Kodwo Eshun: Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture

In the wake of Mark Fisher’s death, I’ve found Kodwo’s recent work on interpretive communities incredibly compelling. Not least as a means to understand what it is about Mark’s work – his way of working – that draws me (and so many others) into these “wars of interpretation whose aim is to intervene in culture.” I’ll soon write more snippets on Eshun’s interpretive communities, but for now I wanted to share his list of “aesthetico-political positions” from the memorial lecture.

Those of us who are unable to reconcile ourselves to our existence. Those of us whose dissatisfaction and disaffection, whose discontent and whose anger and whose despair overwhelms them and exceeds them. And who finds themselves seeking means and methods for nominating themselves, for electing themselves, to become parts of movements and scenes that exist somewhere between seminars and subcultures, study groups and HangOuts. Reading groups drawn together by the impulse to fashion a vocabulary. By a target. By a yearning. By an imperative to consent not to be a single being…

The cybergoths, that move through the calendrical systems of templexity.

The cyber-feminists, that situate themselves in the time-streams of patriarchy.

The afro-futurists, that hack the systems of chronopower and chronography.

The speculative realists, that dismantle the barriers to the great outside

The hauntologists, that diagnose the slow cancellation of the future in order to dismantle its enforced depression.

The eliminitivists, that dismantle the coordinates for experience.

The accelerationists, that aspire to decode flows.

The left accelerationists, that seek to build the stack whose platform logics generate our entrenchment.

The right accelerationists, that summon the basilisk.

The unconditional accelerationists, that seek to decouple themselves from the left and from the right.

The students of black study, who argue that “being black is a thing that you can only do with others.” I don’t know that it’s possible to be black by oneself. Insofar as being black, or black being, is a necessarily irreducibly social thing that is general, and that is ongoing.

The AltWoke, that write; “Our amorality is not a bankruptcy of ethics, so much as it is an emotional discipline in response to global existential threats. A learnt stoicism and pragmaticism is crucial to #altwoke.”

The mundane afro-futurists, that claim; “We. are. not. aliens.”

The neo-reactionists, engaged in promoting highly advanced drastic regression.

The xenofeminists, that announce that “xenofeminism indexes the desire to construct an alien future with a triumphant X and a mobile map. This X does not mark destination – it is the insertion of a topological keyframe for the formation of a new logic.”

The black feminist poeticists, that know that “studying blackness announces the end of the world as we know it.”

The prometheans, that “consider revolution not as a passionate attachment to some flash of negation, but is a process of undoing the abstract social forms that constrain and humiliate human capacities, along with political agencies that enforce those constraints and those humiliations.”

The forensic architects, that “invert the direction of the forensic gaze.” That “seeks to designate a field of action in which individuals and independent organisations can confront abuses of power by states and corporations in situations that have a bearing upon political struggle, violent conflict and climate change.”

The inhumanists, that argue that “the universal wave that erases the self-portrait of man drawn in sand.” That inhumanism is a vector of revision that relentlessly revises what it means to be human by removing its supposedly self-evident characteristics, while preserving certain invariances.

The afro-futurists 2.0, that assert the social physics of blackness.

The afro-pessimists, that assert that “the slave cause is the cause of another world in and on the ruins of this one, in the end of its ends.”

The black quantum futurists, that “work on the temporal dynamics of retro-currencies. Of backwards-happenings – an event whose influence or effect is not discrete and time-bound but extends in all possible directions and encompasses all possible time-modes.

The black accelerationists, that argue that “binding blackness and accelerationism to one another proposes that accelerationism always already exists in the territory of blackness, whether it knows it or not – and conversely, that blackness is always already accelerationist.”

The gulf-futurists, that emerge from “the isolation of individuals via technology and wealth and reactionary Islam. The corrosive elements of consumerism on the soul and industry on the earth, the erasure of history from our memories and our surroundings, and finally our dizzying collective arrival in a future that no one was ready for.”

The sinofuturists, that argue that “sinofuturism is an invisible movement – a spectre already embedded into a trillion industrial products – a billion individuals.”

