Question Meme: An Exchange


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 If the watchword/phrase for the 1960s was “Question authority” maybe the watch phrase for 2010s & social media ought to be “Question meme.” Because every single one of us – yes, YOU too – really, really should.

I wrote the above at the beginning of September and after it came a really fascinating conversation with my high school English & Theory of Knowledge teacher, Mr Ted Kopacki. I soon realized I wanted to put the conversation up here…so that it took me until now to get to it tells you something about how quickly I move on my ideas. Anyhow, it was a really interesting exchange for me, hopefully someone out there finds it intriguing too.

(I’m always up for more education and interesting conversations, so feel free to leave any thoughts in the comments. If I did make any mistakes, please keep it civil.)

So, then the comments below my original post:

Me: Question 1. What is a meme?

Me: Hint: it’s not a pic with with clever text over it. That’s an image macro.

Kopacki: I read it and I still don’t have a clear idea of what it is.

[Mr Kopacki meant the Wikipedia article, presumably on image macros.]

Me: I’m not sure if you read the article on meme. I describe it as a cultural virus, bits of ideas that are transferred among people in the same social sphere that carry a linguistic currency on their own. For example, “mainstream media” or the idea that President Obama is a secret Muslim or (I know this goes back a few decades) the impression that Asian cars were worthless. It’s not exactly the idea in and of itself, but the context behind the idea that is spread.

Me: It’s a structure that lets ideas get used like a linguistic mechanism, but the meaning is only mutually understood when we have the same social insights. IE kids today who are used to the Honda Prius and other very fine cars might not know that in 1970s and 80s Hondas were considered lemons or just low value vehicles. In fact “Honda” was often invoked as a joke for something that was low class…

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The thing about suicidal ideation and buying eggs



When suicidal thoughts first popped into my head they were more like fantasies the way you might fantasize about pretty much anything as a teenager. Getting that boy/girl of your preference to notice you, winning a competition or just dreaming up the proper comeback to an insult from the day before. I don’t remember when it first popped into my head, and as someone who wrote bits of fiction for fun starting from a very young age I didn’t think anything about it, taking pills to never wake up was just another idea like the one about meeting the goddess Athena or time traveling to New York’s Gilded Age. I wrote little stories of people who just up and took their own lives for no particular reason. I saw the scene in my head and I wrote it down.

Suffering suicidal ideation and suffering from it are two different things. When you suffer something, you go through it but you’re not necessarily in agony. (I swear the phrase “suffer fools gladly” has been much abused.) You suffer traffic to get to work on time, you suffer your boss’s small talk before the metting starts, etc. But when you get sick the misery is expressed as “suffering FROM headache and fever.”

Suicidal ideation is probably the least miserable indication of depression I suffer. I’m so used to the thoughts playing like a montage of videos looping on the walls at the back of my mind I forget they’re A Thing. Everyone fantasizes, right? About sex, about winning the lottery, about beating a rival…I do that and have my death mixed in. I can lean into the fantasy like it’s anything else and really flesh out the details, or just leave it running in the back and give it as much attention as I give the hum of my laptop. What I can’t do is turn it off. I must suffer it to get to my conscious thoughts.

Well, you could always hang yourself!

Yeah, we found this rope! –Bad Idea Bears, Avenue Q

What I can’t stress enough to people who don’t suffer ideation is that I really don’t want to kill myself. I’m not fantasizing because that’s what I want to do – which, I realize, is the stark difference between dreaming of taking my life and dreaming of getting some action.

This is where the thing about buying eggs comes in. Say you have a shopping list in your mind and you’ve just been so freaking busy you haven’t had time to write it down. So you recite it to yourself over the course of the day so it doesn’t slip away that you need to go to the store. But every time you get to the line with eggs you think, “oh wait, my roommate just picked up some eggs last night so I don’t have to buy any eggs.” And you carry on with the list. But the next time you think about grocery shopping eggs are still on the list and you have to go through the whole recall that you don’t need to buy eggs all over again. This happens over and over and over until you start to get a little infuriated with yourself, but you’re already driving to the grocery store so you can’t write down the list for the pleasure of crossing off “eggs.” And then you’re shopping and you slow down at the section with eggs and all you can do is roll your eyes at yourself, maybe shake your head at your weird memory, and keep on shopping.

