Blog of the AMM

Cartoon Trumpets and Horseshit:  Marx Estranged
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Cartoon Trumpets and Horseshit: Marx Estranged

Michael Tencer interviews THF Drenching on his new album, 'Doomed Shop!'
Introduction by Ben Watson

The AMM’s scepticism about academia is notorious. Because we adhere to the international socialist tradition, and contend that genuine Marxism must have a direct relevance to our lives as workers and militants, we’ve been accused of crudeness and barbarism and distortion. On top of that, we insist that all our experiences – whether musical, poetic, instinctual or accidental – are relevant to our politics. Some people believe that relating art to politics can only done by people trained in ‘theory’. We think everyone does it all the time. Now, keeping this critical populism alive in class society ain’t easy. Andy Wilson was expelled from the SWP for daring to suggest that comrades produce a cultural journal. Keith Fisher left his job of running the SWP printshop because he didn’t want to be in a party which muzzled its members like that. Sean Bonney made a trainwreck of his life by starting a PhD about Charles Olson, and then having to abandon it because he discovered that Olson’s anti-Marxist emphasis on space over time meant condoning US imperialism in the Pacific, and made Olson unworthy of so much attention (Sean’s back on the rails now, thankfully, completing a PhD on Amiri Baraka). Ben Watson’s Marxist politics meant that, in the wake of 9/11, he was dropped from The Wire and driven out of music journalism. Commercialism means flattering particular niche-markets, and consumers don’t like being told that their carefully-selected ‘culture’ isn’t a way out of capitalism.

But what is the greatest encouragement for persisting with revolutionary ideas? Finding other people discontent with mere networking and careerism, who take up these ideas and challenge them and develop them. Live them. True comrades! Stu Calton is a true comrade. I met him when I managed to persuade The Wire to run a short piece about his band Pence Eleven. He took seriously my argument that musicians who ransack early-twentieth century avant-gardes for ideas without adopting the revolutionary politics of Dada and Surrealism and the Situationists are vacuous no-nothing froth on the waters of abject conformism. He joined the SWP and threw himself into politics and is now a well known figure on the Left in Manchester. But, unlike Cornelius Cardew, he did not renege on his musical radicalism, but persisted, involving himself with Free Improvisation and computer composition. I was very proud when Derek Bailey invited him to play Dictaphone with Limescale, his last working band.

Enough from me. I should let Stu – or rather T.H.F. Drenching as he is known – talk for himself. One thing, though. Michael Tencer, who’s interviewing him, is  well equipped for the task, having tracked his music and poetry over the years. I’m aware that artists talking in detail about their work can seem self-important and off-putting. When I wrote about musicians for The Wire, I’d never have plunged readers into a dialogue like this without a hell of a lot of introduction. First I’d explain how funny and self-deprecatory Stu is in person, how inspiring his moral outrage and class hatred. But Doomed Shop!, Stu’s setting of words from Marx’s Class Struggles in France, is so close to the AMM’s project – to demolish the inversions of Marx prevalent in Stalinism and academia, and bring Marxism into the orbit of our everyday lives – that we had to let you hear about it this way.  

Ben Watson 17-ix-2012  

Interview by Michael Tencer
Michael: I was re-reading through The Class Struggles in France before I listened to the CD – I decided I’m gonna read this whole thing through and then I’ll have it with a different set of ears. And just out of curiosity, how many parts do you plan for this?

Drenching: I only plan to do one more part, and to take it to the end of the first section. Michael: Okay, cause the title is the only thing that I could tell that’s not from the first part, that’s from the second part, when Marx is talking about the petit bourgeoisie attacking the proletariat harder than any other group and then getting shafted for it.

Drenching: Yeah, it’s the title that originally came to me, and it was that section that, when I read it, already sounded like it was set. And so it was that section that I was initially gonna use, and I never really got past – this was probably like several years ago, it was like 2005 or something when I was originally gonna do it – and I recorded some bits and pieces of me singing that section, the ‘overdue promissory note, overdue’ whatever it is, ‘house bond’, all of that, that bit where the title comes from, but then in the end it was such a good title I just stuck with it and decided to go through it chronologically just from the beginning of the book.

Michael: In the use of documentary recordings from 2011 as well as in the particular things that you decide to take excerpts of and to set to music, it seems clear to me at least that there’s unmistakable parallels with today’s political situations.

Drenching: Yeah.

Michael: And I noticed also that Robert Potts made the same point in reviewing two of your poetry pamphlets in saying that … wait a second, I’ve even got it …

Drenching: You gonna quote it?!

Michael: I’m gonna quote it! Hold it … shit, it’s somewhere … yeah, here it is. No, here it’s not. Yeah! Here it is. He says – wait for it, it’s gonna be so exciting when I quote it! “Although both” [he’s talking about Sheep Walk Cut and The Bench Graft] “have ostensibly historical subjects, they’re clearly directed towards contemporary political predicaments.” First of all, do you agree with his assessment there?

Drenching: About those books?

Michael: Yeah.

Drenching: Yeah, yeah I do.

Michael: Okay. And in terms of the music, it doesn’t seem to me that you hold the music and the poetry as completely separate universes the way that you do, for instance, the musique concrète composition and the free improvisation.

Drenching: No, but this is the first time that those two worlds have touched each other really, the poetry and the music, cause it’s the first one that’s ever had lyrics, really, apart from ‘Ian Howard‘ on Fight-Bus 4 Life. It’s the only one that’s had a text behind it, and so it’s more explicit than the other ones for that reason.

Michael: So I mean, obviously this was an intentional thing that you wanted to enter into the realm of lyrics …

Drenching: Well I started off wanting to do this album, like I say in about 2005 or something, but it just never took off, and I think I ended up doing Gate Holder instead around that sort of time. But then it became clear as I was doing the album, as I started it off, that it was the perfect time to do it. Because now we’re dealing with the same issues of a government being overruled by the finance aristocracy, a government in a position to nationalise banks in an effective way and assert its control being too shit-scared to do it, and also being ideologically opposed to doing it, instead basically just handing everything back to the financiers, giving them run of the state. And it just fit too perfectly.

Michael: So you made a collage oratorio.

Drenching: Yeah.

Michael: Or specifically a proletarian collage oratorio.

Drenching: Uh-huh.

Michael: And previously you had, with Gate Holder and Goat Shoulder, billed as “opera vérité for 2 synchronised C – 90 cassettes”, for which I think there’s still – is there still a forthcoming third act of that?

Drenching: I haven’t ruled out the possibility that there is. There should be one. There’s supposed to be Groot Polder for tape, which is the Dutch for ‘massive lake’ for tape. More-or-less.

Michael: Oo.

Drenching: But a lot of the equipment I used to do that broke shortly after, so I haven’t got the equipment I need to do that. But at some point I will do it probably, yeah.

