CALL FOR PAPERS: LA DELEUZIANA N. 10. RHYTHM, CHAOS AND NONPULSED MAN. TOWARDS A CHAOSMOTIC PHILOSOPHY.
By Obsolete Capitalism
pic : a still-image taken from the work «Ground» by Ryoichi Kurokawa
«Zarathustra is only speeds and slownesses, and the eternal return, the life of the eternal return, is the first great concrete freeing of nonpulsed time.»
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, 1987, A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and schizophrenia. by Brian Massumi (trans. and ed.), Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, p. 269.
«Nature appears as a rhythmic character with infinite transformations»
Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 319.
«Relation identity […]
– is produced in the chaotic network of Relation and not in the hidden violence affiliation; […]
– does not think of a land as a territory from which to project toward other territories but as a place where one gives-on-and-with rather than grasps.»
Édouard Glissant, 1997, Poetics of Relations, by Betsy Wing (trans.), Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 144.
The topic of rhythm, as well as of sound and music, has always appeared on the Deleuze-Plateau. Apparently, Deleuze started to focus persistently on the rhythmic and musical discourse in his scripts only from the second half of the 1970s, and only after his collaborations with Guattari. However, it is equally true that hidden in the folds of Deleuzian philosophy of difference, the topic of the repetition-measure – repetition as symmetry, oriented and codified – and repetition-rhythm – repetition as power, productive and differentiating – appears already in the first pages of Difference and Repetition, first published in 1968. Additionally, in 1964, in his book on Proust, Proust and Signs, Deleuze had already recognized that Proustian essence was nothing but the «absolute and ultimate Difference», while only Vinteuil’s septet could claim that the world of differences can exist on the Earth. Where did this array of differences live? In the world of art, Proust wrote: «Thanks to art, instead of seeing a single world, our own, we see it multiply, and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds will we have at our disposal, more different from each other than those that circle in the void…».
Hence, Deleuze, in the 1970s, already analyzed music and rhythm thanks to Nietzsche and Proust, who had put music and rhythm-repetition at the core of their sensibility and their writings. In particular, Nietzsche, according to Deleuze, is the philosopher that, due to his profound denial of the measure of his own time and of the European civilization he lived in, identifies with a painful intuition the liberating Rhythm of our essence. Nietzsche advances this concept through the mask of his most famous “rhythmic character”, that is, Zarathustra. Nietzsche makes him announce the most powerful charade of all human spiritual doctrines ever conceived by a human mind, the Eternal Return, which Deleuze rightly interpreted as «the first great concrete freeing of nonpulsed time»: random, unforeseeable time of difference. Or, using a word borrowed from contemporary music, ‘alea’. These rhythmic topics in the 1960s remained stratified as underground walls of inverse fault lines, but they never developed as key structure of Deleuzian thought.
In the second half of the 1970s, he published Kafka written with Guattari (1975) and Dialogues with Parnet(1977), and, above all, the proceedings of the conference Rendre audible des forces non audible at the IRCAM in Paris (1978). In these writings, the articulated dimension of pulsed and nonpulsed time, of rhythm and individuation, speed and slowness, and autonomy of sound which becomes landscape production, forge some authentically Deleuzian concepts such as melodic landscape, audible colour, and rhythmic character. Singular territorial individuations for a nonpulsed time-space. These concepts will find an extraordinary and unusual allocation in A Thousand Plateaus (1980), the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, a true “musical” book, full of geo-philosophical variations on the topic of Rhythm. The conceptual core of this new way of conceiving Nature as a «rhythmic character with infinite transformations» is located in the ninth plateau, 1837: Of The Refrain, concept to which Deleuze and Guattari attribute crucial importance.
The relationship between music and philosophy in Deleuze’s thought can thus be considered in terms of fruitful hybridization, which leads in some emblematic cases to a flow of categories from one domain to another. A first emblematic case can be represented by the great attention that Deleuze and Guattari directed to the classical and romantic Western music tradition, as well as to more recent musical output by neo-vanguards, repeatedly mentioned in the pages of A Thousand Plateaus. A second case that cannot be ignored is the musical potential of concepts such as difference and repetition, rhizome, territorialization and deterritorialization (and again re-territorialization), which stimulated the musicological reflection and fueled the composing practices of many musicians, who explicitly recognized the influence of the Deleuzian conceptual apparatus (see Dusapin, Aperghis or Bernhard Lang). The third case is more complicated. It is the journey made by concepts born within the context of musical theory that are revisited by Deleuze and Guattari from a philosophical point of view. For example, the refrain, or the duo of smooth/striated space, derived from Pierre Boulez considerations on the relationship between the continuum of audible frequencies and the segmentation of discrete intervals. Finally, even more complicated is the parabola of influences that range from music to philosophy and back to music again, which is well expressed in the relationship of mutual influence between Deleuze and Pascale Criton, composer and theorist.
The four itineraries mentioned here (Deleuzian reinterpretation of European musical tradition; the application of philosophical concepts to the theory and practice of music; the application of concepts originated in the music sphere to the philosophical analysis; mutual influence between music and philosophy) do not try to exhaust the numerous possibilities of development of Deleuze’s “pensée-musique”, but rather to hint at the rhizomatic and unforeseeable nature of the relationships that exist between art and philosophy, which, together with science, are regarded in What is Philosophy? (1991) as diverse (though sympathetic and, in a way, similar) creative practices.
Hence, the 10th issue of La Deleuziana plans to explore Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy as philosophy of Rhythm and Chaos, that is, Chaosmos. It aims at understanding whether it is possible to derive from such perspective more and different itineraries of liberation and creation. Finally, it intends to understand whether it is feasible to consider thought itself as sound, or Rhythm, overturning the “ancient belief” which, from Ancient Greece up to the present hypermetric society, has legitimated the “geometrical splendor” of enarhythmic menand of measure-repetition, which has produced in or society both extraordinary developments and extraordinary destructions. It is time to collectively think and structure a chaosmotic, or diastemic, philosophy capable of spreading a new vision of Nature which favors the rise of a nonpulsed Man.
Obsolete Capitalism and Stefano Oliva
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Project for book & compilation: Ultrablackness of Music
When we look back it seems that Mille Plateaux was always dark. We never confirmed techno-utopism, accelerationism or Eshuns afrofuturism. Rhythm, not speed was the term. As we wrote: »If Rhythm is distinct from metrics, we enter the field of non-frequency politics, the politics of productive difference, which includes the fact, that Rhythm is distinct from science, and therefore non-musicians us science and music as pure material. Here, they also start to reduce discourses of philosophy to pure material to achieve – always in interaction with hearing-in-rhythm – pulse “rhythmights.” Parallel to the objects of non-musicians an unified and non-representational theory or a music-fiction has to simulate philosophy and to catch for the essence of music-being and the fractal-being of musical objects, and yet treat them through hypothesis, deduction and experimental tests. The non-musicological term rhythmight opens up to experimental methods of rhythm production: we can now speak of Rhythm in terms of clicked music. We find here transversal disjunctions, heterogeneous temporalities and spatial components, that overlap and coexist in a track; in the invincible evidence of its short signal and contextless reference, the click opens various potentials to move on without giving any noticeable association. Through the concatenation of signs something like indetermination starts to be indicated, whereby failure can become part of music. Failure is not an inscribed meaning in clicks and cuts, but rather a referential that indicates possibilities of previous and emerging sign concatenations. In the nameless “in between,” meaning is constructed with the help of signs that are not what they pretend to be.Through reference to other signs, a momentum of meaning is produced, because a sign like the click realizes différance, suspended presence, while also referring to signs to come. Similarly, the pulse can be understood as an inherent stress that falls on certain metrics or beats. While listening to the clock, one might hear “tick-tock” instead of “tick-tick,” because every other beat is more stressed than the beat before.«
Today the conditions for electronic music have changed dramatically. Pop and Techno are both monsters of the culture industry. It seems that Adornos critics on jazz was not conservative, but revolutionary. Creativity and art are deeply intertwined with the financial system. Art is instruced by the logic of the derivative, which isthe emblematic technology of the financial system and a form of speculative capital. Now the management of risk allows one to reconceive the financial system and the idea of creativity itself. When speculators buy an artist’s work they take a risky position and collection means nothing more than the diversification of risk. The speculation on art and artists does not need any individual judgment, it depends just on benchmarking with other collectors. In this way art is just a subfield of modern portfolio theory, which needs risk management and diversification strategies. Also the affirmation on technology lost its power, technophiliac and technophobicare examples of a naive technologism – there is no way for new reentry of technophilia, a belief in the liberating power of tech in and of itself. Its all about liquidity which demonstrates the power of the artists system as such..
Music seems different, because it cannot reach the status of the derivative, but its still massive influenced by the ideology of creativity. What to do? Maybe there is still a line to the outside through an un-becoming that dissolves the game we are given as a gift for the shame of our affirmation of the system. But its not enough to move from light affirmation to dark critics, we must move from dark to black, to the blackness of a newasthetical science, which begins from the posture of the black, communing with the blackness of the real. It is this transition – from black as a music you hear, to black as a non-music you don’t hear, to black as “nothing-to-hear” (and you’re hearing it). Neither just an aesthetics of music nor a metaphor for knowledge, black is inseparable from the conditions of thought, from a project of political-aesthetic requirement. The ultimate gift of black music might be a new vision for destroying the world. Its a pure negative music: »Negative Musik / Die Ärmsten! Wenn sie Stille überhaupt noch kennen, dann nur noch als Löcher im Kontinuum des Lärms –während wir noch das Glück gehabt hatten, den Lärm kennenzulernen als Unterbrechung der Stille. “Negative Musik” müsste man heute komponieren, Musik, die sich aus Lärmpausen zusammenzusetzen hätte.” (Günther Anders, 1965)
In this essay we try to explore non-representationalism in music, which has to be connected to the question of non-representational aesthetics. The philosophers of immanence – Deleuze/Guattari and Laruelle – have something in common: Since the mid- 1980s they reject the discourses and techniques of post-structuralist interpretation of music and art in favor of constructing an aesthetics rooted in immanence and non-representationalism. Deleuze/Guattari work on the problem how the relationship between immanence and multiplicity could be thought. They describe a world of pure multiplicity in which all multiplicities are equally immanent und include immanent transformations within a given set of virtualities. Multiplicities actualize themselves as occasions/events or as blips of singularity in heterogeneous assemblages. In this way the transcendental must get immanent, which means, that the universe is not digital at its core, but analog. Deleuze/Guattari and Laruelle agree, that representational aesthetics has come to an end, but they do not agree on what form immanence should take in aesthetics. While Deleuze/Guattari prefer the productive capacity of matter, Laruelle insists on the immanent and generic logic of the Real/One.
For Deleuze/Guattari is one of the guiding questions in „music“, if the unformed can be heard as sound within the framework of the audible or music. But the unformed is not noise. So another question is, if there exists a passage between sound and noise, made possible by musical events (not music). When deterritorialisation brings a long a de-structuration of the articulated sound, which is a kind of deterritorialised and reterritorialised noise, this implies a state of the unformed that is still audible, but definitely not as organised music; such kind of „music“ or the audible is no more a representation or mimesis, but a becoming. For Deleuze/Guattari such (unformed) sound-becomings takes place within a three dimensional floating space (rhizom) rather than in a two-dimensional, vectorial one.
In his current period Laruelle is in search for a quantum thought, that is free from its mathematical expression, that he finds reductive. One of quantum thoughts principle is „superposition“ or the standing wave of rhythmic superposition, a kind of concept, that resonates somehow with the work by Lefebvre, Deleuze, Stengers, and Whitehead, but also with recent sound studies. The Laruellian concept of “superposition” neglects two treatments of sonic thought, so to invent sonic thinking as non-representation (that is, thinking sonically rather than about sound). Laruelle illustrates an incommensurability of sound’s closure, hermetically seperated from other material, theories; and he illustrates an incommensurability of the relation and exchange of sound, which is porous enough to permit heterogeneous assemblages without imposing them. While closure includes representation as thinking about sound, permanent exchange between sound and thought tends to confusion as it converts or even fuses thinking and sound. This con-fusion reflects the belief of experimental electronic music in its first period (from Russolo through Schaeffer and classic musique concrète) that everything in the world is musical, an unrecognized belief associated with what Jarrod Fowler calls the Principle of Musical Sufficiency.(1) Non-musicology by contrast breaks with the idea that everything is musical and develops a science of music as well as a „music“ related to science (e.g., Xenakis’ use of stochastic processes). For Fowler, “the program of Non-musicology is to use musicology to construct alien theories without those theories being yielded by the Principle of Musical Sufficiency: ‘All is not musical, this is our news.” (2)
Sonic thought or Non-musicology composes theory as its own object and therefore delivers a kind of echo to the work of the muscians, to their way of the becoming-of-music. Laruelle starts to write a new music-fiction.
What is noise? The conception of noise under the aspect of irreversibility is associated to a logic of radical contingency. On one side noise is observer relative, so it may be measured by systems according to their degree of randomness, their algorithmic functions, on the other side noise is observer independent, as radical contingency or hyperchaos noise exceeds human capacity of perception for capturing it as a phenomenal information. The definition of noise as failure or disturbance presupposes the position of an objectivized ideal in and of science, to exclude noise and the composition of noise, thus thinking the Real always as a correlate of thought. Here we are already in the middle of the problematic of Laruelles Non-musicology, which situates music as a poduct of science, their methods of numerical measure (as material), and (which is more important) as the construction of some kind of audible non-order, which might be not measurable. Non-musicology starts on this plane as a different treatment of music and experimental science, breaking with the idea, that everything is musical and therefore developing a science of „music“, which does not become science itself. The infiltration of Non-musicology into musicology means the mutation of music using scientific methods to investigate a pluralism and hybridisation in a generic science, which does not comment musical objects in a reflective way, but concentrates them around a problem, of that Laruelle has had in his early phase no idea, but that musicians had already generated.
Non-musicology breaks not only with musical self-sufficiency or structured science of music, but also articulates another break that does not so much involve a new subversive immersion of the audience into the conditions of hearing as it leads to the ecological anticause, what Fowler calls a different hearing-in-Rhythm, which is identical with Rhythm insofar as Rhythm is different from metrics and recurrence.
What is Rhythm? First, Rhythm is a temporally extended pattern that can be described by information-processing systems through several parameters summarized by Inigo Wilkins: spatial, temporal, amplitude, frequency and superposition. (3) While processing systems involve an observer-dependent reality of Rhythm, it is possible to discover the existence of Rhythms that are beyond human sensory perceptual capacities through technology, math, and science. Second, it has to be asked whether or not there is a simple opposition between noise and Rhythm. The answer is no, because we can define Rhythm as the relation of identifiable and unidentifiable processes that allow the incommensurable chaos to pass into an order of difference, a degree or quantity of non-linear and non-rhythmic noise. Rhythm may exist at many degrees of dynamics and magnitude. It may emerge from noise, whereby the simulation of noise through stochastic processes demonstrates that the process of the enfolding of Rhythm and signals offers a large quantity of heterogeneous movements occurring at different time scales and frequencies. But still noise has a larger dynamics and magnitude than Rhythm. Noise is foreclosed to rhythm, to sound and music, to any ontological or epistemological theory.
If Rhythm is distinct from metrics, we enter the field of non-frequency politics, the politics of productive difference, which includes the fact, that Rhythm is distinct from science, and therefore non-musicians us science and music as pure material. Here, they also start to reduce discourses of philosophy to pure material to achieve – always in interaction with hearing-in-rhythm – pulse “rhythmights.” Parallel to the objects of non-musicians an unified and non-representational theory or a music-fiction has to simulate philosophy and to catch for the essence of music-being and the fractal-being of musical objects, and yet treat them through hypothesis, deduction and experimental tests.
The non-musicological term invented by Fowler, “rhythmight”, opens up to experimental methods of rhythm production: we can now speak of Rhythm in terms of non-periodic pulsed or clicked music. We find here transversal disjunctions, heterogeneous temporalities and spatial components, that overlap and coexist in a track; in the invincible evidence of its short signal and contextless reference, the click opens various potentials to move on without giving any noticeable association. Through the concatenation of signs something like indetermination starts to be indicated, whereby failure can become part of music. Failure is not an inscribed meaning in clicks and cuts, but rather a referential that indicates possibilities of previous and emerging sign concatenations. In the nameless “in between,” meaning is constructed with the help of signs that are not what they pretend to be.Through reference to other signs, a momentum of meaning is produced, because a sign like the click realizes différance, suspended presence, while also referring to signs to come. Similarly, the pulse can be understood as an inherent stress that falls on certain metrics or beats. While listening to the clock, one might hear “tick-tock” instead of “tick-tick,” because every other beat is more stressed than the beat before. This repeating stress is the pulse; and in music different sorts of pulses can be overlapped and constructed by grouping beats together in different milieus or patterns. The technique of inhuman music forces a temporal division into such nuanced patterns, which only machines can perform with perfect precision.
With Deleuze or Boulez we can speak of rhythm in terms of non-periodic pulsed or clicked music. There is a transversal disjunction, which is articulated in the track intern and in relation to other tracks, and this achievs the transition of „Clicks and Cuts“. Transversality is originally a topological concept meaning an extending over, lying across, intersecting without a resulting coincidence, while transversal music caulks the „cut“ between actual and virtual on the rise of the performance itself, by mutating from a device designed to connect the past with the present into a newly future-orientated one. If we listen to a track, we always hear other things, which Deleuze describes as forces, duration, sensation and lightness, depending how tempi, rhythm and sound are variied. For heterogenous temporalities and spatial components, which overlap and coexist in a track, the click opens in its invincible evidence various potencials to move on, as the signal is short and without contextual reference, so no remindable association can be given. Only through the catenation of signs something like indetermination starts to get indicatory, whereby failure can get part of music, but, as we said, failure is not a inscribed meaning in clicks and cuts, rather a referential, which indicates possibilities of previous and coming sign catenations. In the nameless in between meaning is constructed with the help of signs, which are not, what they pretend to be.
This is quite close to Heinrich Kleists proposal, that for producing powerful rhythmights the puppet player has to become itself an automat, insofar as a machinist has to relocate himself into the emphasis of the machine, while empasis is here armed with a new attraction, which correlates to the following: when non-frequency-politicians are listening to the clock, they hear “tic – toc – fuck the clock” instead of “tik – tik” because they know, that the beat or metrum has to be stressed: the relation between the different speed of waves and the maxima of intensity or timeless degree of different waves constitute a dispersion, which cannot be measured. Exterior to the clockban non-frequency-politics is the supertrace, is the tracing of the immanent rhythmicity of Rhythm in the hearing-in-Rhythm, as Jarrod Fowler says, it is „flow an sich“ or the quantum, because the generators of non-frequency-politics are always oversweeping the beat of the significant “ding ding ding ding.”
Here we find a hotspot to non-music in a Laruelian sense. Laruelle claims a dispersive a priori of theory, which is not primarly related to music, but related to the foreclosed and indifferent Real in-the-last-instance, posing the question: how can a generic and real but nevertheless transcendental and a priori term of difference be constructed, an a priori of difference that is a matter of an immediate given condition? (4) If we relate the apriori or the axiom to music, we will find an answer: The relation between the different speed of waves and the maxima of intensity (or the timeless degree of different waves) involves a dispersion. This is a oraxiom of Rhythmight, which means that the philosophical distinction between theoretical and practical aspects of thought has lost its power. For example, the theoretical practice of music, which invent new oraxioms, uses as ist material sample politics, which is oscillating between an actual pool of samples and the capacity to create new samples.
Samples are nowadays part of the mediapool, regardless of whether they are saved on analog or digital media. Sampling includes the program-controlled, machinic transformation of the musical material with special features, transposing, time-stretching or cut up, etc. Sampling is a technology for access and transformation of media material, by grasping the signals of the media of transmission. Sampling subverts the purposeful transfer from source to destination. Instead of an exact process of mapping the input onto the output, sampling activates a production process, using the signal subtracted from its functional and contextual environment. As condition of that production, it is a sampling-in-the-last-instance.
Going from sampling to so-called pulse rhythmights, produced with techniques through immanent and generic methods of percussive flights and differential structures of sound, attends not to being-in-the-world, but being in music. A music that remains radically immanent, Rhythmight is constructed from the heterogeneity of Rhythm as foreclosed and incommensurately sampled-in-the-last-instance and binds at the same moment the methods of Rhythmics to ecological hearing-in-rhythm. The relation between Rhythm and hearing remains still unilateral: it only goes one way. The unilaterality of Rhythm doesn’t imply that music can be reduced to Rhythm, but that, aside from its territorial motives and melodic landscapes, music is in-the-last-instance Rhythm and heard from Rhythm. While Non-musicology imposes a unilateral relationship between Rhythm and hearing, hearing-in-Rhythm cannot affect Rhythm, while Rhythm is foreclosed to hearing-in-Rhythm.The scientific exology (the scientific closure of paradigms, knowledge etc.) of hearing, which arises from the indifference of Rhythm, must hallucinate music as metrics, order, and composition by ignoring the radical ecology of Rhythm, which is related to non-music’s objectivity without representation. (5) At the same time, rhythmight corresponds to a relative ecology (perception of music) that is today permanently infiltrated by the convertibility of money, the processes in which the virtuality of value is actualized as price. At this juncture Non-musicology has to indicate a radical mutation of the radical ecology of Rhythm according to the foreclosed Real.
(Non-musicology countermands the inscription of the differenziant value, which is the prevalence of money in all his registers – semiotic value and the beat of the significant, which counts the metrum as price instead of the tic-toc of the pulsating difference as non-price. Punctuated production time of the code is permanently inscribed in the body of music. At this point, one may mention that there must be a clandestine relation between non-frequency-politics and High-Frequency-Trading. The latter can be understood as a complex technical system in capitalist finance, that generates the production of noise and at the same time reduces the information gradients, operating at a high rate of data streams and coding noise. With High-Frequency-Trading financial systems try to regulate the randomness of assets in minimal scales of time, to anticipate the fluctuations of price politics. Complexity is here the random effect of acceleration towards volatility, which can lead to an intentional production of noise, for irritating traders and the financial machines. But in relation to music we prefer here not to speak first of absolut contingency, like one might do with Quentin Meillassoux, instead we follow what distincts electronic music from High-Frequency-Trading, because the former in its decomposition in the form of non-music exceeds measurability; acceleration, which is necessary – it can be also slowness – for decoding scripture and codes, should not lead to the hyperreal of Baudrillard, which introduces the universal trauma of capitals realism, instead acceleration in its different modes should lead to a kind of non-dialectical negativism.)
Through tracing the rhythmicity of Rhythm in hearing-in-Rhythm, and thus through Sampling-in-the-last-instance, Non-musicology develops a new radical ecology of rhythm. It starts to sample material from science and philosophy, from musicial material itself, to construct the immanent generic matrix, which is no longer overdetermined by capitals relations of production and circulation, rather the transcendental construction of a kind of objectivity without representation.
If Non-music or non-standard music is, as Inigo Wilkins says, situated in the “non-standard phase space” between periodic sine tones and non-periodic or non-individual complex transformation and modulation, it might fall within the same theoretical neighbourhood as Dante’s bourdon or Messiaen’s compositional techniques. (6) The latter combines listening to the rhythmic singing of each individual bird and the overall Rhythm as an orchestra. On one side, there is no total rhythmic disorder, analogous to the incommensurability of closure, as unrelated tones do not couple with one another; on the other side, the birds are not synchronized to the ticking clock, as though a regular pulse would allow them all to share a common beat. Now, it looks as though non-frequency-politics would be nothing other than a re-invention of Dante’s bourdon; but the ritornello of the birds as accompanied by the noise of the wood is not only a musical sensation. It forces Rhythm via an interaction with hearing-in-Rhythm, in order to find a radical objective music, which includes the refusal of the world, even the refusal to create alternative worlds, yet demands the Real as foreclosed to the world. Rhythmight produces tension and solidification at the same time in hearing-in-Rhythm, while non-musicians become aware of how to subtract Rhythm from the metrum, endlessly mixing and remixing the conditions and relations of rhythmights and at the same time separating fragments from these mixtures in order to use these autonomous theoretical fragments indifferent to the musical structure.
Laruelle would reject Deleuze & Guattari’s treatment of music as the capture of affects and percepts (including relationship between material and forces) and would instead postulate to music an autonomous theoretical order, a non-scientific thought according to the radical immanence of the Real – the Real, here, understood as foreclosed and indifferent, without mirroring aesthetics or knowledge or being mirrored by science; the Real, which has to be thought as neither a meaning nor a truth but rather as immanently given-without givenness. The exteriority of the Real is being-nothing, which confronts being with nothingness. This demands the Real as foreclosed to the world. By reducing all transcendental thought to pure material, thought can be developed according to the syntax of the Real. Instead of a truth, which has its telos in the white silence of a full speaking, in which even the Real should be countable, Non-musicology presents an incestuous con-junction of the quantum-principles of superposition (immanence of one-in-one) and non-commutativity.
Where Deleuze & Guattari distinguish between scientific variables, artistic varieties, and philosophical variations, Laruelle’s Non-philosophy reduces all concepts of philosophy and philosophy itself to pure variables. (7) Non-musicology reduces philosophy, science, and musical objects to pure material, by starting to sample the material from within non-musical discourses such as science and philosophy. By cutting off the Principle of Musical Sufficiency, the immersive properties of sound in relation to perception and affect might be also cut off. Non-music instead produces an irreflective processing of variables by variables, a fractal proliferation of models without transcendence.
Here we are confronted with radical differences in the aesthetic conceptions of Deleuze/Guattari and Laruelle. The movement and the relation of sound molecules itself, their catenation happens for Deleuze/Guattari in the context of rhythmical territorialisation and de-territorialisation, which they describe as the ritornell, a kind of crystallisation of time-space, the temporalisation of space and the spatialization of time. Within the ritornell body, earth, rhythm and sound events are shortened with the intensity of the body without organs. Non-musicology in this context could be subsequent to Laruelle understood as the production and tracking of Rhythmicity of rhythm in hearing-in-ryhthm, as an event of compression, which writes itself as an effect of the rhythm construction of the ritornell. As such „music“ or the audible has a fractal dimension, which cannot be reduced to metrics, number and beat time, and maybe to objects for philosophers. And non-frequency politics would force the dance through the territorialised ritornell, which constituens is rhythm and its apparatus, the drum. Rhythmight is producing tension and solidification at the same time in hearing-in-rhythm, while getting aware, how to subtract the metrum. TIC-TOC- fuck the clock! means the principle, while endlessly mixing and remixing the conditions and relations of rhythmights and at the same time seperating rudiments from these mixtures, in order to use autonomous (theoretical) fragments, a theoretical order of contingency (to music), which implies to make use of artifical techniques in a different way as musicians do and at the same write new music-fictions, which are still related to music and the audible – a non-scientific thought according to the radical immanence of the Real in-the-last-instance, the Real here understood as foreclosed and being-nothing, without mirroring something or being mirrored. Laruelle’s generalized fractality of thought is a radically unfolded plane of immanence without reflection of the world, while destroying the empirico-transcendental doublet by its distanceless adequation.
This is to abandon also reversibility between philosophy and science, and between science and music; non-musicology leads to practice „music“ in a non-scientific stance to mutate music using scientific means related to the practice of science, as Jarrod Fowler says. The result of Non-philosophy and Non-musicology includes a generic matrix, which is transcendental at the same time, a generic matrix, whose idempotency functions are related to the Real as determination-in-the-last-instance. Idempotency is a term of informatics, that refers to function thats remains unchanged by doubling and iterating itself or by the addition of new functions, so the generic matrix is related to non-commutative Identity which persists across variations and does not need any transendence. Deleuze/Guattari renounce representation, but still in the name of perception and affects, which are always correlated to experience. And this concept correlates somehow to a certain phase of Laruelle, where the non-musical construction of the rhythmight of music and science is combined with hearing, hearing-in-rhythm, with musicological systems of listening. Laruelle would assert a further step, where non-musicology reduces philosophy, science and musical objects to pure material, by starting to sample the material from within music, non-musical discourses such as science and philosophy. By cutting off the principle of musical sufficiency, the immersive properties of sound in relation to perception and affect are also cut off. Instead non-music-fiction is producing an irreflective and automatic processing of variables by variables, which is a fractal proliferation of models without transcendence. Audio, as the material of media pools, is not further related anymore „to a transindividually constituted prosthetic extension with reversible intentionality“, as Inigo Wilkins says.
