Chad VanGaalen/ Xiu Xiu – The Green Corridor # 02 – Split 12”

Altin Village & Mine Records avm 045, 2012, LP album, 44m 1s


When two artists share a split release, there’s usually an immediately apparent reason for it, a close stylistic correspondence, or a specific creative contrast within the context of a broader similarity. Punk and hardcore bands often release splits together, as do sludge and stoner metal acts. So when two halves of a split release seem, on the face of it, to pursue radically divergent artistic agendas, it seems an invitation to consider each in the light of the other. The established practice of the split release almost compels the listener to read the two sets of sounds striking their cochlea as equivalent in some way; to square the circle, in the case of The Green Corridor # 02, of two apparently incompatible modes of signification.

Chad VanGaalen contributes nine songs in a style that is primarily indebted to 1960s psychedelic pop-rock. They are recorded in a sort of mid-fi register that persuasively invokes the sonic language of the era, while the writing bridges psych-garage freakout (‘Nothing Is Impossible’), fey avant-folk (‘Evening Sun’), West coast guitar-pop (‘Kiss, Kiss, Kiss’) and other points on an eclectic whistle stop tour of the territories of flower-child subversion. The short closer, ‘Portal Stretching’, is a warm kaleidoscope of formless analogue synth noise, which is the only point at which the music seems overtly experimental; elsewhere, the song form is treated with respect, not as a means to an end, but as a field of endeavour in its own right, and VanGaalen is careful to craft his songs in terms clearly comprehensible to native speakers of psychedelic pop-rock. He’s not asking us to reassess the terms of songcraft, or its frame of reference, but perhaps he is asking us to reassess where that particular formal practice sits in culture as a whole.

Closer to sound art than you may think, might be the intended answer, because these songs share a release with a twenty minute essay in sound art conceptualism, one that de-aestheticises the sonic object, and asks us to engage with it in an active, variable way. I use the term ‘conceptualism’ advisedly, because there are distinct parallels between the way this piece operates and a work such as Art & Language’s Index 01 (1972), a set of filing cabinets in which the viewer was invited to browse; the important distinction seems to me to be that Xiu Xiu does not provide any content as such, just a context for the listener’s own meanings. Xiu Xiu’s side of the LP consists of a single track in which a neutral (North American) male voice repeats the words ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’ at intervals, in variable groupings. the intention is that the listener will interrogate the record, by asking a question, and then dropping the stylus more or less at random onto the moving vinyl. A wittily ironic and utterly modern use of language, then, but also an act of augury or divination; through the random, to the will of the great whatever. Of course it is also possible to listen to this recording straight through (as I have, in the interests of science), but I think that’s missing the point somewhat.

VanGaalen’s  contributions are eminently listenable, demonstrating a good deal of musicianship, and creative self-awareness, while Xiu Xiu’s  are clearly extremely odd if approached in the same way, so one thing that this release calls into question is the grounds of the listener’s sense of the aesthetic. But if you play the same game with the songs that you are explicitly  invited to play with the yes-no-perhaps-yes-no-maybes, you’d be likely to get some similarly comprehensible responses. In this light, the release as a whole seems to consider the nature of the sorts of meaning that we find in songs, and in other aestheticised musical objects. We like to believe, as listeners, that we hear connections between the author’s experience and our own, resonances in the experience of listening, but it is an important possibility that we read those resonances into the work, rather than hearing them out of it. Personally, I’ve committed myself in virtual print to the position that experiential truth can be heard in the gap between the idiomatic and the generic, that the artist’s own truth is an important element in artistic value; but a text is a text, and everything about it is contingent, a floating frame of variable geometry through which we see an unresolvable fragment of a world in flux too rapid and profound to manifest any objective ‘essential qualities’. However you choose to think about the world, art and the relationship between the two (if such a dualistic ‘field-figure’ analysis is even viable), Chad VanGaalen and Xiu Xiu should certainly get you thinking!

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