(UN)SOUND OCCUPATION – A four-evening workshop on Sound and Politics

Here are the details for an upcoming event that features members of The Occulture:


Asounder and the Free’scool are inviting you to participate in a series of workshops—(un)sound occupation—to be held over 4 evenings, April 23-26 at Trinity Square Video, whose space has been generously donated for the duration of the event.

These workshops are intended to bring together the realms of sound and politics—deeply linked but rarely examined together—in order to begin developing a shared language and a tactical agenda for the immediate future. Activists, students, sound practitioners, musicians, political, social, cultural theorists, philosophers (among others) are all invited to add their voices to the first edition of what we hope will become an ongoing series. Marc Couroux (York), David Cecchetto (OCAD/York), eldritch Priest (OCAD/York) and Eric Cazdyn (U of T) will lead the sessions, each according to a particular theme.

Marshall McLuhan once stated that the artist was the only individual who could face the present, able to recognize the otherwise imperceptible patterns at work within new technological environments. It’s not so clear whether this is still the case today. The revolutionary potential of art has suffered greatly over the past 40 years, in many ways struggling to keep up with the constant acceleration of capitalism and its hunger to absorb and neutralize resistant practices. Even in the wake of the devastating financial crisis of 2008, which appeared to spell the beginning of the end for capitalism, the role(s) the artist can play in fostering social change continue to be clouded by a mess of factors: professionalization (competition/market), corporate absorption (the “creative class”), a hallucinatory overload of networked information which exceeds cognitive capacities, and the increasingly suspect function of art institutions in a neoliberal economy (among many others).

At the same time, overwhelming debt comes to determine the direction of one’s life, easily observed (for instance) in the daily struggles of the vulnerable young student, whose idealism (if it is even encouraged) must take a backseat to bare survival. We live in a world which can no longer sustain a life-trajectory with clearly definable goals and realizable dreams. Instead, we are forced to be flexible, moving from project to project, without continuity or long-term purpose. This flexibility makes it difficult to engage head on with the mechanisms of capitalism, as we are so deeply embedded within its logic that we can no longer see it operating. Only the short term seems to matter: Kafka’s “indefinite postponement” has become the norm. Both artists and activists are caught up in this chronic state, in which the end of capitalism and productive alternatives seem unthinkable.

We believe that sonic practice provides a viable set of models that can intervene in our current crisis. On the one hand, hearing is a deeply public sense with a capacity to unite individuals within a shared experience. (Think of the People’s Mic at Occupy gatherings, the waves of chants which contagiously spread at demonstrations, or the vibrational continuum of the rave.) On the other hand, because our ears are always open (like unsecured computer networks), they are vulnerable to invasion by corporate interests. Sonic branders are well aware of this and are devising increasingly tight strategies of emotional manipulation, bypassing the capacity for rational thought (and possible resistance). Sound is everywhere in our totally electrified contemporary world. Increasingly sophisticated audio technologies, in the hands of corporate predators, fragment consciousness by constantly soliciting our attention. Increasingly strong drugs are required to retain focus on a daily basis. In the absence of an awareness of these conditions, music and sound become insidious tools for the manipulation of mood and affect, in addition to delimiting the range of experiences that one can have.

How might sound be employed by artists and activists to hear a radically different future than the same old one the system keeps playing for us? What kinds of sonic tactics might be used in the context of a demonstration to galvanize a collective power eluding the authority of the state and corporate control? How might sound be used in conjunction with technologies that have a long association with forms of mind control? Can an analysis of the manners in which sound is employed in mass media offer future modes of intervention? Can zones of radical openness be conceptualized away from the feedback control and capture essential to capitalist power?

We are tremendously excited to be working with the Free’scool, a vibrant, popular education initiative which has been growing steadily over the past year (emerging out of the passionate struggles of Occupy TO), dedicated to closing the gap between knowledge and action. Their support for this project has been of inestimable value.

The workshop format allows for maximal interactivity. Unlike more formal contexts, it is geared towards working out problems in a non-hierarchical setting. The lion’s share of each evening will be dedicated to open dialogue, framed by a short presentation by each facilitator around current research and concerns. A number of questions relevant to each evening’s topic will be circulated in advance, in the hope that they will stimulate other questions intimately related to the everyday life of each participant. Indeed, we intend these to catalyze trains of thought which will feed into an evolving process, bridging speculation, analysis as well as pragmatic, tactical action. In addition, a number of relevant readings from a wide variety of sources will also provide the opportunity for a deeper consideration of the issues at hand. We hope to turn the workshop proceedings into a pamphlet-style publication for wider distribution and to stimulate other communities into taking up some of the questions we will be brainstorming.

In order to gain a sense of the number of participants involved, please RSVP to torn@asounder.org to confirm your presence.

Preemptive Glossary for a Techno-Sonic Control Society (with lines of flight) Pt. 3


PSYCHEDELIC ADJACENCIES are generated via the strategic imbrication of overtly incongruent but subliminally (genetically) congenial signals. Such formations are inevitably spawned within a colloidal dispersion in which perpetually recombinant surfaces enter into temporary electrical relationships with one another by virtue of haphazard temporal and spatial proximities. The colloidal model characterizes the contemporary distribution of auditory fragments within a given environment (most often an overlap of physical, online, actual, virtual dimensions) in which adjacencies are convulsively spawned. Deleuze’s baker’s dough analogy is fitting: two extreme points on a slab become adjacent after a mathematically-determinable number of folds. Immediately after 9/11, a minority of Americans were inclined to ascribe co-conspiratorial responsibility to Saddam Hussein; a status upgraded to seventy per cent in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq following copious media efforts at engineering adjacencies (Atta, Al Qaeda, Prague, Hussein, etc.), without explicitly declaring inviolable causal linkage. Terms need only hang together in the same general space-time for factual coalescence to occur. (Psyche + delos = made manifest to the mind). Phonoegregoric propaganda understandably deplores the waning of attention and concentration characteristic of colloidal capitalism (a lachrymose pining for an empty category considering William James’ reminder of how focus and distraction are perpetually complicating each other), fearful of an uncontrolled festering of the viral powers of psychedelic adjacency. Indeed, a state of permanent distraction—the primary perceptual modality of the 21st century—unlocks unprecedented capacities to induce synchronicities, making effective previously unsuspected correlations. A metastatic spread of such entities may indeed constitute an indigestible challenge to the stealthy incorporation of phonoegregoric earworms, given the unstable fracturing and resynthesizing typical of mutant rhythmanalyses.

PREEMPTIVE SELF-DISTORTION: A timbrally-leveraged property of sonic sigils marshalling anadumbrative ducking from resistant re-appropriation (wresting). Audio branders initially developed PSD to defeat issues glaringly exposed by the 1989 release of John Oswald’s Plunderphonics album in which the genetic structures of iconic pop were subjected to disfiguring manoeuvres of urgent concern to the corporate phonoegregore, fearing disastrous and potentially irreversible image-damage. (This explanation runs contrary to the general consensus that the records were destroyed purely for reasons of copyright violation.) Given the strategic move away from the jingle modality in the wake of sensory overload and the increasing unreliability of time (see chronophobia), branding researchers speculated that if they endowed their sigils with capacities to absorb distortion from all sides with no loss of integrity—chiefly through the timbral engineering of a unique soundprint—any future attempt at détournement by phonoinsurgents could be preemptively forestalled. Flexibility is the post-Fordist mot d’ordre. PSD recasts a common technique among institutions of control, involving the integration of plausibly comprehensive internal critique and dissent into a corporate image, multiple alibis conspiring to disguise a severely curtailed range of possibilities, such that resistance is promptly declawed. The perception of sufficiently legitimate options encourages the continued occlusion of the operating system (normalized, therefore inaccessible to direct engagement) within which each choice has already been predetermined (see cyberaffordance). Teilhard de Chardin: “All real integration is based on prior differentiation. (…) Only union within diversity is creative. It increases complexity, and brings about higher levels of organization.”