Michael: Okay. What I wanted to ask was, are the musical forms that you’ve adopted or adapted, are they for purely satirical purposes or do you feel – I mean what do you feel about those forms, the oratorio or the opera?

Drenching: I feel about them similarly to how I feel about jazz, that I’d sort of like to be able to do them but there’s not really any way of doing them in good faith, because those traditions are first of all not traditions that I really can feel like I belong to, and secondly those are traditions which have been problematised by the history of music and by them being institutionalised in various ways. So as forms I find them interesting, and those sort of large scale forms are things that interest me, but I can only use them by breaking them up and making them wrong.

Michael: That actually reminds me of, in the ad copy which is on the website you say, “A soundtrack to the struggle fer sure, but you know, the opposite of jiggy.” [Drenching is actually re-quoting Chuck D: “Shit I’m the REVERSE of jiggy / all that prettiness running on empty”] And I was wondering, do you feel that way about jiggy music in general, or just your use of jiggy music? Do you ever have the urge to make revolutionary jiggy music or do you feel that that’s a form beyond your capacity or to do faithfully?

Drenching: It’s not that. I do have the urge to make revolutionary jiggy music. Uh… [laughs] Don’t ever put that sentence in my mouth again!

Michael: That’s the strapline of the article right there!

Drenching: [laughs] I do have the urge to make something like James Chance and the Contortions, or if I hear Rammstein, or certain types of hip-hop, I don’t know, the Geto Boys or Organized Konfusion or something like that, there is a part of me that wants to put aside all of the qualifications and to just be able to do something like that, or even Napalm Death or Carcass or something, a band which just puts forward in an unproblematic way, just positively puts forward its message and isn’t cutting its own throat all the time with this severely reflexive aesthetic which is relentlessly negative. But I puritanically will not allow myself to do that, or even to find out whether I can. The closest I get to that is free improvisation.

Michael: So going back to the history behind the libretto itself, basically in 1848 you’ve got a kind of halfway revolution, which looks to be just like any of the other revolutions of that period: only at the top. It looks like in February it’s just going to be a change of bourgeois leadership, perhaps from a monarchy to a republic, but only to a bourgeois republic. So basically a change of clothes. And then of course the provisional government doesn’t live up to any of the promises it made to the proletariat who helped to make that revolution in the first place. And in July there is a new revolution throwing out the provisional government and having the people occupying the streets and barricades. Which is then crushed, because, as Marx is saying, the workers were pushed into it by the bourgeoisie, the conditions were forced on them rather than self-determined.

Drenching: Yeah.

Michael: They’re crushed, and this gives way ultimately to the eighteenth brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the little Bonaparte, under whom the right of all men to vote is taken away, any kind of concessions that arose in that brief period of revolution are rolled back, and the wars of imperial devastation continue (completely unsuccessfully under Louis Bonaparte). And then it’s not until the 1870s with the Paris Commune that anything real begins to happen again, and a republic is declared. But the interesting things are the number of parallels to the contemporary situation despite the fact that they’re very different conditions. There’s heaps of things that Marx is describing about that incomplete revolutionary period that continue to this day: the financial aristocracy requiring government deficit, for instance.

Drenching: Yeah, look at this bit, right: this is from the beginning of the second section, which I haven’t recorded yet. It’s so much like a lot of things, but it’s like first of all the Labour government and now the Tory government putting at the absolute core of what they do the fact that the banks and the finance aristocracy must continue to trust them. That’s the primary thing, that under no circumstances can it look like they’re doing anything other than what’s in the interest of the rich: “In order to allay the very suspicion that it would not or could not honour the obligations assumed by the monarchy, in order to build up confidence in the republic’s bourgeois morality in capacity to pay, a provisional government took refuge in braggadocio, undignified as it was childish. Advance of the legal date of payment: they paid out the interest on five percent, four and a half percent and four percent bonds to state creditors. The bourgeois aplomb on the self-assurance of the capitalists suddenly awoke when they saw the anxious haste with which it sought to buy their confidence.” I mean that’s exactly the dynamic that you see in a situation where the financial system is in crisis, the financial system is riddled with debt to such an extent that large scale nationalisation is possible in a way that’s never been thought of in this country since the 1970s. And they do the exact opposite of that. They nationalise the risk and they continue to privatise the profit.

Michael: Yeah. It’s a slightly different situation in the United States, but not by much. If you look at the Fed, the Federal Reserve, the regulatory body [laughs] of things like interest rates, basically their primary concern ever since the Wall Street crash has been to give as much taxpayer money to the largest financial institutions as possible at zero percent interest. And despite every report of – well, I mean everybody knows that the financial institutions are corrupt up to their eyeballs, they’re speculating on food futures to leave hundred of millions hungry when they’re not auctioning debt or scavenging mortgages or betting with other people’s savings accounts. They’re making billions of dollars off of the suffering of others, but as Marx points out, they’re able to do this partly because they don’t have direct contact with workers. You know, the industrial bourgeoisie at least has to deal with the workers on a daily basis. But the financiers, the speculators, can steal without ever dealing directly with their victims. It’s only through government or through industry: there’s a mediator between them and the people that they’re ripping off.

Drenching: Yeah, and the government are delighted to play that role.

Michael: Well that’s their primary function. That and war.

Drenching: There’s that bit where Marx sez, “The July Monarchy was nothing but a joint stock company for the exploitation of France’s national wealth.”

Michael: Yeah, which is what America, what England, what almost any industrialised nation is at the moment – probably France too, though I’m not as up on France’s contemporary politics.

Drenching: No.

Michael: But that sounds pretty familiar.

Drenching: Yeah.

Michael: One of the things it made me think of was representational democracy in the politics of republics certainly doesn’t seem to be all it’s cracked up to be in this day and age. And it’s really been coming out much more than ever these days with each new imperial conquest – the first demand of the western countries is: you must put in a representational democracy, which of course has nothing to do with actual democracy.

Drenching: No, otherwise they wouldn’t be putting it in.

Michael: Marx’s criticism of representational democracy, this system of government that’s still presented by the media and school and everything as the fucking pinnacle and outer limit of liberty and equality, made me think of the Federalist Papers – in America, these late 1700s political arguments called the Federalist Papers were written during the time of the creation of the US government in favour of ratifying the Constitution. James Madison was one of the people who contributed to these debates that became the Federalist Papers, and he seems to’ve recognised right from the beginning why a representational democracy is crucial to protecting bourgeois private property. He said, “A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property.” So he knows – by faction he’s of course meaning working class, and by weaker party he of course means capitalist scumlords, and this has been understood since the beginning of American history at least, but I’m sure far prior to that. Marx’s text is coming from the 1800s, but this is all within that period of republican revolution.

