During the decade between 2001 and 2011, the Basque-born artist Mattin (currently based in Stockholm) developed a kind of genuine and binary approach to the forms of improvisation, noise, and accelerationist punk in a variety of projects and collaborations. Examples vary from the truly radical exercise of reductionist music in collaboration with Radu Malfatti and Taku Unami to the conceptual depravity of rock’n´roll and punk in projects like Billy Bao and Josetxo Grieta. In the last three years, however, his work has approached the ideas expressed in the above quotation even more explicitly.
Alienation plays a core role in all of his oeuvre. Many of the criticisms of his work revolve around the issue of how to deal with this specific form of exacerbated conceptualism, which can generate complicated situations that link musical practice to issues such as authorship, the roles we play as agents in a given context, and other questions about the true nature of improvisation. These issues are often considered extra-musical or out of place. They are frequently challenged concerning their necessity within the sphere of sound production, which continues to be nothing but music.
Given that in the last three years Mattin’s work has exploded in increasingly non-musical ways, I consider this text important to shed light on his process, which can be extrapolated to other artists and to the state of improvisation itself. I face the task of addressing a number of issues essential to understanding not only Mattin‘s work but all experimental music.
This conversation took place around our last performance in Porto within the context of Evacuation of the Voice at the Serralves Museum. It was a wonderful opportunity to share and discuss these issues. The project consists of a set of ten performances – five this visit, and another five to come after the summer. During each of the ten one-hour sessions, we are seeking to evacuate our voice from a specific viewpoint: improvisation and thought will be linked together in order to investigate not only how our voice is produced, but also how we are produced by it. We examine ourselves in order to try to understand how are we determined biologically, psychologically, and culturally. We live under the conditions of real subsumption that prevail in contemporary capitalism which demand from us different forms of hypersubjectivation, hence our investigation of performatively evacuating the voice from our body. After the sessions we will share this process through publication of recordings and texts, exploring further the aftermath of this evacuation.
In your work, especially after 2007, we can see an increasing tendency to use alienation both in your conceptual records and in your live interventions. In the first concerts and performances that I saw from you (around 2007) I perceived this as an exercise of your power as an artist. That exercise raised many questions, some of which I thought were problematic. I think this was because I was unaware of the potential of alienation as a tool. Your concerts uncovered my insecurities as a performer and my failure to take things to the ultimate consequences. I realised that we avoid addressing the limits of our actions. I noticed this through your performances and our conversations, and it has become fundamental to my own modus operandi: Try, despite its difficulty, to deal with a thing to the depths of its context.
“The dialectic of alienation culminates in the realization that there is no home to be exiled from, no self from which to be estranged. This is precisely the realization that separates the thinking subject from the experiencing self. Alienation as maximal estrangement is the splitting of the subject from the self, but this split can be embraced as an enabling condition for thought and practice.¨
Ever since I discovered experimental music what interested me most was its capacity to frustrate value judgments, to make strange that which we take for granted in music and in the concert situation (which contains many extra-musical elements). What also attracted me about improvisation was the ability to improvise without any prior knowledge of how to play an instrument or of music theory. I thought that improvisation offered a radical de-hierarchisation and a freedom that other artistic practices did not offer. Nevertheless I increasingly began to find the way that freedom is understood in improvisation problematic. Historically, improvisation has always been connected to the freedom of the individual, even if it is often practiced in collective ways. The improviser is free to determine when she or he expresses herself or himself, and it is understood that that moment is precisely the moment of improvisation. This inevitably emphasizes the self and presupposes a type of freedom that is very questionable. In fact we could say that this type of freedom is totally linked to the development of capitalism which is able to capture more and more aspects of our lives in the process of valorization (from our consciousness to our social relations). Meanwhile we are increasingly fragmented and it becomes very difficult to maintain long-lasting collective processes.
When I started playing solo concerts in London with a laptop, I was doing short sets of harsh noise. I thought that in a certain way I was reflecting on alienation in the sense of being surrounded by something that we don’t fully understand – life under contemporary capitalism or in concert blocks of noise. In my mind my performance produced an atomization of perception and a certain loneliness that has to do with commodification. I thought of noise as exploring the negative side of cultural production.
