Wednesday, August 15, 2012


One more addendum to the idea of post-digital abstraction I was thinking about last night: this excellent interview with Ship Canal over at Zone Styx Travelcard. The description of Ship Canal's music is exactly what I had in mind:
the sound of youtube's algorithm getting rewritten, or overwritten, or getting into a fight with, the neural pathways of the human brain: strange splashes of found tonal colour, edges left frayed, collaged and accelerated into a blur, until the colours run and meld into a kind of deep, stewed (mushroom) tea brown.
These kinds of musical signifiers--and I guess since I've been using it, I'm stuck calling them post-digital abstraction--are related to, but distinct from, the kind of maximalist music that someone like Rustie or Justice trades in, I think. Whereas digital maximalism is "flat/bright/busy" and "has no interest in 'atmosphere'--it's about dazzle so fierce it chases away all the shadows . . . preposterously euphoric but genuinely awesome: not so much striking a balance between sublime and ridiculous as merging them until they're indistinguishable," post-digital abstraction works similar territory, exploring the atmosphere that both produces flat/bright/busy and that allows it to flourish as an aesthetic, but doesn't have to do so as a way to a kind of sugar and caffeine rush of sound. The same signifiers might be deployed in digital maximalism, but they are not, in and of themselves, inherently maximalist in the vein that Rustie and others are.

In his article on digital maximalism, Simon Reynolds traces the term's slightly different provenance outside of music, in William Powers' take on modern life's emphasis on maximum connectivity as a lifestyle that "max[es] out your nervous system, leaving you in a brittle state of hectic numbness, overwhelmed by options, increasingly incapable of focused concentration or fully-immersed enjoyment." Digital maximalism takes those moments of partially-immersed enjoyment and microsecond-length, fragmented bursts of concentration as building blocks, as tools rather than problems--if I can't focus on just one thing, why not focus on everything all at once?--and uses them to craft hymns to a digitally maximalized body and mind via a sound that is delirious and fevered, not worried about cohering because its chaotic and scattered nature is its essence. Post-digital abstraction, I think, is the sound of those microseconds of concentration before they get processed into the roil and jumble of digital maximalism--it remembers historicity, even if it no longer finds it feasible to operate within that framework. There's a scene in Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man in which the titular character, while suffering from one of the violent blackouts for which he's undergone surgery, opens his mouth and makes a noise like static. A computer programmer, he's obsessed with the idea that computers are taking over society. Post-digital abstraction seems to me to be related to the noise coming out of his mouth.

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