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