When I started to improvise I was interested in the question of freedom, but as I said before it seemed to mean mostly the freedom of the individual. I tried to question this freedom by calling into question the origin of the unexpected in improvisation. In my later concerts what I was producing was no longer important -what was important instead was what was happening in the concert situation, the reception, and the possible responses from the audience. Instead of improvising with an instrument it was a matter of taking the whole concert situation as a place for collective improvisation, understanding that we all had different things at stake. Our roles were no longer fully determined: I could become the audience, and they could become the performers. My intention was not to open the situation completely and give participatory illusions, but instead, to never clearly stabilize our respective positions as audience and performer. Getting to know Ray and his philosophy has helped me to see the potential of alienation in theoretical terms. This is something that my PhD deals with. To oversimplify: how can we objectify ourselves in order to know how we are produced as subjects in capitalism? This inevitably requires a process of self-alienation, to divide the subject from the self, which calls for a theory of the subject that cuts through the way we understand the subject today as bring very closely related to the individual exercising his/her very limited sovereignty through actions such as voting, working, shopping, face-booking, and writing in internet forums.
In this regard Ray is starting to develop a very interesting concept of subjectivity, which I find very appealing in regards to improvisation. We collaborated on a project for episode 5 of the Arika Festival last year wherein we tried to deal with these issues and following a text that Ray wrote for the performance. Confront will release a recording of the the concert.
Getting back to the notion of alienation, it is not a matter of forgetting the way it has been understood in Marxist terms or of accepting the way capitalism expropriates what we produce while it objectifies our labor (and increasingly our existence) under the logic of the value-form.
Instead, if we question the way the subject is understood today in its relation to the self, we are also questioning property (which requires a self or group of selves to exist). If there were no self, there could be no property.
I follow Ray here in giving reason the potential to help us to understand how we are implicated in the process of financialization and how, through understanding the fallacy of the self, we might be able develop the necessary mechanisms to destroy this process and generate a more realistic type of freedom.
I am interested in trying to explore these ideas of freedom in the context of improvisation precisely because they are closely related. Improvisation is part of a market, and there are prominent figures in that market despite the close ties to the investigation of freedom. It is also intrinsically connected to the relationship between the individual and the collective, and it constantly deals with the notion of agency in the way that we try to denaturalize the material that we are working with. These connections have led me to use my thoughts and myself as material for improvisation. Unfortunately this often backfires and produces a caricature of my intentions by reinforcing a singular approach to improvisation, which not so many people might share or be interested in. Nevertheless, for me it is worth the risk if there is a chance of revealing or denaturalizing the ongoing processes of subjectivation that are happening within the context of experimental music and, more specifically, improvisation.
Is that one reason you love improvisation so much, because it requires a high level of individual thought, either as a soloist or in a group environment?
In fact the problem is the notion of individual thought. My political and musical interests intersect precisely at the point of questioning the notion of the individual. I first started having strong anarchist inclinations, but increasingly it was the notion of the individual that I found questionable. Questionable not only at the conceptual level (which post-structuralism has already questioned so much), but also at the neuro-scientific level. Thomas Metzinger, in his well-known book Being No One, describes how no one has ever had or been a self. He says that selves are not part of reality but an ongoing process– the content of what he calls ¨the transparent self-model.” “I” is not an individual object but a phenomenon that appears in conscious experience. On the other hand our ability to perceive ourselves thinking is linguistically mediated, and language is a social activity, so the idea of the possibility of “individual thought” inevitably becomes a fallacy. For me this becomes important in order to dismantle the notion of the author and the creative individual. After these findings my political inclinations shifted from anarchism to communism.
I also experienced some problems regarding the individual in the context of noise and improvisation. In noise and improvisation there is a very informal understanding of freedom that promotes our ability to express our freedom individually out of the blue in either solo or collective situations. It is as if we are able to understand how we are determined both culturally and biologically and in an instant do something that would undermine those determinations. This type of freedom that improvisation implies seems no longer credible, so it is not strange that neither noise nor improvisation make strong political claims today.
When I started improvising I was surprised that one could neither be extremely individualistic (like in noise), nor take collective decisions such as everyone submitting to a rule. Everyone had to be an individual and have their own voice with their own instrument but at the same time always follow an informal sense of consensus that was rarely talked about. I am sure that others have felt the way fellow improvisers look at you strangely if you do something truly unexpected. It is as if there is something that needs to be saved and preserved: “We have been able to generate our little niche of freedom and do not come here to question it.” I would rather see improvisation as an exploration of our unfreedom.