ANADUMBRATION is the process that effects the perpetual postponement of any unifying perceptual paradigm through the febrile shuffling of parameters. Adumbration is a term developed by philosopher-phenomenologist Edmund Husserl denoting the continuous accumulation of various perspectives (shadings = abschattungen (Ger.)) of an object into a multi-dimensional mental consolidation. Appropriating Husserl’s theory by détourning it (for highly practical purposes), English artist Norman Wilkinson originated at the tail end of World War I one of the most notorious applications of anadumbration via dazzle camouflage, a technique involving the painting of stripes of contradictory size and directionality on a vessel, such that the opponent’s ability to gather a coherent grasp of its coordinates (size, speed, heading, etc.) is accordingly impeded. Any attempt to defeat a listener’s propensity to terminate perception when confident that an experience has been identified, categorized, captured is invariably enhanced by the use of anadumbrative manoeuvres. Indeed, the un-gestalting deviations of anadumbration forestall any preemptive extraction from a system by preventing conscious seizure of its modalities; ungraspable from an extrinsic vantage point, their mysterious implications cannot be comfortably integrated qua dismissed. System immanence is guaranteed by a rapid containment of discrepant surfaces powered by the efficient operations of the Freudian secondary process, by which a subject backtracks into a rational second-order justification from an incoherent first impression, summarily deleted. Anadumbration is a chronocrypsic operation, tasked with time camouflage, asymmetrically imbricating incongruent temporalities while donating integumentary impressions of a wholly illusory kind. Dazzle camouflage breaks up surface continuities via differential blending—collapsing portions of the figure into the (back)ground—a technique that also works effectively in the time domain, by abutting inconsistent, incomplete iterations of a given material which increasingly destabilize the constitution of an accumulated ground in memory.

The RECONTOURING MACHINE is populated by an inalienably local (therefore provisional) set of deviational functions feverishly tasked with the de-emphasis qua defusing of a resilient earworm, especially of algorithmic, superearworm variety (see primers). This machine discretizes the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic components of an earworm in order to calculate iterated deviations, peculiarly calibrated to donate a subliminal impression of change whilst preserving coherent contour-identity—a fractal positioning, in other words, erratically vacillating between familiarity and paramnesia (déjà entendu). The recontouring machine operates in real-time via deaf recording procedures, which segregate components within a given textual totality from one another, capturing them in strict indifference to adjacent context in order to curtail the temptation to produce deliberately memorable gestalts. Recontouring machines have been known to backfire, chiefly from insufficiently rigorous deviation design: an anomaly that too drastically exceeds parametric boundaries risks becoming a new object of obsession for the listener, unaware that an earworm is about to ingress. (See incongruity index).

In a FRACTAL LISTENING experience, an affective intuition of non-repetition is perpetually undercut by a cognitive ratification of identity. It can be thought as an overheated form of structural listening, a modality privileged by Adorno—increasingly difficult to materialize in the wake of pervasive schizophonia—which organizes listening according to a constant push and pull between parts of a given structure and the latter’s gradual, temporally-irreversible consolidation. Such a framework, mobilized by constant dialectical interchange within linear evolution, reflected a more general conception of life as an ongoing narrative, in which one’s self-situation depends on the ability to form continuities, establish polarities. Such auto-fashioning requires for its continuing potency a foundational stability hard to come by within post-Fordist precarity, which dissolves permanent horizons into expedient, expendable presents, anxious instants insufficiently energetic to foment productive bonding. By contrast, the fractal experience shuttles the listener between local specifics (deviations with various capacities to be registered as deviations) and an accumulating shadowy shape-shifting totality, constantly updated by information from this transient matter, forever deferring its termination into a graspable gestalt. The incapacity to categorically identify ongoing recursion within the convulsions of febrile unresolution almost inevitably engenders temporal anomalies, folds, a general buckling of teleological integrity, and an acceleration of uncontrollable interpenetrations of past, present, and future; all the while, a virtual field of potential stealthily expands, unceasingly leveraging the perception of change. Any isolated iteration is thus summarily demoted to transient status, lacking the resilience to firmly establish itself. This modality takes into account the inevitable process by which repetition pressures incongruity to reverse into new forms of congruity (through a gradual ablation of idiosyncrasy); it therefore must remain constantly on the move. (See chronoportation, anadumbration).

PHANTOM SCAN: Pathology proper to individuals living in a realm of electrical reproduction. It refers to the autonomic, involuntary conjuring of a phantom remote control accompanied by requisite bodily movements in a situation when retrospective (rewind) or prospective (fast-forward) approaches to a temporal object are inaccessible (e.g. wishing to rewind a movie playing live on television—though this example is outdated in a culture of cable systems with built-in recording capacities). One suspects that eventual permanent access to temporal shuttling will consign the phantom scan to history. A related pathology involves the triggering of similar autonomic / bodily reflexes when confronted with a situation of temporal shuttling (rewind, fast-forward, glitching) in a situation which cannot be controlled (e.g. a sudden stutter on a live broadcast fosters the urge to correct the situation before the futility of such intervention becomes cognitively clear).

The opposite of technoablation (which occults the introduction of novelty), the INCIPIENCE EFFECT (TECHNOINTENSIFICATION) stems from technological procedures that foster a sense of newness amidst generalized stasis. The incipience effect requires temporary unlatching from a sonic territory (via cut-out) in order to lubricate stealthy reentry via an unsuspected portal. The effect of starting something again, making a new beginning (especially after the sudden rupture of a previous iteration), provides a temporary shock that occults repetition. The effect derives its potency from a concerted study of the phenomenon of cryptomnesia, in which something memorized is experienced as new on recollection.

OVERATTENUATION consists of an excessive application of smoothing modes arising from a misevaluation of a culture’s normalization of incompatibility. Consider its archetypal implementation in Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010). Any fear of alienating viewers with an endless proliferation of contradictory adjacent stimuli betrays disconnection from the contemporary norm of unremitting psychedelic overload, in which the monumental and the trivial collapse into an undifferentiated flow, accelerated into equivocation. Unaware that rapid-fire editing and non-linear abutment have long ago attained normative status—the rate of disruption isorhythmically tuned to the viewer’s attentional capacities—the artist hired a sound designer to equalize qua normalize the gain of each audio track, ensuring uneventful acoustical flow from one scene to another, expelling in the process all incidental sound matter that might momentarily rouse the viewer from hypnosis, replacing the offending deletions with newly recorded foley effects. Such gauche overstepping ultimately foregrounds the nakedly corrupt, temporally-regulatory machinations at play, serving as a reminder that any successful indoctrination is well advised to actively incorporate the techno-perceptual modalities of its era, lest its predatory manoeuvres be summarily outflanked.

