Sonic Warfare

Steve Goodman’s book Sonic Warfare (2010) is full of interest and a vibrant new language for making sense of the sonic politics and affect – perhaps we should/must say attention – economies of contemporary capitalism. It also offers a useful note of prudence for those who too readily celebrate the sonic underground as opposition. ‘Global ghettotech’ is the agential site of an important potential, it remains to see whether Kode9 or the role of lecturer carries the day. I am not able to judge the inner dynamic of bass stylings over against scholarly erudition, but I have enjoyed much of the book. Especially so, where the discussion at the end takes up the thematic of piracy, just where perhaps the questions of solidarity and Party organization might have been placed in another kind of analysis. Nevertheless, as I prepare for a different kind of party tonight – at the Black Flag anarchist branded drinking house alongside Goldsmiths – Goodman’s examination of the pirate metaphor for business deserves a listen.

‘piracy… some commentators have noted … has become just another business model. When the most banal popular music is simultaneously mobilized as a weapon of torture, it is clear that sonic culture has reached a strange conjuncture within its deepening immersion into the environments of the military-entertainment complex’ (Goodman 2010:190)

The proposal Goodman has in mind here is the suggestion by Matt Mason that we think of piracy as the business model of choice for late capitalism (he means very late capitalism). This argument, more fully manifest in The Pirate’s Dilemma, sounds to me as if it is a logical extension of the capacity if Capital to adapt to hybridity by hybridizing itself. We have head this routine before. Romantic attachment to the newest so-called innovations of expanding capital has a pedigree as old as capital itself. Not for nothing was old beardo sticking it to the bourgeois professors who deserved nothing less.

Today, the attention economy is the pedestrian versioning of an explanation for hybrid or pirate capital, a development perhaps advancing on the neo-liberal parrot-talk of accellerationism and speed fetishism, but still unable to provide a diagnostic adequate to an opposition that could win. Insert details of Mao’s Party programme here/disregarding any disconnect consequent of the Badiou and Žižek auto-poetic personality cult (see the comradely love-letter to SZ at the end of Badiou’s latest Communist Hypothesis 2010).

Piracy of the creative high-seas low-fees kind is of course the navigation beta chart of future commerce lanes.

Indebted to Mike Davis’s problematic books Ecology of Fear and Planet of Slums, Goodman is at least full of interesting detail when he links pirate radio, pirate media, online file sharing, and ‘ubiquitous, decentralized insurgency networks such as al Qaeda under the slogan ‘piracy funds terrorism’, deciding that ‘the early-twenty-first century is a strange time to be an audio pirate’ (Goodman 2010:179). But this is a broad and abstracting brush nevertheless. The trouble with the import of Davis’s ideas on slums and cities is the undifferentiated mass flow perspective of the source commentator – like Žižek’s gloss on the slum as well, there is no nuance of distinction – the mass remain a mass of the old type, or even less organized. Hardt and Negri’s multitude are waiting in the wings and all we are left of wonder from afar at the coming conflagration. The migration of the ghetto-tech massive is celebrated as a threatening mutation of the global nervous system, a ‘rhythmachinic takeover of space-time’ (Goodman 2010:173) but not much more. Where this is dangerous is that there is an elevation of the commentary over the participation – the cult status of the DJ over the crowd, the named glory of the author is not far away. Badiou proclaims himself the last Maoist in France – a frankly Quixotic gesture. Davis does about the same for L.A. The real ecology of fear is, I think, a guilty anxiety of those intellectuals interpreting, while also wanting but unable to organize, that greater mass of those who will change the world. What we get here is a strangely familiar distanciation of the commentary, which of course then is readily lined up to do duty for the transformation and restoration of a new mode of capital.

‘Youth culture has reinvented, or rejuvenated, capitalism to the point that piracy has now become just another business model, a mutation from subversive cultural weapon to business plan; the situationist projection of art into the everyday becomes merely branding’ (Goodman 2010:181)

It is to Goodman’s credit that he is fully alert to these dangers: ‘sonic war machines’ he says,  ‘may emerge out of turbulent, underdeveloped urban ecologies, but their bottom-up nature does not in itself constitute an index of a moral or political higher ground. Caution should be shown … in celebrating the pirate economies of music cultures’ (Goodman 2010:194).

The caution here should be about whether or not we trust the rendering of youth culture mouthed by the academy (including ventriloquist exhibit a: yours truly). A similar note of caution might be useful for all those scrapping around for a metaphor or a diagnostic code for making sense of the new war economy attention and acceleration hype of hybridized mutant youth digital sonic shared p2p capital2.0 today. To coin the terminology of appreciation is still merely to coin – that is, to offer up a market coding currency to those that will thrive on the ideological mismatch of critical commentary and institutional stasis. New formations of the eversame do not move us towards an alternative to capital; only joining the mobilization of the ghettotech troop surge, the creation and mobilization of the people’s army, can.

Badiou, Alain 2010 The Communist Hypothesis London: Verso.

Davis, Mike 1999 The Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster New York: Vintage.

Davis, Mike 2005 Planet of Slums London: Verso.

Goodman, Steve 2010 Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Masson, Matt 2008 The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism New York: Free Press.

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