The internet server and web-site t0 and Public Netbase, an open access point that combines many threads of subversive uses of technology are located in the heart of Vienna, also hosting a weekly evening with talks and experimental electronic music called e-scape. Konrad Becker, techno-activist for a decade and a half, is the brain and pulse behind this, along with a dedicated crew of cyber-guerrilleros. I spoke to him in February ‘97 when I played at e-scape.
datacide: One of the core themes of datacide is new technologies and how they are used, mainly in the field of post-Techno music, but equally in their social and cultural context and their subversive potential. With Public Netbase you are doing something similar, if in a slightly different field. Can you explain what what’s being done here?
Konrad Becker: In a sense we see ourselves as a guerrilla camp. In the respect that these technologies are not just tools, that we rely on them in a corporate sense, under the heading of efficiency, but that normally they are weapons, one mustn’t fool oneself, weapons that are normally used against the population. The question then is how to deal with this situation, and to see if it’s possible to use those weapons to create a free space, maybe even unthought of free spaces, seeing that this is a very ambiguous situation. The euphoria that results often in the scene when there are new tools, what you can do with them, gives way to a more sober point of view, to see how these tools are effectively used, how the technology is shaped before the background that it is portrayed as neutral by the technocrats, to obscure this aspect of shaping. So it is about creating some counter-balance, to shape it by using it, this technological space. Even if it’s kind of silly I find this space metaphor still quite useful. Certain operations in society create a lot of friction, a lot of administrative hassle occurs…. So a public space is being occupied, and it’s still, like, he who steals the goose will be hanged, he who steals the place where the goose lives will get away with it. The notion of electronic space is therefore an important one. In this whole dimension, it is for me personally and the people I work with about changing some things that maybe can’t be changed from one day to the other, and the most important thing is to create free spaces where people can develop with human dignity which doesn’t go without saying in this society.
Tonight we have the E-Scape Lounge; this is not just a metaphor of the electronic space, the e-scape, but also that of escape. And if it makes sense if the moral imperative is about holding out, or if escape is not the more worthwhile tactic, under the aspect of a guerrilla tactic of attacking and retreating. Maybe to create the base for retreat is the more important aspect for a revolution. Society is trying to use the dissident forces that can’t be assimilated against each other, and also we have this classic idea that the whole aspect of “art” is connected with suffering, this whole retarded SM-complex.
I also see the musical space that each generation has to fight for as a free space in the sense that it is, as opposed to the music of corporate entertainment, free of the subliminal messages with which the political suggestion of society is maintained, because it is free of the tonal, compository and therefore subliminal messages of these hierarchies and structures, it’s abstract and tries to break up these things to allow a complexity and diversification of expression. I think it’s important that the emphasis is not any longer on the one-way-channel where information is being fed, but on something that requires the active participation of the listener/participant. You only hear what you have learned to hear; that’s different from this classical point of view.
datacide: And how do your concrete strategies look?
Konrad Becker: Concrete strategies… on a radical level, if we go back to the roots of the word, I see the most radical things as those that have to do with yourself, that they have to do with change. Say in the 60’s with its well known political activism that worked with slogans in which people used to believe, I think a lot has changed and radicality has a new meaning. For our re-opening we have as a guest Peter Lamborn Wilson who often expressed that things that happen in obscurity can have enormous consequences, more than things that are exposed to the maelstrom of the spectacle; that’s my personal approach to radicality. As a concrete measure: to acquire competence in certain areas in order to know what’s going on. That it’s necessary to struggle for a personal free space before you can struggle against the suggestions, principles and how-to instructions of society to be able to see this from some distance to be able to say this is all conditioning. Let alone the fact that people just can’t fight it through, because de facto it is like that that no one can say that these things don’t have an influence on their lives, and there is an effect that human existence is hardly possible in such a fundamental conflict or contradiction; therefore reality gets readjusted constantly so it’s possible to live in it, and a crust develops around this pain which in the end doesn’t give you the possibility anymore to choose between different options. That’s why I think that this purely theoretical rationalisation of the pressures of society, that this leads only to a certain point; I often find it difficult to explain this to friends in the academic dissident scenes – if you don’t have the personal experience it has not the same weight. Music certainly is one of the most powerful and most important tools to get to know this space, to experiment and find a security within oneself.
datacide: How have you arrived at these positions, historically so to speak – your background? Is it more academic or more from the music?