– Couroux

Preemptive Glossary for a Techno-Sonic Control Society (with lines of flight) Pt. 2

(Part One here)

PRIMERS: Pre-Internet earworm distribution system. The outcome of research carried out in the mid-1990s within an institution of higher learning (in a major Canadian city) involving the implantation of superearworms, particularly resistant strains of audio parasites which manifest/surface more readily/frequently, and retain structural integrity over longer durations. This type of phonographic incorporation was (apparently) most easily induced in music students evincing a higher-than-average score on the transliminal scale, i.e. individuals who through a variety of modalities (depression, mystical / paranormal experience, manic states etc.) displayed increased porosity between conscious and unconscious minds. The subjects of the experiment were programmed to “surface” these superearworms—which, from the subject’s perspective, were seemingly occurring spontaneously and without motivation—by humming them in public places, thereby donating them to unsuspecting bystanders. (How these earworms came to be surfaced is not clear, though some kind of environmental trigger is likely (e.g. another sonic stimuli, an embedded verbal directive etc.).) The subjects were said to be thus “priming” a particular space-time for subsequent corporate predation (these superearworms being ideal carriers for a concatenated, synaesthetic brand identity which could be grafted onto it at a predetermined point in the future). Extraction of these superearworms proved to be difficult at best and only possible through the design of a recontouring machine (though this method occasions other dangers which make of its use a risky endeavor at best). Subjects who had speculated they could neutralize the superearworm through the common technique of replacing the fragmented hook into its original context by listening to the entire piece from whence it came (thus recovering the integral whole, an overall structural picture in which every element is in its place, pace Adorno) were surprised to discover the bug’s lack of affiliation with any previously extant entity. In other words, these worms were not synecdoches for a greater totality, but simply splinters which referred to nothing but themselves, lying in wait for future associations. Not to mention that in a colloidal environment of total electrification, any notion of an unscarred whole that might have remained sheltered from the fragmental imperative, and that could be unproblematically conjured in a vacuum, remains a suspect vestige of a long-forgotten time. (Information donated by an experiment subject (1997) who wished to remain anonymous). (see Ironic Mental Control, Recontouring Machine, Incongruity Index)

IRONIC MENTAL CONTROL: Theory developed by D.M. Wegner (1994) which states that any attempt to consciously delete an involuntary obsessive thought involves a de facto reinstatement of the offending unit to consciousness, which only amplifies its staying power. The dislodging of a resilient earworm (if time doesn’t dispose of it by itself) occurs most reliably through its deemphasis via a recontouring machine. Despite this theory, père-scientologue L. Ron Hubbard believed that the only way to declaw the recordings of the reactive mind into harmlessness was to play them back, repeating these engrams (cellular recordings) until they lost their meaning. While this may function where language is concerned (and Burroughs was said to be particularly adept at zeroing out through repetition), it appears to foster the opposite effect where the already asignifying context of music is concerned. (see Incongruity Index)

LATCHING COEFFICIENT: The degree of deviation between a given recording and its phonographic incorporation in a given subject. Latching is part of the overall notion of entrainment, a mode by which a subject attunes to environmental factors, often manifesting through involuntary, autonomic bodily movements in sync with environmental rhythms. Toe-tapping to a temporarily audible pop song pumped through a passing car, slowing down one’s walking tempo in the wake of an song fragment overheard through a momentarily open door. Find a chain of stores that are all tuned to the same radio station. Once a song with which you are intimately familiar starts playing, latch onto it and sync it with your own inner recording. Leave the store but let the phonographic incorporation continue playing back. Wait a few seconds before entering the next store. On entering, notice the discrepancies between the timeline of the phonographic incorporation and the actual timeline playing back in the new store. Repeat. Alter exit and re-entry timings. The cut-out periods (in which the physical playback is temporarily occluded) constitute intervals of indetermination, within which the prolongation of the incorporation occurs entirely autonomously, and runs the risk of desynchronization from the objectified reproduction. The latching process will occur most often without one being aware of it, given one’s passivity towards music’s ubiquity (and frequently comes to consciousness retrospectively, after it disappears from the physical context—a punctual insight that may by itself reinstate just-heard sound by inducing the playback of an extant phonographic incorporation). However, a significant enough deviation between the subject’s incorporation and its analogue playing back in the air may foster, on becoming aware of the discrepancy (on “reentry”), a feeling Keats might have described as embarrassment, a surreptitious coming-upon-oneself, a non self-concordance, momentarily unsettling. Raymond Scott’s 1960s set of LPs Soothing Sounds For Baby, consisting for the most part of extended repetitive rhythmic structures, was marketed as music to put your child to sleep. In fact, portions of his work may well be (and may well have been) used to investigate latching potential in very small infants temporarily caught in the gap between the conscious and unconscious, slipping into sleep or rising out of it. Capitalist power depends on the autonomic/involuntary register of latching (and entrainment), but strips it of its deeply social (even genetically inscribed) character (the synchronization of activity—conscious or not—being of great use in the mobilization of collective energy), by indexing it to individual consumption. However, any kind of public stimulus located so as to induce latching risks forming unlikely social bonds between individuals mutually caught in the process, who might choose to negotiate and thus overpower it together, through reappropriation and techniques of “secondary production” (De Certeau).

REBONING: A procedure by which a mentally-generated stimulus (phonomnesis) is reembodied. Glenn Gould attributed his incapacity to accurately perform a given musical passage to the overwhelming influence of foreclosing mentations, preemptions of the future, in the sense that the anticipation of difficulties ahead in a given timeline actualizes them physically in the present. Gould’s solution to this debilitating conundrum was to obliterate any acoustical evidence of his ongoing physical efforts, masking them by the massed effects of multiple vacuum cleaners, televisions and radios operating at full blast. Once a properly embodied relationship with the passage in question was restored, so was its acoustical resultant. Some accounts indicate that the simple reboning of a phonographic incorporation (another type of psychopathology) by humming is enough to displace it, but accounts of primers suggest that this form of repeated externalization did not significantly damage the integrity of the inner recording over time. Similar invocations to “sing out” ongoing background Muzak (to concretely, actively take on what is only meant to be peripherally heard) are based on the notion that the particular, local deviant qualities of any embodied instantiation (rhythmic, pitch inaccuracies) are enough to derail the successful, stealthy implantation of earworms or longer phonographic incorporations. However, due to the likelihood of the individual “take” becoming an obsessive event in its own right, this technique works better in groups: consider the effect of flash mobs spontaneously breaking into a plethora of discrepant, simultaneous versions sung/hummed out loud, effectively corrupting the inviolable sanctity of the original reproduction.

CHRONOPORTATION: The time-travel effect of anamnestic recall, triggered by a stimulus of some kind. Sonic branding operates by associating a bare trace of sound with a previously embedded positive memory. This “brand sigil” (an adaptation of Austin Osman Spare‘s transformation of a particular slogan describing a desired actualization into a symbol—a password—which can be launched during a split-second glitch in consciousness) functions as the transitional fulcrum between the anchored memory or “sigil anchor” (the deeper the better) and the range of synaesthetic, semiotic associations that constitute a particular brand constellation (a form of operant conditioning). Chronoportation depends on the specificity of the bare trace, one which has the capacity to abduct you from your current state, and take you back to a pleasant moment in your past life (the first chord of Oasis’ Wonderwall for instance, or the first milliseconds of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke for an earlier generation). In that temporary moment when one becomes pleasantly unstuck in time (usually arriving unexpected, as per Skinner’s notion of the variable ratio schedule, which tethers you more comprehensively to a given system because of the irregularity of its instantiations—the unpredictable arrival of twitter, news alerts, emails all bound us more closely to our devices, wherever and whenever we are), a corporate predator can slip in. Oswald Store’s work was overtly concerned with the recall of a complex system of affective valences through the radically integral re-presentation of a particular moment in history. His 1971 JFK installation-performance (the full title of which is November 22 1963 12:30 5:30 PM CST ABC WFAA CBS NBC) attempts to literally reengineer the traumatic effects of the JFK assassination by a synchronized replay of the coverage immediately following the event on the (then) three major networks, taking seriously the oft-heard statement: “you will always remember where you were when you heard the news”. Not only does the work function as time-travel, but the various inertias, inaccuracies, communication glitches and newscaster shock compound themselves into cascading temporal breakdowns, where waves of shock, anticipation, dread make mincemeat out of the spatialized, chronometric time which characterizes contemporary life (pace The Clock’s (Marclay) cynical reproductions). Mostly, this work asks what it means to reconcile two conceptions of time, one inflexible and impermeable (accuracy for the history books), the other radically embodied, subjected to intense emotional and somatic inflection, of consequently varied quality, from the painfully slow trickle of anticipatory time in the first hour to its suspension once the news of JFK’s death hits, to lapses and inertias which bore holes into continuous time as the effects of the event sink in and repetitive information becomes too much to bear. (While today’s media world “keeps the energy up” by providing constant distraction (the eternal present decried by Debord), the affective sinkholes jointly produced by trauma and technical insufficiency are given time to expand, take hold in our viewing bodies.)