On the one hand it doesn’t feel like a big deal to me, particularly compared to days when I can’t get out of bed, feeling numb, feeling frozen or aimless, being unable to enjoy things everyone else loves or those really dark times when I’m not fantasizing. At those times I’m studying the fantasy, comparing it against a checklist I’ll call “Do I really want to do that? No? Why not?”

On the other hand the ideas are there ALL THE TIME. I am constantly on the verge of going shopping and constantly having to remind myself I don’t need eggs. CONSTANTLY. I think to myself, “okay what do I have to get done next?” and the answer is always something like, “go to the gym, read this book, fix the broken light, email the director, kill myself, fix a snack, check with my friend about when we’ll get lunch.”

See if you can find the item in the list that sticks out like eggs I don’t need to buy.

I’m constantly crossing it off when it pops up in my mental to-do list, but like the most persistent case of mood herpes it just won’t go away. It pops up more often when I’m feeling anxious and when I’m super stressed and frustrated the thoughts get more intense, until they crowd out other thoughts… And then when things go really pear-shaped I have very little energy left to keep crossing suicide off my to-do list.

I start to feel like I should buy the fucking eggs to get them off my list.

But I won’t.


Out on a Limb


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I don’t do things that scare me or make me uncomfortable too very often.  I keep meaning to fix that, but I’m so busy with all the things that are inside my comfort zone I often forget to go ahead and take a chance on something Out There.

And I mean, everyone is full of the “do one thing that scares you every day” like that’s so easy.  Like there aren’t really good reasons for why it’s scary.  You’re being told to take risks, to gamble and take chances – the people who tell you that certainly aren’t the ones who are going to take the financial hit or lose the relationship or damage their health if things don’t work out.

But still.  There is no growth without losing some skin, right?  The world you have built up around you was once scary itself, and eventually became the status quo, also became the stagnation trapping you in place.  At least that’s how it tends to go for me.

I was thinking about this last night, sitting on a workout-type paid-hangout-with Grey deLisle-Griffin.  It’s really tough sometimes to tell the difference between when I’m holding back due to nerves, fears that I’ll screw up and everyone will hate me (or more likely I’ll be awkward and everyone will think I’m weird (and not worth working with)), and when the hesitation is actually practical, when I can’t squeeze out the time or I can’t afford it or (hardest of all) I’m not ready.

And DAMN the last one is the hardest, because so much of being “ready” is just nerve.  Sheer confidence often trumps actual skill, particularly in performance.  Which is not to say that skill and talent aren’t valued – quite the opposite.  The quality of talent can determine what kind of a career you have, but your boldness will be the make or break point of actually having a career.

When I went on mic in front of Grey it was hard to figure out which affected me more, performance nerves or the frosty cold booth.  (Grey commented on shaking my voice as if it were intentional…um it wasn’t an affect, it was effect but I don’t know what caused it.)  I decided to go with a character I’ve worked on before – ethereal, calm, wise – knowing that the challenge there is to get the life as big as any wacky, loud goofball.

The greater challenge was actually to put on a very slight British accent.  I wanted the character to have a polished sound, articulated and enunciating properly.  Right away Grey came back with instruction to put on a British accent.  I just wanted a “proper” sound, but I didn’t want to go full on Emma Thompson simply for fear of screwing up.

It’s continually a lesson to me when the note I’m given is to play a note I started out with for myself.  It’s like I’m waving at a place I want to go to and the direction comes back “Go to that place.”  Why didn’t I do that from the beginning?

So.  I’m never allowed to forget Grey offhandedly tossing out “the British accent is great” without a second thought and then moving on to other things.  It was fine.  I was fine.

Fear is stupid.

Saturday of Days


I keep thinking today is Saturday.  It’s not, it’s actually a Tuesday.  But completely feels like a Saturday, the sun is shining, most of the family is home.  Some chores are being done, most are being ignored.  Meal times are whenever we get hungry.

