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    Kodwo Eshun: Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture

    written on February 7th, 2018

    In the wake of Mark Fisher’s death, I’ve found Kodwo’s recent work on interpretive communities incredibly compelling. Not least as a means to understand what it is about Mark’s work – his way of working – that draws me (and so many others) into these “wars of interpretation whose aim is to intervene in culture.” I’ll soon write more snippets on Eshun’s interpretive communities, but for now I wanted to share his list of “aesthetico-political positions” from the memorial lecture.

    Those of us who are unable to reconcile ourselves to our existence. Those of us whose dissatisfaction and disaffection, whose discontent and whose anger and whose despair overwhelms them and exceeds them. And who finds themselves seeking means and methods for nominating themselves, for electing themselves, to become parts of movements and scenes that exist somewhere between seminars and subcultures, study groups and HangOuts. Reading groups drawn together by the impulse to fashion a vocabulary. By a target. By a yearning. By an imperative to consent not to be a single being…

    The cybergoths, that move through the calendrical systems of templexity.

    The cyber-feminists, that situate themselves in the time-streams of patriarchy.

    The afro-futurists, that hack the systems of chronopower and chronography.

    The speculative realists, that dismantle the barriers to the great outside

    The hauntologists, that diagnose the slow cancellation of the future in order to dismantle its enforced depression.

    The eliminitivists, that dismantle the coordinates for experience.

    The accelerationists, that aspire to decode flows.

    The left accelerationists, that seek to build the stack whose platform logics generate our entrenchment.

    The right accelerationists, that summon the basilisk.

    The unconditional accelerationists, that seek to decouple themselves from the left and from the right.

    The students of black study, who argue that “being black is a thing that you can only do with others.” I don’t know that it’s possible to be black by oneself. Insofar as being black, or black being, is a necessarily irreducibly social thing that is general, and that is ongoing.

    The AltWoke, that write; “Our amorality is not a bankruptcy of ethics, so much as it is an emotional discipline in response to global existential threats. A learnt stoicism and pragmaticism is crucial to #altwoke.”

    The mundane afro-futurists, that claim; “We. are. not. aliens.”

    The neo-reactionists, engaged in promoting highly advanced drastic regression.

    The xenofeminists, that announce that “xenofeminism indexes the desire to construct an alien future with a triumphant X and a mobile map. This X does not mark destination – it is the insertion of a topological keyframe for the formation of a new logic.”

    The black feminist poeticists, that know that “studying blackness announces the end of the world as we know it.”

    The prometheans, that “consider revolution not as a passionate attachment to some flash of negation, but is a process of undoing the abstract social forms that constrain and humiliate human capacities, along with political agencies that enforce those constraints and those humiliations.”

    The forensic architects, that “invert the direction of the forensic gaze.” That “seeks to designate a field of action in which individuals and independent organisations can confront abuses of power by states and corporations in situations that have a bearing upon political struggle, violent conflict and climate change.”

    The inhumanists, that argue that “the universal wave that erases the self-portrait of man drawn in sand.” That inhumanism is a vector of revision that relentlessly revises what it means to be human by removing its supposedly self-evident characteristics, while preserving certain invariances.

    The afro-futurists 2.0, that assert the social physics of blackness.

    The afro-pessimists, that assert that “the slave cause is the cause of another world in and on the ruins of this one, in the end of its ends.”

    The black quantum futurists, that “work on the temporal dynamics of retro-currencies. Of backwards-happenings – an event whose influence or effect is not discrete and time-bound but extends in all possible directions and encompasses all possible time-modes.

    The black accelerationists, that argue that “binding blackness and accelerationism to one another proposes that accelerationism always already exists in the territory of blackness, whether it knows it or not – and conversely, that blackness is always already accelerationist.”

    The gulf-futurists, that emerge from “the isolation of individuals via technology and wealth and reactionary Islam. The corrosive elements of consumerism on the soul and industry on the earth, the erasure of history from our memories and our surroundings, and finally our dizzying collective arrival in a future that no one was ready for.”

    The sinofuturists, that argue that “sinofuturism is an invisible movement – a spectre already embedded into a trillion industrial products – a billion individuals.”

    Each of these neologisms are actually forms of life. Each of them is the names of, and for, aesthetico-political positions that operate by disagreements and differentiations – that make claims that must be argued. Each of these is not so much a term as a war of, and over, interpretation. A stance that aims to intervene in cultural politics, that fashions itself to articulate a discontent – to focus despair and depression into theories that live. Theories to live by. Theories that are embodied. Theories that live in us and through us. And with us. And on us.


