In Sonic Warfare, Steve Goodman discusses a type of music, primarily electronic in nature and mediation, that is forming in the poverty-stricken underbellies of the global metropolises. Aside from technological and certain aesthetic brushes (concentration on rhythm, sampling, mixing, extensive utilization of bass), this music varies differently across the world – offshoots include the disjointed and minimalist sonic atmosphere of East London’s “Grime,” the pounding baile funk of Rio’s favelas, Puerto Rican reggaeton, and the dub-turned manic dance vibrations of Jamaican dancehall. Following Wayne Marshall (himself a dancehall artist), he calls this music “global ghettotech,”1 and – somewhat romanticizing the struggles and tribulations of the transnational subaltern – sees a potent micropolitical agency at work where these mutant forms are flourishing.
The dispersed network of the metropolis, we read at the Anarchist Without Content blog, “is the ground on which Empire operates.”2 Like Empire itself, the metropolis is an abstract machine, a “process of composition that brings together material according to a specific set of rules.” It exists at the intersection of flows and allows them to express their differentiations while maintaining the underlying logistics of control. The metropolis is always alter, always monitoring, yet it consists of micropockets of resistance or potentials for resistance through its hidden-away heterotopias. In the metropolis there are chances for a free meta-modelization of the body, while conflicting currents perpetually aim to produce a systematic modeled body. Anarchist Without Content writes of “technical machines” that “traverse the Metropolis,” forever increasing the lines of communication throughout the urban and subsequently imposing regulation on how these line operate. Similarly, Maurizo Lazzarato’s extrapolation of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “machinic enslavement” is expressed through an experience easily identifiable to anyone who lives in an urban metropolis: communication via cell phone, the use of ATM machines in the street, reading the newspaper on the subway, partaking in the “huge neural network” of “bodies and souls, affects, emotions, passions” that inherently comes when tuning into television programming.3 All these interrelated technical machines, rendered by Lazzarato as semiotic machines that play on the processes of subjectivity, makes objects into tools, and these tools are assimilated in the procession of work, work itself as the ultimate social mediator and tool of social management.
Meanwhile, Mike Davis asks us not to look at the metropolis as the shining path of the the future; even if the primary hegemon of Empire – finance capital – will deliver us these shimmering assemblages of glass and steel, sprawl and speed, the secret reality under this spectacle will take place in the “faintly-visible second-tier cities and smaller urban areas.”4 It is in these zones, pushed to the peripheries of the world order (yet while remaining wholly subsumed within it) that a projected three-quarters of world population growth will occur. But it is alongside this situation, the “Planet of Slums,” that Goodman constructs the transnational network of global ghettotech, coalescing into a rival future, the “Planet of Drums.”
The drum-world of global ghettotech is first and foremost driven by a D.I.Y ethic, with both the artists and participants maximizing the autonomy of their spaces for creativity. In London, grime music and other music forms proliferate through pirate radio broadcasts beaming out from within the infamous tower blocks, setting off an ongoing and nomadic tug-of-war against the state which aims to regulate the privatized air space. In Jamaica, dancehall sound systems are cobbled together from electronic scraps and leftovers. The music itself comes together from a variety of sources traditional folk sounds crash into Western-pop influenced electronica, samples are torn from popular culture, subjected to remix and deconstruction, all set to the impressive rumble of deep bass tones. For the Brazilian ghettotechers, “People make funk like they build houses in the favela, using whatever material is available.”5
In my previous “The Construction of the Body,” I touched on the postcolonialist counter-discourse of hybridity versus binary, where the “displacement of value from symbol to sign” has allowed a breakdown in the rigid command-chains of despotic cultures and opened them-up to a free associative and flexible reality. However, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have pointed out, at best this postcolonial strategy is a tool for rereading contemporary history (as traditional colonial and imperialist structures has largely become undone, aside from a scattering of left-overs from this tragic era), and at worst a justification for postmodern power, a game for the elites of the world hierarchy to play. Looking to the rise of neo-fundamentalist belief systems (Evangelical Christianity and militant Islam, for example, though many other forms exist) Hardt and Negri write “Simplifying a great deal, one could argue that postmodernist discourses appeal primarily to the winners in the processes of globalization, and fundamentalist discourses to the losers.”6 While Hardt and Negri seem, in the end, to find solace in the abstract potentials of postmodernism and hybridization, others critics, such as Nina Powers, go further in denouncing this turn. For them hybridity is the logic of neoliberal capitalism, or, more properly, financialization, itself: fluidity and flexibility, the libidinal joy of circulating affects, the capability to combine and amalgamate, twist and detourn, perpetually seeking to make objects into new and higher abstractions. It is in this context that Jorg Heiser, a co-editor at Freize, proposes that instead of painting with the broad brush-strokes of ‘hybridity,’ we pose a distinction between this concept and the entanglements that come with it, and what he calls ‘super-hybridity’:
The phenomena of hybridity could be seen as a mere ‘quantitative’ factor. But, like most quantitative factors, this one also has a tipping point. Thus, ‘super-hybridity’: ‘super’ not because its superior, but as a reflection of how hybridization has moved beyond the point where its about a fixed set of cultural genealogies and instead has turned into a kind of computational aggregate of multiple influences and sources. [Electronic artist] Gonjasufi – and any contemporary artist similarly devoted to a trans-contextual approach – is neither a mere product of his background nor just another eclecticist; his sources are super-diverse, but are parts of a detailed puzzle forming the larger picture of a life between anger and equanimity, sociability and loneliness, city lights and desert, advanced techi-ness and the deliberately antediluvian.7
Heiser goes on to list notable super-hybrid precursors from the modernist and transitional/postmodern eras, such as Mary Shelly, Alfred Jarry, and Sigmar Polke; most of these individuals maintain a rather strange relationship with capitalism. Jarry, for instance, proposed the avant-garde thought-experiment of “pataphysics” (thinking beyond metaphysics), which Baudrillard has identified as the nature of markets system as we recognize them today. Polke, on the other hand, founded the art school of “capitalism realism,” which provided illustrations of living in Germany as the media-saturated Spectacle of the Fordist regime drove the cult of consumption to greater and greater heights. Speaking of these individuals, Heiser asks if these congruences derived from “an eagerness to mimic capitalism’s restlessness? Yes and no (yes, because they’re fascinated by production; no, because they hate business).”8
I would like to pose Goodman’s ‘global ghettotech’ as a super-hybridity par excellence. As with the avant-gardists listed by Heiser, the individuals that create this art are preoccupied with production; the volume of material emanating from these peripheries is monumental, and much of it enters into dynamic, self-evolving markets (in the de Landian/Braudel sense of the word) that acts as both a cultural catalyzer and counter-market to the neoliberal reality. For example, the “estimated 150 pirate stations on the FM dial in the United Kingdom act as musical Petri dishes… an incubator where new music can mutate.”9 State-enforced legal structures perpetually lag between these rhizomal developments; hard to track and harder to eliminate, this nomadic and largely invisible war cuts across the class struggle and aims itself directly at one of the most critical postmodern terrains of combat: the production of culture itself. Furthermore, this deterritorializing factors can be read as a willful subversion of the ‘technical machines’ spoken of above: samplers, mixers, vocoders, and other assorted technologies brought together in these rhythmachine assemblages develop from technology developed in wartime, technologies specifically developed to wage war through communication and speed. By lifting technology from its assumed roles and applying to the creation of bottom-up art, the very root of Imperial control, precarious labor, is attacked.
In closing, I would like to give one last quote from Goodman to reinforce the micropolitical possibilities stemming from these developments:
Taking the staples of popular electronic music, from hip-hop to house and techno, and mutating them to their local desires, spraying them with local voices, these musics also, hand in hand with their pirate economics, propose models for affective collectivity without any necessary political agenda. Parallel sonic wars (in the age of pirate replication) are being waged across the planet by an array of these virosonic microcultures. Their abstract machines are never purely sonic. They always possess a power of transveral application into other aesthetic, sociocultural, and economic fields. Perhaps the contagiousness of such cultures and their analog and digital sonic transmissions make them an audio portal, offering innovative techniques for synthesizing modes of collective assemblage, production, and distribution through the construction of temporary and mobile vibrational ecologies. These musical war machines are perhaps more accurately conceived as subpolitical… potentiating an affective mobilization, underneath the segmentation of belief into ideological, territorial, affiliative, or gang camps, providing a vibrational infastructure or platform for collectivity that supplements the picture painted in Planet of Slums.10
1Steve Goodman Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear MIT Press, 2012, pg. 174
2“Disemboweling the Metropolis” Anarchist Without Content June 14th, 2013, http://anarchistwithoutcontent.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/disemboweling-the-metropolis/
3Maurizo Lazzarato “’Semiotic Pluralism’ and the New Government of Signs” European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, June 6, 2006 http://eipcp.net/transversal/0107/lazzarato/en
4Mike Davis Planet of Slums Verso, 2006, pg. 7
5Goodman Sonic Warfare pg. 174
6Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 150
7Jorg Heiser “Pick & Mix: State of the Art” Freize, Issue 133, September 2010
9Goodman Sonic Warfare, pg. 181
10Ibid, pg. 175
Hat dies auf horstbellmer rebloggt.
lots of good stuff in this that I will come back to but where/how do these “specific set of rules” of the Machines exist/work?
