Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Post-Millenium Tension

Here's what I don't quite understand about blogging: how does anyone get around to writing anything whilst wading in this swamp of digital distractions? (And I mean writing, not this blockquoted, hyperlinked juggling of other people's words as a substitute for content generation.) By now, I should have been done this post three days ago, nevermind folding the laundry and scoring a trailer. But how the hell am I supposed to ignore Onion-worthy headlines like "People run for lives as flames explode around them"? Or this Ed Wood-worthy non-sequitor that was so gloriously awkward, I actually rented the movie to see how bad that shit was? I mean, even the really good flotsam in this horizonless sea of 0s and 1s is keeping me from some real-world responsibility.

In a similar spirit, though it's a little late for thanks by now, big up to Carl for pointing everyone in the direction of this fine (though apparently abandoned) blog. Right off the bat, I was taken by the incisive stance Alex adopts whilst pissing on graves:
Hauntology's ghostly audio is seen as form of good postmodernism, as set against the bad PoMo of a rampaging retroism. Beached as it seems we are at the end of (cultural) history, it is certainly a seductive argument... link[ed] to a mood of melancholic defeatism in Western left wing politics.
This is an idea I've stewed in until my hands got pruney and my hair stank of chlorine, but never really got around to writing about. I'm grateful someone finally put it publicly with such immediacy.

As many savory sounds have been channeled via this necrocultural seance (I especially like the notion of "ghost genres"), the obvious term that no one has so far applied to hauntological music is Dead End. The overarching message seems to be, "Give up. Sounds are neither created nor destroyed, they simply change form. Everything's already been done - probably by Eno*." This hasn't sat well with everyone: almost two years have already passed since this suicide of the imagination and insistence on being bored was ruefully dubbed "Transcendental Miserablism" over at Hyperstition. But if the Fukuyaman "End of History" proved patently false in the political realm, why can it not be an equally invalid prognosis for culture?

Where hauntology is as bankrupt as any other stripe of post-modernism is: can a creative philosophy be called such when it lacks the essential act of creation? There's obviously a creative aspect to reconstitution, translation, and deconstruction, but nothing that crackles with the shock of the new. As I've touched on before, part of the blame has to do with the available tools: the focus has shifted from hardware - between the instrument and the amplifier - to software; consequently, sounds are less created now than they are reformatted, simulated, and sampled. Sounds that are not born of air technically do not exist - they are undead, bastard vibrations exiled from their essential medium. This orphaned, unphysical quality is essential to most hauntological music, (re)constructed as it is from ashy samples & decayed soundwaves**, but it also requires hauntological music to be trapped in some bereaved fantasy of "utopias that never were***, or which are now unreachable, a retreat into childhood/youth, just as trapped in the endless re-iterative mechanistics of the postmodern as the lowest form of retroism." In this regard, hauntology is less a meditation on one's own scars than some sadomasochistic chimera about the fresh, stinking-meat wound that produced someone else's scars.

Am I selling short the opportunities offered by music software? I don't think so. Once the novelty of time-stretching and pitch-correcting wore off, the digital domain didn't actually epxand the sonic palette by much. Random-access, nondestructive editing is undeniably convenient, but how much further can nanosecond splicing be pushed beyond "Windowlicker"? (Don't answer that.) In fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of an unheard-of sound produced since the digitally-elongated bellow at the heart of "Come To Daddy".

I wonder if the pervasive pre-millenium tension of the previous decade hasn't led to a serious case of apocalyptic blue-balls. Amid the growing din of millenarian fundamentalists, technophobic survivalists, numerological fruitcakes, and rubbernecking cynics, it was impossible not to anticipate - with some degree of excitement - the systemic aneurysm & subsequent pandemonium of Y2K. It possibly came as a greater shock that nothing happened. The lights stayed on, nothing exploded, and computers only crashed if they were running Windows 98 (and so was par for the course). Since then, people have been desperate to declare every new disaster as the Day the World Changed Forever. Granted, the mere seven years of the new century have already accrued an impressive catalogue of catastrophes: September 11, the Iraq War, Katrina, and the current economic meltdown. But as of yet, very little has fundamentally changed about the way the world works. Hell, Bill Hicks could rise from the grave and (much to his apopleptic chagrin, I imagine) do a verbatim rehash of his early-'90s routines. Could it be that we're all just a bit... disappointed?

(*) - I'm a bit surprised that no one's cited the "Eno mix" of Massive Attack's "Protection" as an obvious precursor to Burial's diffuse, stray-transmission aesthetic.

(**) - Some artists who've been lumped under the hauntology banner, like SunnO))), are a little ill-suited to the "genre," given that they actually originate sounds by tangible means. In this regard, they're better suited to the "post-" (i.e. reductio ad absurdum minimalist deconstruction) prefix.

(***) - Need we be reminded that Burial himself is "too young to have ever gone to a warehouse rave."

Non-sequitorial postscript: Oh, Marnie... Marnie, Marnie, Marnie, I hear you, I dig what you're saying, I can relate, and you're a motherfucker of a guitar player, but... goddamit, just stop singing in that fuckin' cat-in-heat bleat and we can hang, okay? Please?

No comments: