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Tortured Silence
- Johnny Ray Huston

In "Out Loud," The San Francisco Bay Guardian, April 7-13, 1999, Vol. 33, No. 27. Note from Terre: The following review ran in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. My reply to the editor which follows was never printed.


Love For Sale: Taking Stock In Our Pride, a CD by Terre Thaemlitz, is packaged as the first volume of a Queer Media Series available on the label Mille Plateaux. But in the opening sentences of the expansive sleeve essay that accompanies Love For Sale, Thaemlitz exposes his theoretical ruse:

There is no such series. It is a fictional ploy intended to incite a market based response prior to actually hearing this CD. A response that may include feelings of empowerment, embarrassment, and/or indifference. A response that is no more resolved by the act of purchase than by finding this entire project may be a hoax - after all, doesn't an admission to the deliberate use of Queer imagery as a marketing ploy amount to an invalidation of any 'radical consumption'? Is there such a thing as radical consumption in the first place?

... and so on. Crammed onto six rainbow-colored pages, Thaemlitz's essay connects academic-sounding phrases ("experiential Universality, " "contextual specificity") to form a sprawling, diffuse argument that would certainly be challenged by a grad-school professor. I'm not a professor, and my space is limited, so I'll challenge, at random, one of his assertions. "In considering various electroacoustique approaches toward Queer signification," Thaemlitz writes, "I find myself handed a palette of muted spectral tonalities." Strange: I sometimes signify as queer, yet I never realized that I was limited to a "muted palette." I am, if I choose toouphold the excruciating self-consciousness of theory- and electronic-based artistic production: art that has to be explained, in numbing, life-draining detail, by its maker. To his credit (I suppose), Thaemlitz at least constructs a web of queer logic, rather than merely spewing a fog of hoo-ha, à la DJ Spooky.

Love For Sale's CD features tracks with tongue-twisted-in-cheek titles such as "This Closet Is Made Of Doors," "Handsome - Ballad For George Michael," and "One - Strength In Numbers." Opening with a sound collage that highlights product placement ("I'd just like to mention that the car Mabel Teng was in happened to be a Mercury") during KOFY's coverage of the pride parade, the disc then settles into droning ambient sound. Various references spring to mind. Love For Sale's drifiting, arid disease seems similar to (and different from - less melancholic) Ed Tomney's score for Todd Haynes's Safe. Thaemlitz's quiet electronic critique also has a same-different quality in relation to the loud Digital Hardcore parodies Matt Wobensmith has released post-Outpunk on hi Queercorps label. Thaemlitz's essay provokes another thought: he overtly politicized John Cage's silence.

After hearing and reading about it, I purchased Love For Sale for professional reasons - as the name behind this ironically and sincerely titled column - more than for personal "pleasure." Now, having bought Thaemlitz's CD, I can say I don't value his modes of creativity/critique. A frustration with the commercialization of queer identity is - or should be - understandable. But I question technological and academic discourse - both of which are fundamental, implicit elements of Love For Sale - as primary, privileged tools for queer resistance (if Thaemlitz truly is invested in such a project) and/or artistry (ditto).

Letter to the Editor (Terre's Response)

- Terre Thaemlitz
April 9, 2000.

I was intrigued by Johnny Ray Huston's review of my album "Love For Sale" (Out Loud, 4/7/99). Huston's buying the CD for "professional reasons," apparently afraid of missing the boat after "hearing and reading about it," is always a unique and rewarding premise for musical commentary - particularly when the reviewer is interested in making broad declarations such as, "Now, having bought Thaemlitz's CD, I can say I don't value his modes of creativity/critique." A wonderful statement which brilliantly sums up my concerns about Queer identity politics being distilled through the marketplace, and peoples' over-reliance upon the act of consumption in the determination of knowledge, as discussed in the liner notes to the very CD being reviewed.

I also enjoyed the odd statement that my "argument... would certainly be challenged by a grad-school professor." Huston seemed to have made up his mind that my analysis is both adolescent and 'incorrect,' but quickly avoided any engagement with the content of my text by declaring he's "not a professor." Instead, we were treated to an ever-so-informative rant against 'academic' writing. In fact, my use of academic language (and its immediate invocation of power relations) in a commercially distributed CD is a response to the music industry's discourse of agendaless self-expression. Conversely, the CD also addresses its simultaneous placement within the seemingly disparate economies of academia and underground electronica. Huston's one "random" challenge to my statement that electroacoustic approaches toward Queer signification are historically muted (Huston: "Strange: I sometimes signify as a queer, yet I never realized that I was limited to a 'muted palette.') failed to realize I was discussing electroacoustic music's historical relationship to both the avant garde and academia. Remember the 'silence' of John Cage? 'Muted spectral palette?' Get it? ;-)

Although this may challenge Huston's notion of the individual(ist) Artist with a singular voice, he may be curious to know that my modes of creativity and critique are more expansive than the one CD he decided to buy as a business write-off, and include digital synthesis, piano solos, ambient, disco, jazz-fusion, deep house, and others. Similarly, my modes of writing range from the academically inclined text in "Love For Sale" to campy manifestos and short poems. It is the manner in which these various activities overlap and contradict one another that constitutes my larger attempt to contribute to a polymorphous Queer discourse.

As for Huston flippantly questioning my commitment to Queer resistance, and whether I "truly [am] invested in such a project," that's just plain old pissy. (Per my similarly questioned commitment to artistry, I have no interest in such Modernist conventions.)

- Terre Thaemlitz, Oakland