Thursday, July 07, 2011

Phish and the Ultimate Product: a mythology continues (to sell)

It seems to me that anyone into sound manipulation would be interested in what Phish accomplished after hours on Saturday night, at SuperBall IX, 2011. Allow me to set the stage. Watkins Glen, starting Wednesday, was slowly transformed into a skeleton movie set-type town in a matter of a few days. Marking off the corners of the field that made up the playground area at Watkins Glen, know as Ball Square, were four large speakers stacks at each corner of the park part of the glen, where they had made their makeshift town. The speakers hung suspended by some obviously study ropes. And at the "center" of this was of course the storage space, and the release of the "ultimate product". But now i am rushing to the end. Because unless you were there, or already read about this, then you are probably in the dark. And that is how we where, at first, in the dark about what was going on.

For those who are not fans of Phish, perhaps this is a good point at which to dole out some background.

Phish USA Storage with Time Machine
You see, Phish started playing at a place called Nectar's around 1988, and would come out with an album called Picture of Nectar in 1992. Nectar's was the bar where Phish got their start as a musical act, as it the very place they attribute to giving them the freedom to play around with their music, as well as the crowds of fans they would eventually gather into a loyal following. Nectar's was that all important space, a place where they could fail without having to pack it in. For a more complete history of Phish see the Mocking Bird Project.

The mythology developed by Phish goes a little farther back than all that to a story developed by Trey Anastasio, called The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday (TMSIY). This piece was written by Trey at Goddard College in 1987, and would later become the basis for Phish's larger ongoing story, Gamehendge. 1987, one year before Phish would claim that they had been locked in storage, but I am getting ahead of myself. And yet much like Phish, I would like to drop some clues as to what is going on for the uninitiated Phish'er. Remember it is Independence Day Weekend. The Phish newspaper, put out for the show, reminds us that
Independence is a theme, not a day.

A makeshift town continues to spring up and develop. The USA Storage space, which mysteriously contained a time machine, slowly becoming a main attraction. Surrounding the entire park/town area are these crazy arched speakers systems, which on Friday made only a little noise here and there. But by Saturday they had slowly and smoothly transformed, creating a chromatic progression of xylophone/cartoon skeleton-type noise/effects with other ambient tones charging the atmosphere.

As thee day unfolded on Saturday, they began to demonstrated the awesome power of their audio/visual gear/set-up, first with a sound demonstration of the ever popular air plane effect, simulating a low flying plane moving from on corner of the Ball Square area to thee other. And later with a stellar light show, complete with moving shadows. If you take a look at the picture provided of the stage set up, its important to note that each set of side speakers could act alone, as well as each speaker act interdependently or in concert with the others in the stack, and the bowed shape made for great outdoor acoustics. The Ultimate Product?!

Notice on the sides, the large arched speaker stacks,
these where the same speaker setup
around the park/makeshift town 
Saturday night Phish ends their evening set with a mind blowing encore of "Loving Cup" and "Tweezer Reprise." Now, I have seen Phish numerous times, but Saturday night was the best that i have ever heard them jam. As many people at the show had said to me, when they are on, they are on. Indeed! As a sea of people exited, we, my fiancee and I, stood still like two rocks in a river, allowing the crowd that had become a river to pour out over us, as we contemplated what to do next. 

Once in the square we collected ourselves and our thoughts, tuning into the ambient sounds swirling around us, creating a sense of anticipation, as we sat on the floor waiting for what comes next? A disembodied announcer manifests from all corners, "hydro-sonic power," a new clean form of energy, a prophetic future now. Rain drop affects signaled the start of this sonic power-station, as Phish created a sound effect of a realistic series of incorporeal generators.

Delia Skybird, Editor

We eventually flowed out into the Ball Square area, entertained by the many peoples dressed a glow, flow art at every turn. Of course we joined in with the fun, taking turns waving Mortimer around, our pre-programmed LED skeleton wand/flicker stick (the store that sold us Mortimer informed us that it was the last one they had for sale, since Walmart had purchased a million of this particular flicker stick. What should be needless to say is that it put us in the privileged position of being one of the few, if not only persons there with a Mortimer stick). There were many flicker/flow toys to be had and purchased. Indeed, during the show the crowds would come together and collectively gather and then throw glow stick into the air, falling like dayglow rain on a sea of psychedelic peoples.

Flashback to earlier in the day.

During the daytime, 1st set on Saturday, Phish began an explanation, that adds a bit more sense to the story of Gamehenge, as well as why there is a time machine in the USA Storage. Trey explains that in 1988, while they where placing some stuff in storage, the band got trapped inside. Amongst the stuff being put into storage was their gear.