It’s just that I’ve had work to do for the past several days (weeks) and must get back to it tomorrow.  But today I’ve had an open day with no plans.  Which means I’ve primarily been sleeping and then staring at my options, completely lost for what to pick next.  So I’ve gone back to bed a couple of times.  How is that not a Saturday?

If I were clever and/or ambitious I would take advantage of the downtime to really grab hold of my life the way otherwise made difficult by running on the treadmill of chores and work and daily nonsense.

There should be adventures and abstractions to tell you about, but I haven’t been up to writing lately, not even on Saturdays.  Maybe I’ve been busy (not so busy, I’ve watched quite a bit of TV lately), but more likely reporting on what’s in my head and around my life.  Is that good or bad?

Well, in truth no one cares.  No one really reads this thing so I could write any damned thing I wanted and it wouldn’t matter.  I wish I did have a bug to write more than on just the subject of writing.  This is the boring side of meta, I know because I like meta and this is boring.

In the end here I am not sure of how to explain myself.  It’s summer, school’s out and my mom and niece are home (a school teacher and student, respectively).  I just got back from a long cat sitting stint and will leave on another tomorrow. I’m lost and frustrated on all avenues of Things I Want to Get Done.  The house is a mess, the truck is falling apart and I have no idea what to do next in my career.  No Idea.

I guess Saturdays are for staring off into space and idly watching videos and eating a very late breakfast.  Even if it’s really a Tuesday.

Connection is Participation



I recently started up the habit of listening to one of Rob Paulsen’s Talkin’ Toons podcast per day, going all the way back to 2011. I’m often working out while I listen, but sometimes I’m cleaning. When I have absolutely nothing to occupy my body with I play mahjong on the computer while I listen.

I’m often laughing. I’m frequently moved and I’m always, always deeply impressed.

It’s a common refrain for Rob Paulsen and many of his guests that the best part of working in voice over is getting to work with wonderful people, many of whom become friends – if not family! And that’s something that I instantly loved about voice over, that sense of good people populating its ranks. It was true from the very first time I got connected with a VO actor (Stephanie Sheh) who patiently answered my questions for a half hour and showed me more than I think she realized from her professionalism to her generosity.

My VO acquaintances and friends are largely from among my classmates in the workshops I’ve taken in the last few years, and the camaraderie is unparalleled. There are some good folks I met in the theatre, don’t get me wrong. And there were some stand up people from the office jobs I’ve worked. But in the grown up world I just don’t expect people to drop what they’re doing to answer my silly questions or correct my assumptions. I expect honesty, sure, but I figure it’s always going to be couched in polite distance, if not some dismissiveness.  Encouragement and a helping hand are something else besides.

In VO it can be really tough to find work (how hard is it compared to acting in any other medium? I’m not sure it’s really that much harder but I’ve never tried crunching the numbers), but there’s rarely a shortage of people willing to trade supportive messages, sit down for some coffee or tea, offer advice or point to authorities that helped them out or generally give assistance to whatever degree possible. Over and over again voice actors go over and above to help out – just because they can. It’s easily my favorite part of voice acting.

I’m still very much in the process of finding my way but I like being able to point newer folks in directions that I think can help. I *love* being able to recommend friends to gigs, or gigs to friends.

Obviously the talent is paramount for being a good voice actor. But I think right on its heels is a personality that is low-b.s., highly supportive and patient. <3

At Marc Cashman’s studio.

A Truthful Fiction


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Do you remember how you first got online, when you first “hung out” on the Internet?

Not just sent an email or double checked a piece of info via text message.  When you actually parked it in front of a computer and had whole conversations with someone who you likely had never met in the flesh.  Was it over IRC?  AOL chat room?  Telnet?  Or… did you MUD?  Did you MOO?

If You Can Get to Buffalo, now playing at Son of Semele Ensemble, takes a wild and fun look back into those days of invented reality and the sweetness, as well as the danger, of a space with no rules.

