Tuesday, February 6

A Genuine Fake

After a friend posted the video for "Life In a Northern Town" on his blog, I decided to track down a copy of The Dream Academy's debut album; I haven't heard it in about twenty years. Along with Propaganda's A Secret Wish and ABC's The Lexicon Of Love, the Dream Academy album made a huge impact on me when I first heard it back in the mid-80s. Some people have The Velvet Underground, or Bowie, or The Beatles. I have Trevor Horn and Nick Laird-Clowes.

It's a little ironic being nostalgic for an album that itself is wrapped in a blanket of faux '60s nostalgia. I can't recall, but when I was sixteen I probably took the album's sound at face value. Later, when I became too serious, I probably rejected it for being overproduced or some such nonsense. Now when I listen to it I hear the production as Laird-Clowes's attempt to create a sonic setting for his stories, much like a writer creates a world for her characters to inhabit. Sure, you can call it fake. But it's a real fake. Am I being too postmodern here? In an entertainment landscape where we're often presented with what seems like a copy of a copy of a copy (nothing inherently wrong with that), a first-generation simulation starts to feel almost genuine. Or maybe I'm just being generous because this is my nostalgia.

I'll tell you one thing: this Dream Academy album is practically it's own trivia game. It's produced by David Gilmore. Band member Kate St. John was in a band called The Ravishing Beauties with none other than Virginia Astley, and she's since recorded with Roger Eno. Gary Langan, of Art of Noise/ZTT, engineered parts of the album. Peter Buck (!) plays guitar on a track. Peter Saville designed the sleeve. And I had no idea that Nick Laird-Clowes himself lead such an interesting life.

But the thing that's interesting me most right now is the psychoacoustic memory trick the album's played on me. I believe that people don't really remember things, so much as they remember things the way they want to. What I mean is, your memories aren't some collection of objective facts, but rather a collection of those facts somehow blended and layered with your emotions and subjective impressions of the various events. Over time that mix becomes what you think of as your memories. In my mind, I held a memory of this album being lushly arranged with full orchestrations. Looking over the liner notes I was a bit shocked to find that no orchestra played on the album; it's just Kate St. John on woodwinds, a cellist, and some timpani. The rest of the "orchestra" is filled in by synthesizers and spacious recording techniques. By using just a few recognizable acoustic sounds, they tricked me. Not that I mind at all.


The Comics Fairy said...

I'm reminded of the concept of hyperreality, which Umberto Eco writes about in Travels in Hyperreality. The Wikipedia article seems to treat it as a negative symptom of our culture, but I think the label can probably be used to talk about this kind of fictive nostalgia without necessarily being derogatory.

Bruce said...

comics fairy,

I know I really need to add Eco to my reading pile. Interesting that I've somehow absorbed his ideas without having ever been directly exposed to his work.