Friday, 31 July 2009

Full Spectrum Dominance

My last posting referred to David Thrussell, and it turns out that things get even more interesting with a bit more digging around. His side project is called Black Lung, and the album Full Spectrum Dominance was officially commissioned by the DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- a funding body of the U.S Government and the Pentagon) to produce a recording that reflects the ideals and reality of Vision 2020, a futuristic military strategy program that first saw the light of day in May of 2000. I have been listening to this piece almost continuously because it is truly remarkable to experience some sense of entering the phenomenological space of this military inner sanctum, much in the manner of the employees listening to it on their iPods and over the base address system:

"March 2008, in one of the most unusual events in contemporary music history, notable electronic/alternative musician David Thrussell is commissioned by DARPA ...

"The design was twofold," Says DARPA media liaison Thomas Steel, "to deliver to the men and women working in some of the Pentagon's most challenging fields an inspiring soundtrack to their daily working lives, but also to present to the general public information and a view hitherto unconsidered of some of the lesser known branches of our military."

Working with a sizeable budget and unprecedented access to defense installations and personnel, Thrussell took over a year to complete the project and wove many field recordings as well as the sounds of sensitive hardware and technology into the final product. One of the greatest thrills for me," says Thrussell, "was setting up a full P.A. inside one of the ICBM silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California to run and record the final mix on the title track Full Spectrum Dominance -- room ambience and all!" Incorporated also are actual recordings of top secret military activities in the upper ionosphere generated from the HAARP base in Gakona, Alaska, "If I told you what they were up to there, not only would you not believe me, but I'd still have to shoot you!," chimes in Thrussell with a wry smile.

Asked if he sees any conflict between his latest project and his past stance as a sometimes critic of government and military activities Thrussell is quick to retort, "No, not at all. I see my role first as a musical journalist -- to present the information -- there's plenty of time for editorialising later. And....," he continues enthusiastically, "I've even invented my own sub-genre to describe the album's unique, crunchy, downbeat sound -- Grave-step....." He smiles another beatific smile without the faintest trace of irony.

The project, comprised as it is of both motivational tunes and immersive soundscapes, has already been deemed a success by the personnel at Vandenberg, if play counts on iPods and over the base address system are anything to go by. The DARPA Arts Liaison Fund is proud to present the new Black Lung album Full Spectrum Dominance. Available to the general public June 2009".

Track Listing
1. Imperial March
2. Hostmen Of Tyne
3. Full Spectrum Dominance
4. Territorial Imperative
5. Regulator Plot
6. Great Unconscious
7. Wonderful Wizard Of Ounce
8. World Without Us
9. Feminine Void
10. Neuroses Of Nostalgia

With a bit of imagination it is possible to see such a commissioning of an artist as apiece with a larger strategy to militarise civilian culture. It's Nick Turse's thesis in The Complex taken to the nth degree insofar as the strategy of "full spectrum dominance" encompasses not only the military's control over land, air and sea, but information/sonic resources as well (it would be remiss of me to not also mention in this context Steve "kode9" Goodman's upcoming Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear). But why now? What other dystopic inflections can be given to this scenario? In his book Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, economist William Engdahl adroitly explicates the effect the servicing of debt has on the realpolitik associated with Vision 2020.

I see it as inevitable that some unholy alliance of technological determinists and conspiracy theorists will be quick to trace an almost [genetic] concordance between full spectrum dominance and technological Singularity. This style of reasoning will emphasise how the United States will go "transhuman" to refinance itself: "rapturing" its citizens out of their material forms in a new age of "spiritual machines" (to use Ray Kurzweil's favorite expression) as it advances to a permanent war economy. This conception makes a recent TV series such as Battlestar Galactica seem like a warning about the shape of things to come. However, a recent study, with the very telling title Cylons in America (thanks ahuthnance for the tipoff), has managed to qualify the dystopic interpretation with specific reference to the Singularity.

I don't see Americans then becoming cylons, but am willing of course to consider science fiction serving as a sensitising device. It seems to me though that it is more important to monitor the connections between brain research and national security, as earlier featured on this blog with reference to Jonathan Moreno's Mind Wars. So let's keep track of what the science can actually do, and then consider how it can be regulated by a social epistemology. Hence the problem I have with the "sonic warfare" reading is the potential inherent risk of its convergence with the dystopia of the Singularity in what equates to a post-political conception. There is a danger of presuming that rational deliberation, letalone any reliance on ideology in political discourse (that is at least detectable and therefore capable of being held accountable), will simply go out the window, thanks to some kind of invisible, but inescapable, strategy of Control. It follows that it is simply insufficient for its adherents to reply that the post-political condition is a mere side effect of their thinking for which they can take no personal responsibility. Epistemic justice demands to the contrary that your arguments have to make allowance for unintentional effects as well. Authors cannot just ask for their paternity [sic] to be returned to them as such logic is consistent with the so-called genetic fallacy.

