1    2   Endnotes

  1. It seems likely that Virgo took these pieces from separate recordings, thus further demonstrating his diligent intent to borrow from specific works rather than serendipitously finding these pieces on a single compact disc. In all probability, however, Virgo used the Simon Rattle recording of the Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern pieces (which all appear on the same CD), and the Riccardo Chailly recording of Berio’s Sinfonia. Both the Rattle and Chailly recordings are out of print and not easily obtained.

  2. The temporal placement of the samples within “Hello Cleveland!” suggests an intimate understanding of the individual works themselves, as well as the musical tradition of which they are a part. As the song progresses, the proliferation of samples creates a snowball effect, not unlike passages in T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland—a poem that presents readers with an accumulating field of quotations. The samples of Berio, Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern act as signifiers that, once exposed, offer layers of semantic counterpoint. For example, in the third movement of his Sinfonia Berio incorporates the fourth of Schoenberg’s Op. 16. While Berio blends Schoenberg’s Op. 16 and Debussy’s La Mer with a moment from Berg’s Wozzeck, Virgo uses Schoenberg’s Op. 16 as an introduction to the juxtaposition of Berg’s Lulu Suite and Webern’s Op. 6. Likewise, the sampled flute melody near the song’s beginning shares both the tonic key and melodic contour with the “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Strauss’s Salome, a work that contributed decisively to the creation of the Second Viennese School. Is Virgo playfully commenting on the complex interaction of cause and effect that constitutes the history of Western music? (See Diagram 1 for a flow chart illustrating the intra- and intertextual connections in “Hello Cleveland!”; click here for QuickTime movie illustrating the samples Mono uses in “Hello Cleveland!”)

  3. There is a tension throughout “Hello Cleveland!” between sampled and newly composed material. What constitutes “original material” is paradoxically quite repetitive—Virgo records and loops short segments of newly-composed music, creating a sense of stasis and inactivity. In contrast, the dynamic and active elements in this piece are, actually, quotations of past fragments—a different kind of repetition. Although Virgo rarely layers samples vertically in time, those that do overlap include the one-second sample of Berio’s Sinfonia—the same quotation that introduces the sample-filled section of “Hello Cleveland!” Taken from Sinfonia’s fifth and final movement, the passage sampled by Virgo begins the recapitulation in Berio’s piece, a repetition of previously-heard material from earlier in Sinfonia. At the same time that this recapitulation is necessarily a kind of repetition, it is also Berio’s literal “re”presentation of this material that makes it new. No longer an item in itself, it is a context-defined and defining moment. Virgo uses the Berio sample as the introduction to his musical landscape of samples with possibly an equivalent result—he announces the beginning of something entirely new, a recapitulation not of previously heard material from Formica Blues, but a recapitulation of previous musics, previous traditions. To use Berio’s phraseology, these one-second Berio samples are the “little flags” that indicate the “salient points” during the listener’s expedition through “Hello Cleveland!”

  4. How does this mirror-like field of quotation function in a hermeneutic framework? In his essay “The Ecstasy of Communication,” Jean Baudrillard laments that “[p]eople no longer project themselves into their objects, with their affects and their representations, their fantasies of possession, loss, mourning, jealousy” (127). On one level, “Hello Cleveland!” involves exactly this kind of postmodern irony.

  5. The above modernist reading necessitates a listener’s recognition and understanding of the pieces sampled in “Hello Cleveland!” These samples create semantic counterpoint for classical music connoisseurs only because they acknowledge the referents and attempt to interpret the new material within the context of these borrowed works—an act that attaches significance to the signifier.

  6. Yet, “Hello Cleveland!” denies even the most astute listener straightforward empathy, or “possession” in Baudrillard’s terms. With each passing moment, the listener becomes increasingly bombarded with signs that, while at first accessible, become inaccessible through surplus. In other terms, it is as if you find yourself at a party with too many people talking at the same time—everyone could be holding great conversations, but their simultaneity may cause you to withdraw. This snowball effect serves only to create a blank state and to distance the listener from the work. Such a result is strikingly similar to the response of the non-connoisseur listener.

  7. If a listener were unacquainted with the particular samples used, the sample-web and its allusions would escape the listener and remain buried. Such a listener does not search for Mono’s impetus behind the sampling of Berg, Webern, and the like, because she may be unaware of the music’s existence; instead, this listener enjoys “Hello Cleveland!” as a sonic landscape, an unmediated journey through various textures and styles.