Since this was before people where carrying cell phones, they had no way to reach the outside world. To keep their minds off their situation, their hunger and thirst, they began to play music and tell each other stories. They realized that they could leave the confines of their box and travel to imaginary lands together, places that became realer than the storage container that existed in the material world in which they were trapped. This is how Phish began, from these "stories" Phish would become a band with the goal of pushing products. And by their calculation, July 2nd, should be day that the moment will occur, when there is now more stuff then there is room to store it. The increasing production of crap might finally set Phish free from this maya delusion and hence the reason for the ultimate product. As the ambient work built into an amazing display of sound wizardry, Phish reaching into new musical dimensions, broke free from USA storage and busted out a sweet debut jam of "Monkey Man". They had explained that the famous mocking bird, from "Gamehenge" had transformed into the US Postal Service, and carried the letter aimed at setting them free. The theme is Independence and independence is not a day, indeed. The worlds build from the delusions of capitalism with its teleology calls for an end, an end in the ultimate product, with the ultimate clean energy source, hydro-sonic power. The end to capitalism? At least as we know it.

Aglaeca and St. Stephen make a Critique: " 'Cause We Could Have Come So Very Far... In at least as many years..."(Phish, "The Wedge", Rift, 1993).

Phish put on an amazing performance, and gave their crowd their monies worth, at about $216 a ticket for 3-day event, camping included. It takes quite a bit of money and people to throw a party/event of that caliber. Equipment like Phish demonstrated is by no means cheap. But for us, the ultimate product was the dream to dream an even better dream, to take what we have learned and move it forward... so one day every one can say "you can feel good, good, good about home" as well as your local milk factory.

On those hydroponic-semi-sonic, often melodically, notes, we would like to explore for a bit what more could be done to realize these dreams, by offering a Marxist critique of the situation as we see it and as Phish inspired and continues to inspire us to see it---as they themselves called to the material reality of their boxed-in situation, where they were forced to feed themselves with adventurous stories, instead of food and drink, of which they could only play and sing, dream.

Technology, as Karl Marx theorized, is the basis for the relationships that come out and fall under the ideology that is Capitalism, capitalism is itself a theme. What Marx is actually known for is a conceptual framework and a multivolume text book on economics, Das CapitalHe is perhaps also know for offering us an ontology and epistemology in and of itself. A theoretical construct, position (perhaps at times an all seeing position, hence mythic), that privileges material reality, such that the material conditions are said to form our relationships, as well as act as the ground or basis of ideology.

We also acknowledged that Marx, in his inversion of Hegel's Ideology of Spirit and Phenomenology, which we will not be speaking further of, is also mythic and utopian, as it seclurizes the central dictum of Christianity, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need(s)." It is my view that Marx takes the logic of Capitalism, as related by figures such as Adam Smith, to its logical end, monopolies and States. And yet, we only follow Marx, perhaps ironically, in spirit, and prefer something of Deleuzean crowned anarchy, that is nomadic subjectivities and self manifested directed networks of association that do not lock in into State systems, and in that sense more primitive and vital. And even if one knows nothing of Deleuze or Guattari's work, for this blog, one only need know that individualism is free to explore its myriad non-reflective potentiality, the forces of which lie outside in the too big and too small... with the other, often a Lacanian big Other, that imaginary-symbolic that stands as a superego, as another person that reflect or acknowledges our existence, the thing that enables this to be, we are always in the middle, it is already social to be individual, it is nonsense to be able to be made into sense, even the selected and approved (by the majority, numerical minority of power, with their scholarly henchmen) common sense.

For those interested in that line of though, I encourage a reading of the works of Lewis Carroll, as well as Deleuze's Logique du sens, trans. Logic of Sense. Ideology is itself promoted as the basis, mystifying the material reality and subjugating all peoples to its form of life. And as a form of life, Capitalism, the big 'C,' is supposed to be a rational system, where rational and knowledgeable actors or agents--called individuals--are free to peruse and pursue their understanding of happiness through the medium of the market and its invisible hand, that acts as a God or a super organism with a life of its own, the "market" is what Marxists call reified. Yet Marx reminds us that this superstructure is produced. Let us take a look at the general ideology of how "its" supposed to function, the so-called common sense view.

The rule and guide to capitalism is money, its investment and accumulation. It supposed to continually refine itself, this is what we call being economical. That is being economical is removing waste, cutting the fat from the process of production, running on the least to get the most. This is a fairly common problem that anyone can identify with. It manifested itself continually. For instance, this last or most recent depression, here in the United (but divided) States of America, as an effect of the housing bubble (a gult in the market created by imperfect knowledge, the oft reality of capitalism) and other failures of consumer based economies, companies and corporations fired large portions of their labor force, in a supposed effort to remain viable. In doing so they learned that they could do the same job, as well as increase productivity with fewer then before.

