The Master of the Untitled Statement

Hans Haake – Working Conditions, The Writings of Hans Haake (MIT Writing Art Series)

Hans Haake’s shopping lists must be amazing. He has a way of putting things down on a single A4 sheet that makes them stick on the walls of art student digs and then adhere all the way through to their mature studio spaces and beyond. He’s right up there, along with Dieter Roth.

His statements veer between the completely distilled and the wide open and suggestive. For instance one untitled piece from the early 1960s that provides the exact crosshair position of contemporary avant garde art, next to the ‘why don’t you switch off your television set go off and do something less boring instead’ pieces (I’m sure he would have approved).

After Duchamp, after Fluxus, this is a game and the pieces on the board move. Duchamp was a great chess player, running several simultaneous international games by post from his flat. Haake understands that this is now the territory and as Lyotard explained everything is a move in a game, but if there are no rules, there is no game. Haake is a master player of the new ruleless game.

But Haake’s ‘game’ isn’t the international art career he has. The pieces in this book the writing corresponds to are livid, anti-capitalist, through and through.

Documenta, which Haake is so associated with, came out of need to revive the avant garde after the Nazis destroyed it. Haake then goes on to make the most furious political, informed pieces, persistently, and persistently with humour, for the rest of his career, something that is little short of miraculous. No postmodern bubbles for Haake.

This is a book you can live in. When Haake writes ‘articulate something natural’ those three words contain the whole philosophical understanding that art is not nature, that articulation is language, visual or otherwise. Three words by Haake are that good. They are worth a thousand by lesser artists and writers.

These instruction-based pieces are the counterpoints to the micro-manifesto style writing. In fact on second thoughts, Hans Haake’s shopping lists are probably just shopping lists.

In this spirit, surely Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt took some inspiration from Hans Haake when putting Oblique Strategies together?

‘Just carry on.’


From Manchester to Moscow

Lenin’s April Theses and Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto (Verso)

Here’s one to ponder for our more local readers: If you go to Parsonage Gardens, just off Deansgate in Manchester, and look at the greyish building overlooking the lawn, the Ermen & Engels office was once in there. We don’t really know, but it might not be stretching credulity to suggest that Engels frequented that office to salt away petty cash to send to Marx in London, so that he could write Capital. We know that he did it, but not all of the exact details.

Stand there then, and try to take in the full weight of the facts. Manchester Capitalism was created here and exported to the world. Capital was partly paid for here and based on the city, the trilogy was encouraged and finished by a man sometimes working in that office.

Capital was translated first into Russian, where it later exploded in the 1917 Bolshevik takeover, for the intellectuals who oversaw it. Then comes the huge historical arc of WW2, the Cold War and the fall of the wall separating East and West Germany: Capitalism triumphed at the cost of millions of lives.

Stand there, in your ordinary shoes, and look and think about all of that.

The Communist Manifesto and what became known as Lenin’s April Theses are clearly linked. When Karl Marx died, in 1883, Russian revolutionary exile Pyotr Lavrov wrote from Paris on March 15:

‘In the name of all Russian socialists I send a last farewell greeting to the outstanding Master among all the socialists of our times. One of the greatest minds has passed away, one of the most energetic fighters against the exploiters of the proletariat has died. The Russian socialists bow before the grave of the man who sympathised with their strivings in all the fluctuations of their terrible struggle, a struggle which they shall continue until the final victory of the principles of the social revolution. The Russian language was the first to have a translation of Capital, that gospel of contemporary socialism.’

These Russian copies of Capital were unexploded ordnance, waiting for the trigger of the Global Imperialist Wars, which in Britain we really only know via the dates 1914-1918. Tariq Ali, who introduces both texts here, understands and explains this well. But those books also lay obscure for nearly a quarter century.

There has been too much written on the Manifesto and not enough on the April Theses. The later postscript to the Manifesto by Engels is also included, which is great, but to have the Manifesto clearly placed in a lineage that goes even further forwards, rather than looking backwards to the text as a monument of past struggles, is refreshing.

