The Seventh Wave — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

Seventh-Wave

In Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, the book I’m serial reviewing chapter by chapter, I’ve come upon some of his most colourful writing. Writing that also completes a gap in my understanding of Marxist economic theory.

In the second chapter, Mason sets out rhapsodically to describe the discovery of sine waves, from their natural origin to Classical Indian mathematics to harmonics in music and even with the presence of “waves within waves” that surfers rely on. It takes Mason less than a page to bring this metaphor back to his dissection of capitalist economics and from there he launches into market long cycle theory and crisis theory.

He starts by describing the sad demise of Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff, whose assertion that Capitalism wasn’t ultimately doomed but was instead cyclical in nature. This caused Stalin and the Bolshevik boys to go all aggro on him as Communist orthodoxy at the time could only tolerate the tenet of Capitalism’s imminent collapse. So poor old Kondratieff finished his own earthly cycles in 1938 at the receiving end of a firing squad.

Mason defines some important concepts to Kondratieff’s capitalist theory – the theory of fifty-year cycles or long waves. Or in Kondratieff’s words,

During roughly the first two decades before the beginning of the rising wave of a long cycle, we observe an invigoration of technical inventions. Before and during the beginning of the rising wave, we observe the broad application of these inventions in industrial practice, due to the re-organisation of production relations…

Mason neatly translates this for modern internet-conditioned readers:

  • The rollout of new technologies
  • The rise of new business models
  • New countries dragged into the global market
  • A rise in the quantity and availability of money.

This chapter reminded me of the intellectual rigour and liveliness among thinkers and theorists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in Soviet Russia. In the era we’re presently leaving, it seemed there has been no debate to be had about Capitalism and Socialism. As neoliberal Maggie Thatcher put it, “There is no alternative.” Now the question is—a question I suspect Mason is working up to answering—is Capitalism coming to the end of one of its fifty-year long cycles, or is this really it?

Neoliberalism is Broken — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

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As I continue to rip my way through Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, I realise that Mason’s fluid writing style is what makes this book such captivating reading. That and his descriptions of the shenanigans of modern economics, concepts I’ve struggled to understand for years, which Mason quickly renders into facile waves of concise prose.

In the first chapter, Mason identifies for the four horsemen (my edit) of neoliberalism which have created the modern world (circa 1988) and are now destroying it: Fiat money, financialization, global imbalances, and information technology. In a single paragraph, he clarified my hazy understanding of what’s meant by fiat money, “The Latin word ‘fiat’ means the same as it does in the biblical phrase fiat lux – let there be light; it means ‘let there be money’ created out of nowhere. In Texas, there was land, cattle and trade – but not enough of them to warrant printing $4 million and incurring a public debt of $10 million. The paper money collapse and ultimately the Texan Republic disappeared.”

The gradual move away from pegging money to real value (such as the gold standard) and the tendency of banks to deregulate has paved the wave for “gaming the system” or what others call casino banking. Since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, “Banking became an ever-changing tactical game focused on skimming money off your competitors, your customers and your business clients. This created the third basic reflex of neoliberalism: the widespread illusion that you can generate money out of money alone.”

Here’s Bernie Sanders back in 1999 denouncing the Financial Services Modernization Act – a repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking protections.

Mason describes the tendency of our economy to rely increasingly on financialization (such as the pre-2008 US housing bubble), even to hallucinatory levels, which ominously portents the final stages of decay in other societies ranging from the Genoese Rupublic in the late Middle Ages, to the Netherlands in the 17th Century, and London in the late British Empire.

Most astounding for me, Mason goes back to the real beginnings of trade and disputes the common assumption that money arose out of the difficulties with barter. He quotes David Graeber who found no evidence that early human societites used barter, or that money emerged from it. Instead, Mason underlines the most fundamental necessity for trade and commerce to work: “They used trust.”