Drenching: Well it took the monarchists a long time to realise that people could be governed with a lot less trouble and actually with a lot less recourse to change through a system which was run by election, which was run in the way that bourgeois republics were run. A system that had those safety valves and those false forms of representations embedded in it were a lot easier to – and is a lot easier to – keep in place than one where you’re holding people down and you give them no possibility except exploding.

Michael: Yes, although many of the means of producing the results end up exactly the same. Force is still very easily resorted to – Marx has a great term, about ‘bourgeois terrorism’; “Having constantly before its eyes” [he’s talking about the bourgeoisie] “the scarred, irreconcilable, invincible enemy”[that would be the proletariat], “invincible because its existence is the condition of its own life, bourgeois rule, freed from all fetters, was bound to turn immediately into bourgeois terrorism.”

Drenching: Yeah.

Michael: It’s the same rule as it was under the monarchy, it just has a pretty face on it. Until, as Frank [Zappa] sez, it’s no longer profitable to maintain the illusion of freedom, at which point you see the brick wall at the back of the stage.

Drenching: Well the Italians and the Greeks have got a close-up view of that brick wall where they haven’t even got an elected government.

Michael: Can I ask you – I dunno if this is something that you want to be publicly known – you of course work at a bank. What is your function at such a place? And do they know what you do in your spare time?

Drenching: [laughs] My function is that I enable customers to switch accounts from one bank to another, thereby propping up the competition between banks in the U.K., moving their direct debits from one bank to another, liaising with the other banks, and organising that, speaking to customers on the phone about it. That’s what I do. A lot of people at work know that I’m a Marxist, and that I hate banks.

Michael: It was one of the things that I was wondering, the fact that it’s the beginning of Marx’s text and also the first lines of the Doomed Shop! libretto – “From now on the bankers will rule.” – I was wondering to what extent that has personal resonance for you.

Drenching: Well, the U.K. Uncut movement which has been occupying banks and shutting down banks and graffitiing banks has been at pains to make it clear that their opposition is not to the normal person working in a bank who is on a shit wage. That is not the banker who is ruling in that sentence, so it doesn’t have much personal resonance for me, although it is pretty funny. Can you hear the cats fighting?

Michael: No.

Drenching: It doesn’t have a great deal of personal resonance, although it’s quite entertaining.

Michael: I mean, do you think – I dunno, a lot of different musicians and artists and poets and stuff have day jobs that effect their work in various ways. I’m just thinking of the poet William Fuller in the States at the moment who is – what is he? He’s … ah, the Chief Feduciary Officer and Senior VP at the Northern Trust Corporation in Chicago … which then sort of shows up in his work in various ways. And same with I guess the insurance companies that Charles Ives and Wallace Stevens worked for, stuff like that. The artist’s-day-job game can get pretty preposterous, like in the recent English translation of Kafka’s office writings for the Workingmen’s Accident Insurance Institute, but I’m just curious to see the overlap here. I know the musicians on your albums tend to be family members or friends in your immediate surroundings, as well as documentary recordings of events that you attend, so I’m wondering how much your work enters here into your WORK, if it’s at all like the Accident Consultancy Live / Undead album.

Drenching: There’s a certain sort of aesthetic that I’ve always liked about office work.

Michael: [laughs]

Drenching: There’s something sort of Dadaistic about appropriating those sets of meaningless flow charts, or the different types of management structures, and the sort of official jargon of organisations, whether it’s financial organisations or any type of bureaucracy.

Michael: Or religious, in the case of the Council of Trent.

Drenching: Yeah, exactly, yeah. And I like to degrade the artwork by including that stuff in it. And I like to liven up that stuff by including the artwork in it.

Michael: ‘Keepin it real’.

Drenching: Yeah, exactly. It’s like sort of a form of being jiggy, but sort of in a pie chart.

Michael: The issue of war is kind of omnipresent in The Class Struggles in France even though it’s rarely directly spoken of; it wasn’t a direct concern in the 1848-50 period, it was more framed within a civil war context. But certainly war and prison and – I don’t know how to describe the ateliers that Marx talks about later on, that sort of work …

Drenching: Workhouses.

Michael: I mean at the moment there’s things like ‘Workfare’.

Drenching: Yeah.

Michael: Which in fact are anything but. But I don’t know if they are the direct connection to the ateliers of that period. I mean, Workfare is in a sense a type of prison, because it’s not training for anything, it’s not helping the person forced to work, or in any way taking steps to eradicate poverty; it’s just extracting labour for free, which is nothing if not slavery. Workfare amounts to a nice bonus from government to big business for ensuring such a high degree of poverty. On the other hand, I do get the impression that the ateliers that Marx was talking about seem to have genuinely existed as a concession to the working class.

Drenching: He says, I think, that they were regarded as being a form of socialism by the ruling class. They disapproved of them.

Michael: Right, which was why they continually chopped away at all of their usefulness, all of the help that they gave to the working class, which was ultimately what provoked in many ways the July Revolution.

Drenching: Yeah.

Michael: So a lot of the things that Marx is talking about at that time – I’m particularly thinking about war and prison, because almost my entire life this country that I live in has been at war, and has been building its prison industry in war against its own citizens.

Drenching: Have you seen that youtube footage that I used in ‘Crapuleux, money, filth, blood!’ [track 7 of Doomed Shop!], of the police beating up a sixteen year old girl in Tottenham?

Michael: No, I didn’t realise that was from a video. [a ‘flagged’ video, as it turns out, ‘inappropriate for some users’]

Drenching: Yeah, it’s from a video that someone recorded on a phone. You remember you can hear a woman …

Michael: Yeah, and she’s saying “You cunts! That’s a girl, you cunts!” Yeah.

Drenching: That’s footage of a girl being beaten in the earliest stages of the Tottenham riots.

Michael: And then they nabbed the guy from Hogwarts!

Drenching: Which guy from Hogwarts is this?

Michael: Do you know the bully?

Drenching: Oh no, I do know what you mean, “Crabbe”, yeah.

Michael: They tried casting him as the public face of hooliganism they have to make an example of. I don’t think that role worked out, since they made an example of everyone they could get their hands on, including people who weren’t even there.

Drenching: Well if you looked at Greater Manchester Police’s twitter page –

Michael: Who could miss that!

Drenching: Obviously you’re a subscriber! – but everybody arrested in connection with the riots there had their sentences tweeted with their names.

Michael: God.

Drenching: In fact there were addresses on it as well.

Michael: Yeah, I remember there was one kid who got arrested for arson who hadn’t been in the area at the time of the fire, and he had his details posted online, and his house was firebombed. I could be mistaken – it might have been an apartment!

Drenching: I didn’t hear about that. But when Greater Manchester Police were tweeting everybody’s name and address and date of birth, some people were being put in gaol for six months for swearing at the police. I mean they really went to town on it. You had people standing around who had nothing to do with it who were basically provoked into telling the police to fuck off, who were then arrested. I think in your country they would call that ‘entrapment’.

