Quantum Data Teleportation and Other Science Fictions (Links)


Adrienne LaFrance, “The US Army Says It Can Teleport Quantum Data Now, Too.”

Joe Veix, “Top Tweets from the CIA.”

Adrienne LaFrance, “The Promise of a New Internet” and “Facebook is Expanding the Way It Tracks You and Your Data.”

Robinson Meyer, “Google Owns a Satellite Now.”

According to Tim Parks, in “Reading: The Struggle,” it is really hard to read today. I wish someone would talk to me before making such claims. . . .

Andrew Leonard, “Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Vision of the Future is Terrifying.”

And some good news in hyperarchivalism: the entire Jade Tree catalog just became available for streaming. Avail, Cap’n Jazz, Denali, Jets to Brazil, Lifetime, Milemarker, Pedro the Lion, The Promise Ring, These Arms Are Snakes, The Turing Machine, et cetera. My youth in miniature.

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Repackaging the Archive (Part V): Vital Materiality and Milemarker, Part 2

Read / See Part 1.

In migration, the sun is no longer the terrestrial sun reigning over a territory, even an aerial one; it is the celestial sun of the Cosmos, as in the two Jerusalems, the Apocalypse.

—Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus[1]

Milemarker, Frigid Forms Sell (Arlington, VA: Lovitt Records, 2000)

Frigid Forms Sell takes Milemarker’s own self-aware aesthetic position one step further than simply commenting upon their own object production in a manner akin to what would be a musical/scenester/Skylab-Commerce version of David Foster Wallace’s “Octet.”[2] Though a clear awareness throughout the rest of their work of the hyperarchival forces they are inextricably bound to—coupled with the simultaneous awareness of how their own object-production attempts to resist such forces—is surely present, and to increasingly strange degrees,[3] Frigid Forms Sell (hereafter FFS)effectively changes the conversation in a far more politically ambitious way (than through recursive self-reference) by stressing the necessity of a perspective capable of attending to the relative vitality of all objects. What this album effectively signaled in their development as a band was a move that went beyond merely critiquing the contemporary consumer’s relationship to objects (whether they be a punk rock consumer or not), and imagined a politics centered around objects themselves, objects that, given the emergent properties of matter and the posthuman blurring b/t object/media/tool and human, now could be considered to display a kind of political “subjectivity.”

Though evident throughout the album,[4] its first three tracks display particularly effectively the inherent conflict b/t the idea of mute, inert, dumb matter, and matter considered as vital and/or vibrant, ultimately highlighting the dangers of a human-centered ontology, an ontology incapable of grasping the vital being of matter itself. The first track begins exploring the conflict b/t inert and vital matter formally, by performing this conflict as one b/t the digital and the analog. This brief “song,” an untitled introduction to the album, places one immediately in the realm of the wholly digital, both in terms of voice and sound. A mostly unparsable, heavily altered “human” voice says, well, something, [5] which introduces around twenty seconds of driving, electronic (if intelligent) dance music, only to be interrupted by a single, analog, distorted guitar, at which point begins “Frigid Forms Sell You Warmth,” the album’s titular song.

This brief shift b/t the clearly digital and the clearly (if electronic) analog does three things: 1) signals what was then (in the late 90s) a quite complex node of problems (the analog vs. the digital, esp. w/r/t punk rock),[6] 2) gestures toward a mode of production and recording that Milemarker would continue to challenge in their work,[7] and 3) foregrounds the two primary modes that humans currently have of approaching the vibration of matter (i.e. sound): the analog and digital. W/ this shift from its digital “[intro]” to a more-familiar analog guitar introduction, Milemarker is, if not privileging, then at least noting that the digital has achieved primacy w/r/t considering vibrating matter, both in recorded music and elsewhere, and that despite the dominance of analog recording during the majority of the 20th c.,[8] it now takes a violent break, a classic guitar-violence, to place us back amongst the realm of the analog.

What is being performed w/ this break is not what it might at first appear to be: a condemnation of the instrumentalization of sound (i.e. vibrating matter) through digital recording practices, and thus a critique of anything digital. Rather, this break foregrounds that music, and thus sound (and thus matter), must realize that the beginning of the 21st c. is an entrance into a new sonic dispensation, a shift to a new ontic experience of matter at its most sensorial level (the aural), and that consequently we must radically re-think our relationship to matter itself now that our mode of recording and experiencing sound has fundamentally changed. One mode of doing this is to rethink the most common trope of rock-and-roll: the distorted guitar. Through this introduction of digital moving toward analog (rather than the other way around), Milemarker makes a claim that it is precisely the digital that allows us, indeed forces us to rethink our relationship to matter itself, not matter experienced as a cleanly articulated, smooth analog space of experience, but as a wildly fragmented, striated space that we can only map through ones and zeros. In other words, the myth of analog, the myth of the vinyl recording, was predicated on the notion that there was an inert object that could be known and recorded. W/ the introduction of the digital, experience is forced to acknowledge that the vitality of matter prevents such easy objectification, and, though the digital is surely less accurate at recording the material world (at the moment), it is, quite strangely (and I know this is an inversion of commonplace thinking), capable of glimpsing the vitality of the objects it records. In other words, our experience of the digital world forces us to confront its emergent vitality, the fact that a distorted guitar simply feels different in a digital medium, that it takes on aspects it never had before, or in other words, the internet is alive.

