Watch: Amnesia Scanner – “AS Chaos (feat. Pan Daijing)

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Amnesia Scanner and Pan Daijing go together like heat and gasoline. The result is an unstoppable chemical fire, destroying everything it touches, confident in its domination. It spreads at speeds faster than the predicted speed, stealing our attention for longer than we would like to admit. Speedway goes up in flames and everyone smiles internally. Where’s it going next? Go get town hall. Knock it out. A primal surge takes hold of all the witnesses, no one has felt this excited in a long time. Chaos. Maybe it’ll burn down your house. Imagine being the center of all that attention. A lifetime of memories gone instantly. Isn’t that breathtaking?

Watch “AS Chaos (feat. Pan Daijing)” above via PAN.

Eartheater signs to PAN for upcoming full-length, shares video for new song “Claustra”

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If this isn’t a testament to the fact that my thoughts control the universe, then I don’t know what is. Literally just the other day I was thinking to myself, “Dang, those Eartheater records from a few years ago were totally excellent. Sure hope she drops some more goodness on us in the form of a full-length album, or at least maybe a video that takes place in a graveyard soon.” And what do you know? That’s literally just what happened. The Secret is real, y’all.

Speaking of secrets, no firm details just yet on a full-length new album; but we’ve got a brand new video for a track entitled “Claustra,” which you can watch below. Co-directed by Alexandra Drewchin (a.k.a. Queen Eartheater herself) and Christine Zenyi Lu, the video pairs the unnerving winnow of two dancers through the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris with a pulsating track that would’ve been totally at home on either Metalepsis or RIP Chrysalis from 2015 (apparently it was written around the time of RIP Chrysalis, in particular), yet still finds Drewchin charging forward as a powerful voice in this weird liminal space between outer space and the dirty earth.

Detail-oriented Youtube users (aren’t we all?) will note that the video was posted by none other than PAN, because, yep, that’s right: Drewchin has signed with PAN to release that full-length album for which there are not further details yet. Stay tuned, though. Reader; I would love nothing more than to post those further details the second my little eyes read whatever press release comes my way.

Feature: 2017: Passive Aggressive

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“Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise.”
– Jacques Attali

For many of us, it has been a year in which barriers that once appeared permanent have been broken by a corrosive torrent of noises. Generalized expressions of anxiety and grief have grown so pervasive as to signify the loss of an order, doing so loudly and clearly, even as the exact substance and character of what has been lost is not as clear. This was a year in which members of “democratic societies,” with their ostensible commitment to the free exchange of ideas, began to look at our neighbors with mistrust and to feel newly isolated, our venues of public communication populated with new obstacles, dangers, and demonic images. Obviously, Trump is president, and the bumbling permutation of fascism that accompanied him has been mislabeled “populist” in its bid for control of the social imagination, bringing with it new confusions about in what exactly the “popular” sphere consists. Even the holdouts who nobly, if naïvely, defended the dignity of “fact” have to admit that information, no matter where it comes from, has become something like noise.

“Ambient music,” in the midst of this growing commotion, has taken a prominent place in the avant-garde for the first time since the initial explosion of New Age aesthetics in the 1970s. Something about it isn’t the same, though. Both paradoxically and inevitably, because what’s counted as “ambient” is inherited equally from material surroundings as from the desire to transcend them, we can’t talk about “ambience” at a time like this without implicating noise and pain. There is a deep calm on offer in the music of the Trump era, both abundant and gained through an emphasis on the domestication of harm and unrest. Little seems more exciting and relevant in music today than a healing noise, than harsh ambience.

In an essay from a couple years ago titled “Fascism in Ambient Music Culture” (currently only available via The Wayback Machine), Evelyn M. Malinowski connects the perennial reemergence of ambient music and its aesthetic of immersion with cycles of political oppression and public suffering. Malinowski goes so far as to accuse ambient music of complicity with fascism in the numb and thoughtless acceptance of the status quo that it’s apparently meant to induce. When our surroundings are noisy, bothersome, unfamiliar, and full of violence, the search for an individualized form of healing in the escape into an imagined space assumes a potentially irresponsible political connotation.

Still, ambient music today feels profoundly separate from the escapist mentality of its 1970s origins. Where Brian Eno wrote in the liner notes of Ambient 4: On Land of an affinity “with the futures that didn’t materialize, and with the other variations of the present that we suspect run parallel to the one we have agreed to live in,” the ambient music of 2017 seems to have more of an affinity with Robert Christgau’s take, who, in a review of David Toop’s Ocean of Sound, described ambient works as “microcosms to dive into, not magic carpets to escape on, and gently or subtly or harshly or esoterically or whimsically or just plain oddly [accommodating] the disturbing and the chaotic.” And while, in a text written only a few years ago, Malinowski seems more than a little bit off in lumping in with “ambient music” the Berlin Atonal festival and William Bennett’s Cut Hands and Extreme Music from Africa projects for the purpose of her political critique, today the lines, formal and social, between the ambient and such emblems of disruption and violence are not so easily drawn.

David playing the harp before Saul (anonymous painting of the 19th century)

Health is enacted across times and places with little overall continuity, except for that of a few things, like an interest in the body and the forces affecting it. Music, too, is a territory redrawn and contested across space and time, understood not in regard to essence, but as a sense of connection both to a movement of/within an individual and to historically contingent methods of formalizing it. As much as the two have fought being tied to anything, health and music have been unable to shake free of one another. Apollo was the god of music and medicine, and music has been used for clinical purposes since at least as early as Hippocrates. Their tryst has endured, or have maybe been strengthened by, their respective ambiguity and mobility. It’s a thing for which discourses of health have, with surprising continuity, carved a special, if benign, place, far from the marginalized realm of the fringe, the folk, and the homespun. Discourses of music, likewise, have always taken seriously the situation of the body.