Konrad Becker: Certainly not academic, rather from music… I was very early on a drop out, so to speak, I was a teenage runaway. Even as a child I didn’t manage to sit through school… and I left when I was 13. If people address me as “Herr Doktor” in the local bakery for example it’s charming but quite ironic. It was not interesting to me at all, to go to university was a horror to me, treason. I spent my teenage years in the most obscure places, starting to work on projects. I always worked on mainly two different levels, in the very very early times of electronic music when these machines only just had become available to make them run and make funny noises; out of this some form of proto-techno resulted. At the same time I started working with video and super 8. There is also another track, that of traditional shamanistic music that works with classical percussion instruments which in a way is also a form of high technology that creates high frequency tones that are difficult to reproduce on a PA system and the use of sub-frequencies and bass drums which again is hard to reach with a PA. I experimented with self-built instruments, percussion orchestra put into a context of classical shamanistic ritual music. I did a lot of research in Africa and stayed with a sorcerer for several months.
datacide: Have you worked with sound recently? Or has your field of occupation moved to the new technologies?
Konrad Becker: This independent public access media story here in Vienna is worth a lot of effort for me. The times where I was in the studio for a few days twiddling knobs and not picking up the phone are not really here at the moment unfortunately. But I kept producing things over the years, on the other hand it’s not so important for me if products result from it, sometimes these are punctual things, that there’s a live event – and who was there, was there. It’s also the case that in the last months or the last few years a bit of depression has set in. The fresh somewhat naive enthusiasm of the early 90’s has disappeared…
datacide: Because market forces have tried to recuperate , so you have to make up more and more, I don’t know, cunning strategies, I think.
Public Netbase is not only a unique thing here, but generally – are there similar projects that you see as allies internationally?
Konrad Becker: Of course there are a lot of allies, initiatives that work in a similar field. It’s true that as a model we have a special position; that has also to do with the fact that we are a mixture of access and on the other hand we work with content, we support people to publish things and on the other hand we have a specific line of what interests us. So on the one hand we’re extremely open on the other hand we concentrate on the things that appear essential to us. Contact points of cultural society and technology which don’t appear on the cultural pages of the newspapers but are censored away beforehand.
datacide: You are also present at these conferences where ambition is somewhere between the academics trying to get to grips with these[cultural impacts on new technologies,] but at the same time these people trying to pass as avant-garde or even subversive… How do you see your activities as an agent in this context?
Konrad Becker: I can sound posh if I have to. I manage to find a frame for the points I want to make… These people know a bit more after all than say the people who are in positions of political decision making, who don’t know anything, so they are more my public. So let’s say to act in a certain scene that has its tangents into areas where decisions are made because it’s an academic scene, I think is important. I don’t believe in an empty activism. It’s important to get the opportunity to say, “hey folks there is a way out” – to get back to the notion of ‘escape’; as opposed to the propaganda that everything is doomed, that there is no way out, that is out to weaken people, to drive them to depression. So I appear as the clown, the mad one most of the time, and that’s not such a bad role.
datacide: So it’s about bringing viruses into circulation to provoke certain results?
Konrad Becker: Yes, that’s what I think. The old saying by Walter Benjamin how does the artwork look like in the “age of technical reproduction”, we have left that behind a long time ago, we have to wonder about the artwork in the age of political reproduction now. To go back to a godfather of techno guerrilla, William Burroughs, you don’t just sample music but also text which is used for magical purposes. “Language is a virus”. I think this idea is quite accepted now. Conventional forms of sabotage are not more efficient than so-called enlightenment. This notion of information is already propaganda, in other words the so called information society is a propaganda society. The new communication technologies, like the internet, is practically the atom bomb, from military origin, and it starts with purposely confusing the notions… For example the distinction between information and knowledge, which is considerable. Information between machines and information processed by humans, organic information are fundamentally different things; some terms were suggested already in the sense that ‘machinistic’ information was proposed to be exo-information, while information understood/processed by humans was to be endo-information. The whole thing is dubious; if you look at a conventional crime movie – it’s the one who knows too much will die.
I also think that information is of bad consistency. Toxic information kills. One has to have the possibility to filter this so-called information. To come back to our guest [Peter Lamborn Wilson] who says “freedom is psycho-martial-arts”, I think that this hits the nail on the head.
datacide: This information-/propaganda society is also about manufacturing reality. That’s what magic is about also.
Konrad Becker: Absolutely. I’d say that’s the classical form of magic. You could say the un-initiates have such a naive idea, there’s all these famous stories, for example Rudolf II. [Austrian emperor] or whoever trying to get gold manufactured. While the true alchemist is the one who founded the banks, the one who decides what’s worth what. Virtual worlds like that are constantly created.
We know how a lot of things are fashion trends, we get ‘virtual reality this, virtual reality that’ in all the papers for a year. I mean we all have some tendency towards fashion trends, and in a way I’m almost in favour of fashion trends, because these words that get introduced are quite nice. I mean for example ‘reality’ that that’s supposed to be this clumsy, stiff, hard helmet on your head. Virtual reality is everywhere so to speak, the helmet can’t be more than a special case. Constantly the menu is being confused with the food.
