Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reconfiguring the SLAB canon: Behold, the Butter-Yellow SLAB (Saussure, Lacan, Althusser, and Barthes)

“SLAB theorists commonly counterpose ‘theory’ to ‘history,’ as if historical research could not also be theoretical. I propose a more informative opposition. SLAB theory and its offshoots, in their deepest assumptions and their concrete practices, have consolidated a new scholasticism, a ceaseless commentary on authoritative sources. Poetics, on the other hand, frankly offers scholarship--an open-ended, corrigible inquiry that respects the reciprocal claims of conceptual coherence and empirical adequacy. Lacking a substantive doctrine, it does not have the answers ready before anyone has asked the questions.”
- David Bordwell, Historical Poetics of Cinema

Nearly one year ago, TYHIVN featured a photographic essay of the breathtaking SLABs of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Today we introduce you to a new slab on the block, the Butter-Yellow SLAB.
Often outlandish in appearance and decoration, SLABs are expected to display their elaborate custom plumage not with speed, but with a slow, signature gait. The object, of course, is to cruise as slowly and demonstrably as possible so as to showcase as much as possible the amount that the driver is generally said to be "flossin’". Thus, the exploration of new vertical dimensions by way of hydraulics, so as to perform the extended aesthetic of movement without whizzing out of sight.

Hip-hop has developed special names for this automotive crawling. A SLAB is said to “creep” or “tip-toe” along. While I have never seen the Butter-Yellow SLAB in motion, it is safe to assume that this vehicle might “ooze” or “smear” down the block. In a way that would make you believe the hand of God were spreading it across the pavement with a hot knife.

A SLAB discovery of this magnitude forces the SLAB connoisseur to re-imagine the long-standing neighborhood SLAB canon. Not only does the butter-yellow SLAB stand as a serious Clinton Hill contender, its creamy pastel color threatens to overthrow everything we thought we knew about the SLAB-as-transcendent-acronym. As mentioned in the original SLAB post, this acronym dwarfs its own word components (Slow, Low, And, Bangin’) to achieve a descriptive whole greater than the sum of its parts. The Butter-Yellow SLAB embraces and enhances this effect by dressing itself as another well-known slab – a slab of shortening.

Ill-fitting panels cleave from each other and sag slowly to the asphalt, the rear wheel already swallowed by the smooth inexorable melting of the creamy body. If SLABs were designed to drive slow and low, and indeed they were, then the moist, oozing body of the Butter-Yellow slab is in a constant state of becoming.

* * *

In other SLAB news: The Golden Supreme Slab has been been spotted around the neighborhood sporting what appears to be a new paint job.

Did the Golden Supreme Slab get a new paint job? Closer inspection reveals: no, no it did not.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Contemporary Sonic Interloper

“The thing that both Herc and Jones did was release the music on the record from linear and temporal constraints. But Herc, Flash felt, was sloppy. The break went around, but it never came back on beat because Herc was dropping the needle all over the place. Flash saw Pete ‘DJ’ Jones seamlessly extending disco records by mixing two copies of the same record, and realized he could apply the same technique to the music he really loved—the breaks Herc was spinning. Flash wanted to lift these slices of recorded time out of the progression of time, to re-enclose a song’s break in a perfect new loop.”
- Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

In the beginning, Hip-Hop DJs dealt in smooth transitions, looped breaks, and unexpectedly delightful musical pairings. Sadly, this legacy of erasing music’s temporal constraints has been forgotten. Today, overdubbed shout-outs of record labels, rap partnerships, and even dates are all-too-common. The contemporary DJ has abandoned euphony for dissonance, swapping the skills of subtlety for the pure artifice of self-promotion.

The “added value” of a DJ’s performance on a mixtape, the radio, or in person now amounts to little more than a haphazard, disorienting assortment of sirens, airhorns, and gun-shots. While I will admit that nothing gets me pumped quite like the complexity of a high-fidelity gunshot (shell casings trickling to the floor have an especially bone-chilling effect), these sounds are surely a sign that the DJ is no longer the smooth operator he once was. He has become a frustrating interloper. A trigger-happy bullhorn-blaster.

And yet, the interruption and casual defacement that has become the currency of the mixtape game has also become an art form unto itself. Below, please find a couple of these DJ noises for your enjoyment. My hope is that by extracting these jarring, ephemeral disruptions from their background beats, they too can become…timeless.

Readers are encouraged to pass along their favorite DJ noises to be posted at TYHIVN!