Furthermore, this shift signals something esp. important w/r/t power and its particular emergence as control in digital societies,[9] and it is something Jacques Attali notes particularly well w/r/t music and what he calls “noise”:

More than colors and forms, it is sounds and their arrangements that fashion societies. With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion. In noise can be read the codes of life, the relations among men. . . when it is fashioned by man with specific tools, when it invades man’s time, when it becomes sound, noise is the source of purpose and power, of the dream—Music. . . . Everywhere codes analyze, mark, restrain, train, repress, and channel the primitive sounds of language, of the body, of tools, of the relations between self and others. All music, any organization of sounds is then a tool for the creation or consolidation of a community, of a totality. It is what links a power center to its subjects, and thus, more generally, it is an attribute of power it all its forms.[10]

It is significant that Attali wrote this in 1977, if not only for the simple fact that the very ideological capture Attali is everywhere exploring in Noise has become exponentially easier, more insidious, and more total w/ digitally recorded  sound,[11] but b/c the “consolidation of a [digital] community” could be read in terms of Part 1’s emphasis on the fetish-object of punk rock vis-à-vis its various digital encodings—in other words as a perfect example of late-capitalism’s ability to absorb resistance into its own matrix of power and repackage it for easy consumption. The “[intro]” of FFS and its transition to the first proper song on the album, consequently, should be read as both enacting and resisting a complex (parallax) dialectic b/t the analog and digital, the laptop[12] and guitar, control and resistance, music and noise. The opening analog guitar riff of “Frigid Forms Sell You Warmth” mobilizes a rock-and-roll tradition (the distorted guitar), that is, if not dead or dying, then re-coded digitally (i.e. the entire tradition is), sounding strangely hollow and inert after the vibrant and danceable digital introduction. The line b/t music and noise, clearly, is not only being blurred and commented upon, but the particular medium of that music/noise (digital/analog) blurs to become indistinguishable in this moment. The effect, in short, is that Milemarker is all of a sudden channeling, recording, producing, and reproducing something where, rather than fashioning a society through sound, code becomes foundational. In other words, though of course Attali is clearly applicable (still) to thinking through and w/ Milemarker, it might be more apropos to suggest that “everywhere codes. . . are the primitive sounds of language,” etc. In the introduction we are listening to code-itself, and the guitar, though briefly interrupting this digital moment in a (traditional) analog fashion, condemns the impotence of itself as a vehicle and weapon of resistance, thereby foreclosing a history that can now only be understood, in terms of sound, through its digital encoding, capture, and archiving,[13] while simultaneously opening a brief moment of utopian possibility, of the possibility to reconsider how we might negotiate the complex noise/music dialectic, only to also be foreclosed and shut down in posthuman apocalyptic glee by the first words sung on the album. What this all effectively does is redraw the boundaries of how to consider the object itself (the album) that a listener is engaged w/. Rather than imagining some idyllic, analog, distorted-guitar, rock-and-roll “pure” past that could be returned to if only we took a neo-ludditic stance toward the digital-objectival regime, it not only points out the inherent failures of considering the distorted guitar as a vehicle for revolutionary possibility, but points more productively toward the realization that sound, whether digital or analog, is now only code, ones and zeros, brutal ice-cubes of representation.[14] The material world, consequently, threatens to be completely broken down into code, and whatever vibrancy matter itself creates in sound, can only be approached as cold, inert, and objectival—i.e. translatable into code. This is the danger Milemarker confronts most directly on FFS.

The entirety of the lyrics to “Frigid Forms Sell You Warmth” deserve full quotation here in that they quickly imagine the catastrophic outcome of such a code-based regime:

We keep waiting for the robots to crush us from the sky. They sneak in through our fingertips and bleed our fingers dry. There’s a product line attached to every form. The symptoms they ascribed to venereal disease all these years turned out to be side effects of the magnetic strips on the credit cards. There’s a product line attached to every form of suicide.

There are complex array of issues at stake here that continue to find expression throughout the rest of FFS, and these issues immediately signal Milemaker’s transformation of what at first might appear as merely a specific critique of media (digital vs. analog) into a crisis that fundamentally threatens (something like) “being itself.” W/ the first line (“we keep waiting for robots to crush us from the sky”), Milemarker has effectively washed up upon the shore of the (hyper)archive, upon a new dispensation of data- and object-relations having little-to-no connection to the safety previously found aboard the ship of anthropocentric metaphysics afloat in a sea of clearly definable limit-relations b/t humans, objects, data, and noise; they are suddenly deposited into a wholly posthuman world where objects (robots: the technological singularity) emerge from code, emerge from the very things (fingers) which were initially responsible for entering that code into the database in the first place through its primary entry point: the keyboard.[15] These robots, these vital objects, these machines w/ all the properties of being-itself, are archival machines, and they parasite back upon the very human input that made them possible, turning the most bodily of functions, sex and disease, into mere expressions of material force: magnetism and capital.[16] Suicide, the last, final act of will permitted to “life,” becomes not merely a “product line,” something to be reified and sold, but the various horizons previously available to this act can now only be understood within the robotic regime: the horizons have been redrawn by the robots “bleeding our fingers dry” in the same moment we create them through our most obvious archival process (typing). We wait for the robots to crush us from the sky b/c we have this holdover notion of a Terminator­-esque eschatology, of a limit-break where objects rise up to end “life,” but these vitally material objects interact w/ the human to the point of making that limit that consciousness cannot pass, death, merely another expression of an objectival-regime; what Milemarker reveals here is the brute reality of matter itself, w/o distinction b/t life and death, b/t “artificial” or “natural” intelligence/life, and consequently they reveal their engagement w/ a political ecology of things. What is stake w/in such an ecology, is that w/o a new perspective on the robotic-regime threatening the “human,” indeed, w/o radically rethinking the horizon of the human itself, current modes of relating to matter can only have as their horizon an eschatological closure in which the human disappears into the digital-objectival archive. The disappearance of the human should not be read here as a disappearance of the transcendental subject, nor even as tragic in any way, but of a fundamental inability to think anything other than traditional forms of political subjectivity. When suicide becomes a product line, a radical necessity is revealed, and this necessity is fundamentally ontological at its horizons.

