Talk on Odd Future and the Politics of Vibration, SVA, NYC, Sept. 27

I’ll be giving a talk at the School for Visual Arts in Manhattan on Sept. 27th at 7 p.m. The talk will go into some of my recent work on vibrational ontology and what I call the politics of vibration, through an examination of some recent music videos, mostly by members of LA hiphop crew Odd Future.  Almost certainly including this one:

Mostly, we don’t think of music as a particular type or culture of vibration. I argue that hiphop, being a profound meditation on and mobilization of sound, is keenly aware of the dangers of pleasures of vibration, and that in different ways, artists like Azealia Banks, Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt are making decisions about what a human relation to vibration could be. If you’re in the city, come down and listen ….

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Fire On The Water at Sunnyside, Toronto, August 26th!

So I’m doing a second TheWaves event with my wife/partner Christie Pearson.  The first one was an amazing all night party/installation/event called Night Swim at the Trinity-Bellwoods public pool in Toronto, featuring folks like FM3, Sandro Perri, Windy and Carl and many others.  The second will be an all day party/installation/event at the Sunnyside bathing pavilion on the lakeshore in Toronto on Sunday August 26th.  There’s a website for the event here and an FB event page here.

What is it? TheWaves is about making events/happenings/installations which somehow connect my interest in new/experimental music scenes and Christie’s interests in bathing culture and installation art.  We transform specific spaces so that new kinds of sociality, play, relationships to sound and water can evolve. Part of the fun of it is that we don’t exactly know what will happen.  The events are experimental but populist: anyone can come, and anyone might enjoy it, whatever age or background they’re from.  Basically we think sound and water are fundamental aspects of human life, experience, environment, and we’re interested in celebrating that, and intensifying our relationships to those elements.

If you’ve been to any of the MAMA parties in downtown Toronto, you know that I’m interested in new global bass music.  Fire On The Water has given me an opportunity to invite some of the masters that we learnt about global bass from to play in Toronto.  What is global bass?  It’s electronic dance music emerging in different parts of the world right now. Usually with roots simultaneously in Afrodiasporic dance musics (reggae, funk, house, hiphop, techno) and local traditions (Colombian cumbia, various West African styles).  You can’t necessarily tell where anything is from.  But that’s part of the point.  It’s part of a global conversation in which more and more intense musics evolve. It’s heavy and it’s alive. As philosopher Cornell West put it to one of the MAMAs: “William James is smiling on you when you throw a party!”

Everyone puts it together differently: Venus X’s vicious chopped and screwed style is different from DJ/Rupture’s elegant connections, or Poirier’s soca/dancehall/hiphop rave ups, or Maga Bo’s intense percussion storms.  Myself (I’m probably not going to play tho my MAMA brothers and sisters will be opening the event and perhaps closing it down too), I’m listening to Angolan house, Venezuelan “raptor house”, Traxman and other Footwork stuff from Chicago … if I did play it might sound like this recent mix by our friend DJ Zhao.

Anyway, Sunnyside Pavilion is a gorgeous semi-public space. It was originally imagined and used as a utopian public space by crowds of people in the early part of the twentieth century.  We want to evoke that old dream and imagine it as a new kind of utopian space for the twenty-first C.  It has a lovely upstairs open air dancehall that looks out onto the lake, it’s right on the beach, there’s a huge pool next door, two mysterious pavilions at either end that will have highly psychedelic installations in them. It’s all ages.  It’s free.  It’s a party.  It’s a love letter to the lake.  You should come down …

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On Brian Massumi’s Semblance and Event

I have a longish review of Brian Massumi’s recent book, Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts, in the new issue of Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy.  You can download a copy of the entire journal here.

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Low End Theories

 The latest issue of The Wire has an excellent section on bass in contemporary music and theory, which includes two pieces from me, one on UK soundsystem Aba-Shanti and their heavy vibrations, the other on the deepest bass sound in the universe, emitted from a black hole.  I also suggested a piece on the humming sounds of Putumayo shamanism, as described by my friend and teacher Michael Taussig, and the following piece about plumbing sonic mental depths, as described by another teacher of mine, Sri Karunamayee:

“In an interview conducted in Delhi in 2001, the Indian singer and philosopher Karunamayee, a long term student of Hindustani raga singer Pandit Pran Nath, teacher of La Monte Young, Terry Riley and many others, explained to me how she first learnt to sing: “At the age of six, good teachers were coming and teaching my brother and sister.  But I was very small and it was not considered necessary for me.  But I had a gift.  Whenever I heard some music it just became ingrained in me.  My consciousness of silence kept my slate very clean.  Most of the time I enjoyed the silence, even when everyone was talking, I felt a kind of echo of the silence, as if I was in a tunnel, untouched by any of it.   Whatever I heard was imprinted, and I found myself singing in that way.  Nobody cared.  I would just put my head down and start going sa-re-ga-ma.  Sometimes I would hear my sound very clearly.  I would think: it may be that my sound is not heard, but I can think of music!  And holding that thread, not of the sound that I’m making, but of the concept of sound, with that I would go up the scales for many octaves.  And then I would say, alright, let me come down, keeping the thread, and I would find my voice becoming audible, very clear, and then deep, and then less clear, more unheard, but I could go deep also.  This was my favorite exercise.  I would go higher and higher like the birds at noontime in the sky.  Then I would imagine that somebody is taking water out of a well. You can go as deep as you want.  There is no limit on either side, up or down.  So I experienced infinity in height and depth through sound and silence. It gives you control over your mind. A thread of sound. “

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Sound Workshop at Cornell, Friday April 20th!

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2011 Annual Report on Drugs and Creativity

Jeremy Shaw, Unseen Potentials (2011).

Creative Capital/The Warhol Foundation just posted the audio of my keynote talk at the their Arts Writers convening in Philadelphia last August.  They asked me to speak about drugs and creativity, and this gave me an opportunity to revisit the work I’d done on drugs and the arts in my book The Roads of Excess: A History of Writers and Drugs in the early 2000s.

As you can hear on the audio recording, mostly my argument was that the heroic age of literary and artistic experimentation with drugs is over, even if many of the questions provoked by the existence of psychoactive substances remain unanswered.  You can see it in Vancouver based artist Jeremy Shaw’s fascinating installation piece, DMT from 2004, where the gap between the noumenal quality of the experience and the banality of the images of those perhaps under the influence or their narratives is a vast one.  Whatever the quality of the experience, it is basically unrepresentable, and thus beyond the sphere of art.  Contrast this if you like with someone like Henri Michaux’s attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to write and draw under the influence of mescaline.

In place of this kind of art, the most interesting drug cultural artefacts have been TV shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire and Weeds.  But there’s little attempt to represent drug experiences in those shows, and all the excitement and drama comes from the fact that drugs are an economic and legal proposition.  It’s almost as though people now get high on business or the law, the way they used to on drugs.  I find that an amazing and troubling proposition.  In the talk, I looked at some of Ryan Trecartin’s recent video pieces, which are strikingly psychedelic, but whose psychedelia mimics and amplifies the self-distorting fx of corporate training videos and reality TV, and is without reference to drugs.

Talk of drugs and economy brought me back to research I’m currently doing on William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s collage manual, The Third Mind, and Burroughs’ still unassimilated argument that the broader lesson of drug addiction is that we almost always build our reality pictures based on what he calls “the algebra of need”.  And that need can be and is manufactured — this corresponding to what Zizek and others today call ideology.

For me this opens up an interesting way of thinking about the contemporary impasse of the arts, whether writing or visual arts or for that matter music.  If the presentation of reality itself happens mostly through the manufacture and manipulation of need, what can art be, other than one more form of participation in the manufacture of our need for certain kinds of reality picture?  Is it a question of distinguishing between false needs and real ones? Or do “real needs” become the primary site of ideological capture … i.e. the thing that you submit to believing.  Conversely, would an art that refused any discourse of need have any meaning or function whatsoever? Do we need to have needs, even beyond the biological imperatives that seem so fundamental?  David Levi-Strauss asked me: why “need” and not “desire”?  It was a really good question … maybe this is a very 2012 answer but it seems very difficult to think about desire today without also thinking about what limits or structures desire.  It unsettles me to think about need and I think that’s a good thing.

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Postcolonial Piracy Conference, Berlin, Dec. 2 – 4, 2011

I’ll be giving a paper at a very interesting looking conference on postcolonial piracy, hosted by the University of Potsdam in Berlin, this coming weekend.  My paper is on depropriation, and looks at a variety of examples of depropriation including ayahuasca shamanism in Colombia, mp3 piracy in the Sahel and the Occupy movements.  The conference is connected to the Worldtronics music festival, which will focus on Ghana and Colombia, and we are promised hiplife concerts curated by Awesome Tapes from Africa’s Brian Shimkovitz. Sounds great.

I imagine that there will be plenty of discussion of the fascinating new book/report Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, definitely the most in depth look at this topic that I’ve seen.  You can download a copy here.  The report makes the sensible observation that most of what is called piracy in emerging countries has to do with prohibitively high pricing of media by corporate producers, in a situation where there are cheap and available technologies for the production of copies of media items.  Aggressive law enforcement, according to the report, has little effect on the black/gray market economies that flourish in this void.  Appropriately low pricing does however allow for possible integration of such markets.

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