This beautifully designed edition has one text beginning one way, flip the book over and the other text starts the other way. In the middle, then, is a kind of no-man’s land that I think is the most interesting space of all: Two pages, facing each other, upside-down.

This odd space is important. There is a clear line from Marx’s graveside in London in 1883 to the Bolshevik takeover in Russia in 1917, but there is also a huge gap and the texts do have an inverted symbiotic relationship in some ways. Marx’s death and revolution in Russia were only 24 years apart, but in some ways they may as well have occurred in different dimensions. In 1917, Lenin and others, also exiled, boarded a sealed train to Russia as the Czar and family were placed under house arrest. Lenin went back to Marx to ask the now-famous question ‘What, then, is to be done?’

But the answer to the question was not obvious at that moment. Its response, socialist statism based around the Soviets, would have to be fully enacted later. This inverted gap between the two texts is poetic because Marx only ever threw in a token line about the Russian struggle. He never envisioned the Revolution beginning in a largely agrarian country with low literacy levels, he assumed it would come through more ‘advanced’ urban societies experiencing the sheer polarising contradictions of accelerated, hyper-catalysed history.

This book performs the dialectic, formally. This place in the middle where the end of the following text comes in, upside-down, is the middle point where the helix comes together and then steadily diverges, away, into the future…

The Unstable Self

Thomas Hylland Eriksen & Elisabeth Schrober (eds) Identity Destabilised (Pluto, 2016)

This is a powerful book. It moves Cultural Anthropology right out of the Twentieth Century. This thematic, edited collection is already a benchmark classic of its discipline. But like equally great Anthropology collections – Locality and Belonging, edited by Nadia Lovell, for instance, in 1998 – it works equally well as a book for anyone interested in the shape of human meaning in their time.

It is properly politicised. It looks to the global surface, rather than treating fake indigenousnesses with curatorial white gloves. The sub-title of ‘Living in an Overheated World’, as Hylland Eriksen has demonstrated elsewhere, means overheated subjectivities on an overheated planet. Overheated in terms of the ever faster flows of raw materials, goods and labour, processes that produce ‘short-termism’. Processes that uproot families, lives and mental states, all over the world, not just in small pockets of it. The ethnographies collected here include Manchester, Sierra Leone, Montenegro, Australia…

But the subtext of ‘overheated’, of course, is global warming. This is Anthropocene-Anthropology. The Anthropocene posits that mankind’s emergence as a shaper of his environment, right through to his late capitalist phase, his whole voracious transformation of the ecosphere – and I gender this intentionally – is just another stage in the planet’s shifts. Of course, by positing this, right now, The Anthropocene also suggests that we may be on the edge of a seismic shift into another ‘cene’.

I strongly embrace some parts of ‘The Anthropocene’ as a theory, but strongly reject others. Key to this is the fact that The Anthropocene appears only now, and not in, for instance, the nineteenth century. We cannot escape our fundamental species difference as a very particular kind of language animal. The fine details of this will provide a written argument for another time and place, but what is captured unequivocally here is the fact that as the global circuits begin to heat up, glow and blur dangerously, so do the circuits of the psyche.

What we might call ‘identity creep’ is not new, but as Stuart Hall pointed out, the so-called ‘fluidity’ of identity in no way halts the solid political and cultural conflict which contemporary identity fuels. This isn’t just a concealed nod to fundamentalist religion either, as the chapter on Manchester United and its relatively recent, global, fluid nature shows.

This book pulls no punches. It contains what is essentially a second, politicised introductory chapter by Jeremy MacClancy, titled ‘Down With Identity! Long Live Humanity!’ Another big problem I have with The Anthropocene is that it dovetails neatly with Posthumanism. I side with Marcus Morgan, who is laying out a kind of post-foundational humanism for social philosophy. Here, Jeremy MacClancy includes a picture of a piece of Delph pottery in the shape of a bible from the Ashmolean. A book that isn’t a book, bearing a message that he decodes poetically for our era: ‘Earth I am / it is most trew / disdain me not / for soe are you.’ Identities aren’t people and people aren’t identities. But nor are humans dogs and neither do dogs drop bombs or produce television shows.

