Wednesday, November 08, 2006

tuesdays with beta

I went to the Zune launch party and all I got was this free mp3 player.

Tuesday night drugged me out of the cave to two divergent yet queerly similar social experiences masquerading as artsy and hep music happenings. Standing outside the glass doors of the MoMA, I could make out hapless lackeys scurrying about in hazmat suits, collecting that most odious of show-going devices, the cell phone. A project co-presented by PopRally and LVHRD, the event's specialness hinges on these underpaid undergrads collecting everyone's cell phones in a plastic ziploc bags and mounting them on a wall. It's all under this banner of Stopping SMC.

Everyone who enters is tagged with a wristband and a little manifesto about how you can now "talk to the person next to you, reflect on your cell phone use, and enjoy a fantastic performance by Les Savy Fav." Never mind that LSF are so loud that communication is nil, to where only text messaging could perhaps convey a single thought, or that the MoMA is now rendered into a super boxy and whitewashed bar, save that it's one with the ugliest Cy Twombly scribblings imaginable, one where curatorial folk are turned into overwhelmed bartenders, slammed with the serving of free Dewar's for the drunken, suddenly untyping masses who have idle thumbs. I guess a loud guitar bar band is getting back to basics though.

Now, I'm not nostalgically pining for the days when only coke dealers in 80s movies had brick-like cellys cemented to their faces (though perhaps suggesting that folks want to pretend they are said Colombians by putting these things against their heads all the time, much like the people in HR want to act like they're in The Ramones by effortlessly wiggling into $250 pairs of tight black jeans and pre-worn vintage tees), but the LVHRD move to take away everybody's RAZR, PEBL, and WHTNT is appreciated, though cursory. It's not that my view at shows is obstructed by everyone holding up picture-phones to take blurry-ass pics of a band at 50 paces, or else word-processing their every drunken thought into the ether, but such activities, in some small way, make everyone distracted and dislodged from the moment at hand.

It's something I remember from going to see the Sistine Chapel, around the time that handheld video cameras came on the market: rather than the tourists actually absorbing this once-in-a-lifetime viewing (unless you live in the Vatican City, then nevermind), they were instead just shooting footage which at some vague point in the future they could then sit down and "experience." Experience doesn't quite transfer like that though and removed from the moment, it just becomes a rote exercise of data processing. It's why I gave up downloading music for the most part, as it becomes less about listening, more about hoarding for that distant day when I could finally "sit down" with something. So I can see the curators tonight trying to corral everyone into the present moment, quelching the need to multi-task and be in three places at once (meaning nowhere at all) so that that magical instance of face-rocking can occur. And yet it still doesn't feel special, or any more social for that matter. It's just a rock band, not playing in a bar, but at a museum. Who wants to remember that moment?

That wall, full of bagged 'n' tagged blinking radioactive candy bars, aglow with missed calls and email notifications, becomes a social art project of understated, cumulative magnitude though. In fact, aside from the room featuring Richter's October 18, 1977, it's easily the most intriguing piece on display. Not that there's much competition from the rich-boy Twombly nonsense and a good part of their "Out of Time" exhibit, which is heavy on catalog-drool descriptors yet light on actual gut-gripping work. I admire those bricks in the wall and then realize I may be missing that important phone call. I get my baby back and let it warm up my thigh with its emittance as we head to the west side.

I, like a few others, just can't get over the brown lump of plastic that Microsoft is banking on, going so far as to fly music bloggers out for the day to test drive it. Tonight is the launch party for the Zune, which leads us to some abandoned werehouse on the Hudson. The building is entirely lit with brown lights, so as to match the Zune, and yet no one can see such light on the brick, so they then shine some pink ones on top of it and have that weird Zune polygon beamed onto the rooftop, in case you're coming via helicopter. We ride up some freight elevator to the 9th floor. I'm worried that if the event bursts into a disco inferno, I might not be able to climb back down. Luckily, as my friend puts it, it's like "a 1999 dot-com party." Scads of high-heel sneakers, pre-rumpled dress shirts, sports jackets with built-in hoodies, zip-up hoodies that dovetail into blazers, jeans scuffed by foreigners, Eurotrash foreigners in scuffed denim, and a crowd whose last show they took camera phones pics of was when Kanye opened for the Stones in Jersey and their friend got them sweet seats for $200 a pop. That little brown blurr amid all the light is apparently Kanye. The place smells like corporate death.

We are somewhat late to the affair, which is appropo, since this device is so far behind in the iPod/mp3 player revolution and so inane in design and user interface that we suspect it's some sort of elaborate bit of legislation having to do with Microsoft's anti-trust brouhaha, wherein they have to just pour millions of dollars into an absolute debacle and fire thousands of employees in the process as some sort of penance. It has a radio, it thinks the Cure is post-punk, it looks at art for you, and you can beam either the 37-minute new Villalobos single or else the 45:58 LCD sneaker ad right at your friend(s). No wait, only the former, as Zune is all independent and shit, and the LCD is an iTunes exclusive. And you know, fuck corporations. I stop to get another free cocktail from Paul Allen.

From the turd-brown hue to its lame advertising campaign (one sign reads: "Welcome to the Social." while most glossy pics make it look like young urbanites are enjoying this 'secret' John Legend show in a park somewhere, sharing their non-DRM files of Baduizm), this has got disaster written all over it. Not even a bar with energy drinks can get us excited about it (though we must laud the spicy and sweet kettlecorn they had at the bar; it was yummers).

Not that I should get all party-pooper about it all, it's just a party I crashed. Any night of the week, I could do it elsewhere, be it in fashion, art, or banking, or for some stranger's birthday, slurping at an open bar and eating elaborate finger food appetizers. My friend sums up the experience via the slide show advertising that projects on the loftspace walls: "'Welcome to the Social' is just a terrible, terrible slogan, yet it was the guiding principle of both events. Not that anyone could hear anyone. I guess eye/file contact is supposed to suffice."

And yet all of this for listening to music, something I adore, and do regardless. Even though I am presumably within their demographic, nothing is aimed at me. Shit, I couldn't even hook a Zune up to my Mac if I wanted to. What I make in a month doesn't even buy most pairs of the revellers' shoes. Looking around, I don't think I've seen anyone here at a show: I see a bunch of middle management and marketing people, throwing down on a Tuesday night.

It's not about the music, I realize as I drain yet another free drink and pick up a clunker of a Zune boxset, containing two CDs and 4LPs of the absolute dregs of independent music (meaning there's an UNKLE remix by Junkie XL, and not even DJ Spooky, just someone named Spooky, since the DJ was already taken and Dr. Spooky won't work after Halloween). While one event wishes to recede from the goosestep of technology, another wishes to be avant-garde about it (not realizing that it's been lapped thrice and is basically out of the race right out of the gate). Both are about puny, uninspired ideas perched atop heaps of money, but that's what I get for attending giant metaphors perfumed so as to smell like fun instead of bullshit.
Downloading makes people lose their jobs.