I Shift Position: copeland and the Postmodern Attitude

I Shift Position: copeland and the Postmodern Attitude

I’ve probably started and restarted this piece at least a half dozen times now, each time more unsure of how I should approach it. It’s not the first time Inga Copeland has given me writer’s block. Back in 2009 I started a small press label with my roommate out of our dim studio apartment and reached out to Hype Williams about releasing some material. At the time, Inga and Dean Blunt were making a sparse and heady brand of improvised garage-psych that spoke to my somewhat nihilistic attitude. I didn’t really give a fuck about much besides putting out that tape, and neither did they, and therein lays the reason why it was never officially released.

I’d struggle over two-sentence email replies as they’d change their minds about the format, or what songs were to be included, or even what the title would be (at one point, it was, yr budget on my neck, yr spouse on my dick). There were a lot of exchanges about the j-card art, which was ultimately left blank on blue cardstock. After all the back and forth, we eventually stopped responding to each other altogether—I think out of mutual exhaustion. I dubbed ten copies for them to give away.

To be honest, I’m not entirely positive that I ever directly interacted with either of them. All of our correspondences were mediated through Denna Frances Glass, a supposed band manager and motivational speaker who started an ambiguous, "18-year relay art project" that changes hands every 3 years, eventually passed on to Copeland and Blunt. But given that Ms. Glass doesn’t exist anywhere online outside of mentions relating to the project, it’s safe to assume she’s another part of the performance, another iteration of their creative selves. From what I’ve heard, people on Glass’s email list still receive sporadic updates on the duo’s going-ons despite last year’s Soundcloud announcement that Blunt and Copeland had severed ties. For whatever reason, I was taken off the list by the start of 2010. It was around that time that their sound started shifting toward the urban tape production style they became known for, collaging warped synthpop and dance with abstract experimentation, rife with allusions and inside jokes.

My experience trying to work with Hype Williams wasn’t as embittering as you’d expect. I had been eager to work with artists who challenged the notion of appropriation by claiming any cultural signifier as fair game (their namesakeYemenite popa pride movement), so long as it was detached from its context. But relief also set in when I realized that the burden of releasing that challenge into the world was no longer mine. I folded the label, moved to New York, and have followed their work since with the same excitement that inspired me to reach out in the first place.

As a pair, it’s difficult to decipher who took on which roles in Hype Williams, aside from when either of them would open their mouths. Copeland’s voice featured most prominently; moody and languid as it is, it stood as a clear expressive component against their otherwise disorienting arrangements. This quality is probably most apparent when comparing their few covers/reinterpretations to the original pop sources, demonstrating her voice's ability to recall the uncanny among familiar territory. The moment where you recognize you’ve heard a given line before somewhere, but it’s somehow also novel and curious, like a paricularly strong case of déjà vu-- that’s all Copeland, and the practice isn’t lost on her latest effort, Because I'm Worth It, her first solo full-length since the break of Hype.

Within the first line of “DILEGENCE” ("With my mind on my money and the other way around/Cash moves everything around me, so what’s the significance?"), Copeland references both Snoop and Wu Tang, and then flips these sources askew by asking a new question: should capital gain be celebreated as means of empowerment, or does it just render life pretty meaningless? Clocking just under 2 minutes, that question is the most direct statement you get out of her. That nihilism I mentioned above? That attitude, which rejects the inherent value or meaning of all things, is still a driving artistic endeavor for Copeland, a kind of modus operandi that's wholly postmodern in nature.

Postmodernism has long been considered to be inherently nihilistic, but unlike existential or moral nihilism, artistic nihilism isn't totally unbearable to think about. Plainly, it holds that everything is art, and as such, nothing is. It's a circular thought, but it's also liberating. All the haphazard combinations of seemingly unrelated elements-- the solid minute of static that starts the album off on "Faith OG X," the bit of bricolage that pings around Actress's production in "advice to young girls," the atonal swaths of noise behind "l'oreal")-- are eqally as at-home or out-of-place muscially as the straightforward club beats they're played against.

As an aside, a quick search through Wikipedia brought up music theorist Jonathan Kramer's list of postmodern compostional traits, which could easily be used as a checklist for anything she's touched. I'm tempted to just post it up under her album art and call it a day. Lord knows she'd prefer it to this essay anyway.

Postmodern music:
1. is not simply a repudiation of modernism or its continuation, but has aspects of both a break and an extension
2. is, on some level and in some way, ironic
3. does not respect boundaries between sonorities and procedures of the past and of the present
4. challenges barriers between 'high' and 'low' styles
5. shows disdain for the often unquestioned value of structural unity
6. questions the mutual exclusivity of elitist and populist values
7. avoids totalizing forms (e.g., does not want entire pieces to be tonal or serial or cast in a prescribed formal mold)
8. considers music not as autonomous but as relevant to cultural, social, and political contexts
9. includes quotations of or references to music of many traditions and cultures
10. considers technology not only as a way to preserve and transmit music but also as deeply implicated in the production and essence of music
11. embraces contradictions
12. distrusts binary oppositions
13. includes fragmentations and discontinuities
14. encompasses pluralism and eclecticism
15. presents multiple meanings and multiple temporalities
16. locates meaning and even structure in listeners, more than in scores, performances, or composers

Thing is though, even if you sat down with all of Copeland’s repertoire (with Blunt and on her own) and found each instance of musical postmodernism that makes her a poster child among contemporaries, you’d totally miss the tiny bits of soul that hover in the periphery. Take, for instance, her lyrics in "advice to young girls": "Go to a club. You will see all of the lights, hear all the music. It's yours. The city is yours." Someone that makes work as poignant and human as Copeland's doesn’t get by on cleverness alone. There’s world-weariness and abandon in between every handclap on Because I'm Worth It. I don't really go out to clubs, but I'll dance to club music in my room (Heidegger in one hand, a joint in the other) because I too want to lose myself in the night and claim that moment as my own.

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