The German philosopher and cultural critic Theodor Adorno was once described to me as a bitter man, who sat alone in his room and denounced the world around him. For example, Adorno claimed that the Protest-Songs of the 60’s were unbearable, because they turned the horror of Vietnam into a consumable product. For Adorno, protest songs also turned very complex issues into very simple ones and in so doing, they prevented the public from seeing truth. Adorno is a guy who probably would have gotten the shit kicked out of him at the Time Out Inn in Warsaw.
But in watching the new music video for Dylan Ettinger’s song “Wintermute” I couldn’t help but imagine Adorno’s battered and bloody body on the floor of the men’s bathroom there at the Time Out. Ettinger’s song, as well as the accompanying music video, is a very complex beast that doesn’t let itself be easily consumed. Like most of Ettinger’s oeuvre, you have to sit down and mentally tangle with it before you can start to appreciate it.
“Wintermute” is the first single off of Ettinger’s forthcoming album Lifetime of Romance on Not Not Fun Records and signifies an important shift in the Warsaw, Indiana native’s musical development. All of you avid General Thad readers will remember that Ettinger’s Lion of Judah/Baptism Single pushed Ettinger into much more of a pop direction with more concrete pop structures and melodies (See GT article). With “Wintermute” we see Ettinger continuing further into this direction. He has chosen to place his vocals and lyrics in a much more prominent position than ever before. Even the content of the lyrics follows more of a pop template with love becoming a central theme. This stands in stark contrast to his earlier works, which were dominated by cyber-punk metropolises and “baptisms in blood”. But Ettinger’s transition to more pop-based content does not mean that his work is now simpler.
“Wintermute” is in actuality a very complex piece. We hear in the opening seconds of “Wintermute” Ettinger as he takes apart synth sounds and finally drops them on a beat. Ettinger mutilates his yearning voice with reverberation, almost to the point of indecipherability. These aspects reveal, very interestingly, that Ettinger tries to musically destroy that which he had musically created. He tries to recreate a lost love, but also tries to destroy that love. In the final product, we are left with a song that is neither entirely created, because it has been partially destroyed, but also we are left with a song that has not been fully destroyed because it was indeed created.
The complexity of “Wintermute” continues further, when one looks at the alarm sound that unnervingly beeps out-of-tempo in the left speaker. The alarm beeps while the rest of the song seems to continue on, blind to the existence of this alarm. The sound forces the listener to understand the song in a very complex way. In order to tap one’s foot to the beat, one has to ignore the odd-tempoed alarm in the left ear, but by ignoring this one is not listening to the entire composition. Ettinger creates tension through this musical frustration. He therefore has not only produced a rather complex piece, but one that forces the listener to hear that complexity. The intricacies and the paradoxes of “Wintermute” cannot be ignored, and if they are, the listener fails to hear the “true” song in its entirety.
Even in the music video (wonderfully directed by San Francisco native Melissa Cha), frames are stopped, deconstructed and reconstructed again. A woman’s beautiful dance moves are taken apart frame-by-frame and male and female clothes disappear. Starting at 4:09 Cha does a great job editing the video to challenge the viewer’s focus. At this point, the viewer’s eyes are constantly being directed towards the left side and the right side of the picture as the video cuts between a black background with a white focus-point and a white background with a black focus-point. This constant, jarred style of video does a good job of interpreting the complexity inherent in Ettinger’s style of songwriting. There is no good or bad, no right or wrong, but instead there is only a complex constellation of both, and all shades in between. “Wintermute” comes at us all once: it is quick like our ADD-digital age; it is complicated like the PTSD-ravaged souls of American vets; its figures and style are beautiful like a crumbling barn on old 30.
As much as Dylan Ettinger’s work doesn’t want to be confined to the limits of Kosciusko county, the fact that the connection to Kosciusko county exists, makes the complexity that much greater. “Wintermute” is a song that was not created for the rural cornfields of Northern Indiana, but rather it is a song that materializes the angst of being a counter-culture kid working on a factory line or a skateboarding stoner, who traded in his days at Bogg’s Industrial Park for nights behind the kitchen doors of Mad Anthony’s. “Wintermute” delves into the issues informing our complex loves, complex lives and complex homes.
Now that you’ve made it to the end of this whole thing, I’ve got one bit of advice for you. Don’t go repeating this Adorno-style paradoxical analysis at the Time Out Inn in Warsaw, Indiana. Keep it to yourself. If you do wind up talking, don’t come blaming me if you wake up in a sowbarn somewhere out by Beaver Dam with nothing but a six-pack of warm beer and fifty cents to make a phone call.
Feb 5, 2012