MINIMAL ABDUCTIVE THRESHOLD: While the jingle-worm could function in a less cluttered mediascape to abduct the unsuspecting transient individual—the popular 1950s/60s TV show Name That Tune functioned very much as an ideological testing ground for one’s level of embeddedness within a norm—something more punctual was required to snatch the contemporary subject’s increasingly fragmented attention. Melody, rhythm and to a certain extent harmony all require time for their unfolding, and are thus eminently unsuitable. A vertical, timbral structure on the other hand can detonate instantly, through temporal and spatial modalities, according to the principles of sonic niching (see Bernie Krause‘s work on inter-species acoustic communication). Bare traces requiring no more than mere milliseconds to be actualized can intercalate themselves rhythmically between other signals, without any undue effort. In the increasingly prevalent case where time provides no cranny for tactical incursion, a judiciously constituted timbral cocktail riding unoccupied frequency bands can superimpose itself on a complex acoustic scene with no loss of integrity. (This narrowing of the window of opportunity by which a given object can reveal itself can be observed in the “first read” mentality proper to much contemporary art—the immediately actionable/legible qualities of this object of attention are overemphasized, as if the totality of the work’s processes were compacted into an instantly deployable surface (password), identifiable with little or no ambiguity. Naturally, such legibilities are predicated on extant, stable categories which are thus perpetuated by these foreshortened entities. Given that hearing is an asymptotic tending-towards (en-tendre (French for hearing)), it requires a certain modicum of agency, of intentional, interested perception for any effect to take hold. Such a time-bound process runs the risk of going astray however, which makes imperative the design of a unit which intrudes before any such tendencies can be jumpstarted). John Oswald’s 1993 Plexure provides an ideal entry point—a succession of splinters grafted onto each other, mimicking what was to become the hallucinatory, psychedelic, colloidal environment of 21st century media, avant-la-lettre. While Plunderphonics required the deleterious, grotesquifying effects of time for its particular Frankensteinian project, Plexure operates on the level of what Deleuze called the “password” (vs. the earworm qua “slogan”), that punctual, affectively-tuned key accessing in an instant a world of association. (Cognitive processes require time, and consequently run the risk of affording distortion and misinterpretation through the “vampire effect”). The horizontal is verticalized. It’s not the generic G major chord, but its timbrally specific, infinitely reproducible singular incarnation which is of interest. Plexure functions as speculative theory in asking what the minimal abductive threshold of any splinter might be. While Plexure relies on a perverted/blackened notion of Duchampian co-creation—a heard synecdochal splinter is prolonged internally by the abductee, its familiarity autonomically activating a prior phonographic incorporation (capitalism functions most effectively when the subject does its work)—recent branding tendencies are slanted towards the development of radically contained fragments, which have no original context, and as such resist more effectively the subject’s attempts to expunge them. The construction of these overcompressed units is highly inflected by research on human phylogenetic development and the somatic effects (breathing / heart rate) of specific acoustic wave patterns which activate deeply embedded survival mechanisms tied to hearing, though here it is the survival of the cybercapitalist system which motivates the abductive project. (see Chronoportation).

TECHNOABLATION: A condition effected by the normalization (and consequent disappearing) of the side-effects of technological functioning such that certain valences associated with surrounding materials are suppressed from conscious attention. Also known (informally) as the Blunt Coefficient, in reference to the capacity of technological operations (such as rewind, fast-forward) to blunt the perception of newness occurring, given the presumption of an inflexible and unchanging phonographic inscription. In a curious variation, The War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938 could be said to have been made real to thousands of fleeing Americans through the process of technoablation. Because the technical glitch, the interruption, had been normalized as a harbinger of disconnect and danger, it was easy to simulate real horror by simply manufacturing transmission dropouts when the narrative required it. (Witness the loaded audio-visual communication breakdowns during the coverage of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy which seemed to perfectly mirror (while amplifying) the traumatic nature of the event.) Consequently, it would have required considerably more tenacity to resist this invocation of invasion than in current times, in which the glitch itself has been moshed into domestication and complicity (though it may still occasionally function—if used sparingly—to donate the impression of fallibility when needed, a useful, rapid-response spanner baiting the viewer away from a cynical perception of the hermetically-sealed, horror vacui of media control and the undeniable impression of seamless mediation which points too acutely towards a preprogrammed, prepackaged preemption of actuality—see Tony Conrad’s Bryant Park Moratorium Rally). However, the same trust invested in digital technologies as 1930s Americans invested in radio (recalling the latter’s fireside presence) makes possible other types of suppressions, in which the presumption of the same actually conceals slowly creeping change, of a variety that subtly enters one’s consciousness (and can open a channel for future indoctrination). Put differently, technoablation is part of an affordance model calibrated to the perceived limits of a given technology’s operative capacities, though this model also allows for that which exceeds what one can afford, by the stealthy application of bait-and-switch type modalities which function paradoxically / impossibly by simulating (audibilizing) various technological operations. The excess in such a process is that which lodges itself subconsciously, available for future use, skimmed off what is consciously apprehendable (what the system can afford). However, a too-blatant enactment of this procedure may force a reflexive backfire, in which the excess effectively induces in the perceiving subject a sense of paradox which intermittently flashes into consciousness the coordinates of the system in question (its phase space) (McLuhan: “Paradox coalesces or telescopes various facets of a complex process in a single instant”.) In this sense, technoablation allows for both the subliminal manipulation by corporate egregores (slipping a hidden message within the folds of the presumably identical (but infra-legibly different)), and the antidote to such manipulation, depending on one’s position and which occluded grey areas of technological operation one wishes to momentarily foreground. (see Anadumbration; opposite: Incipience Effect).

cont’d in part 3

– Couroux

Performance and Enaction in Writing Sonic Materialities OR The writing of having written: writing about (writing about) sound

I’m working on something like a “position paper” for an upcoming roundtable where participants are asked to consider how their writing engages the materiality of sound. I’d love any comments or suggestions for the following; while the language is perhaps excessively declarative in its rhetoric, I hope that the contents of this rhetoric might be taken up in our discussion as probes rather than declarations. That is, I don’t really believe what I’ve written, I just don’t think it’s wrong either.   