Navigation systems: Maps where you can always clearly see the centre of the world is in the centre of the map. On the classical maps Europe is always over-dimensionally large, those maps aren’t necessarily that wrong, the people who made them had their perspective and tried to represent things the way they thought was accurate. We should dissolve the notions of right and wrong a bit more, and the notion of perspective seems extremely important to me. If a 3-dimensional object – like Earth – is translated into a 2-dimensional field incongruencies and optical illusions result. A modern cosmology, and also mathematics, are talking about a multitude of dimensions. No common processing process, no nuclear power plant, all these everyday things can’t be done without this multi-dimensionality. We can therefore assume that reality is getting more complex, precisely through those simplifications, that’s the catch. Simplifications, complexity-reductions are necessary. It’s the case that especially in the information society the call for censorship is getting louder because people are looking for ways to filter things out of the overload. But we can also say, naive and simple, that it’s not possible to absorb more than a certain amount of information per page, and no matter how I copy this, one thing or another will be lost. One has to be clear about these mechanisms.
datacide: Do you think the whole development of technology has its own dynamics and is no longer controlled by, say, some power elite, or do you think that there is an elite or a network of elites who control technology as a means of control?
Konrad Becker: Well I’m certainly into all these non-orthodox conspiracy theories. The situation alone that conspiracies are denied in the academic sciences is the most remarkable proof that they exist. I think everyone can confirm from their personal experience that certain things are based on certain agreements, even unspoken agreements. To claim these things don’t exist only shows that something is being obscured; the term history says it already – it is somebody’s story. We need a historical revisionism urgently in which the conspiracies will have an important position. I don’t think it will be one of those classical conspiracy theories that blames it all on one group or something. There are certain power elites that could hold their position for a very long time very well and their function over decades, centuries, even millennia as controllers/navigators. The navigators were the Phoenicians that sailed the world and oriented themselves by the stars and interpreted the stars for others. We have this situation that people interpret the stars, navigate, control the whole thing… I even think that idols, stars, are used to fulfil such functions. It’s mostly used as an argument against conspiracy theory that if there was one conspiracy that people would have noticed by now, also from a personal point of view if you see how efficient structures function. I think this has to be seen in a much more complex way, that there’s not one conspiracy, there are thousands of conspiracies that interact in a quite focused way. Our body is in a way a conspiracy, it’s like that that my toe nails grow without an explicit command from me and in a strange way the whole thing functions together. There’s the old Sumerian image of the information ocean in which the Leviathan lives, something that could give you a feeling on a deeper level how these power structures function. I think it works on a subconscious level. It’s been shown that those cults of rationality, like in world politics, are connected to cults of irrationality that are more bizarre than what we’re used to from the world religions. Elites also have their elite religions that can be quite without compromise and build a long tradition and who may not be strangers to the concept of human sacrifice. So we should keep our eyes open as to how human sacrifices are done in industrial society.
datacide: Do you think in this context that the development has accelerated in the last years or do you think it’s just that new technologies of control are replacing old ones. Let’s say in a pre-industrial village based society you had the church in the middle and everything was very controlled as well, so if someone deviated from the norm they would be punished quickly, or do you think the curve is rising exponentially?
Konrad Becker: Whenever the curve rises vertically there is a crisis, and a crisis is always a chance, or so I learned. I think there is definitely an acceleration factor. For example I think that there is a dynamic in the fact that we need a more intelligent workforce than was necessary in previous times, i.e.that a modern industrial enterprise with modern management methods needs a flatter hierarchy and a faster way of decision making, that means there has to be a more decentralised intelligence a more knowledgeable workforce. A knowledgeable workforce however is a pain in the ass for every straight state democrat who wants to keep his people under control, and I really think that as a consequence he wants his agents and robots to be able to cope with their tasks but at the same time security measures will be tightened more and more, even on a mental level. The Soviet Union is a classic example, I mean they worked very well with propaganda but those classic control methods failed in the end. An old dilemma – there used to be sophisticated methods, like we know from voodoo where zombies are manufactured where brain functions are suspended, and they’re very clumsy and can only be used for low grade work.
What terrifies me most, what is the real horror to me, much more than the sometimes quite terrible things you see on TV every day, is this hopelessness, that there is no way out on a personal level. I find that the real drama, and it’s something that is worth me crying out loud , is that maybe I can’t relate to every moment of my existence, but I know there’s an abundance out there, an abundance where everyone of us can fill their cup so to speak, and I find it a shame, really a waste of human resources not to use that because it’s the only thing humans are good for. We’re not good for anything else, everything else is done better by machines, painting cars, mowing the lawn, building streets, filling yoghurt pots, machines can do these things better. What machines can’t do now is to feel a cosmic feeling of curiosity, to feel a feeling of boundlessness that is removed from any rationalisation, contextualisation, any verbalisation. The festival, the festival that is at any one’s disposition – to forget that is a horrible shame and to bring that to attention to me is the first political deed.