However, resistance to global capital might be rooted in practices of identity. MacClancy goes so far as to suggest the use of ‘Anon’ as a radical political identity, like a kind of pacifist ‘Spartacus’. Like some sort of identarian Jedi Knights, we might develop a form of Being resistant to our performative subjectivities, meshed into capital through its online manifestations: That’s how good this book is.

But MacClancy is careful to point out that he is not advocating fundamentalist identities. Here, my mind turns back to all that is good in Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man and Uses of Disorder. Because MacClancy is interested to stress the importance of forms of social identity that act as juncture points in the social world, face-to-face. The dialectical otherside to online wigs and masks, anonymous, open, honest and agonistic meetings in the real world.


Night Shifts

Nick Dunn – Dark Matters, a Manifesto for the Nocturnal City (Zero, 2016)

There is a long history to night walking. Dickens did it because he had trouble sleeping, and this is Nick Dunn’s initial motive for walking at night. The nightwalker tradition then extends to, for instance, Sukhdev Sandhu’s great 2007 book Night Haunts (Verso). But that book turns the city night into day, by tracking the cleaners and the airborne police, essentially anytime work that just happens to be done at night. Sandhu’s city is London, Dunn’s is Manchester, well, it is Manchester and Salford.

Unlike London, Manchester empties at night, even right at its heart.

Dunn trained as an architect and this is a crucial part of what is at play here: Out in the dark, walking himself to sleep – he hopes – the architect coincidentally has the buildings removed for him by the lack of light, and then delivered again anew, in flashes. Here, sleepless, the city becomes something else.

Roland Barthes was delighted with life in Japan, because he could no longer read the signs he was so adept at decoding and encoding, but he could still get around. He was liberated from language right in the heart of a language explosion such as Tokyo. Here, Dunn is liberated from the architectural language he knows so well, allowing him to find a place away from its often cloying messages.

The whole history of the city-as-body is here, in the history of architecture, the city as based on the human form, something stated in Richard Sennett’s aborted work with Foucault, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization, which goes right back to Michaelangelo’s ‘Vitruvian Man’.

Lefebvre restates this history and Dunn quotes it here. But my reading of this – and it is only my reading of it – is that the night makes the body disappear. It drowns the anthropomorphic in darkness. Limbs are lost, as the familiar, corresponding shapes of man-size doorways and head-height windows also vanish. We are swallowed by the night, but in the night we swallow and digest the day. These once-familiar spaces become strange in Dunn’s night time perambulations, as in Eugene Atget’s prints of nineteenth century Paris, as in the anthropological strategy of making the familiar strange, and later, the unfamiliar ordinary.

Another nocturnal Manchester urbanaut, Mark E. Smith, wrote of ‘entrances uncovered’ and ‘street signs you never saw’, all ‘courtesy of winter.’ There is nothing gothic about this book, despite its dark title and cover. In some ways, night time does exactly what snow does to the urban landscape. It makes it strange, it makes you see anew.

Whiteout or blackout, the space is transformed, momentarily, and this impermanence of states is important to its power to ‘other’ your view of it. If it were always daytime there would be no other side to cast this transformed view against. The title implies the night as another dimension, ‘dark matter’ as the invisible glue of the social. It seems academic that what is delivered comes through nightwalking, and in Atget’s case, his views were taken very early in the morning light.

However, what excites me here is that there is a full, proper dialectical reading of night and day: Night time and day completely contain each other. Night time is not the empty space left over after the day, the less useable part, because there is no light from the sun via which we can organise objects: These two binaries are part of a bigger connected reality, and not in some simplistic geographical or existential ‘holism’, but in terms of night being the social and productive afterimage to day, the negative to the print, as for Adorno and Horkheimer, leisure is the afterimage of labour.

