In 2005, k-punk and fellow traveller Scanshifts assembled an audiomentary called londonunderlondon for Resonance FM. A sonic dérive and an expression of Mark’s “pulp modernism”, it wove original voice recordings (including from several guest Dissensians) with traces of Wiley, Metalheadz, Delia Derbyshire and John Foxx, among others. My description at the time: ‘like a beautiful dark dream. Abandoned underground tunnels, troglodytes, fleeting Drumz churning , shy animals, ethereal grime…’
I believe it aired twice in 2005, and then once again later on, but it isn’t currently available online. At the time, Mark very generously offered a CD version to Dissensians and I’d like to share a copy here.
londonunderlondon, ruff-mixed as it is, needs to be seen as a work in progress. Naturally, it isn’t anything like equal to its inspirations – which number anything from Glenn Gould’s The Idea of North, Chris Marker, Eno, David Toop – but what became clear to us as we produced it was how little punk will there is. The cyberpunk infrastructure is already there. Something like Cool Edit – an excellent programme btw – reduces sound composition to the core cyberpunk function of cut and paste. Yet the main use to which is put is to produce ‘music’ (or, worse, insufferable ‘sound art’) – what about all those interzones between music, fiction, drama, documentary, a DJ set? What is lacking is the will to explore such terrains.
(** These are large files so please be kind to my server)
It would be valuable and a fitting tribute to have a web archive that collects Mark’s dispersed works that aren’t available in book form or on his blog. There are a couple of pieces in the Hyperdub archive at Riddim.ca (here and here) and another at my old autonomicforthepeople blog, but there are dozens more scattered all around. I would be happy to help with such a project in any way.
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Luke says, “People keep crossing over. What do they know that we don’t?” My first persisting impression when I read that Mark Fisher (k-punk, to to a lot of us) had passed on was that there was some glitch in my Fb feed, a surreal error. Or that it was some pointed rhetorical move on his part that I hadn’t grasped yet. Mark lived a few conceptual steps ahead of the rest of us. But no, we’re left now with this impossible void. This grey tentacled thing that shouldn’t be, that reaches into so many parts of contemporary musical, intellectual and political life. The tributes over the last several days describe a rare soul…
“… the most original and provocative writer about popular culture – and its interface with the political – of the last fifteen years.” – Simon Reynolds
“He struggled bravely with depression yet sadly it overcame him. But he was winning, he was winning in his writing, he was changing things with his words. He was giving generously the tools with which to invent new political worlds, and we are totally devastated by this loss.” – Otolith Group
“To have lost Mark in what was the prime of his life is a tragedy for those who knew him well but also a small scale disaster for the left as a whole.” – Zero Books
“Realising at this moment that I assumed he would always be there, it’s hugely painful to think that he is no longer among us.” – Robin MacKay
It’s probably 9 or 10 years since I last had an exchange with Mark Fisher. But, in that internet way, he was always potentially right there. And of course he was increasingly here and there as he assumed the role of the radical public intellectual that we so need. It began long before blogging, but like many others I first found him at k-punk.abstractdynamics.org in 2003, while reading blissblogger and Heronbone for clues about grime. “Abstract dynamics,” Spinoza. This was something else. K-punk put me on to Ballard and Lovecraft as theorists in their own right. He helped me get over myself and take pleasure in pop. K-punk, blissblog and Woebot were the axis of a blog community that I feel very fortunate to have been a small part of. Then in 2004, Mark and Matt ‘Woebot’ Ingram set up the Dissensus forum which, for a time, seemed like the most vital meeting point of music and ideas on the internet.
In those years, Mark encouraged some of my early music writing, as I worked on developing a voice and style of my own. He planted ideas that ended up in my first book, a decade later. I’m thankful for that. He was an imposing intellect, but also generous, kindly and humble toward those who approached him sincerely. He gave props where they were due and if you managed to change his mind about something, he said so.
But Mark was also fierce, and the first exchange I can remember having with him left me bruised. As a relatively fresh-faced grad student, I went on a naive tangent into what I didn’t realize was contentious territory (a defence of “cult-studs”). The takedown was swift and unsteadying. But it forced me to think through my platitudes, do some homework and take a more critically informed approach to the institutional matrix I was heading into. That has endured. Mark had little patience for lazy thought because he wanted so desperately to help us conceive and produce a better world. Like so much of the music he celebrated, his words were sharp tools for piercing subjectivity and letting something new seep in…
Take this question from Félix Guattari: “How are sounds and forms going to be arranged so that the subjectivity adjacent to them remains in movement, and really alive?” This always seemed to be the root concern when reading Mark on music.
