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PERSONALS | MOVIE CLOCK | REP CLOCK | SEARCH

liner notes

by lynn rapoport

The machinists


WHEN I LOST my Slingshot organizer, I realized how little it was doing to keep my life in order. I have trouble juxtaposing disreputable, dilettante phrases like "Hot Pants at 26 Mix" to notes on the founding of the Paris Commune, the massacre of Puerto Rican nationalists. I read the marginalia – strikes and executions, assassinations and the publication date of "What Is to Be Done?" – and document my social commitments on scraps of paper to stuff in my wallet.

I should write down that A.I. is three days overdue and counting – because the sound of Haley Joel Osment whispering is worse than nails on pewter. Last night I got as far as the aliens with faces like flickering screens. I never felt like watching A.I. before, but the machines are coming out of the woodwork this week. I've been spooking myself listening to Electrelane's Rock It to the Moon, and someone left Gary Numan's Pleasure Principle on my desk. My coworker insists it's the new age of Numan, and when he makes his way into the lyrics of John Darnielle, king of lo-fi, I begin to believe her.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Slingshot, lost in time, is a note on the Luddite movement – a time of machine-killing workers thirsty for the blood of power looms. I treasure the term "Luddite," if only for its soiled reputation. People misuse it, and the dictionary colludes, alluding, broadly, to those opposed to technological change. Sweepstakes winners aside, who really wants to be replaced?

None of which explains how rattled I am by my precipitous addiction to Adult. Nobody lost their job so that Adult. might make music. But when the words "electro" and "synth" began creeping into conversations and DJ nights all across the city, people seemed so much more infatuated with the offshoots of Kraftwerk's "robot pop" brilliance than with the agony and the ecstasy left behind by the new romantics. Inhuman was hip. And I loved bands like OMD because they were lyrical and swoony amid their mountain of machinery. The hard, cold sound of humans communing with their hardware made me feel left out of the loop. How many skins would I have to grow to appreciate their inventions?

Last month we went to the Synth anniversary party at the Great American and danced facing screen-ward while Broker/Dealer – dressed as office drones and huddled unergonomically over their machines – pressed our buttons. Behind and above them, suit people went about their lives in skyscrapers, scenes playing and replaying like repetitive stress injuries. (I like mixed media, but I do sometimes feel I'm at my most American while staring at moving images on a screen while a band plays on.) At another show, Chicks on Speed and Le Tigre's imperative, heartfelt visual accompaniments made opener Tribe 8's own prosthetics look almost old-fashioned, which was not a comforting thought.

Adult. are even less consoling, with an aesthetic as chill and precise as the future laid out in electro-dreams. So I don't know why their recent album of remixes and updates, Resuscitation, affects me like punk rock does – the kind that makes me glad I wore my boots to the show, the kind that feels like all the best parts of eating too much sugar. "Hand to Phone (Cordless Mix)" is so oddly, coldly sexy I don't know what to do with it. "You're on the phone, you're all alone," Nicola Kuperus drones. "Hand to phone, hand to phone, she talks to you in monotone. Why can't I come over?" Her voice is as deadly as the girl talking in monotone. It's the hottest cold thing in the world.

I feel a synthist conspiracy to take over my body, but it's not as new as it seems. I'm a super-listener machine every time I put my headphones on. Few people are free of added parts. Maybe for some it's just a question of which machines we get crushes on and which ones we hate. Do coldhearted Adult. care that I'm listening now? I'm a one or a zero to them. It's perhaps more interesting to them to think about kids in the clubs like machines with crushes on each other, arming themselves in metallic skins that make sex in the bathrooms a challenge but cause the dance floor to resemble a mirage you can see in the dark.

Speaking of machine crushes, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is considering the fate of the Musée Méchanique at Ocean Beach. To protest the loss of Laughing Sal, fortune-tellers, and old-time nudie flicks, contact the GGNRA (Fort Mason Center, Bldg. 201, San Francisco, CA 94123-0022; rich_weideman@nps.gov) and sign KFOG-FM's online petition at www.petitiononline.com.musee.

E-mail Lynn Rapoport at lynn@sfbg.com.