Assuming you’re not one of those millennials who reached puberty around the same time that Myspace or Facebook came online, and you remember sending pings, checking whois, and developing the ability to read a rapidly scrolling screen as half a dozen people “talked” at the same time, then you really know what made the virtual world…”real.”  Even though we had text _only_, no images whatsoever, we connected over what people had to say for themselves, strange, hilarious, kind, self-serving, depressive, excitable, sly, cruel, sweet or some combination of all these, it was all we had to go on.  They could claim to be a 20 year old female college student, or they could be 35 year old male programmer etc… a. you could only take their word for it (and their server location…but that could be spoofed too) and b. asking a/s/l (age/sex/location) was nigh boring when the conversation was formatted around given subjects – a band, a political position or, in the case of MUDs and MOOs, a shared reality created whole cloth from the consensus of the people participating on the given channel.

Forgive me if this sounds curmudgeonly, but back then we could name ourselves anything that struck our fancy and create a backstory and reality that not only ignored facts but disregarded rules of biology and laws of physics.  These days social networking sites (read: Facebook) demand real names and even punish people with names that sound fictional.  The social networks of this day are built around the idea that you will only share your real self and your real experiences – with everyone, not merely with a self-selected group of strangers who share a variation of your brand of weird.

When did we lose the chance to create the world we wanted, no matter how mad or self-serving or frivolous?  Who took it away?  Was it when business people decided to build a platform they could monetize?  Was it when the jerks showed up and exploited holes in the consensus for their own jollies?  Was it fussbuckets who made fun of nerds who were enjoying themselves in a way that didn’t make sense?

Is there anything virtual left in the Internet as we know it today?  Is freedom only a byproduct of naivete?  Come party with us, we’ll explore LambdaMOO together.

If You Can Get to Buffalo closes April 12, 2015.

Because Why Not


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Hey there.  Checking in.  How have you been?  More or less the same?  Me too, I guess.  So little is different now, it hardly seems worth writing.  But I’ll tell you, that tiny difference is worth the mention.  Because I like this, where I am right now.

I got to participate in a really cool staged reading of crazy/amazing absurdist Polish play; I’m regularly attending Japanese class at a local gakuen (Japanese language school); I seem to have hit a good rhythm with getting to the gym (*knock wood*); I have really great friends who have alternately offered me a place to stay, cheap truck repair, solid advice, delicious hugs, terrific cocktails, or simply access to their general greatness.

Sure it could be better.  It could always be better.  I feel like I’m weaving my life out of bits of fluff that float by on the spring breeze.  But the bits of fluff are really pretty and soft.

And that staged reading was really, really cool.

I know. I should write more often… I keep saying I will.  But then cool stuff comes along, you know?  Forgive me?

Whiffing at Life


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I was thinking it’s been a while since I wrote on just my general state of affairs. Then I looked at my entries and realized I haven’t checked in at all.  There was some navel gazing, a bit of theatre and some silliness about loud music.  What in the world have I been up to, what have I seen and what have I learned?

Well, as it happens the year so far is best explained by the theatre I’ve worked on, yet highlighted by some voice adventures here and there.  As two posts from earlier this year show, I was the dramaturg for a one-act play called SEX & GOD by Linda McLean.  It was part of a night of one-acts we called “Woman Parts” since the other one-act was also by a woman and concerned with a world seen through women’s eyes and experiences.  When the show opened I changed roles to assist the stage manager.  It wasn’t how I would have preferred life to go; working on a production always eats up a great deal of my time and energy until I hardly have anything left to give to other priorities.  Furthermore, the pay is far from adequate so the only use for me was in making myself of service to my company.

I got far more out of stage managing our inaugural Solo Creation Festival this summer.  I was exposed to a much greater variety of characters – real, live ones – and for three weeks straight through I had to stay on the ball and flexible in order to make it all happen.  That was a brand new level of stage managing I don’t want to try again any time soon.  Exciting as it was, it was also exhausting and the time demanded from me left absolutely none for any other interest, project or job.

The best and greatest forays into voice over I’ve gotten this year happened before “Woman Parts” got very busy.  It was a mixed bag, auditioning via Voice123, beginning to attend the Voices Anonymous meetups, attending THE REELS, a workout group headed up Melique Berger, and lending my voice to a couple more walla sessions.  It was mixed because the highs were very affirming and fun (meeting and chatting with some of my heroes) and the lows have persistently regarded money and the frustrating feedback loop caused by lacking it.

