Sunday Sessions DJ Set

Music – something close to my heart and naturally of great influence on my life and practice – has had a huge part of my life. From my teens I was heavily invested in the goth subculture, primarily through the music. I spent many years running events, performing and DJing alongside my friends. These days I occasionally get involved, but 1) the subculture here is very small now, 2) I’d gone a bit sour on it and 3) I’m older and get tired by 10pm!

Robin Gee has been running afternoon Sunday Sessions which is a wonderful opportunity to play some favourite music. DJ DarkMoonDog and I did 2 hours each last Sunday for a goth-themed afternoon. I’ve got a mix of old and new with tracks from the early 80s through to very recently released material. Not all of it is strictly goth, but is sort of ‘goth adjacent’, if that makes sense. I’ve also included a couple of very clever and rather fun mash-ups featuring some goth/industrial classics.

I played Fields of the Nephilim 3 times because I could and because they are still my favourite band after all these years.

My DJ set from last week’s Sunday Sessions – have a listen!
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Text-based Research May 2019

To go along with my image collection I usually create mind maps examining certain themes and ideas within the work.

I wrote a statement that I think sums up much of what goes on in the work:

Communication of otherworldly experience requires a symbolic language due to the ephemeral and unexplainable nature of the phenomena. Often this communication is through artwork, story and performance, where material representations, in the form of object, symbol and gesture, can be used as to communicate the incommunicable.

My workbook gets a bit confusing at times with all my diagrams and scribbles, but I always go back to re-reference them, even those I made several years ago. Here I’ve started picking apart my interest in the occult, or esoteric, and how it functions within my art practice both positively and negatively.

I’ve then gone on the look at the place of Space, Body and Object in esoteric practice.

SPACE

MODIFIED SPACE
– Buildings or rooms dedicated to ritual or sacred practice.
– Symbols, maps, written and visual language applied to floors, walls, ceilings, furnishings.
– Furnishings (objects!) for use within practice.

NATURAL SPACE
– Areas that are ‘fit for purpose’.
– Often natural environments imbued with ‘the sacred’; natural occurrence of an elemental nature like water, air, fire, earth or to do with animals, trees etc.

UNINTENTIONAL SPACE
– Spaces that have a ‘received specialness’. For example they may have a historical significance to do with previous events, previous owners, previous usage.
– Haunted spaces.

OTHERWORLD SPACE
– Spaces that do not exist within the material world; internal space, astral space, extra dimensional space etc.
– The collective unconscious, spaces that exist within myth.
-‘Other’ worlds eg. the Enochian aethyrs.

OBJECT

RITUAL / TALISMANIC OBJECTS
– A symbolic representation of a non-corporeal element.
– A way to contain/control/transport.
– A way to make the intangible physical.
– The language of objects; the interplay between objects.
– Allows connection with the ‘other’.
– We imbue objects with power (just looks at what we do with mobiles phones!)
– Furnishings for a ritual space.

WEARABLE / SMALL OBJECTS
– Method of communication.
– Can be concealed.
– Can have a special connection with the owner’s body.
– Can be passed from one person to another.

REPURPOSED OBJECTS
– Turning one thing into another = object alchemy.
– The history of an old object can be brought into a new form, the power and meaning of objects can be combined and amplified.
– Conversations between objects and materials.

MAPPING (ONTO OBJECTS)
– A symbolic pathway, a way through.
– May require a symbolic language to communicate or to decipher.
– An instruction, investigation, journey, discovery, unveiling.
– A visual plan or language.
– A path for the seeker, an instruction for an ordeal.

BODY

BODILY ATTRIBUTES
– Emphasis on body part eg eyes, teeth, hands, genitals.
– Emphasis on symbolism ascribed to that body part.
– Ritualised movement or pose of body part or full body eg mudras.
– Fetishising body parts, making them talismanic or sacred.
– Making the body monstrous, godlike or humorous through distortion of characteristics.

RITUAL MARKING OF THE BODY
– Permanent or transitory marking eg tattooing or scarification versus painting or make-up.
– Status or right of passage.
– A personal ordeal vs a communal event.
– Language of the body. Marking the body as a vessel, talisman or sacred object.
– Becoming more than human.

