Author Archives: Carl Zimring

About Carl Zimring

I study junk and talk trash. Author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage.

The Best Music of 2018

 

My favorite records of 2018 reflect several musical approaches to living in troubled times. Click on each album title to hear selections from each record and instructions to support the musicians by purchasing their work. This list is limited to ten, but I encourage readers to seek out additional worthy recordings from the past year by The Ex, Thalia Zedek, John Prine, and Barbara Manning.

TFS_Laughing_Death_cover
Some of the most cogent popular culture critiques of this year come from Australia. Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette takes the form of standup comedy to produce a searing critique of the misogyny at root in Western art, politics, and society (including comedy and the comedian). Tropical Fuck Storm (featuring Gareth and Fiona of the Drones) examine the corrosive effects of online discourse in late capitalism on A Laughing Death in Meatspace. My description gets at the lyrical content, but does not capture the tone or the music – this is bleak but also playful, brimming with energy, wordplay, tangled guitar lines, and male-female call-and-response vocals that owe a debt to Fela Kuti. At its best (like the album closer “Rubber Bullies”), this is bracing, witty, immediate, pulsating music, stuff that makes the listener hunger for what TFS will do next.

What this review is missing is adequate description of just how funny TFS are. I could quote the lyrics of “Soft Power” about “either going to Mars or war” or that song’s goofy coda referencing The Wizard of Oz and Happy Days, but instead I direct readers to watch the videos for “The Future of History,” “You Let My Tyres Down,” and “Chameleon Paint.” It’s an imperfect comparison, as the Drones released a lot of impressive music, but A Laughing Death in Meatspace feels like the advance for Gareth Liddiard’s music that the albums Post and Gossip represented in Paul Kelly’s career.

Though they are not on this album, I cannot discuss my favorite records of the year without mention of TFS’s stellar covers of “Stayin’ Alive,” “Back to the Wall,” and especially their brilliant take on Lost Animal’s “Lose the Baby,” which sounded equally terrific on their fall 2018 tour of the states. I hope to hear more from this band in 2019.

Mint Mile, Heartroller (Comedy Minus One)

Mint_Mile_Heartroller
Mint Mile began as Tim Midyett’s post-Bottomless Pit solo project and have evolved into an honest-to-goodness band with some echoes of the Byrds and early-Sausolito Van Morrison. (Think especially of the feel and structure of Saint Dominic’s Preview, only without horns.) The interplay between baritone 12-string guitar and pedal steel guitar hits a sweet spot for me, and every one of the four songs here rank with Midyett’s best work. The closer “Disappearing Music” is as close to ABBA as Midyett’s ever gone, a cheerful roller disco anthem of life’s impermanence that I’d be happy to have my survivors play at my funeral. (Or not; I mean, I won’t be there to know one way or the other.) Heartroller is the third and best EP Mint Mile has released, and this is a terrific introduction for newcomers.

Charnel Ground, Charnel Ground (12XU)

Charnel_Ground_cover
My favorite instrumental record of the year features Chris Brokaw leading the rhythm section of Kid Millions and James McNew through five guitar workouts. That description could raise warning signals of noodling to those unfamiliar with Brokaw’s strong sense of structure, but from the shortest (“Play La Ticla,” a playful number under two minutes) to the longest (the hypnotic 18-minute title track), each piece is grounded in a strong sense of rhythm and rewards repeated listening.

Alejandro Escovedo, The Crossing (Yep Roc)

Escovedo_The_CrossingEscovedo’s written on the immigrant experience of America before, not least on his wonderful By the Hand of the Father, but this album presents a new dimension of Americana with the tale of two friends — one from Italy, one from Mexico — and their experiences in Texas. Escovedo’s use of strings is one of the distinctive aspects of his sound, whiich will be familiar to fans of his work since the early 90s. Wayne Kramer’s presence on “Sonica USA” gives an idea of what the louder rock songs sound like, and their ferocity supports lyrics that are disgusted with how the white supremacist blood lust that dominates American political culture in 2018 has horrific consequences for vulnerable peoples as well as for the good people who actually are trying to help vulnerable peoples. The Crossing is an elegant expression of how diasporic movement of peoples is at the heart of American culture, no matter how much the modern Republican Party has reconstituted itself as a fundamentally racist movement attempted to restore an imaginary golden era of white supremacy like the Ku Klux Klan’s postbellum revolt against Emancipation. Escovedo’s music has always served as a cultural response against such revanchism and a better America would have 62 million people listening to him and no more than a few thousand thugs supporting Donald Trump, Cindy Hyde-Smith, and the rest of the Confederacy.

