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Ben Watson (1956 - )

Related: Esther Leslie - academic - UK

Academy Zappa : Proceedings of the First International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology (2005) - Ben Watson, Esther Leslie [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Who better to talk about Zappa than Wire contributor and Zappa connaisseur Ben Watson? tekst: Rick Evans

Ben Watson First, some questions about you personally. We know you were born in 1956, are British, and were educated at Cambridge. What was your degree in? What were your musical interests as a youth? Besides your books, what are the primary journals you publish in? "At Cambridge University I studied history for two years, but changed to English Literature in my last year. I had been illicitly attending lectures by JH Prynne, and once I had seen some of his poetry, I wanted to be taught by him.

I had been reading Finnegans Wake by James Joyce since the age of fourteen, and this was the first time I had seen anything that was still more bizarre and unworldly! I grew up in West London, Kew Gardens, near Richmond. My older brothers were into "R&B" - which in the 1960s in England meant Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies and the Rolling Stones, plus American urban blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. I also listened to classical music on record - Beethoven symphonies and quartets and Vivaldi and Wagner. I liked pop music as a kid. I used a small reel-to-reel Sony my father had brought back from Japan to tape songs I liked off Top Of The Pops on TV - The Move, Beatles, Kinks, New Vaudeville Band, Mannfred Man, Esther and Abi Ofarim. I studied violin, piano and oboe, but I was useless. I listened to We're Only In It For The Money because my older brother had a copy, but at age 12 ... It was like reading my brother's copies of Oz and Suck and Frendz and International Times - a vague aura of illicit sleaze excitement, but it didn't get under my skin. --http://www.kindamuzik.net/article.shtml?id=492 [Oct 2006]


Critical Theory goes Zappa on the web site of British philosopher Esther Leslie and her colleague Ben Watson. It is funny and serious at the same time. If this disturbs you, remember that's exactly their objective. And really, it's worth a try, if only because of Leslie's papers on Walter Benjamin and Leslie's and Watson's observations on punk in Wolverhampton. --http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/, by way of soundscapes, 2003, Oct 18; 09:23

Ben Watson on Theodor Adorno

Postmodernism is a highly elastic term, rapidly becoming useless as a means of defining where people stand. For example, there is currently an essay available on the internet, Kevin McNeilly's 'Ugly Beauty: John Zorn & the Politics of Postmodern Music', which argues a case for John Zorn as a 'postmodernist composer'. The writer backs up his case by quoting Adorno on Mahler. Yet Adorno is usually quoted as the theorist of 'high modernism', the postmodernist's enemy numero uno. However, as a term for an intellectual fashion sweeping British academia, a post-1989 turn from illusions in Stalinist politics to enthusiasm for the market, 'postmodernism' has its uses.

Adorno has been characterised in postmodernist cultural studies as modernist, elitist and grumpy, a party-pooper who won't join in the new pluralist funfair presented to us by the market. As usual, the popularity of this idea has roots in economic realities: intellectuals who have lost faith in Marxism, but think that listening to the Beatles instead of Beethoven constitutes some kind of rebellion, do not like to be reminded of the limits of their playpen. If Adorno is read closely, though, it becomes obvious that he is not a conservative at all. Many of his ideas anticipate those of radical movements like the Situationist International and Punk. I spend my time writing about jazz and new music for The Wire magazine, yet I find what Adorno has to say about music incredibly useful - despite his much quoted attacks on jazz. --(Ben Watson, 1995) via http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/adorno/twaprimer.htm [Aug 2005]

see also: Theodor Adorno - Modernism - postmodernism

On 9/11

After the devastation in Manhattan, what can radical music mean? Einstürzende Neubauten - whose name translates, prophetically, Collapsing New Buildings - earned their avant garde stripes in Britain by applying pneumatic drills to a stress-bearing beam at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. After 11 September, such transgressions surely pale into insignificance. Indeed, any comparison might seem offensive. Musically, telethon America responded to the tragedy by drawing on the sombre substratum of hymn-singing which unites country, soul and reggae. Music designed for church - unmediated, communal, local and introspective - inevitably sounded kitsch delivered by top-selling stars for international broadcast, but in such a context "audio terrorism" does appear distinctly silly. Should the noisy end of the avantgarde shut up, and confess its misdemeanours were all a ruse? -- Ben Watson in Music, Violence, Truth (2001) http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/polemix/violence.html [Feb 2004]

Academy Zappa (2005) - Ben Watson, Esther Leslie

Frank Zappa always did it differently, and here his fans do too. With delegates from Paris, Rome, Leipzig and Vauxhall, this parodic conference included papers called 'Arf': Canine Continuity in the Output Macrostructure" and "The Mental Hygiene Dilemma." Zen Buddhism, Frankfurt school Marxism, Philip K. Dick and the Zappologically Deranged are used to denounce Madonna, postmodernism, hippies and everything you hold dear. Priceless.

Ben Watson, music journalist and longstanding contributor to The Wire, Hi-Fi News and Signal To Noise, is well-known for his deviant and polemical music criticism and is an acknowledged expert on Frank Zappa.

Esther Leslie is a reader in humanities at Birkbeck College, University of London.

About the Author
Ben Watson, music journalist and longstanding contributor to The Wire, Hi-Fi News and Signal To Noise, is well known for his deviant and polemical music criticism. His books include Frank Zappa: the Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play; Art, Class & Cleavage; The Complete Guide To The Music of Frank Zappa; Shitkicks & Doughballs; and Derek Bailey & the Story of Free Improvisation.

see also: Ben Watson - Frank Zappa

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