When we write of the sounds produced around Los Angeles, we risk setting down an anchor. Doing so would interrupt a volatile interchange between the past and present, injustice and justice, fact and myth. In this city, these and countless other dualities waver precisely because of a persistent and necessary back and forth of energy, resources, and attention. One may wonder: How does our music embody human experience? Which experiences does it privilege? How is it reflective of and belonging within the contemporary world at large? The articles in Issue 5 dredge up the remains of some overlooked narratives to address the scarcity of attention that plagues our present culture and how this scarcity still allows narratives to take shape.
Nostalgia and — its biting inverse — a hyper-aware anxiety of the present, are countervailing factors in this issue. Soap Ear is not so much striving for a balance of these factors but instead a vital cohabitation. Here we look to an unlikely source: The Walt Disney Company, whose strategy in balancing the past, present, and future of their media has varied over time. As Tyler Maxin demonstrates in his article “Hidden Mickeys,” the corporation has had varying success in carrying out the vision of Walt Disney himself. Maxin asks whether Disney’s populism has surpassed the reach of his neoliberal corporation — permeating even the American musical avant garde — or conversely whether this populism simply enveloped said avant garde as it came within the reaches of the corporation. Adaptability (plasticity) and absorption (cooptation) are key traits of neoliberalism and are thus crucial for any such institution’s growth and prosperity.
The human voice, however, is one resource that can only in part be commodified. The flow of words continues in spite of human exploits. Artists have frequently been the ones to chart the pathways of the voice’s resistance to reification. In editor Lyle Daniel’s review of poet and composer Jackson Mac Low’s Poetry and Music, we find a portrait of an artist who, early on, moved the voice away from human ego. Through improvisatory methods and chance procedures he broke the voice apart into the smallest fragments and units of language. In a complementary turn, Sarah Pitan echoes the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari for “Notes on Voice,” arraying the voices and speech of vocalists MC Ride (Death Grips) and Earl Sweatshirt as semi-empowered phenomena of a late capitalist culture. It is appropriate that in Sarah’s own writing one voice blends with another and meaning and source lose distinction. A new story is formed as if all of these persons have always been one.
We’ve seen before that modern myth can provide artists with a solace from the market, a space in which they may create (e.g. alter-egos, chameleonic personae, conceptual narratives drawn out across an oeuvre). However, any good music publicist can show you what good mythology does for marketing. L.A. band Entertainment Law plays at both possibilities of myth on their mixtape for the issue, “Ticket.” Here, they branch out from some of the tropes and traps of rock’n’roll music, and inevitably form new tropes in the process. Their songs are intertwined with the genealogy of rock and, through this entanglement, they posit that attempts to escape from the genre’s history are futile.
These thoughts are well-summated by Joel Jensen Heath’s cover for the issue, Echoes in the Clothes. As described in his explanatory essay, it places a Ziggy Stardust/Dionysus hybrid figure at the center of an experimental proscenium (Partch’s Quadrangularis Reversum). Heath describes Dionysus’ “plight of being both mortal and divine.” One can’t help but wonder how humans (especially artists, always self-mythologizing) navigate this conflict in themselves: the seeming eternity of the present versus the steady creep of time. This tension, present in all kinds of activity, extends even to those corporations like Disney whose ongoing proceedings seems to constantly negate the fact that they too might one day end. As we dig a little deeper, we find that our stories of strange circumstances and focused artistry can at least fray their myths.
- Notes on Voice
- Hidden Mickeys
- Mixtape: Entertainment Law’s “Ticket”
- “Repeat a lot. Sing a lot.”: On Jackson Mac Low’s Poetry and Music
- Echoes in the Clothes
Cover Image: Heath, Joel Jensen, Echoes in the Clothes, Ink on paper, (2018-19). Described at length by the artist in the essay of the same title.