DRESS
– Enacting a character or archetype.
– Giving form to the incorporeal.
– Using dress as part of a symbolic language.
– Becoming ‘other’; an animal, a spirit, an idea.

MOVEMENT
– Creating a language through moving and shaping the body.
– Communication without words.
– Sacred / ritual dances.
– Moving between worlds.
– Combine with dress, markings, objects and space to create a powerful method of communication and experience.

I also took a delve into my personal interest in the occult; the whys, wherefores and the problematic aspects that go along with it. Something I’m looking into right now is correlation between interest in the esoteric in times that are particularly turbulent in a socio-political sense.

The issue of anything to do with the occult seeming laughable, absurd, embarrassing, cheesy (the list goes on) is something I work with constantly. I’ve thought about choosing to embrace that in my work, but it doesn’t sit right, so I continue to balance on the tightrope of earnestness! I’m fully aware of appearing ridiculous, but it’s an interesting space to exist in. What I need to keep pushing towards is finding the place where viewers find relevance and connection in the work. It’s not about me.

I’m also curious about the general public’s acceptance (and even the commercial exploitation) of some aspects of what is widely considered ‘occult’ versus the fear of other aspects such as mysticism and esotericism. Aside from residual superstition around devil worship and that sort of thing, I suspect is due to it’s very nature; being occult = being hidden. Science-minded twenty first century people might not be scared of demons, but they want to know things straight away and in bite-sized form, even extremely complex ideas shouldn’t take longer than a standard podcast to explain. I wonder if the very thing that has always drawn me to esotericism is what repels many others; everything is hidden under layers of symbolism that can only be revealed over time. It’s non-didactic – everything is found through questioning, testing, exploring and finding. It’s a SLOW process that requires patience and commitment which are in short supply right now due to the way we interact with technology – and that’s another aspect of the whole thing that is worth exploring.

Geometry under the rug

Just when I was getting into finding out about the contemporary Western relationship to esotericism and the occult, a friend sends me a selection of facebook screenshots he thought I might enjoy. I did enjoy it immensely, not just because peoples reactions are so great, but because it provided a nice little insight into exactly what I was curious about.

From digging around online I’ve come to the conclusion that a sort of vague ‘witchiness’ is very popular right now. As long as it’s got some connections to nature and you can indulge in some enjoyable consumerism in the form of sage smudge sticks or sliver pentacle necklaces, it seems reasonably acceptable by the (non-religious) western mainstream. I don’t think the same can be said for things that lean in a more ‘occult’ direction though.

What fascinates me is the fear induced by geometry; namely any geometry that appears in-situ within a building (one could almost say an installation). Ritual circles on the floor really get the blood pumping, then add a five-pointed star, or a hexagon, or similar and satan is on the loose! It’s quite wonderful that geometric shapes have so much power over otherwise jaded and skeptical adults. The excitement of finding a couple of circles under the carpet of an old house was so exhilarating that it migrated from facebook and onto the front page of the NZ Herald – I bet the owners didn’t expect that much curiosity! Is this the last real bastion of true superstitious fear in western culture?

I was thinking that you could perhaps chuck hauntings in there as well, but the reaction to ghosts vs floor-geometry does appear a bit different. Hauntings, as well as offering the exhilaration of fear, also offer answers; the possibility of an afterlife or existence in another place and the chance to connect with it. Occultism only puts forward questions. Find some fancy floor-geometry under your carpet and you’re just going to be left with more questions than you started with even if you can find someone to tell you what it is and who made it.

Just quietly, I suspect that either someone who lived in the house 30 years ago wanted spooky rooms for fun (bunch o goths) or there was someone who did some general non-specific ritual work and wanted a circle for it. There is certainly nothing in either of those circles that tells you much about what they might have been used for. I’ve included screenshots of the original post and some of my fave comments. These were shared on a public forum, but I have removed all names.

If anyone has any thought’s about contemporary western society’s relationship to the occult, please do leave me a comment as I’m very curious…

Hauntology: Part 2, What the Spectre Articulates

“To haunt does not mean to be present…”.
Derrida, J. (1994) Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, Routledge, P161

I have a selection of quotes and thoughts around hauntology that didn’t quite fit in with the musical theme of my last post but which interest me in terms of my art practice. They examine the nature of the haunting; of the spectre; and what this means in a cultural, art or literature context.