Light Coma, CONCORD (self-released)

Light_Coma_CONCORD
CONCORD does not sound like a band that had not put out a record in seven years. Actually, that span of time is not quite accurate, as Brian Orchard’s trio played Crazy Horse to Andy Cohen’s Neil Young on last year’s Unreality. The Crazy Horse comparison is apt, as like that band, Light Coma has a terrific feel for raw rock songs. This band has a tighter rhythm section than the Horse, and fans of Orchard’s previous bands .22 and Bottomless Pit will find CONCORD to be another stellar, no-nonsense collection of the kind of music that makes me miss living in Chicago.

FACS, Negative Houses (Trouble in Mind)

FACS_Negative_Houses.jpgTwenty years after Hurl decided to end the reign of the greatest math-rock band to call Pittsburgh home (yes, I said it), drummer Noah Leger has become the backbone of some of the best rock bands in Chicago. In recent years, he has played in Disappears with Brian Case, and now those two form 2/3rds of FACS, producing spare, heavy atmospheric rock that fits well in a set with the moodiest tracks from Tar and Bailter Space. Readers may take that description as confirmation that Negative Houses is mostly thick guitar, rumbling bass, and drums, but the epic “Houses Breathing” adds saxophone to the textures to great effect.

Sarah Davachi, Gave in Rest (Ba Da Bing)

Davachi_Gave_in_RestIf you want to use one word to describe Canadian composter Davachi’s music, “minimalist” gets you in the ballpark. This album, recorded in part with members of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mount Zion, and in part solo, draws on European Christian influences (both religious music and the acoustics of churches), and a mix of acoustic instruments, synthesizers, and room ambience. Gave in Rest sounds like something that wouldn’t sound out of place as a 4AD release c. 1986, and is perfect accompaniment to grey rainy mornings as the winter solstice approaches.

 

YLT_RiotJames McNew’s second appearance on this list in records produced by a trio comes with this album marking Yo La Tengo’s 34th year as a band. The title does not reflect the gentle textures within; Ira Kaplan’s guitar work leans more to his mining of the Velvet Underground’s post-John Cale melodies rather than the sheets of feedback that mark his more aggressive work. The music marks a return of sorts to some of the quieter, gently electronic sounds the band explored at the turn of the century. The lyrics reflect attempts to be good to one another amid troubled times, and that’s what I understand is the context for the title of this album.

Threadgill_Dirt
Henry Threadgill’s approach to bandleading has always appealed to me, as he strikes the balance between being a distinctive leader and organizer with a coherent compositional identity with being a collaborator allowing space for his bandmates to shape their work together. This is true of his work in small groups such as Air, larger ensembles such as Very Very Circus, or now this 15-piece band 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg. Not many composers use tuba and cello together, but both instruments are staples of Threadgill’s work. The sweep of this large band’s sound makes it a rich new chapter in Threadgill’s long career, and brings to mind the dedication and engagement Duke Ellington gave very late in life to his And His Mother Called Him Bill project.

SAVAK, Beg Your Pardon (Ernest Jenning Recording Company)

SAVAK_Beg_Your_Pardon
Two years ago, I called SAVAK  a virtuosic and adaptable rock band from Brooklyn whose debut record Best of Luck in Future Endeavors ought to appeal to anyone who knows what the names Graham Maby or Greg Sage represent. That description holds true for their most recent release Beg Your Pardon. SAVAK continues to produce muscular, melodic rock with a good dose of horns. I wouldn’t call Beg Your Pardon power pop, exactly, but if you are looking to surprise a Cheap Trick or Lookout! fan with a record that mixes hooks and noise, you could take a reasonable change of introducing them to SAVAK with this record.

