Category Archives: archive

Scripta TV subversive festival

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Originally posted on trinketization:

burt_lancasterAlongside Barbara Stanwyck, my other fave mainstream movie star is Burt Lancaster (and though the woman on the beach in this still is, if you did not know, Deborah Kerr, Stanwyck and Lancaster teamed up together in “Sorry, Wrong Number” way back in 1948). As I am on a bit of a Burt tip this month, I watched “The Professionals” (1966) tonight. It is fantastic. Alongside his great “Crimson Pirate”, its one of the huge movies that show that the House Un-american Activities Commission (HUAC) really had a point, there were communists in Hollywood. Kaaabaaan! And it was a good thing too. More arty types might also enjoy Lancaster in Visconti’s very last film, “Conversation Piece” where Burt plays an aging Professor obsessed with trinkets. That kind of appealed to me too. What a trajectory – pirate – revolutionary – art dealer. Its a pity his involvement with the…

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Sharpies (Melbourne Sharps)

a little bit of nostalgia – what was in when I started secondary school. Holidays in Frankston (!). Suzi Quatro was compulsory listening on a portable cassette player. A connie was a kind of cropped woollen cardi. Staggers were madly wide jeans (wide from the thighs down), bought from Epsteins. The knuckles game shown here towards the end… and the elbows… the dancing… indicate a little of the undercurrent of anger… Remember Lobby Lloyd, but also Hush…

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More background =

It was all downhill after this. traded in the treads (woven sandals with car-tyre soles) and Skyhooks took over, and AC/DC (originals – Bon Scott era), and then later on The Radiators through to Loaded Dice at the Sarah Sands.

This mornings’ task checklist

- wrote and sent two references for people seeking academic jobs

- got someone an actual job, as an academic

- helped someone else find someone for the job they had on offer (see above)

- helped out with two other people doing funding apps

- coffee (see stain on son’s sleep suit – bad parent)

- had flu jab

- received additional crazed post from someone in need of help I am not qualified to give

- sought advice on the above

- took smallest son with his mom to a cafe, coffee

- walked to work in the rain

- sent out two books – Beyond Borders

- emailed copy of an old paper on overwork to someone, and got into complicated discussion exchange on that – ahh, FB.

- read a draft chapter of someones’ PhD, coffee

- read some of – not enough – the PhD I am currently examining

- read the paper – appalled at the BBC and the softening up process before Leveson

- changed doc appointment time

- tried to move the email list problem on – getting close to fixing it

- helped design a trinkets display feature

- tried yet again to get a response from a certain admin dept that has gone dark on me

- reading for Berlin trip

- scanned copy of Ben Ross article from 15 years ago that seems really relevant now – will post here soon

- more chat with people for the Proletarianization and the River project (on thursday had a good meeting with the archivist at Museum of London Docklands. They are interested in the ideas we bring. Especially that of co-research with local activist groups coming in to the museum to work with the archives and to identify local sites/trinkets that connect up with a co-constituted colonial history with other ports like Calcutta, Canton, Caribbean etc. The same sort of proposal as was welcomed at Maritime, but perhaps even more so since Docklands is planning to reorganise their collection display under a new theme of ‘many East Londons’. Having XTalk, Brick lane Circle and Housing groups as co-researchers can really work with this. The idea will not be that we teach people to do research, but we research with them, alongside their agendas which will be to do with harlots, lascars and squatters etc (XTalk are  interested in sex work around the ports, Brick Lane Circle in Bengali sailors who jump ship, Deptford and Stratford Housing in land use.)

- prepared posters for Wednesday’s film – Baba Ratan’s Fair

- corrected start time for tonight’s Fedeici event

- twitter exchange with ex-student from Melbourne (I miss Marios breakfasts)

- prepared materials for PHD progress meeting in dept (which is about to start)

- reviewed the PhD list, what a great lot of projects – see here and here.

Not a bad morning so far, but again nothing done on my own book. Have at least updated the blog!

Damn, forget to get a sandwich for lunch. Will eat and think about how if we comply with social media’s demand to tell everyone what we are doing all the time we will never do anything. Vanishing up an orifice of our own making…

Bushranger Bay

Still reading Gayatri Spivak’s new book, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Its difficult, but actually great. I think her argument is somehow (anyhow) to keep working at the patient effortful non-coercive project of education for epistemic change and rearrangement of individual desire (careerism) towards a collective responsibility (planetary perspective), where the wealth of productive capacity would be (re)distributed through real democratic choice founded on aesthetic education (skills of reading, habits of empathy, not jumping to judgement) and critical comportment towards others and for the comfort and care of all (!). Yup, I’ve a ways to go yet.

No Olympics

this one was made by the Nomadic Action Group for the campaign against having the olympics in Melbourne in 1988

To which (via Simon S) we can now add some London related resources:

Anarchist alternative art for the Olympics….
Report backs on a ‘Countering Olympics’ conference held recently….
I guess Occupy Olympics was an obvious alliteration.  Not a lot going on here at the moment….
….but the powers that be are obviously concerned about this kind of development….
Atos Origin is the Games’ IT Partner.  (something for Anonymous to look into perhaps?)…..
Disabled rights protests against Atos and their involvement in the Olympics have already started (nice link to Bhopal too)…..
Nothing on the games yet but worth keeping an eye on this group….