In his latest works, Laruelle speaks of the non-standard method as a kind of immanent fiction that includes invention, construction, performance, etc. as a non-representative and non-expressive method that uses only abstract and pure thought for non-aesthetics and that doesn’t need to appeal to the parallelism of philosophy and art. (8) This demands neither thinking of sound as sonic philosophy nor thinking about sound, but an abstract theory of sound, a radical abstract theory that is absolutely non-worldly and non-perceptual, as Laruelle says. Music is not oriented to a world, nor is it perceptual; rather it focuses on the immanent character of music as such, being in music. Music is radical objectivation without representation or intentionality. Following Laruelle, this semblance of music must be no longer an imitation, a tracing, an emanation or a representation of world or of language, of affect or whatever. Rather there exists a non-world of music for both the musician and the philosopher of music. This non-world still exists in the present and is real, while non-music is always rooted in matter. At this point Non-musicology stops tracing the Rhythmicity of Rhythm in hearing-in-Rhythm through sampling-in-the-last-instance. As a kind of objectivity without representation, Non-musicology begins instead to sample material from science and philosophy, from musical material itself, to construct the immanent generic matrix of non-music, which is no longer overdetermined by the capitalist relation of production and circulation.
1 Jarrod Fowler, “JMF075” http://www.jarrodfowler.com/JMF075.html (accessed April 30, 2015).
2 Fowler, “JMF075”
3 Inigo Wilkins, “Enemy of Music,” http://irreversiblenoise.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/enemy-of-music (accessed June 14, 2013).
4 Laruelle, “The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter,” trans. Ray Brassier, Pli 12 (2001): 33-40.
5 Fowler, “JM075”
6 See Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XXVIII, 7-19, and Wilkins, “Enemy of Music.”
7 See Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); François Laruelle, Introduction aux sciences géneriques (Paris: Editions Petra, 2008), p.200.
8 See, for example, Laruelle, Anti-Badiou: On the Introduction of Maoism into Philosophy, trans. Robin Mackay (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).
Polymetric Thought and Dub Improvisation by Obsolete Capitalism
Text Roots and Wires 59
by Erik Davis
Polymetric Thought and Dub Improvisation
by Obsolete Capitalism
The present essay by Erik Davis, written in 1996, is of extraordinary importance for our series of books and for the rhizosphere thought in general. Despite its 22 years of age, the essay still displays its keenness and foresight. If it is true that it maintains the captivating vibration of the 90s, the essay of the Californian writer has great merit according to the metamatic perspective of the Strong of the Future: it enriches the Deleuzian thought with the “polyrhythmic splendour” of the Afro-diasporic cultures of the last part of the ‘90s and of the new century.
To be even more explicit we can say that after Guattari (1992) and Deleuze’s (1995) death, the scholars’ approach to rhizospheric thinking was running the risk to crystallize in a rigid and textual reading of the pages of A Thousand Plateaux and, above all of 1837 of the Refrain. The consequence was that the musical discourse seemed to be mummified in French itineraries of the French-German direct relationship among Proust, Schumann, Wagner, Schoenberg, Berg, Mahler, Boulez, Stockhausen, Messiaen, with the only “correction” brought by the hegemonic musical approach of the ‘60s and ‘70s: the relationship between improvisation, alea, and contemporary Western music. It was represented by the American wave of Cage and of minimalists like Reich, Riley and Glass, extended up to the Italian composers Bussotti, Nono and Berio. However in 1837 of the Refrain, the “unsaid” and the “unheard” is represented by the explicit lack of references to polymetric and polyrhythmic minor music, in particular of those rhythms and sounds from the vast world of black culture, both African and American. Not to mention the lack, in A Thousand Plateaux, of another great non-European musical tradition, including Indian and Middle Eastern Arab music. Finally the complete lack of all musical experimentation out of the academic tradition, generically represented by the non-mainstream pop and by the Western underground music like the electronic music in its various forms, increases the danger of a premature ageing and drying of A Thousand Plateaux.
Deleuze and Guattari’s new concept of rhythm, repeated by the first wave of commentators, is then very European, white, masculine, academic and elitist. It will be only in the 1990s, that Achim Szepanski, Kodwo Eshun and Erik Davis will update the minor sound lines with the revolutionary nucleus of rhizomatic thought, that is to say the philosophy of Rhythm and Chaos in A Thousand Plateaux. In particular, the anti-Cartesian and anti-Ordo Geometricus axis of Erik Davis’ essay offers an excellent rhythmic counter-tempo between Deleuze and Guattari’s thought and the “polyrhythmic splendour” of contemporary music “against the beat” such as dub and drum and bass. It redefines a new language, a real sonic esperanto, that is a new underground urban axis, between rough metropolitan dimensions, afro-diasporic rhizomatic lines and polymetric, polyrhythmic African music.
It is therefore thanks to the revolutionary significance of essays such as Roots and Wires that today we can finally draw a powerful abstract line passing through Deleuze, Nietzsche and Guattari’s chaosmotic philosophy, Glissant and Gilroy’s Creole and Caribbean intellectuality, the ground-breaking minor electronic music of a cyber globalized world, and the rich, ancestral rhythmical heritage of traditional Western African cultures.
Erik Davis’s essay paves the way to a new form of non-metric thought, which we consider the prelude to new modes of existence, as outlined in the chaos-opera Chaos Sive Natura, in favour of nonpulsed men and times...
Roots and Wires
Polyrhythmic Cyberspace and the Black Electronic
An early version of this piece was delivered at 5CYBERCONF, Madrid, 1996. It was later published in Paul D. Miller, ed. Sound Unbound, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008).
Where are we? The collective mindscapes we both find and lose ourselves within seem to be rapidly mutating: the compressed “urban” density of an increasingly globalized, networked, and overpopulated world; the twilight zones introduced by media saturation and the collapse of master narratives; the blurry boundary regions between identities, ethnicities, bodies, cultures; the virtual interdimensions of cyberspace. These new social and psychic morphologies demand that we reimagine space itself.
One thing is clear: the Cartesian coordinate system will no longer suffice as our central conceptual or tactical model for the spaces that surround and shape us. We need more complex folds, more permeable milieus, more capable disorientations. We need models that avail themselves to intensive as well as extensive spaces, to voids as well as substances. We need images and allegories that can somehow suggest the yawning multiplicities and complex networks that lurk on the horizon of thought and experience like the yawning hyperspaces of science-fiction’s headier cosmologies.
Groping for models of contemporary space that evade or pervert the Cartesian coordinate system, we would do well to recall Marshall McLuhan’s distinction between visual and acoustic space. For McLuhan, “visual space” did not refer to the sensual dimension encountered through human vision, but specifically to the linear, logical, and sequential perceptual and cognitive array constructed by Western Renaissance perspective, linear type, and ultimately alphanumeric characters. We know it from Descartes and from William Gibson: a homogenous space organized by an objective coordinate grid that simultaneously produces an apparently coherent individual subject who maintains control over his or her unique point of view. Not only do we “naturally” overlay this panoptic grid onto the far more ambiguous field of actual vision, but we have embraced it as the dominant conceptual image of space itself.
McLuhan believed that electronic media were subverting visual space by introducing “acoustic space”: a psychological, social and perceptual mode that eroded visual space’s logical clarity and Cartesian subjectivity, returning us electronically to a kind of premodern experience what he once called, with characteristic sloppiness, “the Africa within.”
Simply put, acoustic space is the space we hear: multi-dimensional, resonant, invisibly tactile, “a total and simultaneous field of relations.” Though these “holistic” properties are important, I’d like to sidestep the simple unity that holism implies by stressing the co-dependent play of multiplicities within acoustic space. Unlike visual space, where points generally either fuse or remain distinct, blocks of sound can overlap and interpenetrate without necessarily collapsing into a harmonic unity or consonance, thereby maintaining the paradox of “simultaneous difference”.
On top of its value as an alternative, refreshingly non-visual model of cyberspace, McLuhan’s notion of acoustic space opens up a historical and cultural dimension of cyberspace that has often been overlooked: the musical spaces produced predominantly or wholly through electronic means. After all, from the invisible landscapes of Cage and Stockhausen to the analog explorations of dub reggae producers and synthesizer wizards in the 1970s to the digital soundscapes that shape the ambient, jungle, and hip-hop of today, a significant portion of electronically-mediated music has been explicitly concerned with constructing virtual spaces.
In this paper, I am interested in one particular zone of electro-acoustic cyberspace, a zone I’m calling the Black Electronic. I’ve dubbed the term from the British cultural theorist Paul Gilroy, who uses the phrase the “Black Atlantic” to denote the “webbed network” of the African diasporic culture that penetrates the United States, the Caribbean, and, by the end of the twentieth century, the UK. Gilroy considers the Black Atlantic a modernist countercultural space, a space that, for all the claims of black cultural nationalists, is not organized by African roots but by a “rhizomorphic, routed” set of vectors and exchanges: ships, migrations, creoles, phonographs, European miscegenations, expatriot flights, dreams of repatriation. The image of the criss-crossed Atlantic ocean is essential for Gilroy’s purpose, which is to erode the monolithic notion of roots and tradition by emphasizing the “restless, recombinant” qualities of Afrodiasporic culture as it simultaneously explores, exploits, and resists the spaces of modernity.
So I’m using the Black Electronic to characterize those electro-acoustic cyberspaces that emerge from the historical-cultural context of the Black Atlantic. Though I do believe that some of the “roots” of these spaces lie in West Africa, I am more concerned with their decidedly “rhizomorphic” behavior as they criss-cross that acoustic dimension that David Toop has called, in a slightly different context, the twentieth century’s “ocean of sound.” In particular, I want to explore one specific zone within the Black Electronic: the remarkable acoustic spaces that emerge when the polyrhythmic sensibility found in traditional West African drumming encounter those electronic instruments, at once “musical” and “technological,” that record, reproduce, and manipulate sound.
Drumming Up Polyrhythmic Space
When we consider the question of how the temporal flux of music conjures up the qualitative sense of space, we do not usually turn to rhythm. Instead, we consider ambient sound, noise, echo, and the sense of dimension introduced by variations in pitch and widely distributed tonal clusters. Rhythm even seems to cut against the subjective construction of musical space, slicing and dicing the acoustic dimension into purely temporal events. But I would like to suggest that West African polyrhythm carves out a unique and powerful dimension of acoustic space by generating an array of autonomous milieus which are layered, stacked, and constantly interpenetrating a “nomadic” space of multiplicity unfolded on the fly. Polyrhythm impels the listener to explore a complex space of beats, to follow any of a number of fluid, warping, and shifting lines of flight, to submit to what the hip hop act A Tribe Called Quest calls “The rhythmic instinction to yield to travel beyond existing forces of life.”
It must be said that the West has a rather repellent history of reducing African and Afrodiasporic culture to its rhythms. At the same time, we should not let Hollywood images of “savage” and “frenetic” drumming (or the more subtle distortions that emerge with over-generalized discussions such as my own), obscure the pivotal role that rhythm plays in West African aesthetics, social organization, and metaphysics. Nor should the evident psycho-physiological power of drums and their intimacy with dancing bodies obstruct their more abstract, conceptual, or virtual powers. As I hope to imply throughout this paper, West African drumming can serve as an excellent analog model for a variety of pressing technocultural discussions about distributed networks, the philosophy and perception of multiplicities, and the emergent properties of complex systems.
Though I prefer the looser and more playful term polyrhythm, traditional West African drumming is perhaps more accurately described as polymetric. The meter is the standard unit of time that divides European music. In most symphonies or ensembles, all instruments basically follow the same meter; the shared rhythm is counted evenly and stressed on every main beat. We thus call Western rhythm divisive because it is divided into standard units of time. But the traditional rhythms of West African music are considered additive, a term which already gives us an indication of their fundamental multiplicity. The music’s complex percussive patterns bubble up from the shifting and open-ended interaction between many different individual drum patterns and pitches. As John Miller Chernoff puts it, “in African music there are always at least two rhythms going on.”
In order to notate this music, which is traditionally passed on mnemonically and orally, Western musicologists are forced to assign different meters to different instruments–hence, “polymetric”. Written down, the measures that organize the repetitive beat sequences associated with each instrument can be of variable lengths and time signatures. Neither the bar lines nor the main beats associated with each instrument coincide, but instead are “staggered” throughout a music whose rhythmic motifs are constantly appearing and disappearing. Individual musicians thus practice what is called “apart-playing,” maintaining a definite distance between their beats and those of the other drummers, a “space of difference” which refuses to collapse or fuse into a unified rhythmic “point.” In turn this produces permanent conversations or cross-patterns between each drum, a dialogue which is also a complex dimension of difference introduced between elements that are themselves often quite repetitive and simple.
Though this description is overly schematic, we can nonetheless understand that polyrhythm has little to do with pure repetition. As Deleuze and Guattari point out in “On the Refrain,” their crucial chapter on aesthetics from Mille Plateaux, “It is the difference that is rhythmic, not the repetition, which nevertheless produces it: productive repetition has nothing to do with reproductive meter [my emphasis].” Even to call West African drumming “polymetric” is already to define it from a perspective it eludes. As Deleuze and Guattari write, “Meter, whether regular or not, assumes a coded form whose unit of measure may vary, but in a non communicating milieu, whereas rhythm is the Unequal or the Incommensurable that is always undergoing transcoding. Meter is dogmatic, but rhythm is critical: it ties together critical moments, or ties itself together in passing from one milieu to another. It does not operate in a homogeneous space-time, but by heterogeneous blocks. It changes direction.”
But what exactly constitutes these “milieus” within an actual polyrhythmic ensemble? “Every milieu is vibratory,” Deleuze and Guattari write. “In other words, a block of space-time constituted by the periodic repetition of the component. Every milieu is coded, a code being defined by periodic repetition.” It seems clear: each specific milieu is a block of space-time produced by the exacting repetitions of each individual drum. Polyrhythmic communication thus unfolds as an interdimensional play of milieus a mutating array of slices, splits, folds and fusions; an acoustic hyperspace. “One milieu serves as the basis for another, or conversely is established atop another milieu, dissipates in it or is constituted in it. The notion of the milieu is not unitary: not only does the living thing [the dancer/ listener] continually pass from one milieu to another, but the milieus pass into one another; they are essentially communicating. The milieus are open to chaos, which threatens them with exhaustion or confusion. Rhythm is the milieu’s answer to chaos.”