Good question, dmf… in my understanding, the “specific set of rules” of these “technical machines” consist of both formal and informal regulatory powers. Formal regulators would be actualized structural institutions running from the governing bodies to the police to the hosts of ‘technicians’ (social scientists, urban planners, etc.), while informal regulation is more akin to conditioning. If we look at the level of Empire (Hardt and Negri’s term, a concept that should get more merit than it does), we can see that the way this postmodern power operates is through its ecologies; Empire as an environment – or a hyperobject, ala Morton. Hardt and Negri see three primary molecular and interlocking objects of control moving through Empire: “the bomb,” “money,” and “ether.” The bomb, of course, refers to the atomic bomb, money to the abstract flows of capital across the globe, and ether is the communicative-based mediator where exchanges,labor, relations, governance, and a bulk of consumption take place. The rise of “ether” was essential for capital to adopt the (non)formation that it holds to today, while ether itself was triggered by the need for uninterrupted communication in the shadow of the bomb’s awesome power of destructability. The bomb was also essential for the shift to network-form outside of ether (even if ether is the quintessential network) – both the American highway system and the ‘sprawl’ nature to urban design can be attribute to the need to alleviate the dangers of impact in centralized hubs. These urban networks take on new agency in the so-called age of terrorism. We can take 9/11, for example, as the twin towers sort of personified the whole modernist aesthetic function of centralized power, making it such an easy target. Warfare against networks, of course, makes it harder and harder to hit such devastating critical blows. Meanwhile, Hardt and Negri touch on how the stockpiling of nuclear arsenals in elite countries triggered the transition to guerrilla, regional, proxy and low-intensity conflicts – terrorism as we know it falling into many of these categories. One could spend all day chasing tails how these three concepts link together, but one that stands out in my mind is the ongoing secularization of financial metropolises, driven by the threat of terrorism and the need for stable environments for capital flows to take place in. If I can quote myself from an older post, “Urban Drifting”:
“As capitalism has become the very fabric of everyday life, of the social, the primary convergence points of the city recreate this paradigm within its own networked architecture. The airport, the train, the port, the financial district, the telecommunications network and its hubs are both the production of daily life and the support structure for transnational capital flows. Terrorism, which seeks not a victory in the traditional military sense of the word but to aims to disrupt daily life and to generate a sense of unease in the spaces of the social, thus converges itself on these points. Contemporary activism also focuses on these spots – it was simultaneously a symbolic action and functional mechanism that drove the occupation of New York City’s financial district. As a result, these convergences also mark the spot of the highest degrees of securitization, a shift that will quickly classify any abnormal events inside these as a form of urban warfare. But warfare today is waged largely under the doctrine of prevention; these spaces are not securitized at this point in the wake of an event but in anticipation of one – a state of permanent war.”
It is this idea of the fabric of everyday life being something monitored (with the implication of behavior modification and conditioning) by these security apparatus and itself being produced by capital and its electronically-mediated relations (also with the implications of modification and conditioning built in) that constitutes the “specific rules” of the technical machines… in many ways, it recalls the criticisms of capitalism thrown at the Fordist-Keynesian regime by the Situationists… obviously there is far more unpacking required than these digressionary musings, but I think it helps to illustrate the concept.
for me having worked on education, govt, and industry regulations/practice-standards, and in management/human-resources issues across a wide variety of settings and institutions (public and private) the idea that there is actual and effective/uniform supervision/regulation (and training/practices) over all of those people is hard to take literally, certainly there are affordances and resistances set by various conditions/technologies but they play out in very wide and ever shifting arrays/assemblages of players/factors, one might note certain trends/familial-resemblances but as to their predictive values I would say that’s not obvious, I think it is hybridities/improvisations all the way down so one might as well take a consciously active/experimental role and not just be reactive.
” the idea that there is actual and effective/uniform supervision/regulation (and training/practices) over all of those people is hard to take literally”… I agree to an extent with you here; there exists in many circles the drive to continually analyze and formulate based upon outmoded theoretical constructs that allude to the totality of control systems – Gramsci’s hegemony, for one. Yet we must place Gramsci into his proper context: Fordism-Keynesianism (or authoritarian or ‘high’ modernism), which did aim towards at least at the veneer of totality.This theory receives massive blows, for example, from James C. Scott’s work on how resistance was not only possible, but perpetual in every crack,every space of otherness. This is why it, for me, is so essential to look at our symptoms of passage: an analysis of the moves from Foucault’s ‘Disciplinary Society’ to Deleuze and Burrough’s ‘Control Society’ is an analysis of the mechanisms of discourse, and how they justify themselves at the intersections of events and environment. Resistance and difference is far more tolerated in today’s climate than yesteryear, but there still exists limits placed on how far these resistances and differences go. Anarchist Without Content writes that the figure of the libertine is the face of Empire, yet these mutations or divergent forms are allowed to exist as long as at the end of the day, there is a return to the cycles of production, consumption, and exchange. All difference or ‘experimentation’, if not directly feeding into the overarching social logic, is watered down into ineffectual acts of escapism. “I think it is hybridities/improvisations all the way down so one might as well take a consciously active/experimental role and not just be reactive.” Indeed, but with the confines that these roles inhabit, I can see few choices other than accepting this iron cage, or pushing experimentation into a situation where it must assert itself and broaden the scope of its own potentialities.
I think we agree on the need for actual (off the page) counter-movements, I just know that managing people isn’t really like engineering mechanical systems (which is why when they can many managers prefer actual machines to people) if you look at the work in various organizational psychology journals or at folks doing ethnographies like Lucy Suchman on literal human-machine interfaces they are messy and ever-changing, so if we are to make working/work-able alternatives to what is happening now we have to be very specific about what we are facing, what we are working with/in.
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