Michael: They would if they still considered such practices a crime anymore.

Drenching: Yeah.

Michael: And basically since the riots, would you say absolutely nothing has changed for black people or for any minority population?

Drenching: Yeah, not as far as I know.

Michael: So far the articles that I see from here are using the Obama method of Top Secrecy – ‘we can’t conduct a deeper investigation into this umpteenth cop-shooting-a-young-black-man incident because it could compromise security’.

Drenching: Yeah, I mean the riots started because of police brutality and just complete alienation, nobody having a stake in anything. And I don’t think those situations have changed. Although the government, if they knew what they were doing, probably could have capitalised on it even more than they did, I think. I mean we didn’t see any new legislation, we saw some existing legislation misused, and we saw the police jockeying to try to get the use of water cannons and firearms and more tasers and all of that stuff.

Michael: And sound cannons! Things that fuck up your ears, do you know those ones?

Drenching: ECM records!

Michael: [laughs] Indeed.

Drenching: Sound cannons … this must all sound very quaint to you, given your heavily armed police force.

Michael: Sure, your cops are still trying to rub peppers in people’s ears, we got the uniformed equivalent of a 10,000 lb. anvil! Anyway, on the further reaches of the ‘Fuck Tha Police’ topic, Kyle Gann, composer and critic, wrote this multi-part essay called ‘Making Marx in the Music: A HyperHistory of New Music and Politics‘. And it goes through a whole list of different musicians and composers who have utilised or presented politics in their work in some way. Which is useful, but unfortunately in his selection Kyle Gann is kind of an idiot. He ignores almost the entire range of blues, jazz and rap, and rarely mentions anything outside North America or Europe – I think all but maybe two of his rebel composers are white. He also seems like a big fan of Cornelius Cardew and the dumbing-down method of reaching ‘the people’. But that said, he does have a section on Luigi Nono where there’s a quote I thought was pretty good and direct! Kyle Gann sez, “While Nono’s use of 12-tone technique is generally more ‘lyrical’ and melodically continuous that that of the other prominent Darmstadt serialists, he places little weight on the intelligibility of his texts; in Il Canto sospeso,” – which is his first large-scale work, on Auschwitz – “for instance, the heart-wrenching words are split up among parts of the chorus in a way that denies semantic listening. Criticized for this, Nono countered (in the words of Joachim Noller) that ‘the meaning of the texts was transferred to other, musical, means of expression. Whereas in certain forms of political aesthetics, music is degraded, as it were, to a mere handmaid of the text, with the spoken language as the standard by which all communication is judged, Nono prefers to set greater store by the variety and autonomy of musical expression.'”

Drenching: Yeah, I suppose Nono’s a better theorist than me! Because I didn’t do that, but hearing Nono talk like that makes me think of other possibilities, and obviously there’s no way that the text could be conveyed by the meaning of the sounds that surround it.

Michael: I disagree with you.

Drenching: Do you?

Michael: I think there are parts of the music that are, not Mickey Mousing the text, but they’re illustrative, in a way similar to some aspects of Frank Zappa. Like when it says ‘Impotent’ [in Doomed Shop! track 12, ‘Decree on the Right to Work…’], and there’s this little noise that sounds like a fish flopping around on the ground! And then the word right after ‘impotent’, which I can’t even remember right now – I have to pull out the libretto to get it right.

Drenching: I don’t remember using the word ‘impotent’.

Michael: Nah, it’s there. Lemme look it up … oh, the word is ‘impotence’. Much difference.

Drenching: So that’s why I couldn’t remember it!

Michael: Yeah, so this is in the ‘Form a special Ministry of labour!’ section.

Drenching: Oh yeah, I remember: ‘ministry of impotence’ – sluurrpplrllplplplll!

Michael: Exactly. And then ‘a ministry of pious wishes’, and there’s a little whhhhheeee –

Drenching: Yeah, tweezer glint.

Michael: Right. So there is that aspect of the music. Though then again, quite unlike Luigi Nono who has in his music lots of fade ins and fade outs and it’s often hard to hear the entirety of a text at any given point because it’s always moving around in the mix, in your work you definitely can hear the whole thing. It’s not like the sopranos in opera where you just have no idea what they’re saying.

Drenching: Well I did that very deliberately because I wanted – not really with accessibility in mind particularly, but because I was desperate to avoid the idea that you can just use any text in the world as a way of generating any sort of random event. You know, like these guys who remix [Theodor Adorno’s book] Minima Moralia and make it mean something that it doesn’t over and over and over again on a website. Have you seen that? I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s like the Minima Moralia Remix Project or something like that. [Drenching is referring to ‘Minima Moralia Redux‘]

Michael: I haven’t seen it, but it sounds like all the crap that everybody does. I mean, the thing that it reminds me of is, since I’ve been doing the Prynne bibliography, there’s people who take a Prynne poem and stick it in a random generator with a bunch of other crap and out comes a made-up put-on Prynne remnant. [Michael is referring to Issue, 1 (Fall 2008), edited by Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter, where Prynne is one of the 3,164 poets to whom the texts are falsely attributed. The citation is in the ‘Not-Prynne’ section of the Prynne Bibliography].

Drenching: Exactly, yeah.

Michael: And it’s just garbage. But it’s what the kids love these days.

Drenching: I know, and it relieves you of the necessity of thinking about anything that you experience.

Michael: Right, the burden of thought.

Drenching: So I wanted to make sure that you could follow the narrative, and you could hear the words. So I didn’t do what Nono talked about doing in his piece, although I accept that the argument that he gave to the people who attacked him is the correct answer. It’s the right thing to say. I suppose me and Nono just didn’t have the same project.

Michael: Yeah, he didn’t have a Minima Moralia Remix to contend with. For that matter, I would assume you’re not a strict 12 tone serialist composer either.

Drenching: No, it’s not very strict.

Michael: Loosy-goosy 12 tone, innit.

Drenching: Yes, I have used all of the tones from 1 up to 12, but not in any particular order. But I do use ALL OF THEM, they make LOADS OF DIFFERENT SOUNDS.

Michael: I never actually liked B flat.

Drenching: No it’s shit. It should be left out. It’s like what Messiaen used to say about 12 tone, if you use all 12 tones, it just comes out too gray. And so the only time he ever used strict 12 tone was when he wanted to present something that was gray, and in order to get different colours he used to use tone rows of 11 and tone rows of 10, because he said that then you get flashes of colour in them.

Michael: And apparently he was an actual synesthete.

Drenching: That’s right, so he’s being completely literal. He really is experiencing those sounds as colours, that’s not metaphoric. If you read his liner notes, it’s like, ‘And then a purple chord with yellow flashes comes in’, then there is literally, like, even in his solo organ works he’s saying, ‘I then use a pedal stop to produce a purple colour with flashes of gold in the upper register, which gives way to more of a maroon tone in the bottom’, and he just goes through it bit by bit, which makes him sound even more mental that he really is.