Treasure trove of Phamperletts…

A treasure trove (nicked from Chris at 56a): has some paginated ready to print PDFS on all sorts of things:

But there are loads more at, Zabalaza, and others places  (although not as classy as KM Free Press, of course). KM Press texts were made in InDesign with Booklet plug-in. Super easy!du

New Term – just like the old term in the neoliberal university – Red Mole 1970 – flashback with this archival gem.

click here to get the full PDF: redmole1970

click here to get the full PDF: redmole1970

Learn to Like It – ALP Bureaucracy-Pig Nation

Graduate School, Uni of Melbourne 1990 – Chris

Learn to Like IT Bob Hawke

Learn To Like It, by Chris, circa 1991

My Favourite Zippy

Pig Nation

One of the first of the Learn To Like It series, circa 1989 I think.

UTS students association diary 1994

the inside back cover

Learn to Like it – archival 1990 – [click to enlarge]



National Instruments

On the initiative of Moinak Biswas, Film Studies Jadavpur Uni, Kolkata, and with great input from Rosalind Morris, but initially inspired by the Preservation in Globalization workshop convened by Gayatri Spivak and Jorge Otero-Pailos, an interesting redevelopment seems possible. A disused factory site adjacent the Jadavpur campus was toured by our group in early December. A documentation of the site has begun by photographers invited by the Jadavpur Media Lab has generated some great pictures, see here. The site was left pretty much intact when the factory closed in 2003 – well worth  a look.

Now (see below) there is a plan to gut the site and turn it over to the engineering faculty. The site is huge – there is room for something alongside. Hence, the following draft international petition:

For continued innovation at the National Instruments site, Jadavpur.

The redevelopment of the National Instruments site offers a rare opportunity to look forward and back at the changing dynamic of industrial production. The extant materials, documents, personal effects, and machinery (lathes, punch card clocks, work desks) provide a physical record of workplace experience now passing. Jadavpur University, with its reputation, scholarship and global reach is well placed to facilitate an innovative approach that builds upon the proud history of NI and looks forward creatively to new developments.

A simple shroud should not be passed over this accumulated wealth of objects, and labour, from the past. The factory remains might be best preserved by the University in a working space that is devoted to tracking the transformations of industrial production and workplace experience in India. That a museum and art/technology laboratory has been proposed is supported by international scholars, a large number of whom have visited the site and/or noted the initial documentary work produced by Moinak Biswas and his team. We consider this an excellent, exciting and potentially rewarding possibility for joint work and international co-ordination. Scholars would seek international funds to locate research projects on labour history, urban development, new economy (service sector, technology, privatization) and co-research in joint ventures with Jadavpur scholars and students. A truly international project to unite workers of the world might be reanimated here.

The idea is that various people will sign this and it be put to the Jadavpur heads to consider the proposal, from Media Lab and Film Studies, to do something interesting with the site. Well, I think its interesting. I used to work in a similar factory as a grubby teenager. My dad spent a very large part of his life in one – Stanley, Nunawading, Melbourne, Australia. I have a touch of the heebie-jeebie’s looking at the machines, especially the drills where I had spent long low-paid days… (the picture I have used is from a post by Madhuban Mitra and Manus Bhattacharya – with thanks)


Giving some history of National Instruments, and of the original preservation project and future plans, Moinak writes:

The factory started off in 1830 under the name ‘mathematical instrument maker’, then became ‘mathematical instruments office’, both serving mainly the ‘survey of india’ instituted by the east india company. During ww1 it got seriously involved with the defense dept., became national instruments factory; was relocated to the premises you saw in 1957, renamed ‘national instruments limited’ (NIL) as a public sector unit under the union govt. the factory mainly made optical instruments for survey, measurement, photography, etc. and was popularly known for its national 35 camera. It fell into some crisis first in the 60’s, and then into a more serious one in the 80’s, got referred to the board of industrial and financial reconstruction (BIFR). Manufacture stopped in 2003. most workers accepted the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and left in march, 2003. 64 employees remained on campus and witnessed the ruination. In 2009, jadavpur university took over the property with the aim of building an extension campus for the engineering faculty.

the media lab of the dept of film studies at jadavpur undertook extensive photo documentation of the premises in june, 2009. we commissioned 10 young photographers and filmmakers to shoot for 4 months on the premises, covering everything possible. we have a bank of 20 thousand still images and 60 hours of video footage. a blog from the stills ( and a couple of films have been made. more projects will follow. we have shot interviews with many ex-employees. it’s now a substantial labour and industrual landscape archive.

but there should also be preservation of a different kind. the university has started renovating parts of the buildings, and will soon remove most of the equipment and files, etc. we were thinking of proposing the creation of a space, using one big room like the canteen you saw, which will preserve their products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, bills, service documents, policy documents, the punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice, including independent film screenings, installations, etc. the major problem is to persuade the university to spare that space. it would pay more serious attention to an international community of artsits and intellectuals. but we should keep in mind what can be sustained and how far, given the public funded university framework in india, and given the fact that anything doing with art has first to prove its vialbility to the engineering faculty dominated.


