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Punk Noise Panel 5B

Metal Machine Music vs. the Harsh Noise Wall
Robert Boyle Lecture Theatre

Marko Djurdjic (York University, Toronto)
‘“My week beats your year”: On Listening to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music

On a masochistic whim, I listened to Metal Machine Music.

In its entirety.

And upon hearing its cacophonous grind, I realized that there is nothing to ‘get’ about MMM. As ‘music’ alone, it is abrasive, relentless, Pentecostal. Taken with Lou Reed’s liner notes, however, it is repositioned as philosophy, an avant-doctrine awash in exquisite brutality.

Philosopher Henri Lefebvre claimed that exultations such as “‘Change life!’ ‘Change society!’”[1] (or in this case, ‘Change music!’) mean nothing “without the production of an appropriate space”[2] where these changes can occur. With MMM, Lou Reed envisioned a new ‘space’ for the listener, one borne out of uninhibited electronic noise. His transgressive work embodies “the dialectical relationship between ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’,”[3] where Reed’s subjective belief in the work’s (i.e. his own) genius complements its objectively enigmatic and difficult content and form. Thus, MMM’s liner notes are integral to ‘understanding’ The Noise.

In this presentation, as the record’s four sides play simultaneously, I will confront Reed’s work through Lefebvre’s notion of the social production of space, in order to antagonize the hegemonic proclamations contained in the liner notes. Reed’s megalomaniacal words denote sociopolitical and religious aspirations, positioning the work as a manifesto that points “towards the space of a different (social) life and of a different mode of production”[4] for both listeners, and music itself. Lou Reed loved MMM, and this dichotomy—between the self-aggrandizing liner notes and the alienating musical presentation—both defines the record, and is responsible for its continued relevance within pop culture.

Elvin Brandhi (Akademie der bildende Künste, Vienna)
‘Punk Conference’

Paul Hollins (University of Bolton & Leeds College of Music), Sean Albiez (Author and Independent Scholar) & Anthony Roocroft (University of Bolton) – ‘The Best Worst Noise Ever Made? (A Non Discursive, Discursive Experimental Performance Piece)’

In 1975 Lou Reed released his most controversial album, Metal Machine Music (MMM). Sonically described as ‘The tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator’ and ‘A night in a bus terminal’ (Rolling Stone 1975), the album that provided ‘an insight into the turbulent spirit of the age’. (Morley 2010).

More despised than admired when originally released it consisted of four individual tracks entitled MMM Parts 1-4 each of 16.02 duration with side four ending in a continuous loop of ‘locked groove’.

Since its release and subsequent early withdrawal from sale, the ‘composition” has continued to polarize opinion amongst scholars and critics. The recording described sarcastically as the ‘greatest album ever made in the history of the human eardrum’ (Bangs 1975) and ranked number 4 of “the 50 ‘worst records of all time’ (Q Magazine 2005), as a joke and as the seminal Noise album.

What was Reed’s intention with MMM ? Was the recording a dissident riposte to perceived record company subservience or an authentic work of creative genius ?

In this performance the authors will present Reed’s masterpiece in its entirety remixed into a palatable (?) 16.02 minute experience accompanied by a William S Burroughs inspired critique consisting of key words and phrases presented through ‘punk’ experimental performance.

In the spirit of the original it is anticipated that the performance will polarize opinion, that attendees may leave more confused than satisfied with the  non- conclusive outcomes of the session !