However, we must resist, to a certain extent, Adorno and Horkheimer’s totalizing thesis: As Dunn points out elegantly, ‘even in the twenty-first century, our attempts to metricize time and space have not fully converted the nocturnal city into the daytime landscape of production.’ The ‘ambition is there’, but the reality falls seriously short of that. Patrick Keiller, in his little ebook The Robinson Institute, around the turn of the millennium, seemed puzzled that, as the internet and just-in-time production sped up, everyday public space hadn’t become completely emptied out, and that it didn’t look like the space ‘on top of a wardrobe.’

This is because those new ‘invisible’ processes produce the day, what Dunn calls our ‘infinite options of pointless choices.’ The ‘kaleidoscopic wormhole of economics, politics and, for the most part sanitized, culture.’

What Dunn makes clear is how radical the change is when night comes: ‘Spatial conventions and rules are relaxed if not completely abandoned as night falls.’ The ‘appropriation of urban space occurs in the deep pockets of the city away from natural surveillance or the “scanscape” of CCTV cameras.’ He walks, he is ‘just out there’, and here I admire this book for what it refuses to do almost as much as for what it does.

It doesn’t turn walking into some mystical ritual, or a fetish offered up as methodological novelty for a now fully marketised academia. It takes walking for what it is, an everyday practice. But in ‘night mode’ this everyday practice is reduced almost completely to the sole author. Stripped of its confusing, colourful, swirling litter of people, the city spaces speak anew. Again, like Atget’s Paris, cleared of its inhabitants, the streets become ‘just space’.

But these spaces are ‘produced’, in Lefebvre’s term, ‘espace’, space as a verb. We don’t need the inhabitants smiling blurrily back out of the prints to prove that they make and remake the city anew every day. As Lefebvre advises, we can see how the social is coded in urban space. This comes through here, in traces of lock-ups, or a concatenation of warning signs, or in a beautiful three-word coupling, via ‘sodium morse code.’

But that is not all this book does. It ‘makes manifest’ the urban night by shuttling between theory and description. But its subtitle is ‘a Manifesto for the Nocturnal City’. I am a sucker for a manifesto. It takes guts to write one.

So much leftist writing hides what it really thinks in abstraction, or older, tried and tested rhetorics. This book does not make any wincingly worthy cultural capital out of hauntology, the problem seems to be, actually – and chillingly – that in the night city there are no ghosts left and the few that remain are becoming even more fugitive: ‘Far better to embrace the world and its contradictions, difficulties, untidiness and dirtiness, physical and psychic, than to summon long-vanished ghosts.’

The equally chilling thesis is that the only way to escape from the ‘intoxicating pathologies’ of the city, is to vanish into ‘night practices beyond consumption’, to an edge zone almost completely drained of light, in order to ‘be’. But this is the manifesto, that in nightwalking the city we might find the black mirror of the everyday, which might teach us more about that everyday than we could have imagined before going out there. ‘Urban areas are pathological’, the ‘nocturnal dowser can summon these neuroses…’

I admire that Dunn has identified that this landscape of permanent amnesia is utterly deracinating. It withers our concentration span, our sense of history and the temporal itself. If anything this thesis is not put strongly enough. We are hypermodern, not postmodern, a very important caveat for me as well. The ‘endless flux of regurgitated ideas that appear novel is seductive’ Dunn states, ‘the process of assemblage has entranced us’, surfaces that are masks whispering to us that what we are seeing is innovative, when behind it is darkness, figuratively and literally. Dunn is clear about the questions and asks them straight on: ‘Can we step outside of this situation?’

I once worked as an ethnographer on a Transport for London research study of illegal taxi touts. Practically this entailed a series of twelve hour shifts, from 8pm to 8am. I have long wondered how to approach those experiences and revisit the data, reflectively, in a piece of writing. I now have a starting point, because Nick Dunn has written it.

This book is useful, it is both open and closed. Closed in that its form as a manifesto really puts its cards on tables. Open in that it advises particular spatial practices in the interests of seeing anew. Open in that it encourages others to develop that way of working further.

Now it’s over to you, on the night shift.