[with apologies for incomplete and missing citations]

The very question of writing the materiality of sound implies a logically fallacious distinction, specifically one that begs the question. That is, the challenge that inheres in such writing is an assumed sound/vision distinction that it is the goal of the challenge to articulate: the challenge rests on the assumption that there is a there there to write about. And truthfully, I expect there isn’t, which is to say that the basic principle behind Seth Kim-Cohen’s polemical non-cochlear intervention in the discourses of music and sound art is to a certain extent irrefutable: insofar as any knowledge of sound is routed through the logic of knowing itself, it is necessarily discursive (and specifically grammatological).[1]

And yet—as Levi Bryant reminds us in a different context—the irrefutability of grammatology need not close the door on other approaches: Bryant points out, for example, that “no one has yet refuted the solipsist, nor the Berkeleyian subjective idealist, yet neither solipsism nor the extremes of Berkeleyian idealism have ever been central and ongoing debates in philosophy.”[2] In this, Bryant maps Marshall and Eric McLuhan’s citation of Max Planck’s well-known view on scientific progress into the register of philosophy, arguing that “new innovations in philosophy do not so much refute their opponents as simply cease being preoccupied by certain questions and problems.”[3] In short, the task at hand is less to disprove Derridean grammatology than it is to explore the affordances of other approaches (or perhaps other affordances of grammatology), even if such endeavors remain contingent. As Niklas Luhmann argues, even if any signifying instance is finally undecidable, systems nonetheless decide.[4]

Being logically untenable, then, is not the end of the story of writing sound but instead its beginning, as discourses always modulate according to forces in addition to those of reason. Put differently, this is just to insist again on the performative dimension that has always invested deconstruction, and which indeed was the most crucial (and most vexing, logically) component of grammatology’s intervention into the Humanities.  In this light, we can note that sound’s extra-discursivity is different than vision’s (even if it remains, like vision, ultimately and logically extendable to either the sublime or the transcendent). That is, sound’s “extra-discursivity” remains as impossible, provisional, and contingently constructed as any claim to discursive evasion, but nonetheless offers a rather different clew to continually unravel and ravel again in our ongoing enaction of the system-environment difference that is embodiment. In short, the initial gambit of writing the materiality of sound must—to my mind—entail a shift from categories to operations. In this, the challenge of writing the materiality of sound is itself re-written: no longer a matter of representation or even conveyance, the task at hand instead becomes one of accounting for the agential cuts that are enacted in any coming-to-sound. The task is less one of representation or apprehension—with the entire “ecology of the mirror”[5] that such a perspective suggests—than one of expansion and intensification.

Thus, to engage the challenge of writing about sound is less to move towards the truth of sound and more to speculate about the specific methodologies that are caught up in “knowing” sound in the first place. Put differently, writing about sound is a methodological challenge, where a methodology constitutes a set of mechanisms that reiteratively construct and sustain a system/environment difference. Indeed, no matter how open it may be, a method is always a system: it is a means of separating what can cause activity in a specific way from what can only catalyze such causations, where that distinction is continuously drawn by the system through its ongoing articulation of its boundaries (i.e. of what is included in the system).[6] In this case, individual thoughts and activities can catalyze our method for writing about sound, and this activity can lead to changes in the method itself, but we ourselves can’t directly and willfully write the materiality of sound except insofar as we are part of that materiality.

Put differently, writing about sound begins with a set of principles that will, in a sense, write for us (and for which we will write). Moreover, the method is an archival one, in that it is less a matter of tracking our listening experiences (which are, in any case, always-already tracked insofar as they are experienced) and more one of recording this track. As a result, any method for writing sound must start by acknowledging that it is already written (in the broad sense), and also that there is a rich history of recording this writing.

Perhaps the most literal such history flows from the technical artifact of the phonautograph, a machine invented by Leon Scot in 1857 to quite literally write sound (or rather, to have sound write itself). Importantly, one use of this device—a device that introduces what Jonathan Sterne calls the “tympanic mechanism” as a synecdoche for listening—was to help deaf people to learn to modulate their voices to sound more like oto-typical people’s voices.[7] That is, by comparing their own inscriptions to those of people with typical hearing, deaf people could modulate the timbre of their voices in response to visual differences. Speaking is externalized and “captured” in the form of this machinic writing, with which individuals can couple in a kind of pedagogical feedback loop in order to “smooth out” aural differences that are inaudible to the speaker.

Sterne notes that this technical feedback loop is markedly different from contemporaneous approaches based on bodily reproduction tuned to the level of the phoneme. That is, the emphasis had been on reproducing movements of the lips, tongue, et cetera, in order to recognizably reproduce phonemes, thereby emphasizing the communicative capacity of speech over its sound per se.  With the phonautograph, though, the communicative goals of this project are supplemented (or perhaps even displaced) by an effort to eliminate the aural marks of a deaf person’s difference. This technical development thus folds aesthetic and political values into its purview in a perfect demonstration of what Kittler calls the “immaterial origins of science.”[8]

While obviously problematic, the values built into this technical writing of sound are worth noting because the fact of their enaction—if not the values themselves—is a fact of working methodologically: insofar as they hold steady against the tide of madness, methods must always decide in advance what will and will not count as data. In this way aesthetic judgment is built into the foundation of methodologies, in the sense that the former is precisely about the “threshold of the (im)possibility of measure.”[9] Sound must necessarily pre-exist itself in order to be written then—it is written in and as a grammatological “always-already.”

This aesthetic component of the phonautograph is crucial to note because it highlights an original (which, like any origin, appears as the original) as opposed to an historical moment of sound. That is, the shift from a unit-based communicative model (based on phonemes) of spoken sound to a normatively driven aesthetic model of sound per se moves the multiplicitous and nonlinearly related histories that are packed into this sounding beyond the pale of reasonable consideration into the creative enclave of aesthetic speculation. Specifically, (as Sterne argues) this invention ultimately charts an inversion “of the general and specific in theories of sound” such that “speech and music become specific instances of sound, which is a reproducible effect” (i.e. rather than speech and music being different things altogether).[10] In other words, a given sound is no longer treated as a thing-in-itself that is tied to its conditions of production, but is instead understood as an effect that is theoretically separable from those conditions (this, of course, is famously articulated in other settings as well, including Schafer’s notion of ‘schizophonia,’ which serve to departicularize sounds into Sound). In short, categorical distinctions about sound are put aside in favor of operational ones: sound is an effect of behavior rather than a resemblance.

Sterne (like others) is in some respects critical of this, of course, but the broader point is irrefutable: in order to properly understand sound and its reproduction we must take the time to chart the complex imbrication of social and technical forces that are built into our understanding. Echoing Donna Haraway, what is called for are histories without origins. What complicates this endeavor in the case of sound, though, is its particular mode of sedimenting the myriad (and often contradictory) histories that inhere in and as its materiality: the oft-remarked ephemerality of sound means that even as it collects these histories it does so precisely in the form of disappearance. Indeed, this is simply another way of stating the basic schizophonic premise: whatever one’s opinion about how sound should be, the schizophonic fact is that this rhetoric of ephemerality (i.e. of constant disappearance, of ontic evasion) is as inseparable from the histories sound collects as light is from vision. Vision illuminates, and sound is a shadow; to close one’s eyes and listen to sounds (i.e. to attempt to meet sound strictly on its own terms) is thus to search for a shadow in the dark.

Thus, any method for writing the materiality of sound involves an ambivalent relation with the material in question: on one hand, insofar as a method is undertaken it involves the writer being taken up into the systemic operations through which sound recognizably appears (i.e. the writer catalyzes a sonic system, such that it performs its system-environment differentiation more intensely). At the same time, though, since this sonic system consists precisely in a performance that includes the writer this externalization into aurality is simultaneously an internalization of a sound’s multiplicitous material-semiotics into the scale of lived experience. Both the writer and sound disappear to the other.