Make no mistake about it though, the challenges progressives face are considerable, but I'm not willing to give up just yet, as if military transhumanism were somehow inevitable: we haven't "raptured" ourselves into that kind of "transcendental fascism", so it is still up to us to take responsibility for the kind of future we want. The future remains a prospective ideal.....

Monday, 27 July 2009

Lost Vegas: "...a Cemetery of Development"

Detroit: The Post-Apocalyptic Future of American Cities?

Detroit Housing Apocalypse
music by dETROITfUNK

"So here’s the scene. Imagine a 100-square blocks in a city on a hot summer night. Only one out of every twenty streetlamps is working, and even that is low-wattage. These lamps are broken and swinging back and forth in the wind. There’s rusted out steel drums lying here and there. Pyres of burning scrapwood. In the background there are shadowy figures darting in and out of buildings, trying to salvage anything or strip the remaining buildings of anything that’s worth anything.

"Since no electricity is being provided to these residents anymore, what this private management cum security company does is they bring in old water trucks. Then these water trucks are placed at certain locations during certain times. The people then totter down with their old plastic buckets and bottles to get their water.

"My friend said that what Detroit looks like now, particularly at night, is like a scene that you would see five or ten years after a Third World War. Everything is bulldozed, but it’s not all collected because there’s not much left after everyone has picked it apart. They just bulldoze it, chop it up and leave it in little piles. So imagine these little smoldering piles of rubble with these low wattage street lamps that are broken swinging back and forth. And don’t forget the rusted out water trucks bringing in water for the 'survivors,' what else can you call them? They also bring in food from various charitable organizations and distribute free food like Spam and week old bread etc. The residents (survivors) in order to get anything have to register with the private security company and get a card which must be presented to the authorities if you want to get any water etc."

From "Detroit: The Post-Apocalyptic Future of American Cities?" by Al Martin

"Detroit: The place to film low budget horror and post-apocalypse sci fi indie films"

"Pictures of Detroit"

"The largest group of non-locals participating in the representation of Detroit’s ruins consists of white suburbanites who left the city or whose parents and grandparents fled a generation or two ago. Their perception of Detroit’s abandoned structures seems initially to resemble German-Namibian colonial melancholy. Many follow a trail through the city’s ruins that conjures up the shattered Fordist metropolis in its golden age. They follow this path virtually via websites and books, or, in the preferred method, by automobile. Bookstores in Detroit’s suburbs carry shelves of paperbacks with sepia-toned covers published by Arcadia, an editor whose website describes its own books as being ‘pretty much all nostalgia'. These
volumes revisit the lost world of industrial prosperity and trace the arc of the city’s rise and fall. The volume on Detroit’s Statler and Book-Cadillac Hotels, for
example, concludes with a chapter called ‘The Hotels Today’ that describes their decay. The photograph of the Statler Hotel’s Grand Ballroom shows it littered with debris and with the ceiling collapsing. The caption accompanying this image reads: 'Once a center of activity, only the sound of passing People Mover trains breaks the silence’. The ballroom of the Book-Cadillac Hotel appears even more decrepit. The volume on Detroit’s abandoned train station concludes with photographs shot through broken windows and images of ‘ghosts of former travellers’ inside the ruin."

From "Harrowed landscapes: white ruingazers in Namibia and Detroit and the cultivation of memory" by George Steinmetz

Of nihilism, Snog, Heathen Harvests and Transcendental Fascisms

I've started to have a few second thoughts about that "Chilling out in the Cities of the Dead" post. Provocative as Ultra Red's [selective] reading of Deleuze may have been in that instance, I have since come to the conclusion that to remain more consistent with the biological themes of this blog it is necessary to look at what remains when nihilism strips away everything except the laws of cause and effect: i.e. Nature. Bulent Diken's observation in his book Nihilism seems especially pertinent in this context. He highlights how the enemy/friend relationship becomes de-subjectified in the transition to post-politics:

"And it is in this movement, which is also the movement of nihilism, that distinctions such as reality/representation, biology/politics, terror/war against terror tend to disappear today. After all, the canceling of differences is a nihilistic principle par excellence [as noted by Deleuze]" (p. 88).

