By Steve Aydt
Invisible College of Esoteric Disc Jockeys Audio-Didact, Cut 1
Genre Flow: Impressionism, Exotica, Lounge, Dub, Cartoon Score, Easy Listening, Bachelor Pad Jazz, Plunderphonics, Experimental, Ambient, Nootropicalia, bullshit artistry, dialect, parody, Romanticism, Erotica, Orientalism
Analogical Tools: Funhouse mirror, lens, poison pen, the broad brush, the comic book, the pillow book, the aphrodisiac, lampoon, piss-take, prank, love-feast, mixology, ritual magic, stagecraft
Artists: Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Esquivel, Enoch Light, The Three Suns, Edmundo Ros, Sun Ra, Werner Muller, Claude Debussy, Carl Stalling, Raymond Scott, Ennio Morricone, Ray Martin, Dick Hyman, Riz Ortolani, Henri Rene, Tony Mottola, J.G. Thirlwell, Boyd Rice, Throbbing Gristle, SPK, John Oswald, People Like Us, Stock Hausen Walkman, The KLF, Rod McKuen
Anyone who has listened to a mockingbird knows the secret of Exotica. 1934: the original Don the Beachcomber lounge opens in Hollywood, portentous of skewered pigs, cocktail umbrellas, and Hula dances. Soon afterward, Exotica seems to rise from the Pacific like the hot wet specter of Mu, a faux Polynesian Tsunami of sweet rum drinks, lava, and Pacific saltwater gushing across America. Dada tone poets and Balinesian kecaks knew it was coming. Its Gamelon music was played on pots, pans and a bicycle horn. It’s sound was everywhere but its culture was from nowhere. When it turned its ear to Africa, it heard Tikky Tikky Boom Boom. Ki-Aza-Ku-Sasa. Papa Oom Mow Mow!
By turns Exotica is sexy, mocking, relaxing, or rollickingly manic. Under its arcane vibrations, every bachelor pad is a Bali Hai, every man a Tiki god, and every woman a Tiger Girl. Before the Age of Dub, Exotica was rife with mad science studio experimentation exploiting the advent of stereo sound. Consider “unmatched fidelity throughout the full sound spectrum, plus the exciting new illusion of sound in motion” offered by the RCA Stereo Action label. Here was the soundtrack for seduction, for sunbathing, for stalking prey, for pearl-diving, for dancing naked around a stone altar shrieking at the Moon, for bleeding the boar, for that moment when the blow-dart delivers the frog-skin neurotoxin to the quivering monkey-meat. Unfettered by any real ethnomusicology, Exotica was, and is, music from a place no one had ever been to yet so many wanted to dwell there. Could it be that it was the sound of pure imagination, of the alam al-mithal, the Eighth Clime of the Persian philosophers? It was the sound of horny, festive xenophilia.
With Sun Ra, John Oswald, Christian Marclay and the Industrial revisionists, Exotica took its place in the avant garde: a sign, a cuckoo’s egg, a melting turntable, tape cut-up with scissors & shuffled like cards to yield glimmers of a new Aeon. Exotica proved to be such an adaptive meta-music, that it became a cornerstone of the 1970s-80s Industrial noise music. So it was that Paradise was lost.
First wave Industrial music was a crepuscular mutation of mid-century Exotica. Rather than conjuring Long-Playing earthly paradise jungles, populated with lusty pagans and hooting birds, Industrial artists worked with noises of factories, slaughterhouses, riot sirens, gunfire, and abrasive permutations of electronic noise. Exotica wooed wistful Marines returning from the Pacific Theater after World War II, looking for a little Bali Hai. Industrial music inverted its formula, using the techniques of Exotica to conjure the ambiance of unpleasant spaces. Industrial music, contemporary with punk rock, shared its love of shock tactics, appealing to alienated intellectuals and experimental perverts. Industrial musicians paddled Exotica to dystopian extremes. A few recorded entire albums of Industrial Exotica, most obviously Chris & Cosey’s Exotika and Boyd Rice’s tribute to Rod McKuen and Martin Denny, ‘The Way I Feel’: “You won’t find Hatesville on any maps…It’s that place in the soul where hate dwells, and we’re here to point the way. Why? Because hate is groovy.” This is deadpanned over a Peter Gunn bass-line and lounge piano washes, followed by “Quiet Village Idiot.” In 1979, Throbbing Gristle recorded a track called “Exotica.” The Post-Industrial Exotika was confrontational, discordant & deliberately pornographic. It was music for some enchanted abattoir.
“The Post-Industrial Strategy,” released by the band SPK in 1983, proclaims, “Our interest in social deviance must be to maintain and extend the disability of the system to keep its margins under control.” Post-Industrial wo/man suffered inside a Simulacre, a technologically mediated false world, rife with manipulation and signs, engendering a kind of bedazzled zombiefication. “Society in the Post-Industrial era is one of slow death where all time is marked, where all subjects are the (in)voluntary recipients of unilateral gifts of employment, social security, material/ sexual gratification, and most of all the incessant bombardment of how one ought to look, think, and act. A living death.”i Fueled by serial killer pathology, occult praxis, Michel Foucault, Philip K. Dick, Situationist theory, and Martin Denny, Industrial sought to infuse fresh filth into washed brains. It banged out its callithumpian cacophonies in crypts, warehouses, and secret rooms. It blew on Tibetan thighbone horns, sampled car crashes and Tantric breath orgasms, banged on scrap metal, and ululated unholy incantations. It railed about death camps, mind control, liberation of the will, psychopathology, and ugliness. It was a sub-culture of alchemical Nigredo, the sound of social putrefaction and decay that clears the ground for the Philosopher’s Tone. Its tactics were sonic warfare, transgressive performance art, and prank. Its power animal was Charles Manson. Its favorite colors were red and black. Its Chinese Horoscope sign was the De-Braining Machine. Listen to the worm.
i Industrial Culture Handbook, RE:Search Press, 1983, San Francisco CA