Each of these neologisms are actually forms of life. Each of them is the names of, and for, aesthetico-political positions that operate by disagreements and differentiations – that make claims that must be argued. Each of these is not so much a term as a war of, and over, interpretation. A stance that aims to intervene in cultural politics, that fashions itself to articulate a discontent – to focus despair and depression into theories that live. Theories to live by. Theories that are embodied. Theories that live in us and through us. And with us. And on us.

 

To put it another way; Mark Fisher was a midwife…

CFP: Tuning Speculation V: Vibratory (Ex)changes

Note: deadline extended to the 1st of August


17-19 November 2017, Toronto (Canada)

Organized by The Occulture

(David Cecchetto, Marc Couroux, Ted Hiebert, Eldritch Priest and Rebekah Sheldon)

If the din of sonic and vibrational ontologies has catalyzed a salutary expansion of the vectors through which the world is (never) made sensible, it has also risked speaking, echoing, and amplifying the disquieting murmurs and groans of contemporary neoliberal biopolitics such that sounds of the latter are, paradoxically, inaudible as such. If this is the case, then what is the relationship between a vibro-capitalism that is heard in and as contemporary politics and a vibrocapitalist impulse that drives and ratifies the reality of those same elements? Put differently, on what does vibration exchange?

Maybe it’s time to forget the future, which was always a hallucinatory mnemotechnical destiny anyways; instead, the tuning is now and it brings with it questions that can only be (un)heard at scales that never quite sound. We therefore seek contributions from scholars, artists, writers, activists and comedians who take seriously the ethical, political, or phenomenal capacities —possibly impossible, and likely unlikely—that are opened, foreclosed, amplified, attenuated, dampened, resonated, remixed, or otherwise called forth at the nexus of vibration and exchange, however broadly conceived. While several approaches can catalyze our speculations, we propose to concentrate on sounding art—broadly understood—in order to leverage the fated semiotic parasitism, differential production, relational expression, and perceived multiplicity that informs such practices. We also welcome various reflections on sono­distractions, phonochaosmosis, ’patasonics, harmelodic­prescience, audio pragmètics, chronoportation, h/Hypermusic, rhetorical modes of speculation and other invocations of impossible, imaginary, and/or unintelligible aural (dis)encounters.

Please send an abstract (maximum 250 words) to torn@asounder.org by 1 August 2017.  In addition, given that we will be making multiple funding applications to support travel for all presenters, please include the following with your abstract: short bio (150 words), your affiliation, and a summary of academic degrees. Notification of acceptance will be given in early August.

Tuning Speculation V is generously supported by York University through the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and the Department of Humanities.

Jean-Luc Nancy – On Listening

This second semester of the first year of my PhD starts with a course related to my research; Improvisation and the Poetics of Listening. Although listening is central to my interests, improvisation studies is still new to me.

During last year’s Sound & Sensory Studies colloquia we discussed most of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Listening. I must admit that a lot has happened in the past year, and I already remember it as a lot more lyrical than the excerpt from “On Listening” we read for the second Improvisation seminar last week.

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The main points that came up were questions around Nancy’s use of “self” rather than “subject.” My own immediate thoughts might become clearer by the end, but suffice it to say that I think it is tied to Nancy’s insistence on the non-human (or non-(subject-in-the-usual-sense-of-a-clearcut-individual)). Simply calling the resonant body a subject would only confuse, since he is not just talking about the human reception of sound, but sound, listening and resonance as such…

Sonority and Sense

Nancy also invokes a McLuhan-esque distinction between medium and massage – or in this case, between sonority and meaning. Sound and voice. In a questionable turn, he calls the listening to sonority – to the sound apart from any meaning – true listening. I almost always find these hierarchical modes of true, pure or concentrated listening problematic. To me, different forms of listening seems more like a state of flux – always intersecting with one another.

In “On Listening,” Nancy becomes interesting in his suggestion that listening could somehow be sonorous. Could listening have a timbre of its own? Of course, there is the oto-acoustics of our inner ear, but is there perhaps a way that listening itself creates sound?