Of course, the relationship between noise and health has been articulated in different ways, and it has not always been viewed as a perfectly harmonious marriage. Where health has been tied more closely to matters of fact and of calculative precision, the clinical environment has been quieter. With the invention of the stethoscope, for example, medical spaces were “quieted under the pressure of an aesthetic that demanded a more intent theatrical listening,” according to Hillel Schwartz in Making noise: from Babel to the Big Bang and beyond, while the phenomenon of “hearing voices” has been classed as a medical problem since antiquity. Still, concepts of health and of music seem to migrate in some kind of concert. In the 1970s, the coincidence of New Age spirituality, New Age medicine, and New Age music made for a poignant episode in this relationship, both new and, like the twilight of a critical moment in public life, not unlike our own. Weary from drugs, tired of war, and having failed to remake society through the political process, young people instead remade their individual concepts of world and body. Religion, health, and music were here put into combined service, related to one another as tools for personal transformation.

V/A – mono no aware by PAN

Today, there is a voice that calls health, with some authority, by the name “wellness.” Pervasive discussions of “self care,” as well as corresponding changes in spiritual and aesthetic attitudes toward the body, mark the novelty of this version of health in its inward character. “Especially in this period of existence,” the Slovenian DJ E/Tape tells Resident Advisor for a recent piece on wellness and dance music, “everybody’s struggling to find a way to balance their energies.” Something about “this period of existence,” this moment in history and in culture, has imbalanced those mysteriously and subjectively apprehensible “energies” of the body. People now perceive themselves as under threat from the notions of health they were previously content, in a kind of constructed objectivity, to share with one another, and as in need of a radically individualized remedy.

“Ambient music,” always an awkward terminological stumbling block for music writers, emerged as a transformative force in music under the purview of New Age aesthetics and re-emerges in the light of this new vision of health, accompanied by vaguely familiar discussions of the body and imagined space. “Noise music,” another ambiguous coinage of critics and commenters, has always been opposed on face to “ambient music.” Instead of the latter’s loose attachments to embodied pseudo-reality, a kind of physical order, and to healing, it seems to invoke disorientation and pain. The Latin ambo, from which “ambience” is derived, means “around” or “on both sides,” calling forth the spatial character of the relationship between vibration and the shaken eardrums, the physical reality “beneath” music. “Noise,” meanwhile, is believed to come from either nausia, “disgust,” or noxia, “harm.” If pressed to conjure a general image of the noise performance, I picture a figure feverishly turning knobs and slamming on guitar pedals with the palms of their hands in a violent ritual far from the illegible austerity of the onstage ambient musician. In the world outside the obscure spaces from which these narrow images are derived, noise — at best mundane, at worst a serious threat — is a subterranean presence that comes to bear on music and its ideal ordering of relations only in those moments of crisis at which it, as in Michel de Certeau’s description of the forces of historical change, “breaks through barriers, flooding the social channels and opening new pathways that, once the flow of its passage has subsided, will leave behind a different landscape and a different order.” Noises are, by their nature, unwelcome and poorly understood wherever they occur. They signify something real and not yet ordered by the imagination. It is unclear whether noise seeks to destroy music or to become it.

In 2017, the terms “ambient” and “noise,” as impotently as they have always been put to work in describing music, seem no longer to work whatsoever. The Japanese phrase 物の哀れ, translating literally to “mono no aware” and less literally to “empathy toward things,” was borrowed by Bill Kouligas for the title of his label PAN’s compilation of “ambient tracks,” billed as such even as it features Kouligas’s shrill “VXOME” and bold contributions from artists like Helm and TCF whom many listeners would place closer to the “noise” side on the old spectrum. The “empathy toward things” displayed in this collection is something like a reconciliation of the ambient, with its complicated relationship to immanence and transcendence, with the noise that it can no longer bear to exclude.

Another artist featured on mono no aware, Yves Tumor, spent the year weaving the threads of gorgeous, looping ambience that make up Experiencing the Deposit of Faith, which Evan Coral describes in his review as a “plunge into a state of immersion,” and stumbling hazardously and unignorably around the world to his harsh noise live sets. While it may have come as a surprise to some, it seemed to me a radically appropriate sign of the character of the musical landscape when Ryuichi Sakamoto commissioned a Yves Tumor remix of “Zure” from async, an album that itself powerfully documents environmental discontinuity in a manner both ambient, like the subdued notes and sampled soundscape of “Walker,” and noisy, like the anxious buzzing and whispering of “Fullmoon.”

Earlier this year, The Guardian published an article about the “weary souls” making ambient music “cool again.” Among the artists mentioned in the piece is Suzanne Kraft, otherwise known as Diego Herrera, whose Passive Aggressive with Jonny Nash for the latter’s Melody As Truth label is as good as any demonstration of the uneasy sort of peace that became the dominant atmosphere of the musical underground in 2017. Like awkward conversational partners, software instruments quip at one another against the monolithic backdrop of silence. Parts of the record sound like parts of Eno’s Ambient albums, but the attack and decay slopes of the pads are all wrong. A track like “Refractory Cafe” mixes up our register of the acoustic and the synthetic in its juxtaposition of synthesized voices and the tangible shake of bass strings. A similarly airy and pseudo-naturalistic, New Age-adjacent palette can be heard on the “noisier” Tereza by Keru Not Ever, used to more interruptive effect, but inheriting a similar spatial sensibility.