Hear Paul Mason speaking on Postcapitalism: Envisaging a Shared Future at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Reading Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

Postcapitalism

Writers like Seth Godin giddily describe the “new economy” as if still buffeted and buoyed by Mid-Century optimism. Seth credits the Internet for decentralizing work, “Technology has enabled the transition to the new economy, but connections in the new economy are fueled by a focus on two specific aspects of humanity – generosity and art.” But Paul Mason goes deeper. Much deeper.

Paul Mason tears at the heart of the beast—Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism—that system of endless growth, deregulation, high finance—is The Matrix, “It’s everywhere, it is all around us. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Neoliberalism has been so normalized as how things are run that we constantly have to review our understanding of it to remember what it is.

Reading Mason’s “Postcapitalism” also gives credence to Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges’s refusal to endorse Bernie Sanders on the grounds that he’s thrown his lot in with the Democratic party (although Hedges’s hedges his bets with Sanders based on his stand vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestine question). They know that America’s two leading political parties are no more than two flavours of vanilla—two near identical facets of the same same system.

Mason contrasts the revolts and uprisings following the collapse of 2008 and the Establishment’s attempts to suppress them with a different path opening up, “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy, between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”

Listen to Paul Mason’s talk at Google Recorded in December 2015, London.

Lori Freedman, “Can I take you to all of my concerts?”

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YOU

ARE

WONDERFUL!!!

Just read this article and want to share it widely. It’s to me perfect journalism – it describes and reports and provokes in a way that allows the reader to vamp on your ideas without having necessarily attended the event themselves…it seems entirely organic, almost subconscious!!! Can I take you to all of my concerts?

And by the way, thanks jason. You are boss!!!!

A Tale of Two Tárogatós

The tárogató is considered a Hungarian cultural treasure, and it has traditionally bridged the gap between Classical concert music (favoured by nobility) and folk music (popular with the country folk).

Despite the tárogató’s rareness outside Hungary and surrounding Eastern European countries, the tárogató now boasts two players in Vancouver—me and Milan Milosevic (with whom I’ve previously collaborated). While having two tárogató players in Vancouver may be considered enough to constitute a school of tárogató playing, what’s really needed is some distinct concert repertoire to bring attention to both the instrument locally and to put British Columbia on the map with those interested in incorporating ethnic and non-traditional instruments onto the concert stage.

Here are two recordings—both recorded in Vancouver—of Zóltan Kodály’s serene Esti Dal (Evening Song):

Milan Milosevic, tárogató and Bogdan Dulu, organ (recorded at UBC’s Roy Barnett Hall)

Jason Hall, tárogató and Michael Murray, organ (recorded at St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Dunbar)

Standing Wave’s “Acousmatic” – a Synæsthesiac’s Feast

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Adventurous. Uncompromising. Inimitable. Sought-after. How great to hear so many superlatives in Vancouver—that are justified. As violinist Rebecca Whitling welcomed us to their “Acousmatic” concert at the Orpheum Annex last Sunday, she seemed to tear up at the prospect of finding even more superlatives with which to thank her fellow musicians. Standing Wave has been around for a long time—long enough to have either earned those superlatives legitimately or to have them dashed on the rocks of hyperbole—but tonight they were well warranted.

Evanescence

The first work, Gordon Fitzell’s Evanescence, was presented as but an amuse-bouche for the ears (amuse-oreille?). This was perfect as my ears needed time to adjust. I’ve been to enough electro-acoustic concerts to know that the batting average for electro-acoustic music isn’t that good—either it fizzles out due to technical glitches or the two media never quite reconcile leading to a cage match. But thanks to some excellent planning and artistic leadership from Giorgio Magnanensi and others, Evanescence proved how satisfying electro-acoustic can be. Surrounded by waves of intriguing sound and my ears sufficiently amused, I was ready for more.

Red Arc / Blue Veil

Although I missed the promised palindrome in John Luther Adams’s Red Arc / Blue Veil, I revelled in all the visuals implied by the work’s title. For the record, synæsthesia had once been my friend until the day I discovered that I was alone in the assumption that each of the four Brahms symphonies had its inherent colour (Number 1 is blue, 2 is yellow, 3 is a dusty pink, and 4 is avocado-green). So it was gratifying for Adams to permit me to let my ears once again see colour.

