking them in the context of the other two songs. Wes made a smart decision to choose two songs for Civil Vain to cover that sound little like his own writing-style in terms of melody and construction, as it frees him up to focus his attention on creating the interesting noise-landscapes that he does so well, and adding grit and creative production to songs that feature a style different from his own trademark. The way that the vocal-parts and song-structures are created on the original tracks smacks of old-school Industrial; There’s plenty of influence from the tried-and-trues here (Ministry, Skinny Puppy, KMFDM, etc) and Wes’ vocal-style and instrumentation often reminds me of The Revolting Cocks. Civil Vain pulls this off extremely well, but the cover-songs demonstrate refreshingly that Mr. Hopeless’ arrangements are still viable when Al Jorgensen has left the building.

On a personal note, I’m extremely impressed by this solo-take on “Chalice;” Wes managed to accomplish a genre-shift without much more than minor tweaks such as toning down my original hair-metal-meets-doom over-played guitar-part (I think Wes even played it on bass on this version?), translating the vocal part from “dark” to “sinister, ” etc; The song has been transformed enough to fit well into a very different sounding set, while leaving its structural integrity intact.

I just realized that with this version of “Chalice” and Tipsy Cougar’s repurposing of “The Plea of Miss Claustrophobia” (“Miss Claustrophobia’s Revenge,” from the forthcoming “Immaculate Conceptions”), two out of the three songs on The Green Sea’s E.P. have been kept in circulation, which makes me seriously tempted to rework a version of “The Evasive Enigmatic” with Swords We Swallow. We’ll see.

Wes’ greatest achievement with this Civil Vain material, I’m well aware, sounds on the surface like a sideways compliment at best. Let’s face it; What we have here is a one-man electronic act, playing Industrial music peppered with unabashed throwbacks to that genre’s bygone heyday, performing songs that are littered with references to robots, vampires, and creepy, sexed-up murder scenarios. On paper, it seems that if there was ever a precise formula for “hard to take seriously,” this would be it; possibly even rivaling The Cruxshadows in that regard. But somehow, in my biased opinion, Civil Vain manages to steer clear of some of the seemingly inevitable cheesiness lurking in this sort of terrain. As for how he manages this…. Honestly, I’m not quite SURE why it works, but it does. Take a listen. Your guess is as good as mine.