I still haven’t made any money in VO, and I’m not spectacularly bothered by this.  It would be nice but I’m more preoccupied with getting my name known by more people and connecting with industry professionals so they know who I am and what I’m capable of.  However, my progress is hampered by not having money.  Without it I can’t take classes that are the best connection with pros, soliciting the advice of knowledgeable and successful actors, and, importantly, getting competitive home recording done.

Most of the time people new to the process are expected to have the cash to begin this career from non-acting work.  Well, of course I haven’t had a non-theatre job of any kind for years now.  Going back and getting one not only feels like a serious case of “taking my eye off the ball” but presents a number of huge obstacles all on its own.  I’ve effectively been out of the job market for years.  Explaining how stage managing skills might apply to a job in editing and proofreading is a very long walk that few employers are going to entertain.

So right now I’m trying not to give in to feeling too defeated.  Every one has rough patches and increasing one’s resourcefulness is just another task for a mature adult.  I do swing at opportunities when they show up – a part time gig writing facebook blurbs for a particular brand of tequila, another ASM gig – but I’m striking out at the moment.  I sure don’t take it to mean I’m bad at writing or stage managing.  Just…  I really could use the cash.  (Look at me not getting distracted by how weird it is to connect money with creative skills!  Oh wait, oops…)

The cash I was going to budget into the career has gone instead to fixing the truck as it has desperately needed some repairs this summer.  Absent those repairs I would be taking a few more classes before the year is out.  Instead I’m scrambling to grab opportunities to talk to pros without going further into debt.

In a way I’m still waiting to hit my stride this year and I keep stumbling.  Huge chunks of time have been given to projects that weren’t entirely mine and thanks to other circumstances I feel like I have little to show for it.  If I put so much work into a job and it can’t help me make headway in my career then what was the point?   So… that’s more or less why I haven’t written much.

But the beginning of the year really was pretty dang awesome.

Heroes 'n me

Heroes ‘n me

[FICTION] Wishing for a Squirrel




Wishing for a Squirrel

I was reviewing proposals for final papers. Although in reality I was staring at the tree outside my window praying that a squirrel that had been playing on it last week would come back and distract me again. I guess I was already distracted. Michelle wafted in, clear voice a half step ahead of her long skirt.

“Just look at what they’ve done, Andrea! Can you believe it?!” She shoved a sky blue blouse in my face.

It took me a moment to adjust to just what the hell she was talking about. My brain had just been marinading in British Empiricism, juxtaposed by the wish that one of Mother Nature’s whimsies would take me away from all of this and now there was a discolored sleeve held up before me in offense. I looked at Michelle, hoping for just a little more assistance in orienting myself to this new circumstance.

“The dry cleaner! Look what they did! Ugh!” Michelle ran her fingers over the discolored spot.

Reassurances that everything is going to be okay are not my specialty, especially when the person who seems to need reassuring is not done losing her shit.

“I should sue them, don’t you think?” Michelle slammed the blouse down on the desk, hard enough to make the flowers in a narrow vase next to my laptop shift and the water swish somewhat worryingly.

“Uhm…” was as far as I got before I heard a knocking on my door. A student. A student with something on his mind, if the agitated rhythm was anything to go by. Another faculty member would have knocked twice and called my name before coming in. Or like Michelle, simply made herself known upon entering my office.

The agitated knock repeated itself and then the knob was tried. When found unlocked the door was opened. It was a young man from Western Enlightenment. Anthony– Anthony, something.

“I’m sorry, Dr Falconer, I know you have your office hours right now and I don’t have an appointment but I was hoping I could talk with you for a little bit. It’s just that I have a proposal for my paper but I’m not sure how to review it. I mean, here it is,” his verbal cascade not slowing one bit as he thrust a stapled set of printed papers at me, “and I have a conclusion on it and everything, but I just think that I don’t know if I have everything summed up just right because I feel like I could keep on going deeper and I’m not sure how to stop, you know?”

