Monday, 29 June 2009

chilling out in the cities of the dead

Other commitments have swallowed up my blogging energy of late, but I've just read an extraordinary essay that breathes new life into many of the interests featured on this blog. I was doing some research for a new post on dark ambient music, but it seems I'll have to put that on the backburner. Until an opportunity arises then, here is something that speaks to me theoretically, in a way that nothing else I've read in the musical blogosphere has ever managed to do thus far.

Having read the piece I can now start to weave together thoughts about soundscapes in my mind. For example, let's imagine The Place Where the Black Stars Hang as a soundscape of space archaeology, and then relate these thoughts to the album's conditions of production and consumption. This essay allows me to hear Thomas Koner, Burzum, Lull et al in a new light. It's not as simple though as applying the insights of Roger Caillois, for example, given the dystopic inflection of these artists under review. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. I believe that the Caillois style reading of "play", "imagination" and "nature" is functionally equivalent to the interpretation of Myst in the book Digital Play, meaning that the de-centering [sic] of any signs of human labour in such instances follows on from the Doom-like entropic misanthropy of "isolationatism" evoked in dark ambient. Perhaps it's no coincidence then that artists in the latter genre are prone at times to abjuring rational planning and collaboration, substituting instead chaosmagik, [Nazi style] paganism, Deep Ecology etc. I'll hopefully get to say more about this later after refining my model thanks to an interesting essay by Michael Moorcock on the inherent limitations of libertarian and survivalist science fiction (i.e. there seem to be considerable crossovers between the latter, the virtual worlds featured in games, and dark ambient soundscapes).

But first, here's a representative sample from the mindblowing essay in question:

Perhaps one reading of the death of ambient is precisely in the failure to articulate an urban pastoral. The shift from an ambient music based on a pastoral idyll to an almost regressive pessimism could be attributed to a form of the pastoral which condemns the city, unable to sound within its steel canyons a harmonious ideal. However, this would not explain the pleasure produced by these dystopian soundscapes. One could argue that the New York art establishment only embraced ambient music in 1994 when this sort of dystopianism assumed declarations of avant-gardism.

Ambient music may bite the dust, nonetheless the ambiance of the city continues to surround us. If our cities are deceased and our ambiance DOA, then it is because spectacle culture purports to have raised the scene of social exchange to the plateaux of trans-national labor forces and global markets. In this environment, the interest owed on our musical enjoyment is in fact a global debt. A vital task for the composers of ambiance, then, would be to conduct a psychogeography of global space. One strategy for such a psychogeography of global space would involve an alliance of artists (ambient and otherwise) incorporating the culture of lawlessness and violence promoted by trade accords like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization. By claiming a subjectivity out of NAFTA, artists could devise strategies of cooperation (the mystifying buzz word of free markets) based on an erotics of ambient sound. This strategic cooperation would empower local artists through international action which utilizes and undermines the same capitalist flows.

Something must be done, if only to rescue our enjoyment from the deceptions of "chance" sublimation. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, the death enterprise serves only the designs of sublimation and capitalist appropriation.

In the world of popular music, it seems our entire culture preoccupies itself with the business of pronouncing death. From the subcultural death of ambient music and the mainstream embrace of electronica as a reaction to rock's demise, all the way through to the received wisdom that the Left is dead. Rather than properly asking from where this wisdom originates, we all too often devour these sound-bytes and spit out the logic of capital.

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