Where have all the philosophers gone?
They’re still out there, of course. Intelligence – though seemingly in widespread recession – isn’t extinct: it’s simply multiplied. Gentrified. Found a change of address. Shirked a certain requisite hierarchy and caste. They aren’t called ’Socrates’ and ‘Aristotle’ anymore – demarcated from the modern person by names we’d find unreconcilable with our contemporary standards. They are me. They are you.
But our collective paradigmatic palate hasn’t yet caught up with this. While mankind has found equilibrium in the sense that increasingly-affordable technology has given everyone a voice, the resultant obnubilation finds us all without one. Even in a climate where we unprecedentedly witness the limits of an ever-impotent media’s posterity against the will of misanthropic agenda, we still so desperately invest thoughtless faith in the linear accuracy of how bygone centuries were made to read. It was better when there were only a handful of intellectuals in the world, when only a smattering of the aristocracy had any thoughts worth capturing. And even for those of us who appreciate the dangerous folly of that prior sentence, the convenience of pretending that history preserves everything worthy is an attractive thought: for the comfort that comes with thoroughness, yes, but more for perpetuating the romantic lie of a concept or object being unique – a falsity which often speaks more to the myopic consensus of an observing public – for the sake of how it empowers the onlooker to allow themselves the belief that they are in the presence of a true landmark.
After all, when every view is a vista, even mountains become dull.
One of the highest compliments I can pay to Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Jason Wietlispach (there are many) is how his work feels like something we’d still become aware of in the times before anyone with a steady job could put together a recording chain of respectable fidelity. At least, one would wish to believe this, as 2018’s Oak Creek Recordings is so good that it’s upsetting to consider a reality in which it were not present.
Across seven tracks, Wietlispach and a coterie of friends explore a cogent yet disparatearray of modernist approaches that draw from Canterbury music, Rock In Opposition, symphonic prog, contemporary classical, neo-noir jazz, and minimalism, and while this amalgam of typically heady idioms may bear implications of forebodingness or austerity that might intimidate some listeners from following through, the end result is still very human: where a band like Henry Cow pursued a type of collective playing that fostered a mechanical near-telepathy, the performances on Oak Creek Recordings positively breathe – never do its participants feel like mere cogs turning to satisfy some binarial end, but organs throbbing in tandem to keep something larger than our conscious understanding in play.
That this outcome is so resplendent with life and yet superficially overcast seems no accident. At the least, if its pervasive greyness is not deliberate, it feels at least understood by its father: it is rare that the artwork that accompanies a recording is so emblematic of the work itself that it feels more like an additional aspect of the music than an auxiliary component, but there is something about both the monochromatism of Wietlispach’s photography and the tidiness of its ensuing polyptych – simultaneously collagist and hermetic – that reflects both Oak Creek Recordings’ stoicism and tendency towards motion; not any faraway expedition, but a series of observations that feverishly mine an implacable abyss that lives in front of the artist’s eyeswhile also seeming to originate from within him. When we look at these images, we see a structure further stripped of what little colour it offered, and in deconstructing that bleakness – both by desaturation and documentation – we inch further towards an objective understanding of selective angles. By controlling the hue and perspective, Wietlispach tells us what he believes is important; given this, it comes as little surprise that he mixed these pieces as well.
And so, all of Oak Creek Recordings’ diverse instrumentation, revolving personnel, and variant methods of composition still broadcasting as the voice of one creator is a testament to Wietlispach’s command of colour, blending more than a little bit of himself into each canvas as if some perverted Rembrandt, resulting in a compelling exhibit that feels all at once like a vivid blur of people we once knew and places we’ve never seen. More important than any sentiments one could contextually deduce or otherwise conclude from its totality, it is an excellent album, and one that would satisfy a much larger audience of adventurous listeners than it will decidedly ever belong to.
(200 copies of Oak Creek Recordings were manufactured. 100 were distributed to acquaintances of the artist. The remaining 100 – each framed and featuring individually-painted cover inserts by Mr. Wietlispach – will be exhibited on Saturday, March 10th at Acme Records in Milwaukee, WI, after which most of them will be available for purchase)