I often wonder about the necessity of using music as a medium for the expression of these ideasand conceptual constructions within which you work, which are often more “important” than the production of sounds in itself. Do you really think this activity must be locked into music?
As I said before I think both improvisation and noise are contexts in which you can explore issues within the field of music but which also have direct relationships with what happens outside of music. They are also practices that can be understood in very open ways. By considering Cage we can stop worrying about whether or not we are producing sounds, and then why not invite Marx to investigate social relations that are occurring and under what interests. Precisely because I think improvisation is in crisis, it is necessary to try to understand why this crisis has evolved, and I am convinced that this cannot be explained only through musical and formal criteria.
I understand what you mean with Cage, but I remember the interest you showed me a few months ago in the music of composer Galina Ustvolskaya. She had strictly classical training, and until the fall of the Iron Curtain, only her propaganda pieces were exposed to the public, much to the detriment of her unsanctioned music. In her work there is an explicit concern with formal criteria; indeed part of their potency resides in her way of paying attention to “how” to produce sounds. I would like you to explain where you think there is radical potential in Ustvolskaya’s music.
This is interesting in regards to the criticism of the individual because here you have a composer with a very unique vision. There is a documentary that focuses on her Symphony No. 2, which is probably her most radical work. There you see, with an almost mystical touch, how it leads you to a very strong psychological ground. The documentary shows that the symphony has brutal contrast, with a strong existential crisis. You can also see in the documentary that Galina is a very special person. Someone said, in relation to this piece and to the work of Galina Ustvolskaya in general, that it represents, or that you could feel through her music, the catastrophe of the 20th Century in Russia, Europe, and the world. There were some very strong events that had their dark sides. What interests me about her work is how she made music in a very personal way at the moment when these major events were happening. The force of her music comes from a very special personality, but also from very special circumstances. That is why she generated a music that embodied the catastrophe of the 20th century and the ensuing dystopia, despair, and clarity. This might be a little digression, but I had similar feelings when my father was dying, and when I saw Zbigniew Karkowski when he had only a few days left to live. There is an extreme clarity where there is no time for bullshit. They spoke to me in the most honest way possible. In Ustvolskaya’s music, I perceive that despite the fact that her music can be romantic there is a need to generate with an extreme music which helps to understand the twentieth century in a non-romantic way and with a minimum of nonsense. The documentary ends with someone asking her, “your music is very very sad, as your life right?” and she responds “Yes.”
It’s hard to find that embodiment or visceral component from other interpreters or composers. What comes to my mind is Keiji Haino. Do you think that his persona may be more a result of construction of self-awareness of his mystical figure, cultural background, and taste, and less responsive to the lives and conditions of history? …
Here I do not want to fall into a fetishization of honesty, or immediacy or “she is purer than other people” … But yes, there is obviously a relationship between Ustvolskaya’s life in difficult conditions and her very strong determination for generating very powerful music. For Keiji Haino it is obviously related to rock and its performativity, which entails the creation of a persona on stage. Lou Reed is the best example of a rock persona, which he borrowed from Andy Warhol. With Keiji Haino of course it does not work perfectly, it is already very difficult to really identify Keiji Haino. A myth has been created around him, and I think that he also plays with that. In fact I think he’s interested in more expressive theaters or in performative modes. There is a very clear difference. Ustvolskaya focused on music and herself as a person. I do not think she cared how she was seen, for example, in the context of a concert. How is Keiji Haino’s music understood from a Western perspective? I believe he is very well aware that there’s a game that attracts from the outside. I see the impact that these contexts can have are different. And as I understand more, I find it difficult to believe the whole of Keiji Haino’s constructed character.
I agree completely with this. That attraction that is generated from the outside due to their respective personae is very significant in other examples such as Jandek, Ike Zinnerman, or the recent records of Scott Walker. I think it’s the appeal of the myth, the legend…
In your opinion, is there a method through which personal development with an instrument leads to a freedom that is not merely fallacious and individual? Through perhaps trespass, sabotage, or perversion? I exclude here for the moment the case of Keith Rowe and his decision to place the guitar on the table.
We must bear in mind that I assume that most of the music made by and for the music industry might be generated electronically by computers. Yes, the instrument remains, but I find it more complex than that. If we discuss improvisation, to me it was very influential to see how the Japanese improvisers invented their own instruments, or at least referred to them differently. It was like trying to create subjectivity with the instrument without falling victim to the existing software, which forces you to work in a certain way. Whether that act has a subversive potential or not depends on the intention behind the situation in which it occurs. With regard to improvisation, I am interested in issues that have to do with freedom, with the individual and the collective, and with the relationships we have with material conditions. These issues are very difficult to treat with just one instrument because the instrument leads you to think about the material conditions of the instrument, its sound, and what you can do with it.
