MEAN FROM AN END – on recent Mille Plateaux releases

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Various: Modulation and Transformation 3
Gas: Zauberberg
Terre Thaemlitz: Means From An End

“What we are interested in is the dimension of otherness, alteration. There is a constant displacement and this displacement as such is what we are interested in, the fact that we are disconcerted, put out of time, caught on the wrong foot… Yes, the absence of a locus”
Lyotard: Driftworks

1. (Grey-blue) With music we can change the world; subtle changes of perception, shifting an outlook that can no longer be solidified, coherent or self-orienting. We turn instead to an outside: a large window… several horizons… adjectives and vision absconding through red solarised trees. Blanked-out and suspended on other plateaux, listening to music as it fragments and molecularises, creates strata from that which was previously discarded, incommunicable and redundant. Seemingly disorganised sound containing elements of spontaneity and extemporisation, entices us away from doctrinaire and inflexible traditions towards fragmenting and molecularising sound composed into intermittent structures and hidden pools that draw out a shadowplay materiality of experimentation and transformation. What we have known has lost its disruptive power, it has put us in step and become accepted technique. But these abreactions are audible, they contain a sense of their own dissolution; change can come through endless repetition, through colliding sources, schizophrenic switchbacks, sinister gaseous lullabies, vertigos of difference. Music makes possible, creates the precondition of memory and comparison, dissolves time to elongate response and heightens our dissatisfaction with what is always present, reproducible and calming. Emotion spiralling as a centrifugal force. Nerve tips are cerebralised. Such music can make us say that which we do not understand or should not want to say, it can make us ignore all forewarning of embarrassment. It can make us speak in order only to sever the ties between word and thing. Change the world? Revolution seems always to have been a matter of passion without end, not giving a thought to outcome. Continual. Further means from so-called ends.

2. (Mille Plateaux) A moments enthusiasm is drawn to that which resists generalisation. Where are you now? Always there seems to be the babble of competing voices and it is those with a recognisable and premeditated ’style‘or those who possess the arrogant inclination for promotion that are heard amidst the jostling. Label as brand. Brand as acceptable product. Furrow. Production line. The distances between subject and object opening up once more into the bright light of judgmental consumerism. Somewhere else, below and adjacent, rather than above, caught from the corner of the eye, Mille Plateaux seem to time stretch the listener’s response, tracking the scramble with the offer of escape routes marked with anagrams and mood altering sounds. Always dismissible as avant-garde and intellectual, this is a label that has persisted with the experimental strand of a techno that has long become constipated and overly formalised: structures without flexibility or the remotest sense that an unheard event will occur. If the funk-effect is as much about the unexpected placing of a beat, a beat that won’t quantize, a sound that won’t clean up, if it is about a delirium of affects and unbound psychical energy then these intensities can just as well be present to wreak their disconcerting havoc without necessarily being framed as danceable. Travelling whilst stood still. Maybe such subtle intensities that rely upon inferences, timbre, recontextualisation and multiple minor events create an urgency of reevaluation and a need to escape from the self-domineering co-ordinates of what we each consider to be the ’right‘ way. Silence is a rhythm too.

3. (Fast moving clouds) One noticeable reevaluation that has been audible on recent Mille Plateaux releases is the ’return at a lower level‘ of the classical music tradition. On Zauberberg by Gas several Viennese School composers: Schoenberg, Berg and Wagner are sampled, reassembled and set to a muted and almost unnoticeable 4/4 beat. The clicks and surface noise of the original records are not cleaned-up but heightened to reflexively draw attention to the means by which the seven untitled tracks were produced. The samples are, then, obviously sourced but rather than Gas taking major themes from the composers it seems as if what are chosen are minor horn and string moments which undergo studio-processing. On this CD the post-techno context is referred to by means of the constancy of the unchanging beat but is undermined by means of the sampled orchestra sounds that pull the listener back into an unaccustomed virtual acoustic space. The effect is not one of a more ’authentic‘ and unsynthesised string sound but, if anything, a subtle synthesis of the supposedly divergent musical traditions of techno and classical that problematises both. With techno (or what is left of it) we are drawn into critical relation with the ersatz use of string sounds, the histrionic pomposity and the emotional dimensionlessness of a kick-drum led aggressivity. With this chosen classical tradition we are led to the institutional alignment of music to nationalism, the formal control of its reception and the linear narrativity and literalness of the likes of Berg and Wagner. However, what the Gas CD achieves is to transform each component: the classical samples are married to the 4/4 by means of their being frozen and repeated. The samples don’t play out a movement towards an ‘end’ as they would do if we checked them out in the original, but they are left to hover suspended and unfinished. The effect this has on the auto-production of desire is intensified by the samples being of a more ’romantic‘ sound that contain timbral depth and emotional resonance. The sombre effect of such sounds, their ethereal quality, is then grounded by the 4/4 kick that acts to add a sense of determination: that sadness and disappointment create their own strengths and resiliences and that concepts, ideas, emotions and history are all subject to transformation. What is familiar has been defamed.

