The most famous of the dictums to be found in the Situationist’s oeuvre is from Debord’s Society of the Spectacle: “The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes images.” In Debord’s days, it was hard to miss this fact, as the Fordist regime of production had reached its threshold, ushering in the new era of advertisement and marketing, penetrating the streets (the heart and soul of the social) through billboards, magazine ads and proclamations to consume that screamed from the sides of taxi-cab rushing past; and also penetrating the household through the permanent fixture of the television set in every living room. Capital’s ancillary apparatuses, the Statist war machines and political propaganda efforts, followed this same room – the competition between political opponents had become more and more reliant on capital transmuted into image-based campaigns, and the war in Vietnam was being beamed directly into the eyes of nearly every family in America, thanks to an ever-present media camera pointed directly at the carnage. Meanwhile, everyday life was under the increasing scrutiny of the electronic panopticon, with the present of video surveillance technology deployed by power to keep the subjects that operated under it in check.
Of course, times have radically changed since the days of Debord and Vaneigem and their comrades. The Spectacular Society has only increased, particularly in regards to a changing technological-media ecology through the evolutionary leap from analogue to digital platforms. With this came the increase in the levels of abstraction of life; television, as a “cool” medium, still relied on human to human relations – humans, with technology in hand, captured the image, edited the image, transmitted the image, and on the reciprocal end, the human received of the image. Granted, this was this a profound human-machinic interaction, but with the proliferation of digital technology the interaction is forever more machinic in nature. Life itself becomes rendered as successions of binaries, codework.
The postmodern spectacle is capital accumulated until it is a vapor, a free-floating metaobject that represents nothing other than its own control codes. While the postmodern spectacle has brought an increase in the aestheticization of life, it is a mutable aestheticization that does not discriminate between image and other forms; unlike the human factor, the digital (at this stage) does not have the ability to register the affective. It doesn’t know what an image is or what the wind feels like, it only knows its code. Under the gaze of control technology, life itself is cold, detached from its basis – the financial trader staring at his computer screen can only see the image of money circulating the globe, without the basis in human production or the ecological ramifications this swirl. Of the same token, the pilot of the drone is not only spatially detached from the battlefield, but the actual, visceral experience of combat is indistinguishable from modeled videogame representations of war.
I decided to play a little with the images that have become commonplace in our life, primarily the familiar advertisements that we encounter on the television, on the computer, on the street, in our thoughts. These advertisements too are the product of digitalization, be it through the captured creative efforts of computer-design artists or the skillful computerized editing of photographs. This play was with the mutability of digital information, how quickly it can shift from one form to the next, break itself down and be rebuilt in seconds. With a few keyboard strokes, what was previously image becomes sound. And it is sound that is perhaps more defining that image at this point in the Spectacle’s evolution: we find that the entirety of our waking lives we’re immersed in a sonic ocean, a full-body sensitive and emotive experience that hangs in the air, washing over us and crawling deep within us. Contemporary music is frequently chopped-up, remixed, dubbed out, lifted from one source or the next, plagiarized – precisely the tactics that the Situations wanted to deploy against the spectacle, and the methods through which so many subaltern peoples in the Global North and Global South utilized to create cultural hybridities. If anything, these mutations give us a chance to pause and reflect on just how abstract the world we live in has become.
I experimented with various programs; without any real music background (besides dabbling with noise music), I stuck to the basics. The first was Audacity, a free music editing software. The result was a barrage of white noise lasting not more than a second or two. Each program produced a vastly different result, an excellent illustration of how just separated abstract informatics can be from one another when viewed through different lens, producing our fractured and fragmented world. I finally chose a basic synthesizer program. After all, as Deleuze and Guattari wrote in A Thousand Plateaus, the assemblage of the abstract machine is the synthesizer:
By assembling modules, source elements, and elements for treating sound… by arranging microintervals, the synthesizer makes audible the sound process itself, the production of that process, and puts us in contact with still other elements beyond sound matter. (pg. 343)
As the image to convert to sound, I chose the following ad for Apple’s iPod, for it produces an emotional response through digitally-rendered representations of the human form, and the production of a fluid and non-rigid body through music – an experience that can only be had, presumably, if one buys the commodity:
And here is the sonic tapestry of this image:
Apple Ad (it may be loud)