Cacophony For a Good Cause

In times like these, when remaining idle is neither ethical nor sensible, I’m trying to contribute in the way that comes most naturally to me: making a godawful racket.

Graverobber is a noise-dub album inspired by the widening abyss of diabolic lunacy that 2017 already appears to be. But the cacophony is for a good cause: the full price of downloading Graverobber will be donated, in equal portion, to the National Canadian Council of Muslims and the American Association of University Professors. Also, if you download Graverobber today (Friday, February 3) then the host website Bandcamp’s transaction fee will be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union. So you can fight Islamophobia, support academic freedom, and protect civil liberties all while giving yourself tinnitus!

Parce qu'il n'est ni éthique ni raisonnable d'être oisif durant les temps pareil, je lutte contre la démence fasciste dans la manière qui me vient le plus naturellement: faire une raquette odieuse.

«Graverobber» est un album inspiré par l'abîme grandissant qu’est 2017. Mais la cacophonie est pour une bonne cause: le prix complet du téléchargement de "Graverobber" sera donné, à parts égales, au Conseil National des Musulmans Canadiens et l'Association Américaine des Professeurs d'Université. Aussi, si vous téléchargez «Graverobber» aujourd'hui (Vendredi 3 février) les frais de transaction seront donnés à l'Union Américaine des Libertés Civiles. Vous pouvez donc combattre l'islamophobie, soutenir la liberté académique et protéger les libertés civiles – tout en vous donnant des acouphènes!





The Long Goodbye (Tuning Speculation IV)

Post-facto in extremis though it may be, video evidence of my talk at the Tuning Speculation IV conference has appeared online!

As I say in the introduction, I was speaking a mere eleven days after the 2016 American election, the outcome of which led to me shred most of my presentation and Franksenstein it back together in some hideous, despairing new form better suited to the new reality. All in all, it went quite well.

My talk, I mean. Not the election. That was, in the immortal words of Nick Cave, the biggest shit-fight the country's ever seen.

Unity Gain: the Sound of Globalization

This week, I had the honour of participating in the Decolonizing Conference, hosted by the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies at the University of Toronto. Yesterday, I presented a paper about the North American road-trip as colonial practice – which went over very well, I'm pleased to say! (The paper is laying the theoretical groundwork for a larger project I'll be working on next year; more on this later!) Today, I contributed a sound installation as one of the conference's artisitic critical interventions. One of the organizers, Cristina Jaimungal, told me that, "it's important to include contributions to anti-racist and decolonial discourses that are outside the confines of knowledge production." In other words: sometimes, you gotta thinking outside the box of scholastic research!

My contribution was a musical piece, with individual tracks (or "elements") split into individual speakers arranged in an array – a kind of lo-fi surround sound installation. Below is a stereo mixdown of the track that you can enjoy on your home stereo or personal listening device, followed by the artist statement explaining the intent of the piece.

Culture, it is often said, is a realm of leisurely enjoyment and intellectual gratification. Its creators are attuned to higher powers and strange frequencies, their products the earthly manifestations of supernatural inspiration. But this romantic understanding of cultural production occludes its historical and material preconditions. This occlusion is no accident. Divesting a cultural work of its context broadens its market appeal: the work becomes pure object, a blank slate upon which an individual consumer can inscribe their personal desires. A cultural work devoid of history or context is similarly devoid of any obligation – financial, political, or social – to the people who first created or cultivated it.

This piece of music reproduces, in microcosm, the way in which the neoliberal culture industry appropriates and estranges cultural work from its origins.

First, six recordings (each indigenous to a different continent) were selected from public domain or Creative Commons-licensed sources online, to become the individual elements of a new musical work. These elements were converted to high-resolution audio files and loaded into Apple’s Logic Pro digital audio workstation. Spectral analysis (using iZotope’s RX 5 Audio Editor) revealed a number of pitches in common among elements, determining that the project would be in the key of F (Lydian mode). Each element was then treated with pitch-shifting software to cohere with the F Lydian mode. The tempo of a percussion sample – used to create the song’s drumbeat – was found to be approximately 88 beats-per-minute (bpm). Each element was then time-stretched or -compressed, using Logic Pro’s Flex Time algorithm, to synchronize with this tempo. Finally, every individual element was further treated with various effects, to perform a particular role within the project (e.g. bass line, percussion, etc.).

The result is a piece of music, presented as an “original” work, which is in fact a product of cultural plunder and misrepresentation, composed of artificially homogenized elements. In the pursuit of a crowd-pleasing piece of music with contemporary appeal, the source material has been stripped of its originary context and disfigured beyond recognition via technological mediation.

Further mimicking hegemonic modes of cultural distribution and consumption, the audience is not prohibited from uncovering the work’s origins. Just as a fan may peruse album credits or Wikipedia entries about their favourite artist, so too can listeners find the full background information about each element of this piece of music: next to each speaker is a discreet card listing the original recording’s title, artist, online source address, and what specific transformations it underwent in Logic Pro. But the relative effort required to research and understand the full context of a cultural work’s origins will not be undertaken by a casual audience, for whom a contingent, glancing encounter with the work is a sufficient diversion.

