A note to keep for later: our argument evaluates the idea that machines for generating meaning can be examined as rendering text or as points of access to a world beyond or before rendering. Placing a hand on the cave wall at Lascaux before spittting/spraying paint to make a silloette is a machine; the hair line qusdrant grid of the rensisssance/quattro centro landscape artists is a machine; Raymond Roussel writing parentheses is a machine. Perception is often understood as co-constitutive mechanics, the question to explore here has always been about the relationship between what there is and how it is known. Machines vibrate with the world to draw our attention.
We’ve been trying for nearly three months to get the Reprographics section of Goldsmiths to remove a huge outmoded (and non-functioning) Xerox™ machine from the middle of our main office in CCS. Literally dozens of emails, visits, imploring calls and no joy. Today we arc up the campaign by sending them this letter:
Infidels. This is a Ransom Note.
We have your polluting bourgeois heathen capitalist running dog of a photocopier and will torture it mercilessly unless you arrange an immediate hostage exchange.
We attach a recent photograph as proof this infidel is in our possession. If you ever want to see it again, act quickly. We start cutting off its parts at sunrise.
– the CCS office space liberation committee (M-L – 17th September faction).
[Never let it be said that we concern ourselves with trivia. But I mean, for the love of Xog]
The conference theme (TCS 25th anniversary meet at Todai U Tokyo) has set loose a plague whose epidemiology can only be described as the onset of a ‘digital Adorno’ virus (I adapt this from Anthony King – I see Adorno referenced but not read, glossed via secondary readings, named but ignored, as ever it always has been…) and, worse, the conference alibis what looks like isolated individualism positing a corresponding technological determinism, such that new gadgets directly relate – without other mediation – to ‘subjects’ independent of corporate, commercial, or co-ordinating engagements (King again). The avoidance of politics seems to sum up what was wrong when it went wrong (plus the painful moment[s] when Hansen went on and on in a narcoleptic tone), but on the whole the conference was very very good. Despite typhoons and earthquakes, there was hardly a session that was not full of good papers; it was well organised, and the local food fabulous (okinawa bar – thanks Shinji). I’m pleased to know more about Bernard Steigler (from Ben and Jeremy) and to have met Dave, Mia, Tania, plus Shaun, Sean and Tomoko again. Toshiya’s argument that Transformers transformations are linked to the transformation problem of former leftists who went into cultural work was quite brilliant, and of course the best bits happened in between sessions and late at night in obscure bars.
My presentation had to do with ubiquitous paranoia, on the anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings, the fear/scapegoat manufacture of sleeper cells and tube bombers in England excuses an annual ‘event’ related to the efficient production of paranoia. ‘He’s behind you’ is the panto-demonization response, but the court cases and car bombs that coincided this year (2007), and the ‘suicide rapper’ routine of last year (2006), deserve a more detailed response. I have pursued this using the idea of ubiquitous narrative, ubiquitous critique, and retelling the story of that very mild mannered suicide rapper (aka Aki Nawaz) and the bed-time tales of Scheherezade – now captured, renditioned, detained and forced to tell stories to interrogators at Guantanamo for the rest of her days – one thousand and one nights is overdetermined, akin to infinity plus one…
My case is that the incomplete character of Scheherezade’s stories is what saves her. So when it comes to Fun^da^mental’s presentation of a recipe for bombs (readily available on the internet, but somehow also ‘secret’), there is a curious coincidence of interest in secrets on ‘both sides’. The ambiguous space of politics lies here – really lies – the gaps, the appearance and disappearance, the unknowns – this is what we might look at. The lie and deception are structured into story (they call this ‘spin’) and this seems to be an increasingly potent site of struggle.
So the fact that the conference had a great deal to say about repositories of secrets: about archives, about the empire of signs, investigations of code, attention to all kinds of message – this makes me want to ask questions. For example: is it mere coincidence that the proliferation of scholarly interest in code and archive – and of course the desire of google to document EVERYTHING – seems to be symbiotically related to the demands of the security forces that there be no secrets at all, that all information be admissible in court, that every bag be searched at the airport… No-one should have anything to hide – certainly not any Middle Eastern looking Brazilians on the tube….
These parallel information obsessions (archive/security; interpretation/interrogation) amount to what I’ll call the hermeneutics of anxiety. Isn’t it the case that worrying about the known unknowns has reinvigorated scholarship and vibrant debates about non-representation, cognitive systems, archives and code? And is this, not insignificantly, aligned to the homeland security demand to know the whole story, as most clearly and viciously enacted in the endless banality of the interrogation cells at Guantanamo.
The trouble with combating stereotypes is that they continue to bounce back up at you the more you knock them down. The suicide rapper (Aki Aki Aki, ) is not enough to counter the ideological hegemony of the spinsters; but what is? What is adequate to win, where the stereotype and the demon are known knowns, deployed knowingly as objects of paranoia, as necessary targets of a fear that binds the nation (I mean here Eurasia, Oceania, etc., those blocs Orwell had described in the nightmare of 84).
Ubiquitous digispeak. Ubik. Tokyo July 16.
[Photo by Naoko Sakurai]
And it was still raining…
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
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 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
“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.
Tried once again to crack the Heidegger essay on technology (first attempts were for UTS’s Vertigo and then for Sophie Watson’s “Postmodern Cities” conference, but that was aeons ago – circa 1991, then again in Rumour of Calcutta). This version for an edited book – and the weft of discussion meant drifting over to Bernard Stiegler’s stuff, after liking his birthday party scenario in Dan Ross’s (and David Bariston) film The Ister…
Anyway, here is the concluding paragraph of the draft I have so far. A kind of promissory note to read Steigler more carefully:
What is Being now? Technological innovation does perhaps require us to re-evaluate how we imagine ourselves. The development of genetic science transforms life by raising questions about – and actually interfering in – DNA determination of identity and reproduction (of persons, and of plants). Medical breakthroughs permit organ transplants, in vitro birth, and soon, cloning and further extensions of life though prosthetics and bionics. Death too has been transformed though new drugs, new wars and new viral threats. Work, creativity and decision-making are now facilitated by machine. Even writing proceeds without pens, as I write with a stylus directly onto a screen, not to mention the impact of spell-check and format or grammar, or the possibility of instant publishing via website and blog. CGI in the realm of video destroys indexicality once and for all. There is much more about which we could go on, Stiegler makes a good effort at this in Technics and Time (1994/1498:86-87).
But all these changes were already underway. We had only not recognised them as already at work from, so to speak, the very beginning.
Chyya… this really needs more work…
Diddling away at an article for a special volume on the future, I was pleased to find some provocations in the work of Bernard Stiegler. Somewhat philosophical, but highly relevant (if we can make such distinctions)…
We should probably, some many years later, ask just what is Being now? A hard call. Technological innovation does perhaps require us to re-evaluate how we imagine ourselves. The development of genetic science transforms life by raising questions about – and actually interfering in – DNA determination of identity and reproduction (of persons, and of plants). Medical breakthroughs permit organ transplants, in vitro birth, and soon, cloning and further extensions of life though prosthetics and bionics. Death too has been transformed though new drugs, new wars and new viral threats. Work, creativity and decision-making are now facilitated by machine. Even writing proceeds without pens, as I write with a stylus directly onto a screen, not to mention the impact of spell-check and format or grammar, or the possibility of instant publishing via website and blog. CGI in the realm of video destroys indexicality once and for all. There is much more about which we could go on, Bernard Stiegler makes a good effort at this in Techics and Time (I994/1498:86-87).