I continue to have a deep admiration for Pierre Schaeffer with his “Phonogène,” who helped in the development of very interesting forms of concrete poetry and for the already mentioned Keith Rowe with his tabletop guitar.
I find it really hard to think that you can address all of these issues that I have mentioned because the instrument itself will reinforce an individual subjectivity, especially in improvisation where musicians have such an idiosyncratic way of playing their instruments.
Subsumed under the categories imposed by the instrument?
Exactly! Activities such as skill development, subversion of the instrument, spending time with the instrument, learning its history, undoing that history, all effect how you see yourself. I think that the individualistic subjectivity generated that can lead to interesting things, but can make it much more difficult to address the issues that I am interested in addressing through improvisation. How can the instrument be subverted; how has it been used historically? There’s the case of Derek Bailey, which I find very powerful! Derek Bailey is an exceptional case because he creates a lifestyle, social relations, and a conglomeration of everything that might relate to the issues we have discussed. But I think there are ways to address these issues more directly, and that is perhaps what interests me. What I would find very appealing would be improvisers finding idiosyncratic ways of dealing with collective subjectivity.
Maybe the case of someone like Derek Bailey, someone who develops such a specific technique, is very subjective. The possibility of alienating power to assist us in thinking about the conditions of freedom within this music is very limited in the sense that it marks its own borders. When one continues self-defining through technique, this positive potential of alienation is diminished and works only in one direction.
Here it is interesting to return to the example of Keiji Haino. In rock I think there is an awareness of the individual production of subjectivity, you know, the rock star. That is mediated and has to do with the show, which has to do with desires and the production of desires. In improvisation, the effort of trying to be as transparent as possible has resulted in an effort to be the opposite of this rock persona: unspectacular. But at the same time, similar personae have developed the performers might be unaware of. You can‘t avoid being part of this. Even with albums, some records are released as commodities, which mystify their content. Festivals and promoters work with that. I believe in rock there is at least more awareness and playfulness. People use sophisticated strategies to deal with the production of subjectivity. Individualism, but from performativity and adopting a persona, is something that rarely happens in improvisation. This might also have to do with an emphasis on believing that improvisation is only the music that matters.
Maybe your adoption of this posture could explain some of the criticism you received from IHM (or from other circles) expressing disapproval of your performances. You play with your self-aware production of subjectivity. These people might think that your work with Radu is OK, because the limit is in the music. But when you play with the themes of the roles we play, the self-consciousness of a person, etc … They are not interested or they think it’s a joke.
I can only talk about the British context when I started in London. I came from the workshop of Eddie Prévost. I see that workshop has been settling on the philosophy of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. And I see that it has served them well improvising like that, and it has developed ways of creating that work for them, which I think are very Anglo-Saxon. There is something like, “Well, we’re doing it, and there is no need to talk much about it,” but there you can see that they have developed codes and habits that are rarely discussed, habits that are understood informally and are followed. It reminds us perhaps that the UK has no constitution. Between us we can do it, we’re adapting and molding, and we will tailor according to our circumstances. I do not mean that a constitution is something to be unquestionably praised (certainly not the Spanish one!), but given the strong class system of the UK, the opposite approach is also unappealing. Getting back to the workshop, the rules and their limitations were rarely discussed. Your potential is experienced only to an extent; no one questions how these limits arise or wonders what constraints produce them. As I was working a lot with expectations, for me it became very important to play around with the ways the audience perceived both the context of improvisation and myself. This took me into trying to understand and undermine these informal habits. I was also often reproducing them, so I became material to be undermined too.
In other interviews with you I’ve read you talk about two referents in British music: AMM and Whitehouse. Whitehouse played that game of manipulating the alienation of the spectator. But now in William Bennett’s project in Cut Hands, the alienation has disappeared. Bennett’s music now goes to the viewer with a rather marked reading.
Here the temporality of the subversive nature of certain actions is being decoded, leaving only very extreme or very precise ways to maintain the potential for subversion. People are tired; they recognize the codes – how many noise concerts have you seen with people doing things similar to Whitehouse? The goal should be continuing to look for that subversive potential, but in the case of Whitehouse we could also take necessary criticisms from feminism, not just the sake of political correctness but in order to expose the unappealing, boring, macho attitude of noise.