And with the ancient mediation of the drum, this potent play between chaos and rhythm carries us outside of theory and into the dance of lived multiplicity. Polyrhythmic music provides a primary and unusually intuitive avenue, not just to conceptualize, but to draw these heterogeneous spaces, chaotic passages and communicating milieus into our bodyminds as we weave ourselves into the polyrhythmic ensemble’s fibrillating tapestry of molecular beats and criss-crossed percussive patterns.
To demonstrate just how polyrhythm mobilizes philosophical concepts, I want to turn to Chernoff’s excellent African Rhythm and African Sensibility. In the following extensive sample, which I have cut and spliced from various points of his book, the author, self-consciously writing from a Western perspective, unfolds a sort of pragmatics of polyrhythmic listening. Though the philosophical aspects of his discussion are only implied, I ask you to listen as well for these overtones:
The effect of polymetric music is as if the different rhythms were competing for our attention. No sooner do we grasp one rhythm than we lose track of it and hear another. In something like Adzogba or Zhem it is not easy to find any constant beat at all. The Western conception of a main beat or pulse seems to disappear, and a Westerner who cannot appreciate the rhythmic complications and who maintains his habitual listening orientation quite simply gets lost…The situation is uncomfortable because if the basic meter is not evident, we cannot understand how two or more people can play together or, even more uncomfortably, how anyone can play at all… We begin to ‘understand’ African music by being able to maintain, in our minds or our bodies, an additional rhythm to the ones we hear. Hearing another rhythm to fit alongside the rhythms of an ensemble is basically the same kind of orientation for a listener that apart-playing is for a musician a way of being steady within a context of multiple rhythms…Only through the combined rhythms does the music emerge, and the only way to hear the music properly, to find the beat…is to listen to at least two rhythms at once. You should attempt to hear as many rhythms as possible working together yet remaining distinct.
Because listeners are forced to adopt any of a number of possible rhythmic perspectives–subjective assemblages which themselves reorganize the acoustic space that surrounds them–Chernoff rightly insists that they are “actively engaged in making sense of the music.” We must enter into polyrhythm; by selecting particular rhythmic clusters, and cutting and combining them with other beats, our bodyminds generate a sense of coherent flux within a space of multiplicity, a kind of balanced line of flight that constantly criss-crosses a shifting and unstable terrain. Listening and dancing to polyrhythm, we thus tactically participate in the phenomenon of emergence, as fluid lines arise from the complex and chaotic interaction (or “communication”) of numerous smaller and simpler repetitions and individual beats.
Within the music itself, these emergent nomadic lines are mobilized by the improvisational figures introduced by the lead drummer. Playing over and against the stacked repetitions of the other musicians, the lead drummer improvises not so much by spontaneously generating new patterns as precisely cutting and splicing the beats and figures of the other drums. As Chernoff writes, “The drummer keeps the music moving forward fluidly, and by continually changing his accents and his beating, he thus relies on the multiplicity of possible ways to cut and combine the rhythms.” The lead drummer’s lines thus emerge from a space of multiplicity that constitutes the ensemble’s virtual dimension.
And what the lead drummer deploys most forcefully is the cut or the break. These intense, almost violently syncopated “off-beat” lines criss-cross and interfere with the other rhythms, pushing and pulling at the dancer-listener’s precarious internal sense of the beat. Though these assaults can be quite intense, they should not go too far: “A musician should deliver not too many and not too few offbeat accents because people can get thrown off the beat, and a certain point either their orientation to the rhythms will shift or they will begin hearing the separate rhythms as a single rhythm.”  Establishing an analogy with nonlinear dynamics, we could say that the lead drummer must maintain an open field of competing rhythmic attractors. The game is to push the beats to the edge of bifurcation without allowing them to settle into a singular basin of attraction. For listeners that means remaining constantly open to productive chaos: to the disorienting surprise of beats struck earlier than expected, or to the little voids that open up when beats are unpredictably dropped out–an experience Chernoff brilliantly likens to missing a step on a staircase.
While it’s fruitful to speak of polyrhythmic experience in the language of the dance, we should also remember that the body so mobilized may be entirely virtual. As Richard Waterman points out, “African music, with few exceptions, is to be regarded as music for the dance, although the ‘dance’ involved may be entirely a mental one.”  And I’d like this figure of the “mental dance” to lead us into cyberspace, into the simultaneously premodern and postmodern spaces opened up by the tactile yet disembodied electromagnetic beats of the Black Electronic.
Dubbing the Drum
Among the pantheon of the Black Electronic’s mental dancers, alongside such varying figures as Sun Ra, George Clinton, Jimi Hendrix, Grandmaster Flash, and Derrick May, stands one Lee “Scratch” Perry, perhaps Jamaica’s most inventive reggae producer and one of the leading wizards of dub music the mutant spawn of reggae produced entirely in the studio from prerecorded rhythm tracks. Explaining the esoteric correspondences between rhythm and the body, Perry once wielded out the roots cliché that “The drum is the beat of the heart.” But the bass, he said, “is the brain.” More than just subverting the common cultural association between bass frequencies and the “base” moves of the hips, Perry was suggesting that drums and bass make head music, with all the various resonances that term conjures up abstraction, drugs, interiority, virtual worlds. As Perry put it when discussing his preference for mixing tracks without vocals: “the instrumental is formed in the mental.”
Of course, Perry’s instrumentals were also formed in the machine, and it’s this imaginal network between the machinic and mental realms that opens up both the disembodied architectures of cyberspace and the more abstract dimensions of the drum. West Africa’s polyrhythmic ensembles can already be seen as deploying a kind of abstract machine, its enormous intensities engineered with a notable coolness, precision, and craft. As Chernoff writes, “A drummer avoids ‘rough’ beating because the precision of play is necessary for maximum definition of form…the truly original style consists in the subtle perfection of strictly respected form.” This crisp and cool sensibility informs the Black Atlantic’s unique reconfiguring of the physically alienated or “mental” labor necessary to engineer electro-acoustic cyberspace, and goes a long way to explaining why, as Andrew Goodwin perceptively notes, “we have grown used to connecting machines and funkiness.”
And I’d like to trace this connection back to the analog 1970s, when Jamaican producers and engineers created dub reggae by manipulating and remixing prerecorded analog tracks of music coded on magnetic tape. Dubmasters like King Tubby would saturate and mutate individual instruments with reverb, phase, echo and delay; abruptly drop voices, beats, and guitars in and out of the mix; strip the music down to the bare bones of drums and bass and then build it up again through layers of distortion, percussive noise, and electronic ectoplasm. Good dub sounds like the recording studio itself has begun to hallucinate.
Dub arose from doubling–the common Jamaican practice of reconfiguring or “versioning” a rhythm track into any number of new songs. At a time when “roots” reggae was proclaiming a literally religious mythos of folk-cultural authenticity, dub subtly called it all into question by dematerializing and eroding the integrity of singers and song. There is no original, no motherland outside the virtual, no roots that are not at the same time rhizomes remixed on the fly. Yet by improvising and mutating its own repetitions of prerecorded material, dub added something distinctly uncanny into the mix. Dub’s analog doppelgangers, spectral distortions, and vocal ghosts produced an imaginal space no less compelling in its own way than the virtual African Zion that organized so much reggae’s Rastafarian longings. And for all its unmistakable Caribbeanisms, dub’s concerns with warped analog spaces, electromagnetic noise, and technologically-mediated disorientation also recall the explorations of German progressive rockers in the early 1970s. Like the lo-fi analog electronic experiments of Can, early Klaus Schulze, and very early Tangerine Dream, dub too is a kind of kosmiche Musik. As Luke Erlich wrote, “If reggae is Africa in the New World, dub is Africa on the moon.”
But while the space of dub is certainly “out” in both the extraterrestrial and Sun Ra sense of the term, its heavy use of echo also produces a sense of enclosure, an interiority that, along with a variety of moist and squooshy effects, conjures up distinctly aquatic surroundings. With dub we do not find ourselves in the cold and rather cheesy deep space of SF soundtracks and bad hippie synthesizer music, but in a kind of “out” inner space, a liminal womb. This unresolved spatial tension not only explains the “druggy” or even “mystical” qualities of the music (qualities rooted in psycho-physiological effects that erode the experiential division between interior and exterior), but also explains why 70s dub so powerfully anticipates the virtual spaces of today–spaces which seem at once extensive and implicate (or implied), intensive and unfolded, inside and out.
While the almost psychedelic qualities of dub can be attributed to its “spacey” effects, and perhaps to the role of ganja in both its production and consumption, the heady pleasures of the music arise at least as much from its trippy polyrhythmic playa play that further unfolds possibilities latent within the reggae beat.
Strictly speaking, modern Jamaican dance music adheres to the same 4/4 beat that drives the vast majority of Western popular music. But when dub hit the scene, reggae’s “dread riddims” were already unusual in accenting the second and fourth beats of the measure and in “dropping” the initial beat, all of which produced the music’s unmistakable snaky pulse. An even more crucial element of reggae rhythms was the pivotal role played by the bass guitar. Back when Jamaica’s “sound systems”–basically mobile discos–were playing American R&B in the 1950s, the techies gave their American grooves an unmistakable Jamaican twist by severely amplifying the bass, transforming R&B’s low end into a veritable force of nature– the kind of bass that does not just propel or anchor dancers but saturates their bones with near cosmic vibrations. The rock steady music which morphed into reggae anchored the beat with the bass guitar rather than the drum kit. This deterritorialized the drums, allowing musicians to explore more polyrhythmic percussive play outside and around the main beat. As Dick Hebdige points out, by the end of the 70s, drummers like Sly Dunbar were playing their kits like jazz musicians, improvising on cymbals, snares and tom toms to “produce a multi-layered effect, rather like West African religious drumming.”
Dub translated this rhythmic complexity into acoustic cyberspace, using technology to further destabilize the beats and to stretch and fold the passage of time. While stripping the music down to pure drums and bass, they also thickened the mix with extra percussion and what the producer Bunny Lee called “a whole heap a noise.” More importantly, dubmasters introduced extended counter-rhythms by multiplying chunks of sound (voices, guitars, drums) through echo and reverb, producing stuttered pulses which split off from the main beat and generate cross-rhythms as they stray and fade into the virtual void. Dub is not strictly polymetric, as it rarely sustains such staggered apart-playing for very long. At the same time, by abruptly dropping guitars, percussion, horns and keyboards in and out of the mix, dubmasters teased the rug out from under the listener’s habitual rhythmic orientation toward the 4/4, creating a subtle virtual analog of the tripping, constantly shifting conversations of West African drums.
Quite like master drummers, many dubmasters would improvise their studio mixes on the fly. This should not surprise us, for West Africa’s polyrhythmic ensembles already anticipate the breakdown of the distinction between the mechanical labor of the recording engineer and the creative labor of the musician–a distinction that organizes much popular music production and that dub and later electronic dance music dissolves. One can see polyrhythmic ensembles as an assemblage of various distinct rhythmic “tracks” whose molecular beats are remixed, cut, and spliced through the cool mediation of the master drummer, his apparently spontaneous” and “chaotic” cuts introducing noise that becomes signal, feeding back into and enlivening the ensemble’s “total and simultaneous field of relations.”
By giving flight to the producer’s cybernetic imagination, dub created room within Afrodiasporic culture for a cyborg mythology grounded in technical practice. Here’s Lee Perry again, explaining his almost animistic relationship to the machine:
“The studio must be like a living thing.The machine must be live and intelligent. Then I put my mind into the machine by sending it through the controls and the knobs or into the jack panel. The jack panel is the brain itself, so you’ve got to patch up the brain and make the brain a living man, but the brain can take what you’re sending into it and live.”
Here we are on the imaginary border between the premodern and the postmodern, between roots and wires, an imaginary mobilised by Perry’s whole persona and astounding career. Claiming at various times to be “Inspector Gadget,” the “Super-Ape,” or “The Firmament Computer,” Perry also pioneered the use of phasers, drum machines, and the borrowing of existing records to “scratch” in a patch of sound. Aesthetically exploiting the electromagnetic play between information and noise, Perry integrated signal degradation directly into his thick and spongey polyrhythmic textures as the producer Brian Foxworthy points out in Grand Royal, “Tape saturation, distortion and feedback were all used to become part of the music, not just added to it.” Perry would also plant records and tape reels in his garden, whirl like a dervish behind his SoundCraft mixing board, and blow ganja smoke directly onto the tapes rolling through the battered 4-tracks at his Black Ark studio. As Perry told Toop about the Ark, “It was like a space craft. You could hear space in the tracks.”
This kind of surreal Afrodiasporic science-fiction also appears on the cover art of much dub. Mad Professor’s Science and the Witchdoctor sets circuit boards and robot figures next to mushrooms and fetish dolls, while The African Connection shows the Professor–significantly wrapped in European safari garb–reclining at a West African tribal dance, the jungle trees housing bass woofers and tape machines while the sacred drums nestle EQs. Scientist Encounters Pac-Man at Channel One shows the Scientist manhandling the mixing console as if it were some madcap machine out of Marvel comics.
It’s perhaps no accident that in Jamaican patois, “science” refers to obeah, the island’s African grab-bag of herbal medicine, sorcery, and occult lore. In his book on the trickster in West Africa, a study in “mythic irony and sacred delight,” Robert Pelton also points out the similarities between modern scientists and traditional trickster figures like Anansi, Eshu, and Ellegua: “Both seek to befriend the strange, not so much striving to ‘reduce’ anomaly as to use it as a passage into a larger order.” We could ask for no better description of the technological tricks pulled by the great dubmasters.
It’s a Jungle In There
While the torch of golden-age roots reggae has passed mostly into the hands of bad hippie bands, dub’s deeply technological imagination has enabled it to make a rich and multi-layered transition into the cultural science of the digital regime. Today’s “digi-dub” relies on no live instruments at all, its roots electronica whipped up with keyboard patches, computers, and sophisticated drum machines. At the same time, contemporary acts like Twilight Circus continue to make superb classic dub using all live instruments–the only anomaly being that Twilight Circus consists of a single white Dutchman named Ryan Moore. In fact, while British dub acts like Alpha & Omega and Zion Train wrap themselves in heavy Rastafarian imagery, many of them consist entirely or mostly of white Britons. I While the torch of golden-age roots reggae has passed mostly into the hands of bad hippie bands, dub’s deeply technological imagination has enabled it to make a rich and multi-layered transition into the cultural science of the digital regime. Today’s “digi-dub” relies on no live instruments at all, its roots electronica whipped up with keyboard patches, computers, and sophisticated drum machines. At the same time, contemporary acts like Twilight Circus continue to make superb classic dub using all live instruments–the only anomaly being that Twilight Circus consists of a single white Dutchman named Ryan Moore. In fact, while British dub acts like Alpha & Omega and Zion Train wrap themselves in heavy Rastafarian imagery, many of them consist entirely or mostly of white Britons. I mention this not to accuse anyone of cultural appropriation (a particularly tangled argument given the perpetual borrowings and miscegenations that characterize both traditional and modern popular music), but to indicate that the virtual logic of the Black Electronic is not rooted in ethnic facts but rhizomatically spreads through the increasingly open-ended and hybridized zones of electro-acoustic cyberspace.