Michael: I wish he could’ve heard Captain Beefheart.

Drenching: Yeah, I suppose he could’ve done.

Michael: I mean they were in the same time – but if ever there was a painterly music… But so the setting that you gave for these words, it’s specifically un-jiggy as mentioned, there’s no rock beat, it’s almost uniformly adagio in its delivery, but I think it’s safe to say that this was not for the purposes of accessibility or a bid at popularity.

Drenching: No … no. Because part of the problem if you can’t hear the text is that you lose the scope for a lot of incongruity and preposterousness that you can create by the dislocations between the text and the music. If you can’t hear the text, then the text can’t set up anything in opposition to the music.

Michael: So did you find that as you were going along you would create music specifically to jeopardise simple consumption of the text, or how did it go?

Drenching: I found more negatively that there were a lot of times where I felt the urge to align the music and the text more sort of demonstratively, and felt a sort of pressure from myself not to do that. And so I allowed sort of disjuncts to happen without trying to smooth them over too much. And there were times – the time that you pointed out before, I must have been going easy on myself and decided that I would do that at one point, sort of illustrate, add sound effects to the text. Very occasionally I do that. But the tendency is to feel like doing that all the time because it’s quite fun, you know. But I tried not to do that, and not to use dramatic effects too much, not to sort of signpost the text by hammering out dramatic moments with dramatic music. I’ve tried not to do that either. So I suppose I’ve tried to keep it sort of independent in terms of, not that the text is irrelevant to the music, but independent in terms of effect.

Michael: I notice also on a few different occasions the text is just spoken, as well as a couple of interjections of French which don’t sound like you.

Drenching: No, they’re Gwilly Edmondez. My French isn’t good enough. Whereas Gwilly’s French is spectacular.

Michael: What coerced the decision to have spoken rather than sung or declaimed text?

Drenching: There were some bits where the sung bits, recitatives, were too long. There were bits where formally it didn’t seem to make sense to extend the movement as far as you’d need to extend it in order to be able to sing all of that material. So in a lot of cases there was a formal reason just to have a bit of spoken stuff to round the narrative off in order to get to the next bit.

Michael: So, necessary insertionism.

Drenching: Necessary insertionism I would call it. Also it has got quite a weird dramatic effect and it sort of makes you jump when it happens, because you’re not expecting it.

Michael: I should also mention, I’m assuming that this album cost next to nothing to produce in a long line of musica povera, but yet it does deserve to be said that there’s a great deal of interesting recording technique. Spacially, if you listen in headphones, or in the car as I did, if you kick it out the tronk, it really does move all over the place, there’s lots of squiggliness and movement from ear to ear or speaker to speaker. I’m wondering how you managed to achieve such a wealth of effect from such a dearth of economy.

Drenching: A lot of it is to do with recording things carefully, with close-miking things, with noise-reducing things carefully, with making sure that the sounds themselves at source are interesting sounds rather than just recording anything and then trying to add effects to it to make it interesting. What I tend to do is, if I’ve got a particular set of objects that I’m making sounds with, I’ll record maybe six or ten minutes, something like that, of me making different types of sounds with them, and then I’ll just load them up into the computer and I’ll use those as a store, and I’ll go through them, and as I’m going along building something cut the bits that I need in order to have a certain effect and use those. If you got six minutes worth of those different sounds and just piled those up on top of each other and just listened to them through without any orchestration at all, the sound world itself that was created by doing that would be more or less the same as the final piece. So it’s a matter of orchestrating sounds that are interesting to start with, keeping an eye out for sounds that are interesting. And then it’s just a matter of orchestrating little bits of improvisation, I suppose, orchestrating individual sounds on top of each other to build them into something.

Michael: Would you say that the originals that you’re working from are improvised and then you’re listening back and composing on top of that, or would you say that even the composing is a kind of improvisation on top of it?

Drenching: I wouldn’t say it was improvised. The actual recordings are improvised in the sense that I don’t have any plan, but they’re improvised not as a continuous form, they’re improvised purely as a selection of sounds that I can then take to pieces and use to build something else. They wouldn’t stand up as improvisations on their own at all. Well, sometimes there’s the odd little section that I would use, but it’s a matter of like two seconds, three seconds, no more than that.

Michael: What are the materials that you’re using? What is your technology?

Drenching: On Doomed Shop! and on most of my things, it’s a lot of metal percussion, most of which is metal objects that I’ve found lying around that I hang up on a string and hit with a stick. I record them in and then I use them as metal percussion. They can be sped up and slowed down to good effect without sounding irregular or fucked up. If you slow down a high ping you’ll get a bassy gong-like tone that doesn’t sound artificial or distorted, that sound will stretch out nicely. So you can use one metal percussion sound to produce any number of pitches by slowing and speeding them up. And obviously also chords by laying them on top of each other. So a lot of it’s that. I use a lot of recorders … well, I use one recorder a lot. And that can be slowed down or sped up over a fairly wide range of pitches without distorting or sounding like they’re deteriorated. They’re good for building up chords because they’re already dissonant and there’s already microtones within the sound of a recorder because it’s such a shitty instrument. There’s a lot of different types of shitty horns, a lot of whistles, any type of party whistles …

Michael: Is there a penny whistle?

Drenching: Oh, what do you call it … a swanee whistle?

Michael: Is that what you call it!

Drenching: You mean with the stick that goes in and out, yeah, swanee whistle. There’s things that you get out of kids’ crackers which already sound like Doomed Shop! because I haven’t done anything to them, I’ve just orchestrated them. And there’s different types of shakers. A vuvuzela.

Michael: An electric guitar as well, I noticed.

Drenching: There’s electric guitar, yeah. There’s a violin, a secondhand violin. And a mandolin – no not a mandolin, what’s it called … a ukulele. Anything that sounds like an acoustic guitar on it is actually a ukulele. There’s a variety of little keyboards. A dry branch with some dead leaves on it. There are some things which are sampled – there’s some sampled cello on it, sampled from some guy playing Rachmaninoff badly on youtube. A lot of the stuff that I suppose sounds more like tape music or concrète is dictaphone material that’s manipulated, so there’s some stuff which, if you think about it as a live performance, would be a tape part. There’s some harmonica on it – slowed down that can be pretty interesting.

Michael: And what are all these sound materials manipulated within, what are you composing this in?

Drenching: It’s done using Audacity, which is a free download. It’s a, what do you call it, public domain software. So anybody could do that. But Nobody Will.

Michael: And then in terms of producing the album, how do you print out the inserts and the CDs?

Drenching: I got a company to do it. I actually got a company to do it this time.

