DIGITAL_RITUAL (2021) is an experimental audio essay that explores immanence in hypercapitalism via music, text, visuals, and voices.
A culture of information saturation mediates social relations in digital space and the physical world – a relentless barrage frequently driven by the logic of capitalism and the free market where mediated dimensions of reality relentlessly seek to commandeer our attention and shape our perceptions.
Is it possible to be free? How to live with our extended technological prosthetic nervous systems? How to resist corporate conglomerates that monitor and accumulate data to convert into capital and power?
Note: this work is best experienced via headphones or a stereo system at volume for maximum affect.
“Kaleidoscopic ….teetering on the tightrope between attention and immersion. A blitz of semiotics…. communicating so much when not communicating semantically”, Steve Goodman (aka Kode9), electronic music artist, DJ, and founder of the Hyperdub record label.
In an attention economy devised to distract and occupy consciousness, the exponential flow of information generates continual flux in its wake. The novelist William Gibson recently observed that this leaves us with ‘insufficient now to stand on.’[i] How can art and music respond?
The aim is to challenge, empower, enliven, and provoke. There is an overlap here with ‘popular modernism’, as Mark Fisher termed it, a deviation from popular culture that challenges the heterogeneity and ideological complicity of mass culture; work that provides a means to engage critically with, and reimagine, the world as we know it.[ii] The beneficial social power of art and its ability to spread new ideas are also characteristic of the avant-garde – as originally conceived by Henri de Saint-Simon in 1825.
Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) foresaw and forewarned about the development of emerging digital technologies, virtual realities, and massively powerful corporate entities that control data.[iii] As a result of information overload and digital distraction, a deficit of attention and meaning has become more pronounced. Our present digitally-accelerated culture is akin to that which Jean Baudrillard outlined, where ‘there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.’[iv]
This creates a challenge to remain present – as a seemingly-infinite cascade of data continually threatens to undermine the stability of the present. A culture of information saturation mediates social relations in digital space and the ‘meatspace’ of the physical world – a relentless barrage frequently driven by the logic of late-capitalism and the free market – where profit is the highest good.
These mediated dimensions of reality relentlessly seek to commandeer our attention and shape our perceptions (Cambridge Analytica, etc.). Is it possible to be free? How to live with our extended technological prosthetic nervous systems? How to resist corporate conglomerates that monitor and accumulate data to convert into capital and power?
In order to resist the extractive and manipulative aspects of these hyperrealities, space is needed to comprehend experientially where we are at – so that we can remain autonomous. If we can recalibrate our connection to the digital spectacle, we may disentangle ourselves from it and gain the freedom to address some of the global issues we face: climate change, ethnonationalism, inequality, neo-imperialism, and so on.
>>>THE EXPONENTIAL FLOW OF INFORMATION GENERATES CONTINUAL FLUX IN ITS WAKE<<<
Challenging, engaging, and stimulating art is particularly vital at present, as is co-operative and collective action, drawing upon the interdependence of individuals. Content or cultural diversions that seek to maintain a faltering status quo are surplus to requirements. Many of our current woes – consumerism, environmental disaster, and inequality – are perpetuated and sustained by a neoliberal ideology reigning over late capitalism. This model of economic growth-without-end is impossible and unsustainable, a reality confirmed by a recent and conclusive UN report on the matter.[v] Neoliberal governments prioritise corporate profits and the interests of a tiny minority, to the detriment of the majority, and the planet.
>>>TIME TO WAKE UP<<<
This is an ideology that predicates upon competition, individualism, manufactured precarity, and scarcity of resources. It hits the lower- and middle- income strata in particular, through erosion of job security and diminished working conditions (longer hours, stagnant wages, higher living costs), and the privatisation of public resources (land, gas, oil, water, etc.) and services (education, hospitals, housing, and transport).
‘The purpose of all art is magical and evocative’, said William Burroughs, a means to evoke ‘the real magical forces that sweep away the spurious’, and where a concert can be ‘a rite involving the evocation and transmutation of energy’.[vi] The role of sound in altering consciousness subtly and profoundly fascinates. Burroughs’ development of the cut up technique (with Brion Gysin) resulted in experimental art and writing that sought to engage and alter conscious also – to break the spell of a consensus reality generated by mass media imagery.
