The Society of Dissonance

Notes for Sonic with Julian.

The sound of contemporary society within which the entrepreneurial mode of fabrication prevails, is one which flails about with immense clamour and commotion, the noise of each elementary moment now bereft of shape or form.

The Society of Racket, The Society of Din, The Society of Uproar or The Society of Dissonance – its clear as a bell that the spectacle has been drowned out by a cacophony of beats. It was never more or less the right time, but now might be when we need to be rethinking the visual/geographic biases of text-image based cultural comprehension, in order to sound out new critical questioning and evoke – metaphors at the ready – abstractly aural registers with which to practice politics. We think.

Such a politics would be echoed in the sonic reverberations of protest movements of old – the chants, songs, hubbub, the drums, critique, tone, the sirens, the roar, helicopters, loudspeakers, whistles and horns, and those mad(denning) anarcho drummers etc., – right through to the dominant ker-ching of cash register commerce. By way of the self-selecting sonic domination of ipod-wearing or mantra chanting devotees of the music promo, through to the resonances of self-criticism and interrogation as testimony to knowledge practices both emancipatory and oppressive. The stomp of marching jackboots or the anguished ‘NO’ of revolt – the lyrical romanticism of alternatives and the thud of hard cash. The rumble of tanks, the bang of car bombs, the doom doom doom of the bass drum; the tonality of critique trumps perverse property. New tools for thinking the border beyond geography, beyond the logic of the visual, beyond property and supremacy.

Add to Cross Border and Resonance Beyond Text.

5 thoughts on “The Society of Dissonance”

  1. Yesterday I discovered, in Johannesburg, there exists the Society for Succulence. Ponder that if you will…


  2. John, another bash at it, below, Julian

    The Society of the Explosion

    The spectacle is drowned out by the sonic boom. The politics of noise comes with a big bang, followed by an ear-splitting cacophony, din, clamor and uproar. We can close our eyes, but not our ears to this racket. Bombs detonate across the air-waves, ringing the alarm for the State of fear: police sirens wail, surveillance helicopters clatter, tanks rumble, police truncheons thump on riot-shields, jack-boots stomp, shots ricochet, shock and awe – not to mention the sonic war against hoodies with high-pitch mosquito devices.

    The sound of protest, like war, is also noisy. It’s about movements, mobilisations, uprisings and marches. Protest occupies the streets with sound, making space acoustic. Squares and parks echo with the revolts, rebellions and revolutions: chants, songs, rhymes, loudspeaker call and crowd response, the hubbub, the drums, and horns, and those mad(denning) anarcho drummers – right through to the dominant ker-ching of cash register commerce. The bang of car bombs with the doom doom doom of the bass drum.

    Sounding the critique needs to be equally loud. Sound that won’t be silenced. Sound that refuses: the angry and anguished ‘No.’ Sound that questions, with that tone of voice – auditing, interrogating and enquiring above the din. Wake up to the big bang. What was that? What’s going on? Answer the call. Rise up from the self-imposed slumbers of muzak-massaged consumption, music video attention spans, and the auto-disciplining sonic dominance of ipod-wearing, mantra chanting, devotees. Dance to a bass line, not the bottom line. Scraping, plucking, blowing, banging, stamping, clapping – make a noise.

    The sound of the imagination is emancipation, an escape from Babylon into utopic sonic futures. Sound is always out of control, without boundaries, no respecter of property ownership, from MP3 file-sharing to the disorganization of noise. But with each distinctive tone, texture, accent, rhythm and auditory gesture we build our territories, forge our feeling and weave our identities. Sound is an instrument for critical thinking: not tiny sound bites, but the immense raw roar of sound that devours text, visual logic, borders and hierarchy.


  3. Some thoughts on sound and protest:

    How is protest imagined here? All sound images of resistance seem to work within a very traditional idea of protest (in the streets, music and chants, foot steps). What other kinds of protest are there, other than clamorous marches in the streets? And what of protests that aren’t loud, or whose critique doesn’t function as much through volume? One readily available example might be silent vigils or moments of silence, although I think these are still obvious, rather cliché examples of protest. It would be interesting to give more thought to modes of resistance that are not the ones we commonly think of, and to think about how sound figures not only on a scale of volume, but also how quietness or silence can work.

    Through these pieces there is a juxtaposition of sounds, particularly in this second version, that I don’t think can be separated into such distinct groupings. The first paragraph figures the state: helicopters, sirens, tanks, shots. (Of course, these are outright war sounds – and, again, I think this also is perhaps too easy and we should look for more subtle manipulations of sound and domination. Who lives under the flight path to Heathrow or beside the train tracks? Who lives in carefully removed, pleasantly quiet communities?) The second paragraph means to oppose the sound of protest to that of war and yet the image for me is
    exactly that of protest when I think of the sounds of war. It is in moments of protest (in the streets) that I am most aware of the sound of police boots,
    sirens, helicopters, etc.. In my experience, chants and loudspeakers often happen simultaneously with those other sounds of war.

    I think we should rethink whether we really can “close our eyes, but not our ears to this racket.” I think the geography of the city ensures exactly that many of us can close our ears. Gated communities, exclusivity of space, limited access and expensive sound-proofing, even the exportation of war (if we stick to our shock and awe moment) ensures silence for some of us. Everything is exported (be it from the nation or from the neighborhood) so that we can close both eyes and ears to the consequences of our lives. There are few who can live in quiet neighborhoods where conflict seems far removed.

    It would also be worth attending to the use of music to include or exclude. This would go with the high-pitched sound outside businesses to discourage youth loitering – but also types of music played in various spaces, etc. Think about the kinds of music played in various coffee shops, shopping centres, airports – even town centres. Playing classical music can be a violent act: exclusive and discriminatory. Music is another way to include and exclude people from a space and another way to stratify the social world, even at the level of the sound track to specific sites of consumption. Another border.

    I also think there’s a problem with figuring revolt as so utopic – out of control, disorganized, raw and emancipatory. This is an element of revolt, but it also posits a unified sound that might respond and righteously engulf and disassemble all that is the ching ching of the bottom line and the ipod wearing mantra of capitalism. It doesn’t attend to the complexity of noise, or of social circumstances – in which we are not all unified, making the same noise for the same cause, and one cry of revolt might overpower another, so that it goes unheard. Just as war and protest can’t necessarily be disentangled for the sake of contrast, oppression and emancipation cannot be so readily separated. There’s far more messiness in this yet.

    And why are those drummers (if we stick to an image of protest in which there must always be drummers) described as both mad and anarcho? Do only anarchists play drums?

    And reading and engaging with all of this is making me think about the
    sound of Oaxaca. There are the megamarches, the women taking to the street with their pots and pans to make a din and take over the radio stations, and the voice of la doctora coaching the city through the final moments of the siege – screaming audible behind her, the scuffle of police forces attempting to break into the studio where she barricaded herself, and the crackling descent of the radio lines, the static, the helicopters compressing the air and eclipsing her voice, while she kept on, calm and steady and strong, the last strong hold of the movements communication before everything was collapsed into state custody: incarcerated, raped, beaten, killed. Occupied.

    But then Oaxaca is still a very obvious example – and a very obvious traditional protest. And I think there are many, many problems with glorifying what happened in Oaxaca so far away in London. (Protest only happens in the global south, Mexico as authentic site, London as removed from protest or politics, and what is the London relationship to Oaxaca? I can answer that much better in NYC than I can here…)


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