By extension, investigating the "post-political" rationalization behind the "transcendental fascism" that presents itself as a Third Way between liberal capitalism and communism could prove a fruitful line of inquiry. I see this form of neofascism as equal parts derived from Heidegger and Strasser. There is some affinity as well with the dark ambient I raised in the earlier post in many cases, and moreover, neofolk/martial industrial bands (Death in June, Sol Invictus, Der Blutharsch etc), along with other forms of electronic music. For example, a more disturbing spin could be put on the satire featured in Snog's Kings of Hate, given that the clip was directed by none other than self proclaimed "transcendental fascist" Richard Wolstencroft. Another song entitled The Human Germ (available on YouTube) appears thematically suggestive to some degree of Pentti Linkola's philosophy. In fairness to David Thrussell though I should probably chase up some more background to avoid reliance on guilt by association alone.

So let me turn my attention instead to someone else who is demonstrably comparable to Mr Linkola. I just happened to watch Wolstencroft's rabidly imaginative film Pearls Before Swine last night, which reminded me that the lead actor, "industrial musician" Boyd Rice, has gained some notoriety for his establishment of a thinktank advocating social Darwinist principles (particularly Redbeard's Might Is Right! credo), and also for acting as the public spokesperson for the Church of Satan.

I consider it no more coincidental that these misanthropic forms of cultural expression have come together than the fact that fellow travelers, the Process Church, later morphed into the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Mix nihilism in with the paganism, Deep Ecology, transcendental fascism etc then and you have the makings of a lethal cocktail. I'll give some credit to Michael Moynihan though; he was very forthright in the sense that Gods of the Blood could never have been written without him. I've been listening to (Moynihan's) Blood Axis's Gospel of Inhumanity a lot lately, and the sampling of The Wicker Man on that album is starting to make more sense. Because time is of the essence I can't comment here on Troy Southgate or related controversial figures. I'll try to save that stuff for upcoming posts and recommend checking out Heathen Harvest for a foretaste.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Genetic Capitalism

I'm awaiting arrival of some very bloggable material in the next week or so that can help me expand on some of the issues raised in the "Chilling out in the cities of the dead" post. Oftentimes it seems the ideologies on the dark ambient scene dovetail with the biosocial agenda of "the pure society". Lenin's Tomb provides a useful introduction to the more general historical backdrop here, and one can read between the lines how it was taken up in the dark ambient and other affiliated musical scenes. For the moment though I'm too tied up with my professional editing commitments to elaborate on what such a reading might entail, so I'll just add here that some of the related material I've come across recently has shocked me, and it is just begging for a critical response on this blog.

The Pure Society certainly looks fascinating, but I recommend first revisiting the interview with Professor Steve Fuller conducted on this blog regarding his book Dissent Over Descent to help set a context for how "Nazi excesses do not undermine" the more avowedly sociological contributions to this important debate. Even further back in the archives, I also recommend having another look at Fred Vandenberghe's paper on the biological ramifications of the new capitalism (it was delivered at a conference in Brisbane a few years back, and I asked him to send me a copy).

Friday, 17 July 2009

"...a human version of insect samples, except the specimens are live people..."

Zhang Dali's intention throughout his body of work is to call attention to the changes taking place in Chinese society primarily due to the destruction of long standing communities. He wants to enter into a dialogue with his compatriots whom he sees as becoming increasingly estranged as the drive towards modernisation continues. His early graffiti work can still be seen all over the Chinese capital. His signature outline of a human head was found, among other places, on traditional courtyard houses marked for demolition. The artist called this graffiti work "Dialogue" and documented it by photography.

From the "Demolition" series, Zhang Dali went on to make portraits of migrant workers' faces and resin casts of their heads or entire bodies. Having a studio on the outskirts of Beijing, Zhang Dali became acquainted with a community of migrant workers who lives nearby. Migrant workers have emerged as a product of the urbanization and growth of the main Chinese cities. Mobility has come with reform and this is not always an easy choice. The cities have developed into places of wealth and opportunity, thus drawing all sorts of people in search of better lives. However with this growth of the cities and the introduction of so much from the West: architecture, food, fashion, social manners, etc. has come also great uncertainty. For the migrant worker uncertainty is one of the key elements of their existence. Zhang Dali wanted to bring these people and their hard, bitter lives to the attention of others, and did so by creating head and body casts of volunteers from among these people as well as painting their portraits in his AK-47 series.