John Luther Adams is to music what Edward Burtynsky is to photography. To convey the enormity of the landscapes of his native Alaska and his concerns over the deterioration of our natural world, Adams is now writing music intended for performance out-of-doors. To get a sense of the titanic forces Adams wrestles with, listen to his riveting talk, “Music in the Anthropocene” (given last year at the Banff Centre), in which he described the role of the artist in a world of Climate Change. Against such a canvas, Red Arc / Blue Veil was a comparatively small and intimate meditation on “those inner sounds that are the life of the colours” to quote Kandinsky.

Subject / Object

Foreshadowing the physical comedy that was to come in his music, James O’Callaghan slunk onto the stage nervously for his talk about Subject / Object. Percussionist Vern Griffiths was quick (and classy) to put O’Callaghan at ease allowing us to get in touch with his kinesthetic approach to sound. Not at all a grammar lesson as its title implied, O’Callaghan’s Subject / Object was an attempt to “rationalize the irrational” by turning objects into subjects. It’s as if Standing Wave’s Pierrot-plus instrumentation wasn’t quite enough for O’Callaghan, so he poked and prodded about the stage looking looking for more stuff to play with—usually to great comic effect.

While the players diligently performed their parts, an array of surreal theatrics ensued. Balloons popped inside the piano, a kitchen chair was dragged dramatically across the stage and then subjected to other indignities from the percussionist’s toolkit, and we all squirmed as a bucket of “water” was tipped into the open piano (although electronics came to the rescue just in time with appropriately watery sounds). Nothing overlooked, even the click of flutist Christie Reside’s high-heeled shoes was employed as musical counterpoint (I’m not sure if a composer who’s comfortable referencing Ren & Stimpy would be aware of this, but Reside’s transit across the stage was a perfect homage to Michael Snow’s Walking Women). Bravo to that.

O Superman

The featured work of the evening was an electro-acoustic adaption of Laurie Anderson’s 1981 art rock hit O Superman set for Standing Wave by Vancouver composer Alfredo Santa Ana.

I suspected that some form of calculated risk was involved in casting Veda Hille to sing this role (and I don’t mean a box office calculated risk, although that may have accounted for fifty percent of the audience), but why substitute Anderson’s deadly accurate chops for Hille’s folksy peeping except to avoid, as Santa Ana put it, casting “one of those Art Song singers”?

While her vocal range may comprise the full octave the song demands, vocal quality and diction were moot as she leaned heavily on the FX processor, intended in the original as an expressive device. Veda Hille, O Veda Hille. It’s like walking into the room in time for the laughter but too late for the punch line.  Still, Santa Ana artfully exchanged phrases from violin to flute to bass clarinet and onward giving the art rock original an air of chamber music without sacrificing the sensibility of the source material.

Finale

Even if Standing Wave had lower standards or were perhaps more weird, they would still retain their hold as Vancouver’s premier new music ensemble with their ability to seamlessly integrate solid musicianship with glitchless electronics.

In addition to all the gear and high production values, their kitchen-party warmth—whether the informal extemporizing of Vern Griffiths or pianist Allen Stiles’s comic timing—helped ensure that they could programme pretty much whatever they please and still come across as refreshingly accessible.

The Tárogató Project – How it started…

It all started almost immediately after the last concert, Generations, which I had organized at St. Philip’s Church. That concert played on the theme of intergenerational connections featuring the Jeffrey Ryan piece, Timepieces, I’d commissioned (but never performed) ten years earlier.

Following the concert, I invited Jeffrey over for dinner and it was he who goaded, no encouraged, no challenged me to submit a BC Arts Council grant application to get funding to commission some new works for the tárogató.

I guess the timing was good, because the three weeks left before the deadline turned out to be three weeks I had with no structured plans. I wrote the grant.

The way these things work is you write the grant and then forget about it for months and months before you hear anything. So come August and much to my surprise, I was awarded the grant and The Tárogató Project was born.