As the fine British music compilation Macro Dub Infection argues in both its title and selections, dub is better seen as a technological virus, its silly putty beats, active silences, and bubbling, booming bass as nomadic codes that have wormed their way into a host of musical genres: ambient, industrial, trip-hop, techno, pop, jungle, and even experimental rock. Indeed, dub helps erode the artificial differences often erected between these musics, rendering such generic categories increasingly subservient to an open conversation between forms.
At the same time, one particular electronic contagion does stand out in its digital transcodings of the technologically mediated polyrhythms that characterize 70s dub: jungle music, aka, drum’n’bass. With its dizzying tempos and nonlinear beats, jungle is certainly one of the most aggressively polyrhythmic dance musics ever spawned in the modern West. And yet much of is generated entirely on personal computers. Distorted soul samples and rude boy taunts are layered over smooth R&B chords; giddy hi-hats and hyperfast snares teeter on the edge of collapse; machine-gun martial beats and ominous basslines liquefy your gut like an apocalyptic undertow. If dub is the studio on cannabis, jungle is the computer on cannabis and DMT.
Though a multicultural scene, jungle is still essentially the first homegrown dance music to spring directly from Britain’s black population, making it \perhaps the most significant mutation of the Black Electronic since techno originator Derrick May read Toffler’s The Third Wave or hip hop producers began to build tracks with samplers as well as turntables. While dub is one definite influence, jungle’s roots are, appropriately enough, tangled, and the following sketch drastically oversimplifies its etiology. In the early 1990s, when electronic dance music producers started whipping up the repetitive beats of techno to ungodly velocities, some folks took to speeding up breakbeats as well (breakbeats are the stimulating chunks of rhythmic surprise drawn from other records and that form the bedrock of American hip-hop). The resulting music–known as hardcore, or the more descriptive drum’n’bass–became something like breakbeat’s mutant British twin, unfurling a tactile, hacked up mix of drums and bass that foregrounded its own recombinant production like few other dance musics. Over time, the bass got thicker and dubbier, so that soon a slow ganja pace chugged along beneath the amphetamine snares; various cross-overs with the ragamuffin toasts of Jamaican dancehall MCs helped fix the name “jungle” in the public’s mind just as the music started seeping out of the underground.
Upon first encountering jungle’s maniacal tempos, one suspects that in the Deleuzian contest between chaos and rhythm, rhythm has conceded defeat. Here’s Simon Reynolds, describing hardcore for ArtForum in 1994: “Sped-up break-beats are reverbed, treated, ‘time-stretched,’ and overlaid with itchy’n’scratchy blips of sounds that evoke the mandible-rustling telecommunication of the insect world. Polyrhythms are piled on, oblivious of the ‘correct’ way to organize rhythm: a spastic soundclash of incompatible meters (funky hip-hop breaks, dub reggae sway, Latin rolls).” At the same time, jungle does resemble “correct” polymetric drumming in allowing dancers to satisfactorily hook into and pass between different rhythmic milieus nested within the same cut: one can skank to the slow bass pulse or attempt to articulate the frenetic, unpredictable multiplicities exploding up top.
While jungle’s programmed percussive samples are thickly layered, sped-up, and hyper-syncopated, in most jungle tracks they stumble across downtempo dub lines that ultimately anchor the madness. But in the hands of the music’s more aggressive and experimental creators, jungle can induce a remarkably delicious sense of disorientation, as reverbed cymbals and chopped-up snares savagely tug against the bass beat, upsetting the listener’s habitual desire to “fill in” the music with a comprehensible rhythm. The stronger jungle tracks also intensify their breaks (the passages dominated by cuts and cross-rhythms) to a degree that shatters the usefulness of the term “syncopation.” For these reasons, intense drum’n’bass produces for many listeners the same kind of disturbing confusion that West African drumming does; only instead of being threatened by the “frenetic” chaos of the “primitive”, they are threatened by the digital chaos of sampled code complexifying out of control.
In a sense then, one must “learn” to listen and dance to jungle’s complex and extremely recombinant rhythmic language. Many of the rhythmic units in jungle, such as the “Amen, Brother” sample, are generic and constantly recycled, cut and pasted across the thousands and thousands of tracks that today’s junglists crank out on their PCs and Amigas. Novelty lies at least as much in the recombinant rearrangement and pacing of these generic elements as in the generation of novel motifs and sounds. I am reminded here of Chernoff’s emphasis on the abstract precision of the many patterns that underlie West Africa drumming, and his point that “new forms are built from simple modifications of existing patterns, perhaps through the replacement of a single note.” Moreover, new forms are perhaps less important than the fresh rearrangement or pacing of received elements that everyone recognizes. As Chernoff writes, “It is the duration of time that a drummer plays a particular rhythm, the amount of repetition and the way the rhythms change, to which the drummers pay attention, and not so much any particular rhythmic invention.”
On the one hand, the junglist’s attention to the crafty assemblage of beats makes their rhythms more supple and compelling than those you find in other electronic dance musics, almost “organic” in their densely articulated gestures and “chaotic” organization. And yet one also senses that drum’n’bass is on the verge of unfolding some strange new non-Euclidian dimension, as cyborgs like Photek, 4 Hero, or Peshay painstakingly engineer an abstract space-time architecture from nano-beats that have been spliced and diced in a digital cuisanart.
Jungle shares with dub the visceral root of the bass, as well as the deft deployment of gaps and silences that stretch and rend spacetime, opening little voids that cannot help but empty us out of ourselves. But in contrast to the aquatic, resonant, almost meditative zones opened up by dub, the spaces generated by the more intense junglists emerge as a perpetually morphing array of compressed, malformed, and fractured “intermilieus.” In part this distinctive mutation in the spaces of the Black Electronic arises from the qualitative distinction between digital and analog modes of production–a difference whose effects are particularly notable in electronic music.
But the jarring hyperspaces of jungle arise at least as much from the music’s almost eschatological polyrhythms, its deployment of “heterogenous blocks of space-time” that cut across the conventional dimensions of acoustic space. Just as jungle significantly reorganizes the possible vectors and gestures of the physical dance, it radically reorganizes the “mental dance” as well, propelling us into a compressed space of multiplicity that both challenges and reflects the larger mutations in our contemporary world-space. Perhaps this is what Marshall McLuhan glimpsed when he said that “we live in a single constricted space resonant with tribal drums”. We are timestretched to the edge of the timeless, but a timeless that has nothing to do with the eternal and everything to do with the immanence of multiplicity.
Thanks to Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, for this reference.
 See Paul Gilroy, “The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity,” in The Black Atlantic, (Harvard, 1993), 1-40.
While I don’t want to imply that there is some black or African “essence” that persists unchanged in electronic space, I also share with Gilroy who takes the position he calls “anti-anti-essentialism”–the sense that the lived realities of culture and history act as a powerful restraint on the loopier postmodern celebrations of radical constructionism. Rhizomes are not roots, but they still conform themselves organically to the actual shapes of the land they encounter.
I will basically ignore political and sociological questions, concentrating instead on the technical, philosophical, and even science-ﬁctional aspects of polyrhythmic cyberspace, and I do so quite self-consciously. In American culture especially, black music has long carried the burden of representing the folk-cultural body, which is either demonized as “primitive” or lionized as an authentic and “natural” corrective to an abstract West identiﬁed with mind and machines. Besides eliding the fact that, as Gilroy argues, the African diaspora is actually integral to the West, this opposition tends to erase what is my core concern in this paper: the extraordinary technological dimension of modern black music’s musical, aesthetic, and even mythic imagination.
 Along these lines see Ron Eglash, “African Influences in Cybernetics, ” in The Cyborg Handbook, ed. Chris Hables Gray, (Routledge, 1995), pp. 17-28.
John Miller Chernoff, African Rhythm and African Sensibility, (University of Chicago, 1979), 42.
 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi, (Minnesota, 1987), 313.
 Chernoff, scattershot citations.
 Ibid, 112.
Cited in Chernoff, 50.
Video documentary, “The History of Rock: Punk,” PBS.
Interview, Grand Royal, issue 2, 69.
Cited in John Corbett, Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein, (Duke, 1994), 19.
Cited in Corbett, 23.
 This ambiguity can be captured in one simple query: Is the Internet exploding or imploding?
Dick Hebdidge, Cut’n’Mix, (Comedia, London, 1987), 82.
Interview in David Toop, Ocean of Sound (Serpent’s Tail, London, 1995), 113.
 Bob Mack, “Return of the Super Ape,” Grand Royal, 64.
Robert Pelton, The Trickster in West Africa (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1980), 268.
For these reasons and others, “jungle” is not a universally accepted terms, and many still prefer the more descriptive “drum’n’bass.”
 Earlier draft from author.
As Simon Reynolds points out, the jungle scene hosts such copious and rapid mutations that singling out its stars denies the collective intelligence that drives its recombinant creativity; citing Brian Eno, he says that we should speak not of “genius” but of “scenius.”
Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1962),31. The contemporary space of digital multiplicity is also generated by network computing as it shifts from centralized linear processing to a distributed and increasingly recombinant ecology of multiple processors, chunks of code, applets, and decentralized and increasingly autonomous routines. Mainframe computers like Danny Hillis’ Connection Machine can be seen as “multiplicity machines” that use a networked array of different processors to simultaneously attack problems. Many of today’s artiﬁcial life researchers, exploring the unpredictable collective properties of virtual spaces that attempt to model natural, social, and economic processings, are also concerned with the “emergent properties” generated by the complex interaction of numerous small components and simple rules of behavior.
Erik Davis was born during the Summer of Love within a stone’s throw of San Francisco. He grew up in North County, Southern California, and spent a decade on the East Coast, where he studied literature and philosophy at Yale and spent six years in the freelance trenches of Brooklyn and Manhattan before moving to San Francisco, where he currently resides. He is the author of four books: Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica(Yeti, 2010), The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape (Chronicle, 2006), with photographs by Michael Rauner, and the 33 1/3 volume Led Zeppelin IV (Continuum, 2005). His first and best-known book remains TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Crown, 1998), a cult classic of visionary media studies that has been translated into five languages and recently republished by North Atlantic Press. He has contributed chapters on art, music, technoculture, and contemporary spirituality to over a dozen books, including Suzanne Treister’s HFT: The Gardener (Black Dog), Future Matters: the Persistence of Philip K. Dick (Palgrave), Sound Unbound: Writings on Contemporary Multimedia and Music Culture (MIT, 2008), AfterBurn: Reflections on Burning Man(University of New Mexico, 2005), Rave Ascension (Routledge, 2003), and Zig Zag Zen (Chronicle, 2002). In addition to his many forewords and introductions, Davis has contributed articles and essays to a variety of periodicals, including Bookforum, Arthur, Artforum, Slate, Salon, Gnosis, Rolling Stone, the LA Weekly, Spin, Wired and the Village Voice.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Luigi Russolo – La Musica 1911
To enrich means to add, not to substitute or to abolish.
—Luigi Russolo, The Enharmonic Bow
“Noise,” as an idea, a subject, a field, an instrument, came upon the scene with a power and swiftness that transformed all of science and our views of the nature of matter. At birth, it solved the major issue of its time, perhaps, the greatest idea of all time—the existence of atoms.
– Richard Feynman
There are sounds and they are of various kinds. Yet, noise has its own secret history, one connected to the 20th Century and its birth in the avante-garde of Italian Futurism. Luciano Chessa tells us in his Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult that Luigi Russolo (1885– 1947)— painter, composer, builder of musical instruments, and a member of the Italian futurist movement from its inception— represents a crucial moment in the evolution of twentieth-century musical aesthetics. He is generally considered the father of the first systematic poetics of noise and by some even the creator of the synthesizer, and his influence on the likes of Edgar Varèse, Pierre Schaeffer, and John Cage is well documented.1
As Luigi would tell us in his essay Art of Noises: “Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men. For many centuries life went by in silence, or at most in muted tones. The strongest noises which interrupted this silence were not intense or prolonged or varied. If we overlook such exceptional movements as earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, avalanches and waterfalls, nature is silent” (see Art of Noise).
Luigi would strike up the call of all modernisms to return to the streets, to enter the life of the dissonant matrix out of which all life emanates, to as Henry Miller so aptly put it:
To be born in the street means to wander all your life, to be free. It means accident and incident, drama, movement. It means above all dream. A harmony of irrelevant facts which gives to your wandering a metaphysical certitude. In the street you learn what human beings really are; otherwise, or afterwards, you invent them. What is not in the open street is false, derived, that is to say, literature. Nothing of what is called “adventure” ever approaches the flavor of the street. It doesn’t matter whether you fly to the Pole, whether you sit on the floor of the ocean with a pad in your hand, whether you pull up nine cities one after the other, or whether, like Kurtz, you sail up the river and go mad. No matter how exciting, how intolerable the situation, there are always exits, always ameliorations, comforts, compensations, newspapers, religions. But once there was none of this. Once you were free, wild, murderous….
– Henry Miller – Black Spring
Luigi himself would express it poignantly in his manifesto: “…let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning mills, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.” This sense of the vibrancy of things, of the machinic presence of irritation and disruption, of noise as a source not of fear and disgust, but rather as the singular power of life churning away in the midst of our modern industrial world, the world of capitalism was at the heart of this strange turn toward noise. This was the moment just before the great engines of war would crash down over Europe bringing a new noise: a noise full of dread and defeat and death. This would be the regressive noise of fascism leading back into the dark primitive romanticism of terror and blood.
