I Might Survive the Murky Depths (Mush-Room)

Requirements of your fungiculture are not considered cool and dry.The latest project from The Residents, Mush-Room, is a collaboration with Needcompany, a European modern dance troupe. They’ve often worked with dancers in the past, but never to this degree. This is keeping alive the thread of widening the margins of what defines what “Residents” means. Here they’ve created a symbiotic relationship with an external talent, essentially bringing it inside in all but name, and the result is not too far flung from where they would have gone on their own, but is still, undeniably, new territory.

But under the hood we see a further separation. The cover says Residents, but inside the full attribution is: The Residents present a Charles Bobuck contraption. Whether that’s a line in the sand or, given the nature of sand, a delineation that is fleeting at best, I’ve no idea. Again, the exact definition of Resident-ness is liquid – it turns out to have always been so, but that fuzziness has only been made clear in the past decade – so this simultaneous inclusion and exclusion could play out in any way, and may simply be a playful jab at the constant need to apply labels to everything.

I find myself drawn to the hyphenated title. The separation of “room” implicitly (and elegantly, I might add) places all action into a separate world, so even before we see or hear anything of the performance we know we’re dealing with a fantasy setting. I don’t know if the song titles relate to the story or are just fun wordplay – probably a bit of both, and that’s a good sign. It shows that they actively engaged with the story as well as had fun with the creation. And I think that sense of purposeful play comes through in the album. The music is as tribal as it is electronic, recalling at times that modern day masterpiece Animal Lover. It may be true that The Residents have been too prolific in the past decade, putting out more material than can be consumed (and spawning fears they are diluting their creativity), but projects like this are a confirmation that they can still be at the top of their game. Whether that’s due to the collaborative energy or simply the fact that more work produces better work is no matter; The Residents continue to be everything they’ve always been.

However, I feel somewhat at a loss with this recording because I am unable to see the accompanying dance piece. This goes beyond how I perceive a movie score in isolation, somehow, though I am unable to articulate exactly why. I wonder if it has to do with the role music plays in dance vs film. In film, music enhances a scene, adds emotional depth, but it rarely partners equally in the proceedings (movie musicals are a notable exception of course). With dance, music is a true partner, often leading, but it can seem to follow given an excellent choreographer.

Because of the uneven relationship, a film score heard by itself is able to take on its own life, to grab the spotlight far removed from its much more powerful master – almost an act of subversion. But a dance score in the same situation is partnerless, alone. Everything about it reminds you there should be a visual side. The give and take is so prominent that the void is almost palpable. The best one can do is to dance along to the music, in an attempt to restore that which has been taken away.

I was never much of a dancer, and besides my dancing days are far behind me. But I can choreograph my hands and fingers. I can bob a foot or wiggle my nose. Open mouth, close mouth, grin and clap hands. Yes, this is music I can move to. It was created for a specific dance troupe, but was released to the world. Stand up, sit down, move or don’t, but do so with determination and purpose. In short, I give it a 10, Dick.

Something Written on His Wrinkled Skin (Bad Day on the Midway novel)

Book 'em, Danno.Randy Rose has written a novel.  Perhaps it’s a novella – I abandoned both sides of that argument decades ago.  But whatever it is, it’s definitely a long-form story based on the characters and events of Bad Day on the Midway, the CD-ROM The Residents produced back in the 1990s.

I suppose it’s not unlike a movie tie-in novelization, in that it is largely the familiar story but with some elements changed or added.  With movies, it’s usually the case of the author working with an early version of the script (a necessary evil so the book and movie can be released at the same time) and therefore includes dialogue, scenes, and sometimes entire subplots that were cut from the final film.

So here we’re allowed to imagine a situation in which there existed more characters and events than we saw in the game.  That must be the case – there’s no way every idea wound up in the final product – but this book is certainly not that original story.  No, this is a new departure for the project, a practice familiar to The Residents, though I am surprised at how closely it follows the source material.  I would have expected many more new characters and situations, essentially a brand new experience.  But apart from Tebo and the man from the health department there’s really nothing of great note added.  It’s more expanded than reimagined.

Which brings me to the companion CD, which bears the title Bad Day Reimagined.  Under the hood, however, it functions just like the book – the original music is there, but enhanced and expanded, and little has really changed.  Now one could argue the music is wildly different, more so than the book, but that ignores the fact that the book has changed the very medium from nonlinear interaction to standard narrative.  A step back in technology, sure, but an unexpected turn nonetheless.