Listening is always caught in the tension between the acknowledgement of sound as such and the straining towards its meaning. Both of these modes disappear the other – one cannot exist without the occlusion of the other. Listening strains towards a sense beyond sound, yet listening also imparts sense on us where meaning becomes sound through our listening to it (as is often the case in music).

Feeling oneself-feel

Sounds are spread in space, vibrating through one thing before it hits the next, resounding or resonance or echo as a referral back to itself. In this way, sensing is always perception of perception itself. In almost Derridean prose, Nancy shows that sensing is a feeling oneself-feel. This is where Nancy invokes the self rather than the subject. It does not matter for Nancy who or what is doing the sensing. The act of sensing is itself a subject (or rather, a self). Therefore, sound and meaning create a self through resonance’s self-referentiality.

The space of sound is omnidirectional and flowing through objects. To listen is to be penetrated yet surrounded – both from oneself and towards oneself. We are thus always in the midst of sound – both receiving and transmitting sound through our resonant bodies. In Douglas Kahn’s words, we are transducers of sound.

Nancy’s ontology of sound is a strange one, where sound itself is seemingly given agency through its self-ness. According to Nancy, sound is not in a fixed presence or being, but always in motion, which makes it a place-of-its-own-self as relation to itself. Sound is a self that creates a place for itself through its resonance. The sonorous place is not a place where the subject comes to make itself heard. It is a place that becomes a subject because sound resounds (resonates) here.

I (perhaps wrongly) assume that Nancy is here talking about a making-a-place-for-oneself through listening. Yet I prefer to read it as an account of the agency of sound. A Bryantine sound-oriented ontology or Bennettian vibrant sono-materialism, where sounds themselves acquire agency through their resounding of their environment. Could resonance be the appearance of sound?

 

Once I’ve read what Brian Kane has to say about Nancy’s Listening, I will be back with more on this…

an ongoing account

This week marks the start of term at University of British Columbia and the beginning of my PhD in their Art History, Visual Art & Theory department. Unlike most PhD programs I know from Scandinavia and Northern Europe, the first two semesters are filled with coursework. This has positive and negative aspects, but overall I’m just honoured that my proposal got me here in the first place…

The courses will allow me yet another year of exploring parts of academia that I wouldn’t otherwise have had time for. On the other hand, it seems odd to spend a year with courses on Fashion (through the lens of German media theory), Methodologies of Art History, Japanese Art and possibly a course on speculative realism, when I just spent the better part of a year witing PhD proposals, going to conferences and participating in reading groups so entrenched in the tradition of Sound Studies.

 

I read this piece by AE Robbert on his blog Knowledge Ecology a few days ago, and I seem to have been in a bit of the same head space myself. Relocating myself geographically and institutionally with all the paperwork, reorientation and cognitive reconfiguration that entails. What seems to my situation as a fitting quote from the entry:

The thing about blogging—both positive and negative—is that it puts on offer a continuous stream of output, an ongoing account of one’s thinking and development. This has the double effect of providing greater context for one’s writing but also makes it difficult, at least psychologically for me, to separate oneself from earlier work in the way that writing books or articles naturally provides. The Internet tends toward a pathological amount of continuity and interconnectivity that I think many of us writing in this medium would be wise to rail against. In any case, enjoy the PhD ruminations.

Although I won’t go into the particulars of my dissertation chapters just yet, I hope that I can use this space to write about my research and as a catalog of various notes throughout the process..

 

Now enough of this meta-posting.

Onwards..!

Hildegard Westerkamp on Background Music

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Yesterday, Hildegard Westerkamp shared this story on the Acoustic Ecology listserv, and I thought it might be worth sharing with a larger audience. Although I might not share Westerkamp’s views on the nature of listening (“But does anyone actually listen to the music  – or to the intent behind the music, for that matter?”), her letter is a poignant critique of muzak’s insidious power of anesthetization and distraction.

Without further ado…

 

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Today is Earth Day, a perfect day to share with you a letter I just wrote to the PlayNetwork after they approached me to use one of my compositions for background music purposes! Imagine Gently Penetrating beneath the sounding surfaces of another place  – that’s the piece they requested as a starter – at Starbucks!