“Signal Froze,” the third track on FFS, makes what is at stake—politically, ontologically, and archivally—even more explicit.

And the lyrics to this song also deserve full quotation: “The shipwreck survivors contemplate their icy tomb. Captain abdicates command over the intercom. No signals received on the radio. They’ll send a search party when it thaws. They’ll send a search party. . . right? My S.O.S. smoke signals froze and clattered down in cloudy ice cubes. Turn on the microwave and defrost the world.” To extend my ship-of-Western-metaphysics metaphor above, the ship has smashed upon the rocks of an objectival-archival world that the human can only perceive as an “icy tomb.” In the face of this, traditional sovereignty, traditional forms of power abdicate, and their “sign-off,” the captain of the “ship-of-state” sends out one last coherent analog signal transferring power to the icy-tomb itself (the cold object/archive). Language, as a result, can only take the form of an “S.O.S.,” a distress signal that, b/c of its newly instantiated objectival-archival medium, is not only transferred into code—absorbed, frozen, and reified—but clatters down, breaking into ambiguous, non-signifying, “cloudy ice cubes.” Language, the call, the distress signal, the plea for help, the primal (impotent) scream culled from the pain of individuation becomes mere cold geometry here. The only solution: nuke the world. The only solution: absolute radiation.

And it is from such a dismal perspective on the future of posthumanity that the true political stakes of Milemarker’s intervention become apparent. “Signal Froze” and “Frigid Forms Sell You Warmth” designate the political perspective available to the thinking of matter, of objects, of things as inert, bounded, nonhuman, non-vital, dead. To make this visually clear, consider the following (reposted) archival apocalypse:

Clearly the premise of the above video is that matter (or code) does contain some amount of vitality, and that it will indeed organize into some coherent form. This form, matter’s final instantiation, its transformation of the earth into a giant black cube, perhaps a single digital (void-)pixel, however, reveals an underlying assumption about matter and its political horizon. Here, matter is always already poised toward entropy, toward non-complex singularity, and consequently, the political perspective available to thinking through matter in this mode is equally limited: it always approaches the heat-death of politics, there is no agency, subjectivity, or possibility for matter to do anything else but absorb us w/in its all-encompassing inertia.

“Tundra” makes the same point on FFS: “The ice age is coming. Better get a sweater or something. I don’t think the mammals are going to make it this time. Better get a prescription, so why you’re frozen you can still be smiling. You can’t outrun the tundra. So you might as well go under.”

Considering matter as entropic heat-death, as always moving toward an all-encompassing frozen tundra enclosing the world—this perspective does not leave room for anything except an acceptance of a quiet catastrophe, a silent eschaton. One “might as well go under.” Rather than go under raging against the dying of the light, attempting one last super-hero-type coup against the order of things, the only answer available to matter considered as non-vital is an absolute loss of agency, of revolutionary possibility. This isn’t merely passivity and resignation in the face of inevitable death. This perspective makes resistance into: “better get a sweater or something.” The irony of this “something” is total. It does not matter what thing one gets, what piece of matter one chooses to harness, what tool constructed from matter one tries to use. The very fact that it is matter itself, the sweater will only serve to more fully cover one in the slowly advancing logic of entropy.

So, obviously I am drawing heavily here upon Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter mentioned briefly in Part 1, a book whose project is to pose a political and ontological alternative to “Tundra,” a perspective on matter that attempts to “(1) paint a positive ontology of vibrant matter, which stretches received concepts of agency, action, and freedom sometimes to the breaking point; (2) to dissipate the onto-theological boundaries of life/matter, human/animal, will/determination, and organic/inorganic using arguments and other rhetorical means to induce in human bodies an aesthetic-affective openness to material vitality; and (3) to sketch a style of political analysis that can better account for the contributions of nonhuman actants.”[17] Though clearly not formulated in such clear theoretical terms, I would like to suggest that Milemarker is engaged in similar project, and ultimately achieves such a perspective—against “Tundra,” “Frigid Forms Sell You Warmth,” and “Signal Froze,” three songs that outline the apocalyptic horizons of considering matter as nonvital—in two ways. The first is through a thorough acknowledgment that “organic and inorganic bodies, natural and cultural objects. . . all are affective.”[18] The affect that matter takes on during the course of FFS is primarily erotic, and as such, Milemarker, through proposing an erotics of things (or perhaps what I elsewhere called “archival erotics,”), is able to consider “each human [a]s a heterogeneous compound of wonderfully vibrant, dangerously vibrant matter,”[19] interacting complexly w/ a world that is not delimitable in terms of subject/object. The second mode of vital materiality they propose is quite similar to what Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker call “the exploit.”[20] In opposition to a digitally-networked regime of control, of sound as what constitutes the ground of power in Attali’s terms, they push the logic of the network, and consequently the nonvital perspective on matter, past its breaking point.

