multitude guitars, two drum kits, horns, a handful of strings. quiet and loud. the start and the end of the first song, do, shows how beautifully people can still play melody and rhythm to complement each other and create something sublime. proof of why music exists. there you have it.
i actually travelled to canada just to see do make say think perform in 2002 (at richard’s on richards in vancouver, though i wished it was in their hometown of toronto). this was in addition to seeing low at lee’s palace in toronto. thousands of dollars to see two bands? yes, i am that kind of person!
i just spent over an hour talking to my sister, and we were lamenting the apparent total lack of care and awareness that people of many generations seem to be exhibiting within the last five years or so (given that we are both now seemingly old ladies). this album is perfect to make the point on which we were agreeing. this band’s name, and the structure of the album as four songs called do, make, say and think, carry with them a weight of implied consciousness of each of those things. course we all do; every day, every second. and most of us say most days, at least one word. but how often do we undertake each of these actions with prescience? who even really thinks these days?
i’m not a fan of the low singing on this album (contributed by akron/family). perhaps an unwillingness of mine to accept that they might do something different to what they previously had? inflexibility? it’s a similar experience to the sung on some of labelmates’ godspeed efforts (not the spoken words which have a completely different effect).
this was one of those cases where i discovered constellation records and, because they had an actual manifesto for what the music meant and how it should be treated, i literally devoured. and out of the complement, or the cadre, do make say think remain my favourite alongside godspeed. people who don’t grasp this kind of music (genre-less and lyric-less as it is) probably would not even hear a difference between them. but they are indisputably distinct.
ten years ago, the feeling that i might never see this music performed live is what made me get on a large plane for the first time and appreciate what thousands of kilometres actually meant. their music is made for understanding great distances.
and constellation no longer seems upfront about the basis on which it was formed. the manifesto itself is extremely difficult to track down, perhaps because the label ended up doing some things that compromised the vision. i have a hard copy printed on orange paper somewhere in the house, but in lieu of finding it i will have to trust the transcription of a stranger:
independence is a much-invoked term in the music world, and its co-optation by the industry all too often corrupts and invalidates whatever real meaning the word possesses. independence is an empty pose to the extent it does not relate critically and stand in opposition to the homogenising force of corporatism and culture commodification. the capitalist system of exchange is at a certain level inescapable – it takes money to make records and money to buy them – but the worst traits and tendencies of this system must be resisted, not just in spirit, but in practice. we understand our position as an independent record label to be an ongoing attempt to define and enact such a practice.
corporatism divides and conquers and falsifies social participation in its pre-formed, group-tested, hermetically-sealed cycle of marketed product, setting up a closed circle of blind consumption. the corporation is inhuman, managerial, driven solely by profit and “the sell”. it is incapable of actually caring about and preserving the supposedly cultural objects it shills, for it can ascribe no real content to them. the very concept of quality is anathema to it – capitalism in its grossest form is a total reduction to quantity, to moving units. exceptions only prove the rule – if you’ve heard something on a major label that you dig, this is purely accidental. to the degree you have made this positive valuation in relative aesthetic freedom, you are already approaching the corporate product in terms that are foreign and threatening to it. the corporation would much prefer your docility to your activity, and in fact does everything in its power to engender that docility by creating the illusion of activity.
independence is to our minds the affirmation of real community, real conversation, and the real exchange of artistic work. the urgent task is to build up and promote real dependency through a network of dissemination and valuation of culture that strives to address the truth of our human situation – a dependency based on freedom, critique, and dialogue. obviously putting out rock music, however experimental and boundary-pushing, is only obliquely a political and social activity, but we nevertheless hope to contribute in a tiny way to a meaningful model of communication which takes its lead from art. we deal with bands face-to-face, without formal contracts, on the basis of ongoing discussion and mutual decision-making. a shared understanding of principles is crucial to the process, the aim being to collectively define and set the terms of engagement. our foremost concern is to minimise the corrupting effect of bringing a work to market, allowing it to preserve its own terrain, to speak for itself. we are learning as we go, attempting to remain as critical as possible about our methods of self-definition.
in most other respects, the enemy lies without and is much easier to identify. we have no interest in and make no effort towards the placing of our recordings in corporate retail outlets. however, we do work with distributors we feel we can trust, and relinquish control of certain commercial aspects to them. in a sense there is more than a mundane convenience here, as it not only saves us from much of the distasteful work involved in negotiating and penetrating the marketplace, but allows us to deflect responsibility for the ultimate placement of our records in shops. guilty as charged – if we could afford to work personally and directly with every mom & pop record store on the planet, we would. at the very least, we are committed to a model of expansion that seeks to minimise the role of corporate chains. the expectation is that as our catalogue of releases and our understanding of distribution networks increase, so too will our ability to expand and strengthen the lines connecting points of independent exchange. insofar as this possibility exists and can be actualised, we have hope. the role of chain stores in the pre-determination and warehousing of culture is to be resisted. do not shop at these temples of payola and product placement – they are zones of domination. seek out your local independent record shop, and if you are amongst the unlucky many whose community has already been ravaged and gutted by wal-mart or hmv, please mail-order directly from us. this is your least expensive option in any case.
duplication is a cornerstone of corporate capital – you too can be hand-fed your own identity as you suckle the same fucking hamburger in the same fucking prefab environment in the four corners of the world – but it can proceed by way of non-corporate techniques. avoidance of pre-formulated package design sets up the parameters for localised multi-step reproduction. our practice of record-making involves local artisans, craftspeople and small businesses. you can read all about this in the section on packaging [which also no longer exists on the current cstrecords site]. sometimes we find ourselves with no choice but to dirty our hands and do business with a behemoth. paper producers and suppliers are the foremost example, as they are almost without exception directly tied to corporate harvesters of trees. we’re not about to forgo the use of paper, so the best we can do is seek out those producers who aren’t vertically-integrated from top to bottom, who don’t exist directly as an arm of an odious multi-national. reproduction of music on vinyl and cd is also potentially dangerous terrain, though the former has mostly become an independently-owned process by now. our commitment to vinyl certainly stems in part from its inherent resistance to the advent of compact discs as the vehicle of mass duplication. we are neither absolute purists nor luddites in this regard – while we do prefer vinyl both for sonics and for its ability to create a larger canvas for art direction, we also recognise the decentralising potential of digital duplication and transmission. it’s clear that digital technology is increasingly empowering localised and independent production, which for us mostly means the ability to press our discs with small-scale companies. we are still wholly unconvinced of the worth, aesthetic or otherwise, of displacing the tangible record-as-object to the ephemeral realm of the internet. there may be limited applications that we haven’t yet grasped, but until the technology is made both accessible and refined enough to permit the exchange of music without compromising either its inherent sonics or its contextualisation in a package, this appears to us peripheral.
mechanical reproduction, whether digital or analogue with regard to the music itself, whether at the local die-cutter or silkscreener with regard to packaging and printing, is accessible technology and allows for the duplication and dissemination of cultural work at the micro-level, even if the macroscopic potentials of the technology machine, with respect to art no less than labour practice or weaponry, are terrifying. it’s all about maintaining a human scale. fin-de-siecle capitalism both facilitates and threatens independent production, and the key for us is to utilise those technologies that capitalism itself has marginalised and dispersed in order to create cultural objects that are inherently critical of the system. to the extent this condemns us to pursuing quality at the expense of quantity, it is a fate to which we willingly submit.