In relation to ‘the spectre’, it is irrelevant whether one believes in ghosts or not:
“Spectrality does not involve the conviction that ghosts exist or that the past (and maybe even the future they offer to prophesy) is still very much alive and at work, within the living present: all it says, if it can be thought to speak, is that the living present is scarcely as self-sufficient as it claims to be; that we would do well not to count on it’s density and solidity, which might under exceptional circumstances betray us.”
‘Marx’s Purloined Letter’ in Ghostly Demarcations, p39

I found this quote useful in how it undermines the solidity and the very ‘realness’ of our present experience. Our belief in what is around us is unnecessary to the experience of that thing. What does it matter whether one believes in ‘ghosts’? A spectre still haunts us and affects our present. It’s very much inline with human experience of the ‘otherworldly’ – whatever that might be – in that it does not require fixed belief or rational processing for it to impact on the experiencer.

“Derrida’s spectre is a deconstructive figure hovering between life and death, presence and absence, and making established certainties vacillate. It does not belong in the order of knowledge…
Derrida calls on us to endeavour to speak and listen to the spectre, despite the reluctance inherited from our intellectual traditions and because of the challenge it make pose to them…
Conversing with spectres is not undertaken in the expectation that they will reveal some secret, shameful or otherwise. Rather it may open us up to the experience of secrecy as such an essential unknowing which underlies and may undermine what we think we know.”
Davis, C. (2005) État Présent Hauntology, Spectres and Phantoms, Oxford University Press, P4-5

I very much enjoy this concept of the spectre opening up an experience of unknowing which tugs unsettling on the frame work of what we think we know. The following quote expands upon that further by suggesting that the unknowing is only such because we are unable to articulate it using our current frameworks and language. This pushes experiencers to expand and explore the nature of articulating meaning – I love that idea.

“Abraham and Torok seek to return the ghost to the order of knowledge; Derrida wants to avoid any such restoration and to encounter what is strange, unheard, other, about the ghost. For Derrida, the ghost’s secret is not a puzzle to be solved; it is the structural openness or address directed towards the living by the voices of the past or the not yet formulated possibilities of the future. The secret is not unspeakable because it is taboo, but because it cannot (yet) be articulated in the languages available to us. The ghost pushes at the boundaries of language and thought.”
Davis, C. (2005) État Présent Hauntology, Spectres and Phantoms, Oxford University Press, P7

This haunting seems to me a phantasm of our potential or lost selves rather than a manifestation of anything even vaguely supernatural. Although that is not to say it is not ‘otherworldly,’ as the haunting itself is the product of another world that we expected, that we might long for but that has never come to pass. Linking in to my exploration of the ‘eternal moment’ I can see that the haunting is akin to a stuck record, endlessly repeating, measuring time in the static of it’s wear.

(Image, still from Bladerunner)

Hauntology; experienced through Burial’s ‘Untrue’

A sense of loss for a future that never was

Lately I’ve been revisiting some musical projects I enjoy and discovered that they fit into the genre of ‘hauntological music’. I’d previously been aware of hauntology existing as a cultural idea, but hadn’t thought about applying it to music, which is a bit remiss of me as music is the perfect conduit for hauntological experience.

The concept of hauntology was originally coined by the philosopher Jacques Derrida in his Spectres de Marx (1993) to reference the way in which the western world is haunted by the spectre of a post-communist existence where the possible promise of a future of equality, justice and fairness has been lost to neo-liberal capitalism and unfettered growth.

Derrida imbues our world with phantoms that shift in and out of our field of vision, making us aware of other possible futures and pasts. They exist within our emotional being rather than our intellectual mind and if you wanted to get very cliched about it then maybe these phantoms could be described as a kind of melancholy nostalgia.