Michael: Oh my.

Drenching: The Council of Drent releases, I pay eighty quid for fifty of them.

Michael: This is a limited edition of fifty?

Drenching: Of fifty, yeah. I’ve had no need for any more than that unfortunately. But yeah, eighty quid for fifty, including all the artwork and the printing and everything, seems fairly reasonable. And you only need to sell eight to break even.

Michael: Have you?

Drenching: Mm-hmm. I’ve broken even on both of the albums! In fact, in fact—! I broke even on the first album, AND sales of the first album covered the cost of Doomed Shop!

Michael: Holy shit! That’s a record-breaker.

Drenching: Covered on pre-orders it was. Imagine that.

Michael: Hey, I wanted to ask you, because I’ve figured out just about every reference that you’ve embedded within the artwork, all but two.

Drenching: Go on.

Michael: There’s a face here …

Drenching: Louis Blanc.

Michael: Louis Blanc! Okay. I wasn’t sure …

Drenching: He kinda looks like Sean Bonney, doesn’t he!

Michael: He does … and the bird looks kinda like me!

Drenching: Yeah, but the bird’s got a smaller nose! [laughter abounds]

Michael: The other one that I wasn’t sure of, you have at the bottom of the inside of the liner notes. It sez ‘Take Drenching – Take Marx – Take Hope’.

Drenching: [laughs] You won’t even have ever heard of them I don’t think, they’re an English band from Hull called the Housemartins. Do you know them?

Michael: Not at all.

Drenching: There’s no reason why you would or should even. They’re a Christian Socialist band from the mid-80s who occasionally did a gospely number but generally did a sort of jangly uptempo social-realist sort of pop music. They had a hit with one called ‘Happy Hour’ which you may have heard, if you heard it you might recognise it.

Michael: No, haven’t heard it.

Drenching: Well anyway, on their first album they had a slogan across the bottom. At the top it said something about, ‘Next Christmas when you’ve got your nose pressed up against the window and the bankers are all celebrating, burn the house down.’ And then it said at the bottom, ‘Take Christ – Take Marx – Take Hope’. Which I quite liked at the time, because I was a Christian at the time but also had Marxist tendencies you see, so the fact that they could be combined with a bit of revolutionary violence I found quite attractive at the time. So I’ve replaced Christ with myself and left the Marx where it is. It’s just my SPIRITUAL EVOLUTION.

Michael: See I was worried that it was a Trainspotting reference, with ‘Choose Life, Choose Hope’, all that stuff.

Drenching: Oh my God. How awful! No, it’s worse than that, it’s a reference to the Housemartins. One of Dallas Boner’s favourite bands growing up, by the way. And he’s from the same town.

Michael: Okay, here’s something else we can talk about: so you’ve replaced ‘Christ’ with ‘Drenching’ here and you’ve used this slogan. I’m assuming one could say that you’ve used this reference to the Housemartins satirically.

Drenching: Yeah, but also quite affectionately.

Michael: Well, like doo wop, for instance, in Cruisin’ with Ruben and the Jets. And then also on the CD itself there is printed this illustration from around the time of Marx’s text of a pear which is speaking, and … I don’t know if I should mention what this is about or if we should just leave it as a secret for the fifty people …

Drenching: No that’s fine, I don’t care.

Michael: Well I thought it was brilliant. It’s a picture of Louis-Philippe, who happened to look like a pear, if you see a picture of him.

Drenching: Which is biting satire – he had a head shaped a bit like a pear!

Michael: But this is all a big pun, or many puns actually. Correct me if I’m wrong – the house of Orléans was in danger of becoming deceased once Louis-Philippe fell out of public favour, and this threw them into despair. In French ‘désespoir’ is despair, and ‘décès’ is deceased, and ‘poire’ is the pear, Louis-Philippe. [And, sez Jules Janick in ‘The Pear in History, Literature, Popular Culture, and Art’, “The ‘Peer of France’ became ‘the Pear (Poire) of France’; the King’s initials L.P. corresponded to La Poire, which means ‘fat head’ or ‘simpleton’ in French slang. The image of Louis Philippe as a soft and bulbous piece of fruit that rots quickly became a metaphor for a corrupt greedy administration. The phallic association of the pear emphasized in the illustrations were generally understood and considered gleefully offensive.” See The Pear in History, Literature, Popular Culture, and Art [approx. p. 8 of 14]].

Drenching: I didn’t know that. I never thought about it, I just said, “Haha! Louis-Philippe looks like a pear!” so I said, “Put it on the CD now.”

Michael: Ah. Yeah, I looked it up and found it in this book about Thackeray.

Drenching: Right, “He went Thackeray, I went Thales.”

Michael: That’s right. Apparently Thackeray was in France at the time of the 1848 revolution, and he was very impressed with the caricaturists and satirists at that time, and this was one of the things that he took note of, this brilliant pun on ‘despair’/’deceased pear’. So I just figured I’d mention that.

Drenching: Yeah, it works in English as well, doesn’t it? It’s like, Louis-Philippe: check out dis pear! Well, the reason I even know about that, is because I first came across it in school, where the history teacher showed us this picture, and didn’t say anything about the pun, all he said was that Louis-Philippe looked like a pear. And this was a joke about him to make him look stupid, because he looked like a pear, because he had big jowls. That was the first time that I saw it. And my friend who was sitting next to me at the time had a habit of saying in a really exaggerated and stupid French voice, “Louis Philippe? C’est une poire, n’est-ce pas?” and waved his arms around. That’s a little reference to that, to have Louis-Philippe saying that. So if that friend of mine ever saw that he’d recognise that.

Michael: What the hell was I going to say? Oh, getting back to the matter at hand: is it important to clarify for the kids at home that the satire involved in a work like Doomed Shop!, with its artwork and various aspects, is also not a satire? I mean, it’s also quite sincere ….

Drenching: Yeah, it’s difficult to judge, isn’t it?

Michael: Would you want to make any kind of statement regarding that or do you just want to let it stand?

Drenching: I wouldn’t really want to specify how an audience has to respond to it.

Michael: They must take it very seriously.

Drenching: I’d prefer that they took it inordinately seriously and didn’t understand any of the jokes. I don’t know. The thing is, it’s something you often get in the leftwing cultural press, (whatever that is!), where you’re not quite sure how to take something, you don’t quite know whether it means what you think it might mean, or it might mean something else, but then they go to the artist and say ‘What did you mean by this?’ And they say “Well actually I’m a Marxist and I meant this”, and then you go, “Right, it’s okay to like it now.” It’s just another way of relieving the burden of thinking – what it means actually is you don’t need to think about the impact of the artwork anymore. That said, it would be pretty strange if somebody who had no sympathy whatsoever for Marx were to make an album like that.

