Pax Recordings

Many of the artists involved in California’s improvising collectives, much of whose recorded material is released by Pax, have adopted a dissenting political stance against the in(s)anity of American consumerism, but this CD/DVD set by Jess Rowland (whose work includes music for experimental dance, puppet shows and “alternative easy listening”) is probably the best indication yet of where many people’s brains have ended up, thanks to the complete control exercised by media and corporate monsters, here represented by Mattel – producers of the Barbie doll – and McDonald’s. The audio portion of this work shows a new side of Rowland, whose previous album of piano improvisations 29.Water on the same label was defined as a “stream of consciousness”; the ten tracks are fused in a single unpredictable pastiche where snippets of Beatles and Beach Boys, extracts from radio shows and Spanish soaps are battered to a bloody pulp, with Rowland lurching between drunken folk and Atom Heart Mother-era Floyd, anger grounded in irony, gluing acoustic guitars, political speeches and electronics together with a couldn’t-care-less attitude that transcends the anarchy of her invention, a latterday poor man’s Pierre Schaeffer – and I mean that as a compliment. But wait until you see the DVD. Our heroine found some old VHS tapes “lying in a puddle of mud with used needles and fast-food wrappers in a gutter”, from which she rescued the source material for what was later transformed into a cerebral surcharge (“edited in glorious lo-fi using 2 VCRs and a remote control”) of nth generation videotapes mixed with violently addictive deranged speech/music soundtracks. A collage of absurd “World of Barbie” cartoons and children shows is pasted to segments from “How to style a scarf”, with Barbie, Ken, impossibly stupid dancers, kids screaming with dilated pupils like they were on cocaine and a model’s fake smile all over the place meshing in a concoction of drums, looped voices and crunchy cut-ups. In another episode, Ronald McDonald and his dog entwine their idiocy with blow-job scenes from adult movies in an infernal picture/noise ecstasy; but the real masterpiece is the first video, where, amidst scenes from Japanese B-movies, 1976 American Bicentennial commemoration clips and out-of-sync sepia-tinged 8mm film, John Ashcroft sings “Let The Eagle Soar” on CNN, his crooning wonderfully layered over Rowland’s spastic tempi and ill bass lines. The final moments of this mini-movie, underlined by all-American choirs, patriotic frenzy at full blast, made me cringe. This stuff is scary.

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