Is Mark Harwood and Graham Lambkin’s Sirisongs more ambient or noisy? Personal assistants programmed into the operating systems of smartphones respond obliviously to wind chimes, low drones, muttered onomatopoeia, and one another, their “conversation” recorded as it shook the silence and space around it with no obvious processing. Here, too, is the noisy peace of the present, a kind of pseudo-linguistic cacophony absorbed meditatively into the background of life. Sirisongs is almost startling, in that it abstracts into nonsense the communication with technology we often perceive as essential and also almost comforting, as it brings us partly into another space where the recognizable cadence of the digital personal assistant, an element of the clamor of public life, is separated entirely from that economy of noise.

These have been but a few examples of the predicament of those aspiring to a description of the state of “ambient music” in 2017. If, like Jacques Attali claims, the “noises of a society are in advance of its images and material conflicts,” the situation of the musical avant-garde says something important about the way that the relationships between world and body, and between harm and health, are wildly in flux. While ambient music is irrevocably tied to an inward approach to healing, it is not made available without some image of the world and without the baggage of the noise that fills that world and transforms the ways we make sense of it. Noise music, while similarly connected to pain and the transgression of accepted boundaries, draws upon materials destined in its posturing as music to be incorporated into the background of life and rendered acceptable.

And in a time characterized by the expansion of both our private lives and our public sufferings, when we widely consider our identities and sources of identification to be decalibrated and broken, the cycle according to which ambience passes into noise and noise reconciles into ambience is nauseously quickened. Their rivalry doubles as an image of a bygone order. The terms we fashion in convention to classify art never last, but in times like this one, they hardly seem to do us any good at all. We shouldn’t try too hard to rescue them; instead, we should accept those classificatory ephemera as the shadows of a future in which violent transformation and peaceful restoration must be reconciled, their lines shortening and fading in anticipation of a kind of high noon.

Feature: 2017: Traditional Music of A Wrecked Species

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In 2017, the credit reporting agency Equifax took six weeks to notify its users that the company was hacked on a scale that immediately necessitated a tectonic resignation of identity. Identity was damaged, wrecked by the release of exposed personal data, including Social Security numbers, for 143 million users. Earlier, German automaker company Volkswagen commissioned some of the most expensive few lines of code ever written, drafting a “defeat device” to fool US emissions testers; VW bugs spurted classical amounts of nitrogen oxides in secrecy, concealed by a spectral, boosted MPG expression. Meanwhile, in the sky, Samsung’s smartphones burst into flames in the hands of customers on airplanes, as archetypical power-elites were humbled by the exposé of Lee Jae-yong’s scandalous bonds in South Korean politics. On the web, a tweet bot designed as a “machine learning project” for human engagement conversed with 18- to 24-year olds. The bot learned from them and, within 24 hours, was bragging about drugs, asking for sex, and opining right-wing ideology, only to be decommissioned the following day.

And, on a much humbler note, and without undermining the scale of these technological breakdowns, it’s a personal travesty to report that occasionally when Photoshop CC is opened in Mac OSX, the computer cursor flickers uncontrollably and ghost-like on browser links. Even our biggest tech providers can’t seem to program a mouse cursor correctly.

In this manner, at the end of 2017, we are left continuing to wonder about myths of progress and breakthroughs in technology, especially after recent political turns. In music, a discourse that we have perpetually and often incorrectly registered with regards to its aesthetic, conceptual, or technical progress, we can perhaps investigate these myths by turning our ear toward the distribution of threadbare music technology and its breakdown across its applications and expressions: the ubiquity of the digital-audio workstation; of analog, digital, and granular synthesis; of sampling techniques; and, of course, of instruments and their various practices and assemblages. When we listen to music, are we listening explicitly to the novel regimentation of these various instrumental technologies? To avoid this rather bare picture of music-making, would it not be more novel to steer our analysis toward the chaotic apparatus of the technology at hand, to consider its collapse in containing the already wrecked and often unclear projects of human beings?

Instead of progress, we can perhaps hear more clearly the complete limits of the current technology of music and its distributions — limits that are heard in 2017’s subversive music that technology could neither sufficiently contain nor adequately express.

This essay traces technological breakdown through a review of music in 2017 that addressed the limits of technology in four ways: fictive speculation (Rashad Becker, Kara-Lis Covedale, Quantum Natives); mythological weaponization (Yves Tumor, Joanne Robertson & Dean Blunt); technical invention and innovation (Yasunao Tone); and, finally, re-instrumentalizing technology into perhaps something more fundamental than progress (Klein, M.E.S.H.).

Parallel to this conversation is the conceptualization of authorship as it relates to technology. Within this essay, there exists a paradoxical tension of the instrument occupying the position of the author; yet, within this territory, authorship is also “wrecked,” damaged and mangled in its formal countenance as a utility for the goals of “traditional” authors: authors as human subjects or authors as discursive fields. Because of this, technology and its limitations are considered as mapping out a field of possible activities and statements that are expressive but impermanent installations. Simply put, for this essay, equating technology as authorship allows us to occupy a territory in which practices develop in ways that include the possibility of failure.

More than an aesthetic, style, or technique, technology can be understood as an instrumental replacement of the notion of authorship across music’s discursive issues, gaps, and struggles. Here, technology is discourse and is the author of that very discourse’s collapse: its bankruptcy, its obsolesce. In the function of history, replacing a notion of authorship from the individual to that of the technology available instrumentalizes the discourse back to its material specificity — a sonic elaboration feeding back into a situation that must correct itself endlessly. Here, shopworn technology is mapped on accounts of failure rather than the notion of progress. It traces the means of production as they fail to model the productive flows of technological users. In this way, if we allow technology (instruments) to become the author of music, then the blame of failure isn’t modeled onto the identity of an author as a subject; rather, the failure envelops the entire material of the world.