Here is the letter (The irony was just too enormous for me not to respond in this fashion!):

It seems rather strange and ironic that I would be approached to add my music to the libraries of the background music market. My  compositions do not lend themselves at all to be heard as background music, and I will certainly not make it available. Thank you for the offer, but it goes absolutely against everything that I am trying to do as a composer.

Background music insidiously distracts people from the real social, environmental and cultural issues in this world. The Muzak Corporation and all other leased music companies have been rather successful in creating obedient consumers (and workers) for decades now, who essentially and with deaf ears provide the huge profits that are being made through the creation of background music atmospheres. How is it, that millions of so-called listeners (or ‘impressions’, as you call them in your email below!) have been convinced that they cannot live without music during every day of their lives. But does anyone actually listen to the music  – or to the intent behind the music, for that matter? No, of course not. It has been the corporate intent all along, to create audiences who do not listen, who swallow any musical sound presented to them and thus enable the profit-making of the background music industry.

In a world in which environmental and social issues are emerging everywhere, alert ears and minds are needed to notice and counteract these grave conditions. The ongoing efforts by the background music industry to ‘soothe’ its audiences into false comfort and numb ears and minds into a kind of haze of inattention, are outright irresponsible and rather sinister under these urgent circumstances in which our world currently finds itself.

In your email below you say please consider the environment before printing this email. Equally, please consider the acoustic environment and the ears and mental sanity of your listeners, before continuing to devalue the real quality of music and the world’s acoustic environments. In that spirit, I will not contribute my music to PlayNetwork, and thus will not become part of a “brand that moves consumers” as it says so poignantly on your website. I also have not printed your email.

I am pretty convinced that no one at PlayNetwork has actually listened to my music, and that this request does not come from an informed listener, but rather from the corporate context of collecting as many ‘tunes’ or ‘songs’ as possible for the purpose of making profit.

With best regards,
Hildegard Westerkamp

 

Will Schrimshaw – Infraesthetics

I found this talk Will Schrimshaw did at Tuning Speculation: Experimental Aesthetics and the Sonic Imaginary in 2013 – a conference that had a lot of talks by people whose work I am still getting acquainted with.

The term infraesthetics is proposed in order to describe a prominent and `reductive’ domain of work that takes a functional approach to sound and signals wherein the aesthetic is understood to be a kind of residual congealing or crystallisation, an unavoidable byproduct of more fundamental and primarily functional processes.

Infraesthetics is the way in which art dealing with the infrasonic boundary orients our thinking away from interiority (and immersion) toward exteriority. The aesthetic is treated as a necessary interface to the inaudible conditions of audition. In this talk, Schrimshaw’s concurrent aim is to implement infraesthetics as an ontology of sound based on movement – not the artwork’s pictoral qualities, as is the case in cymatic artworks. It’s an ontology of the vibrational aspects of sound art, removed from its visual appearance.

Infraesthetics is concerned with the concept of the noumenal.

Later, Schrimshaw talks about an aesthticist engagement with aesthetics based in Deleuze’s statement that »experimental practices are primarily concerned with ideas« and that »white noise is the idea of sound.« This is something that recently has become clearer to me – the need for a more experimental and alternative approach to my research.

Now I need to figure out how I am going to implement this in my own upcoming PhD-research. Both in terms of institutional and personal limitations.

The Future of Festivals

9 Futures: Sounds Fragmenting

»So all of these festivals that the film looks at, they are more or less – in my mind – run by people who come out of the late 80s and early 90s. The European techno scene. And that idea of music as a seismograph of societal change – that’s really important. So the film tries to look at – or prompt – each different festival – the organisers, the artists involved – to try and rethink it and go ‘Where are we? Are we succeeding at this?«

—Nathan Budzinski, The Future of Festivals

Lately, I’ve been writing quite a few articles for Seismograf – a journal for contemporary music and sound art. I’ve just submitted a piece on SØS Gunver Ryberg’s newest album, AFTRYK, which should be out next week. I’ll do my best to translate the Danish articles and bring them for you here. But for now, I’d like to share this longform interview I did with former contributor to The Wire Nathan Budzinski, about his film 9 Futures: Sounds Fragmenting and the current state of experimental electronic music festivals.

