“There’s something particularly sad about it, something that doesn’t have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It’s more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it’s unique to our generation I really don’t know.” David Foster Wallace on Infinite Jest, 1996.
Our very un-unique sitting-at-computer sadness, call it a dissociated bleed into internet sadness, or a stray into some other world sadness, is loitering around between phased entertainment, when cognition gets sprayed-out into lost afternoons. Trailblazers in the field can wrangle with this general dissatisfaction at will; my own nights spent staring into Infinite Jest and bathing in the ether of Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill (as well as AIA: Alien Observer) epitomize this phenomenon of modern sadness. These are two very separate entities colliding in headspace, Wallace tending towards protracted writing spanning innumerable ground, and Grouper taking our lingering unspoiled thoughts and letting them ring out – “I find myself thinking about friends, and if they’re too lookin’ out the window.”
Buzzed mornings are disengaged A.M. dread, TV dreams that dissolve into daytime with us – between moments that we lapse in and out of concentration, there’s that heavy wave of fuzz that plays on our heads and weighs them down. This wave of fuzz fills unfocused intervals, characterising our re-collective practice with attention unfastening. Faintly making out conversations we had, or heard, at a party or at home; the subconscious sorting through clutter and dust to form solid memories. As of today, the smallish dent I have made in the comparatively bulky-ish Infinite Jest has arrested complete control of my headspace. E.T.A. boys slumping to lockerroom zone-outs in dissonant stasis, excessively stoned and worried half-way housers, French-Canadian wheelchair assassins, Wallace takes snapshots that echo; pulsating frames and mirrors held up to our own and others realities, where latent brooding becomes concrete, and the constant droning itch of society scratches right at the back, Grouper transduces this anxiety.
Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill has this anxious core to it, a kind of blanketed fog that supplanted silence, coupled with an unmistakable drive of one person in one place – needing to fully realise their sound. That sound, is partly the haze or the fog, but also careful interaction between guitar and microphone – like glassy viscous liquid spilling out and bending, the voice and the feedback reverberating together in hi-fi. The actual sound of the guitar, when it’s too close or too loud but it just hits, it shares the same atonal harmony between that hit and its return as the guitar-work on albums like Alien Lanes (Guided by Voices) or Public Strain (Women). When Grouper plays “Heavy Water / I’d Rather be Sleeping” you can get Thoughtless Bliss.
A.M. dread is the getting stuck; paralysed by the buzzing and scratching of your thoughts. Wallace converses about longing for connection, words stretching out of mouths into the air without relation, these blurry happenings nag away at us and inform our uncertainty – “How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.” His vision is sort of cosmopolitan in its scope, more interested in the collective, a cause or a culture than the work of Grouper, which retains an element of privacy from her intentional obfuscation towards the personal. Real dejection though is shared; both capture the sense of the deep and individual detachment from our surroundings that we grant ourselves – that off-grid, opting out of the world in self-conscious paranoia.
Diving into deep headspace with AIA: Alien Observer gives a feeling toward mulling over the universal, what’s attached is feeling small in a huge place, fixated with grand-scheme type thinking. An idea I like is the real sci-fi of Blue Planet heterogeneity – that is to say that our oceans, at their deepest, boast creature and terrain that defy reason and evoke that diverse futuristic outlook that’s so hard to capture. The things on offer down there, some of which are psychedelic in appearance, others purely entertaining in their impossibility in both scale and appearance, make perfect visual aid for the ambient rushes that pull in and out like tides on Alien Observer. The piano is like a blinking light with hushed layers washing over – “Alien Observer, in a world that isn’t mine,” the words of a cautious student edging into the future – tracking and scanning the movements of that which surrounds itself. Always lost on us is the ability to really grasp the depth, of space or the deep sea, because it’s hard to imagine something endless. AIA: Alien Observer doesn’t end, nor Infinite Jest, both of them ooze into our wiring and ring out in a vacuum where we can chew over the non-material.
The last three days of night, the A.M. to the P.M., in the gleeful inertia fending off that special-blend twenty-sixteen nausea, where we have seen a gross normalisation of lousy thought that now permeates some vast crop of consciousness. Gazing and plunging into horizon between pages, it makes it easier to forget the moving of the goalposts, the very real and very strange new discourse of the here-and-now where we might just do-away with the intrusive actualities of our world to accommodate the terror-struck, those with aversions to the global and the free. I drive headspace into Thoughtless Bliss to make sense of this atmosphere, switch-off from it for a while – don’t get too lost in dream world, remember to come back.
Photos: Gregory Crewdson, National Sawdust.