“Sex Jam One: Sexual Machinery,” and “Sex Jam Two: Insect Incest,” though initially they seem to indicate and propagate the nihilistic “might as well go under” of “Tundra,” to detail an impotent despair in the face of the machinery of sex, in fact propose an (if subtle) alternative. Again, to quote in full:

She looked at me with the biggest brown eyes and she screamed at me: ‘would you like to fuck?’ ‘I’ll cut off my hands if you cut out your eyes.’ It made sense to me. We slide up, mechanically set, for the perfect alibi of passion gone by. I’m all out of change and you’re up I-95. We’re the couple that couldn’t make the payments but kept the car anyway. If it’s going to have to be like that then we might as well arrange the perfect set for the perfect fame.

“Sex Jam One” could not be more incisive and immediate re: the potentially complete instrumentalization of human sexual relations, a statement that boils down all sexuality into its most brutal, simple, basic discursive formation: “Would you like to fuck?” Further, this formation of sexuality appears to also have a corollary juridical, contractual aspect—i.e. such a statement (“would you like to fuck?”) is no different than, would you like to buy this car, esp. in terms of the response it generates. . . okay, yes? well, then just sign here. . . “I’ll cut off my hands if you cut out your eyes.” One should not be too quick, however, to consider this merely as an extension of the dominating logic of reification—i.e. that, from Milemarker’s obvious apocalyptic perspective, well, yes, of course sex is emptied of its affect as well. For, if one realizes that something was actually “produced” or “conceived” from this “sexual machinery,” and that it was, indeed, a machine (“we’re the couple that couldn’t make the payments but kept the car anyway. . .”), then one might read this song in different terms than outlined thus far. The machine, the car, is kept; no hand of capital comes and punishes this “couple” for being unable to make payments on their car. Debt, here, is not only written off but ignored. The “sexual machinery,” the seemingly brutal reification of sex into a simple question and a violent contract, is confounded, esp. considering that no answer is given to the initial question. Instead, the question and the contract produce a machine, a thing, an object, but it is an object that, somehow, is outside of capital’s grasp. The sexual couple can keep this car. It has produced something that, no matter how strangely, evades the logic of capital in a weirdly simple fashion. It is an object that is affective, erotic, and conceived. Sex here becomes not merely a relationship b/t two objects, two reified bodies. Sex is able to itself produce further affect at the material level. A car, quite simply, becomes vital (or perhaps a subject).

Of course one must engage in interpretive gymnastics to produce a reading of “Sex Jam One” as anything more than simply a dismal presentation of sexual machinery. “Sex Jam Two,” however, presents a much clearer moment to consider the possibility of nonhuman materiality/sexuality and an erotics of things.

You could bring home the pollen, I could be the queen bee. The way the mammals do it is inefficient and unsanitary. You’ve got to whisper to me, make sure that I’m not dead. You’ve got to take your tweezers and pry apart my little legs. You ought to kick it to me and then bite off my head. That’s the way the insects do it. Exoskeletons filled with fluid. I wish I could peel away your humid human skin and attach you to me, parasitically. Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. (My emphases.)

“Sex Jam Two” traces a different kind of sexual machinery than “Sex Jam One,” namely an animal (or “insectival”) sexual machinery. Considering the original recording of “Insect Incest,”[21] which was collected on Changing Caring Humans, is also important w/r/t the song’s insectival nature. The original recording was quite a bit slower, sans keyboard in the background, and had Burian singing in a much more monotone, affectless tone—the only real moment of affect coming when he screams, with an extreme amount of (almost insectival) distortion, “exoskeletons filled with fluid!” The original recording, then, could easily be heard as a kind of critique, a consideration of insectival sexuality as nothing more than a fairly critical analogy of contemporary sexual practices. FFS’s “Sex Jam Two,” however, interprets the original song w/ quite a bit more feeling, and though the closing lines of “yeah, yeah, Oh yeah. yeah,” must still be heard in all their overflowing irony, the second version of this song (the one above) is far more celebratory of “insect incest” than the original.

There are two things that are primarily being celebrated: 1) the efficiency, the logic of bee- or insect-sexuality, and 2) the blurring of any boundaries b/t sexual bodies. This efficiency and blurring is immediately and quite provocatively signaled in the first line. Not only are normal gender/sexual stereotypes overturned here—the “woman” bringing home the pollen, the “male” being the “queen bee” responsible for the creation of the hive and other sexual bodies (i.e. its own sexual objects), but it should also make us think about emergent sexuality.[22] One of the things that has often been noted about bee (or ant) colonies is that, contrary to popular figurations (say Antz, or something), the queen of a bee colony has no hierarchical control over how the colony operates. Whatever intelligence or complex organization occurs in a beehive, it is a result of the complex network and flows of all the bees.[23] Consequently, redrawing a “sex jam” along the lines of emergent, insectival sexuality, decentralizes anthropomorphic notions of sex, and also creates new limits: “You’ve got to whisper to me, make sure that I’m not dead. You’ve got to take your tweezers and pry apart my little legs. You ought to kick it to me and then bite off my head.” The you/me, subject/object version of human biological sexuality is overturned to the point that, even though a “you/me” structures the imperatives sung by Burian, it is nearly impossible to find the “object” of the sex drive. The singer is simultaneously the “queen bee,” a thanatoid object whose vitality is in question (see insect “thanatosis”), a “female” whose legs need to be pried apart, and the male praying mantis who, after sex, is killed (or decapitated) by the female praying mantis. The erotic/objectival horizons of “Insect Incest” are rhizomatic, distributed, and do not participate in a human sexual economy, thereby redrawing erotic possibility and affect, redrawing drive and desire. Parasitic sex,[24] sex where there is a complex relationship b/t host and parasite (and clearly it is difficult to discern which is which here), presents a horizon of material possibility, a mode of thinking about objects, matter, and non-human “actants” (in this case animals or insects), and ultimately traces a line of flight from the world of “Tundra.”