  8. Virgo also creates this landscape of past music through means other than sampling. As mentioned previously, “Hello Cleveland!” both begins and ends with newly composed material reminiscent of Satie’s piano works. Virgo’s truncation of phrase endings and creation of readily-audible loops transform this newly composed material into samples themselves. For all its jarring elements, however, such a technique results in a seamless combination of newly-composed and sampled material. The lack of stark juxtapositions mirrors Jameson’s hierarchy effacing postmodern ideology. He states, “[artists] no longer ‘quote’ such ‘texts’ as a Joyce might have done, or a Mahler; they incorporate them, to the point where the line between high art and commercial forms seems increasingly difficult to draw” (112). Jameson’s mention of James Joyce here seems particularly appropriate, as Joyce and Martin Virgo both present their audience with a similar contradiction. Joyce’s works tantalize the reader because his quotations never engender a simple effect or a singular meaning. Although he tends to maintain a certain hierarchy in his quotations, he paradoxically encourages the effacement of boundaries and distinctions to the extent that the artist himself would become hidden, unnoticeable. As Joyce writes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the artist becomes “like the god of creation … within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails” (215). Although it is debatable as to whether or not Joyce accomplished this feat in his works, Virgo seems to disappear and become invisible in “Hello Cleveland!” The notion that through quotation Virgo has constructed a narrative with which he places himself in a tradition of borrowing cannot apply because Virgo becomes lost under a pile of masks. Perhaps Virgo is not an example of Joyce’s “god of creation” since “Hello Cleveland!” resembles less a creation and more an aggregation of elements.

  9. Much of Mono’s discourse supports this reading of “Hello Cleveland!” The nonchalant rhetoric Virgo employs when describing his music, saying it “simply evolved,” that it’s “just about styles colliding,” seems to be a kind of postmodern metaphor of the blank. This reading suits the popular music listener who would recognize the presence of samples, but not recognize a specific sample as a signifier with a particular referent. Such a listener would instead hear these samples as a classical-music simulacra. Most likely, the majority of Mono’s audience fits into this category. All of the samples used in Formica Blues are listed in the album’s liner notes with the exception of those used in “Hello Cleveland!” Although interviewers frequently question the band’s sampling choices, no reviewer has asked Virgo or de Maré about their use of classical music samples on this track or on the album as a whole—perhaps because they do not hear them and are not alerted to their presence through the liner notes. Or, perhaps the fact that they are “classical music” provides enough signification for them.

  10. Certainly this is the case for many critics who have written about Formica Blues. Critic Marcelle Rousseau’s language betrays the recognition of the classical music signifier, but nothing further. She writes, “With the use of traditional and modern instruments as well as several samplings reminiscent of Mission: Impossible or The Twilight Zone, “Hello Cleveland!” progresses through variations of images from Peter and the Wolf to Psycho or the X-Files to Beck.”5 Other critics similarly describe “Hello Cleveland!” as a “puzzling mix” of textures including “orchestral textures” (Remstein). These listeners recognize the object, but not its use. For the listener who does not distinguish between the sampled material and that which is newly composed, both the object and its use go unnoticed, and a potentially multi-dimensional work completely collapses.

  11. At this point both the “amateur” and the “connoisseur” listenings converge. The connoisseur listener follows Virgo down the rabbit hole, entertaining the myriad of intertextual connections that only distance the listener from the work and seem to be merely a chimera. The listener unacquainted with classical music finds the same blank soundscape through the absence of sample recognition. Although Virgo’s intention does not influence the ultimate interpretation of “Hello Cleveland!,” his construction of this piece betrays a certain postmodern urge towards failure. Only through the failure of the intricate sample-web can one begin to listen with a different purpose and perspective.

  12. This urge towards failure contradicts the seemingly-innate need to create a narrative out of musical events. Jean-François Lyotard describes part of The Postmodern Condition as an “incredulity towards metanarratives” (xxiv).6 Certainly the best way to engender a narrative crisis is to give the listener too much—too many disparate elements that defy the cohesive properties of the narrative. This is precisely what Virgo accomplishes: he gives the listener too many signs which cannot be woven into a singular, unified narrative, and, as a result, encourages skepticism. (The obvious irony here being that we deal with this problem through creating yet another narrative.)

  13. Virgo obliquely refers to this crisis of narrative in a discussion of Phil Spector’s trademark “wall of sound” production technique: “I love that whole school of music production where there are so many things going on at once but the overall sound doesn’t seem complicated. It’s so kaleidoscopic, and that’s what I’m really into” (Molineaux). Virgo’s description of Spector’s sound as “kaleidoscopic” seems particularly apt as it connotes exactly those elements that a traditional narrative withholds: freefloating shards of color, tremendous moment-to-moment flexibility, and an organization which collects and quickly disperses its “information” rather than weaving or tying it into inflexible chains.

  14. “Hello Cleveland!” stands as Virgo’s sound kaleidoscope: a collection of disparate elements that, through careful placement, form a surprisingly simple image. The creation of such an image is, however, contingent upon a person swirling the fragments of color about, until a satisfactory structure forms. Without such a medium, what propels the music forward? For Berio, Sinfonia’s web of quotations necessitates the consistent uttering of the verbal tag “keep going” in order to propel the music, to literally keep the piece going, as it provides form and structure from without rather than within. Virgo similarly creates a swarming mass of sound samples that necessitates an ad-hoc scaffold. In this way, the song’s rhythmic propulsion structures the listener’s adventure through Virgo’s quotations and, in that sense, keeps “Hello Cleveland!” going.

    1    2   Endnotes

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