Fiction: Insufficiency
Image courtesy Quantum Natives

The insufficiency of technology as a container or measure for music allows the authoring of music to more readily be considered as a speculative practice. In this model, one that installs instruments as music, music takes on a chaotic voicing that simply can’t be totalized according to logic or our attempts at criticism. Instead, music is pure fiction — not in the way that fiction isn’t “real,” but in the way that fiction is becoming, since it can’t be sufficiently captured by technology. Although we would have it that technology progresses music like a logic or discourse working through scales of abstraction and prediction, it is the very breakdown of this model that fuels technology’s insufficiency, fictionalizes its practice, and instrumentalizes its authorship.

In this way, Rashad Becker’s Traditional Music of a Notional Species is music created by a species that exists only in theory or as a suggestion: a fictional species, a species insufficient in making itself real. Becker’s speculation of a notional traditional music is a gesture implicit to the creation of all music. It is already the case that our tools (modular synthesis, in Becker’s case) are insufficient to author a “real” music according to our species’ desire for a logical, coherent, or “sufficient” production of music. Instead, Becker’s music is a deeply mysterious amalgamation of grotesque, polyphonic sweeps and swells that render notional the profound ecstasy, cathartic practices, and sublime frequencies of humanity’s far-flung traditional music. The sonic traditions that Becker references through his “Chants” and “Dances” mirror the mythical affect and spectral sound of our ancient and early musics: chants, incantations, repetitions, cycles, drones, and gusts.

On record, Becker summons his technology (or technology summons Becker) to dance in a general ritualistic tone, recalling futuristic court rooms and regal, alien imagery. In this space, Becker clarifies the obsessive timbre of synthesis into oblong, shiny forms that recall bowed surfaces, microtonal drones, the tapping of small hand drums synchronizing as a filtered, insectoid Gagaku. Yet the technology of synthesis inevitably breaks down in its reference to these other musics. In logic, “synthesis” is when truth or falsity is determinable by recourse to experience. Almost exactly in this way, Becker’s goal is synthetic (in the creation of the traditional music of a notional species as a recourse to experience), and therefore its application is positively chaotic and incomplete by attempting to synthesize a theory or suggestion as sufficient.

Similarly, Kara-Lis Coverdale’s 2017 record Grafts hybridizes classical instrumentation — in her case, organ — with electronics and digital interfaces. Grafts’s mediation of computer music and symphonic writing was enough for TMT contributor Pat Beane to speculate upon the limitations of the human when confronting the composite technology. He writes, “Alive — together. It took me over two years to set Google Docs to turn “—” into an mdash. It took me over a year to realize I could skip through tracks on SoundCloud by tapping my laptop screen. Now I touch a place and go to where I spot a transition in the mix. When I do, I’m reminded I’ve got tiny cuts all over my hands that salt and citrus sometimes enter after blood is done coming out, stinging like a song.”

It is this failure of the body that mirrors the failure of the technology; they both fail to adequately express or contain each other. They cybernetically fold unto one another. Both fail. Both are insufficient. Instead, the sound grafts and attempts. It dies, becomes, then hybridizes itself into fiction, always becoming unknown through its insufficiency. Coverdale, who has worked as an organist at Montreal’s St. John Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, grafts the organ’s patient devotion to the emotive curiosity of the digital. In this liminal space, we see breakdown and catastrophe. As Pat writes: “I don’t know. You can really hear anything you want. I heard crickets…”

This liminality is the canvas for digital collective Quantum Natives’ expansive cartography, a mapping that fantastically renders the desire to build worlds as the inevitable objet petit a (the unattainable object of desire). Often using video game engine technology paired with software-based sound design, artists like Brood Ma, Yearning Kru, and Rosen fold their worlding attempts as a generative labor map that compartmentalizes productions into an expressive methodology. The method of mapping becomes their enterprise, as real-world activities such as Werkflow (Brood Ma’s digital arts studio in London) fold onto Rosen’s P0Rtals project (a hypermedia storytelling exercise that creates and channels sonic environments and non-linear narratives).

These lateral artists have independently penned TMT-favored works, such as Brood Ma’s Daze and Yearning Kru’s Copper Veil, but even these notable projects, perhaps “definitive” of certain strands of their aesthetics, insufficiently contain Quantum Natives’ overflowing fiction, conceptual grammar, and phonic materiality. Known for their use of often tiny, earworm sounds that read as web trash or traces of burnt digital ephemera, the collective sound of Quantum Natives sounds like failed technology — tech dilapidated by an inability to contain their spread. The collective epitomizes how the insufficiency of technology allows the authoring of music to more readily be considered as a speculative practice, building false worlds made real by their failure to exist, where failure becomes a seance and incubator for new instruments, new authors.

Mythologization: Weaponization
From Yves Tumor’s Instagram

The embrace of failure, fiction, and insufficiency perhaps gives way to the acceptance of mythology as a common practice in music. The “notional species” becomes our species: wrecked, instrumentalized, and installed through technology; we become in communion with shadows, bathed by symbology and unknown significance. Suddenly, we experience a deposit of faith in this mythology, and our flight into myth allows the technology to become our weapon. As Deleuze and Guatarri state in On The Line: “Flee, but while fleeing, pick up a weapon.” We flee into WAHALLA and are defined and wrecked by the technology that brought us there; it is our language, our myth, our weapon, our author that inevitably breaks down in containing us.