Here is Simon Reynolds in today’s Guardian: “Fisher’s enduring faith was that irruptions of the culturally new and alien could instil the confidence that change was possible in other areas of life. Such disturbances proved that the structures and strictures of the status quo were not immutable.”
Back to now, and a lot of us are wondering what to do with this void. The flood of tributes has shown just how pervasive his influence had become. Presented with it all at once, it is daunting. Simon again:
“After years of waiting to hear what Fisher had to say on anything and everything, it hurts that what follows now is silence. The current crisis-time needs his mind, for its clear vision and for the optimism of the will that sought and found cracks of possibility in the seemingly impregnable wall of a deadlocked present. A consoling thought is that young minds influenced and inspired by his work will soon fill that silence.”
I keep thinking of the last scenes of Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People. The closing of the Hacienda – Tony Wilson on the PA saying something like “The doors to the studio are unlocked, grab everything that isn’t bolted down … Let a thousand Mancunians bloom.” Void becomes potential. It’s comforting, and I hope one day invigorating, to think of the hundreds, maybe thousands of Mark’s friends, colleagues, allies, students, followers, and so on, picking up where he left off, picking up his tools, reinventing them, swarming the future. Spectres of Mark. Carriers of the k-virus.
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Please consider making a donation to the memorial fund in support of Mark’s wife and son:
This year’s Surrounding Sound Symposium brings together artists, muscians, academics, and critics from across North America. Panelists include: Matthew Edwards, Barry Blesser, Gordon Monahan, Jesse Stewart, Dipna Horra, David Lieberman, Brendan Fernandes, Linda-Ruth Salter, Paul Jasen, Jennifer Heuson, Donna Legault, John Shiga, Greg J. Smith, Geeta Dayal, Darsha Hewitt,and Mitchell Akiyama.
Saturday and Sunday, October 13-14
Arts Court Theater / 2 Daly Ave / Ottawa
Other events include a Pecha Kucha, performances, installations. See the website for details
Ottawa-Gatineau crew: Paid gigs at digital arts blogs don’t come along everyday. I’d love to give it a go myself but time is in short supply these days. Deadline Friday!
This residency is for an emerging critic or cultural journalist from the Ottawa-Gatineau area, who will pen a monthly cross-post for the Vague Terrain and Artengine blogs.
Conceived as a creative space for expression and research into culture and technology the content and direction will be developed in partnership with the editors of both publications. The resident will also travel to Montréal for the 2011 Elektra Festival to post reviews and more from one of North America’s premiere digital culture events. The resident will also receive critical feedback and professional development through the Articulation series at The Ottawa Art Gallery.
I’ll be giving a talk called “Bass: a myth-science of the sonic body” this Saturday at the Electric Fields festival here in Ottawa. Come down if you’re in the area. It’s free. I’ll be walking the walk with the help of the festival’s 4000-watt sound system – audio examples from the dancefloor, the studio, the cathedral and the lab.
Not sympathy in the sentimental sense. Sympathetic vibration has nothing to do with the personal or emotional. For Helmholtz, it meant transduction of energy and resonance induced in a body – a room, a building, a glass, an eyeball – by an external force. At its natural, or resonant frequency, a body ceases to dampen energy and begins to oscillate with it, amplifying it, even to the point of self destruction.
A 40-minute, sub-centric mix, ahead of my talk at this year’s Electric Fields / Champs Électriques festival (more on that soon). So much discussion about bass focuses on dancefloor material, so this mix goes the other direction, collecting a series of low-frequency investigations into industrial and earthly hum, pure tones, pipe organs, peculiarities of bodily resonance, and overlapping fictions of sound and signal. Listen loud. To borrow Eleh’s instruction: Volume reveals detail.
Demdike Stare ‘Suspicious Drone’ (Modern Love)
“…a dense 6 minute opening that chugs along like a malfunctioning mechanical beast, honing in on Lancashire’s dark industrial landscapes.” Following on the heels of labels like Mordant Music, Skull Disco and Ghost Box, Demdike Stare wed body-humming sound system sensibilities and (occasional) frenzied percussion, with smatterings of occulture and Radiophonic hauntology.