This is great stuff – history and potential. But there are also things to debate. University take over of the fading industrial economy has a long track record (see here, here and  here). Is it really possible to tamper with such trajectories? Besides drafting the above call at Moinak’s request, I also offered my two pice worth of cynicism earlier in the discussion [note: I was a bit ill at the time]:

Moinak, your sentence on the the creation of a space that will both preserve the NI worker’s “products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, … punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice” is a great start. But I wonder if the museum/archive route is too passive, and might not claim much in terms of physical space in the building (when it all should be kept in those terms – see Mao Mollona’s excellent film on industrial steel machinery in Sheffield, where a fully functioning workshop has been maintained 1890’s era machines in working, and profitable, order). I also wonder if, importantly, the preservation argument does enough in conceptual terms within the overall regeneration/transformation of the economy and the University – a discussion I imagine that must be going on, and needs new thinking.

I am acutely aware that here “anything doing with art has first to prove its viability to the engineering faculty dominated”, and wonder if the focus of what we present might be geared towards this. That said, I am stumped for where to look for initial funds, or clearly marked ‘preservation funds’. It is not my forte. However, ongoing funding could also be geared into the conception.

An Art/Laboratory would probably have pedagogical, research and creative components.

At issue is who inhabits the space, what it provides, and outcomes now and for the future.

Thus, neither a mortuary service for fading industry, nor a hollow art scene doing a ghost dance for dead capital (tried and tested, but too often turned into mere foyer or coffee shop – eg Tate Modern), the project has far greater inter- and intra- disciplinary purchase, and potential as for very wide participation. The former workers, the Jadavpur students, local residents, the city in general, and both national and international research teams across many areas can be drawn into the nexus of this site conceived as instrumental to the transition between older and newer economic modes. Research, teaching and creativity all have a role in transition.

A range of projects, both national and international – but many funded internationally – could locate in dedicated space within the project:

Possible internationally funded Research Projects for Instrument Lab

- changing infrastructure of economies, history and globalization, technology and colonialism, warfare and commerce, education and training history (see journal of the Confernce of Socialist Economists)

- class composition and worker’s inquiry, labour history, transition economies and the transformation of work, co-research with workers of older and newer economic production (this is a project I would like to pursue between Goldsmiths, Queen Mary Business School and Jadavpur – funded by Economic and Social Research Council UK perhaps, the Co-Research would involve workers paid as researchers in both discontinued production such as National Instruments, as well as in new industries in Kolkata such as creative economy, service sector, media and telecoms. They would be researching, documenting and theorizing their own conditions of work – aim initially at a three year project @ £500k for 4 paid researchers on site, plus money for collaborative work).

- precision capitalism, mathematical arts of production, skill, craft and body/machine knowledge: instrument hand and brain, cyborg labs then and now (Fuller/Harwood/MUTE or RAQS?).

- obsolescence and regenerative second life, industrial remains and urban renewal, science and fiction, creative revival as life force in cities (see P.Hall and M.Castells: Technopoles of the World).

- photographic imaging and war/industry convergence (as digital is to analog; globalization is [not] to industry)

- teaching exchange, especially in cultural studies of work, education, training, urban preservation and curating (possible Network Grants at £70k each)

These projects in various ways – there would be many others possible – would be conceived to locate researchers at Jadavpur, employed locally and internationally, and would work with local constituents and stakeholders (workers, researchers, students, local residents, support staff). Each would entail a pedagogical exchange function, as well as a display (installations, museum, art) aspect. The point is to keep this alive to change, the transformation of work, of class composition, or urban environs, and of the university itself (as universities move to project based work, and older models of disciplinary containment are supplemented).

Ahhh, now I have written all this down I think maybe its not strong enough yet to stave off the impending disposal of most of the workplace artefacts, beautiful machines (valuable machines) and other remains, but those remains are the resource and raw material of something potentially great in the future. Our labour can reanimate them – the sweat of our friends to whom we owe a debt (not just of mourning).

Sorry for the Derridisms – the flu drugs again kick in…

Visiting Faraway: an installation by Geoff Weary at the Art Gallery of NSW

Gael Clichy 5

This one is really from the Vault. It was printed in the Melbourne art magazine Agenda, in about 1989 or so. The totally irrelevant picture I have chosen to illustrate this is not of Weary’s art, but since Man City beat the Gunners 4-1 yesterday I thought it amusing that when I searched ‘weary’ this picture turned up, with the caption ‘a weary Arsenal…’ Apologies, but the image that illustrated this piece in its original form will be retrieved when I’ve dug still further down into the swamp…

‘Visiting Faraway: an installation by Geoff Weary at the Art Gallery of NSW’

- by John Hutnyk

There is no way that the ‘main event’ could be ignored in this tale.