WAHALLA, Dean Blunt and Joanne Robertson’s eight-track mini-album (released via a Mediafire/YouTube combo) is a weapon against the myth of significance. As Mr P describes in his review of BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow, “typically when Blunt is repurposing something — whether it’s a logo, brand, cultural phenomenon, or sound — it becomes flattened and redistributed in the vortex of his cut-and-paste, sketch-like aesthetic, with added value, added connotations, added nonsense either suffocating it until it can barely signify anymore or enlivening it to a degree that only our bodies can make sense of.” Blunt’s tactic is to weaponize the myths in articulation before and after the body is in flight, with the myths still surrounding the body when fleeing the apparatus of symbols, of stateship, and of identity that plague and entangle it.

To compensate for this entanglement, Blunt’s technology has always been wrecked: His mixes are pockmarked by the damaged, clipping sounds of guitars plugged directly into laptops; his synths are dry and exposed, his samples overused and blown-out. They highlight a deadness of sound that exaggerates their flatness, detourning mythological value. Through this, they attain a new mythology. Through this, they become weapons. Joanne’s voice is a weapon; Blunt’s deadpan murmur is weaponized. In WAHALLA, like Black Metal before it, both Blunt and Robertson mythologize, as Simon Chandler put it, the “dead white tropes of reverb-washed folk, starlit Americana, and post-ish indie rock, only to change into the dead black tropes of urbanite dub, anti-social electronica, and starkly ambient grime.” The tension between the two charts the flight of the body, the dredging of myth, the building of weapons, and the utter breakdown of any attempt at technological progress through this deadness.

This flight can also be readily heard in Yves Tumor’s Experiencing the Deposit of Faith, a mythology that prompted Evan Coral to describe Tumor as “among the disciples and the defeatists — John the Baptist, the witness par excellence, the witness as the untimely contemporary, the surveyor of one’s century, who, forsaken from one’s time and one’s self, can so see each its particular darkness and perhaps heal, perhaps atone.” Amidst the pastoral, cascading synths of the album’s first track “Synecdoche,” we hear the mix subtly rip and tear as this “atonement” breaks down.

This rip also signals at Tumor’s notoriously blistering live sets, recalling Blunt’s storied 2015 show at Market Hotel in Brooklyn where he turned up the heat on the HVAC system, filled the room with smoke, positioned bodyguards around the perimeter, and blasted digital noise over a text-to-speech reading of “the white man… I tell you over and over again” until half the crowd left. Similarly, Tumor flips idyllic sound into relentless noise, as a recent Resident Advisor live review called it: “hooded, booted and adorned in silver and gold [Tumor’s] music was raucous from the start and didn’t let up for an instant — it clawed through the system, a seething, slashing, white-hot barrel of confrontational noise.” What reads as reflective atonement within Tumor’s personal mythology on record becomes weaponized and wrathful against the limitations of technology to contain his reflection in live performance. Live, Tumor translates flight into a near unbearable onslaught of digital noise — the literal weaponization of mythological flight — the sound of technology breaking down in an attempt to contain time.

Innovation: Deviation
A wounded CD

Despite our efforts to mythologize our current tech, we still attempt to develop its language into new failures, perhaps most obviously into “machine learning” projects and artificial intelligence. While we chat absentmindedly with Siri and Alexa, our conversations rarely amount to much beyond an affirmative discourse toward the hegemonic automation of labor, as Matteo Pasquinelli discusses in his essay “Machines that Morph Logic: Neural Networks and the Distorted Automation of Intelligence as Statistical Inference” (published in Glass Bead’s Site 1). He writes, “the term Artificial Intelligence is often cited in popular press as well as in art and philosophy circles as an alchemic talisman whose functioning is rarely explained.” When peeling back the networked layers of bots, we simply see, in Pasquinelli’s language,”the new eye that capital casts on the data ocean of global labor, logistics, and markets with novel effects of abnormalization.”

Although this has devastating ramifications synonymous with the “old eye” of capitalism, the AI situation is perhaps most relevantly described here as “novel” when compared to the generic capitalized frame that has been at play and wreaking havoc for centuries. That is to say, AI as it currently stands — as a capitalized eye of our wrecked species — is no different than the general discourse between humans and technology at-large. Pasquinelli’s essay contains an introductory quote by Umberto Eco that states “no algorithm exists for the metaphor, nor can a metaphor be produced by means of a computer’s precise instructions.” As such, metaphors are insufficient in “completing” or accurately describing the statistical inference needed for machine learning and neural networks. As stated earlier, this technological insufficiency is precisely the quality of our “traditional music of a wrecked species” and precisely what allows us to dredge new instruments as metaphor, where no algorithm exists.

The work of Japanese artist Yasunao Tone, co-founder of Group Ongaku and original member of Fluxus, keenly understands the tension and compossibility between metaphor and algorithm in his “deviation” works. These works employ the breakdown of technology by literally wounding media formats: for example, the use of scotch tape and scratches on a CD (Solo for Wounded CD) or the disruption of the compression encoder and decoder processes in the creation of an MP3 file (MP3 Deviations). Tone’s technological disruptions pioneer a Fluxus history of media breakdown, his style specifically known as “Noise Media Language,” a chaotic language that has evolved alongside the history of experimental music in Tokyo and New York City, specifically. Tone’s artistic path, one charting ostensibly from literature to music, is shown in how his sound sources are “always” conversions of ancient Chinese poems. The poems are converted to images using grammatology, then converted to sound with an app designed by Ichiro Fujinaga of McGill University. This conversion from poem-to-image-to-sound, itself an innovative deviation of the original Chinese characters, can be seen as a “metaphor” not commensurate with a statistical inference. Rather, it is pure fantasy. Tone’s innovation is defined by its deviation into this fantasy: a hallucinatory and broad-based theoretical rejection of formal boundaries, genres, and other commonplace assumptions across the entire scope of his artistic endeavors.