Put differently, writing the materiality of sound requires one to think through a part of oneself that is non-thinking, but that nonetheless couples thinkingly. And indeed, this is the case with any method, which is to say that methodology itself is a kind of (Deleuzian?) machine for medial translation, whether it be from sound to writing specifically or from “experience” to “having experienced” more generally. This is not a particularly new thought, and myriad artists and scholars have spilled much ink on the folds, erasures, and lines of flight that belch from aural metaphors.[11] Importantly, what underwrites these approaches—as different as they are similar—is the necessity of relating practice and research. While this is a proximate concern in any field, I would argue that it is amplified in the case of sound precisely because aurality’s “extra-discursivity” is always a movement towards a specific and immediate particularity (as opposed to standing in representationally), precisely because sounds are not even provisionally “present” (in the categorical sense).[12]

Thus, though methods always involve a degree of mechanized medial translation this translation is fundamentally informed by practices in the case of sound. If writing (in the full sense) is characterized by a bilateral theory/practice causality that is always-already performative, the functional norms of this relation are inverted in the case of sound: whereas a key intervention of grammatology was to draw out the absences that inhere in any figuration of presence, in thinking/writing contemporary sound practices the challenge seems to principally be one of making present something that is manifestly absent (i.e. in its ephemerality).

However, this isn’t quite the case either; instead—and this is where I will close—the challenge of writing sound is that of making present the fact of having made sound present in experiencing it, which is the challenge of reco(r)ding any relational phenomenon. Alexis Madrigal makes an analogous point with respect to social networks when he notes that it is manifestly not the case that Facebook allows us to exchange personal data for the ability to share information, since sociality was built into the Internet from the start. Instead, with Facebook we exchange our personal information for a record of our having shared, so any cost-benefit analysis (i.e. any method for assessing whether such an exchange is desirable, or more broadly any means of registering Facebook activity as ‘sharing’ in the first place) must account for this.[13] The point, in writing about sound, is that this reflexive component is part of the materiality that such writing seeks to code.

Finally, then, it strikes me that the pertinent question is less how to engage the materiality of sound and more that of exploring the power dynamics that are called upon and cultivated in any such engagement. Paraphrasing Madrigal, in writing about an aural practice it isn’t the case that we give up the particularity of our experience in exchange for the ability to share this experience, as experience itself already does this. Instead, we give up this particularity—we externalize ourselves into a system of writing—for a record of having shared, which is to say in order to lay claim (however provisional) to an origin of sound. This, quite simply, is a problem…and specifically one that can only be accessed through aesthetic vectors.


[1] Kim-Cohen, Seth. In the blink of an ear: toward a non-cochlear sound art (New York: Continuum, 2009).

[2] Bryant, Levi. The Democracy of Objects (Michigan: Open Humanities Press, 2011), 29.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For an excellent introduction to the relationship between second-order systems theory (SOST) and deconstruction, see Cary Wolfe, “Meaning as Event-Machine, or Systems Theory and ‘The Reconstruction of Deconstruction:” in Emergence and Embodiment: New Essays on Second-Order Systems Theory, edited by Bruce Clarke and Mark B.N. Hansen (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), pp. 220-245. Luhmann situates SOST as “the reconstruction of deconstruction.”

[5] Hiebert, Ted. “Delirious Screens: flesh shadows and cool technology” in CTheory.net (2008). http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=592

[6] Bryant also has a relatively simple gloss of SOST here:

[7] Sterne, Jonathan. “A machine to hear for them” fill out complete bibliographic info.

[8] Kittler, Friedrich. GFT (find page number).

Indeed, Sterne shows how later developments in the phonautograph technology are made possible by changes in the Anatomy Act in Massachusetts, changes that were themselves modeled after the British Anatomy Act of 1832 which “offered to medicine [i.e. medical students] any corpse that would otherwise have to be buried by the British state” (e.g. people dying in workhouses, or who could otherwise not afford burial services) (274).

[9] Chun, Wendy. Find bibliographic info.

[10] Sterne, 279.

[11] For myself, I have charted these protuberating vectors along four lines that combine to produce what I call the “sonic effect,” namely sound’s tendency to be differential, relational, semiotically parasitic, and multiplicitous. See Cecchetto, David. Humanesis: Sound and technological posthumanism (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 1-4.

[12] Oddly enough, in this view particularity corresponds the (in)famous claim that music is entirely abstract, since this is simply another way of noting sound’s apparent tendency to disappear at the very moment of its appearance.

[13] Madrigal, Alexis. “Dark Social: We have the whole history of the web wrong” in The Atlantic (12 October 2012; accessed January 2013). http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/dark-social-we-have-the-whole-history-of-the-web-wrong/263523/

Preemptive Glossary for a Techno-Sonic Control Society (with lines of flight) Pt. 1

The following provides a first attempt at devising terminological coordinates to apprehend the complex entanglements of sound, technology, and control. In addition to the foregrounding / delimiting / naming function they provide, these terms also allow for lines of flight, methods to induce other sonic realities (to actively change reality) by incorporating this complex web of interferences and contingencies into its purview from the get-go. These 21 terms are radically provisional, aimed at capturing confluences of the moment, but they can productively dissolve at a moment’s notice, or mutate into a form which is unrecognizable. This glossary can be entered (and exited) at any point. This will be the first of three posts. – Couroux

CYBERAFFORDANCE: The condition of cybernetic capitalism which actualizes the future in the present, effectively (but stealthily) closing off any options which the system cannot “afford“, pretending to openness (and convincing the subject of this) while operating within a set of clearly delimited boundaries. Norbert Weiner‘s first-order cybernetics aimed to predict the movement and behavior of enemy aircraft during WWII, by continuously gathering information about the opponent and feeding it back into the system, gradually improving the latter’s predictive ability. After the war, the Macy Conferences provided the impetus for an improved, second-order cybernetics, now to be applied to the social realm, in order to keep the death drive from exploding into actualization again. (Cybernetic = kubernesis = piloting). At the same time as communication technologies drastically improve and mass media acquires an ever-vaster purview, capitalism moves into its late, post-Fordist, just-in-time phase, which requires such a cybernetic system of instant feedback in order to minimize stockpiling and continue accumulation. This predation should not be too flagrant, lest the consumer develop the ability to critically resist it. Instead, the constant extraction of information from every aspect of an individual’s life (which occurs most often in the background of daily activities) operates to preempt future “outside” initiative by constantly predicting his/her next consumptive move, embedding the subject ever deeper. (Noise, especially of a “critical” variety, far from being a nuisance to the system, is in fact essential to periodically restart it. There is no failure, only feedback. The hunger of capitalism should never be undererstimated, nor its skill at capturing the opponent’s point of view and refiguring it as its own.) This condition becomes synonymous over time with the notion of “system immanence” (Hullot-Kentor), or the inability to grasp the nature of the system one is in, by being completely isomorphic with it, through the subjection of every infinitesimal aspect of daily life to analysis, calculation and prediction. (One only has to read a random selection of abstracts from any conference organized by the Society for Consumer Psychology to get a sense of micro-strategies of predation, fine-tuning the feedback loop by accounting for any possible noise that might temporarily detour it from its goal). Dixit Reza Negarestani: “Affirmation does not make you open to the world but closes you progressively through the grotesque domestications of economical openness, makes you more solid and economically open, more moralized and more ideal for the boundary whose uncontrollable machinery is based on transforming openness to affordance, and loyalty to survival economy.” Dixit Nick Land: “The only way to get more tight-feedback under current conditions is by splitting, in every sense. That is the overwhelming practical imperative: Flee, break up, withdraw, and evade. Pursue every path of autonomization, fissional federalism, political disintegration, secession, exodus, and concealment. Route around the Cathedral’s educational, media, and financial apparatus in each and every way possible. Prep, go Galt, go crypto-digital, expatriate, retreat into the hills, go underground, seastead, build black markets, whatever works, but get the hell out.”