The Tárogató Project is designed in two phases:

  • Phase one – Commission two compositions for the tárogató by BC composers. I chose Jeffrey Ryan and Adam Hill.
  • Phase two – A public performance of both works on a concert marking the 60th anniversary of the arrival of refugees from the Hungarian Revolution to British Columbia. By telling the story of the one group of Hungarian refugees to Vancouver, the concert seeks to provide insights into the positive cultural impacts of refugees and immigrants to life in Vancouver.

View the The Tárogató Project Timeline

Lori Freedman and the beauty of extremes

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If there were some sort of measuring tool that could compare Classical music with cheeses of the world on a one-to-one basis — where Pachelbel’s Canon would be Cheez Whiz and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps would be some strain of blue that took you twenty years to work up the nerve to try — well, Lori Freedman’s “Virtuosity of Excess” tour would have to be well off that scale out beyond the farthest margins of Epoisse (a curd so odorous, it was banned from public transport in France), or perhaps even further — can one make cheese from platypus milk?

That’s not in any way to suggest that Lori’s music has anything malodorous about it. Pas du tout. It’s more a comment on her audience, which for deeply nuanced individual reasons has come to revel in her extremes.

It’s arguable that what she’s doing isn’t Classical music anyway. But it draws from many of the same roots, and being a fellow clarinet player who once played bass clarinet alongside Lori back in the last century (it was Le Sacre, which is scored for two bass clarinets), I know her roots. Now I’ve come to get to know her routes.

What is virtuosity?

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photo credits: Jan Gates

I had the good fortune to sit with flautist Mark McGregor who’d come out to the Fox Cabaret to hear, above all else, the Brian Ferneyhough work. He explained Complexity music, which I paraphrase here broadly: The composer, without going beyond the instrument’s physical capability, employs myriad layers of complexity (such as assigning individual contrapuntal lines to different fingers) in an attempt to present to the audience a picture of the performer either breaking down or breaking through psychologically. “So, it’s sort of like a snuff film” I asked and Mark snorted with laughter, “I guess you could put it that way.” The title of Lori’s tour “The Virtuosity of Excess” is a quote from the French composer Raphaël Cendo, referring to the exploration (and sometimes exploitation) of the beauty of extremes.

Enter the “Virtuosity of Excess” tour

And then, before anyone could say, “Release the Kraken”, onto the stage strode Lori brandishing her contra-bass clarinet like a kalashnikov.

As we listened to Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study #2 for bass clarinet, I started to get the full measure of Lori’s virtuosity. She puts her entire body, voice, and being into her playing. It’s so immediate and raw because what she’s after is emotional virtuosity.

Paul Steenhuisen’s Library on Fire for bass clarinet followed in what was by now an established pattern of extremes. This multi-movement, multi-music-stand work again showed how Lori transcends the cerebral by laying bare her humanity. Steenhuisen is a deep thinker able to layer complexity with the best of them, so it’s to Lori’s credit how she also brought warmth and humanity to the work — whether mumbling feverishly sotto voce or sucker punching us from the stage.

Steenhuisen’s Library on Fire as performed live in 2015 at The Music Gallery in Toronto

There’s something funny about Lori’s stage presence too—on account of its emotional ferocity. After screaming, squawking, and committing every excess imaginable, she always finished with a perfect little smile and thanked us all for listening. The contrast suggests some sociopathic older sister who’d just strangled her kid brother and now stands before us with one of those can-we-go-for-ice-cream-now smiles. Perhaps that’s why her own composition, Solor for bass clarinet (which she played from memory) lined up best for me. It certainly had its wild and raw moments, but overall I think it came from a more meditative place in her.

What is excess?

Raphaël Cendo’s Décombres for contrabass clarinet and live electronics was the coup de grâce of the evening. It was also the death knell for my ears, but I stood there anyway basking in the sheer monstrosity of it all like I was taking on Niagara Falls full force. To be in the presence of someone so beautifully uncompromising, so committed to her art — what glory!