Check the links to hear what all this music sounds like, as well as for information on purchasing these fine records and compensating their creators. I thank all the musicians for the part they have played in making 2018 a little better.
Advertisements

Night One

Pittsburgh_strongAs Hanukkah begins, thoughts turn to our friends in Pittsburgh assaulted by a white supremacist in October. Jake Leger suggested the following places to donate, and I cannot think of a better way to commemorate this festival of resilience.

“I’ve been asked about donation sites, and upon family request I would like anyone interested to donate to https://www.jfcspgh.org/. There is also a large gofundme for Tree of Life as well that’s at the top of their page. Thank you so much to the outpouring of messages and I apologize if I can’t respond.
Love, Jake”

GoFundMe Link: https://www.gofundme.com/tree-of-life-synagogue-shooting

Jewish Family and Community Services Pittsburgh donation page link: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/jfcspgh/mobile

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו, מלך העולם, שהחינו וקימנו והגענו לזמן הזה

Pittsburgh / Deep of the Morning

More, later, to be said on the atrocity in Squirrel Hill. For now, thoughts go to our friends affected, as bits of a song by our much-missed friend Karl Hendricks ring in my ears.

Pittsburgh
Deep of the morning
Gunshots in the alley
My heart in my mouth
Everyone’s still in their bed, still sleeping
Their breaths like moonbeams
Breathe in, breathe out
Breathe in, breathe out
Breathe in, breathe out

‘Cause everyday’s another stupid miracle
An intolerable surprise
Feels like I’m always finding out
I’m alive

– Karl Hendricks

“A grammar built with rocks” exhibit in Los Angeles Oct 13-Dec 22, 2018.

A_grammar_built_with_rocks“A grammar built with rocks” is an exhibit by Marwa Arsanios, Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, Shannon Ebner, and Park McArthur that includes text from my book Clean and White. It opens in Los Angeles October 13.

A grammar built with rocks presents artistic practices that trace the racialized and gendered relationship between bodies and land, and question narratives of socioecological crisis that contribute to the displacement and erasure of people and collective formations. Through a two-part group exhibition, public programing, and publication, the project aims to think with the land—materially and relationally—in order to unpack and historicize notions of waste and contamination as they relate to the politics of access, property, and the violence of land allotment. Together, the featured works explore how the materiality of land permeates our identities and representational structures, and simultaneously molds the body.

The project appropriates its title from Édouard Glissant’s writings, as it looks to the ways in which the landscape contains, unfolds, and narrates its own history. It searches for traceable fissures within contested sites, as an aftermath of violence and altering states of upheaval. The exhibition at Human Resources considers the material, psychic, and social relations that constitute place as asite of knowledge production, and the “below”(below-ground, below-surface) as emblematic of both resistance and retreat. Together, the works and programs expose the violence inherent in geographic processes (of territorialization, privatization, and urban renewal) and offer artistic methodologies (of documentation, performance, and embodied archival practices) that surface buried histories and reorient perspectives to understand land as a bearer of relationships, resilience, and memory. The exhibition at ONE Archives at the USC Libraries extends this inquiry to center on the interrelation between the body and place, exploring how discourses of value and waste (through motifs of the toxic, the disposable, the contaminant) influence individual and collective spatial agency within the landscape, the institution,the state).

A grammar built with rocks began with research into the 1950s history of the Chavez Ravine evictions, and expanded with the following questions: How does unearthing soil, sediments, remnants, and buried life-forms open up space for concealed voices and histories, and reveal interconnected systems of power and violence on people and place? What does thinking geography relationally rather than territorially look like? How do meta-narratives of development, modernization, and crisis contribute to practices of dispossession?

The opening reception is Saturday, October 13 from 5-8pm in the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries (909 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90007). For more information, including the publication containing my text, see the exhibit website.

The Art of Sustainability Symposium in Philadelphia October 6

MuralArtsImageThe Mural Arts Institute and the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University are hosting an Oct. 6 symposium on public art and sustainability featuring artists, architects, and me. Details, including tickets here:

Our speakers bring a variety of perspectives and experiences to the intersection of artistic practice and the environment. The line-up includes artist Stacy Levy, curator & scholar Patti Phillips; architect Mateo Fernández; Mural Arts Restored Spaces initiative founder Shari Hersh; the collective Basurama; community organizer Sulay Sosa; Wholistic.art; writer & scholar Carl Zimring; Bartram’s Garden Executive Director Maitreyi Roy; The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education Executive Director Mike Weilbacher; and policy expert Stephanie Gidigbi. Sessions will range from conversation to lecture format to interactive engagement and will cover a wide range of topics.