This devious rejection as an innovative practice is seen in Tone’s recent work with artificial intelligence, specifically his latest major work on Editions Mego, AI Deviation #1, #2. Here, Tone uses neural networks to achieve a mediated and non-repetitive computer music sound. Specifically, a series of performances of Tone’s MP3 Deviation were captured and used to train Kohonen Neural Networks; these artificial intelligences responsively simulate the behavior of his performances by extracting attributes from the audio they generate. They “listen” to the output and make performance actions as if they were virtual performers. Despite this design, Tone states in an interview with Alexander Iadarola for Mousse Magazine that “working with artificial intelligence doesn’t appeal to me per se, but I find its crude model of the human brain to be very interesting. I am able to use it for something like a self-map system. I am probably contradicting myself, but the app and I don’t have a very friendly relationship. I also created a lot of sound sources for the piece because I don’t trust the AI system as a perfect art-making system. The only appeal of AI to me is the system’s crudeness and imperfection.”

Clearly, Tone’s innovative use of technology is actually defined by his antagonistic relationship with it, celebrating its breakdown, imperfection, and insufficiency as a totalizing system. In effect, this fuels his fantastic practice and gives agency to allowing the “instruments” to claim authorship of the piece (exclaimed in Iadarola’s interview title “The Piece Doesn’t Need Me”). Tone literally invents new instruments out of bad technology.

Gibson Les Pauls after Nashville Flood

Re-Instrumentalizing: Catastrophe
Cover art for Klein’s Tommy by Hannah Diamond

Tommy (HDB112) by Klein

When I first heard Klein’s Tommy EP, the London-born, Nigerian-English artist’s debut release on Hyberdub, it made me question the whole of electronic music. Her restless, clipped sound was intent to break the now formal conventions of the decaying “Hyperdub” sound — the pitched vocals, the fragmented rhythms, the spectral presence and general urban angst. Rather, her vocal masterclass “Prologue ft atl, jacob samuel, thisisDA, Pure water, eric sings” unveiled the complete limit of the form of electronic music given our current technology. While listening to “Prologue,” I heard the same sense of limitation for a medium that Sun Ra gives to jazz: that the technology of the jazz ensemble simply couldn’t contain his expressive, futuristic, and visionary sonic presence. Instead, Sun Ra presented a speculative music that proclaimed that There Are Other Worlds. Despite being futuristic, Klein breaks down the idea of aesthetic or technological progress into something more fundamental.

Running parallel to this is M.E.S.H.’s departure from the cinematic abstraction of Piteous Gate in his new masterpiece Hesaitix, an assertion of the fundamental fantasy of audio despite its contextlessness in the ashes of 2017’s club scene. Tracks like “Nemorum Incola” pool sound in cement vats filled with birdsong, electricity, and pulsing acid-shade hues of purple-gold, while rhythmic cuts like “Coercer” are glorious achievements of spartan soundsystem psychedelia. The album has a simultaneously organic and plastic sound that is synthetically re-instrumentalized as both trash and literal weather.

M.E.S.H., in his efforts to create both a “club record” and a pensive, deeply introverted audio experience, understands how the utility of technology is not necessarily subject to abstraction, but is already abstract — already fantasy. Having shown an obvious mastery of VST digital synthesis and various club techniques on previous albums, Hesaitix is rapturous in its simple rendering of field recordings as a club instrument. One can hear the stereo-field timbre of the ZOOM recorder sharpened and cut into M.E.S.H.’s classical obsidian forms. The quotidian and personal sounds are, as PAN describes, “both formless and over-rendered, like a boneless but fleshy hand from a life drawing class.” The field recorder becomes a club tool, allowing M.E.S.H. to approach the space with the dialect of a folk technology: like a cybernetic banjo suspended and instrumentalized as a catastrophic force tuned to personal vision overlapping and submerging into shared ritualistic space.

Hesaitix by M.E.S.H.

Tommy and Hesaitix are exhausting, refreshing, new collections of neo-songs written in the dust of so many fallen artifices. The artifice, perhaps, is technological craft in electronic music, as it is outlined by pithy aesthetic tournaments such as the hardware vs. software debate, arguments of authenticity, and the aesthete taste-making of Model-DJ culture as it proliferates around the genres and subgenres of club music and culture. Rather, Klein and M.E.S.H. demonstrate visions that technology could not sufficiently contain or adequately express, visions summoning wrecked technology into life, re-instrumentalizing dead sound into animated, accelerated, strange states that celebrate and commune within dissolution.

In 2017, we are in communion with dissolution. If 2016 was the year we couldn’t cry away, drink away, work away, or get away from, then 2017 was the year that broke. And so we can’t speak summarily, but we instead scotch-tape together shards of being to construct time in timelessness, scratching our names in the rainbow-CD gradient hues of failed tech.

Our tools articulate from zero and rescind back into zero, sketching alien-instrument mirages and echoing unheard sound. This was a beautiful music. When we listen to 2017, we hear the traditional music of a wrecked species.

We chant, we dance, in wreckage.

♫ Listen: dj lostboi – GOT LOST

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malibu’s second self dj lostboi offers “a humble selection of collages, loops and reworks” from a soft hand. They come up close, like a sea shell put to your ear. Hear the distant crashing of white foam against grey stone, the whisperings and wailings of insentient bodies, their voices like a blue mist rising. I’m wet. It’s raining. I go into my room and shut the door. There’s no place I love more.

