Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Music of the Korova Milkbar

Not intending this to become a local history blog or anything, but perusing the 'People from Southampton' list on Wikipedia I was intrigued to find Allen Jones on the list. As someone who considers A Clockwork Orange a sort of key for understanding the built environment, I mainly know him as the designer of the forniphiliac sculptures 'Chair, Table and Hatstand', where sexualised, fetishwear-clad mannequins are turned into chic and sinister furniture. Kubrick approached Jones to design the furniture that adorns the Korova Milkbar in a similar vein, but he refused, meaning that the objects in question are significantly less terrifying than Jones' original (commissioned, not sculpted) sculptures, with a hint of kitsch compared to his chilling mannequins. These were damned through most of the '70s as misogynistic, which is a difficult charge to refute - though Jones has always insisted that he is a feminist, and that the works are more a commentary on oppression rather than a celebration - nonetheless, what they seem to be is a commentary on a particular strain in Modernism, the sex appeal of the inorganic.

There's something wonderfully appropriate about the fact that one of Jones' sculptures - sadly, not from the furniture series - adorns the atrium of the building that JG Ballard claimed could make you a more advanced human being, Michael Manser's Heathrow Hilton, as these are episodes from the same process of disassociation as The Atrocity Exhibition, the point about them is the proximity, the way that the inorganic simulation of flesh intersects with the straightforwardly artificial, precisely, mechanically cut glass of the tables. They suggest the fashion photography and, later, vaguely pornographic postcards collected by Le Corbusier and used as an eventual plastic source, only with all of Corbusier's would-be peasant earthiness purged and replaced with glacial bloodlessness. The fact that these objects were ever taken as unambiguously 'sexy' is curious in itself, and inescapably reminiscent of another seemingly irreconcilable paradox in music. That is, that Bass, the most straightforwardly, dumbly lubricious music you're ever likely to find, an entire genre essentially based around worship of the female posterior, is largely rhythmically based around Kraftwerk's 'Numbers', a mathematically precise music designed to simulate the workings of the stock exchange. The unspoken assumption is that the precision and abstraction of the latter and the supposedly straightforwardly lust-filled former are conflated. The more these things claim to be about the human body, the more they are about reification.


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