My contribution will be a lecture about the visual culture of environmental racism. I am looking forward to the entire program.

The Discard Studies Blog Is Back! (And Could Use Our Support.)

SimsMRF_conveyor

New York City’s curbside recycling collections being sorted at the Sims facility in Sunset Park.

September brings with it the resumption of posts on the remarkably generative Discard Studies blog edited by Professors Max Liboiron and Josh Lepawsky and graduate student Alex Zahara of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Over the last several years, the authors of the blog have generated some of the best critical thinking across disciplines assessing the power relations, systems, culture, and economics of how and why modern societies discard. What Is Discard Studies?

We tend to think that we are familiar with waste because we deal with it every day. Yet,  most aspects of waste are entirely hidden from common view and understanding, including the wider social, economic, political, cultural, and material systems that shape waste and wasting. Unlike studies that take waste and trash as their primary objects of study, discard studies looks at wider systems that make waste and wasting they ways they are. For instance, rather than asking how much people recycle and why they don’t recycle more, discard studies asks why recycling is considered good in the first place (MacBride 2011, Liboiron 2009, Ackerman 1997).

The field of discard studies is  united by a critical framework that questions premises of what seems normal or given, and analyzes the wider role of society and culture, including social norms, economic systems, forms of labor, ideology, infrastructure, and power in definitions of, attitudes toward, behaviors around, and materialities of waste, broadly defined. As its starting point, discard studies holds that waste is not produced by individuals and is not automatically disgusting, harmful, or morally offensive, but that both the materials of discards and their meanings are part of wider sociocultural-economic systems. Our task is to interrogate these systems for how waste comes to be, and our work is often to offer critical alternatives to popular and normative notions of waste.

Discard Studies is designed as an online hub for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others who are asking questions about waste, not just as an ecological problem, but as a process, category, mentality, judgment, an infrastructural and economic challenge, and as a site for producing power as well as struggles against power structures. We produce and host: monthly research-based articles on discard studies; compile a monthly report on recent articles, jobs, and calls for participation relevant to discard studies called “The Dirt”; and maintain a repository of definitionsbibliographies, and syllabi as resources.

The kind of reader who would wander onto my blog would certainly get a lot out of reading Discard Studies, and I recommend it for anyone interested in STS, environmental studies, urban studies, material culture, critical waste studies, political economy, ethnography, or environmental history. (A few of us environmental historians, including Martin Melosi, Steve Corey, Ruth Rand, Peter Thorsheim, and I, have structured sessions at ASEH to advance the approach Max, Josh, Alex, blog founder Robin Nagle, and their colleagues have championed on this site.)

The blog is back, and it has costs to meet, including paying for the server, compensating the collaborating editor who is a graduate student, and (if enough of us donate) allowing the writers of each piece to be compensated for their labors. If this strikes you as a valuable endeavor, consider supporting Discard Studies on Patreon.

Sustainability Studies at Pratt: Fall 2018 Course Availability

Pratt_Willoughby_Main_GateMonday begins the new academic year at Pratt Institute, and a new schedule of courses. The spring ended with an all-time-high of sixty students registered in the minor, and we have an array of exciting courses this fall. Most sections are full, but seats are still available in a few. The following is a list of sections with available seats as of Friday afternoon, August 24.

SS201T The Sustainable Core. Our introductory course, featuring a variety of speakers giving students insight into the ways different disciplines approach sustainability on campus. This course satisfies the General Education Menu T (Ways of Thinking, Knowing, Doing) requirement. As of August 24, the Thursday morning section has ten seats available.

SSWI222G Making/Faking Nature. This course explores a wide range of philosophical conceptions of nature and examines how these theories have influenced the way we treat our environment, animals, and each other. We will consider, among other things, whether nature is dead, if there was ever such a thing as wilderness, whether we can restore or improve nature, and if so, who should have the power and authority to do so. Readings are selected from a variety of fields in the social sciences and cultural studies. As of August 24, the Friday morning section has one seat available.