In a room tucked away beneath the Guggenheim collection, which dominates attendances at the NSW Gallery this summer, Geoff Weary’s video installation waits for an audience.  Weary had been artist-in-residence at the time when Emperor Hirohito was slowly dying, in hospital and in the national press, an event which had its significances in all parts of Japan.  Now Weary is located down under the visiting treasures of American Art collection, and Japan is somehow again made ephemeral in the process.  Given a basement-like room in which to set up his elaborate commentary upon his ‘residence’, Weary’s video rolls over and over, and while it doesn’t immediately offer an easy set of linkages, it is nevertheless not too strange to attribute a narrative intentionality to the arrangements.  People want to tell stories about Japan – making meaning of the enigma.  Yet how we construct the ‘empire of signs’, as Barthes called it, raises questions about storytelling and fidelity of representation that deserve more attention.  In Weary’s room a few people enter – the door is hard to find – and sit before his ‘Faraway’ – a Sony large-screen video projector, two Bose hi-fidelity speakers and some twenty-three black and white images arranged upon the walls.  At various times across the last month three videos have been shown over: ‘From Occupied Japan’, ‘Faraway’ and ‘House of Whispers’.  I saw the third of these, secreting its messages from a Japan that seemed so much more distant than the masculanist European glories haphazardly collected upstairs.  The Emperor and wartime Imperial Nippon is remote in place and time, and yet the economics of ‘whispers’ – a suggestive piece of video set in the Tokyo stock exchange – could, perhaps should, be so much closer to us than the ‘valuable’ art of Mondrian, Modigliani and so on – for all the influences of the ‘east’ that might be traced in those works.  Slamming the American Imperialism of the Guggenheim, however, is another project.

Weary tells us a story. There are seven photographs of world war two airmen, there are seven photographs of coins, and there are seven civilian faces, five of these quite obviously evocative of ‘youth’, or perhaps the ‘future’ of Japan.  There is a larger photograph of the Emperor, and another large piece which is the front page of the newspaper which announced his death: ‘The Emperor died at 6.33 am today and the 55 year old Crown Prince succeeded immediately to the Chrysanthemum throne’.  In the catalogue essay, Spivak’s comment that money resembles writing as a ‘sign of a sign’ resonates further here in the context of the empire of signs.  All but one of the coins in the photographs are caught spinning, over and over; the seventh, in the centre, is one of those coins with its centre chopped out – a device of old mints to extend coinage without producing further coins – as if the centre of value has been removed and spent elsewhere, and yet there remains a currency in Japan.  The Emperor is important even at the stock exchange, site of the economic ascendancy of the nation, even as the coin is clipped in this way.  Clipped coins are of a different, more convoluted order, but they are still money.  Why then have they become so strange, so exotic, in this context?

Weary has the exchangists tell a story.  In the video we watch accountants accounting, inscribing value upon small sheets, scribbled wealth.  Money in its most abstracted and international form in the stock exchange – yet still strange, mysterious.  Hands gesture signals to the stock board – to buy so many units, to sell so many others, to wave goodbye, to wipe away a tear – the hands dance in their language of value.  The writers inscribe.  And each interlude away from the exchange – to the landfilled area of Tokyo bay, to the world of T.V. advertising – ends with a staggered frame effect which resembles flicking through the pages of a book (wasn’t this the form of the most originary animations?).  Figures of exchange value are superimposed over a shouting face.  The camera presumes to read for us, making its images into text, through writing, through pages, and alongside the text of the death of the Emperor, the text of the war and the text of value in ‘faraway’ Japan. The contradiction of the money form which can make equivalences of everything all over the globe appears in its strangest manifestation in the very forum of international money.  The stock exchange should be the most familiar of places for us, the point at which we can calculate equivalences, since money allows us to do so – but here we cannot.

Then Weary tells us a fishing story.  Amidst the stock exchange scenes the editing has included a coloured sequence shot on the reclaimed lands of Tokyo bay.  Many people are fishing, a small fish is caught, the city is ‘faraway’ in the background.  What is value here?  Across this sequence the music is ‘traditional’, everything else had been Bach violins (Partita in D Minor).  Is fishing valuable?  As a pastime or as commodity, another coin has been clipped, on land reclaimed, as if at some point Tokyo reclaimed this as its centre, not yet constructed, developed, not yet part of the city, and still resonant with the music of an older Japan.  The huge wealthy urbanity of the metropolis, with which cinematography so likes to conjure up images of our own future, is presented from afar, from a reverent distance perhaps, so as not to succumb to the imperialism of icon building where the building of Tokyo as Empire becomes the sign of world value.  Yet if Weary does want to avoid, as it says in the catalogue, ‘the Western postmodernist definition of Japan as an archetypical cultural other’ and not enter into ‘a mindless unproblematised celebration of Japan’ as the exemplary sign-scape, then his city has to be built from some other position than that of the seduced voyeur of the traditional value of the gesture.  Fishing rods and close-ups of hands may entail a fidelity with ‘what is’, but the cliché of the Tokyo-proto-metropolis remains.  And this is what can feed Tokyo into the gluttonous exchange machine of the money-for-cultural-difference relation – even the strange can be calculated and commodified finally – coins can be found to represent its enigma.  As we so often find, stereotypes work precisely because they are stereotypes, reductively meaningful, and capable of working their effects even at a distance, even under criticism.  For all Weary’s ‘other’ Japan, it is Japan as other that is presented in very conventional ways.  Mysterious again, the place cannot be demystified under Weary’s signs of money, or of Emperor, nor of fishing.