Yes, in the sense of a generic gesture you can have that character of the generic noise block. There, cultural expression is minimized close to providing nothing (or everything) to the listener. It’s an interesting game: it’s very difficult to bring forward something at once both strong and interesting. And this has always happened in the avant-garde: something that supposedly has no aesthetic value begins to gain aesthetic value, like feedback. One starts to think about the connection between social networking and the acceleration of re-valuing residual or under-explored material. I think the specificity of HNW could be an example of this. I wonder if it is a dead-end. Well we’ll see what comes out of HNW. In a certain way, I think reductionism also might have encountered a dead end and then struggled to discover what to do next. Reductionism opened a can of worms because the context and social relations gained prominence. With improvisation at the beginning of the millennium it seemed that there was a direction where people were very committed to what they were doing. There was a sense of conviction, but ultimately people took different routes, and there no longer exists the concentration of people going in a specific direction. Now everything is spread out.
It is true that the power of improvisation has diminished, but I think there are a lot of people doing different things, and some of them are doing groundbreaking things: Taku Unami, Diego Chamy, Graham Lambkin, Manfred Werder, Jarrod Fowler… But I think it is noteworthy that despite the aesthetic conventions of free improvisation or reductionism, freedom has always played an important role. If you want, you can play a note out of context completely. But in the HNW by definition you should not leave the aesthetic way of generic white noise. Freedom disappears if we move from reductionism to HNW (as in the case of Julien Skrobek in particular).
Isn’t it curious that HNW is a clear expression of unfreedom?
Also some people have passed from “EAI” to the Wandelweiser composition style, where the field for reflection on issues like freedom is very restricted. I have heard many times recently: “I am not longer interested in improvisation, now I work on composition.”
Who wishes to reintroduce the questioning of freedom and the things that it offers? I cannot think of any examples of people who are really interested in that. At the beginning of free improvisation people from different musical styles could gather and play together unprepared. It did not matter if you played well or not. But now more and more niches have been created. Each niche will have its own rules, its own codes. If you don’t know the code you are out. I saw it last year in a workshop in Oslo: most of the participants were influenced by reductionism but there was one guitarist that hadn’t heard of it, and it was as if he were from another planet.
But there are examples of people who are interested in the question. People like Manfred Werder, who in some ways (and especially in his “found sentences” or “found words” series of scores) challenges the way freedom is understood within the context of Wandelweiser.
This is something that interests me in those compositions: a certain autonomy that the composition has in relation to its realization. I find this very appealing. It is like denying to some extent the instrumentation of the composition itself. It gives the composition some room for itself. Unfortunately the issue of the performers carrying out the piece becomes more problematic. Some people have very interesting proposals, but at the same time it is currently a very distinct form of freedom. You can take anything, re-contextualize it, and there it is. And perhaps through this process of revaluation everything can be assigned a value and everything can be an interpretation of the piece. In the end it all goes flat, there’s a kind of aesthetic cancellation that gives the impression of equality (any sound is an equal to any other). But this does not change the core issue: in this case the status of music in society. Following my very imprecise and out of context example, it is like democracy: you are supposed to be equal because you can vote (those who can) but everybody knows that inequality is increasing (especially after the crisis).
According to the accelerationist manifesto published by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, technological development has to be accelerated because technology is needed to win social conflicts and to avoid associating the idea of collapse with the idea of future. Thinking like that is symptomatic of the regressive historical situation in which we find ourselves. To what extent do you think that this technological acceleration can (within the context of contemporary experimental music or art) help to overcome these relations of power mediated by individual subjectivity in the art trade in the context of doing gigs, releasing records, etc?
If we talk about releasing records, for example, there is fetishism around desiring the object itself despite technology which allows you to hear all of the recordings online. I’m still interested in the record and I realize that this is problematic. But it is very specific and already has a distribution network, so there are certain conventions that we can work within and get feedback from. There may be ways to use the digital network as something powerful, but you would lose the circuit of distribution –however small it might be – and the contrast that you can generate with respect to what has already been done. Now in the Basque Country we are trying to address some of these issues concerning experimental musicians in the community connected to Arto Artian (www.artoartian.org).
