Marnie Stern @ GoodGod, Sydney 06.10.11
By Tom Randall and Victoria Birch
Tom: How did you enjoy Marnie?
Victoria: I’m doing a little self-congratulatory jig for hauling myself out on a wet Wednesday. She was totally worth it.
Tom: Totally! I arrived late (how late, I have no idea; I was working and bloody GoodGod didn’t post set times), feeling like arse and wound up having to go home after 35 minutes with pretty bad stomach cramps. So I feel guilty about proffering an opinion as I wasn’t really in the mood to have a good time. Every one of those blastbeats was bowel-disrupting. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself.
I was probably more of an admirer of Marnie, rather than a fan, before the gig, I suppose.
Victoria: I know. All that synapse melting noise and intricacy. I often felt it was technically impressive but emotionally indecipherable. Mostly I’d sit slack-jawed feeling a bit intimidated. I knew there was more than a smear of melody twinkling beneath the busyness of those tapped notes. I knew there was potent, primal energy. I knew there was something for me, but I struggled to connect with it.
Tom: It’s certainly not music best suited for my delicate constitution that night. It’s a massive Cthulhu-esque beast of multi-dimensional terror; it’s analytical cubism in song, every possible plane and surface represented simultaneously. It’s percussive pointillism; a skylight breaking into a thousand shards overhead, all the arrows of the Persian army converging on you as their arc blocks out the sun.
Victoria: Yes! Definitely!
(What the fuck is ‘pointillism’? And a ‘Cthulhu-esque’ beast? Message to me: know more things. I think I get what he means, just by the way his words are coming at me. Bang! Bang! Bang! Excitable expressions leaping off his tongue like freshly popped corn. Should I ask? No, no sod it. I’ll just keep nodding. Maybe I can concoct something worth saying at the same time. Nod, listen, think………………………………………………………….. *nothing happening*……………….….maybe I’ll just stick to the nod.
This conversation is making me feel bad. How Marnie used to make me feel – stupid. I’m not sure it was her fault. It might be the downside to genres; a pigeonhole yapping preconceptions at you before you’ve even started. I’d possibly seen too many references to math rock to be totally OK with her. I can barely master long-division. How the hell was I supposed to gel with something that complicated? Was I supposed to be figuring out the patterns, the time signatures. Should they make sense? Was it made from logarithms? Algorithms? Biorhythms? Did someone somewhere want me turn in an answer sheet? Math Rock makes me queasy. Not because I don’t like it but because I don’t think it could possibly like me.)
Tom: Jesus, this conversation is making me feel like an asshole. Why am I being so effusive and it’s coming out sounding like a backhanded compliment? What if … what if I had always resisted Marnie because my brain had classified her as shouty girl music? Is this white male guilt? AAARGH!!!
Seeing her live I was touched by the spirit. I’m a believer.
(That’s it. Pull yourself together. Remember how exhilarating it felt. Remember how playful she seemed. How much poise she showed, perversely, amid the barrage. She was true.)
Victoria: Oh me too, me too! In the flesh, Marnie standing only five or six hand-spans away, I was close to everything. That towering edifice of difficulty wasn’t on some distant intellectual plain beyond reach. I kept up. I got it. It was human. When Marnie scrabbled for the tip of ‘Transformer’ she was never ever going to get that note. It hung there waiting to be snatched. She leapt and fought for it, everything straining and rasping. She didn’t make it but it was all about the fight. That’s not complex, that’s life. Right there. That fight, I get that for sure.
Tom: Yeah, and that’s why those assholes who leave hateful comments on Youtube are missing the point. She’s not a shredder. It’s not perfect technique and a codpiece polished to within an inch of its life. On record it all sounded like a nice little experiment: how many batshit ideas can be juxtaposed, sweetly and safely encapsulated. Marnie’s goggle-eyed ambition had always been obvious, but had felt as though it were drip-fed to the ear. But the physicality of actually performing those songs was made patent to me. Maybe it’s just how the two-handed tapping thing looks, but, to mangle something I once saw attributed to Sun Ra, everybody up there was playing the drums, no matter what instrument they were holding. And it swung a lot more than I was expecting.
The next day, I went back to those two albums of hers I own that I bought and haven’t really listened to. I sat in my office and finally got it, internalised it.
Victoria: I sat in my car and let ‘Vibrational Match’ and ‘Nothing Left’ rattle the shit out of tinny doors and rusty wing mirrors. I wanted to re-visit them with the answers Marnie had given me the night before. There is nothing to fear here. Just as I always suspected, there is everything for me … and you.