The second mode of exploration regarding the possibility for a vital materiality occurs on the penultimate song of the album, “Server Error,” and quite closely resembles Galloway and Thacker’s notion of the exploit in protocological systems.

[W]ithin protocological networks, political acts generally happen not by shifting power from one place to another but by exploiting power differentials already existing in the system. This is due mainly to the fundamentally informatic nature of networks. Informatic networks are largely immaterial. But immaterial does not mean vacillating or inconsistent. They operate through the brutal limitations of abstract logic (if/then, true or false). Protocological struggles do not center around changing existent technologies but instead involve discovering holes in existent technologies and projecting potential change through those holes. Hackers call these holes “exploits.”[25]

On “Server Error,” Milemarker is perhaps at their clearest in terms of their call for and mode of resistance, and it is nearly impossible to not notice how they structure resistance through the exploit, from inside, from pushing the logic of the system past its breaking point, by masking oneself w/in the confines and structures of protocol, only revealing the true nature of the resistance after protocological control has been hacked. For “Server Error,” again, the lyrics deserve full-quotation (esp. considering it is difficult to parse them aurally):

I’ve got a recipe for integrity. We can just start tonight with just a kilobyte. We won’t save what we won’t take. That would just build the next mistake. It’ll look real clean. We won’t be seen. Take a bit each time you walk out five. We’ll destroy from within the information age. We’ll make a clever break. There won’t be an escape. Gradually weaken the machine piece by piece. Leave its shell in place. I’ve got a recipe for integrity. Act like you belong until the final stage.

Frigid Forms Sell, by working through the eschatological implications of a non-vital political project, pointing toward an erotics of things, and celebrating multiple sexual machineries, achieves its political vision on “Server Error,” and it is a vision only graspable when all the implications of what Galloway and Thacker call “networked being” have been dealt w/.

Networks are said to have a “life of their own,” but we search in vain for the “life” that is specific to networks, except their being as networks. On the one hand, the proof of the existence as such of living organisms is their living. On the other hand, the proof of the living aspects of networks is their existence as such, that is, their being. The question of “life” and the question of “being” seem always to imply each other, but never to meet.[26]

It is precisely from a perspective on the vitality of matter, on the vibrant nature of things, that Milemarker is able to explore this gap throughout FFS where “being” and “life” do not meet. Rather than “going down with the ship” on “Tundra,” they stake out the terms of not only the various possibilities for “being” vital materialism offers, but how to mobilize a politics from this perspective. It is impossible to not get an affective sense of this when listening to the album as a whole. There is a distinctly cold tone to the entire album, a mechanical approach to rock-and-roll that is continually upset by the experience of listening, of vitally engaging w/ its vibrating matter (sound). But to suggest that FFS completely achieves the “thaw” of the frozen matter, sound, and music it presents would be to ignore perhaps the two most important moments in the rest of their work where the issues here presented interact in a quite complex manner. These two moments are “Ant Architect,” on their album Anaesthetic,[27] and “Sun Out” on their final album (at least of this writing), Ominosity (2005).

“Ant Architect” is (in my humble opinion) Milemarker’s most well-executed, well-conceived (if not their “best”) song:

Mad scientist sits at his desk. Tries to decide which buildings should face east and which west. Allergic to the hive, the hive is giving him hives. He’s an ant architect, a meteorologist of mood swings and other things which shouldn’t be measured. If the brain is the engine and the heart is the carburetor, and the legs are made of rubber and the spine is made of pipe cleaners we can build our own people in any way we choose. We can push our own buttons like adolescent gods. We can bask in the glow of the new synthetic sun. The casket you know is the most comfortable one. We can suture the future shut like a cut. We can build epic structures which replicate us. Deaf-mute in a leisure suit who, try as he might, fails nightly. Fails miserably. Buys a colony from the back of a magazine, plays simulated city with real living things. His fear of death is intense as he crushes the ants. But there’s a freedom there: there’s no one to apologize to. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.

Milemarker’s “mad scientist,” this “ant architect” inhabits the difficult, precarious position of a human coping w/ the realization that all matter is vital w/o regard for the human. He attempts to measure things which “shouldn’t be measured,” “mood swings,” yes, the affective output of chemical changes in the material body, but also, quite importantly, “other things.” The fact that these things which shouldn’t be measured are simply “other things,” means they can be any old things whatsoever, things as always other, things themselves, perhaps, but simply things. Things shouldn’t be measured. For we cannot, at the end of the day, ever really definitely measure any thing, and perhaps most importantly, things cannot measure other things either. There is always a gap, a lack, an abyss b/t things. And this “ant architect” inhabits the problematic and paradoxical position of the (mad) scientist whose role it is to measure things, while simultaneously completely aware that “the brain is the engine and the heart is the carburetor, and the legs are made of rubber and the spine is made of pipe cleaners”; in other words, the human is a thing as well, composed of things, and it is a thing trying to measure things, etc. W/in this objectival space, this space of trying to inhabit a position of perceiving matter as vital, there is always the danger of being able to “build our own people in any way we choose. We can push our own buttons like adolescent gods”; but there is the simultaneous realm of possibility, of celebration, where “we can bask in the glow of the new synthetic sun.” This “synthetic sun” should not be read completely ironically—being able to create light, and consequently, synthesizing the force (the sun) which is (probably) responsible for producing life and (surely) responsible for maintaining it, is the very paradox this ant architect inhabits. Inhabiting a space where one considers matter as vital is difficult, in other words.

