“Decoder”: Noncultures of Cutting Up Control

Cut ups are for everyone. Any body can make cut ups. It is experimental in the sense of being something to do. Right here write now. Not something to talk and argue about. Greek philosophers assumed logically that an object twice as heavy as another object would fall twice as fast. It did not occur to them to push the two objects off the table and see how they fall. Cut the words and see how they fall. Shakespeare Rimbaud live in their words. Cut the word lines and you will hear their voices. Cut ups often come through as code messages with special meaning for the cutter. Table tapping? Perhaps. Certainly an improvement on the usual deplorable performance of contacted poets through a medium. Rimbaud announces himself to be followed by some excruciatingly bad poetry. Cutting Rimbaud’s words and you are assured of good poetry at least if not personal appearance…

The cut ups can be applied to other fields than writing. Doctor Neuman in his Theory of Games and Economic Behavior introduces the cut up method of random action into game and military strategy: assume that the worst has happened and act accordingly. If your strategy is at some point determined … by random factor your opponent will gain no advantage from knowing your strategy since he can not predict the move. The cut up method could be used to advantage in processing scientific data. How many discoveries have been made by accident? We can not produce accidents to order. The cut ups could add new dimension to films. Cut gambling scene in with a thousand gambling scenes all times and places. Cut back. Cut streets of the world. Cut and rearrange the word and image in films. There is no reason to accept a second rate product when you can have the best. And the best is there for all. “Poetry is for everyone” . . .

-William Burroughs, “The Cut-Up Method”

In 1984, Klaus Maeck’s and Muscha’s paranoid, low budget, post-punk movie Decoder explored the potential of sonic weaponry deployed against the forces of Control. Against the backdrop of immanent nuclear annihilation, the film describes a world where all that is left for youth to do is dismantle it. In the film’s Manichean vision, Muzak, as a concoction of doctors, musicians, and marketing experts, aiming to stimulate productivity and employee morale alongside generating a pacifying glow of comfort in the consumer, represented by the ultimate, insidious musical agent of evil… The film featured an underground yet star-studded cast including William Burroughs, Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P. Orridge, and Einsturzende Neubauten’s Mufti. But more than anything else, Burrough’s writings seem to have been the primary conceptual guide to the cut-up techniques promoted in the movie, particularly his ideas from the Electronic Revolution that described the use of tape-recorders to sonically catalyze riots and crowd disturbance. Burroughs appears in one dream sequence of the film (playing the part of a shopkeeper dealing in spare electronics) to pass the main character an audiocassette. Like Leif Elggren’s CD project Virulent Images, Virulent Sounds, Decoder’s tape terrorism seems to stem directly from passages that describe the contagious use of the tape recorder.

-Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare (pgs. 141-143)

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4 Responses to “Decoder”: Noncultures of Cutting Up Control

  1. noir-realism says:

    I remembered Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead’s book Drumming Magic in where he describes some Brazilian friends who told him the berembau – a type of drum they used as an affirmation of freedom. The slaves of a century before were not aloud to practice the martial-art of capoeira because the plantation owners thought they were practicing for war, so the slaves developed sound rhythm’s that allowed them to practice anyway by a subtle change in rhythm that spotters would enact when they saw a guard coming. When this happened they would change from their practice of martial-arts to dance and the guards would think they were just being happy about life.

    Rhythm and noise: the keys to time, music, dance, life. – Mikey Hart

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