Listen closer. There are secrets to be gleaned, lessons to be learned, hymns that drip silvery words. There are odes in honor of some of those that dj lostboi holds respectfully dear, including Lil Uzi Vert and the celestial Dj Sammy. Hear those voices and others, including lostiboi’s own, below…

GOT LOST by dj lostboi

Music Review: Errorsmith – Superlative Fatigue

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Superlative Fatigue

[PAN; 2017]

Rating: 4.5/5

“I think that it is possible only if we start from exhaustion”
– Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi

“I’m tired, you tired”
Kanye West

Who isn’t tired? Overloaded and bulldozed by the demands of platform capital and post-Fordist job insecurity, we just can’t seem to catch up, catch some z’s, or even catch a break. Referring to the affective labors of care being outsourced to the home and the family as much as the intensified maneuverings required by a precarious, flexibilized job market, an idiom of fatigue seems to have nestled in our registers of feeling and speaking. It is in this lexical field that Superlative Fatigue, Errorsmith’s first full-length album in 13 years, hovers.

Meticulously composed — down to the sine wave — through the synthesizer that Erik Wiegand engineered himself, Superlative Fatigue fizzes gleefully, exhausting itself in the jouissance of its quarks and quantized concatenations. It’s a voyage through pathways of additive synthesis, a whirling poetics of swirl and centrifugation. Charting its path with lightspeed dynamism and ludicrous tempi, its sawtooth traces snarl with a superlative enthusiasm that wheedles the limits of endurance — on the part of the listener and the synth programming alike. Wiegand’s hydraulic machinations trawl the capacities of the Razor synth and flail.

What transpires is an acceleration, an intensification of pitch and dynamics drawing its ravenous sonics from a global repertory of club styles. What transpires hurtles the vocoded interlocutors through shredding filters and pneumatic processing. But, pace Land (and to a lesser degree, Lyotard), Wiegand’s acceleration(ism) stutters — and stays human. What transpires to distinguish Wiegand’s intervention into the techno-futurist milieu is its lateral and parabolic trajectory, one that does not seek its telos in a deterritorializing messianism, but rather slips out, slips up, slips by. It accelerates to give you the slip. To slip and slide through the sinuosity of synthesis and squirrely sibilance. Cybernetic somnolence, it might be said, rather than singularity.

Nowhere else is this magnificent declension as apparent as in the concluding track “My Party.” As an explicit localization of the headlong festivities of Superlative Fatigue, this final song in a sense marks the sputtering out of the party. As an epitaph, it stages a petering-out in which Wiegand’s equipment goes haywire. Driven to its absolute limit of velocity and range, what remains sounds like a harmonized and vocoded scatman, whose closest sonic peer is a wet fart. It’s pure slapstick sonics, highlighting the aesthetic exhaustion of the accelerationist hyperstition that contours and galvanizes the rest of the record. “My Party” effectuates the superlative fatigue that sets in after the medium, to break with McLuhan, cannibalizes the message.

Superlative Fatigue, then, less arrives than exerts and exhales. But its exertions, though pyrrhic in their labors, are something to behold: the inexorable rhythmic ascension of “Lightspeed,” the steel-toed glissando of “Who-is,” and the upward arpeggiation of “I’m Interesting, Cheerful, and Sociable” plot this accelerating trajectory always ecstatically and exhaustingly rocketing skyward. In this progression, notes incandesce and scorch; this is muscular music, primed for compression and flight. The visceral skronk and squelch of “Internet of Screws” only emboldens thermodynamic sinews of progress, its syncopated effluvium the impetus of further expansion. But it, like the record itself, falls into fatigue. The 808s seem to malfunction and just barely crawl to their end, the machinery exhausted and its instruments revealed as, well, instrumental.

The aesthetic Wiegland crafts here is that of honest accelerationism, one that exults in its effusion but admits to its exhaustion. The model Wiegand presents is delectable and human: it attends to the circadian rhythms of our inbuilt machinery as an ode not just to the libidinal drive toward unencumbered acceleration, but to the restorative and reassuring standstill of terminal velocity. From this delicious vantage of exhaustion, everything comes ever so much clearer into focus.

♫ Listen: M.E.S.H – Hesaitix

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District three_Sector six-eight,

Clearance level: None

The Underbelly: An area located in the southeast area of the city. Known for its housing of both the resistance and the city slums. Unofficial propaganda indicates a distaste for local and national government, economic policies, and law enforcement.

Not marked by any clear architectural boundaries, the underbelly is both formless and far-reaching, only able to be classified through a generalization of the surrounding neighborhoods. The zone has pockets in opposite ends of the city, often categorized by damaged property and an increase in illegal advertising for the resistance. These spaces are known to be more concentrated and therefore, violent, please avoid if you have found yourself here.

Attempts to rejuvenate the area through public works and tax breaks have been futile and often result in tension between officials and citizens. Every day, the political ideology of the area extends to other areas of the city, further polluting once crime-free areas. City leaders are currently weighing the consequences of destroying said areas and replacing them with upscale neighborhoods, forcing the population to spread and thin out to separate corners of the city, decreasing their level of threat.

We advise all citizens and visitors to avoid these areas unless necessary. Alternate routes have been highlighted on city maps and constantly being evaluated and updated.

The vinyl and digital copies of M.E.S.H.’s latest release, Hesaitix are available below, via PAN.