There is a story here that is difficult to tell. The camera – both video and photographic – begins to read for us, but we are also drawn over to ‘faraway’ Japan.  Voyeurs of our own impressions and failures of comprehension – Japan becomes a story since it is difficult to tell, because it resists our conventional narrations.  Yet we can gain a purchase on this, since our stereotypes of the war, our iconic image of an Emperor, the all-transmutable value of coins and the whispered values of the stock exchange only become stories through our sitting before these images across time.  Wandering around the Guggenheim is not very different from this, but the time-based arts of Weary tell in so many different ways than the paintings in the main exhibition that it is inappropriate to compare, and yet unavoidable, because to visit Weary is, usually, to have already visited the Guggenheim.  Value asserts its priorities again, the Emperor is dead but Weary’s Japan story remains faraway buried beneath the grand history of ART upstairs, and buried beneath the gestures of avoiding clichés, avoiding our constructions by making an object of construction – Japan as a sign of a sign of value – even as it might allow us to speak of more than this.  It is always important, I think, to look at context and its conditioning effects, and ask where value is to be found, who has put together the collection, and how.  The Emperor is dead, the coin is clipped, a hand inscribes the exchange, yet the same old imperialisms abound.  Upstairs the punters pay money to see the booty of American collectors, and value is left in a spin.

Learn To Like It – archival 1990 ……………. . [click to enlarge]

Snd-ctrl 1995 – more from the vault

The Revolutionary Structure of Sound: experimental musings.

Most popular music could hardly be described as revolutionary in the old (and still urgent) sense, yet to dismiss musical production and its associated pleasures as irrelevant to revolution would make for exceedingly dull practice. Most contemporary musicians, and even or perhaps especially those who claim to be ‘political’, are hardly capable of a revolutionary politics sufficient to pose a challenge to capitalism at this time. This, of course, will not be news. It is necessary only to refer to the ways in which the anti-establishment ethos of much rock and roll is so easily absorbed into the logistics of transnational entertainment sales and corporate bureaux to recognise the dominance of the market here. The Rolling Stones tour of Europe sponsored by Volkswagen would be an obvious example of the way the Industry is calibrated with the dollar for even the most decadently wasted punks. Lydon’s Sex Pistols bartered their way into hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of record and movie contracts and settlements on the basis of a few chords and some well-aimed abuse of, among many, the old batty Lizzie herself (she with metal hat). In the USA gangsta rappers (Dre, Snoop, Warren G) and preppy message-mongering hip-hopsters (like Arrested Development) alike are in it for the money (and with some justification – look out for Dipa Basu’s work on Black business in Hip-Hop. Salt n Pepa sing ‘we wanna get paid’ for all the right reasons). And the examples can be multiplied – its a sad joke to think there might possibly still be a band somewhere slogging along the pub circuit night after night just doing that shit for a meagre living and not someday hoping for that famed ‘discovery’ which leads to contracts, mega-sales and limousines (or at least free tickets to the MTV awards). Stranger things could happen I suppose, but we’d all laugh.

Yet there is room to think about music as revolutionary in other senses. There is much to be said for those musicians who attempt to provoke their audiences to think about contemporary issues, or at least to think at all. And while too many fans of Billy Bragg will sing along to the workers’ flag without stopping to consider the context and history of that song (and there are other less obvious examples), the place of popular music within the cultures of the Left has a significance that should be fostered. We all like to dance, well many of us do (sorry those who are complete klutzes and know it. Myself, I will happily make a fool of myself on the dance floor – I don’t get thrown off too often). The problem is, however, that the Left and music still seems to be mired in a simple equation of folk and message and militant content (arcane form).

But the revolutionary place of music requires more justification than as some kind of mass communication shorthand capable of reaching those who have been dissuaded from purchasing Left literature on the High Street by Newspaper-sellers from hell. Nor can it be just some kind of cultural therapy cum release valve for after the demo and/or to raise money for jailed comrades/campaigns/printing presses and so forth. There are more interesting things going on in clubs, homes and the ‘scene’ (wherever that interzone reality is today – SimCity 2000 I guess), and most excellent, for example, has been the evolution of the campaign against the criminal justice bill/act from being a gut-reaction defence of right to party into a wider youth politicisation which recognises Government as the racist, capitalist, bigot-enemy trying systematically to renovate a tired imperialist backwater… Yeah yeah . But there must be more that is revolutionary about music for it to survive ever-present commercialisation and make it worthy of our continued support. What might this be? Perhaps at a time when the modes of communication, presentation and dissemination are transformed exponentially, music can still also be a means to think differently. To think otherwise than we do now – and excuse the clichés – to move beyond the instrumental and repetitive thinking we have been taught, and teach ourselves, and to listen for something other than the same old tunes. Hey Ho, Hey Ho….

This is not some Pied Piper evangelism but something rather more modest or experimental. I propose to consider music and sound as disharmonious accompaniment to the conventions of Western metaphysical thinking, or at least as a possible contrapuntal melody which could sound out a critique of capitalism. This would be well beyond the conventional folksy version of lefty music, but in some degree extrapolated therefrom, and certainly requiring studious attention to the minutia of Marxist argumentation (too often the dull and grim struggle of the sloganeering Left allow people to skive off the hard work of having to read those old texts. No easy task, but there’s no avoiding it either).

