Michael Snow's The Last LP CD: Unique Last Recordings of the Music of Ancient Cultures
Michael Snow's 1987 LP The Last LP has recently been re-released on CD as The Last LP CD. It is, as it says in the introduction to the extensive liner notes, "a single work, albeit made up of discrete, distinctive individual elements: the LP record [or CD], the music, the texts and the jacket."
The texts alone are an elaborate metafiction. But instead of creating a fictional world solely through language, Snow pushes the fiction from the realm of the symbolic (texts) into that of the real (the images on the jacket and sound on the CD). The texts are embodied, extruded into the real.
The Last LP CD is a mock ethnographic recording. The urgency behind ethno musicological field recordings is that they preserve traditional music that is under the threat of either becoming tainted with outside influence or outright disappearance. Snow's work parodically exaggerates this aspect of ethnography. These recordings are each purported to be the final possible — an unrepeatable record of a last performance. In some cases it is the process of recording itself that imperils whatever obscure tribes people are the current subjects. "Michael Snow" wipes out an entire Lapland tribe by introducing them to the Hong Kong flu: the ethnographer as unwitting agent of genocide.
The music itself tends toward the ridiculous. My favourite piece is "Si Noopa Da" with its joyous frenetic yelping voices and handclaps. The liner notes inform us that its part of a coming-of-age ritual performed by twenty girls and women of the Ba-Sa-So-Sho tribe of Niger. The secret liner notes (readable when reflected in a mirror) reveal that the composition is sixteen layers of Snow's voice singing around Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know."
Like most metafictions, The Last LP CD isn't really meant to fool us — the fun is in playing along and seeing where it takes us. A certain complicity develops between the audience and the "Michael Snow" we construct behind the work, a "Michael Snow" who mugs and winks at us conspiratorially from a pile of dopey puns.
For all its conceptual jokiness, the work enacts a doubled gesture of genocide. The initial gesture, embedded within the work, is Snow's paraodic critique of the project of ethnography. The second gesture is extra-textual and resides in the relationship between Snow and "Michael Snow." It is enacted somewhere in the gap between the fictional annihilation of fictional peoples and the production of actual (though faked) music. The act of faking ethnographic artifacts from fictional peoples you've just killed off is audacious. But, as it says in the liner notes: "Against the losses of ancient social music we must balance the arrival of the new global creative individual, with previously undreamed-of resources and possibilities."