What is at stake is the future itself, the continued existence of the species, for on the one hand the ant architect threatens to “suture the future shut like a cut,” to foreclose the possibility of the species in posthuman extinction by being able to “build epic structures which replicate us.” But at the same time, this posthuman position provides a new type of freedom: “But there’s a freedom there: there’s no one to apologize to.” The ant architect inhabits a space where the human has been almost completely decentered, where the old ontological chain of being has completely broken, and the idea of any sort of hierarchy, humans (or matter) being accountable to any other thing, is revealed as ludicrous. Consequently, though perhaps failing at his project, this ant architect inhabits, almost completely, the postmodern ethical position, in all its problematic complexity and ambiguity; he has embraced the reality of what Heidegger called Abgrund (absence of ground, the void), and must figure out how to live in a world of vibrating matter, in a world where there is no distinction b/t a pipe cleaner and a spine, a heart and a carburetor, legs and rubber, brains and an engines.

Perhaps the most important aspect of “Ant Architect,” however, is the final line that Burian sings repeatedly like a kind of mantra at the end of the song, evolving, growing, achieving a kind of life of its own: “Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.” If the majority of “Ant Architect” defines a problem, a conflict, a difficult ethical space for the human faced w/ its own materiality, a materiality which also forces the human to confront the vitality of matter itself, then this mantra is, quite strangely, almost divorced from the rest of the song. Clearly there is a critique of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (aka anti-depressants, e.g. Prozac), of a culture chemically altering itself at a quite basic level, of a culture incapable of confronting their own material nature by masking the void through drugs, but it is also important to attend to the relative amount of joy (and then anger) in the manner Burian sings this mantra. The hive, the world, material reality, etc., gives this ant architect hives, he’s allergic to it, and yet there is no outside, he is responsible for the building and upkeep of the hive, trying to decide which “building should face east and which west.” One solution for the anxiety such a position produces (and thus the anxiety of the postmodern subject) is, of course, “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.” But clearly, this solution, this “cure” is also a poison (again, a pharmakos). Faced w/ the awareness that he can alter his own affect, that, by changing his chemical and material makeup, he can change his affectivity, signals that matter is affective as well.

What Milemarker achieves in “Ant Architect” is the incredibly difficult position of having to confront the vitality of matter and its implications for political action and existence, and an awareness of what Deleuze and Guattari called “assemblage.”[28] No, they do not provide any “answers” for inhabiting such a position, do not provide a balm for even how to go about one’s life once in such a position (or really even how to get there), but they do reveal the paramount necessity, both for ethics and the future of the species, for what Bennet calls a political ecology of things. The posthuman ant architect who has to choose (which building should face east and which west), who has to make a decision about what to build, how to build it, and ultimately why (suture the future shut or not, and to what end), must first understand his relationship to the hive, to chemicals, to affect, and to matter. He must understand himself as a finite moment of assemblage, a singularity.

The effects generated by an assemblage are, rather, emergent properties, emergent in their ability to make something happen (a newly inflected materialism, a blackout, a hurricane, a war on terror) is distinct from the sum of the vital force of each materiality considered alone. Each member of a proto-member of the assemblage has a certain vital force, but there is also an effectivity proper to the grouping as such: an agency of assemblage. And precisely because each member-actant maintains an energetic pulse slightly “off” from that of the assemblage, an assemblage is never a stolid block but an open-ended collective, a “non-totalizable sum.” An assemblage thus not only has a distinctive history of formation but a finite life span.[29]

The world-historical stakes for the finite assemblage that is humanity, and indeed the assemblages we call life and the world are expressed in “Sun Out,” as well as the relative bleak prospects for the future of any finite assemblage. Milemarker have always pursued a certain kind of apocalypticism,[30] clearly discernible in many of the tracks from Frigid Forms Sell discussed here, as well as elsewhere, but nowhere does their eschatological imagination find such clear expression than in “Sun Out”:

When the sun went out nobody noticed. It took a couple of months for the winter not to end. It took a couple of years for it to get colder and colder until people began to panic and demand an explanation. And then the scientific community convened and decreed that the human race was done, and though we all still had time to bear children, none of them would live to see 21. And it was just gonna get colder and colder and colder and colder from here on out. There lake of limbs had frozen over. No one ever, ever thought this day would come. It’s getting harder and harder to die of natural causes. If you make it, you’ll be one of the last ones. The sun has gone down for the last time. There will be no moon tonight. It’s over.[31]

Though one is tempted to read “Sun Out” as an indictment of current ecological, political, scientific, and technological practices (and it is), and one is equally tempted to see this song as ultimately dismissing the precarious political position they have constructed throughout their work in the face of apocalyptic doom and gloom, a kind of total pessimistic nihilism, it is significant to pay attention to their specific eschatological formulation here, and how it differs significantly from more commonplace or popular formulations. Namely, that when the sun initially went out nobody noticed, it took a couple of months for people to notice, it took a couple of years to have any real effect, and for humans to really care at all.