“Derrida’s rehabilitation of ghosts as a respectable subject of enquiry has proved to be extraordinarily fertile. Hauntology supplants it’s near-homonym ontology, replacing the idea of being a presence with the figure of the ghost, as that which is neither present nor absent, neither dead nor alive.
Davis, C. (2005) État Présent; Hauntology, Spectres and Phantoms, Oxford University Press Society for French Studies. (bolding my own)

The screenshots below are from a little BBC documentary on hauntology.  Apart from the content of the text, what I really like about the image is the spirograph set.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 4.24.57 PM

Growing up in the UK in the 70s/early 80s I had a spirograph set and seeing those objects gives a huge sense of strangeness. It’s a little tug on my brain that makes me feel sad and out of place even though it shouldn’t.

In an article for Film Quarterly (2012) What is Hauntology? Mark Fisher discusses the direction of electronic music and the impasse reached in the mid 2000s where music was no longer able to sound ‘futuristic’ without sounding anachronistic. The whole idea of futuristic music was now defined by a set of concepts, affects and associations formulated pre-2005, that could not be progressed beyond. Any purely electronic music with the usual ‘futuristic’ cues just sounded stale, so what comes next? It was the same for many creative pursuits, as if we had entered a situation where culture would not change but just continue on in much the same way, with much the same capitalist system and no vision for a future except for a haunting spectre of what might have been.

The particular album that I was listening to when I started looking into hauntology was Burial’s 2007 album “Untrue”.

‘Untrue’ sounds like cities late at night in the shifting time between sleep and waking where experience slows through syrup and you become enveloped in that ‘eternal moment’ that I’m so obsessed with through my own practice. Untrue is deeply moving; sorrowful, lost, smudged, echoing. The music itself has a thick, warm bass layered with clacky, staccato clicks and taps with flickering static like radios drifting between stations and giving time itself an audible presence.

There is such a depth of emotion to this album that is only enhanced by it’s cold emptiness. This might seem like a contradiction, but the more you immerse yourself in the music, the more the artist’s interests are slowly revealed. I’m captivated by the way he takes clips from schmaltzy RnB greats, then pitch-shifts them to unrecognisably deep sorrow. In the short documentary I have posted below, the narrator reveals that Burial created many of the percussive sounds using samples from the game ‘Metal Gear Solid’, including shell casings falling from the titular character’s gun. How many hours must he have spent playing late into the night, immersed in the echoes of the game?

Of Burial’s influences;
“The short-lived spate of interviews he did around Untrue teem with references to uncanny presences, subliminal hums, moments when you glance at the face of a friend or family member and catch something alien in their expression. Burial even enthused about his childhood love of the ghost stories of M.R. James, one of those gentlemen occultist writers who are touchstones for the UK hauntologists.”

…”Interviewed by the late British critic Mark Fisher, Burial spoke of creepy epiphanies he’d experienced walking through deserted night-time areas of London: “Sometimes you get that feeling like a ghost touched your heart, like someone walks with you.” Song titles like “Archangel” and “Feral Witchchild” suggest superstitious thinking, or at least an openness to the idea that there are supernatural dimensions, other realms that leak through into our reality in the form of visions or unsettling sensations.”
Link to article

Burial has talked about the importance of titles in instrumental electronic music to lead the listener through the abstract forms and emotional pathways. This reminds me so much of the joy of a well conceived title to really enhance an artwork. I know there is a place for ‘Untitled’ in leaving things open to the viewer, but an erudite title goes a long way. Burial has some truly inspired titles that give the listener a new layer of understanding of the work – Rival Dealer, South London Boroughs, Subtemple, Dog Shelter – these names conjure up emotions and situations that contextualise the soundscapes. If only I could be so poetic with my naming!

There is a track on Untrue called ‘In McDonalds’ which is particularly interesting to me. The music itself is fragile – not what you would at first associate with a fast food restaurant, although perhaps in the liminal hours when the other patrons have all gone home? Anthropologist Marc Augé coined the concept “non-place” for those spaces that have lost their identity in time and space; airports, international chain stores, data centres, any temple of capitalist globalisation. James Bridle also examines these spaces in his ‘New Dark Age’, which I wrote about previously, and it was he that initially made me aware of them. MacDonalds is, of course, the ultimate example of a non-place. Sitting in MacDonalds you could be at any time of day, in any country in the last 20-30 years; you are out of space and time being haunted by the potentiality of belonging

New Dark Age – James Bridle

Although my work hasn’t focussed on modern socio-political currents in any obvious way, these topics are something I read and think about a great deal on a day to day basis. I suppose in some way my rejection of the ‘everyday’ in my practice might be a reaction to the amount of time I spend thinking about contemporary issues. When I saw James Bridle’s “New Dark Age” pop up in a review on Brainpickings I immediately ordered it.