The Karoshi Complex

Alfie Bown – Enjoying It, Candy Crush and Capitalism (Zero, 2015).

I will state up front that everyone should read and enjoy this book. I did. I enjoyed Bown’s use of the word ‘unarable’ immensely, and his use of language generally. I enjoyed his words in the sense that I have written equally enjoyably myself.

I have since enjoyed reviewing this book and look forward to filing a paper copy in the little section of Zero Books on my shelf. The author may have a shelf that is similar to mine, but also different. A Candy Crush range of colours, one of which may even be my own book. Enjoying, sharing, sharing, enjoying.

But I know full well, as Bown points out here, that enjoyment reinforces cultural divides, at the same time as it turns pleasure into production, creaming surplus value by ‘grouping people’ according to ‘what they enjoy’ and simultaneously ‘preventing communication across these enjoyment-divides’.

We are both in a micro universe, Bown and I, as writers and readers. Inside an expanded circuit of authorship, with a depleted subject at its centre. But this is definitely not a circuit which has expanded far enough to assimilate a very diverse mix of readers.

Put more straightforwardly, Gilles Deleuze used to enjoy watching episodes of The Benny Hill Show, but there are big gaps, as the author points out, ‘between enjoying philosophy’, watching TV, and ‘enjoying a tabloid newspaper’. This is something Bown’s book ‘hopes to work against.’ My own writing has tried to militate against this tendency in a different way.

I am a sucker for anyone who can write about ubiquitous ‘ephemeral’ phenomena as an anthropologist might. Bown does this with charisma and insight.

He describes the shift from desire as ‘natural’ in the nineteenth century, with social orders policing the limits of those desires. These processes were then inscribed in what Bourdieu called ‘habitus’, the structured subject, which might best be illustrated in our fading Victorian hangover, which as Foucault described it, allowed people to discourse about all kinds of ‘pleasures’, but via a patriarchal ‘largesse’ that permitted and limited at the same time.

But, as Slavoj Zizek famously pointed out, the social world has turned upside down since then, via consumer capital’s tyrannical demand on the superego, over an assemblage of decentred drives, to instruct us to ‘enjoy’. Bown figures this as a ‘second wave’ of essentially Neo-Victorian limits to pleasure. A refiguring of the circuit, that also makes us think we are free, something always detectable in naive liberalism.

Desiring-assemblages, fleeing lack, ski down a slalom of jouissance, brushing a series of little objects as they go, flagpoles pointing to ‘satisfaction’. But this slalom is endless, and the flags point nowhere, they flap in the wind and maps are pointless.

This is the libidinal course. You remember the way and its landmarks, you expect to ‘arrive’, but never do. More importantly, you never remember that you don’t arrive: This is the most scandalous and secret fact about pleasure there is.

These symbolic skiers can perhaps be best observed in exaggerated form via that derided contemporary tribe, The Hipsters. Hipsters are colonisers of meaning, but the very declaration of that meaning is seemingly enough: ‘Look, beards!’ ‘Look, barber chairs!’ ‘Look, excavated 1950s stuff!’

Look! Old but new! Mixed-up! This fort-da game with cultural objects – you throw it away, they pick it right back up again – is irritating precisely because it is infantile. It betrays the function of remaining adolescent well into years previously designated by older forms of culture for adulthood, as all generational bandwidths spectre out into one.

Here is where it gets disturbing, as we see young people in old people’s clothes, and old people in trainers and hoodies, all trying to find a Big Other which no ski slope, road or train line ever leads to.

Well, it could be worse, you might argue. What about Rem Koolhaas’s idea, you might say, that shopping is better than tearing each other limb from limb? But Black Friday shows us how thin the line is between the two.

Reviews about books called ‘Enjoying It’ should probably never be ‘spoilers’, barriers to enjoyment. So I want to employ another game to conclude here, one which best explores Black Friday’s ‘line between’.

Mr. Karoshi is an assault course game in which you have to make a chronically depressed 8-bit Japanese Salaryman repeatedly kill himself. You splatter this digital, oriental Suicidal Sid against spikes and burn him into floating ash.