    To put it another way; Mark Fisher was a midwife…

    || filed under: Uncategorised

    CFP: Tuning Speculation V: Vibratory (Ex)changes

    written on June 24th, 2017

    Note: deadline extended to the 1st of August

    17-19 November 2017, Toronto (Canada)

    Organized by The Occulture

    (David Cecchetto, Marc Couroux, Ted Hiebert, Eldritch Priest and Rebekah Sheldon)

    If the din of sonic and vibrational ontologies has catalyzed a salutary expansion of the vectors through which the world is (never) made sensible, it has also risked speaking, echoing, and amplifying the disquieting murmurs and groans of contemporary neoliberal biopolitics such that sounds of the latter are, paradoxically, inaudible as such. If this is the case, then what is the relationship between a vibro-capitalism that is heard in and as contemporary politics and a vibrocapitalist impulse that drives and ratifies the reality of those same elements? Put differently, on what does vibration exchange?

    Maybe it’s time to forget the future, which was always a hallucinatory mnemotechnical destiny anyways; instead, the tuning is now and it brings with it questions that can only be (un)heard at scales that never quite sound. We therefore seek contributions from scholars, artists, writers, activists and comedians who take seriously the ethical, political, or phenomenal capacities —possibly impossible, and likely unlikely—that are opened, foreclosed, amplified, attenuated, dampened, resonated, remixed, or otherwise called forth at the nexus of vibration and exchange, however broadly conceived. While several approaches can catalyze our speculations, we propose to concentrate on sounding art—broadly understood—in order to leverage the fated semiotic parasitism, differential production, relational expression, and perceived multiplicity that informs such practices. We also welcome various reflections on sono­distractions, phonochaosmosis, ’patasonics, harmelodic­prescience, audio pragmètics, chronoportation, h/Hypermusic, rhetorical modes of speculation and other invocations of impossible, imaginary, and/or unintelligible aural (dis)encounters.

    Please send an abstract (maximum 250 words) to torn@asounder.org by 1 August 2017.  In addition, given that we will be making multiple funding applications to support travel for all presenters, please include the following with your abstract: short bio (150 words), your affiliation, and a summary of academic degrees. Notification of acceptance will be given in early August.

    Tuning Speculation V is generously supported by York University through the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and the Department of Humanities.

    || filed under: Academia, CFP, Conferences

    Jean-Luc Nancy – On Listening

    written on January 17th, 2017

    This second semester of the first year of my PhD starts with a course related to my research; Improvisation and the Poetics of Listening. Although listening is central to my interests, improvisation studies is still new to me.

    During last year’s Sound & Sensory Studies colloquia we discussed most of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Listening. I must admit that a lot has happened in the past year, and I already remember it as a lot more lyrical than the excerpt from “On Listening” we read for the second Improvisation seminar last week.

    Venus and Music

    The main points that came up were questions around Nancy’s use of “self” rather than “subject.” My own immediate thoughts might become clearer by the end, but suffice it to say that I think it is tied to Nancy’s insistence on the non-human (or non-(subject-in-the-usual-sense-of-a-clearcut-individual)). Simply calling the resonant body a subject would only confuse, since he is not just talking about the human reception of sound, but sound, listening and resonance as such…

    Sonority and Sense

    Nancy also invokes a McLuhan-esque distinction between medium and massage – or in this case, between sonority and meaning. Sound and voice. In a questionable turn, he calls the listening to sonority – to the sound apart from any meaning – true listening. I almost always find these hierarchical modes of true, pure or concentrated listening problematic. To me, different forms of listening seems more like a state of flux – always intersecting with one another.

    In “On Listening,” Nancy becomes interesting in his suggestion that listening could somehow be sonorous. Could listening have a timbre of its own? Of course, there is the oto-acoustics of our inner ear, but is there perhaps a way that listening itself creates sound?

    Listening is always caught in the tension between the acknowledgement of sound as such and the straining towards its meaning. Both of these modes disappear the other – one cannot exist without the occlusion of the other. Listening strains towards a sense beyond sound, yet listening also imparts sense on us where meaning becomes sound through our listening to it (as is often the case in music).

    Feeling oneself-feel

    Sounds are spread in space, vibrating through one thing before it hits the next, resounding or resonance or echo as a referral back to itself. In this way, sensing is always perception of perception itself. In almost Derridean prose, Nancy shows that sensing is a feeling oneself-feel. This is where Nancy invokes the self rather than the subject. It does not matter for Nancy who or what is doing the sensing. The act of sensing is itself a subject (or rather, a self). Therefore, sound and meaning create a self through resonance’s self-referentiality.

    The space of sound is omnidirectional and flowing through objects. To listen is to be penetrated yet surrounded – both from oneself and towards oneself. We are thus always in the midst of sound – both receiving and transmitting sound through our resonant bodies. In Douglas Kahn’s words, we are transducers of sound.

    Nancy’s ontology of sound is a strange one, where sound itself is seemingly given agency through its self-ness. According to Nancy, sound is not in a fixed presence or being, but always in motion, which makes it a place-of-its-own-self as relation to itself. Sound is a self that creates a place for itself through its resonance. The sonorous place is not a place where the subject comes to make itself heard. It is a place that becomes a subject because sound resounds (resonates) here.