PHONOGRAPHIC INCORPORATION: The internalization by an individual of long durations of auditory material (most often of a musical nature), which can be recalled at will, instantiations assuming the form of  internal “playback”. (Subjects have reported internalizing up to 30 minutes of material.) Details regarding frequency, rhythm, signal/noise ratio, depth (space), timbre and associated effects are all “audible” and accurately reproduced on repetition. Musicians constitute the greatest percentage of individuals disposed to phonographic incorporation, being in the habit of memorizing a large amount of musical works of extended duration for public performance. A particular instantiation of the incorporation will often be triggered by an environmental factor—linguistic, musical, affective—a lived situation which engenders inner listening (a process known more commonly as phonomnesis). Phonographic memory is essential to entrainment (see Latching Coefficient). Some speculation suggests that attempting to hum/embody/rebone a phonographic-incorporation-in-progress short-circuits its continuance, though this is difficult to square with the continuing potency of embedded superearworms in “primers”, who persist in maintaining an accurate reproduction despite surfacing it repeatedly through humming. Baddeley suggests that the recorded material might be incorporated via a “sub-vocal rehearsal process” which continuously refreshes the memory trace through the use of one’s “inner voice”. This process appears indispensable in extending the length of the incorporation beyond that afforded by the capacities of the “phonological store“, which can only maintain 3-4 seconds of material in active memory before decay sets in. (Echoic memory on the other hand is limited to retaining the just-heard—fragments less than 1000 milliseconds long—which is more than sufficient to successfully lodge timbral splinters which characterize the new mode of hyperforeshortened brand predation.) (see Primers)

PHONOEGREGORE: An occult, corporate cabal seeking control over a given population through the use of schizophonic magick. Edison is said to have expressed his fear of such a shadowy entity gaining access to the disembodied, objectified words of an individual. His fear was well founded. The schizophonic properties of recording technology were indeed appropriated by the few to gain power over the many—see Hitler’s use of live radio broadcasts (and Roosevelt’s fireside chats) and the use of fake broadcasts (by a tiny militia funded by the CIA, run by future Watergate co-conspirator E. Howard Hunt) to induce the fall of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 (among many other examples), the inspiration for which may well have come from Orson Welles’ hyperstitional broadcast of the War of the Worlds in 1938, a möbius-event which began as a standard Mercury Theater realization, slipping into what appeared to be a real-life invasion (see Technoablation). Pierre Schaeffer, a French telecommunications engineer, believed the world could be altered if one brought its sounds into the musical realm (echoing Cage’s move), developing the technique of “reduced listening” after WWII to aid in emptying the worldliness, the discursive realm out of perceived sound; to expunge the distorting, controlling effects of language which received an awesome boost in power through the appropriation of technologies of sound reproduction and transmission, employed to horrifying political ends. Like post-Darmstadt composers—but in a far more powerful fashion, for having the insight to employ the technology of his time as medium for psychic transformation (as Burroughs also understood)—Schaeffer sought to hollow/zero out in order to fill, this time squarely within the totalizing and stabilizing machine of music, in a preemptive one-upping of Jacques Attali, regarding the latter’s theory of the cyclical sublimation of the death drives of the time to the sacrificial order of music.  (The meditative, mind-voiding calm of reduced listening replaces the hyperdiscursivizing of sound excited by fear and anxiety—much better to musicalize those strange night sounds into harmlessness than to afflict them with shadowy motivations). It wouldn’t be surprising to discover that Dr. Ewen Cameron utilized some of this emerging theory in his brain-emptying experiments (which, according to Alfred McCoy, “laid the scientific foundation for the CIA’s two-stage psychological torture method”) at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal in the 50s and 60s (after Schaeffer had done his most important work). In fact, though confirmation has long been sought, no conclusions can yet be drafted. (It’s not surprising that Burroughs‘ insistence on the functionalizing of art in its capacity to produce changes in reality was deliberately downplayed. Genesis P-Orridge recounts a story of Burroughs casting a spell on an eatery that had maligned him by walking back and forth outside of it while playing at barely audible level a recording cutting in violent sounds to the sounds of and outside the restaurant. A few weeks after the action had begun, the joint closed without explanation. With the volatility (and accessibility) of schizophonic practices thus exposed—their capacity to fold time and space—it was deemed preferable to contain/defuse Burroughs within the equivocating realm of postmodern stylistic experimentation, rather than encourage any mass dissemination of the principles of techno-actualization.)

MÖBIUS MODALITY: The regime under which the emergence of a new system of domination cannot be apprehended by dint of the individual’s submission to an endless succession of presents, a steady progression through control and communication feedback processes. The möbius strip is a paradoxical entity with only one boundary, simultaneously one-sided and two-sided: one can trace a straight, continuous line on its surface and end up on the other side of where one started (after one “loop”), and continue until reaching the starting point (the second “loop”), all accomplished without ever actually leaving the initial “side”. This condition makes possible imperceptible transitions from one condition to its diametrical opposite, through a creeping process the increments of which appear to confirm the status quo (lack of palpably discrete change). The möbius modality is the means by which an individual, a culture and a society become system immanent. Only in retrospect is one able to discern the monumental flip that has taken place, by which time the new condition has become normalized. However, an understanding of the shifty, time-dependent operations of the möbius modality (and the normalization effect) shows up the boundaries of the (cyber)affordance model and its upgrading of fictional entities to the status of inviolable fact, which leaves open the potential for synthetic constructs to inflect the feedback loop through insinuation (illapsus). A conception of noise which ducks beneath integumentary exchange to operate parasitically, forcing the distorting operations of time into consciousness.

PHONOCHASM / HYPERPHONOCHASM: The (extreme) separation of a subject from its broader acoustical context. Reclusive pianist Glenn Gould undertook a series of phonochasmic experiments in the mid 1970s (by which time he had completely withdrawn into the realm of reproduction), in which he aligned an array of microphone pairs extending from the interior of the piano (close mic) to the back of the hall, allowing for a cinematic telescoping and zooming towards and away from the musical object of attention. A total zoom-in donates a sense of contextlessness, an intimate closeness, while telescoping to the widest angle lets in ample context, reverberation. If one thinks of the term reverberation in more than its acoustical sense, as a state-of-affairs in which the progressive distance from an event practically guarantees (in direct proportion) the introduction of noise (rumor, rumori (Italian) = noise) and intermediating/détourning factors (discursive and perceptual), then one most assuredly has an interest in controlling the amount of reverb one lets into any experience. (What is likely to be “taken up” and re-injected into actuality once the original signal has died off.) “Critical distance” (how far you are from the immediate field of emission) takes on another meaning here. The hyperphonochasm is a more recent development; its exacerbated, foreshortened character more suited to the rapid-response feedback of viral media. Such a weapon was deployed by corporate media in the aftermath of the pre-election Iowa caucuses of 2004, in which Democratic contender Howard Dean had finished third. Despite this poor showing, Dean’s natural response to his supporters’ enthusiasm was to rattle off a wishlist of states-to-win, finishing off with a primal yelp. From a cellphone recording of the event taken by one of these supporters, one can easily discern the context of what came to be known as the “Dean scream“: one of mutual excitement, in which the ultimate utterance functioned simply as peremptory punctuation. Which media outlet actually carried out the hyperphonochasm is not clear. One of them (Fox, perhaps?) originated a version of this particular event in which the output from Dean’s microphone had been amplified, and the context dampened, in order to donate the impression of a ranting madman, inappropriately content with a miserable electoral outcome, obviously disconnected from reality, preaching to what sounds like a small crowd, ultimately unsuitable for high office. After some 700 iterations of the scream across the 5 major US television networks (pre-YouTube), Dean’s campaign was effectively deactivated.  The cellphone recording’s evidencing of the immersive nature of the event—its perspective lacking critical distance—is countermanded by the hyperphonochasmic version, a post-event “reverberation” (a re-perspectivized reinjection into the folds of the real) which ironically suppresses acoustical reverberation (sense of context) to insinuate its distorting imperatives. (The phonocollapse is the underused opposite of the phonochasm, in its attenuation of an object or individual’s pre-emininent position within a context, dissolving a stand-out part into an undifferentiated (virtual) whole. A re-emphasis on the messiness and non-linearities of a social movement rather than its clean encapsulation and teleological catalyzing in the words and actions of its heroic leaders is a frequent trope in revisionist history.)