I don’t have anything personal against technology. I am a product of sending emails to people who are far away. With the Internet, if you have some specific concerns, you can contact people with whom you have points in common. You can develop very specific ideas very quickly and in an interesting way. Any tool that can be used to open up the world for me is good. The problem regarding technological advances and especially new media is not having access to them as they are generated or that a third party (like the NSA) can access your information. But if you have access and take control of communication and what is happening with it, then I think it’s good. This relates back to the idea of the envelope on Brassier’s quote on alienation: we simply don’t know what is happening behind the scenes and this is very telling of our times. What kind of self-determination can we achieve in these conditions?
I remember Walter Benjamin’s mention of “Angelus Novus,” where that “revolutionary moment” is not to push and go all the way forward, but to pull the brakes on the train of progress which is going at a brutal speed, suddenly exposing the disaster it has produced. It’s like the consciousness of the negative side where, due to a specific kind of temporality, you cannot see the devastating side.
The challenge is now to understand how we are embedded within the logic of the value-form and to grasp what practices could counter the ongoing fictionalization of pretty much everything.
How can we understand the production of subjectivity within the means of communication in contemporary capitalism? These means are formed with an interest in producing value, and the interactivity they generate is based on the same logic. Identifying which elements can or cannot go beyond this logic is very difficult. It’s an interesting question that Ray Brassier discussed at the Accelerationism Symposium. The concept of Marx’s “real subsumption” seems to Brassier too totalizing because it leaves everything (life forms or material production) subsumed under the logic of value. He has a concept of “unmediated saturation” for elements that might not be fully subsumed in that logic. Before the development of capitalism there was the ability to think, and it probably will exist after capitalism. Obviously this is about how thought can be articulated, like giving it the capacity of agency, or of overcoming, or at least of knowing how thoughts are determined by capitalism. Experimental music has historically had the ability to propose elements that were perhaps closer to the ideas of the future. In improvisations by AMM or in the music of Cardew there were moments of a “looking forward,” but they also revealed the catastrophic sonic qualities of technology (as Angelus Novus did for Benjamin). The status of music had to be reconsidered, which opened up very interesting and difficult political and aesthetic questions and led to the disintegration of the Scratch Orchestra. The question today is whether or not experimental music still looks to the future in that way.
In Kluge’s film on Capital, there is someone who talks about the “revolutionary subject.” He says it has to have two qualities: one is “to identify the end of an era or of a specific situation” (and to express it so people can understand it and see it), and the other is to be able to articulate a beginning of what might be coming next. Articulating an end within improvisation does not seem difficult because the conceptual questions are not so much looking at a future but problematizing its immediate past. There are very clear problems associated with niches and the depleted critical questioning and the subversive potential of freedom.
Many have talked about the dead end of improvisation. Now the question is: which elements can take you to a new beginning? For me I can see a beginning in Ray´s Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom text. The most important issue is to understand how we are both culturally and biologically determined. We must generate a process of determination that can really get to “unsaturated mediation” and expand on that. Also, it is important to reconsider improvisation beyond the self; the self is not the point of freedom of expression. It’s important to try to create an improvisation where the self is fully challenged, precisely because there are perspectives that make us really question the notion of the self. The next step is to try to find the link to political movements.
Here we have to be careful as Benjamin noted in the famous phrase of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction regarding his warnings about the aestheticization of politics and politicization of aesthetics.
Well in The Author as Producer, discussing Tetryakov, he describes how he went to the kolkhoz to contribute to the collectivization, mechanization, and efficiency of agricultural production.
He does this to demonstrate how not to get into a niche but to simply be part of a process of political acceleration. You have to be very careful with the term acceleration because of its connotations and cultural expressions.
In the Acceleration conference in Berlin, Benjamin Noys had a good critique of the term; there is no cultural expression today of which you can say “here is a reflection on accelerationism.” It’s not like in the days of Nick Land where Jungle and Drum ‘n’ Bass could point towards the future. Today we don´t seem to have cultural expressions that point towards the future in appealing or convincing ways.
Regarding the critical analysis of more conceptual proposals within the kind of music you make, I do not know if the categories used when it comes to reviewing a record remain the categories that work well with records with a more formal structure. There are no tools at the level of critique to understand these transitional movements that are more common in visual art.