Anthony took a moment to catch his breath and look between Michelle and me. He inclined his head to Michelle, “Dr. Klein.”

She smiled but Anthony took a deep breath and continued on before she could greet him. “So I’m just trying to figure out how to really give this paper some scope. I thought investigating natural rights versus human rights would be a good place to start but I keep thinking about the Declaration and how we can’t pin down ‘inalienable rights’ from the natural world when the natural world didn’t come with any language. And if that’s the case then it also carries forward that the concept of ‘American’ is invented, and if that’s so then isn’t it arbitrary when our laws would apply, and do they apply to someone who is in the country but not an American and/or should they apply to someone who is American but not in the country? For instance, if I travel to France and break into a store and rob them, theft is against the law, but why would it only apply if I rob an American or American holdings? And why wouldn’t America’s laws that benefit us, like Freedom of Speech, benefit people in America who aren’t citizens? And if I drill down into that idea I find that country borders are also invented. After all, isn’t a border only what is held by concensus and physical might? I mean, the Native Americans weren’t unified and thinking this is ‘their land’ but once it was taken away then they recognized that, and even we’ve recognized that we ‘took’ the land from them and that means that there was a sense of possession in there somehow, and if I drill down into that it means that the whole concept of possession is also invented. Like that computer on your desk is yours and if I took off with it that would be theft, but we only have that idea if we have the idea of possession, but isn’t annexing basically taking something away from someone else and claiming it for yourself and being able to hold onto it? It’s like jumping a claim in the Old West and then shooting anyone who comes to take back and then, therefore, it was just accepted that now it was yours. So how can we say that owning something means anything, or claiming identity is anything but assuming an invented label? Why can’t I say that I’m Irish, then, when I feel a lot of affinity for the Irish people but I have no genetic relationship to them and I’ve never even been to Ireland. I mean who can say that deep down inside I’m enough like an Irish person that forbidding me from claiming that identity doesn’t become a cruel limitation to my self-identity. What am I taking away from anyone else? What impact does it have on the world if I include this affinity in my self-identity?”

Through his speech Anthony had gripped the chair opposite my desk with a tighter and tighter fist, knuckles losing all color. The color evidently went to his face, as his words had come faster, more frantically, his nose and cheeks had become pink and then red and now a burnished rust was spreading to his chin and outward over his ears. Arms were stiff and shaking, and when Anthony paused to suck in another breath I could see his legs were about to buckle. My guess was the boy hadn’t slept in at least two days. It was anyone’s guess as to how long it had been since he had a proper conversation with anyone.

“It’s just that, that,” he sounded frustrated. “There isn’t a natural trend toward justice or morality, is there? We didn’t naturally come to human rights, to equal rights, we came to them from out of some human invention and recognition for their need. So how can it be that we were endowed with them? And even if we look at it through the assumption that there is no God then aren’t we in even more trouble when we try to justify the reality of a moral universe, a just world that requires equal regard for every man, woman and child? Even if we skip that part and just begin with the premise that everyone can grasp treating each other with dignity and therefore we understand the possibility of refusing to do so as a failure of character, whether or not we call it a sin or a crime, even if we do that, today we have expanding human rights in our country for gay people but narrowing of the same in other countries. And yet we can’t say we understand humanity better when we have corporate personhood, particularly when corporations are allowed the benefits of the Bill of Rights but suffer none of the limitations, the way an *actual* human would. So if we say that a corporation can be a person, but not a human, why is it that human American is limited but a corporate American is not? Is that Jefferson meant? And even if it wasn’t, does that matter? I mean, never mind jurisprudence, isn’t a corporation an invention, just like a country’s border? I was born, as any human was. Doesn’t that mean something for whatever is inalienable to me? I mean… I mean…”

And there Anthony’s left leg wavered and he fell to a knee. A hand on the carpet, he coughed and spit. His breath gone, his voice continued in a soft wheeze, “I’m not sure they get it out there, Dr Falconer, money is something that has value only because we say it does. It isn’t real. It’s the same for countries. It’s the same for laws. In the end might is the only thing that really makes any difference but I would hate to live in a world where that was true. Don’t you think so, Dr Falconer?” His voice shook terribly. “Dr…?”

