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“A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs”
Umberto Eco

“Disinformation” records clearly aspire, like Dr Who’s Tardis, to be bigger on the inside than they are on the outside, loaded with hints, clues and allusions designed to tempt listeners to investigate interesting ideas. The “Al-Jabr” CD (Ash International, Ash 4.3), Disinformation’s latest exercise in weapons-grade electronica, is no certainly exception. Its predecessor “Antiphony” presented the remix process as a parody of the techniques of traditional church music, while Al-Jabr takes its central analogy from an underground publication circulating in medieval Europe. The ninth century astronomer, geographer and mathematician Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa / Al-Khwarizmi’s book “Ilm Al-Jabr W’almukábalah” – literally the “reunification of broken bones” – introduced European accountants to both ‘Arabic’ (Sanskrit) numerals and to the system of symbolic mathematical reduction whose name corrupts into English from its Arabic form: equations as fractures, solutions as surgery, remixes as reunifications.

If the worst aspects of Israeli Zionism can be understood as a grotesque parody of the Nazi policy of “lebensraum”, similarly the worst aspects of modern Islam can be seen as a reflexive reinvention of the worst mistakes of medieval Christianity – the Jihad as a parody of the Crusades, the Fatwah as a parody of the Inquisition. In contrast to the oppressive centralised power-politics which wrung the idealism out of primitive Christianity, medieval Islam seems to have been remarkably cosmopolitan – enlivened by the dynamics of relatively enlightened free-trade capitalism. Just as situationist theory speaks of products ‘packaged’ in the ideology of modern consumerism, ancient silk routes delivered commodities packaged in the intellectual imports without which European philosophy would have suffocated and died. Muslin from Mosul, Tabby from Baghdad – bundles wrapped in Al-Kindi’s renditions of Aristotle, Alhazen’s optics (effectively primeval radioscience), Al-Khwarizmi’s numerals, Avicenna’s alcoholism and Averroes’ “Destruction…”, explosive formulæ and formulæ for explosives which resurfaced later in the heretical extremes of anarcho-Franciscan thought.

For those not familiar with the Disinformation brand-name’s unusual history, this project consists of DJ’ing, publishing and performing live or with recordings of unusual electromagnetic (ie – radio) noise; and any number of associated side-interests which this subject generates. On Al-Jabr itself, rather than creating antiphonal responses to the original source material, Disinformation’s remixers “equate” the raw recordings with their own idiosyncratic inputs. Lawrence Casserley transforms the rhythmic intricacies of howling data noise into a symphony of crushed and shattered slates. Evan Parker’s wailing saxophone complements the pulsating drones of the city’s power distribution networks, transforming the original “National Grid” (recorded live at the Museum of Installation) into “London’s Overthrow”, after the apocalyptic visions of the Victorian mystic, painter and arsonist Johnathan Martin. The noise group Tactile take ultralongwave sub-bass radio noise radiated by the TIG welders in sculpture / sound group Oubliette’s metal workshop, and recasts them as the ambience of “Pandemonium” – the infernal underground city engraved by Johnathan Martin’s slightly saner brother John. Jim O’ Rourke adds uniquely American humor and a rock n’roll analogue of National Grid. Simon Fisher Turner twists broadcast data noise into gorgeous rolling melodies, albeit after an incongruous interlude with a drum machine. T:un[k] Systems’ track “Synaptic Radio” pitches VLF-band radio recordings of interference radiated by electrical storms against pristine lab pure sine waves – a vision of electrical-engineering-as-fine-art created by Disinformation for events at MOI and the South London Gallery. “Raxor” by Mechos isolates individual lightning strikes and inserts them in a lattice of clicks and low frequency drones, whose deceptive simplicity belies the subtly disorienting effects of their unfolding, twisting rhythms. Georgina Brett’s “Euphony” is exactly what the title suggests – inverting the divine ugliness of Disinformation’s “Theophany” and contrasting it with beautiful human sounds.

Al-Jabr includes a text by the 17th century watchmaker Robert Hooke, suggesting noise as a potential diagnostic aid and means of scientific investigation; however, if this CD can be said to have a purpose beyond its specialised entertainment value, then it is also to show that noise, as an artform, can demonstrate real conceptual and technical ingenuity, and not only express visceral, cathartic intensity (ecstacy, ugliness, beauty and rage), but also explore complex and emotive anthropological and intellectual themes.

12/1/99

See also…
“An Allegorical Portrait of Roger Bacon” by Disinformation
“History of Western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell
“The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco

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