It’s all about what festivals actually are – why they exist, who creates them and for what reason. There’s a good bit of Jacques Attali’s Noise in there and we talk about how capitalist society needs these breaks from the boredom of everyday life. How you go to festivals to escape into an alternative space of dreams, insobriety and sound.

In any case, you can read The Future of Festivals here.

Museum of Endangered Sounds

Museum of not-so-endangered soundsRecently, this website has been doing the rounds on sound and archive-related circuits. The Museum of Endangered Sounds was created in »January of 2012 as a way to preserve the sounds made famous by [Brendan Chilcutt’s] favorite old technologies and electronics equipment.«

This blend of digital amnesia and our sonic past should be right up my alley, yet navigating the site I’m uncomfortably writhing in my chair. There is a playful and nostalgic element to this that I emphasise with. It’s fun going back to those – even at the time – terrible ICQ notifications or the operational noises of the ZX Spectrum computer. I can even enjoy the still very present sounds of my life, such as the turntable, film camera or cassette tape hiss. With fear of sounding like grumpy old man, I think there is something dangerous in this idosyncratic approach to preservation. This very narrowly curated selection of sounds does not a museum make.

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Just as James Scott will tell you that we need not worry about the preservation of Super Mario, many of the sounds collected by Chilcutt are in no way in danger of being lost. The Nokia ringtones, the Tetris soundtrack, the vinyl turntable and the Windows 95 startup sounds are not “advocate-less items” – we’re set on major OS startup sounds.

And this is where The Museum of Endangered Sounds becomes trite or even harmful. It canonises our recent technological past in a mere 33 popular sounds. Since every inclusion to the archive is an exclusion of something else, projects like these instill a false sense of security that the past is “taken care of.” If you want to see endangered sounds look to Jason Scott and Archive.org’s work on netlabels and software emulation/collection, or Lori Emerson’s work on the Media Archaeology Lab.

Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi on the Necro-Economy

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Are we heading into the Third World War? Yes and no: war has been with us for the past fifteen years, it promises to be with us for a long time, and it threatens to destroy the last remnants of modern civilization. The exacerbation of xenophobia across the West and the rise of nationalism in countries like France are causes and effects of a looming war whose sources lie in the past two hundred years of colonial impoverishment and humiliation of the majority of the world population, not to mention neoliberal competition and the privatization of everything—including war itself.

Pacifism is becoming irrelevant as the conditions of war become irreversible.

—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, “The Coming Global War: Is there Any Way Out?

At this moment, there is no longer any need to describe how far Europe has fallen into xenophobic greed and insecurity. Bifo says in an interview for Radio MACBA that if we look at the environment, the arctic ice caps, the Greek debt, and the Spanish debt we realise that we are committing suicide – financial capitalism is a path to suicide. And I must admit, that this is how it feels to live in Northern Europe now. It is not a sudden realisation, although many leftist voters seem surprised at every national election, murder, or war for the past 15 years.

Are we heading toward a global war? Not exactly: no declarations of war are being issued, but innumerable combat zones are proliferating. No unified fronts are in sight, but fragmented micro-conflicts and uncanny alliances with no general strategic vision abound. “World war” is not the term for this. I would call it fragmentary global civil war.

And the fragments are not converging, because war is everywhere.

This is perhaps more clear in the US where – as Nicholas Kristof writes – “in the last four years more people have died in the United States from guns (including suicides and accidents) than Americans died in the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.” This is the beginning of the worldwide necro-economy, which is the result of neoliberal deregulation.

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In Europe, these combat zones are proliferating and we shall soon become just as jaded to the news of gunshots as our North American brothers and sisters. So far, the biggest fear is not physical violence against our own, but the rise – and not least normalisation – of nationalist parties and their opposition to a European coalition and globalisation. These pervasive political parties have more in common with Putin’s Russia than they might currently realise.