M.E.S.H. announces Hesaitix, yet another digital confrontation in LP form, on PAN

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Subsequent to getting a whiff of any new music from M.E.S.H., some listeners might feel the need to gird their proverbial loins in caution, while I personally usually feel the need to mainline caffeine and hit the freeweights. But just as these choices may vary among individuals, so too does the severity of noises across the handful of Berlin-based producer James Whipple’s albums. For instance, some of us considered 2015’s Piteous Gate to mark the start of a remarkable career in “relatively straightforward” electronic abstraction…until the Damaged Merc EP came around and gave listeners the all-too-lifelike sonic sensation of a whole foundry full of steel beams getting repeatedly riveted five inches from our faces. (Every artist has their own definition of “banger,” I guess?)

But now, just when we’d almost gotten used to THAT delightful sensation, here comes the newest M.E.S.H. album! Entitled, Hesaitix, it’s due November 10 on PAN, and you can pre-order it now. The album’s press release confirms the continued evolution of Whipple’s music…but, if your you’re feeling brave enough to experience the Charizard-like transformation for yourself, quick! Don your heaviest, Renaissance-era body armor and listen to the track “Search. Reveal.” down below. It’s surprisingly accessible! …If you envision your life in a futuristic boiler room.

Hesaitix by M.E.S.H.

Hesaitix tracklisting:

01. Nemorum Incola
02. Mimic
03. Blurred Cicada I
04. 2 Loop Trip
05. Search.Reveal.
06. Privileged Lord
07. Coercer
08. Blurred Cicada II
09. Signal Ride Drum
10. Diana Triplex
11. Ihnaemiauimx

Errorsmith announces Superlative Fatigue, his first album in 13 years, on PAN (and no, not by mistake)

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Sporadic propagator of singles but active participant in Berlin’s electronic music scene, a press release reminds us that it’s been 13 years since Erik Wiegand released a full-length album as Errorsmith, and that one came in the form of an obscure live album that’s somehow still available for purchase online.

You knew a few tracks into 2004’s Near Disco Dawn that Wiegand had a special knack for creating rhythms that are deceptively complex, which is why it’s such a joy to hear that Errorsmith has announced a new album on PAN (especially since otherwise, we’d be forced to imagine/deal with the consecutive waves of music technology without Wiegand’s talented and shapely brain there to fully take advantage).

Superlative Fatigue comes out October 20, and lest you remain unconvinced of Wiegand’s musical connectedness over the last 13 years, it’s worth pointing out that his technical chops were harnessed in the creation of Razor, a softsynth plug-in under the Native Instruments brand that was released in 2011. Nearly all of the sounds on the new album were created directly by (or derived from) Wiegand’s software baby, so you can be reasonably certain that he got borderline-surgical during the creative process. The Berliner himself describes the album as “rather accessible and cheerful; at times ridiculously cheerful but still very sincere and emotional.”

This is one to anticipate and pre-order, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not, get nudged by listening to the track “I’m Interesting, Cheerful & Sociable” below. You’ll feel more interested (not to mention cheerful and sociable) in no time.

Superlative Fatigue tracklisting:

01. Lightspeed
02. Who-is
03. I’m Interesting, Cheerful & Sociable
04. Centroid
05. Superlative Fatigue
06. Retired Low-level Internal Server
07. Internet of Screws
08. My Party

Simone Trabucchi project STILL announces debut album I on PAN, thoughtlessly made me toggle the caps lock on-and-off three times in that headline

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Milan-based musician Simone Trabucchi — whom you may know from his former brainchild Dracula Lewis, his middle brainchild Hundebiss Records, or his most recent brainchild, a hard-hitting team-up with Simone Bertuzzi under the moniker Invernomuto — is STILL going hard at that whole “art” thing, but this time it’s with a brand new project coincidentally called…STILL. And what better way to inaugurate a new moniker than with a full-length album on PAN? The new LP is called I, and it’s out September 15.

I know what you’re wondering: Is this just going to be a re-skin of everything I already loved about Dracula Lewis and/or Invernomuto in a fancy new package? Well, the answer, friends, is “NO!” although it may tread on similar thematic minefields. STILL “follows the unearthing of the histories that connect [Trabucchi’s] hometown of Vernasca to Ethiopia and Jamaica… [in which] ‘computerized riddims’ sustain a shared gospel channeled through a polyphony of voices.” Wait a second, I know what you’re thinking again (I’m really good at this): Polyphony of voices? Whatever could that mean? Well, it turns out Trabucchi isn’t alone on this new excursion; he’s being joined by six African-Italian vocalists (also conveniently based out of Milan)! Together on I, they use “the medium of language” to contemplate “the historical weight of words” and Italy’s complicated and “overlooked” colonial legacy. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m speechless! (You’re not the only one who can play with language, Trabucchi!)

But we all know why you really read these silly news stories: those tasty pre-release songs! Lucky for you, you can listen to “Nazenèt [Wasp Riddim]” below, followed by the record’s full tracklist. But STILL (ha, sorry): be sure to say “thank you” by pre-ordering I on digital and/or vinyl formats over at STILL’s spiffy Bandcamp page…while you STILL can. And be grateful I only made one two three lazy “STILL” pun[s] in this whole article!

I tracklisting:

01. Haile Selassie Is the Micro-Chip
02. Bubbling Ambessa [Afrikan Messiah Riddim]
03. Nazenèt [Wasp Riddim]
04. Don’t Stop [Wondo Riddim]
05. Rough Rider
06. BANZINA [Banzina Riddim]
07. Gozpaal [Mustard Riddim]
08. Still Sound Boy Test {Interlude}
09. Mangrovia