Peripatetic Postcards

War is Peace (and other nefarious syllogisms)


In last Sunday's Los Angeles Times, there was an op-ed section on George Orwell. Dubbed "Why Orwell Matters", the section featured four writers weighing in on Orwell's relevance to the events of today. Their main target was his "Politics and the English Language" – which was billed as ”the classic essay on the relationship between words, truth, propaganda and politics."

That essay has been less consumed than Orwell's subsequent dystopian masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four. For those of us fortunate enough to have worked through it, (and assuming we have also kept our eyes open these past few years), we know how perceptive Orwell was concerning the manipulative machinations of those in power, especially via rhetoric and other dark arts of communication. Readers also appreciate how spot-on scary Orwell's clairvoyance was. In the linguistic tricks of a totalitarian government like that of "Big Brother", one not only discerns the voiceprints of Stalin or Mao, but also hears the ensuing echoes of Richard Nixon ("Peace with Honor"), Ronald Reagan ("The Evil Empire"), and especially this generation’s very own Dubya ("Compassionate Conservatism", "The Axis of Evil", "Weapons of Mass Destruction").

In fact, although I wish to observe that Orwellian "doublespeak" seems to have been more a tool of Republican administrations, historically speaking, it also seems hands-down the weapon of first and final recourse for the White House incumbent. Which is extraordinary, when you think about it. After all, one wonders: "how could that possibly be . . . since Dubya hasn’t ever read a book in his life?”

But now is not the time to be glib. Alarm would seem more the order of the day. For clearly, someone in that White House has done his or her reading. And they have facilely gleaned and indubitably mastered one of the central tenets of Orwell’s astounding (and astonishingly accurate) political analysis: in a word, the fecundity of fear. They fathom that fear reaps enormous rewards for those in power. Not only does it manage to induce insecurity in a populace, it succeeds in purchasing the people's acquiescence. Once achieved, it then creates the perception (if not sows the seeds for) a perpetual state of war. In short, by keeping the subjects in fear, our leaders stand to gain; fear is what enables them to remain empowered.

For those in charge, at least, (and consistent with Orwell's axiom), "War is Peace".

This is the point that Mark Danner emphasizes in his LA Times contribution. As he observes:

The central lesson Orwell brings us (is) about our own perpetual war: What terrorists ultimately produce is not death or mayhem but fear, and in an endless War on Terror, the rich political benefits of that most lucrative emotion will inevitably be shared -- between the terrorists themselves and the political leaders who lead the fight against them. Fear bolsters power, and power makes truth -- if, of course, we stand aside and let it.

It is a short hop-skip and jump to another of Orwell's codifications: "Ignorance is Strength". The only question being: for who?

While Nicholas Lehmann's short piece may be a less satisfying a read, it does offer at least one important insight -- or perhaps a caveat -- about our current predicament (and here I intend, “our” to mean “the world's” -- insofar as the activities of the US government – the new-age incarnation of Big Brother -- plays such a central hand in influencing global outcomes).

Lehmann’s passage is really about ignorance insofar as it pertains to information, or the lack thereof, and the consequences of that deficiency: a disadvantaged population’s weakness, a bolstered government’s power. He writes:

Information . . . is much less generally accessible than words. When the process of determining the facts of a situation has been intentionally corrupted by people in power (whether, let's say, Saddam Hussein had the ability to produce nuclear weapons, or whether a new drug has harmful side effects), there often is no corrective mechanism at hand. Intellectual honesty about the gathering and use of facts and data is a riskier and more precious part of a free society than is intellectual honesty in language. We ought to guard it with the same zeal that animates Orwell's work on political speech.

A call to arms, no less than Orwell’s. Pessimist that he was, though, Orwell openly worried in 1984 about the prospects for resistence. His worry was how, via communications-induced mind control, a ruler's aphorisms might become fuzzy, then inverted. Directed at the conditioned, maleable, receptive, uncritical minds of a docile population, how easily words could be twisted to become their opposites. Orwell-cum-Lehmann urges us -- one and all -- to stop this reification; we must be vigilent in debunking a notion such as: “Strength is Ignorance”.

In his brief offering, Orville Schell focuses on Orwell's deep appreciation of the abuses of language. Schell speaks of Orwell's understanding of "propaganda's capacity to distort and corrupt". Most often, Orwell has shown us, distortions of language lead to governmental peridy, corruption not only of public trust but also, over time, in the ability of the public to discern when such trust has been broken. After an extended passage from "Politics and the English Language", Schell revisits Orwell's admonition that:

"Above all what is needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around."

Were Orwell to have lived today, had he witnessed the US-led Iraqi incursion (and beyond), what might he have pointed to, by way of example?

How fast can one say "Mission Accomplished"?

A concluding piece by the aptly named Francine Prose, argues that today:

The dangers that George Orwell was warning his readers against -- the ways in which the language of politics can be muddied and distorted in order to make the average, literate citizen incapable of thinking clearly -- are no less (and perhaps more) threatening than they were in Orwell's day.

She cites one passage by Orwell, in particular. A few lines that, though written in 1946, could easily have been penned in 2006, and no one would have thought anything of it. Times having not changed one whit. To wit:

"Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside . . . this is called pacification. ... People are imprisoned for years without trial ... this is called elimination of unreliable elements . . ."

The fact that we can read these words and immediately imagine the words "Afghanistan" or else "Guantanamo" would not surprise an Orwell returning to earth to take stock of civilization's progress.

Orwell's political slogans were something more like aphorisms for a world gone mad. They were "truths" for a populace conditioned to accept language devoid of meaning. On behalf of Big Brother, he famously coined:

War is Peace

Freedom is Slavery

Ignorance is Strength

Propagandistic turns of phrase that could just have easily been constructed as logical propositions. Syllogisms along the lines of:

War is Freedom

Freedom is Strength

Therefore: War is Strength

A statement that, were it to emanate tomorrow from Fox News or the Bush White House would be received with nary a batted eyelash or blinked eye.

One suspects. (If not fears).

If on the other hand, by some feat of ontological prestidigitation, Orwell were to return to our earth and survey the current scene, such a phrase would certainly be met with an ironic smile, a disdainful twitch of the mouth, a forlorn drift in his gaze. Feeling thus, were he then to pluck up his pen -- in the face of such rhetorical hocus-pocus, in opposition to irrepressible reality -- would that he recast the logical sequence, in the following way:

War is Ignorance

Ignorance is Slavery

Therefore, War is Slavery

To help show us the way out of darkness. Since many of us would likely pay him attention.

Would that we could.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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