After the show when people were mobbing her, I went up with the intention of saying something all-encompassing about what it means to be that emotionally revealed in art, but I couldn’t find the words and instead blurted out some nerdy clarinet-player nonsense about how “underneath everything, I could still hear a solid good clarinet sound”. It was entirely true of course — so always tactful — she laughed kindly as if I’d said, “Gee Mr. Pollack, you shure know how to mix them colours good.” It’s probably the most douche-baggey thing I’ve ever said…

Hey Bird! You’re Beautiful

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As many animals cannot recognise themselves in a mirror, it’s extremely helpful to them if you tell them how great they look. Don’t just walk by and say nothing.

 

Say something reassuring like…

“Hey bird, you’re beautiful!”,

or…

“Way to go Mr. Rat. I like the look. Very edgy, very edgy.”

 

This is tremendously helpful to their self esteem and you’ll probably feel good just saying it too.

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Listening to Mark Dresser

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What does it take to let go of the past and embrace pure potential? Billions are shuffling about — fearing. Fearing! Clearing the mind takes courage. It takes fortitude.

Not long ago at the Western Front, I heard a great musician—Mark Dresser. I could tell he knew implicitly that we weren’t there for the notes—so he didn’t play any—he was concerned with following the Muse.

The Muse is real. I saw him once at the Safeway. He stared at me with dark eyes. He was holding a roll of waxed paper and some bananas, looking frankly dazed in the bright neon. I won’t forget those dark imploring eyes though. It was as if they were asking me ‘Why?’ ‘Why do you shop here?’ I don’t know. Maybe the farmers’ market is only opened Saturdays and in any case, it’s overpriced. When I looked up he’d vanished. —JH, 2014

The Muse always seems a little sad when I encounter him. Sometimes I think it’s my influence—on account of his devotion to the present—that causes his sadness. The Muse has difficulty understanding the human obsession with planning and the constant need to gather up our past possessions. To him, we must seem like idiotic squirrels—burying, then searching.

But Mark Dresser’s contrabass would not sadden the Muse as others do. Why? First, Mark listens—he waits until he can hear the whispers—and then he goes. He clearly has years of experience and technique to draw on, but he didn’t drag any of that out on stage like a bag of old chestnuts. When Mark played, I sensed how my mind would work were it freed of its feverish thinking. As I followed Mark, instead of the usual memory-anxiety machine, my mind became a finely tuned astrolabe constantly adjusting for those moments of inspiration.

Mark’s playing is instructional too. It provides a working example of how to think creatively and spontaneously. Mark follows phrases of his own making only so far as they’re fresh and then, whenever their trajectory hints at turning into stock patterns or set clichés, he abandons them in favour of another direction. I learned (again) that this is how creation works. Let go of cleverness. Let planning go. Defer your inevitable fame and trust that the next impulse is the right one.

But how quickly we’re drawn out of that shaft of light and descend into our infernal calculations. For me they go something like, “Will they like it?”, “Will they like me?”, “I must prove I’m not a fraud.”, “I’ll show them!” So you see, the Muse is frequently sad. He sees all that distraction right away and in that, little hope for anything new or authentic.

Lucky for us though, the Muse is ever hopeful of an opening—he’s the ultimate optimist. Even in the most formulaic calculating turgid undertaking, he’s there, waiting to be called upon. Who knows? With our human knack for calamity, something could go wrong forcing a desperate act of improvisation—and that’s his opening.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

—Leonard Cohen

We all know our endless planning is little more than a buttressed attempt to avoid that opening. That’s why a sincere artist knows to let go of his craft. First, he knows he doesn’t have anything to prove (something yet to be learned by the unseasoned artist), but more, he learns that the tools (of his craft) are but a means to the end.

I found Mark Dresser a great player because he listens deeper than mere impact. He’s listening to the Muse’s whispers and making visible (or in his case, audible) those whispers for us. With Mark, we can witness the Muse at work and, of course, that’s ultimately why art matters.