Bass Communion ‘Ghosts on Magnetic Tape III’ Original and Reconstruction (Headphone Dust)
Unsettling vibrations, voices in the ether. Bass Communion looks for spectral encounters in the crackle and grooves of manipulated 78rpm shellacs, drawing equally on theories of the infrasonic uncanny and the peculiar phenomenon of EVP. Supplemented here with excerpts and Raymond Cass commentary from The Ghost Orchid: An Introduction to EVP (Parapsychic Acoustic Research Cooperative/Ash International)
Thomas Köner ‘Permafrost’ and ‘Nieve Penitentes 2’ (Barooni/Type)
More of the ice than about it, Köner’s geologic drone work would sit well alongside John Duncan’s Infrasound-Tidal, NASA’s Voice of Earth, and the tremor tones of Mark Bain. The theme is The North, but these aren’t field recordings. Instead, Köner builds his glacial terrain from the shimmer of pitch-shifted gongs. Augmented here by a dark piece from Ruth White, the little acknowledged American electronic composer who’d have made good company for Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. ‘Mists and Rains,’ from the 1969 album Flowers of Evil, sets the Baudelaire poem to an electronic windscape.
Eleh ‘Together We Are One’ (Taiga)
Anonymous and secretive, Eleh is a minor sonic fiction unto itself, its album art drawing on the retina-skewing experiments of Op Art while minimal sleeve notes give faint clues to method and aims. Titles of the first three releases – Floating Frequencies/Intuitive Synthesis volumes I-III – would seem to sum up the project, reputedly based on the layering of outputs from aging audio test oscillators. Subsequent releases Homage to the Square Wave and Homage to the Sine Wave, along with track names like ‘Pulsing Study Of 7 Sine Waves’ (parts 1 & 2), ‘Phase Two: Bass Pulse In Open Air,’ and ‘Linear To Circular / Vertical Axis,’ are nods to both the minimalist tradition and a clinically empiricist attitude toward sonic investigation. But others – ‘In The Ear Of The Gods,’ ‘Phase One: Sleeps Golden Drones Again’ – show a mystical side that revels in the autopoietic strangeness of the subbass encounter.
Nate Young ‘Under the Skin’ (iDeal Recordings)
If Eleh finds the mystical in impersonal vibration, Nate Young’s Regression is the sound of signal possessed, angry, and on the move. ‘Under the Skin’ is a churning slog – submerged in a liquid-matter mush, broken occasionally by a taught screech, before resuming its subcutaneous march.
Sunn o))) ‘Sin Nanna’ (Southern Lord)
Metal with bass weight, indebted to the gravity-enhancing sounds of Earth. ‘Sin Nanna’ is a largely guitar-free interlude, gutteral chanting like the nightmare version of new-agey Gregorian revival. Elsewhere, 2008’s Dømkirke had the band pulling ungodly rumbles from the massive 16th century organ at Rokslide Cathedral, Norway.
Christian Fennesz plays Charles Matthews ‘Amoroso’ (Touch)
And into the light… A 7″ offshoot of Touch Record’s ongoing Spire project (below) which focuses on organ-based and organ-inspired works. 2300 years on, the pipe organ still mystifies. An acoustic synthesizer, one of the earliest machines, it’s clearly been designed to direct force at the body as well as emit musical notes. “Audible at five miles, offensive at two, and lethal at one,” was the contemporary description of the 10th century organ at Winchester said to require 70 men to operate its bellows. Note the mastering credit on this release: Jason Goz at Transition Studios – the name attached to virtually every foundational dubstep release between 2003 and 2006; dubcutter for Jah Shaka, Mickey Finn, Grooverider, DJ EZ, Mala, Loefah, kode9… London bass flows through Transition.
BJNilsen ‘La Petite Chapelle – Rue Basses’ (Touch)
An excerpt from Spire: Live in Geneva Cathedral, Saint Pierre (2005). From the notes: “In a duet with himself, BJNilsen moved back and forth between organ and electronics. He established a link between the old sound inherited from centuries past and a new one being instantly generated. The organ sound was decomposed and in a way, tortured, in order to get at the core of the sound… BJNilsen’s piece ended with a background organ sound, as if to remind us that after all, even if altered, the organ had remained the core of the entire concept.”
