“Science fiction doesn’t predict the future, it determines it, colonizes it, preprograms it in the image of the present.” – William Gibson
“Electric circuitry confers a mythic dimension on our ordinary individual and group actions. Our technology forces us to live mythically.” – Marshall McLuhan
More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures In Sonic Fiction is an interesting, even important book, but Kodwo Eshun either reads too much Deleuze & Guttuari, or smokes too much weed – none of it doing his writing much good. Clay-feet language machinery runs smoothly at times only, doing his nomadic thinking a great disservice. Too many neologisms will fuck up your digestive system.
I applaud Eshun’s attempt to bring new textual styles to the table, but try breaking through to new worlds too quickly, and contact with the Mothership will be lost. Expeditions will get stuck in orbit, in a postmodern loop, isolated from the everyday life of the planet. The text masturbates itself. Author hubris is evident. You need to keep contact with the oceans of ancient times and stay connected to the traditions of the older tribes. At times you get the impression that his cathedrals of poetical fragments, fractals and fractures have been raised only to cover up for lightweight ideas; jewels glimmering falsely, like tinfoil bling much less brilliant than the sun.
Typically, the pieces that works the best are those about music whose thinking and mythological structure is already quite developed: Underground Resistance, Drexciya, Parliament-Funkadelic, Lee Perry. Around them his writing works well, actually.
Music can not avoid telling stories and generating concepts. A seemingly empty genre like minimal techno is about nothingness; about meditation and architecture; like dub it’s about creating space. It is music full of ideas. This is one of the strongest points of Eshun’s book. The thinking is already in the music. It doesn’t need academics. George Clinton invented sampladelia, and he didn’t need Heidegger to do it. When Lee Perry talks about the death of the individual (although in different terms) he didn’t get that concept from reading Foucault. It’s right there in the music.
(p. 106) “The producer is now the modular input, willingly absorbed into McLuhan’s ‘medium which processes its users, who are its content. (…) Cyborging, to borrow the words of Norman Mailer, ‘takes the immediate experiences of any man, magnifyies the dynamic of his movements, not specifically but abstractly so that he is seen as a vector in a network of forces.’”
What is the essence of HipHop? Where did its birth take place? Generally one might say: it’s black music, that refers back to the history and culture of black people. Or perhaps: it’s opressed people’s music everywhere, that refers to their specific history in a similar way. That rings true. But Eshun adds a posthuman perspective that says that the human being isn’t the sole source of creativity. Musical equipment – two turntables, the cheap-ass mixer, the time-bending sampler, the drum machine, Roland Space Echo – also have a parental role in the birth of Hip-Hop. Techno music is, of course, even more radical in this sense (think about electro and the 808 or acid house and the 303). On page 102 Eshun writes:
“HipHop updates blaxplotation’s territories; it represents the street. By opting out of this logic of representation, Techno disappears itself from the street, the ghetto and the hood. Drexciya doesn’t represent Detroit the same way Mobb Deep insist they represent Staten Island (sic!).”
Eshun loses me a bit here. Bedroom producers might have made some innovative works in the world of techno music (Drexciya, AFX, etc.), but they would be nothing without the scene, the electro and acid clubs and parties, that is – the streets. That’s what’s given them energy. The streets are essential: it’s where people meet. And as long as we have community, we will have some sort of representation. We can never leave the streets. But we can leave the industry, the inner-city clubs, the traps of fame and professionalism.
(p. 103) “Cybotron’s Techno City, like all these possibility spaces, is Sonic Fiction: electronic fiction, with frequencies fictionalized, synthesized and organized into escape routes. (…) Which is why you should always laugh in the face of those producers , djs and journalists who sneer at escapism for its unreality, for its fakeness; all those who strain to keep it real. (…) Sonic Fiction strands you in the present with no way of getting back to the 70s. Sonic Fiction is the first stage of a reentry program which grasps this very clearly. Sonic Fictions are part of modern music’s MythSystems. Moving through living space, real-world environments that are already alien. Operating instructions for the escape route from yourself. Overthrow the Internal Empire of your head. Secede from the stupidity of intelligence, the inertia of good taste, the rigor mortis of cool. You’re born into a rigged prison which the jailors term Real Life. Sonic Fiction is the manual for your own offworld break-out, reentry program, for entering Earth’s orbit and touching down on the landing strips of your senses.”
(p. 85) “Electro is an E-Z learn induction into the militarization of pop life, the sensualizing of militarization, the enhanced sensorium of locking into the Futurhythmachine.”
(p. 119) “From arcadegames to the Net to simulation games, civil society is the low end research-and-development unit of the military. Techno has the nomad’s edge over HipHop’s hypervisible trooper forever crucified in the crosshair of the gunsight.”
The urban prairies of a downsized and crime-ridden Detroit gave musical scientists a perfect backdrop for experiments in cold, weightless futurism, in a way similar to how Kraftwerk had laid the foundation for a new consciousness among the generation growing up after the Second World War. A new powerful music was needed to fill the catastrophic vacuum. Detroit answered Kraftwerk’s coldly bitter and beautiful anthem We Are The Robots by saying: “We are the aliens” (work and alienation: two reoccuring themes in electronic music).
The visionary quality of Juan Atkins and UR would not come forth as naturally in New York or Los Angeles. Techno doesn’t abandon the streets, but its mode of representation is different. Instead of fighting over old turfs, techno creates new spaces. While HipHop constantly refers to and rewrites its history, electronic music aims for “an empty future waiting to be populated.”
“UR realised that their was little point in ‘exposing the reality’ of social deprivation and inequality – why bother, when that reality was already depressingly well known? Instead they used fictions to diagram the way in which social reality as it is experienced is a second-order effect of more abstract processes: a war between programmers and fugitives, between overground normality and underground gnosis, between a history given over to atrocity and exploitation and an empty future waiting to be populated.
UR started at the end of the 1980s, at the very moment when the End of History was being proclaimed. They immediately understood that, when the Cold War ended, political struggle would get even colder and cultivated an estranging, alienating distance.”
(from The Wire, number 285, nov, 2007)
HipHop being born in New York surely has something to do with its intense mix of cultures (and especially a Jamaican influence – that is after all where the battles, the DJ:s, the MC:s and the soundsystems were imported from). A comment on BLUNT RAPPS adds another important social aspect to our story of modern music (by way of a book by Tricia Rose):
“kids of that period and location were geared towards a manufacturing based economy, whereas they found themselves in what is called post industrialized society. So you get Herc being trained as an auto mechanic in vocational school messing around with his father’s system, Flash similarly schooled making his own cross fader, stuff like that. It’s easy to see that hands-on interest in fucking around with (often obsolete) technology linking to futurism and space rap and electro, currents which have apparently stayed in the ether ’til today. Also tempting to link it to PE’s soundscapes as a representation of a political landscape, or NWA’s as a geographical/political one, as in the same refusal to be left for dead in the ass-end of the system”.
This social angle is needed to balance Eshun’s powerful hybrid of musical myths and conceptual hubris. It’s up to us to expand upon these perspectives, and especially in praxis.