Thursday, February 17, 2011


What's the aesthetic consequence of iPhone culture? A culture of text messages, tweets, one night stands, one year marriages, CEO turnovers, volatile stocks... You might want to say these phenomena lead necessarily to anarchy, total disorder, total breakdown. And speed does kill. But there are, also, ways of adapting to brevity. The culture of the mixtape, of rapping over someone else's beat, often leads to songs which are unusually short, and we will begin to see an increase of songs produced to be the same length, which somehow fit within a smaller frame.

If the hip hop song can support itself without needing a hook, the dance performance can shorten itself as well. From London one might think that things in the arts are better in the states, considering the enormous government cuts and the privileging of 'hard' (erect?) subjects like engineering. But non-Americans may not realize that the American arts have never, really, had the public-funding advantage that they've had in Europe for several decades. There are very, very few public grants available, so artists like the Turf Feinz are compelled to shorten their performances and distribute them over a broader cultural terrain.

The brevity of "Respiration" may have to do with the shooting location. The atmosphere, the car lights and the metal bars, the street lights and the dilapidated buildings add a sense of heaviness. It is moving you toward the pressure of East Oakland, an area which, although it is right next to the bay, feels landlocked, because it has been so reduced by economic drought. Driving or taking the bus through it, one realizes how enormously sprawling it is, how it was designed as a place of retreat for white families, a suburb. Now it has entered the suburban winter, the white people have fled decades ago, to suburbs further removed, and then, recently, returned, to other neighborhoods.

"Respiration" stresses that even in less than two minutes, a meditative moment is not only possible but crucial. To breathe again, to prevent an asthma attack, you need to take a minute or two, and even that small increment is enough to release some of the pressure. After a puff of smoke, Dreal touches his heart. At 22 seconds, the production itself breathes as he drags his foot forward after a backflip. This foot drag is synchronized exactly with a syncope in the song, to borrow a phrase from Catherine Clement: the music itself is cut, its consciousness goes under, its heart stops, and in the background you hear the faintest synth whose ominous minor key evokes Mel-Man's production on The Chronic 2001. Dreal displays the incredible ability of the human body to engage with technology, to deliver itself into a machinic operation. At 40 seconds, the film looks modified: he has appropriated a filmic device. His feet levitate as he shifts weight from one to the other.

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