Friday, April 15, 2011


This is just a quick post. I came across this article that Simon Reynolds wrote for Frieze on music criticism, critical theory, and the relationship between the two (as seen through the lens of British music criticism over the past three or four decades). I have a lot that I'd like to say in response, but for now I'll just highlight my favourite passage from the article:
[T]he appeal of theory is precisely its power to intoxicate.  Far from being born of a cold-blooded drive to dissect and demystify, the attraction of critical theory (especially the French kind) was that it set your brain on fire. . . . There was sheer delight in finding (in my case) a passage of Georges Bataille or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari or Paul Virilio that seemed to uncannily fit the Butthole Surfers or Can or the emerging pirate radio sound of jungle.  Theory seemed to provide genuine illumination into qualities and powers possessed by the music. But beyond that the combination of the ideas and the music had a potentiation effect, to use the pharmacological term for when two drugs synergize to create a fiercer buzz. 
I am in complete agreement with Reynolds here. Beyond the fact that the image of a brain on fire is so astonishingly apt in relation to the act of reading critical theory, I find theory intoxicating for precisely the reasons he mentions: that feeling of having your brain set on fire is like a high, and it can be doubly so in conjunction with discussions about music. I've often thought of the work required to "get into" difficult albums is essentially the same kind of work required to understand a lot of theory. What's more, I've found the rewards to be very similar, if not identical, in the two situations. I'll (hopefully) write more on this later, so for now go read Reynolds' article.

I came across Reynolds' article as I did a search for articles on chillwave/glo-fi/hypnagogic pop. I'm hoping to revisit, revise, and expan a piece on chillwave and politics from my blog's former home sometime this summer, and it'll be helpful to see what others have said about the genre.

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