Basically the first and most general step in my argument is that music is not just there. Its a communal thing, produced, performed and heard in a context. Today that context is, to a lesser or greater extent, at the productive margins of Capitalism – be it rave/tekno or bhangra/jungle, banned or platinum, big megabucks production or four-track amateurs, Ice T or Kylie M, or even your local garage grunge/party DJ dreamer, whoever you know. But wherever and whatever it is, music can be considered over against, even resistant, to commerce and the contexts of the market. Not always, and often only barely, but there is – still – something excessive in sound, something surplus. So, in order to rethink this context it might be useful to suggest that the sounds we consider, say under the formation ‘popular music’, as like classical music, even musical notation, or even like writing, as a record, are co-constituted in time with audiences as presence. (text and eye, instrument and ear). People together in the contextof sound. Now just what is music? We have been taught of late to think of it as product, but what do we mean? Music is a context of sound. We hear it, but it is not the hearing. We play it, but not just to play. The context of music offers us an immediacy which has been broken down into contituent, and marketable, components. In part of the double deceit of capital music seems now contained in the performed or recorded ‘nature’ of sound in the context of purchase, and we have come to believe – mostly through the privileging of presence in writing – that the recording is a way of retaining sound and the performance is a presentation of sounds (and visuals since MTV, Madonna etc). The disruptive point to introduce here – so subtle – is that the presentation or the recording suggests a level of articulation of music which is not music itself. A kind of echo of music in the market. This double structure has been a silent facility in the commercialisation of sound (a role deployed to the performers skill or memory, or to musical notation in live performance, but most significant since the development of vinyl, the cassette tape and the CD).

To demonstrate this more clearly it is easiest to consider the technology. The point is that a recording inscribed in the form of minute grooves on vinyl or strings of numbers on a three-inch circular diskette capable of laser translation (or whatever – how do they do that?) is not yet music. There must always be a playing and a listening for there to be sound – and this listening is not the simple consumption of clichéd economics. There are moments of consumption, but what is required, in the age of digital reproduction, is an evaluation of the repetitive listenings brought into availability by these technologies. With a CD, but also with musical notation, with the vinyl album, and even with the rehearsed performance, the sound is remade over and over by each listening, just as each reading of a text is a new bringing forth. Endlessly. This must be dealt with in terms of the labour theory of value as understood by Marx in the latter sections of Capital (and modified in part given new understandings of the status of endless playings of a CD and the availability of on-line clips down on radio.cyber.caf – again given the co-constitutive ‘labour’ of the listener). The labour that is required to produce an object, or objects – in this case a CD, CD player, speakers and all other costs – is labour that has been stolen from labourers by capitalist investors. Although the co-ordination of capitalism enables mass production and distribution, it is on the basis of this co-ordination, and ownership of the means of production, distribution etc, that capitalists are able to exploit the inequity of a process where work is not paid according to its return, the value it creates on the market. Basically, a very long story which must be read in detail, amounts to the theft of labour by a bunch of old men in suits, and others not so old, with ponytails and sportscars, but also in suits. This theft of value extends, I think it can be argued, to the various forms of ‘work’ it is necessary for you to do in order to be in a position to be a listener, and so make music. This co-constitution of sound requires us to rethink consumption as production subsumed within a capitalism which colonises all aspects of life (Marx’s ‘real subsumption’ discussed in Capital vol 3 would be usefully elaborated – a reading offered by the lyrical Antonio Negri begins this work – see Marx Beyond Marx). Hmmm. That sounds too difficult, check it out though. It may be right. And it makes us focus upon the communal context of music in a more sophisticated way than previous lefty-folky musicism. Get back to me.

Instead of exploring the endless permutations and distinctions of this part of a sophisticated labour theory of value project (its too long and winding a road, but I am trying to get back to it), it is possible to draw in other interesting works for similar ends. In a related register it might also be suggested that a recording is a kind of negative. Not only as a product, but certainly essential for the structure of capital which requires a purchase and a development on the part of the listener/consumer. It is clear that a recording is not yet the sound, and never can be, and must be decoded or – excuse the German – ‘aufhebung’ if it is to become sound. A performer must play the piece, read the notation, or a CD must be put into the player and the play button pressed, etc. Further development of this point would require a difficult contemplation of the ontological status of the negative (check out the down rhythms of Giorgio Agamben’s Language and Death) and its relation to the dialect-ic (see that old beat philosopher and techno DJ Martin Heidegger who asks in Sein und Zeit ‘why does every dialectic take refuge in negation…’ 332). The recording as somehow the negation of sound itself negated to produce sound. The diamond stylus in contact with the grooves of vinyl is an easier representation of this, but the digital complexity of the CD is not so far removed from the notations of a Beethoven and so on.