The book is new, very new. Unlike a movie adaptation based on an early script, this isn’t a look into what might have been.  This is a look into what is.  A novelization was never on the table until recently, so what we have here is a new project with the defining limitation of being based on an earlier work.  Like much of The Residents’ oeuvre, I’m taken more with the concept than the execution.  The Residents are great storytellers, and this is a great story, but unfortunately not a great novel.  It suffers from the dreaded problem of much modern writing: lack of editing.  It’s one thing to proofread, another to edit.  The world is short on editors, partly because of the general slow death of journalism, but also for something that’s otherwise positive: the barrier of entry has been lowered.  Anyone can publish a book, and that’s wonderful.  But on the other hand, anyone can publish a book, and that’s terrible. This isn’t as clear cut as the invention of the printing press (it stunted the growth of language, but the benefits far outweigh that downside) because despite my love of freedom, I still want expertly crafted stories.  I suppose I’ll accept the new paradigm, because it brings with it an army of online reviewers which will allow me to filter out the lesser works.

That said, I’d read a Residents novel regardless of, or perhaps in spite of, the reviews.  I like their content, if not always their form (there’s concept vs execution again).  This definitely fares better than a bad Stephen King book – the man excels at short stories and epically long novels, but can fail at works that fall in between.

But it’s that indomitable will that I find so endearing.  Part of the genesis of this project was probably the idea that music groups simply do not write novels.  “No better reason to try,” I can hear Randy say, before setting out to do it.

Maybe it’s a one-off not meant to be repeated, but just in case I hope editors come back in style.

Everyone Is Crazy in a One Man Show (Codgers on the Moon)

We know Major Tom's a Barcalounger.Codgers on the Moon is the first solo album from Charles Bobuck, recently outed member of The Residents.  Randy has already developed a one man show, but it has only seen workshop performances at this time, allowing one to keep believing  the separate personalities is just a one-off conceptual idea.  Codgers, with its broad availability, really drives home the idea that this is really happening.

The album is described as being unexpected – Mr. Bobuck did not expect to have a life outside of The Residents, but one has been thrust upon him.  He thinks a solo album is logically expected of him, so he put one together.  I think that it will be interesting to compare it to a typical Residents release, so that we may attempt to learn what Mr. Bobuck thinks is and is not considered Residents.

Unfortunately that is easier said than done.  Codgers sounds like a likely progression from recent Residents projects, in particular (obviously) the instrumental ones.  I think all we can really gather from this is that Mr. Bobuck had been the one interested in creating film scores.

The album has a companion website, which finds me fascinated and uncomfortable in equal measure.  Fascinated because we are getting a behind the scenes look, and uncomfortable for the same reason.  Having an identity, a personality, an established set of values… it just doesn’t seem right to me.  I know this is part of a larger concept of what a “band” means in our culture, but it still makes me uneasy.

Randy is doing this too, to an extent.  He has started his own website which began as a series of ghost stories (a continuation of the Talking Light project) and more recently has branched out into a collection of wildly varying posts.  It seems as though he’s found an outlet for ideas outside of the Residents inner sanctum.  I think the intent is to create a space where he can test out new ideas and gauge reactions from the public – a way to measure interest before dedicating months of work to it.  Whatever receives the most likes will inform the next project.

Though, actually, I don’t entirely believe that.  While The Residents are certainly interested in the collaborative opportunities afforded by the internet, there’s very little in the way of them making use of it.  They put out an open call for artists to create videos for their Commercial Album – and certainly delivered on the proposal – nothing else really feels as interactive as one might have hoped.  The Bunny Boy story ultimately did not seem to be guided by fans; Randy’s Tumblr appears to be a one-way conversation; Bobuck’s Twitter account so far only advertises his new album.

And perhaps that’s entirely intentional.  If Randy Chuck and Bob, as a concept, is a statement on the nature of celebrity, then perhaps it is fitting that, despite having made themselves known to the world, they remain just as inaccessible as ever.  Celebrity personalities are not real – they are stage personae that live in our world.  It’s easy to forget the people on our TVs are imaginary.  It’s been noted many times that television stars are treated more casually than film stars, and it’s supposedly due to the familiarity – these people come into our homes every week, whereas we have to make a special trip to see a movie star.  The Talking Light used this in a skewed sense by setting up a living room on stage.  The audience would have gone out for a special event, but then was invited into a home to watch television.  The lines are blurred and ultimately we find ourselves no closer to the truth.

Except of course for the fact that the truth is precisely as laid out for us.  There is no secret underlying layer of any importance.  But where’s the fun in that?  The Residents faked the Moon landing.  It’s so obvious – those big round astronaut helmets were clearly precursors to the eyeball heads.