Michael: I suppose there’s stupid people for anything, like the people who really thought that Frank Zappa was making fun of doo wop in making Cruisin’ with Ruben and the Jets when in fact all it takes is to listen to it and you realise that if he was really out to make fun of it he could’ve come up with so much more direct and biting kind of shrew-criticism.

Drenching: Yeah, and he shows absolutely no contempt for the medium or for the genre at all. Or very little.

Michael: I’m wondering if – well, who the hell knows what’s gonna happen – if there is a big enough audience for this sort of material I suppose you could get a whole range of reactions, but I wonder if just the fact that you haven’t put it to a rock beat would make it sound … well for instance, Ben [Watson] said that he thought that it was coming from the same sort of ironic, arch place as Art Bears or something like that.

Drenching: It struck me as a strange misreading.

Michael: Yeah, me too. But I suppose I can understand it just in terms of the fact that you’re not – how do I even put it? – well just that the vocals are ‘amateur’, as you might say, and they’re foregrounded, and I suppose it’s often the case lately with foregrounded amateur vocals that there is assumed a sort of arch, ironic stance, because who in the wake of American Idol is still willing to stand up and find meaning and value and sincerity in their own untrained voice. Maybe Ben’s thinking along the lines of Gwilly! [and the layers of irony in Gwilly’s Radioactive Sparrow vocalisations, of which OTL is a known opponent: cf. Contra Lunch: Some Critical Remarks on the Sparrow Question]

Drenching: Yeah, maybe he is. Although one of the tracks that he told both of us that he likes is one of the tracks that features Gwilly singing on it.

Michael: Is that ‘Crapuleux’?

Drenching: Yeah, the ‘Crapuleux’ one. He does all of the French choral bits in that. We had a hilarious time recording them. But I think one of the things that makes it clear that I’m not fucking around, that I don’t fuck around, and [in a Manchester accent] I don’t fuck around, [‘normal’ again] would be the fact that it’s so sustained. The first line of one of the aria bits, those bits where it’s like [sung] “the July monarchy” [normal], like that, and the first few words you’re like, “Christ, what are you doing,” but then – well, you might still be like, “Christ, what are you doing” by the end of it, but I sustain it, sometimes just with solo singing like that, for a minute or a minute and a half, which is quite a lot of that sort of thing. So it’s sustained, and however amateur it is it’s committed to doing what it’s gonna do, and it does it.

Michael: And even if you had been starting out to do it as ironic or just being cute or funny, you’d really have to get a hell of a laugh to keep it going for that long.

Drenching: Yeah, I mean initially I had this response as well, because I did it – I dunno whether chronologically is the right word – I did it in the order that it’s presented, I started at the beginning with the first few notes and I went through to the end and then stopped. So I didn’t patch together bits and pieces over time in different areas, I started at the beginning and then went through to the end, so it shows the development of what I was doing during the album from beginning to end without any disruptions or discontinuities. So I had the same reaction myself at the beginning, which was to do the sort of two minute instrumental bit that opens up the album, and then suddenly to be like [singing] “From now on…”, [normal] and suddenly the vocals come in. And initially, having recorded that and sat back and listened to it, I thought myself, “What the fuck am I doing and why have I done that, and can that really be sustained?” And then I decided that you wouldn’t be able to tell whether it could be sustained or whether it worked until you sustained it. And so then I sort of retreated a bit I suppose because there’s another two minute instrumental section. So I sort of retreated from the vocals. But then, with the second track, I thought “Right, fuck this, I’m actually gonna start this unaccompanied”, and so that’s the one, “It was not the French bourgeoisie …”, that one, where I decided to maintain it. And I think by the end of the album you’re no longer shocked by the fact that somebody who can’t sing an aria is continually singing an aria, and you’re forced to look at it more objectively, the initial shock wears off and you’re left looking at what you’ve got after that. I think that happens fairly quickly, so by the third or fourth track you’re not worrying about that so much and you’re closer to the sort of substance of it.

Michael: It seems to come from the Schoenberg Sprechstimme, but I think there’s also some resemblance to Zappa’s ‘meltdown’ technique.

Drenching: Do you think?

Michael: Yeah, a little bit, in terms of pitch. I mean it doesn’t sound like you’re posing, which a lot of the political rock stuff sounds like: Red Krayola. You know what I mean? It doesn’t come off like you were trying to be ironic, putting on a persona … It doesn’t sound to me like a détournement, a send-up, of Marx. It sounds like this is something that you agree with and that you are setting to music. More like Luigi Nono, for instance.

Drenching: Yeah, well I mean the fact is that that’s actually how I sing, that’s the best attempt I can do at singing, like that. And so yeah, any failings in it are honest failings, they’re not ironic failings.

Michael: Yeah.

Drenching: But I like the sense that a melody’s being drawn out on the hoof: that you can’t necessarily rely on me getting to the end of that melody in a coherent way.

Michael: Do you write all of the melodic material in advance?

Drenching: No, no. A lot of them, the actual sort of arias or recitatives are just improvised and then I edit together the best of those takes that I can to get the effect that I want melodically, and then I just orchestrate them afterwards.

Michael: So there’s definitely no score?

Drenching: No, there’s no score. None of it’s written down in dots.

Michael: Could it be performed live?

Drenching: Not by me!

Michael: [laughs]

Drenching: Somebody could, if they could be bothered, could transcribe it and arrange it. It’d probably take an octet of some kind … roughly the size of an octet, and then maybe a five piece choir, and then magnetic tape. You could probably do it like that. I think. It’d have to be pretty much like that.

Michael: But you wouldn’t want to be a part of it?

Drenching: In an advisory capacity! But I wouldn’t arrange for that to happen.

Michael: Mm.

Drenching: I like it as a tape piece more than I like it as a potential live event.

Michael: Yeah, I think – well, who cares what the hell I think – but I think the vocal effects work. And it struck me as quite – what does Boulez call it? ‘Striated time’? – there’s lots of different layers of stuff and lots of different sound colours involved so it doesn’t get boring.

Drenching: Well that’s what I tried to do. It’s difficult to articulate a text and keep it intelligible except by keeping it at a fairly low pace. So I deliberately tried to make textural and timbral changes, and formal changes and sort of block-structure changes, in such a way as to striate the surface of it and make it surprising formally by doing that with the sound itself.

Michael: I think it helps also having all the different voices, the fact that every now and then you’ll hear children orchestrating these words punctuated by a cough.

Drenching: You noticed the cough!

Michael: Yeah, it was beautiful. And then even down to the level of taking in a breath at the end of a phrase to sort of round out a structural unit, as well as the segues between one track and the next – they’re very precise, often surprising as to when a silence is broken – as well as the fact that you’ve got lots of little silences in between, it’s ventilated music.

Drenching: Yeah, deliberately as well. I mean that’s how it is in the libretto, the bits that suggest a choral setting versus more of a narrative line, they’re each set off. There’s no set format to that, so each time the emphasis of the texts change I tried to build a completely new structure for it to sit within.

