What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

April 30, 2012 Issue

In order for me to enjoy Sasha Frere-Jones’s pop music reviews, I have to treat them as abstractions. The reason for this is that I cannot abide electronic music, which is what Frere-Jones mostly writes about. But Frere-Jones’s writing, considered as pure writing, is wonderful. His “Sound Machine,” in this week’s issue, contains a number of marvelous descriptions (e.g., “After a brief spray of notes, a white scrim fell, revealing the band members, each wearing a skintight bicycling outfit covered with luminescent white lines in a grid formation, as if they were being tracked on a green screen for later animation”). Frere-Jones says that Kraftwerk is “the Warhol of pop.” That analogy is valid, in my opinion, only if Kraftwerk’s electronic sound has an element that is equivalent to the painterly look of Warhol’s silk-screens. Yes, Warhol said he wanted to be a machine. But, as Peter Schjeldahl points out in his 2002 review of the Tate Modern’s Warhol retrospective, he also “wanted to be Matisse” ("Warhol In Bloom,"The New Yorker, March 11, 2002). Schjeldahl says, “Warhol was a supreme colorist who redid the world’s palette in tart, amazing hues such as cerise, citron, burnt orange, and apple-green.” It’s not clear to me from Frere-Jones’s review that Kraftwerk’s music has this Warholian aspect. In fact, his inspired description of the arpeggio in Kraftwerk’s “Computer World” as feeling “a bit like bubbles rising through mercury” points the other way - towards monochrome and monotone. 

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