Well I think this is happening gradually, and we are starting to talk about these issues in this format. However, we have to be aware that this will also come in the form of recuperation of this practice by academia and the art world (which I am certainly guilty of, both with Noise & Capitalism and now by doing a PhD). But you also have very interesting people like Matthieu Saladin building these bridges with TACET, trying to see the potential and creating critical discourse that helps to contextualize but also to be critical. Some people may see it as academic. For me the question is what to do with it.
I’d like to make a clarification to avoid being misunderstood. The contrast between the aesthetic and the conceptual is something we both understand, but differentiating between the two can be problematic. Inevitably, and this is something that I’m very aware of, any conceptual gesture that seems to go beyond the aesthetic can only do so for a brief moment before it becomes fully aesthetisized. I’ll give you an example. I recently gave a talk. It was more like a non-talk. I took the Lecture on Nothing by Cage, took the average duration of that piece (40 minutes), and made a speech in Stockholm which consisted of me being silent. The title was Lecture on Nothing (but there is always something). Afterward there was a Q&A during which I commented that some of the interest behind the talk was to explore the habit of some artists to explain their work and process. They use personal subjectivity as a cultural transaction: “Look, here is where I come from, and this is what I have done,” which can then be transformed into “you invite me to this, and I invite you to that.”
I was trying to oppose that, but someone commented that I was doing the same thing. “Now this is transformed into your own material and a representation of your practice, for us this now is how we understand that you portray yourself” And this person pointed out that anything that you present as an artist would be understood and appropriated, almost like a conventional lecture.
That may be a conceptual gesture sterilized by the idea that anything can count as speech. There is no such division – any expression can be understood as the presentation of an artist. An artist can do what he pleases; get here, get there, reconstitute or re-contextualize and present, and people will understand: “Well yes, this is your practice.” So we have to be very careful to make the distinction between aesthetic and conceptual because conceptually something may tend towards the aesthetic and achieve a certain value, which it did not have before. You and I, we understand each other because we understand the conceptual as a way to differ from more sonic or more formal practices of experimental music, but with this example I just wanted to point out how complex the relationship between the aesthetic and the conceptual is.
What now comes to my mind is the idea of Barry Esson and the work carried out by Arika… Could you comment a little about the Evacuation of the Great Learning Workshop?
Regarding the workshop, the name comes from the famous book The Great Learning by Confucius, which Cardew selected as a very important reference for his epic composition of the same name. The book explains that if you know your position in society and you know how to behave in that position, you can create harmony. Our point was there is no harmony! Not in nature, and not in the world. We don´t even desire harmony. Hence the title: The Evacuation of the Great Learning.
There were 50 or 60 people, and there was no script. It was quite improvised, and it was organized between us, the Glasgow Open School, and the workshop attendees. We provided a little guidance but it was quite unstable at the hierarchical level. In the last 4 ½ hours of the festival we had to develop a response to the festival as a whole, like doing a non-festival with the all the material conditions of the festival. And as time went on you could tell it was more difficult to form a consensus. What do we do together? Everyone had ideas. There were many artists, but there was also criticism. It was a very intense situation. There were moments of crisis and in a moment of desperation we said, “we can occupy the office.” It was an option, but for Barry and Bryony who had given everything to us, the consequences could have been fatal.
You must understand that I do not live in Glasgow, so there was a difference of priorities and risks. It is very difficult to understand the position of the other. Some wanted to remove hierarchy while at the same time others had more investment in the status quo. As the time passed more opportunities arose but were not accepted; nothing was clear. Then someone had the idea that “every proposal will be accepted.” To that we all agreed. Now everybody was happy and many different proposals were made – “so, I’ll do dance group,” “a karaoke band, people will ask us for songs and we’ll play them.” So a discussion of The Great Learning became a game among friends. Many ideas emerged, 15, 20, at the same time, in different areas and each one had equal weight. There was lots of energy, and at the end of it all there was an assembly at which everyone in the building joined and could speak (including the people working at the venue) with only one condition: do not speak above each other. That assembly was very revealing because of the criticism of the individual subject expressing creativity. In the assembly one of the participants of the workshop reflected that we were reproducing that same ideology of all doing individually what we wanted. For me this was a very important moment that made me aware of the difficulty of consensus and collective organization. It also made me more wary of spontaneity.
For me Arika’s manifesto is very important because it tries to accomplish something similar to what we talked about before in relation to the qualities of the revolutionary. It attempts to identify and express the problems of experimental music in relation to critical and political purchase, and it tries to articulate ways forward for the future.