Michael: Did you lay out and choose the libretto first, or did you just do that as you went along?

Drenching: I structured and put together the whole libretto before starting it. That’s the first thing I did, was edit and lay out the text.

Michael: You mention also authority as something questioned or played out in Doomed Shop!

Drenching: Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that. What do you think about the questions that I asked you [in email] about the authority of Marx’s text and the authority of Marx as an author, and how that’s changed or not changed?

Michael: Well, one of the immediate impressions that I get in reading Marx’s text is that he sounds pretty spot-on, amazingly so considering that he wasn’t there. I mean, he’s getting reports and he’s interpreting them from – I guess he’s in England at that point.

Drenching: I think so, yeah.

Michael: And publishes these articles and puts them together into book form fairly quickly, which in itself is a pretty amazing feat. I mean, thinking of recent history, it’s often impossible to summarise all of the political events of a period until a few years after it’s done, and he’s doing it within months or in some cases even days, even as it’s happening, and this is in the nineteenth century when of course communications would not have been anywhere near as advanced as they are today.

Drenching: And imposing upon them a very sharp analysis as well, extremely clear and sharp.

Michael: What I would say is, I often agree with him, although – and this is probably gonna get me in trouble with Ben because it’s gonna sound too Keston-y [Keston Sutherland – AW] – but I think that Marx is very often speaking in a satirical mode. And I think that some of the phrases that he uses which have been abused over the years, like ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ – the first time that he uses that is in The Class Struggles in France – I think that he’s being extremely bitingly satirical in using a term like ‘dictatorship’. It’s sort of like Lord Buckley calling himself and his nightclub audiences royalty, do you know what I mean? It’s sort of the term reserved for oppressive hierarchy instead being turned around and used against the oppressor. I don’t imagine that Marx is literally thinking, ‘The proletariat must replace, you know, Fidel Castro or somebody, as dictator’, because that’s in itself absurd.

Drenching: And it’s absurd as well just from a political point of view to imagine that the dictatorship of a class could in any way resemble the dictatorship of an individual.

Michael: Yeah, dictatorship in and of itself tends towards individualism or at least oligarchy. You know, it tends towards the concentration of power in a very few individuals, and that’s precisely the opposite of what a dictatorship of the proletariat would entail. To have a proletariat in charge instead of a few privileged individuals is the opposite of dictatorship already.

Drenching: So given that both me and you consider Marx’s text to have a lot of authority, if that text is invested with the authority of the original Marxism, what does it being set in the way that I’ve set it do to that authority, to the authority of Marxism in that context?

Michael: That’s why I was asking about the satire and stuff, I think that there’s a lot of people, particularly a lot of people who would identify themselves as Marxists today, who do not feel that humour belongs in music or in politics. And I think that for many of those people the initial impression of such a piece of music, in setting this text, would be to say “This is just making a fool of Marx and poo-pooing Marx’s analysis.” I disagree, because Marx himself wrote with brilliant and biting humour, and I don’t have a problem with humour as a – if not THE best – form of critique and way of proceeding in life. I mean, I could be a bad example here because I’m familiar with your music and with Marx’s ways of writing, but to me it makes perfect sense. It strikes me as a perfectly logical way of bringing these texts to life and associating them with the parallels in contemporary politics and economics, leading the listener to question contemporary life in relation to what Marx critiqued: the forms of government, the impetus towards war and prison, the financial aristocracy and its relations with national debt – to me, in uniting aesthetics and politics with humour, your work is a perfectly logical and correct development of the Marxist tradition. Although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a typical listener.

Drenching: No, I would imagine not.

Michael: But in terms of authority, what does it do to the authority of it … see, it’s funny, in the edition that I’ve got of The Class Struggles in France there’s notes at the back – and I find it funny the way they put this across here, they try to boil it all down in this one note. It says, in talking about The Class Struggles in France, “It explains from materialist positions a whole period of France’s history and sets forth the most important principles of the proletariat’s revolutionary tactics.” I loosely, vaguely ‘agree’, but at the same time that’s way too simplified.

Drenching: Well what it is is formulaic.

Michael: And it tries to impose an authority on it that I don’t think is actually there in the original.

Drenching: It tries to make the analysis that Marx has made of a specific situation into a general rule. So it’s undialectical in that sense.

Michael: Which Engels actually does somewhat too, in his preface.

Drenching: It’s said all the time in the Party press, there’s a constant shrill cry that Marx is still relevant. And obviously I’m a Marxist, so I think that’s true. But the claim that ‘Marx is still relevant’ usually means that poor people are still getting fucked over by rich people. That’s the most basic form of ‘Marx still being relevant’. But something like this is much more specific than that, the connections are much more specific.

Michael: It’s dealing with specific conditions and examining their relations to one another as well as to the rest of the world. The Stalinist interpretation of Marx basically says that Marx has figured out the correct dogma for how things must go, that basically there’s a calendar of revolutionary events that we just have to fill up.

Drenching: Yeah, it thinks not from the point of view of a revolutionary but from the point of view of a government. It thinks from the point of view of power. It thinks from the point of view of an organisation that has the power to disseminate facts down to people who need to know them in order to be proper Marxists. It’s no longer thinking from the point of view of somebody where Marx is, at the bottom looking up, making sense and making connections; it’s thinking from the point of view of somebody in the future looking down on everything and saying “As we suspected, this is how it’s all worked.”

Michael: And this type of music, this type of setting of these words, is meant to subvert such an interpretation of them.

Drenching: It is, yeah, because it’s meant to estrange that version of Marx from the true authority of Marx, which is the authority of looking up from the bottom and improvising your response to the world and trying to organise it into a method of changing it. Which is the true authority of it, which can only happen, as we know, from the bottom up, and from a view that looks up from below rather than this Stalinist view which is to look down from up above.

Michael: And in that sense I would say that the music itself has a critical function similar to the text. The text is not a dogma, it’s not a teaching, it’s a criticism of current events. And I think that the music, the setting that you’ve created for these words, takes a similar approach. It’s critical rather than trying to set down an authoritative program.

Drenching: So that’s why, whilst most Marxists listening to it might consider Marx’s authority as a political thinker to be undermined by the work, in actual fact what is being undermined is this Stalinoid use of Marx from above. And Marx has picked up so much of that, so much of that tone, Marx is read through that tone by everybody including people who should know better, and including people who really do know better but still have a bad hangover from Stalinism in bits of their thinking. And that’s happened to such an extent with Marx that it really needs to be taken apart and have cartoon trumpets and horseshit sprayed all over it in order to estrange Marx enough to get rid of that hangover. Get to Doomed Shop! >> Get to Council of Drent >> More AMM articles by Michael Tencer >>

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