4. (Home for warped nostalgia). For Terre Thaemlitz musical reevaluation becomes politicised as ”social recontextualisation“ and the practice that informs the Means From An End CD is theorised, via extensive sleeve notes, as being indicative of the actual presence of ”transformative desire“. On the first two sections of the CD, source samples (a ##jazz trio and Billy Joel) are passed through filters, cut-up, and disruptively reassembled. The ”end points“of these sources, their supposed completion, the sense of reified wholeness they impart are returned to a state of flux that reveals their process of production and offers the listener a ”multiplicity of constructed contents“ that adds dynamism to what is previously received as having the unchangeable finality of a consensual cultural product. What has passed-by unnoticed as muzak and background noise is here revealed as having an insidious effect in imparting structures, forms, and almost instinctual responses, that have various subliminal ramifications. Not least of these is just this sense of cultural reification (Don’t go changing… as Joel sings) ##where cultural products seem to take on a life of their own, divorced from contexts and interventions that could come to criticise their “mystical effects”. The resynthesis of such sources communicates an “active engagement”, an altering intervention, that is endeavouring to make a link with other wider movements towards social-change (acting upon social material and producing such change). A further subliminal ramification is the nostalgic effect of the sources. Their familiarity makes us feel comfortable and Terre Thaemlitz argues that a resistance to social change could be ”fuelled more by a fear of unfamiliarity than any conspiratorial malice“. This sideways glance at voluntary servitude seems to raise the point that ”transformations that engage nostalgia“ could be necessary not only as a shared encouragement to participation but as an analogue to actually perceiving change-in-process and becoming at ease with it.Furthermore, as with the Gas CD, which itself plays with nostalgic familiarity, it puts forward an aural conception of history as changeable and which, by diminishing nostalgic regret, wards off ”a desire for the past“. It’s not quite new and neither is it individualistically authored. So, for Terre Thaemlitz music is unavowably political but political in the sense that sound composition extends to self-composition and social recomposition and in so doing insinuates that the false needs of generalisation (similarity, closure, norms) require the disruptions of an individuality that is never itself (bourgeois) but perpetually mobile and socially charged: ”every analysis [track] is simultaneously approached as a site enacted within a social context, a discourse in dialogue with other analyses, and a form of ‘personal expression’ manifested of desires“. The listener constructs further means from the supposed ‘end’ of the product.

5. (Detourned Freud) With music we can change the world. Listening, we are no longer normal or adjusted for we are unable to control affectivity and motility, no longer civilized enough to exclude stimulus, avoid excitation and remain at a manipulatable ebb. Somehow through sound it is a question of being open to affective intensity, an experience of overspill that resists the ”tendency towards stability“ and defies the limited topography of the psyche and its division into hierarchically ordered systems. If we are full of a psychical energy that, it is said, must cathect on an object to be expulsed and return us to a state of inertia, a minimal state of excitation, it is almost that the madness-inducing effect of music is that this energy is provoked into circulating like some vortex and is unable to settle on any one object or come to be defined by such and such a signifier. Language is by-passed and replaced by increases of tension (mistaken as unpleasurable) that through music become intensive potencies referring to no unity or word. Moreover, music’s pull towards an ‘outside’ of our own sense-experience means that the last place this unspecified energy wants to cathect is on its own ego (narcissistic renown). In this case music would then have to speak of itself literally, become representative of individuals, explain itself, and, in so doing, delimit the flows of psychical energy and come to interpret these efflorescences as specifically ‘sexual’ rather than as libidinally charged. An ”indifferent psychical energy“, resistant to the fallacies of eroticised markets, is not in a state of dis-affection but is indifferent to its being subsumed by a particular object (product) that would, in its turn, create the danger of defining the energy in its own terms, perhaps to condition the unbridled energy with a feeling of well-being and settled-satisfaction (conformity). The crucial factor of music is that in increasing stimuli of a non-verbal type it can communicate at a libidinal level and can set desire roving towards a revolution spurred on by, what has now become, an instinctual dissatisfaction.

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