I like abstracty sounds because I come from drum n bass. I like to do different sounds – I don’t like the same sounds. I don’t like nothing straight. If it sounds like someone else’s I’m not in it. I’ve got to be different, I have to be different. I’ve got to dress different, have my hair different, my girl’s gotta be different. How I brush my teeth gotta be different, even how I sleep is different. I snore loud ladies: it’s a problem. (Terror Danjah, 2004)
If you look up at these slides here on my last videotape, after I’m dead,
it will say one thing on my grave tomb:
As a Ghettovett, I only know serious business.
As the interrogator of Ikonoklast Panzerism,
I don't give nobody no business.
I tell you what is full military information and function
for all integers, all four of them.
There are no pictograms here.
What I draw is architecturally built and will fly
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The Ikonoklast Samurai
Greg Tate interview in The Wire (April 2004) | text version
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[Beat Bop] was just simply a test pressing with Jean Michel and K-Rob for Jean-Michel’s solo compilation. He wanted say his own verses, me and K-Rob read them and started laughing and we crushed up his paper with the words he had written down and we threw it back at him face first. Then we said we’re gonna go in these two booths, and [I said] ‘I’m gonna play pimp on the corner’ and K-Rob said ‘I’ll play school boy coming home from school’ and then it went on. Jean Michel Basquiat put up the money for it and from there we sung to it. He did not sell it immediately. But when he did sell it he didn’t tell anybody. It was to Profile records. [But originally] it was a test pressing. We were just having fun.
… I didn’t expect anything out of anything. I just used to go over his house and chill. He was an up and coming artist, I was an up and coming artist… well I was an up and coming con-artist. And we just were doing things at the same time. But I didn’t expect it to be anything more than a test a pressing. It was something he wanted to do so we did it. I didn’t like the words he wrote and neither did K-Rob and both me and K-Rob at the time were 5%ers and there was nothing more to say. So we laughed at him. But yet he was paying for it all. I never made a dime of that damn record. I still haven’t made a dime off that record and it sold more than 150,000 copies.
Only thing I can say is he spelled my damn name wrong. I got two “L”s in Rammellzee. Rammellzee is a quantum mechanic equation, you don’t spell it with one L. You’ve seen the cover? It’s spelt wrong.
The New York graffiti artist and B-boy theoretician Rammellzee constitutes yet another incarnation of Afrofuturism. Greg Tate holds that Rammellzee’s “formulations on the juncture between black and Western sign systems make the extrapolations of [Houston] Baker and [Henry Louis] Gates seem elementary by comparison.” As evidence, he submits the artist’s “Ikonoklast Panzerism,” a heavily armored descendant of late ’70s “wild style” graffiti (those bulbous letters that look as if they were twisted out of balloons). A 1979 drawing depicts a Panzerized letter “S”: it is a jumble of sharp angles that suggests the Nude Descending a Staircase bestriding a Jet Ski. “The Romans stole the alphabeta system from the Greeks through war,” explains Rammellzee. “Then, in medieval times, monks ornamented letters to hide their meaning from the people. Now, the letter is armored against further manipulation.”
In like fashion, the artist encases himself during gallery performances in Gasholeer, a 148-pound, gadgetry-encrusted exoskeleton inspired by an android he painted on a subway train in 1981. Four years in the making, Rammellzee’s exuberantly low-tech costume bristles with rocket launchers, nozzles that gush gouts of flame, and an all-important sound system.
“From both wrists, I can shoot seven flames, nine flames from each sneaker’s heel, and colored flames from the throat. Two girl doll heads hanging from my waist and in front of my balls spit fire and vomit smoke…The sound system consists of a Computator, which is a system of screws with wires. These screws can be depressed when the keyboard gun is locked into it. The sound travels through the keyboard and screws, then through the Computator, then the belt, and on up to the four mid-range speakers (with tweeters). This is all balanced by a forward wheel from a jet fighter plane. I also use an echo chamber, Vocoder, and system of strobe lights. A coolant device keeps my head and chest at normal temperature. A 100-watt amp and batteries give me power.”
The B-boy bricolage bodied forth in Rammellzee’s “bulletproof arsenal,” with its dangling, fetish-like doll heads and its Computator cobbled together from screws and wires, speaks to dreams of coherence in a fractured world, and to the alchemy of poverty that transmutes sneakers into high style, turntables into musical instruments, and spray-painted tableaux on subway cars into hit-and-run art.