This means that there is no incentive, in these instances, to rehire those that were fired to save money. And yet, this increase the normal rate of unemployment, which used to be around 3% to 5% , and now seems to hold steady at 5% to 8%, as the normal rate. For those that do not know what the normal rate of unemployment is, it is the given percentage of the working population in the country expected to be out of work at any given time. This is the normal function of capitalism, as it allows for wage adjustment, as well as the flow of worker from one sector to another. Indeed its this very flow of people that industrialism called for, breaking the bonds of the family, redefining the family as a "nuclear" unit, of 3.5 people, and 1.5 cars.

One solution to unemployment, is the so-called innovated aspect of American exceptionalism, such that we can create, out of thin air products and services to employ people in new and ever emerging fields. But let us go back and look at what capitalism or rather industrial technology as done to people, by looking at the family of the not to distant European/American past.

"Welcome, this is a farmhouse, we have cluster flies, alas, and this time of year is bad": the way it was said to be and the way it is and could be, critique continued (Phish, "Farmhouse", Farmhouse, 1997)

by Danilo Rizzuti

Large families, which were necessary to run a farm, where no longer needed, as people sent their sons and daughters out into the world to find jobs in the automotive factories up north. These movements of the people are well-documented (see labor history in general) and the source and focus of numerous peoples' works, in particular, Ben Agger and his journal, Fast Capitalism, which takes up the promise of capitalism, that is technology's promise, as well as its possibilities lying in wait for action in--all points along the way. Agger and like minded others, such as Genesis P-Orridge and thee One True TOPI Tribe, Rainbow gatherings, and a slew of what are called intentional communities are seeking ways of moving beyond the deleterious aspects of "capitalism" and using these networks that have been formed for our individual and collective societal needs (food, shelter, love, sewer systems, water works, etc). By taking back what has become neo-liberal-conservative capitalist systems of the State-Corporate-Military machine. A State constituted via apparatuses, and other instrumental organizations, are often para-governmental, such as the IRS and the FCC, to keep seemingly stable, an ever changing system ("we could have come so very far in at least as many years").

Basically, its like playing a game of Monopoly which a few winning players will not let end. They keep the game going, giving you loans, mortgaging your houses, while staying in the lead and largely in-control via networks of duopolies and other corporate conglomerations, reified entities which have the legal rights of a human being. It is here and now that one can say, again, that it's becoming harder for the average person to ignore the fact that we are being apparently forced (via holidays, and threats of doom and gloom economics) into consuming and producing at a rate that we cannot sustain, if we want to continue to survive as a species. And I believe that this is where Phish's message/concept of the ultimate product can be seen as an artistic realization of the aforementioned problematic of production and consumption.

Environmental damage is regulated, often to the poor. It is not by accident that a cartoon like the Oblongs, who live downhill near a chemical spill, enjoys a popularity among Adult Swim fans, because it speaks a well-known, often laughed about truth of social class (based on wealth and heredity) and physical location. The housing for the poor is built on land with less value. This is too the logic of capitalism. The best land should go to those that are able to develop and maintain it, whatever that may mean; it always means make money for the land investor. So, land of lesser value, land near factories, known places of environmental pollution/contamination, are also places where the poor and poorest, those excluded from mainstream markets, are forced to live or gather. This is as true in New York City, USA as it is in Johannesburg (and surround areas) in Africa.

Phish's apparent understanding of technology and the possibilities it offers, allowed their fans to download, for free and on-site, virtually* all the set performed at the Super Ball IX event, as well as giving them free audio and video of previously unreleased material, at a tent they had set up. In this air-conditioned tent, people where also provided with Mac laptops set up with sound software, thereby allowing people to make their own music, and thereby introducing many to what was once only possible via a recording studio and a record contract with a music company.

While Major Labels are not yet a thing of the past, and may not be for a long while beyond our lifetimes, independently produced music is here to stay and is constantly changing the landscape of music. It is this very technology that gives the working class tools that can be used for numerous ends, depending on who is in control. Currently there are a number of GNU programs for OS systems such as Linux and Microsoft available to users, one only need search them out. The means of production, are they coming back to the producers? At least we are allowed to buy back some of the means of production produced by stolen labor time, because, if you think about it, who ever heard of free time?

One thing we learn is there are no free lunches, or are there? We can dream, and not only at the Phish show, where the dream of another way was quite incomplete. Vending was regulated and the prices fairly high, but what one would expect at a concert. While water was provided, which I think is now a law, food was not, and in that sense, we have a lot further to go with our dreams of a social society that knows how to take care of itself, as well as each other. But Phish perhaps is on a groove and sent dreams out in sparks for others to blossom.

*As far as I know to date, the "Storage Jam" and the entire after-hours jam was not made available at the recording tent. Hopefully, it will be made available with the links that are to be provided by Phish to ticketholders who provided their emails at the recording tent. The promised links are of both the audio and video of the entire Superball IX event, and we hope they will include the "Storage Jam." We should know in a couple of days. 

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized. (Or sign up to be notified of its release on

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I am a subscriber and I always enjoy the feed updates! Thanks, Dave



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