In Mr. Karoshi’s repeated deaths, we find the inverse logic of most computer games. The usual assualt course game is derived from military survivalism, you have to ‘live’ to get to the next level. Here, the logic of capital itself has been inverted. To ‘get on’, you must commit suicide, again and again.

The famous shift from pleasure principle to death drive is here. A suicide of the subject that might also be, in Deleuze-Guattari’s sense of ‘the self’, exactly what one needs to ‘get on’: Mr. Karoshi repeats his ‘self-sacrifice’ of a pleasure without an object, in a kind of eternal return of corporate capitalism, every day.

By getting up and putting his tie on, he ritually murders the possibility of anything but the life he already has.

The potential for objectless ‘pleasure delerium’ is killed in a difference and repetition of sheer conformity, represented in the Mr. Karoshi game as a permanently failing suicide mission. Mr Karoshi’s condition is ‘chronic’ in this sense, temporal, in that his return is quite literally eternal, like all those seen on trains at strange hours, still tapping away at the indexical face of information capital, next to their oddly similar neighbours, pecking like birds at Candy Crush and other treasures. Bown explores all of these tensions.

Karoshi is not ‘enjoyment’ as Deleuze-Guattari posited it, desire without a subject. Karoshi still entails chasing gaudy baubles down the infinite slalom, a la Candy Crush. Its symbolic flip does not create a different or new kind of desiring-machine.

No, Karoshi inverts the usual gaming logic, only in order to simply replace survival with death, enjoyment with pain.

However, I do offer Mr. Karoshi, and this book, as modern day Leavisite examples of the best that can be thought, said – and enjoyed – in our age.

Real Sci-Fi Songs

Joanna Demers – Drone and the Apocalypse (Zero, 2015)

When I saw that this book existed, I had one of those moments that writers sometimes have. Someone had ticked one off, on the list of things I had hoped to do before I exit the world.

I have long thought that someone needs to write a serious book on drone. That Joanna Demers has now done it, and in such an exemplificatory spirit, is delightful. This is so very far from a dry academic autopsy. There are roots to drone, but Demers doesn’t give us a tedious timeline or teleology.

With music that never begins or ends, where time is irrelevant, why would you? Of course, drone has roots, and I have sketchily covered them as a music writer, over many years, hence my urge to collect my thoughts in a more systematic way. This book review had better do.

You cannot approach this topic straight on. If writing about music is like dancing to architecture, writing about drone is like trying to recreate Malevich’s black square using only the discarded bits that collect under your hole punch. So I am not going to directly restate what you can read in Demers’ book here, though I am urging you to read it.

When explaining drone to students – I am currently supervising a dissertation on noise in art – I usually look back to Yves Klein’s Monotone Symphony. Then to Tony Conrad, a member of La Monte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music in the 60’s, The Dream Syndicate, who was way ahead of the pack. So were Faust, with the ur-industrial drone, and they came together with Conrad, providing that metronomic pulse defined by a Neu! one-beat, now globally franchised as ‘Krautrock’, as Conrad relentlessly droned his violin over the top. Pure music, it makes the hairs on your arms stand up.

So how does all this make meaning? That dangerous word, ‘pure’, means only that it is relatively untainted by genre. Here, in brief, is how I approach drone, particularly its flattened aesthetic. Its very particular temporality and duration. Drone often unfolds over time and does not, at the same time. It is one big moment. Movement and no movement in one. Listen to the last tracks on Eno’s Discreet Music for an example of this. Of course, some drone moves, some slightly, some drastically. But drone often invokes the constantly collapsing present moment of Heidegger, or buddhism. I could go into Bergson here, but this is a book review.

Drone can be utopian, the blank space we need to move to, mirroring Attali’s concern that sound travels before other mediums. It is literally avant-garde in form, as it is unburdened with the demands of, say, sculpture making. That said, you can make a work with the equivalent impact of a large bronze, with the same presence, in a space, with sound, using drone. You can fill a vast aircraft hangar with something as brutalising and permanent as concrete and metal, using only noise.