This delay, this gap, this lag-time b/t the event and its effects is quite notable in terms of more traditional formulations in the apocalyptic imagination. Though clearly not having any grounding in materiality (i.e. it is not possible, and it is “unscientific”), they are pointing toward a deeply materialist engagement w/ the world. Yes, we all know that the sun will eventually explode into a red giant and consume the earth (in millions or billions of years, we’ll also probably be long gone when this happens), but the sun to quite literally go out (like a light bulb), and for no one to notice!? this betokens another eschatological regime than we are used to. Namely, apocalyptic formulations (even some of the worst ecological ones [see my “Eco-Jeremiad”]), most usually depend upon some type of event, a moment in time, what Frank Kermode calls a peripeteia—this is also b/c the apocalypse seems limited to narrative (at the moment)—a turning point w/ a temporally definable before and after. Here, the event is not merely unnoticed, but deferred. It is this deferral, this delay in the event’s instantiation and its perception, that we should pay particular attention to. The apocalyptic thing here, consequently, is not the event, but humanities’ inability to notice the crisis, its inability to perceive the very end of material vitality in the sun. If we continue to inhabit the position of perceiving objects as dumb, mute, inert, it is this very position that is dangerous, that has its telos at the end times. In other words, one might very easily say here that Milemarker is suggesting that if we continue to think of matter as dead—or, rather, cold—then matter will indeed “just gonna get colder and colder and colder and colder from here on out.” For there is definitely a sense on “Sun Out” that if people were just able to perceive the sun going out, perceive the end of its finite, vital assemblage, then some action could be taken, the crisis could be averted. (I cannot help but think here of Danny Boyle’s underappreciated [if clearly scientifically absurd] Sunshine [2007].

Though of course, none of this discussion really pertains to that film at all, as it devolves into a strange sort of slasher thriller. . . .)

It is also quite important to note that Ominosity in general, and “Sun Out” in particular, sees Milemarker changing the general dynamic of their sonic output quite significantly, esp. in contrast to the cold, detached aesthetic they achieve on FFS, and the medicinal tone of Anaesthetic. “Sun Out” has little-to-no digital sound, with the exception of strange bleeps and blips in the middle of the song where everything dies down to a bass playing single notes, followed by a long drum-roll before the epic final pronunciation of the song, “the sun has gone down for the last time,” is repeated (again, mantra-like) w/ increasing urgency. “Sun Out” is more “rocking,” more “epic” (it is one of their longest tracks, clocking in at 8:12), and it is far more “vital” than most of the music I have discussed here.

Within the trajectory of their work, one could do worse than reading “Sun Out” as a kind of end, as a final musical statement, as a culmination of their thinking and long aesthetic project. Though steeped in apocalyptic imagery, and clearly stating that “it’s over,” it would probably be wrong, however, to consider “Sun Out” as a final, brutal, pessimistic, critical assessment of futurity—i.e. that their entire career was spent detailing the apocalyptic limits of postmodern contemporaneity and that we receive a final condemnation on their last album. Rather, as I’ve endeavored to explore here (and in Part 1), “Sun Out” defines a critical stance toward matter, that we very, very much need to attend to the material world around us in all its different formations, and particularly its most important formation (obviously) for the persistence of life on earth—the sun. Yes, in our current digital, archival dispensation we are inclined not to “notice” the extinguished sun, and thus, Milemarker suggests that through our very inability to perceive matter as vital, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, it ceases to be so. I also realize that this entire reading of their work may be a stretch, and perhaps requires more familiarity w/ Jane Bennet’s Vibrant Matter than I have here sketched, but, perhaps what this reading has attempted to achieve, even more than its specific delineation of a persistent theme in their work, is that perhaps the time has come to take Milemarker—and by proxy, many of the important hardcore, “post-punk,” or “(scr)e(a)mo”[32] bands of the late 1990s and early 2000s—quite seriously. There was an edge, a project, a vitality, and a vision that much of the music of this period had, a vibrancy that has (perhaps) disappeared. Part of this disappearance is intimately linked to the relative disappearance of the concrete musical object (the 7”, the LP, the CD), but this in no way means that we cannot redraw our relationship to musical assemblage; that there is way to treat our iPods as vital and vibrant moments of emergent assemblage. And that, rather than the world getting “colder and colder and colder and colder,” there is, in fact, warmth, vitality, and vibrancy to be found in the hyperarchive, in or despite the instrumentalization of matter, and in the ones and zeros that define our musical-aesthetic regime. If nothing else, Milemarker asks us to listen again and really hear how they made matter vibrate.

[1] Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia: A Thousand Plateaus, Vol. 2., trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 326.

[2] See Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1999), 131-160.

[3] Take Anaesthetic, for instance:

Also see Al Burian’s commentary on the album and its cover in “A Very Long Q & A with Al Burian of Milemarker, Challenger, and Burn Collector”, an interview conducted by Shawn Goldberg at Creative Loafing (a name I very much appreciate). It contains some interesting notes on the more-recent state of the band and Burian’s own current pursuits, including his excellent zine, Burn Collector.

[4] Also, for a moment, consider the album cover above (and the accompanying album-art). Each member of the band is depicted with a slight sheen on them, implying that they are cryogenically frozen; this freezing of the band—in the photo, the album-art, the recorded music—threatens to be thawed by the very temporal experience of listening to the album-itself, that there is something underneath which will become “alive” once again; one might expect this is the “music itself.” The song “Cryogenic Sleep” also makes it quite explicit that “being” or “subjectivity” has been frozen, incapable of interacting w/ the world, sleeping “through the sirens,” but still standing “against, though horizontally.” “I’ve considered my position and found no reason to run. I have no instinct for survival. My will to live is pillow soft. Perhaps that’s some indication of our state.” Resistance, or perhaps more accurately, thawing consequently can only take the form of: “I want to see this algebra cut in two. I’ve got to know why you left. I want to know why you said Molotov.” We need to ask a question, and merely listen. . . .