Above is Luigi with his Intonarumori which were a family of musical instruments he invented in 1913. They were acoustic noise generators that permitted to create and control in dynamic and pitch several different types of noises. Each instrument was made of a wooden parallelepiped sound box with a carton or metal speaker on its front side. The performer turned a crank or pressed an electric button to produce the sound whose pitch was controlled by means of a lever on top of the box. The lever could be moved over a scale in tones, semitones and the intermediate gradations within a range of more than an octave. Inside the box there were a wooden or metal wheel (whose shape or diameter varied depending on the model) that make a catgut or metal string vibrate. The tension of the string is modified by means of the lever allowing glissandos or specific notes. At one end of the string there is a drumhead that transmits vibrations to the speaker. There were 27 varieties of intonarumori with different names according to the sound produced: howling, thunder, crackling, crumpling, exploding, gurgling, buzzing, hissing and so on. (see Valerio Saggini Intonarumori)
We know that in 1914 he caused a riot after presenting his program using these multifarious instruments. The program comprised four “networks of noises” with the following titles:
Luigi had high hopes for reintroducing the sensual element of everyday life into peoples lives through music, and especially through the dissonance and interruptions of noise. As he stated in the final sections of his famous manifesto:
Every manifestation of our life is accompanied by noise. The noise, therefore, is familiar to our ear, and has the power to conjure up life itself. Sound, alien to our life, always musical and a thing unto itself, an occasional but unnecessary element, has become to our ears what an overfamiliar face is to our eyes. Noise, however, reaching us in a confused and irregular way from the irregular confusion of our life, never entirely reveals itself to us, and keeps innumerable surprises in reserve. We are therefore certain that by selecting, coordinating and dominating all noises we will enrich men with a new and unexpected sensual pleasure.
-Luigi Russolo – Art of Noise
OUT OF NOISE: Futurism And Its Progeny
Franz Kafka admiring ironically the painting by Delaunay, Homage to Belriot, expressed this futurist ensemble with its singular and powerful image of the aeroplane and its caged rider, saying, “One can see his erect upper body above the wings; his legs extend deep down into the machine of which they have become part. The setting sun … shines on the floating wings.” He goes on to ask: “What is happening? Up there, 20 metres above the earth, a man is imprisoned in a wooden cage and defends himself against a freely chosen invisible danger. We, however, stand below, wholly caught up in a trance and watch this man.”2
This notion of being entranced, of being caught up in a trance would become central to both futurism and its hypertrance descendants from those like Eric Satie who would use what he termed found sound, on to the latest worlds of that began with such musicians a Lou Reed‘s double LP Metal Machine Music (1975); and, onward to the nine nights of noise music called Noise Fest that was organized by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in the NYC art space White Columnsin June 1981 followed by the Speed Trials noise rock series organized by Live Skull members in May 1983; as wells as, the first postmodern wave of industrial noise music appearing with Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and NON (aka Boyd Rice); and, on to the portmanteauJapanoise, with perhaps the best known being Merzbow (pseudonym for the Japanese noise artist Masami Akita who himself was inspired by the Dada artist Kurt Schwitters‘s Merz art project of psychological collage); and, even, the ambient, microsound, or glitchdigital scene described by Kim Cascone as the “aesthetic of failure”3. One could add much more to this lineup of experimental music and sound cascades of noise culture, etc.
This is just a sampling of a world-wide scene that has even entered such notable additions as the Detroit techno scene – a type of techno music that generally includes the first techno productions by Detroit-based artists during the 1980s and early 1990s. Detroit techno artists include Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. A distinguishing trait of Detroit techno is the use of analog synthesizers and early drum machines, particularly the Roland TR-909, or, in later releases, the use of digital emulation to create the characteristic sounds of those machines.
But underlying all these variations is a the notion of noise itself. What is noise? Maybe a better question is – What does noise do? How does it enter our lives, what impacts does it have, how has noise shaped us since the advent of our hyper-technological society, and what repercussions has it had on our cultural and political worlds? In my own quest to understand the roots of fascism, and of its continuing impact on ideology across the planet through its various and secretive initiatives within the fabric of our global neo-liberal statist or global governance agendas, I’ve begun, along with my friend, Edmund Berger – Deterritorial Investigations Unit, both art and music as tools of the avant-garde of these many eras have impacted our lives even if we are not fully aware of that fact. The subtle enchainments of command and control that permeate our own surveillance society had their roots in this Era of Noise.
Deleuze and Guattari in their Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia would tells us that the “territorial machine is … the first form of socius, the machine of primitive inscription, the “megamachine” that covers a social field” (141). They would show us how the very underpinnings of history and society form the social machine that “fashions a memory without which there would be no synergy of man and his (technical) machines” (ibid. 141). For them capitalism was the final megamachine, the “semiautonomous organization of technical production the tends to appropriate memory and reproduction, and thereby modifies the forms of the exploitation of man” (ibid. 141).
Edmund Berger in a recent post Sound Hacking: Further Reflections on Noise and Noncommunication outlines an alliance between noise and noncommunication that gives us a detailed understanding of the economic and political implications of this history. As he tells it when we consider the notion of noise as an “aesthetic mode aligned with moments bound up in the emergence or production of new subjective processes” we must consider two aspects: first, the questions of the vibrational infrastructure of the noise itself: how is the noise produced, with what intensity or solemnity, how audible is the noise, how is it directed, from what distance is the noise traveling, how does the architecture impact the noise, how do the bodies in the proximity of the noise, be it those catalyzing it or those receiving it, react?”; and, secondly, the “points of cultural expression, a tapestry woven from but not limited to lifestyles, politics of class and sexuality, experience, subjective environments, and degrees of accessibility” (see here). He explains in detail these aspects so I’ll not go into them here, but recommend the reader to take a moment and read his post. At one point he admits that maybe this opening out of the futurists toward the sacred and irrational should not be condemned but reinvestigated:
Instead of condemning the desire to explore the otherwordly as escapism, we may do well to approach rationality from the perspective of Henri Lefebvre, who saw this force as one that has withered away the capacity for experience and intensity. “The mysterious, the sacred and the diabolical, magic ritual, the mystical – at first these things were lived with intensity.” … For Lefebvre, like Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, the machine of industrial produced an enclosure around everyday life which detached the individual and the group from a lived experience of authenticity (what these individuals analyzed was attacked by the countercultures of their time, with the resurrection of the shamanic and the esoteric coexisting alongside the more directed political aspirations of civil rights, the anti-war movement, and the greater hopes for a different age). (here)
Michel Serres puts it, ‘we are surrounded by noise. And this noise it inextinguishable […] We are in the noises of the world, we cannot close our door to their reception’ (Serres, 2007, 126). For Serres, at least, noise comes before any meaningful system as its transcendental field, which is why noise can never be fully eliminated. In this perspective all living systems in their negentropy are temporary escapes from entropic noise, but escapes that are destined to failure by the laws of thermodynamics. In more aesthetic terms we might think of noise as ground, and meaning as figure, rising from the ground, but caught within its field in order to function . More basically, what any system necessarily excludes as noise are all the levels of organization above and below it that include its own conditions of possibility, hence the informational account of noise as a lack of organization being a state of fundamental distortion. Noise is indeed static or interference but not that of an unorganized chaos so much as patterns of organization alien to the norms of a specific system – that which Serres refers to as ‘the parasite’.4
As Cary Wolfe would describe it in his preface to Serres book The Parasite:
…“noise” (for the English reader) forms the third and unsuspected meaning of the French word parasite: 1. biological parasite ; 2. social parasite; 3. static or interference. As we know from classical information theory and its model of the signal-to-noise ratio, noise was typically regarded as simply the extraneous background against which a given message or signal was transmitted from a sender to receiver. For Serres, however, “as soon as we are two, we are already three or four.… In order to succeed, the dialogue needs an excluded third” [Genesis, 57); we may begin with “two interlocutors and the channel that attaches them to one another,” but “the parasite, nesting on the flow of the relation, is in third position” (53). For Serres, then— and here he joins a line of systems theorists that includes figures such as Gregory Bateson and, later, Niklas Luhmann— noise is productive and creative: “noise, through its presence and absence, the intermittence of the signal, produces the new system” (52). Or as Bateson puts it in the very last sentence of his seminal essay “Cybernetic Explanation” (1967): “All that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints— is noise, the only possible source of new patterns.” 6 Luhmann helps clarify and develop the point in his major work, Social Systems (1984):
“The difference between meaning and world is formed for this process of the continual self-determination of meaning as the difference between order and perturbation, between information and noise. Both are, and both remain , necessary. The unity of the difference is and remains the basis for operation. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough. A preference for meaning over world, for order over perturbation , for information over noise is only a preference. It does not enable one to dispense with the contrary.”
This is exactly what Serres has in mind when he asserts in The Parasite that “systems work because they do not work. Nonfunctioning remains essential for functioning.” Given the basic informational and communicational paradigm of “two stations and a channel,” messages are exchanged, and “if the relation succeeds, if it is perfect, optimum, and immediate; it disappears as a relation. If it is there, if it exists, that means that it failed.” Thus, he continues, “Relation is nonrelation,” and if the channel that carries the message “disappears into immediacy,” then “there would be no spaces of transformation anywhere.” In this context his apparently paradoxical assertion that “the real is not rational” makes perfect sense (79).5
This opening out to the Real was at the heart of the later Lacan, who as Zizek tells us the “paradox of the Lacanian real is then that it is an entity which, although it doesn’t exist (in the sense of “really existing,” taking place in reality), has a series of properties. It exercises a certain structural causality; it can produce a series of effects in the symbolic reality of subjects” … He goes on to say:
If we define the real as such a paradoxical, chimerical entity which, although it doesn’t exist, has a series of properties and can produce a series of effects, it becomes clear that the real par excellence is jouissance: jouissance doesn’t exist; it is impossible, but it produces a lot of traumatic effects. And this paradoxical nature of jouissance offers us also a clue to explain the fundamental paradox which unfailingly attests the presence of the real: the fact of the prohibition of something which is already in itself impossible. (see The Lacanian Real: Television).
Zizek in another context in his book Less Than Nothing will describe how the noise of an interruption, and irritable recognition of its affects upon the mind causes a certain clarity of mind to develop:
…as soon as I talk to my sister— who is sitting and working behind me— about this matter, I realize what hours of hard thinking have not been able to make clear to me. It isn’t as if she was telling me in any direct sense. … But since I have some vague thoughts that are in some way connected with what I am looking for, then once I have embarked on the formulation of the thought it is as if the need to lead what has been begun to some conclusion transforms my hazy imaginations into complete clarity in such a way that my insight is completed together with my rambling sentence. I mix in inarticulate noises, I draw out my sentence connectives, I use appositions where they are not strictly necessary and I use other rhetorical tricks that will draw out speech : in this way I gain the time to fabricate my idea in this workshop of reason. …
Nothing in all this is more useful than some movement on the part of my sister, a movement indicating that she intends to interrupt me. For my strained mind becomes even more excited by the need to defend this inherent right to speak against attack from the outside. The mind’s abilities grow like those of a great general who is faced with a very difficult situation.6
This movement of interruption, the irritable expectation or influx of noise in the environment engenders an excitation in the brain, that engenders the very thought in its crystalline form that he was seeking through those many harmonious struggles through certain texts and thoughts. This notion that noise can engender order, bring a sense of clarity to thought and reason, force the mind to defend itself against this secret intruder, or parasite (Serres), seems an accurate portrayal of the shock of the Real that Lacan spoke of.
Greg Hainge will offer us an ontology of noise which “is immersive because there is nothing outside of it and because it is in everything”.7 Indeed, noise is not only multi-medial , arising in many different kinds of forms and media, engaging many different senses, sensations, responses and affects, it is medial insofar as it is always in-between, produced in the passing into actuality of everything, both animate and inanimate – a false dichotomy in any case as has been suggested. Noise, this is to say, is the trace of the virtual out of which all expressive forms come to be, the mark of an ontology which is necessarily relational:
If noise inhabits everything because everything is in actuality formed out of noise, then what noise ultimately points us to is the relational ontology according to which the world comes to pass, the way in which there is nothing that falls outside of the event, of the realm of process, of an existence formed only through the heterogeneous assemblages of different forms of expression which inescapably and incessantly contract the virtual into the actual.- (Hainge, ibid. KL -396)
This notion of expression rather than description brings us to the notion of an ontology of process as against an ontology of substance and objects, the sense that it is out of the Void in Zizek’s sense that things, entities, objects (the phenomenal realm) come to be. Yet, as he tells us “there need not be a split between the operations of noise as a philosophical concept and its manifestations in expression, that it is not necessary to separate out the ontological from the phenomenological” (Hainge, KL 578). Finally, he states:
Noise, then, makes us attend to how things come to exist, how they come to stand or be (sistere) outside of themselves (ex-). Noise, then, is fundamentally about ontology, and in order to sketch an operational taxonomy of noise, it is only fitting that each of the categories to be used should also address how things come to exist (-sistere). Let me then suggest the following:
– Hainge: (Kindle Locations 585-597)
In his conclusion he tells us that if “we cannot talk about noise as though it is a thing with a core, definable essence, we can nonetheless talk about what it does, about its operations , and attempt to find in the multifarious sites, subjects, objects, texts, expressions and channels in which it arises some commonality or shared principles that allow us to talk about it in terms of an ontology” (Hainge, KL 5944).