The presentation of the body casts is vital to transmitting the artist's message. They are shown hanging upside down from ropes tied around their ankles. The imagery is shocking: hanging like carcasses of meat, in mid-air, in limbo. The artist uses the Chinese "dao xuan" to express being upside down in limbo without any inner strength to turn their bodies. These works capture the spirit, or lack thereof, of these workers. For Zhang Dali, his sculptures are living taxonomy, a human version of insect samples ("biao ben") except the specimens are live people. It is a documentation of the species at a specific moment in history.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

"Goldman a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity...jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money".

"The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates".

Monday, 13 July 2009

"Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo"

Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo : "If I cannot bend the Higher Powers, I will move the Infernal Regions"

"On the one hand, the defamiliarization of animation allows you initially to take some distance from the story. But at some point (I think it has to do with the way that the brain visually assimilates information) the filter or the rational distancing fell by the wayside. I felt like it was almost directly accessing a part of the brain, because after all, the brain, through evolution, processes visual images first in a primal way and then the images go up to the language center, which is actually a much smaller part of our brain.

"Watching 'Waltz With Bashir," you almost got into some primal, visual — I am going to call it — the truth center. So I found the film much more disturbing and harder to understand in a kind of removed, intellectual way, than if it had been a straight frame that I am more familiar with, which is documentary film or Hollywood war blockbusters. I think that is why it came back into our nightmares.

"We all know what Marx said about the unconsciousness of the past: that it weighs on us like a nightmare. That somehow triggered all kinds of past memories about war in my own family history. So I think it was remarkable how the film was able to achieve that kind of new channeling of a part of the brain that is not normally a part of film watching, film spectating."

James Der Derian in Open Source conversation with David Polonsky at the Watson Institute, April 15, 2009.

“Waltz with Bashir”: the Art Director’s Cut at War


hell by Jake and Dinos Chapman

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Semper Eadem & Spektral Magikal

The origins of steampunk....

(images courtesy: Sam Van Olffen)

I feel this kind of imagery does much to support the claim that Charles Dickens was the progenitor of steampunk. I've read this characterisation of Dickens in John Clute et al's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and it forms the basis of more contemporary studies, such as Charles Dickens in Cyberspace. Very evocative imagery of early industrial capitalism as a hellhole, an engineer of human souls, the "undisciplined culture" of which may repeat, with increasing obviousness, well into the future:

"Charles Dickens in Cyberspace opens a window on a startling set of literary and scientific links between contemporary American culture and the nineteenth-century heritage it often repudiates. Surveying a wide range of novelists, scientists, filmmakers, and theorists from the past two centuries, Jay Clayton traces the concealed circuits that connect the telegraph with the Internet, Charles Babbage's Difference Engine with the digital computer, Frankenstein's monster with cyborgs and clones, and Dickens' life and fiction with all manner of contemporary popular culture--from comic books and advertising to recent novels and films. In the process, Clayton argues for two important principles: that postmodernism has a hidden or repressed connection with the nineteenth-century and that revealing those connections can aid in the development of a historical cultural studies. In Charles Dickens in Cyberspace nineteenth-century figures--Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Ada Lovelace, Joseph Paxton, Mary Shelley, and Mary Somerville--meet a lively group of counterparts from today: Andrea Barrett, Greg Bear, Peter Carey, Helene Cixous, Alfonso Cuaron, William Gibson, Donna Haraway, David Lean, Richard Powers, Salman Rushdie, Ridley Scott, Susan Sontag, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, and Tom Stoppard. The juxtaposition of such a diverse cast of characters leads to a new way of understanding the ""undisciplined culture"" the two eras share, an understanding that can suggest ways to heal the gap that has long separated literature from science. Combining storytelling and scholarship, this engaging study demonstrates in its own practice the value of a self-reflective stance toward cultural history. Its personal voice, narrative strategies, multiple points of view, recursive loops, and irony emphasize the improvisational nature of the methods it employs. Yet its argument is serious and urgent: that the afterlife of the nineteenth century continues to shape the present in diverse and sometimes conflicting ways".

See all Editorial Reviews

Patri Friedman seen leaving the offices of PayPal Inventor Peter Thiel: "Mak[ing] the world safe for capitalism"

"The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom."

"The future of technology is not pre-determined, and we must resist the temptation of technological utopianism — the notion that technology has a momentum or will of its own, that it will guarantee a more free future, and therefore that we can ignore the terrible arc of the political in our world. A better metaphor is that we are in a deadly race between politics and technology. The future will be much better or much worse, but the question of the future remains very open indeed. We do not know exactly how close this race is, but I suspect that it may be very close, even down to the wire. Unlike the world of politics, in the world of technology the choices of individuals may still be paramount. The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism".
Peter Thiel
from The Seasteading Institute Annual Report 2008