But still, how does it make meaning? There is a great deal to be gained here from writing about abstract painting. Drone often ‘hangs there’ like a painting. If you put a title on a very abstract, open piece, it tends to ground its meaning more, to narrow its range of possible significances. The same, for me, applies to drone. Adorno suggested that an effective modern piece will contain its own language. It will teach you how to read it as you take it in. They are monads, sealed units containing their own logic. But an effective modern piece will also contain a seed that can burst out and rupture itself, and all that lies around it. It is Revolutionary. Drone often teaches you how to read it. And drone can rupture. This is how I judge drone, qualitatively. It is how I read it.

But Demers also presents us with a fiction to read. A science fiction. Her book is in that tradition, in the best examples of Ballard, and… well, Ballard. Just as Robinson’s film cans appear in a caravan, in Keiller’s Robinson In Ruins, and the fictional academic Gang Lion, in Vertical Features Remake, by Peter Greenaway, Demers’ book comes to us via fictional, rediscovered academic notes.

For me, drone is both utopian and apocalyptic all at once. That requires you to look awry and take some deep breaths before writing. Demers does this and judges drone, through her fictional muse, on the apocalyptic side. She has written a dystopian sci-fi of noise.

Again, I have personal touchstones here. Godspeed You Black Emperor’s 1997 debut ‘f#a#∞’ asked if the end of the world was coming. To me, at the time, it was. I listened to this record on my way to work. Couldn’t stop. My job in a bank was turning me to drink. The tech people there, at that point, didn’t know if the mythical ‘Millenium Bug’ would wipe everything away. I watched the Seattle protests and Genoa. 9/11 wasn’t far away, which I watched live, in the HBOS headquarters. I watched a massive financial institution destroyed from within one, on a screen used to show banking adverts to marketing staff. A delegation from the Twin Towers had been in that very room, only a month before.

Godspeed were a scab I couldn’t stop picking, it hurt me. It bled more than it should, but it satisfied. The drone sections could go either way. They were blank spaces that flickered between the end of the world and the beginning of a new one. Between hope and its opposite. All that remains of them now is the Wagnerian apocalypse of Godspeed’s Yanqui U.X.O. The funeral drum and Orleans horns of ‘rocket falls on Rocket Falls’. Yanqui U.X.O is an elegy, a grand political wake. The cover artwork is typical of their approach, bombs fall on the front, we’re not sure who is dropping them or where, which gives the image great tension.

These bombs are all bombs as much as they are American bombs. On the back, the words ‘Yanqui U.X.O’ sit in the centre of a spider diagram. ‘Yanqui’, they say, is corporate imperialism, ‘U.X.O’ is unexploded ordnance, landmines. These words are then linked to Sony, British Aerospace and AOL Time Warner.

This is how drone and noise is apocalyptic, it goes back to Hendrix and The Star Spangled Banner, a national anthem painted in napalm, with its roots in Chicago bar room amplification. Pure pragmatism, but those roots in turn reach further down, to slavery and Empire. So many records come on like easy listening versions of Klauz Schulze, Edgar Froese or Cluster. The ‘ambient compilation’, but there was little that was reassuringly cosy about the German pioneers. In this sense, I am wary of the zen comparisons to drone, although they can legitimately be made.

‘Bayreuth Return’ by Klauz Schulze signifies, it makes meaning. Think about it. Think about post-WW2 German culture. Think about how the word ‘Bayreuth’ inevitably resignifies after the holocaust.

But that’s an old recording to bring up. So let’s examine the subject through a more recent one. Angel’s ‘Terra Null’, for Editions Mego. Get the CD. Examine it. The initial signs seemed to indicate a record about 17th and 18th century emerging imperialism, with track titles such as ‘Naked Land’ and ’Colonialists’. Put the CD on.

‘Naked Land’, betrays an almost spaghetti western sound, which seems to further underline the frontiersmanship. A guitar twangs, detuning and retuning, but the electronic side of the drones betray the time we’re in, and via this, Angel collapse ancient into modern, as Marx did when he talked about ‘primitive’ accumulation and the commodity as a kind of anthropological fetish.

