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