“23914034u2pjdfsdr034130eu 3-434 4230423052054909483ru 2u2340032409 23 23984092374523 402934 0923420394 32r428r4209357v3875oieuwr4999435 v 8u5 34 340475 30035734057 [549890583589--459] -348543895h47h493n9j4999″ (fifth symphony, first two bars)

The point is not to abandon all recordings (a rerun of the fun of dumping televisions out of apartment windows – not revolutionary in itself, but fun…) but to rethink music as mutual co-production in need of a recovery operation to undo the negative appropriations of capitalism and Industry. The task of a revolutionary rethinking of sound then might attempt to link the anti-establishment ethos of (some, admittedly not enough) popular music to this scene of negativity with a view to transformation. Not that everything must be understood as moving in a negative dialectic (since some might even call this break-beat), and neither is it the case that a simple overcoming of outmoded musical styles will help settle old scores – at least not without considerable practice. But the rethinking of the negative in music as a part of a dialectical movement, although within the thinking of Western metaphysics, as negative invention, should offer the possibility of thinking otherwise – and so through a mass movement help manifest an alternative to capitalism or at least the possibility of disruption and dysfunction within the neat crisis-reconstruction-crisis cycle of the corporations. It is the beginnings of this that some may recognise, intuitively, in the links between music and politics made explicit every now and then. The next step would be to base this explicitly on a further reasoning of music politics that goes well beyond manifesto-poseurs and the star-syndrome of pop. Dancehall, Rave, Jungle begin a more inclusive politics of sound. Subsequently the overcoming of exploitative (negative) capitalist relations would thus initiate a revolutionary transformation of life – with a beat you can dance to. That’d be cool. Music, Amusement, the Muse bemused.


footnote one. Is sound-voice something more primary than the language which both depends upon it and is made possible by it, but which is separate from it? Language in itself has no voice. Language is, but needs more to sound itself. Without this negativity – the non-immediacy – of language/sound there would be no way of distinguishing voice/music. In immediacy every possibility of indicating the event of language disappears, hence without negativity (or abstraction/separation?), no language, no music, no culture, no exploitation, no war, no death, no thought, no ice-cream. All knowledge presupposes the voice, but must be separate from the voice. From sounding. This makes music priory and contra capital.

John Hutnyk – first published in Versus Magazine, issue 4, 1995.

Silence on Music and Politics. (thoughts to add to the word hoard)

Silence: on Music and Politics. thoughts to add to the word hoard, and for a Royal Holloway Talk given on thursday about Hip Hop in Europe, focussing on repetitions and the refusal of Paul Simon to give Fun^da^mental clearance to sample his Sounds of Silence track, while he of course made himself into Mr World Music dubbing little guitar ditties over the music of Odulum… (see my earlier rant on Mr Simon here)

So, I start with the theme of repetition, and so the usual starting point… “Elvis said that writing about music was like dancing about architecture” (see C of E book – its Elvis Costello I mean of course). I see a certain category error here which is in danger of rendering writing speechless.

This may be a conceptual rather than technical error. Aldous Huxley wrote of an assault on silence on the part of technology but today silencing seems to shout out to us at every corner – censorship terrorizes us exponentially.

Cage suggests that silence cannot exist except as an ideal, Attali argues that it is the political arrangement of sounds that organizes society, Burroughs wants to tamper with the audio track of control.

It makes some sense then to still think that the politics of music is not to be wholly abandoned to Musicology.

The situation is bifurcated, on the one hand sound offers a critique of the dominant visual privilege in culture, often remarked (see Swedenburg on how hip-hop becomes the vehicle of Muslim youth protest in Europe). On the other hand sound also implies surveillance, eavesdropping, order words and control (Attali, “Noise”) and the ways music is co-opted to the culture industry EVERY time. There is reason to battle over sounds and silence, over censorship and co-option – who will sing these songs of freedom, and on what label?)

I am amused to find that RZA from Wu Tang Clan scored both Ghost Dog and Kill Bill. (See Ko Banerjea in “Travel Worlds” talking about this sort of eastern promise, and also Vijay Prashad’s “Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting”.)

Meanwhile… I am becoming obsessed with backwards messages in music as a way to rethink the whole exoticist fascination/distinction and categorisation obsession of ethnomusicology. Edgard Varese describes an alleged difference between Western and Eastern music – citing one of his Indian students who thought Western music jerky and edgy he writes ‘To them, apparently, our Western music seems to sound much as it sounds to us when a record is played backwards’ and Varese then conducts his own quaintly charming experiment: ‘playing a Hindu record of a melodic vocalization backward, I found that I had the same smooth flow as when played normally, scarcely altered at all’ (Varese 1936 P 20 of “Audio Culture”)

What is it to play a Hindu record ‘normally’? And to then compare it to ‘our’ Western, clearly more dynamic or developmental, music in a way reminiscent of Hegel reading the Gita as described by Gayatri Spivak in “Critique of Postcolonial Reason”

As if George Martin was doing anything strange when reversing tapes for the Beatles White Album experiments (Paul is dead)

Or William Burroughs and Brion Gysin cut up exercises just purchased for the New York archive. Twin Peaks has a room in which all speech runs backwards. We are no longer surprised by this sort of roundabout.