Rammellzee’s Afrofuturist appropriation of the castoff oddments of technoculture is semiotic guerrilla warfare, just as his “slanguage”—a heavily encrypted hip-hop argot—is the linguistic equivalent of graffiti “tags” all over the mother tongue. In an essay on English as the imperial language of the Internet, the cultural critic McKenzie Wark argues for the willful, viral corruption of the lingua franca of global corporate monoculture as a political act. “I’m reminded of Caliban and Prospero,” he writes. “Prospero, the Western man of the book, teaches Caliban, the colonial other, how to speak his language. And Caliban says, ‘You give me words, that I might curse you with them.’ Which is what happens to imperial languages. The imperial others learn it all too well. Make it something else. Make it proliferate, differentiate. Like Rammellzee, and his project for a Black English that nobody else could understand. Hiding in the master tongue. Waiting. Biting the master tongue.” Wark’s analysis resonates with Tricia Rose’s notion of hip-hop countersignage as “master[ing] the wearing of this guise in order to use it against your interpolation.”
– Mark Dery “Black to the Future” Flame Wars (November 1994)
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I’m pretty sure nobody heard “Lecture”,” smiled Bill Laswell, a few years ago when I was in his apartment coveting his framed Basquiat Beat Bop sleeve (for Rammellzee Vs K-Rob’s 12″). As Gettovetts’ producer, Laswell had been looking for the perfect loop for the guy who called himself “The #1 Stain On The Train”. Then he found a recording of the Tokyo bullet express – a sure bet. So the podium became a platform and there’s Rammel, arriving, how do you say, too freaking early, holding a purple suitcase full of watches he designed (he attended Fashion Institute of Technology, briefly), none of which could tell time from a hole in a worm – each has an expended 9mm slug burrowing into its face. (“Their crystals hold information from a crushed galaxy,” he’d told me). The beat wheezes into the station and then chugs off and vanishes into a blurring horn, three stops away. An aria wanders the tracks looking for her head, only to find a symphony that’s been out in the sun too long.
That’s “Lecture”. Not quite a first date song, too medieval for the Golden Age of Rap, and certainly in the ‘At Risk’ category for Island Records. Not that a line like “sneeze with me” isn’t catchy as a word virus. And how about that Double Dutch helix: “This twine turns the rope of your mind like DNA codes.”
’87’s awesomely crepuscular track The Lecture opens up the Military Perceptual Complex of MythScience. Rammellzee is no longer a Master of Ceremonies, an MC. Instead he’s an MK3, a Master of Kommand Kontrol Kommunications, a despotic esoterrorist who lectures on ‘Aerodynamics and Quantum physics’. Instead of breaking down information to its simplest atoms, the tunnel visionary systematically encrypts all information: ‘But we want you to understand that the integer is a nation by itself. Its function… leads you into the future.’
… Drawing you into an auditorium where echoes seat your hearing at the back, Rammellzee’s voice arrives from a distant lectern, inducing a powerful sense of being drawn into overlapping systems of privy information: ‘All formation and military function that hold the code to any formation procedure. With. Out it you have no control. You will have no control. This information I cannot really give you. Because I am not the master of its own technique.’
Throughout, the tone of the lecture shifts treacherously from acerbic to drawling to disquieting: ‘As the.. interrogator of Ikonoklast Panzerism I don’t give nobody no business. I tell you what is full military information and function for all integers, all four of them. There are no pictograms here. What I draw is architecturally built and will fly.’ Information and function: as a cryptogrammatology, Ikonoklast Panzerism encrypts all symbols, inducing an overpowering sense of ominous information and conspiracy made audible in Lecture’s keening, multi tracked voices. Horns loom into tonal shadows, shattered by string arrangements that reverse into Varesian shriekbacks which leave space shuddering from the concerted attack impulse.
“On Monday night this past week, old friend and collaborator The Rammellzee passed away at his mom’s place in Far Rockaway. Under an orange moon …
Met Ramm in 1983 in W Berlin, called him up to join Death Comet Crew for our first Ep in 1984, he showed up buzzing and bleeding from working on art pieces. After we tracked “At The Marble Bar” , we went directly to “Exterior Street” and let Rammell blow it to kingdoms come. The live at Danceteria is legend stuff…
… When I look at what Rammellzee achieved with his mind and artwork, in his times. A NY freestyler who surfed through decades down at the Battle Station, did it his way and as much on his own terms as he could. It was always great to see him work, at the same time I knew there was some poisoning due to resins, plastics fumes and so on.
Today I am enjoying Ramm’s art works in the 1990 Art Random Rammellzee “Acts Of Terrorism”, drawings, masks, body armors suits, outlyer of systems, keys to the subways …”