Yet, there is the politics of noise as well, of a movement, of a transgressive marshalling toward change that process thinking brings to the table. As Stephen Mallinder will remind us in the introduction to Alexander Reed’s Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music:
The inspiration of Dada offered a guidebook of how to go about deconstructing a world that did not adequately represent the one we actually inhabited. Suitably driven by Duchamp, Tzara, and other past pugnacious artists, this was a sincere if somewhat naïve attempt to tear up the plans and devise new strategies. Process meant the rejection of traditional methods and instrumentation. The recording studio became the most valuable writing tool; tape machines, effected voices, “treated” instruments, tape loops, and drum machines. Song structures and linear arrangements were abandoned; the logocentric norm of most contemporary music was dismissed for a sonic democracy. The music was intended to be primal, visceral, and provocative. Noise, for us a Sheffield birthright, was the most effective tool in the box. Although most at the time were unaware of many of the readings into the inherent political and social power of noise, it was clearly a language of subversion. Noise defied order and control. It was a musical taboo. Sonic belligerence. 8
This notion of a resistance to the command and control systems that seek to enslave us in a global system of power and knowledge, a biopolitical structure of governance and law that uses the Infotainment Industrial Complex to hook us into its reality matrix, its illusionary world of ideological jouissance scrambling the codes that have allowed us to fall into apathy and indifference. Noise brings us out of sleep, makes us irritable, induces a sense of belligerence and defiance, a militant and aggressive assertion of our power to remain free and collective, productive of solidarity and global justice. As Deniz Peters explains, “The hopes of this modernist aesthetic were on the machine, not only on the noise machines make, but, just as importantly, on the mechanistic production of sound; that is, the hopes were tied to the image of the generation of sound using a perfectly suited, untiring and infallible body. …”9 Maybe Henry Miller had it right all along when he said that we’d need to distinguish where the noise comes from and not go daffy just because you hear an explosion under your ass.10 In his text Genre is Obsolete, Ray Brassier points out that the commodification of experience now takes place not only at the ideological level but at the neurophysiological level.11 Noise pervades us like those impossible entities and processes dark matter/dark energy. It interrupts our harmonious lives, our walk-about sleep world of capital, it makes us irritable, and wakes us from our lethargically desperate lives and forces us to acknowledge aspects of our affective relations that have for so long been repressed and silenced by the zombie consumerism of the free market socius. As Brassier puts it:
Much contemporary critical theory of a vaguely marxisant bent is compromised by conceptual anachronisms whose untruth in the current social context is every bit as politically debilitating as that of the reactionary cultural forms it purports to unmask. Just as ‘noise’ is neither more nor less inherently subversive than any other commodifiable musical genre, so the categories invoked in order to decipher its political potency cannot be construed as inherently ‘critical’ while they remain fatally freighted with neo-romantic clichés about the transformative power of aesthetic experience. … Technology is now an invasive component of agency. Neurotechnologies, including cognitive enhancers such as modafinil, brain fingerprinting, neural lie-detectors, and nascent brain-computer interfaces, are giving rise to phenotechnologies which will eventually usher in the literal manufacturing of consciousness in a way that promises to redraw existing boundaries between personal and collective experience and recast not only extant categories of personal and collective identity, but also those of personal and collective agency. The commodification of experience is not a metaphor played out at the level of ideology and combatable with ideological means, but a concrete neurophysiological reality which can only be confronted with neurobiological resources. (Brassier, 69)
In our age of neural implants and invasive technologies we may one day wake up and realize our reality is a commodity produced moment by moment by the engineering elite of some technocapitalist global order unless the noise can begin to break through the chinks in the metal cavities of our encased minds. As Brassier reminds us to “eradicate experience would be to begin to intervene in the sociological determination of neurobiology as well as in the neurobiological determination of culture. Here, the cognitive and cultural import of art cannot be separated from its formal and structural resources: the radicality of the latter must be concomitant with the radicality of the former” (Brassier, 70).
Luciano Floridi describes the notion of ontological friction which refers to the forces that oppose the information flow within (a region of) the infosphere, and hence (as a coefficient) to the amount of work and effort required for some kind of agent to obtain, filter and/ or block information (also, but not only) about other agents in a given environment, e.g. by establishing and maintaining channels of communication and by overcoming obstacles in the flow of information such as distance, noise, lack of resources (especially time, memory space and processing capacities), amount and complexity of the data to be processed, and so forth.12 He describes a new set of agents in society, the inforgs, as “informationally embodied organisms, entities made up of information” that exist in the infosphere. Inforgs are natural agents situated alongside artificial agents, existing as part of hybrid agency that is, for example, a family with digital devices such as digital cameras, cell phones, tablets, and laptops. In our time we’ve seen a slow shift toward an informational ontology rather than either materialist or idealist, or shall we say the merger of the two in a wider framework that includes them both in a new perspective. Noise will play its part in the transgressive movement of information as the radicalization of an oppositional politics that seeks to interrupt, disrupt, and irritate the technocapitalist state apparatuses and its global system of governance.
I’ll need to leave off now… hopefully will add a part two that will show some of the inner history of some of the bands from the different periods that have contributed to this new musical form. Music has become for many the greatest extension of popular resistance in our time. Hopefully we’ll be able to shed a little light on that in the future…
A book that someone just reminded me about by Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century appears to be a good overview of this whole modern and postmodern period of music, I haven’t read it yet but will over the coming weekend.
1. Chessa, Luciano. Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult. (University of California Press, 2012)
2. Marjorie Perloff. The Futurist Moment. (University of Chicago Press, 1986)
3. Cascone, Kim. “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music”. Computer Music Journal 24, no. 4 (Winter 2002): pp. 12–18.
4. Hegarty, Paul; Goddard, Michael; Halligan, Benjamin (2012-05-31). Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Politics of Noise (p. 3). Continuum US. Kindle Edition.
5. Serres, Michel (2013-11-30). The Parasite (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 150-160). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
6. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 12947-12949). Norton. Kindle Edition.
7. Hainge, Greg (2013-03-14). Noise Matters: Towards an Ontology of Noise (Kindle Locations 396-400). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
8. S. Alexander Reed, (2013-05-08). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music . Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
9.Peters, Deniz. Introduction. Bodily Expression in Electronic Music. Eds. Deniz Peters, Gerhard Eckel, and Andreas Dorschel. New York: Routledge, 2012. 1– 16.
10. Miller, Henry (2012-03-03). Tropic of Cancer (p. 143). . Kindle Edition.
11. Ray Brassier. Genre is Obsolete Multitudes, No. 28, Spring 2007
12. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 232). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Drone music excels in creating and maintaining tension. It aestheticizes doom, opening a door onto once and future catastrophes, those that are imminent and those that, once believed to be imminent, are now detours in a past that turned out otherwise. Drone music is apocalypse itself is a phenomenon that flouts interpretation; it is a literal rendition of the ineffable, something that exceeds or evades or defies speech. Apocalypse as cataclysm draws a line between the present and the future, presence and absence. It is an emptiness, a threat or a hope of a revelation (“ apocalypse” literally means “unveiling”), but it is unthinkable insofar as we cannot claim to have already lived it.
Apocalypse in modern parlance is a dreadful thing to contemplate, even though it is not clear what exactly will expire once apocalypse has happened. We may think of apocalypse as the end of the world, or the end of humanity. But apocalypse needn’t necessarily be either, for humanity’s apocalypse could well consist of being reduced to living in pre-industrial conditions. This would be a drastic turn of events, surely, but not so much an apocalypse for our species as for our culture and technology. The meaning of “the end of the world” is even obscurer, for even the most pessimistic anticipations of apocalypse tend not to proclaim that Planet Earth will disappear.
What, then, will end?
A hyperobject as conceived by Tim Morton, apocalypse is something we can theorize or foretell, but not know in its entirety. We know of it only obliquely through works of art that speak of it (such as Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops) or that speculate about its attributes (such as Basinski’s The River). And while I agree with Morton that the end of the world has already occurred because “world” means a series of ideas about what life should and should not be, we should nonetheless understand that the recent usage of “apocalypse” indicates a belief that the worst is yet to come, that apocalypse is an event from which humanity will not emerge. This sense of “the end of the world” is aesthetically significant, for as this book demonstrates, it drives much of our art and culture and feeds our political malaise and spiritual cynicism. The writer Cynthia Wey takes apocalypse literally to mean the end of human existence on Earth, although she acknowledges the inherent narcissism in apocalyptic theories that harp on humanity’s disappearance to the exclusion of any other object or being. Many of us share Wey’s parochial notion of apocalypse, for we assume that if we ever do experience apocalypse, it will be just as we are about to disappear.
-Joanna Demers, Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World
"When we hear the rhythmic line being displaced by the computational process we hear alterations in the relationships between sound intensities which constitute the rhythm. However, we also obtain information—however partial—about computational processes within the mechanism generating the sounds...
With computer generated sound in particular, it is possible to locate the sound in a wider containing system rather than in the speaker diaphragm alone. From the purview of a computer musician or critic, locating the sound in a vibrating object alone may constitute an arbitrary and incomprehensible excision: for the succession of vibratory events may manifest an organizing process whose generative mechanism includes (say) a computer-audio system and gestural inputs determined by performers or various environmental contingencies."
'Sonic Art and the Nature of Sonic Events' - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2010 1
- David Roden
"In the summer of 1966, Pauline Oliveros devised a setup at the University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio that allowed her to ‘. . . [play] the classical studio in real time’ (Pauline Oliveros Interview). The setup employed tone and noise generators, amplifiers and tape machines with feedback loops. In her own words: ‘The whole set up was quite non-linear and required careful listening and instantaneous responses to play’ (Pauline Oliveros Interview). ...
In listening to these pieces we are listening to the system itself and the process of the sounds becoming. This type of work engenders a different listening strategy than a piece of tape collage. Content still matters as does materials that are input to the system, but rather than the form being determined solely by a sound’s morphology (micro) and juxtaposition (macro), the interaction within (and with) the system endows it with form. In Oliveros’ case, techniques suchas a ‘. . . double feedback loop between channels . . .’ lead to a ‘. . . continuous reiteration of attack until: it decays, a new attack occurs, or a resonant mode is activated . . .’"
'Noise/Music and Representational Systems' in Organised Sound · August 2006 2
- Doug van Nort
By Edmund Berger
We have become so accustomed to violence through entertainment that transgression itself has become merely another capitalist performance. How then do we elevate art, how can it be a reaction to the Other instead of its medium? How must we act when yesterday’s transgressions are today’s commodities?
– Andreas Burckhardt i
When we consider the topic of noise, as an aesthetic mode aligned with moments bound up in the emergence or production of new subjective processes, we are taking into consideration an assemblage built from two primary parts. The first of these is the questions of the vibrational infrastructure of the noise itself: how is the noise produced, with what intensity or solemnity, how audible is the noise, how is it directed, from what distance is the noise traveling, how does the architecture impact the noise, how do the bodies in the proximity of the noise, be it those catalyzing it or those receiving it, react? So on and so forth. The vibrational infrastructure of noise is at once a matter of the noise’s sonic dimension, as well as the affective response to it. The second are the points of cultural expression, a tapestry woven from but not limited to lifestyles, politics of class and sexuality, experience, subjective environments, and degrees of accessibility.
Neither the vibrational infrastructure or the points of cultural expression can be cleaved apart from one another; each is intricately woven together. We could never pose, nor should we desire to pose, an argument in which we strive to answer which came first: noisy aesthetics as a sonic force, or the cultural war machines. When the Italian Futurists began feverishly penning their odes to frantic speeds of technology (“we jumped, hearing the mighty noise of the double-decker trams,” their opening manifesto readsii), Francesco Pratella and Luigi Russolo praised the howls of the city, the most primitive of percussive instruments, free verse, and end of the ballad as an instrument of revolution that would come together from preexisting elements. The Dadaists, having both succeeded and dethroned the Futurists, filled the walls of the Cabaret Voltaire with an “indefinable intoxication,”iii a generation of the sonic, as a scream of revolt against stale bourgeois stagnation. The same goes for the punk rockers, be it the nihilists of New York City or the post-Situationist leftists in Britain.
Digging into this noisy assemblage will reveal an extensive archive of affective responses. We shall not list them in full, instead touching in passing on two of them. The first affective register is dread. Noise generates unease; it clouds the sonic environment with its own fragmenting excesses and overrides directives of the communication channel. In the presence of a particularly visceral noise experience, one could even feel the immediacy of danger: Brechtian theater collapses away in the face of explosion and chaos’s specter. Dread, however, is never a sensation of immediacy. It is a feeling of something that is impending, like a ghostly manifestation of some near future event hovering over the now like a cloud. Dread allows us to project forward into this future, as it is the affect of anticipation being folded into the now. It is abstract, beyond words, but it blankets the whole of the body.
The second register is, paradoxically, the affect of opening. Opening is the sensation of virtuality; like dread, it is abstract in that it is formless and exists along a line where language breaks apart. Opening is the mark of the horizon of possibilities. Energetic and affirmative, opening speaks of things that can be done, a rousing to action. In the noisy continuum, these two registers often coexist in a symbiosis that appears as contradiction, but it is in fact this very non-synthesis that lends agency. While the Futurists ran the lines of speed straight into the maelstrom of fascism, they were undoubtedly, in the words of Kodwo Eshun, “the first media theorists of the twentieth century,”iv capable of tapping into the dread of the ambiance of the technologically-mediated pre-World War I European society and mapping out the coming dissonance. And when the war finally broke across the landscape, it was “inside the cabaret” that the Dadaists “abandoned the need for justifications; then like lovers seeking a way out of an illicit affair all of them contrived endless escapes the next morning, and surrendered again by sundown.”v Speed and war was their reality, conflict and chaos was their art. The horizon was unfolding at the cracks, and a noisy schizophonia pointed towards that beyond.
Freud himself indeed spoke of the link between his “discovery” of the death instinct and World War I, which remains the model for capitalist war. More generally, the death instinct celebrates the wedding of psychoanalysis and capitalism; their engagement had been full of hesitation… Absorbed, diffuse, immanent death is the condition formed by the signifier in capitalism, the empty locus that is everywhere displaced in order to block the schizophrenic escapes and place restraints on the flights.vi
Everywhere in noise is a muted sort of nostalgia. As the presence of dread and opening indicates (not to mention the self-proclaimed name of those early media theorists!) noise has a certain futurism imbedded within it. Unlike the ‘signifier in capitalism’ that impedes fluctuation and rebounds the spiraling movements of deterritorialization, it rushes onward in the places beyond now by looking towards immanence. At the same time, the noise continuum betrays a certain conscious nostalgia. It has continually looked backwards at its predecessors, cataloged its influences, but it has never constructed a lineage of itself. Lineage itself is an implication of debt owed; it is much better to approach the continuum from the perspective of the rhizome. Pick a spot to start, and radiate outwards. Follow the branches, the splinters and eruptions, finding no end and no beginning. One could pick the point when noise collides with rhythm in the form of dub: follow its chains down into the multiplicity that Steve Goodman refers to as ‘global ghettotech,’ a “radically synthetic counter to ‘world music’ that connects together the mutant strains of post-hip-hop, electronic dance music… from kwaito to reggaeton, to cumbia, to dancehall, to crunk, to grime, to baile funk, and others.”vii Or one could follow these chains into certain modes of krautrock and post-punk. In another instance, we could start from Futurism and the transition to Dada, and then Neo-Dada and Fluxus, to Downtown Music, into punk and then post-punk and industrial. We need not limit ourselves to musical forms solely – what of the binds that move from Dada to Surrealism to Situationism, and from there to Germany’s Kommune I? Krautrock, particularly Amon Duul, can be found here – and we recombine again.
From this perspective the rhizome of the noisy continuum appears as a contagion (we should not be surprised, then, that dub has been described as just that), a force blossoming at so many ruptures, not as a motor of action but something to be invoked, channeled in one form or another, and injected into the relays of cultural, political, and musical networks. That it becomes enfolded, at so many junctures, into commodity-form is countered by the fact that it appears to be perpetually pushing onward, evading capture by changing its mold despite the encompassing of differences across the terrain of the market, driven by its own delirious rhizomatics. The image of the rhizome has come to stand in for infinite circuits of communication in an ever-expanding space. Such language is precisely that of Empire, with its drive not own towards limitless commodification but also connectability. The rhizomatics of the noise contagion, by contrast, is a negative force that jams communication, impedes signals, and the markets the environment for which it intervenes for a simultaneous destruction and evolution. Hence the presence of the affective registers of dread and opening: dissolution and recomposition are precisely the reasons noise is invoked.
Communication is always a bringing together of a this with a that. Each is connected to another that, and each to another this. There’s no beginning or end, and there is always an excess or lack to any particular communication, a more-than or less-than. But for there to be connections there have to be disconnections – excommunication. Something or someone is excluded, be it heresy or noise or spam.viii
In “Excess, Machine, Culture,” I hoped to chart three inseparable dimensions in noise aesthetics: noise as mutation (or more properly, the catalyst for mutation), as otherwordly, and as noncommunication. The first two of these dimensions are bound the affective registers of dread and opening: it is the otherwordly that is so often a provocation of dread, the internal sensation produced when one encounters a great unknown before them. By detaching dread from the significations that come with it, we can realize a point in which dread need not be an invocation of death: pragmatically and experimentally exorcised, it can be coupled to opening, that is, mutation, the transformation from one state to another. Opening is affect, but mutation is the force that opening anticipates.
The dimension of noncommunication will be familiar to readers of Deleuze. It exists in a tactical register through his musings on the creation of “vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers” to slip between the cracks of the Control Society.ix A vacuole, in the biological sciences, is an organelle, a subunit existing at the cellular level, that exists within a membrane that lacks a universal form, shifting its composition to reflect the dimensions of the cell that it exists within. The term reappears with frequency elsewhere in Deleuze’s oeuvre; as far back as Anti-Oedipus, we find the vacuole appearing in conjunction with and as the organizational logic of lack, a “deliberate creation” of the “dominant class” to ensure the functionality of the market economy.x Deleuze and Guattari go to great lengths to detach desire from lack (“Desire does not lack anything,” they write; “it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is missing in desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject…”xi) Nick Land described Anti-Oedipus as an “engineering manual… a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconsciousness, opening invasion channels.”xii Perhaps, but the work is of its time – the schizoanalysis it speaks of takes as its target a specific formation of capitalism that is dominated by disciplinary apparatuses and machines. The abstract machine had yet to develop its engine powered by communication. The turn to vacuoles of noncommunication is a remarkable reversal of these earlier positions by looking to a specific generation of lack as a key to revolutionary action. Praxis in Anti-Oedipus is crafted by the accelerationist image of overflowing; by the ’90s, it is built through the image of breakage, disjunction, and interruption.xiii Yet here we still persist in evading essentialist binaries: at the moment we establish breakdowns in the communication channels (or in the parlance of information theory, noise), we establish a lack that is also in excess of the system as it is something beyond it, that can’t be contained. It becomes a voice or a force from an outside where the dividing lines of “more than” and “less than” cannot be contained within themselves – the otherwordly.
The specter of the otherworld haunts media history and theory. More often that not it takes the position of the supernatural or the spiritual; from the violence of media portrayed in J-horror or the X-Files, to the (mis)use of communication technology by paranormal investigators to probe the unknown, to the Spiritualist’s utilization of mirrors and radios to communicate with the dead. Beyond these examples, we can see how the ability to uncouple communication from proximity has, historically, been associated with the mysterious and the bizarre: Olivier Grau has provided a series of examples, such as Athanasius Kircher’s proposals for a gigantic cylindrical mirror that would allow him to depict the ascension of Christ amongst the clouds, or Agrippa of Nettesheim’s own insistence that transmitting messages via mirrors could remove any question of distance from the occasion.xiv Such reflections and ruminations, a snaking chain stretching back through Gnosticism as beyond, and onward through Theosophy and the parapsychologists of today, are for Grau a negative to be warded away; they are an “irresponsible escapism into irrational and religious realms…”xv But perhaps Grau’s dismissal is wrong, and that there is much to learn from the irrational and the impulsive; after all, the division between irrational and rational, impulsive and plotted, secular and sacred is fraught with ruptures and strange allegiances, where one explodes into the filiation of the other and shifts it accordingly. Instead of condemning the desire to explore the otherwordly as escapism, we may do well to approach rationality from the perspective of Henri Lefebvre, who saw this force as one that has withered away the capacity for experience and intensity. “The mysterious, the sacred and the diabolical, magic ritual, the mystical – at first these things were lived with intensity.”xvi He notes that while the rationality of what was then the industrial society of high discipline eliminated these elements, they persisted through modernity in subdued, commodified forms: talismans as toys, the mysterious as the strange, the bizarre little more than a “stimulant” to spice up the everyday. But the mysterious, the sacred, and the profane holds sway for him, for Lefebvre’s flight to the outer realms of Marxism put him into orbit the with noisy avant-gardes of modernity – the Dadaists, the Surrealists, decadent poetry and ultimately, all the heretical sects, movements, notions, and occulted sensations that fed these things and polluted bourgeois Enlightenment like a miasma.
For Lefebvre, like Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, the machine of industrial produced an enclosure around everyday life which detached the individual and the group from a lived experience of authenticity (what these individuals analyzed was attacked by the countercultures of their time, with the resurrection of the shamanic and the esoteric coexisting alongside the more directed political aspirations of civil rights, the anti-war movement, and the greater hopes for a different age). In this enclosure, the thirst for otherness is cleared with the wine of the marketplace. The Red Army Faction would express this with a great clarity, despite the great unfortunate nature of their response: “The system in the metropole has managed to drag the masses so far down into their own dirt that they seem to have largely lost any sense of the oppressive and exploitative nature of their situation, of their situation as objects of the imperialist system. So that for a car, a pair of jeans, life insurance, and a loan, they will easily accept any outrage on the part of the system. In fact, they can no longer imagine or wish for anything beyond a car, a vacation, and a tiled bathroom.”xvii Otherwordly = Other = Alterity, a vanishing point, a horizon that crumbled away. Without alterity, there cannot be any mutation or becoming; there is only stasis in a runaway system of capitalized exchange. And for there to be alterity, there must be an unknown that is accepted and interacted with. This is what is at stake in Societies of Discipline and Societies of Control, for the mutation of subjective processes is always what has provoked power’s offensive. “A certain type of worker during the Paris Commune became such a ‘mutant’ that the bourgeisie had no choice but to exterminate him. They liquidated the Paris Commune just as they did, in a different time, the Protestants on Saint Bartholomew’s.”xviii The heretics are always eliminated.
McKenzie Wark plugs straight into the underground stream of heresy with his invocation of the Furies – “a pack of beasts,” a “flock of indefinable number,” an “incontinence of form.”xix A swarm forever in a state of becoming, they persist as a negative, always screaming “never!” in the face of power’s apparatuses. Most importantly for us here, “the Furies can only get their due when conceived from the point of view that attempts to be inhuman itself, as can happen at the discursive extremes of science and poetry, those twin attempts to expunge the reciprocal and human point of view from communication.”xx Furies = Noncommunication = Unhuman = Alterity. He makes an uneasy alignment between this figure and Hardt and Negri’s multitude; indeed, for just as communication requires noncommunication to exist, noncommunication enters into the realm of communication when it moves, perhaps precisely through the creation of vacuoles. Wark calls this interruption “xenocommunication”; unlike the Multitude, which is approached from the Deleuzian sense of affirmation, xenocommunication, as an ever-present borderline, can be approached through the via negativa, referencing the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Meister Eckhart, and St. John of the Cross (not to mention Georges Bataille) that straddles its own borders between orthodoxy and heresy.
“When I first came across the word ‘dada,’” [Hugo] Ball wrote on 18 June 1921, “I was called upon twice by Dionysius.”… It was a mystical code, “D.A.-D.A.” – a doubling, John Elderfield writes in his introduction to Flight Out of Time, “of the initials of Dionysius the Areopagite, one of the three saints who were to form the subject of [Ball’s 1923] book Byzantinisches Christenum….”xxi
When speaking of Dada’s birth, Ball recounts a communication with an absolute otherness embodied, in his almost certainly fictional tale, by one of the most known of the via negativa;Dada, the great noise against bourgeois society and state, war, capitalism, psychoanalysis, the whole edifice of modernity, appears almost as channeling. Wark describes xenocommunication as a portal between two things: “The portal between unconsciousness and subject is controlled by psychoanalysis. The portal between subject and object is controlled by phenomenology. The portal between object and object is that which object-oriented ontology… would like to control.”xxii Xenocommunication is then something that, under the gaze of power, becomes subject to regulation. It thus governed, in the network topology of the current abstract machine, by protocols and becomes the sight of an immense struggle. To deregulate xenocommunication is a noisy act, as it disrupts the priorities of a given communication channel. It becomes not so much a state to aspire to, but a tactical weapon to be wielded. Deleuze at least sensed this, in his dialogue with Negri: “Computer piracy and viruses, for example, will replace strikes and what the nineteenth century called ‘sabotage’ (‘clogging’ the machinery).”xxiii In the network age, piracy and contagions need not be relegated to the computer alone, for the computer itself is both a universal metaphor (from the human brain to the cosmological system) and an engine for power’s new forms of organization.
It is the writings of Jacques Attali that four stages of musical development are laid out: sacrifice, representation, repetition. Each can be further correlated to the four Foucauldian/Deleuzian stages of society: pre-sovereign or tribal, sovereign, disciplinary, and control.xxiv In this genealogy, music is born as a sublimation of the violence of ritual sacrifice, which noise represents and serves as a stand-in for the pre-earthly divine fog. “Before the world there was Chaos, the void and background noise.”xxv Music is then prayer, a portal to this realm that is also an affair of power in that monopolizes the capacity for violence, regulating it while providing security against it. We know from Bataille, operating in the formless contours of the via negativa, that transgressions like sacrifice are communications and limit experiences that explode mediation; and yet it is in sacrifice that the earliest forms of exchange economies are found, in the trading this for that. Music, like the religion that has supported so much in the development of capitalism, has assisted in detaching this absolute transgression from communication in order for its evolution and continuation.
Attali’s final stage, composition, is by far the most perplexing. It is “beyond exchange” “noncommercial,” and operates “as something fundamentally outside all communication.” This is an anticipation of revolutionary modes against the Control society, speaking like Deleuze of noncommunication against the onslaught of power-laden hypercommunication. Like Vaneigem’s aspirations, composition is ludic, playful; it is akin to Wark’s Furies in that it “proposes a radical social model, one in which the body is treated as capable not only of production and consumption, and even of entering into relations with others, but also of autonomous pleasure.”xxvi Like the schizophrenics of Anti-Oedipus, it is “nourished on the death of codes.”xxvii
Hear me well: composition is not the same as material abundance, that petit-bourgeois vision of atrophied communism having no other goal than the extension of the bourgeois spectacle to all of the proletariat. It is the individual’s conquest of his own body and potentials. It is impossible without material abundance and a certain technological level, but is not reducible to that.xxviii
iAndreas Burckhardt A Sanctuary of Sounds Punctum Press, 2013
iiF.T. Marinetti “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” Le Figaro, February 20th, 1909 http://www.italianfuturism.org/manifestos/foundingmanifesto/
iiiHugo Ball, quoted in Greil Marcus Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century Harvard University Press, 1990, pg. 204
ivGeert Lovink interview with Kodwo Eshun “Everything was to be done. All the adventures are still there.” Telepolis October 7th, 2000 http://www.heise.de/tp/artikel/6/6902/1.html
vMarcus Lipstick Traces pg. 217
viGilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin Classics, 2009 (reprint edition) pg. 335
viiSteve Goodman Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear MIT Press, 2012, pg. 198
viiiMcKenzie Wark “Furious Media” in Alexander Galloway, Eugene Thacker, and McKenzie Wark Excommunication: Three Inquiries into Media and Mediation University of Chicago Press, 2014, pgs. 160-161
ix“Gilles Deleuze in Conversation with Antonio Negri” Futur Anterieur Spring, 1990 http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpdeleuze3.htm
xDeleuze, Guattari Anti-Oedipus pg. 28
xiIbid, pg. 26
xiiNick Land “Machinic Desire” Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007 Urbanomic, 2013, pg. 326
xiiiSee also Andrew Culp’s (Anarchist Without Content) “Dark Deleuze” project, notes on which can be found here and here.
xivOlivier Grau Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion MIT Press, 2004, pg. 280
xvIbid, pg. 284
xviHenri Lefebvre The Critique of Everyday Life, Volume I Verso, 1991 (reprint edition) pg. 117
xviiThe Red Army Faction “The Black September Action in Munich: Regarding the Strategy for Anti-Imperialist Struggle” November, 1972 http://www.germanguerilla.com/red-army-faction/documents/72_11.php
xviii Felix Guattari and Francois Tosquelles Pratiques de l’institionnel et politique Matrice editions, 1985, pg. 53; cited in Maurizo Lazzarato Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity Semiotext(e), 2014, pg. 15
xixWark “Furious Media” Excommunication, pg. 156
xxIbid, pg. 157
xxiMarcus Lipstick Traces pgs. 207-208
xxiiWark “Furious Media” Excommunication
xxiii“Gilles Deleuze in Conservation with Antonio Negri”
xxivGoodman Sonic Warfare pgs. 51-52
xxv Jacques Attali Noise: The Political Economy of Music University of Minnesota Press, 1985 pg. 28
xxvi Ibid, pg. 33
xxvii Ibid, pg. 36
xxviii Ibid, pg. 135
Electric Tree and Electronic Rhizome
by Obsolete Capitalism Sound System
Chaos Sive Natura 13
by Obsolete Capitalism Sound System
This text will be presented on 20th, 21st, 22nd November 2017 at the 2nd International Conference on Deleuze and Artistic Research [Aberrant Nuptials] at Orpheus Institute in Ghent (Belgium) and will accompany the album “Chaos Sive Natura” (2017) by Obsolete Capitalism Sound System for the label Rizosfera / Nukfm.
CHAOS SIVE NATURA