Topsy Turvy world in the “Magic Faraway Tree” books of Enid Blyton was my original reason for wanting to know about anthropology… but the whole repetition/backwards message thing has been done to death - The Beatles not only, also Led Zep, Styx, you name it – The Rutles…

Of course I pointed out how the reversibility of recorded music was crucial to scratching in hip hop – not that we always got to source things back to Bam and Herc. There is much more to riff on here yet… something about the bleating repetitions of the war-mongering types marching up and down the corridors of the West Wing (yes you Prez Barlett!) chanting “War on Terror, War on Terror” – itself a sampling of Ronnie and Nance Reagan when they were there – bouncing on the bed cackling with glee about their “War on Drugs, War on Drugs” – and all this clearly about quotation, plagiarism, copying, so writing, in the age of digital repro-dunkings, and so much in debt to Pynchon

Communists have birthdays too……………… (even when the struggle is grim)

Imogen, you should definitely wake up today to check this out. Feb 21st is the anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto, 158 years ago. (thanks Rana).

Marx and Engels Internet Archive
Book changed the world,
by the most important social scientist ever.
Old Beardo.


Tandana is an archive of anti-racist materials from the Asian Youth Movements of the UK. Its an historical archive developed by Anandi Ramamurthy with Heritage Lottery Funding. Its the best use of such funds I’ve seen – I mean compared to running repairs on the various facades of the monarchy, its palaces, and its personages, its much better value for money.

  1. Tandana aims to archive the visual and ephemeral culture of South Asian struggle in Britain for social, cultural and political rights.
  2. Tandana aims to give value to this heritage through:
    a. the creation of a centralised and accessible archive.
    b. the collection of supportive and contextual documentation.
  3. Tandana will digitise the ephemera and make this heritage accessible through the web to allow access by as wide a number of people as possible.

Celebrating Transgression – Method part one

This pic is from a recent celebration – heh heh. bleary eyed the next day (in fact already here – those magaritas were fine).

Anyway, Klaus Peter Koepping is coming to Goldsmiths to teach for the next year. This below is from Celebrating Transgression – a festschrift for him. This is the start of my paper. More to come…

From ‘Method in the Madness’ in “Celebrating Transgression” (forthcoming Nov – see the books blog).

1.1 The idea that anthropology is about one culture understanding another, in some sort of binary exchange mechanism, seems absurd. There are no distinct cultures, understandings are multiple. Balance sheets are false documents. But these absurdities are the ethic of anthropology, as a trickster discipline, conjuring its way to a faulty comprehension (Köpping 1989). Ethnographers might lie. They might be brilliant. They might be government spies, or worse, revolutionaries. In an anxious history, the drive to rethink culture must engage with diversity, media, commerce and yet is nothing if it does not encourage the opening of minds that only transgressive quest(ion)ing can ensure.

1.2 Reinventing anthropology could be imagined as a project of recognising differences so as to work an overcoming in equality that preserves them. In Gayatri Spivak’s reading of Marx we hear of a ‘system that will remove difference after taking it into account’ (Spivak 1999: 79). This might even be something like the structure of anthropological reportage in a Malinowskian world, where difference is revealed as not so different – the point might be to radicalise this towards its revolutionary implications. The move from reportage to intervention is a not so unusual ambition. If the structure of ethnographic motivation was to say ‘look how these strange people are not all that strange after all’, then the political task of ensuring equity despite acknowledged differences is only the next step. Here there would not be talk of rights to difference, but of rights to (and the responsibilities of) equality.

1.3 The archive of ethnography shifts and grows exponentially, but only sometimes escapes the impulse to itemise, even as we try to theorise the innovations of the system. If anything, perhaps it is the grand expositions, such as that in 1851 at the Crystal Palace, which are the precursors of the anthropological collection and display, and which still regulate the discipline. We can possibly imagine Marx wandering around the exhibits, astonished. Walter Benjamin, so many years later, obviously wished he’d been there – he noted that visitors were not allowed to touch the goods on show. The produce of the world, today, the fact that cultural curios are often replicated in miniature indicates that the aura of authentic commodification, once prominently displayed in the industrial products of the expositions, is now rendered less significantly, or even ironically diminished, as kitsch. A kind of reductive ambition and loss of grandeur, the convenience store and the tourist flea market become the scenes of culture. The souvenir collected by the anthropologist is more akin to the snapshot or postcard than ever before. Should we see this as a loss? If so, of what?

1.4 The curriculum that demands a critical rethink might claim many avatars. We should not be surprised to find anthropologists that do not fit the canon. Other ways of writing the trajectory of the discipline have been offered. Alternative versions ask urgent political, conceptual, dialectical questions and evoke names not usually present, texts scavenged and refashioned through critique. Popular interdisciplinarity recasts everything afresh. This is in part learned from Peter Köpping’s lectures on Anthropology and Method, here and there updated over the years in a file seasoned with engagement, teaching, reading, activism.

1.5 Most important of all, the critique of mediocrity – the gilt-edged mediocrity of those in positions of privilege incapable of anything other than marching in place with that privilege, incapable of challenging even themselves or the perseverance that put them here in the first place. Who do I have in mind? Certain professors of culture at work in the bureaucratic teaching machine, dull operatives of self-promotion and resignation, luxuriant in egoistic privilege, imagining conference attendance and canteen dinners amount to a jet-set lifestyle – these people thrive on a capitulation to the administrative job that makes the capacity for critical thought a mere line on a curriculum vitae.


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