Michelle tried to smile sympathetically and glanced at me.

I sighed and called over my shoulder, “Katie! Katie, could you come in here, please.”

After a moment the side door in my office opened and my assistant came in. At the sight of the distressed student she put a hand on her hip and clucked her tongue. “Not another one.”

She didn’t wait for instruction, she simply stepped forward and hauled the sophomore to his feet. “Come on, let’s go get some coffee and talk it out.” She practically dragged him out to her office where there was a coffeemaker and small refrigerator.

Door closed Michelle blinked at me. “Does that happen often?”

I drew in a breath and let it out slowly. From the clock on my computer screen I still had 45 minutes left to my office hour. “Every semester there’s at least one.”


Author’s note: This is what people who haven’t studied Kant or Hume sound like to me.

Rather Loud Music Sampler Pack Part 1: Industrial


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A few days ago I got into a conversation with a friend about industrial music when he asked me more or less how to define the sound and what artistic themes run through it. I get the feeling that frequently people who don’t have a lot of familiarity with this rougher side of rock music tend to assume that Nine Inch Nails and maybe some of the louder rock groups (Metallica, Slipknot) can be filed under industrial. The problem is that while Nine Inch Nails (NIN) definitely includes sounds pioneered by industrial groups, thinking this is what constitutes industrial music skips the experimentation fundamental to the musical movement.

(This is a short playlist I put together on Grooveshark. Of the 11 tracks only three are what I would call industrial. You can have this playing in the background as you read…or not. I’ll also include YouTube videos for these tracks (and hope they don’t get pulled) at relevant sections.)

Before I go much further I want to qualify this and hopefully future posts. I want to offer some education on the different kinds of music found at this edge of the spectrum, but this is hardly exhaustive. I’m not an educated musicologist, really just a talkative fan with a lot of time on her hands. I’m offering only an introductory look and focusing on a very small sampling of what is available. Also, I’m a bit sloppy about nomenclature. I do want to explain the difference between industrial and heavy metal, but I see very little reason to expound on when and how industrial became post-industrial. So if you’re reading this wondering why I left out your favorite Industrial Records or Wax Trax! (RIP) group in favor of some major label upstart it’s just because this is meant to explain the artistic themes of the sound as a whole. I don’t want this to be a retrospective of industrial music and its offshoots, plenty of people have already done that and probably better than I could.

Now, having said that I should give respect where respect is due. The whole category began when the English group Throbbing Gristle needed to put out their music somehow and other labels had no idea what to do with their sound. So they started Industrial Records.

 (This Throbbing Gristle track is not on the playlist.)

So, if you’re new to the idea of industrial music and you find this more or less unlistenable, know that Throbbing Gristle started doing their thing in 1975, when all this noise probably sounded louder and more confounding to ears used to the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. While the punk sound was starting to take root in the late 70s (which a lot of music’s gatekeepers also found completely unlistenable), the wall-to-wall noise that came from indistinguishable sources was almost less startling than the intentionally garbled vocals deliberately set in juxtaposition any possible harmony the backing instruments might present.

Obsessively exploring the prurient and violent impulses in humanity didn’t start with Throbbing Gristle, of course. But they established the musical territory.

In a way, industrial was the sound of stagnation and decay in the midst of plenty. It came out of the first world, the Western side of Europe in the midst of the Cold War. The primary players were first out of England and soon also coming from West Germany (West Berlin, to be exact) and America (notably experimentalists Boyd Rice from San Diego and Frank Zappa from Los Angeles). Neo-futurism and fashion’s avant garde had gone by in the 1960s along with the explosion of rock n roll and the sexual revolution. What was left now was a bit of a hangover, not only socially, but economically as England suffered from recession and turmoil leading to underemployment.

The sense of fumbling around without direction, of losing ground economically and the only reprieve coming from vice may be recognizable to anyone who has been poor while living in a rich country. (ahem) Furthermore the theme of disconnectedness, whether from the natural world or from each other persists through industrial music, once noted as “industrial music for industrial people.”