It’s hard to give a precis of what this book covers because it sprawls across a large and fascinating territory. I’ve described the book to a few people who I thought might appreciate it as an overview of the vast effect big data and computation is having on our culture.

“Over the last century, technological acceleration has transformed our planet, our societies, and ourselves, but it has failed to transform our understanding of these things… we ourselves are utterly enmeshed in technological systems, which shape in turn how we act and how we think. We cannot stand outside them; we cannot think without them.”
Bridle, J (2018) New Dark Age. England: Verso. P2 (emphasis mine)

I’ve pondered extensively the changes brought about by the vast oceans of unmediated information available on the internet over the last few years. It’s impossible to ignore the gravitation in contemporary society toward extreme black and white thinking with no subtlety or ambiguity, to a distrust in academia and intellectualism, and to a distinct inability to engage in critical thinking. Talking to a number of secondary and tertiary teachers about the effects on education confirmed what I have suspected; knowledge is now wide but very, very shallow. There is also an inability to retain information due to the fact that its is constantly available at ones fingertips. This creates an environment where ideas and information cannot be readily contrasted and compared in the mind of the student because nothing is held there for long! There is also a propensity for students to use the first source they find without digging any deeper or questioning whether the source is reputable, resulting in conspiracy and debunked information being presented as fact.

While we may look at the internet as an amazing source of information which makes available knowledge we might not have been able to access in the age of the written word, it has no ‘filter’ on worthy or useless information, which leaves it up to us to learn to analyse what’s available. Unfortunately the easy access to information makes us lazy too and less likely to engage in critical thinking, preferring to just take what’s easily on offer and run with it.

Bridle talks extensively about the way that mining society for big data creates a culture that is, in turn, moulded by that very data; a self-referential feedback loop with little chance for escape.

“The danger of this emphasis on coproduction of physical and cultural space by computation is that it in turn occludes the vast inequalities of power that it both relies upon and reproduces. Computation does not merely augment, frame and shape culture; by operating beneath our everyday, casual awareness of it, it actually becomes culture. That which computation sets out to map and model it eventually takes over. Google set out to index all human knowledge: it became what people actually think. Facebook set out to map the connections between people… and became the platform for those connections, irrevocably reshaping societal relationships.”
Bridle, J (2018) New Dark Age. England: Verso. P39 (emphasis mine)

We are interconnected, but also enmeshed. Enabled by the wealth of information, but also overwhelmed. The scope and volume of available data creates a society in which it’s unnecessary to think and we can sit back and let the machines do the processing for us. We are spoon fed by computational outcomes, made complacent and encouraged not to indulge in critical thinking or exploration by the very fact that information is so readily available. Unfortunately we are also blinded to what is occurring on a macro-scale by the small conveniences and joys of what we experience in our local systems. It might be nice to have access to social networking and online shopping, but what is happening at a grander scale and why can’t we see it?

Philosopher Timothy Morton uses the word ‘hyperobject’ to describe things like climate change, evolution and the internet that completely surround and envelop us, but that are too big for us to see. We can only perceive hyperobjects by their effect on other, more immediate things on a local level. Modelling a hyperobject so that we can perceive it requires vast amounts of computational power, and that vast data processing is a hyperobject in itself.  A phenomena like climate change acts in a physical way that can be compared to the actions of big data computation on our cultural landscape. Weather is perceived by us as a local phenomena but is no such thing as ‘local’ in a networked world, it is part of the greater global system known as climate. It is often hard for us to grasp that what might be seen as ‘good’ or ‘nice’ in our locals system is often indicative of something that is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ in the larger system – this is because we only can only perceive our small local system. Artist Roni Horn points out that “Weather is the key paradox of our time. Weather that is nice is often weather that is wrong. The nice is occurring in the immediate and individual, and the wrong is occurring system-wide.” p50

As a very concrete material example of this; we think we are ‘doing the right thing’ environmentally by trying to go paperless, but we are creating more and more data online that needs to be processed and stored. The virtual and perceivably unlimited nature of the storage facilities results in vastly unedited amounts of data. As of 2015 the worlds data centres consumed approx 3% of the worlds electricity (more than the entire UK) and accounts for 2% of the worlds global emissions (roughly the same carbon footprint as the global airline industry). This is in data storage alone.