This anti-euro front of European forces is converging with Russian nationalism under the authoritarian leadership of Putin and the banner of national populism and unrelenting Islamophobia.

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Though I do not feel particularly Danish (culturally, politically) I cannot help but speak from a Danish standpoint. The Mohammad cartoons, the war in Iraq, the sale of energy company stocks to Goldman Sachs, casual racism, the 2015 shootings in Copenhagen, ads in Lebanese papers dissuading refugees from coming to Denmark, the 27% vote for the Danish People’s Party, and overall move towards xenophobic neoliberalism has long since made pacifism irrelevant. Aside from a lack of understanding, tact, acceptance and humanity, Denmark currently suffers from a lack of sophistication.

Capital flows freely everywhere and the labor market is globally unified, but this has not led to the free circulation of women and men, nor to the affirmation of universal reason in the world. Rather, the opposite is happening: as the intellectual energies of society are captured by the network of financial abstraction, as cognitive labor is subjugated to the abstract law of valorization, and as human communication is transformed into abstract interaction among disembodied digital agents, the social body is detached from the general intellect. The subsumption of the general intellect into the corporate kingdom of abstraction is depriving the living community of intelligence, understanding, and emotion.

As Danish universities cut back class time to as low as two hours a week, freeze PhD-admissions, and rush students through their degrees and into a non-existent labour market, we clearly see the capture of sophistication and intelligence by financial abstraction and individual valorisation.

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At the moment, it is hard to foresee an awakening from this nightmare.

The only imaginable way out of this hell is to end financial capitalism, but this does not seem to be at hand.

Nevertheless, Bifo sees no other prospects in these times. He calls for solidarity amongst the bodies of cognitive workers worldwide, and the construction of a techno-poetic platform for collaboration in order to liberate knowledge from religious and economic dogma. The only way out is through irony and autonomy. Bifo also speaks of a desire to move beyond ideas of revolution, and instead talk of reprogramming – how to reprogram ourselves out of automation and abstract power.

A social reprogramming through withdrawal in order to sow the seed of compassion and autonomy…

Sonicity

During his talk last year at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal, Wolfgang Ernst mentions the concept of sonicity. This was the first time I’ve heard Ernst mention aspects of sound (aside from the few passages in Digital Memory and the Archive) and it got me excited. Especially since Ernst was a big influence on my MA-thesis about new media art archives with his media archaeological and deconstructive approach to (computer) archiving.

With the announcement of his new book Sonic Time Machines (date of publication set for 2016), I am excited to see how Ernst will combine two great interests of mine; archives and sound.

Yet after watching the talk, I am left with a tame feeling that this idea of sonicity is not the novel idea I was hoping it to be. Ernst starts to discuss what he means by this concept at 46:55; “There is an implicit sonicity in computational architectural silence. A sounding latency. Like a gothic cathedral waiting for the organ.” By this definition, sonicity is little more than a way to describe the oral/aural history of objects. How even an unplugged modem still contains within it the croaking and wheezing clicks, whirrs and beeps we remember so vividly. As interesting as the archived object’s potential for sound is, I fail to see what academic insights can evolve from this? Doesn’t it seem kind of.. old.. to you?

Later, in talking about the magnetic tapes on which archives used to be stored, he takes another stab at defining sonicity, as the sounds coming from these tapes. (49:03) “If we listen to computing, we are not listening to content but to memory itself.” The sounds of the archive itself. So now we’re not talking about the sound of the objects, but the sound of the collections holding the objects? In a sense, what I think Ernst is trying to get at, is a acoustics of computational architecture. The resonance or reverberation of software – the rhythm of algorithms.

And just as he seems to be tapping into intriguing territory, he shuts down and starts talking about computer architecture again. Ernst covers a lot more sonic ground in his talk, but it lacks focus and he keeps trailing off about silence (temporal, culturally negative), sound-as-signal/noise (Kittler) and other slightly dusty ideas.

Maybe I’m being too harsh here. I do think that Sonic Time Machines will hold the academic clarity and rigour needed to explore what I hope will be the vibrations of software. A rhythmanalysis of the algorhythms of digital architecture.