Published by Gustav Thomas

Claws & Tongues was started in order to provide a visible yet fluid platform with which to try out ideas for writings by Gustav Thomas that may or may not lead elsewhere, as in articles, chapters, essays, papers zines or books. Gustav Thomas is my real name in so far as it comprises the two middle names included on my birth certificate, which, as a bona fide part of my ‘real’ name makes it only a half-alias. I’m not ashamed, especially, of what one would normally consider my ‘real name,’ but I don’t intend to use it on this blog or announce it here, in this ‘about’ text, or anywhere else on this blog. That’s not because I wish to keep it somehow hidden or secret – to find out what my framing monikers are would be very easy since I’ve never sought to keep them separate from Gustav Thomas. Rather it’s because that ‘real’ name is the one that teachers, headmasters, employers, medical receptionists, the Inland Revenue, medical staff, authorities of any kind, and so on, and on, has been so thoroughly used by, and thus inextricably tied to, such institutional protocols, that it leaves me, as an individual who, like any individual has the capacity to access their own agency, very little space or scope for developing the potential power and effectiveness of that agency. Gustav Thomas happens to also be my facebook name and as a musician I also chose it (actually the first time I used it) as the pseudonym I use whenever I produced 8-bit Techno on a Gameboy (I haven’t ruled out extending that use to any beat-based project should I pursue any in the future, in preference to either Virginia Pipe or Copydex, the latter being, for obvious reasons, a strictly plunderphonic collage vehicle, anyway). Gustav Thomas also conveniently encapsulates my two ethnic provenances as half Slovene and half Welsh; they are also the first names of both my grandfathers, one a fairly well known (in his time) Slovene writer, novelist and educationalist, the other a WW2 colonel among officers who led the Normandy landings, for whatever significance that, or any other part of their own rich histories, can have, here, or in anything else that I do. Above all, I have started this blog because in my professional life, which is academic, I have made the decision, officially, to have my research assessed (by the various state bodies that do that, through the RAE, REF etc.) as much through my thinking and writing as through my art practice, which it has been exclusively so far. The kind of writing I intend to do is the kind of writing I’ve always done, over the past 15 years mostly on internal departmental blogs meant as teaching support, and will almost completely draw on things I’ve been thinking and saying within an academic context during that time. My first extended pieces, then (those that are 10,000 words or more), are being extracted from my brain as a matter of almost pathological necessity, freeing up space before I can move on and at least learn new ideas, if not make them and articulate them formally. Given the context, and my stage in life (a 50-year-old whose two kids have left home), I fully intend not to start teaching myself to write in a recognizably formal-academic style; nor do I intend for my writing to be considered as such, albeit there are inevitable traces of academia in what I’m writing due to my having earned my living as an academic for – already - too long. Instead my intention is to improve, develop and extend the style I already have which will have probably begun somewhere in early childhood when I first scrawled some short stories with the vague idea that I wanted to be a ‘writer’ and, above all which has evolved through at least three decades of learning, loving to know about, talking about, and teaching about music, art and the ideas, impulses and inherent discourses that inhabit and surround them. I am aware that I have a propensity to criticize certain other artists and commentators harshly, often with extreme formulations, in a manner easily identifiable as arrogance or some such self-interested tendency. I’m not sure exactly where that emerged from; it could be the years of being fully committed (because I knew it was right) to a mode of expressive practice that operates very consciously, and critically, beyond the reductive ring-fencing of ordained culture, what most people think of as Music and Art - Culture; it may well be, though, that I learned such an approach from certain writers I’ve read over the years – it’s in Dostoyevsky, Bukowski and DeLillo in ways I can see in my own mannerisms, but also in someone like Ben Watson/Out To Lunch, whose writing on music and ideas not only had a big impact on me but certainly also encouraged me to be bold and direct about what I knew needed saying, not least because – and this is central to everything – the way in which music, popular music, popular arts and cultures are dealt with on the day-to-day ordinary level, as in what people consume, accept and ingest, how/why they do it, manages to circumscribe completely the immeasurable seriousness regarding how politically and ideologically penetrating all art is (and was always meant to be), but especially (and this is embarrassingly tautological in a way that’s generally ignored) that which is thrust upon a people at great expense by its state and the (almost entirely) corporate (read: oligarchal) interests the State serves. I’ve been accused by colleagues of being too polemical and by Ben Watson as not being a polemicist at all, in both cases meant as identifying a weakness; I would say that to consider anything I write as polemical would be to negate any capacity it may have to say something useful – too much is being said and done by modern humanity that is unfathomably (self-)destructive. My drive in all this comes from a need not necessarily to oppose and take up the position on any opposite pole; rather I just feel that someone (as many someones as possible, starting anywhere at all, including just ‘me’) needs to be engaging in a tendency to question, starting with the very simple interruption, ‘Hang on a second… that can’t be right.’ There are tens of thousands of writers and artists already doing that very well, of course. This blog is merely a workshop from which to start making my own contribution more discernible and, just possibly, useful.

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