“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Sweet Edge of Dream

...pop, mined for its sparkling relics by the Cocteau Twins and Lush and to some extent Slowdive et al. Perfect kitsch objects that burst open with too much bliss, revealing threatening realms of ego-melting hyperobjectivity.

One of the concepts in Ecology without Nature is the timbral. This is the way in which poetry, music, painting (whatever) exploits timbre—the material medium that transmits the soundwaves (or whatever). As Heidegger says you never hear the wind as such, you hear the wind in the trees, the wind in the doorway. When you hear a violin note you hear wood, cat gut, horsehair, a certain tension, “tone”—not just an abstract note (say C sharp) but a zone of material intensity, like an ecotone or muscle tone. An essay I wrote on Coleridge's poem “The Eolian Harp” talks about this. With its talk of the “soft witchery of sound” emanating from strings vibrating in the breeze blowing through an open window (wind harps were a common household gadget in those days, like iPods now), perhaps “The Eolian Harp” is the first example of dream pop.

Timbre, timber, hyle, matter. (The juicy bit starts on p. 39.)

Liz Fraser's voice and Guthrie's chorusing, distorted guitar open up this realm of materiality, the timbral. A disturbing realm that Kristeva called the semiotic (p. 19ff.). Language overwhelmed by things.


Annabel said...

Is the timbral, then, an admiral form of discourse? You mention the hyper-objectivity of the Cocteau Twins and Kristeva's semiotic as parallel to timbral's "disturbing realm." Is this a self-conscious materiality? Is musical "kitsch" a perfect illustration of the inextricabiilty between subject and object -- and something to strive for?
- asks the singer

Timothy Morton said...

You could be right! I'm not sure it's all kitsch. But there seems to be a sweet spot (there may be others) somewhere just near where pop turns into noise. Think about how Belinda Butcher's singing in My Bloody Valentine is placed at the very far L&R edges of the stereo, as if it were the crest of a massive wave of guitar. There's a kind of abyss right there, into the sublime, within beauty. Go too far and you lose it. Pure noise without the disturbance of mimesis being eaten alive--too far and you've missed the abyss. Something like that?