An ecstatic, multisensory experience was devised. Is it possible to reconfigure consciousness through the same digital technology that engenders the ‘continuous partial attention’ that increasingly disperses and divides us?[vii]
Counter-magic might include material generated by digital and Internet culture: AI, GIFs, esoteric Instagram hashtag searches, laptop and smartphone cameras, occult Facebook groups, and endlessly scrolling screens. To re-orientate, rather than disorientate, audio and video are subjected to techniques of composition: repetition, stasis, steady pulses, and variation of sonic fragments. The acoustic and psychoacoustic components of sound are enhanced in the music by using a just intonation tuning system – where all intervals are tuned in whole number ratios. There is improvisation, randomness and noise to engage consciousness also. This evokes an esoteric (‘hidden’) aspects via the subconscious effects of provocation of ANS responses. The techniques used engage autonomic nervous arousal (ANS) of psychophysiological (body and mind) processes: affect through density and volume,[viii] perceptualization via timbre,[ix] and rhythmic entrainment from steady pulses held at length.[x]
This is intended to evoke, and to learn from, what Gilles Deleuze terms, ‘the affects, perceptions, and sensations to which we can be subject’ – rather than being concerned with communication of a fixed, unitary meaning.[xi] A profound experience of what it is to be alive is as resonant and significant, if not more so, than a conception of why we are here.
Judith Becker’s research notes that ‘the strongest version of happiness in relation to musical listening and an example of extreme arousal is ecstasy.’[xi] The ecstatic often bends and blurs our constructs and boundaries to provoke consciousness to new states by bringing us to our conceptual – the sublime – and sensorial limits. Thereafter, the reception of a work is differentiated and enhanced by a participant’s consciousness.
Creating experiential spaces and states through art allow us to know how it is to be alive in all its weirdness, wildness, wideness, and wonder on a deeper-than-surface level. To expand consciousness beyond those narrower modes of operation which dominate when we are engaged in our daily struggles for survival, or our endless scroll through our myriad screens of cascading data.
>>> RECALIBRATE ATTENTION TO THE FULLNESS OF NOW<<<
[i] Joshua Rothman, ‘How William Gibson keeps His Sciene Fiction Real’, The New Yorker, 16 December 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/12/16/how-william-gibson-keeps-his-science-fiction-real
[ii] Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, Winchester: Zero Books, 2014, p. 23.
[iii] William Gibson, Neuromancer, London: Victor Gollancz, 1984.
[iv] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, Chicago: University of Michigan Press, 1994, p. 79.
[v] Paavo Järvensivu et al., ‘Transformation: the Economy’, Helsinki: BIOS Research Unit, 2019. Available via: https://bios.fi/bios-governance_of_economic_transition.pdf.
[vi] William Burroughs, ‘Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, and a search for the Elusive Stairway to Heaven’, Crawdaddy Magazine, June 1975, reproduced in Jon Bream, Whole lotta Led Zeppelin: the illustrated history of the heaviest band of all time, Minneapolis: Voyager Press, 2008, pp. 166-167.
[vii] Linda Stone, a former Apple and Microsoft consultant, coined the term ‘continuous partial attention’ in 1998. For an overview, see Eileen Wood and Lucia Zivcakova, ‘Multitasking: What is it?’ in Larry D. Rosen, Nancy Cheever, L. Mark Carrier (editors), The Wiley Handbook of Psychology, Technology, and Society, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2015, p. 406.
[viii] Luke Harrison and Psyche Loui, ‘Thrills, chills, frissons, and skin orgasms: toward an integrative model of transcendent psychophysiological experiences in music’, Frontiers in Psychology, July 2014, Volume 5, http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00790/full, accessed 15 February 2020.
[ix] Cornelia Fales, ‘The Paradox of Timbre’, Ethnomusicology Winter 2002, University of California: Santa Barbara, 2002, pp. 56-95.
[x] Martin Clayton, Rebecca Sager and Udo Will, ‘In time with the music: The concept of entrainment and its significance for ethnomusicology’, 2004, http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/experience/InTimeWithTheMusic.pdf, accessed 19 February 2020.
[xi] Gilles Deleuze quoted in David Kelly (editor). Encyclopedia of Aesthetics V.1, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 518.
[xii] Becker, Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion, and Trancing, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004, p. 79.
An earlier version of this text originally appeared in Cassandra Voices, Volume III, Spring 2020 and via the magazine’s website: https://cassandravoices.com/music/gimme-some-now/