Along with mass data processing comes mass surveillance; how else is the data to be gathered? Another example of a hyperobject, mass surveillance has become too big and too overwhelming for us to comprehend:
“Thinking about climate change spoils the weather, rendering it an existential threat even when it’s nice. Thinking about mass surveillance spoils phone calls, emails, cameras, and pillow talk… it’s easier to add it to the long list of things we agree not to think.” p179

“The operation of surveillance, and our complicity in it, is one of the most fundamental characteristics of the new dark age, because it insists on a kind of blind vision: everything is illuminated, but nothing is seen. We have become convinced that throwing light upon a subject is the same as thinking it, and thus having agency over it.” p185

This quote reminds me of the fashion for ‘raising awareness’ of a cause on social media. So what if we’ve shined a light on a problem? It’s illuminated, what now? Are we actually seeing it or just showing those watching us that we are pretending to care and putting a little flag in the ground to promptly forget.

Bridle appears to be very interested in hidden systems, and thats something that captures me as well. His work tracking the movement of unregistered aircraft and drones in the skies of England is both fascinating and disturbing. I chose the header image for this essay from his 2014 work Drone Shadow 007: The Lavender Hill Drone. It is a fine example of situationist philosopher Guy Debord ideas of ‘psychogeography’ or deliberate engagement with the hidden systems in our landscape. Perhaps this is a way to start to become aware of the larger processes at work by searching for how they interact with us on a local level?

“Debord was concerned with the increased spectacularisation of everyday life, and the ways in which our lives are increasingly shaped by commodification and mediation. The things we encounter in everyday life in spectacular societies are almost always a proxy for some deeper reality of which we are unaware, and our alienation from that deeper reality reduces our agency and quality of life. Psychogeography’s critical engagement with the urban landscape was one way of countering this alienation…” p103

On the other hand looking for hidden systems can result in conspiracy-thinking where criticality is abandoned through the very act of looking too hard. Bridle likens conspiracists to the haruspices of old; digging through the entrails of events looking for meaning and omens while potentially becoming sidelined and tricked by false truths and inconsequential avenues of thought. He comes to the conclusion many times that we are in a culture where even though we are looking at the same things we are getting very different outcomes and that we have built a system that reinforces this.

“Self-confirmed groups, from Targeted Individuals to Morgellons sufferers, and 9/11 truthers to Tea Partiers, seem to be a hallmark of the new dark age. What they reveal is what the chemtrailers show directly: that our ability to describe the world is a product of the tools at our disposal. We’re all looking at the same world and seeing radically different things. And we have built ourselves a system that reinforces that effect, an automated populism that gives people what they want, all of the time.” p211

There is so much to find of interest in this book – my copy is currently bristling with post-it notes. In this blog post I haven’t even begun to touch on the interesting chapters about manipulation by algorithm or the influence of Friedrich Hayek, father of neo-liberalism, on AI technology! I’ll leave with a quote from towards the end of the book where Bridle compares the insidious pollution of oil leaks to the pervasive power of a society driven by data:

“In the present, the extraction, refinement, and use of data/oil pollutes the ground and air. It spills. It leaches into everything. It gets into the ground water of our social relationships and it poisons them. It enforces computational thinking upon us, driving the deep divisions in society caused by misbegotten classification, fundamentalism and populism, and accelerating inequality. It sustains and nourishes uneven power relationships: in most of our interactions with power, data is not something that is freely given but forcibly extracted…”
Bridle, J (2018) New Dark Age. England: Verso. P247

Featured image: Bridle, J (2014) Drone Shadow 007: The Lavender Hill Drone

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