MSCI 270 Ecology. This course provides a background in the fundamental principles of ecological science, including concepts of natural selection, population and community ecology, biodiversity, and sustainability. Students will acquire an “ecological literacy” about how the natural world works, and develop an understanding of how scientific methods are used to construct ecological knowledge. This course is required of all Sustainability Studies minors. As of August 24, the Wednesday morning section has six seats available, and the Wednesday afternoon section has six seats available.

MSWI 270C Ecology, Environment, and Anthropocene. Like any other organism, humans rely on their environment-most prominently the living part of that environment-in order to survive. But unlike any other species, humans have the ability to re-shape the diverse environments they inhabit in profound, fundamental, and potentially destructive ways. This course explores how living ecosystems function and how that functioning provides the resources required by both individual humans and the societies we form. This course may be used to fulfill the MSCI 270  requirement for Sustainability Studies minors and also satisfies the General Education writing intensive requirement. As of August 24, the Monday morning section has two seats available, and the Monday early afternoon section has one seat available.

MSCI 381 Green Building Science. This course will equip students with the basic technical knowledge they will need to assess the true sustainability of design and construction options in building design. Drawing on physics, engineering, chemistry, and environmental studies, students will learn how to understand the performance of a building from the perspectives of water use and waste disposal, heat flow and energy consumption, air flow and the indoor environment, fenestration and lighting requirements. By the conclusion of the course, students will have a clear understanding of how to advance in the field of sustainable building, including familiarity with carbon footprints, the US Green Building Council’s LEED program, and the Passive House standard. As of August 24, the Wednesday evening section has eight seats available.

IND 487 Sustainability and Production. This course explores issues of sustainability and social responsibility in product design with an emphasis on materials and supply chain flows. The importance of the designer’s role in understanding the environmental and social consequences of creating and producing products will be emphasized. Intended for the advanced undergraduate, studies on the impacts of production and consumption will be covered through readings, class discussions, and lecture materials. Students will be introduced to tools to assess the environmental impacts of products and services to create baseline models; their findings will be used to develop alternative concepts that reduce environmental impacts of products. As of August 24, the Wednesday afternoon section has fourteen seats available.

INT 481 Interior Option Lab: Environmental Quality. The Interior Options Lab provides the opportunity for hands on exploration in selected areas of interest. Projects will explore detail areas of Interior Design rather that full interior Environments. As of August 24, the Monday afternoon section has ten seats available. 

SUST 430 Planet Ocean. Ocean acidification. Exterminated fish. Bleached corals. This course travels to the planet’s last frontier-the ocean-to understand the root causes of its deterioration and to connect to its force and splendor. Students explore islands and waves, empires and economies, nightmares and fantasies among sailors, surfers, scientists and slaves. Our goal is to make visible the hidden but consequential practices unfolding at sea so that we think the “planet” beyond land-based perspectives. As of August 24, the Tuesday morning section has one seat available, and the Tuesday afternoon section has one seat available.

SUST 440 Environmental Economics. This course examines theories and methods of economics relevant for understanding the environment. It combines theoretical analyses and economic history to understand the social forces relevant to sustainability and climate change with discussions on specific environmental policies related to pollution, energy, climate change, and health issues. Specific topics addressed include externalities, property rights, economies of scale, competition and concentration, distribution, growth and development, and demographic shifts. Alternative policies will be addressed including regulation, cost-benefit analysis, population controls, fines and criminal penalties, the carbon tax, cap-and trade, green technologies, campaigns to change consumer behavior, and anti-poverty programs. As of August 24, the Monday morning section has four seats available.

SUST 445 Sustainable Technology. This course considers the microeconomics and macroeconomics of technological change and what determines which technologies become widely adopted. Specific sectors which will be examined include transportation, energy production, construction, and food production. Energy-saving and resource-saving technologies in other sectors will also be considered. The role of the public sector-both on a national and international level-will be addressed. As of August 24, the Monday afternoon section has six seats available.

Seat availability is likely to change quickly, so be sure to confirm registration if any of these classes particularly appeal to you.