Somehow, this album by Angel puts us into that space, ‘Quake’ particularly, via slow drones, cello, oscillators, guitar and scree, it unfolds into what Dan Latimer called ‘a sublime appropriate for individual subjects fixed in some vast network of international business, blinking, clicking, whirring incessantly to transmit, like transistorized Jedi Knights, the power of the Force.’

The buzzing, low tones simultaneously describe this evil landscape, at the same time as they try to open a crack in it, and of course speed is important here, temporality is crucial to capitalism, and to drone. To slow it right down is to resist. To speed up is to acquiesce.

The antique etchings on the CD sleeve may be of ‘the new world’ of colonialism, but they become, simultaneously, dialectically, about the ‘new world’ we may be forced into, the place, as Jameson once told us, that we have no alternative but to go to. The past as the future. The two cancelled out by each other. This is ‘utopia’, terra null, a no-place, at least not yet. The last cut though, ‘Quake’, gets bible-apocalyptic, roaring like Sunn O))), or Merzbow. This is utopia and apocalypse as one. Hegel’s dialectic as two opposites in one whole, never combining, but bursting, absolutely seething with historical tension.

Oval, for me, are so important to this topic. Oval are drone as the End of History. They are the sound of vacuous mall music glitched out endlessly to swallow all of time. They are a formal translation of the flattening of our cultural landscapes into a substance so thin that it now covers everything. Their titles are also crucial to this, ‘Lens-Flared Capital’, for instance.

Faust hinted at what was to come when opening their first album. The radio sweeps over the scree of interference, as All You Need Is Love flashes up, and is then smashed to pieces by noise. That, they say, is what happened to all of that, as Baader-Meinhof rose. Their spectre has just returned. Here is the logical extension of Revolution 9 by The Beatles, with its reference to Beethoven’s last symphony. Gesamtkustwerk as smashed fragments. Noise as historical symphony, that ensures another Historical Symphony can never be written.

Beethoven was nearly deaf when the Ninth was premiered, and recording equipment did not exist. Since then, hundreds of recordings of it have been made. We have heard the Ninth more times, and better, than its writer. In this, Demers is absolutely correct to approach the topic through science fiction: Leif Inge’s Beet 9 Stretch slowed down Beethoven’s Ninth until it lasted for 24 hours, with no pitch distortions. This piece does many things, but one thing it has to do, before all the others, is flatten the Ninth into a millimetre thin surface, in order to squeeze the excess of signification out of it. This is one thing that drone can do well. Beethoven’s Ninth has become so overloaded with signification and connotation that it has imploded, in the way Faust made All You Need Is Love collapse. The Ode To Joy has a hundred meanings, the european anthem, film music, adverts.

This is the same thing as Demers’ opening reflections on ancient music that has been transcribed in detail and left to us, yet we will never know for certain how it sounded. The first performance of the Ninth was perhaps the last time this would be the case. With drone, transcription is often pointless, the space, medium and document is the music.

But once the Ninth has been flattened by Leif Inge, and the piece is being played on an endless loop, in a huge space, it becomes a new site of radical potential, which doesn’t completely erase its own suturing join with the historical, something the philosopher Catherine Malabou is very concerned about.

Drone gives you the space where utopia and dystopia, the tabula rasa and apocalypse are one. Where they fold into each other. Demers gives us this, in the form of a musicology as dystopian sci-fi. She explores what I have outlined here through Tim Hecker and Celer, via Boethius. She has taken risks, and they pay off. She was the right person to open a serious debate about drone in book form, not me.

Now it is up to us to carry on the conversation in the spirit of her annunciation. Here is my offering as an invocation. Snow, snow, snow come on snow, blast it all blind into a wiped, white VHS crackle. Lose the landscape and this sadness, in drifts no gritter can pass.

Your instructions. Get this book, put Oval on repeat. Think, reflect, think, write. Repeat.