INCONGRUITY INDEX: The degree of deviation from a normative melodic, harmonic, rhythmic condition which induces excess cognition on the part of the listener, absorbed in the effort of identifying the anomalous nature of the mysterious event. This surplus effort to “pull back” perceived incongruity into an existing category induces an earworm—a more or less deeply lodged fragment, most often of music, which appears to have no purpose other than its obsessive reenactment in the mind of the afflicted individual—which is why sonic branders (inspired by the work of Dr. James Kellaris, among others) are interested in mathematising a particular hook’s deviation in order to more effectively abduct. (In addition, formulas exist which calculate the average amount of repetitions needed to “naturalize” a deviation, depending on its incongruity index. This naturalization process is tantamount to the psychic half-life of the deviation, its gradual decay into the normative where it can do no more direct harm (but by the same token determines future potential by its withdrawal into an expanding virtual). Types of deviation include: an awkward melodic leap which appears unattractive at first, an unexpected harmonic modulation, rhythmic asymmetries and foreshortenings etc. These deviations are often pulled back into controllable territory by the conscious mind without undue effort and without lasting parasitic effect, which is why the magickal art of deviation requires constant practice and update in line with current sensible distributions of cultural matter (branding agencies have sizable research wings).

CHRONOPHOBIA / MYSOCHRONIA: Fear of time / Hatred of time. Just-in-time capitalism, functioning by instant feedback control and communication, replaces just-in-case, which allows for potential future consumption of a stockpiled good. Preempting the future in the present (see Cyberaffordance) occasions a never-ending series of present “projects” with no end in sight (Kafka’s indefinite postponement and Cazdyn’s Already Dead chronic case, not to mention Muzak’s Quantum Modulation, which proliferates an endless variety of surfaces while subtending / unifying them with rigid affective prescription). Greenberg‘s Augenblick: the totality of the art work is accessible in the blink of an eye, before cognition takes things up. If you can preempt consciousness by affective formalist means, you can delimit the range of possible experience. Tony Conrad’s Bryant Park Moratorium Rally (1969) goes one better: the mediated, televised coverage of the rally appears to precede / preempt the actual event taking place a dozen blocks away. L. Ron Hubbard defines a “Clear” as one who thinks in instantaneous bursts, without the deleterious ramblings of an inner voice, i.e. without time, without deliberation. Francis Bacon conjures paintings meant to explode “violently onto the nervous system”. Control requires time for its feedback operations, but needs to conceal this fact through the parcellization of time into manageable units, lest the enslaved subject appropriate its modulatory (and inertial) effects to foster  embodied continuities self-ejecting from the communicative bind with capitalism. Minimalists wanted to let time back into the experience. As Christoph Cox has pointed out, Michael Fried’s Art And Objecthood (1967) was more concerned with the messiness of temporal experience (and Minimal art’s indistinction from experience of the world in general) than with the condition of “theatricality“. (More importantly, the essay inadvertently galvanized the Minimalist project, appropriating Fried’s language to carve itself a theoretical basis.) Instability, process, change take on greater meaning in the late 60s as minimalist artists militate against institutional structures. Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010), hailed as an “homage to time” is in fact the work of a profoundly mysochronic sensibility: a replication of the institutionalized, spatialized time of control, with images and sounds indexed to the time of day, synching viewers up with chronometric, regimented time, freezing the latter’s wayward potential in a series of unending presents. Time indexed to function: a Time and Motion Study for the 21st century.

cont’d in Part 2

– Couroux


Levi Bryant’s August 2010 post about “Experimental Metaphysics” was brought to my attention the other day via an NYC yoga instructor’s stumbling across the entry and adding a comment that a few days ago automatically fed into my email.

Mistaking the post and its subsequent discussion as recent, I added my own thoughts on what an experimental metaphysics might entail.

Bryant basically asks how activities seemingly tangential to the task of doing metaphysics come to inform the latter. For example, how does the smell of damp soil and the observation of sunlight’s path across a patch of tilled earth find its way into one’s thoughts about the stuff of being? The post is mostly suggestive and ultimately quite modest in its proposals.

While I think there’s definite merit to what Bryant asks, and an obvious implication that circumstances are an ineliminable part of the way a broader reality is taken up by an individual and related to others,  the idea of the experimental here is rather conservative in its aims. Specifically, I think the way that Bryant frames the experimental is assuming in its orientation towards a real whose existence matters as fact. That is, what’s being assumed by the experimental activity here is a reality whose status as “real” is determined in advance. The experiment here is more an act of discovery than one of invention, and in a sense, it’s an act the outcome of which is something to know.

My comment (reproduced below) suggests that the “experimental” be considered less as a method for pondering “the resistance of the real” and more a way of being concerned with the creation of realities.

Response to Levi Bryant’s “Experimental Metaphysics?” (posted 11 August 2010).

(February 27, 2013 at 4:53 am)

I’d love to see “experimental” considered here in a sense that is closer to the way the term is used in the arts. I’m thinking specifically of the way John Cage defined the experimental “not as descriptive of an act to be later judged in terms of success and failure, but simply as of an act the outcome of which is unknown.” If we take “experimental metaphysics” in this sense, then aesthetics truly becomes first philosophy. The practice of philosophy, and the elaboration of a metaphysics, could be understood, then, as an event-driven act, an event/act whose duration may span a lifetime, and, as Fabio puts it, whose aim resides in the “development through time of the [philosophizing] itself.” This is to say that an experimental metaphysics would see itself chiefly as an aesthetic project whose article of creation—its “ontology”—is no less fabricated than, for example, experimental music’s “compositions,” or experimental fiction’s “novels.” What’s important to an experimental metaphysics of this kind is making sense, which is to say, making particular activities function in a way that lures attention into the ambit of an effective difference—namely, the difference that an argument, along with its concomitant rhetoric and style, makes. Like any artwork, the sense a metaphysics makes needn’t be true or even, in the extreme, coherent. A(n experimental) metaphysics just needs to be persuasive, or more importantly, it needs to be interesting in its invention of a conceptual domain. I’d suggest a metaphysics is also experimental not only when the practices that inform the collection of ideas are spotlighted or emphasized, as they would be—discomfitingly perhaps—at a conference that asks its participants to cook, fold paper, etc., but when an effort to create concepts and to forge new ways of thinking is done without knowing what sense their being done will make. This, however, would be incredibly difficult to image because it risks undermining the cogency that makes philosophy a robust form of knowledge and not mere prattle. (Perhaps this is what Guattari was up to. Levi suggests in another post that he finds G. thinks “too quickly.” It’s possible that Guattari was not thinking too quickly so much as he was doing exactly the kind of experimental thinking that I’m relating here.)

– Priest