For those who know the rudiments of industrial music, there is a distinctly Germanic feel to it. Something stompy-booted, with the precision of a well oiled machine. A large, grinding, brutal machine. Einstürzende Neubauten, for example, have been one of the standard bearers for industrial music for over 30 years. Their experiments had them building instruments out of scrap metal and intentionally organizing or sampling noise into harmonies that frequently mimic mechanical or technological sounds.

Even though they were formed in West Berlin, there was always something of the oppressive to them, a feeling that I find resonates with the Künstlerplakate of East Germany. Where often times West German artists felt overwhelmed by the race toward the future, as sold to them by various consumer products advertisers, East Germans typically struggled to express themselves free of censorship by government apparatchiks.

From the press release for the exhibit linked above: “Künstlerplakate function both as advertisements for cultural events and works of art in their own right, with most printed either by or in the presence of the artist. Limiting the editions to less than 100 copies, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists were, for the most part, able to bypass strict GDR censorship boards. While painting—with its associations of bourgeois conspicuous consumption―was discouraged by Communist officials, printmaking and graphic design―with their emphasis on reproducibility and visual communication―were encouraged. Artists’ posters thus provided a potent vehicle for individual expression and experimentation.

On both sides of the Wall, however, artists challenged the mainstays and assumptions of art, knocking down rules wherever they encountered them, then writing new ones and knocking them down as well. One of the posters at the exhibit linked above (the fifth one down) that really caught my eye is by Volker Baumgart. I liked that it throws a post-modern monkey-wrench at photography.

Band as Performance Group

The challenges to arts establishments have proceeded throughout the career of Einstürzende Neubauten. Early on they were sponsored by arts institutes and played in venues explicitly for the arts, such as for Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts’ 300th anniversary in 1992. Of course, Einstürzende Neubauten weren’t the first musical group that created live shows that looked like performance art – Throbbing Gristle came out of the performance group COUM Transmissions, after all.

Canada’s Skinny Puppy have cultivated a completely electronic sound and use audio samples extensively. Their stage shows favor horror themes with Nivek Ogre typically dumping stage blood on himself. Unlike shock rockers, whether Ozzy Osborne or Marilyn Manson, these performances aren’t with a wink to juvenile perversity but with a drive to investigate the danger and immediacy of life and instinct. Skinny Puppy have also been known for their politics on animal rights, drug use, torture and the environment and have consistently expressed these positions from the stage.

The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, Ilya Kabakov, 1981-1988

Their musical M.O. reminds me of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and the ideals behind bludgeoning the audience’s senses until the raw subconscious is exposed. Skinny Puppy have assembled their sound through heavily sampling from movies and audio tapes, distortion and “found sounds.” The music comes from such a variety of places it becomes like an aural mixed media piece of post-modern art.


Now it may be all well and good that there is noisy experimental music in the world. But what the heck can you do with it besides let it occupy your ears? Maybe, like any good art, there is nothing much you’re supposed to do with it, just let it reside in you. But hey, it’s music. Even if there’s no dancing to it, it’d be nice if you could at least nod your head and tap your toe to it, right?

The answer, my friend, is rivethead. Well okay, if you want to be picky, a Rivet Head is the person who dresses up in fancy vinyl gear and steel-toed boots on six inch platforms to go to a club and dance/stomp around to electro-industrial rock (or, depending on how picky you are, EBM (electronic body music)).

Former DJ Rudy Ratzinger of Munich began making his own music in 1991 under the name :wumpscut:. It quickly found a home in goth clubs that appealed to the sensibility for morbidity and decay. This eminently danceable music simply married techno with industrial; the samples are clean and layered but still favor minor keys and a threatening ambiance. :wumpscut: made industrial music slightly more accessible by fitting it to a somewhat more typical rock structure.

Ratzinger may have set aside some of the experimental aspects of industrial in order to smooth up the sound until it shone like form fitting of PVC pants, but the end result is a crashing sound mixed with samples from horror movies, set to hard pulsing beat. Just right for the clubset adrift in multiple media interfaces – watching movies on game consoles, listening to music streamed over computers and playing games on their smart phones.


…next time we’ll get into some prog rock.


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