    I (perhaps wrongly) assume that Nancy is here talking about a making-a-place-for-oneself through listening. Yet I prefer to read it as an account of the agency of sound. A Bryantine sound-oriented ontology or Bennettian vibrant sono-materialism, where sounds themselves acquire agency through their resounding of their environment. Could resonance be the appearance of sound?


    Once I’ve read what Brian Kane has to say about Nancy’s Listening, I will be back with more on this…

    || filed under: Sonic Materialism, Sound Studies

    an ongoing account

    written on September 11th, 2016

    This week marks the start of term at University of British Columbia and the beginning of my PhD in their Art History, Visual Art & Theory department. Unlike most PhD programs I know from Scandinavia and Northern Europe, the first two semesters are filled with coursework. This has positive and negative aspects, but overall I’m just honoured that my proposal got me here in the first place…

    The courses will allow me yet another year of exploring parts of academia that I wouldn’t otherwise have had time for. On the other hand, it seems odd to spend a year with courses on Fashion (through the lens of German media theory), Methodologies of Art History, Japanese Art and possibly a course on speculative realism, when I just spent the better part of a year witing PhD proposals, going to conferences and participating in reading groups so entrenched in the tradition of Sound Studies.


    I read this piece by AE Robbert on his blog Knowledge Ecology a few days ago, and I seem to have been in a bit of the same head space myself. Relocating myself geographically and institutionally with all the paperwork, reorientation and cognitive reconfiguration that entails. What seems to my situation as a fitting quote from the entry:

    The thing about blogging—both positive and negative—is that it puts on offer a continuous stream of output, an ongoing account of one’s thinking and development. This has the double effect of providing greater context for one’s writing but also makes it difficult, at least psychologically for me, to separate oneself from earlier work in the way that writing books or articles naturally provides. The Internet tends toward a pathological amount of continuity and interconnectivity that I think many of us writing in this medium would be wise to rail against. In any case, enjoy the PhD ruminations.

    Although I won’t go into the particulars of my dissertation chapters just yet, I hope that I can use this space to write about my research and as a catalog of various notes throughout the process..


    Now enough of this meta-posting.


    || filed under: meta

    Hildegard Westerkamp on Background Music

    written on April 23rd, 2016


    Yesterday, Hildegard Westerkamp shared this story on the Acoustic Ecology listserv, and I thought it might be worth sharing with a larger audience. Although I might not share Westerkamp’s views on the nature of listening (“But does anyone actually listen to the music  – or to the intent behind the music, for that matter?”), her letter is a poignant critique of muzak’s insidious power of anesthetization and distraction.

    Without further ado…


    Dear Colleagues and Friends,

    Today is Earth Day, a perfect day to share with you a letter I just wrote to the PlayNetwork after they approached me to use one of my compositions for background music purposes! Imagine Gently Penetrating beneath the sounding surfaces of another place  – that’s the piece they requested as a starter – at Starbucks!

    Here is the letter (The irony was just too enormous for me not to respond in this fashion!):

    It seems rather strange and ironic that I would be approached to add my music to the libraries of the background music market. My  compositions do not lend themselves at all to be heard as background music, and I will certainly not make it available. Thank you for the offer, but it goes absolutely against everything that I am trying to do as a composer.

    Background music insidiously distracts people from the real social, environmental and cultural issues in this world. The Muzak Corporation and all other leased music companies have been rather successful in creating obedient consumers (and workers) for decades now, who essentially and with deaf ears provide the huge profits that are being made through the creation of background music atmospheres. How is it, that millions of so-called listeners (or ‘impressions’, as you call them in your email below!) have been convinced that they cannot live without music during every day of their lives. But does anyone actually listen to the music  – or to the intent behind the music, for that matter? No, of course not. It has been the corporate intent all along, to create audiences who do not listen, who swallow any musical sound presented to them and thus enable the profit-making of the background music industry.

    In a world in which environmental and social issues are emerging everywhere, alert ears and minds are needed to notice and counteract these grave conditions. The ongoing efforts by the background music industry to ‘soothe’ its audiences into false comfort and numb ears and minds into a kind of haze of inattention, are outright irresponsible and rather sinister under these urgent circumstances in which our world currently finds itself.

    In your email below you say please consider the environment before printing this email. Equally, please consider the acoustic environment and the ears and mental sanity of your listeners, before continuing to devalue the real quality of music and the world’s acoustic environments. In that spirit, I will not contribute my music to PlayNetwork, and thus will not become part of a “brand that moves consumers” as it says so poignantly on your website. I also have not printed your email.

    I am pretty convinced that no one at PlayNetwork has actually listened to my music, and that this request does not come from an informed listener, but rather from the corporate context of collecting as many ‘tunes’ or ‘songs’ as possible for the purpose of making profit.

    With best regards,
    Hildegard Westerkamp


    || filed under: Academia, Music, Sound