The music is further transformed into an object of pure consumer desire by its presentation in surround sound. Engaging current music industry trends towards personalization, the surround sound environment allows listeners to “customize” their experience, “mixing” the music via relative distance to each speaker as they navigate the space. Immersive and interactive, the music in surround is a vehicle of individual pleasure, denuded of its history or prior significance.

The neoliberal cultural industry and technological mediation can erase context, history, identity, and Indigeneity with such speed and efficiency that it may go completely unnoticed.

Source Material Information

“Gada Song Cycle” (Burarra song cycle from Arnhem Land, Australia)
Artist: The Burarra clan of the Maningrida indigenous community
Accessed: (Oct. 19, 2016)
Editing: Percussion sampled from full recording
Signal Path: FabFilter Pro-Q2 equalizer; Waves SoundShifter pitch shifter; iZotope Trash 2 multiband distortion

“al-Fatihah” (First sura of the Holy Quran)
Artist: Hafes Guna
Accessed: (Oct. 19, 2016)
Editing: Individual phrases cut and pasted according to compositional structure
Signal Path: iZotope RX5 De-reverb; iZotope VocalSynth pitch correction and vocoder; Waves LoAir sub-bass generator

“Kora” (Collection of music played on the Kora, a Malian lute)
Artist: Toumani Diabate
Accessed: (Oct. 19, 2016)
Editing: Individual phrases selected, copied, pasted, and time-stretched using Logic Pro’s Flex Time algorithm to match song tempo
Signal Path: FabFilter Pro-Q2 equalizer; Native Instruments Replika XT algorithmic reverb; FabFilter Pro-Q2 equalizer

“Kak Rodilysya Ne Byla” (Siberian wedding song)
Artist: Sibirskaya Vechora
Accessed: (Oct. 19, 2016)
Editing: Entire recording looped to match song length
Signal Path: FabFilter Pro-Q2 equalizer; Native Instruments Reaktor Molekular multi-effect granular delay and stutter edit

“Improvisation: Fast Blues in A” (Delta blues guitar improvisation)
Artist: The Rev. Gary Davis
Accessed: (Oct. 20, 2016)
Editing: Time-stretched using Logic Pro’s Flex Time algorithm to match song tempo
Signal Path: FabFilter Pro-Q2 equalizer; u-He Uhbik-G granular pitch-shifter

“Triple Clay Flute” (Mayan flute improvisation)
Artist: Shotoyu
Accessed: (Oct. 20, 2016)
Editing: Individual phrases selected, copied, pasted, and time-stretched using Logic Pro’s Flex Time algorithm to match song tempo
Signal Path: FabFilter Pro-Q2 equalizer; Waves SoundShifter pitch-shifter; Native Instruments Reaktor Molekular multi-effect stutter edit and comb filter

Tuning Speculation III in Toronto, November 20-22

Next weekend – at 11:15am on Saturday, November 23rd, to be precise – I'll be delivering a talk at the Tuning Speculation conference here in Toronto. It promises to be an exciting weekend of baffling and delightful ideas delivering by the cream of the critical theory and sound studies community. If you're in the area, I can't recommend it highly enough. You can check out the full programme here, and register as an attendee here (no fee required; only pay-what-you-can).

I'll be speaking about listening, technology, and the apocalypse. In addition to the conventional abstract found on the programme, I crafted a second abstract that is less formal, but much closer to the spirit in which I'll be presenting. To pique your interest, I offer it for your scrutiny below:

  • Do you find yourself paralyzed by fears of a planet rapidly sliding towards ecological cataclysm, economic catastrophe, and slow-motion holocaust?
  • Do you also find yourself giddy at the prospect of a post-human utopia, as virtuo-mechanic enhancement looses the trammels of the space-time continuum?
  • Do you have trouble reconciling these two paradoxical positions?

Then take hope, you poor raggabrash! You may be eligible for

Adventures in Meatspace

a reunion of the ear and the body!

Our program is designed to de-program a quarter-century of technological triumphalism and digital hegemony through such exercises as:

  • The Body Is Dead, Long Live the Head – how neoliberal modes of listening reify Cartesian mind-body duality.

  • White People Dancing – post-humanism as speculative colonialism.

  • The Cake Is a Lie – what happens when scarcity and disaster slam the brakes on progress.

  • I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing – building community through the embrace of our own imperfect materials.

Synthesizing the ideas of Ned Ludd, Alfred Jarry, David Toop, and Max Rockatansky, Adventures in Meatspace invites participants to tackle tomorrow’s problems today by abandoning hope, embracing the suck, and getting down with their bad selves. To do any less is to acquiesce to brain-vat delusion and to forfeit our physical selves as foodstuffs for future generations.

Act now or forever suffer the consequences!