“Not in Our Name” (Liberation Music Orchestra)

In memory of Charlie Haden, written on 14 July 2014.

The Not in Our Name Project (NION) diagnosed the American imperial order in 2002 as a spatiotemporal problem: Afghanistan-Iraq-the West Bank in a continuum of U.S.-inflected terror/policy decisions and Japanese American internment alongside the detainment and interrogation of Arab Americans post-9/11. And a similar strategy shaped the project’s self-definition and the enumeration of role models: abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, Vietnam War draft resisters, and the refusal of Israeli reservists to serve in the Occupied Territories. The Saul Williams-penned “Pledge of Resistance” commits “to make common cause with the people of the world” and stops short of calling for a general strike by refusing, as a group, to “supply weapons and funding” for foreign wars. Yet this all came to an end in 2008 with the disbanding of the project’s “national office and related infrastructure.” In some ways, everything here was on the verge of getting it on. (George Clinton, by the way, would have your “funky mind” freed “out into another reality.” And as Clinton knew, other realities have been and are already here as one continually imagines (and practices) being the “people.”) Charlie Haden’s and Carla Bley’s Liberation Music Orchestra deals with the NOIN’s central bifurcation problem—(dis)owning one’s nation-state—through difference. A Latin-inflected tune involving passages with synchronized horns, the key sonic decision is to allow each instrument a solo. The duration of each solo sometimes runs against type, and the instruments involved straddle the (non-) traditional, with the tuba solo as the most extreme example. Much like the album’s cover photograph, we can be both under the banner and at the helm of an organization’s varying structure through time. Haden, then, knew this as well: the Liberation Music Orchestra’s personnel may change, but it’s an inclination requiring stamina, adjustment, multiple voicings, and perpetual practice/praxis.

 

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“Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)” (!!!)

To legally dance in New York City, an establishment needed a Cabaret license until 2017. And when an establishment applied for one, they’d have to be approved by the fire department and a Community Board. With a history often centered on Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign. the hazy origins of the law—that its institution and enforcement in the early twentieth century is related to segregation—allow alternate evasion strategies to emerge from the shadows, such as how gay bars routinely evaded the law’s enforcement. (And why Giuliani as “Julio”?) With so many layers of approval and overbearing officiousness, !!!’s focus on the “piggiest pig[’s]” stutters when it equates NYC’s situation with Footloose. There’s certainly paternalism in common, but there’s no ban. And there’s no generational conflict to exploit. It is, though, a question of what a just measure is, especially in light of NYC’s selective enforcement. The creation of an illicit dancefloor can be theorized aggressively, as Autechre’s project shows. It can also advocate for counterhegemonic praxis, as with the focus here on dancers sharing “nothing more than this very second” because mortality is always a beat away. Unlike Oliver Wang’s notion of dancefloor intersubjectivity, we shouldn’t claim that we “barely understand” what happens on the dancefloor. We listen and watch for its utopian possibilities and manifold realizations.

 

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“Freedom Death Dance” (Eugene McDaniels)

Tritone half-steps—no half-steppin’—lope forward then back, while a ballad alternates with admonishment. Apocryphal stories have either Spiro Agnew or H.R. Haldeman calling Atlantic Records and condemning the album, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, leading to its burial. And it’s really a burial that McDaniels wants us to consider. Rather than “ignore the graves we dance upon,” there’s a question of praxis involved. In an easy vein, we could take the trax at face value. Take note, hedonists, hippies, and the young: nothing you do will stop nuclear destruction, global hunger, or the spread of unfreedom. You’ve lost your way and insult those revolutionaries that came before you. But hold on. In “The Parasite (For Buffy),” the Pilgrim’s domination of natives begins (and continues) an incessant narrative of power choosing division over “breath[ing] freedom.” Likewise, McDaniels pegs the military-industrial complex as the owners of the “chess board” in “Headless Heroes,” resigning Jews and Arabs, left- and right-wings, and “niggers and crackers” to duke it out among themselves. How should we properly memorialize the dead? By founding a new sense of experience and dancing in a different way. To “speak of the future,” the checklist of basic liberatory goals and desires should be recategorized as a basically banal bare minimum. The “amount of dancing” we do won’t “make us free.” “Be[ing] in touch with your own humanity” initiates dissatisfaction with a liberal recognition and a move toward some new “news.” “Gather ‘round” and “be free” if and only if what you want exceeds the possibilities that this limited sense of the world offers. That way, “justice and equality” won’t have to be brought to anyone.

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