Krojc / Fischerle – John, Betty and Stella

Posted: 13 November 2015 in Albums

Monotype Records – monoLP017

Christopher Nosnibor

The relationship between nostalgia and kitsch is a strange and complex one, although it would be a justified premise that there is an element of synonymy. Every generation is nostalgic for its own bygone age, the appreciation of the less appealing aspects of that age only developing later. Not for nothing are phrases like ‘so bad it’s good’ commonplace: people know something is little short of tat, and it was tat at the time, but the past offers a comfort – or, moreover, an evocation of comfort – absent from the present, in which the future – uncertain, scary – looms large. Safer to retreat to the past, even the detritus of the past – than confront the future, in which the only absolute certainties are ageing and death. There is, of course, another almost predetermined certainty in the future as we now see it: the older we get, the further out of touch we will become, and just as the children of the 80s and 90s spent their youth showing their parents how to use remote controls and computers, so their children will in turn show them how to operate the latest household technologies. The future, stretching out, is a picture of an ever-increasing disconnection the now. And so, the past offers comfort, and familiarity, or at least the illusion thereof.

In light of the way we’ve adapt to existing in the postmodern world, and in context of the immense weight of verbiage devoted to extrapolating the theory and evolution of our present state, culturally and socially, it may be banal to remark that modern technologies have made it possible for today’s younger generations to develop an appreciation of the eras that predate their own. Nevertheless, it’s an important part of the context for the nostalgia boom of the 21st century. Collectively, we love nostalgia, because it calls to mind different, safer, simpler times – even if this in itself is a misrepresentation, symptomatic of the way history becomes revised through misremembrance. But what happens when the accepted versions of history are torn free of the mores of familiarity? For a start, we see those nostalgic features afresh, with new eyes.

Here, Krojc and Fischerle take the type of public service broadcasts and information recordings which have become popular sources of plunder for samplists in recent years (Public Service Broadcasting have forged a career from repurposing such material) and render them in a fashion which is antithetical to the vogueish nostalgia we’ve become accustomed to.

John, Betty and Stella attacks the notion that the past offers comfort, and certainly does not confirm to the kitsch recycling of late postmodernism. Whereas Public Service Broadcasting present their works in a knowing, overtly tongue in cheek and irritatingly faux-artsy manner, selecting source material that evokes a quaintness ideal for repurposing as nostalgia – ready-made nostalgia, with the bonus of inbuilt kitsch – Krojc and Fischerle render less obvious source material all the more unsettling by placing it against a difficult musical backdrop.

Moreover, Krojc and Fischerle don’t lift the material, but engage with it, taking it as a starting point and developing it. All is not as it seems: John, Betty and Stella is, in fact, a radio drama based on vintage tapes for learning English. The dialogue, such as it is, originates from textoob role plays from old vinyl. As such, they reconfigure the material, manipulating it, reshaping it, brutalising it. Cut up, sliced, spliced and collaged against howling solar winds, blasts of static, grumbling industrial noise and bloopy analogue electro weirdness , the effect is immediately jarring, disturbing even.

John, Betty and Stella shares a lineage with William S. Burroughs’ cut-ups, not least of all his audio works from the late 1950s and early 1960s. While not nearly as extreme as the material which featured on, for example, the Nothing Here Now But the Recordings album, the way in which Burroughs strove to ‘free’ words from the constraints of linguistic pre-programming bears an obvious parallel to Krojc and Fischerle’s work here.

The segment on ‘Modern art’ in ‘Figure Behind You’ features throbbing synthesised pulsations and crackling glitchtronica, which provide a dissonant backdrop to a sequence of surreal exchanges, which in turn typify the contents of the album as a whole: “What is this this? A tree?” “No, a man.” “A Man? Where are his legs?” It’s bizarre, and also somewhat comedic, and it’s the fact John, Betty and Stella offers a range of moods that makes it such an engaging listen. Elsewhere, exchanges between the characters of John and Stella take on unsettling aspects: “Stella, wait. Where are you going?” ‘Don’t stop me, John. Let me go!” This tense-sounding exchange takes place eastern-influenced drones snake over distorted rhythms, half exotic, half ominous.

At its best, surrealism has always had the capacity to provoke a sense of the unheimlich, and just as Freud suggested that it was psychologically more difficult to process something familiar, but different, incongruous, than something overtly mysterious or different, so John, Betty and Stella sees Krojc and Fischerle forge a work which closely resembles accessible, mass-market friendly commercial nostalgia, but isn’t it. In fact, it isn’t quite like anything else – and that’s by far the duo’s greatest achievement.


Krojc / Fischerle – John, Betty and Stella Online

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