[5] Though I failed to find what the voice is saying, and despite the difficulty understanding what is said, it seems quite possible that the words “glucose fixation” are uttered, which is relevant, of course. . . .

[6] For the band that ruined this as an interesting problem to be explored in complex ways, or perhaps the band that made this cease to be a problem at all, or perhaps the band that made none of us really care anymore, see The Faint, esp. their album Blank Wave Arcade. (And, of course, yes, this was released before FFS.)

[7] See Satanic Versus. Two songs on the album (“Join Our Party” and “Idle Hands”) were recorded by the band digitally, the other three songs (“The Banner to the Sick,” “New Lexicon,” and “Lost the Thoughts But Kept the Skin / Satanic Versus”) were recorded under the tutelage of analog-guru Steve Albini, as was much of Ominosity.

[8] Not to mention the dominance of analog throughout human history.

[9] See Alexander Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004).

[10] Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 6. The passage continues: “Eavesdropping, censorship, recording, and surveillance are weapons of power. The technology of listening in on, ordering, transmitting, and recording noise is at the heart of this apparatus. . . to listen, to memorize—this is the ability to interpret and control history, to manipulate the culture of a people, to channel its violence and hopes. Who among us is free of the feeling that this process, taken to an extreme, is turning the modern State into a gigantic, monopolizing noise emitter, and at the same time, a generalized eavesdropping device. Eavesdropping on what? In order to silence whom?” (7).

[11] I am absolutely positive many people have said many, many interesting things about this re: Attali, but for the purposes of this less-formal exploration, it is outside my purview to pursue or provide whatever these things might be. My apologies.

[12] Seriously, my first experience of watching a “band” who simply “played their laptops” is eminently forgettable. . . .

[13] See the recent post, “Archival Decay.”

[14] I once heard that Neil Young said that listening to CDs sounded like ice cubes falling into a glass. The alternative to such a digital beverage would of course be the “water” of analog records.

[15] Furthermore, Milemarker is clearly in an aesthetic realm quite distinct from, say, Black Flag’s “Rise Above.”

What should be clear from the above video is the centrality of the human in this articulation of punk rock. Whether it be the classic revolutionary stance of “we are going to rise above” (these oppressive regimes that “keep us down”), the milling, swirling, vibrant bodies, the vital sheen of sweat on Henry Rollins’s muscled body (that is strangely not yet tattooed too much)—i.e. it is not the sheen of cryogenic freezing on Milemarker’s bodies—the sheer anger directed toward “them” (power still considered in terms of the human: the police, the state, parents, whatever)—Black Flag at this moment clearly cannot anticipate how their very symbol (the classic four black bars) would become merely a kind of teenage rite-of-passage into a sanctioned and absorbed form of resistance—e.g. Rollins on MTV and the phenomenon that is Hot Topic. Furthermore, every expression they are articulating is absolutely tied to an anthropocentric, analog ontology that cannot but feel nostalgic and perhaps quaint or naïve. It also might bear mentioning that I saw those four bars graffitied onto a light post the other day and was struck w/ how meaningless and empty the symbol now is, I mean, who is still going around drawing four black bars on stuff? To what purpose? And also, of course, none of this is to really denigrate Black Flag, for it is a sad state of affairs that the first comment on the youtube site for the above song says, “My generation needs a band like this so fucking bad.” Indeed, what would a band like this even look like at this point. Well, Milemarker. . . Also, for an excellent insight into the amazing phenomenon that was Black Flag, see Henry Rollins, Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag (Los Angeles: 2.13.61 Publications, 1994). (It is also quite incredible that, under the organization method I use for my biographies and autobiographies, Get in the Van is sandwiched b/t Rainer Maria Rilke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.)

[16] Capital here considered as an “nonhuman” force.

[17] Jane Bennet, Vital Materiality: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), x. Again, to see how / why (briefly) I am drawing upon Bennet, please consult “Part 1.”

[18] Ibid., xii.

[19] Ibid., 12-13.

[20] See Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

[21] See Milemarker, “Insect Incest,” Sex Jams (Philadelphia: Bloodlink Records, 1999). The cover of this EP is also an esp. interesting parody of Kraftwerk.

[22] See Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (New York: Scribner, 2001), 29-72.

[23] If one has ever seen a bee colony trying to start a hive, massing around one another in an orgy of bee-bodies, they know exactly what I’m talking about (thanks Eric).

[24] One might also think here about Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “non-genital sex.” Further, there is very much a sense of what they call a “body without organs” in “Sex Jam Two”: “Flows of intensity, their fluids, their fibers, their continuums and conjunctions of affects, the wind, fine segmentation, microperceptions, have replaced the world of the subject. Becomings, becoming-animal, becomings-molecular, have replaced history, individual or general” (A Thousand Plateaus, 162).

[25] Alexander R. Galloway & Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 81. For the purposes of quotation in this format, I have removed italics and paragraph breaks from the original.

[26] Ibid., 118-19, emphases in original.

[27] Though slightly outside of the purview of this discussion, I’d like to provide a brief note on the title of this album, as it is quite important w/r/t their entire work. Anaesthetic is a frankly brilliant title, and though the album cover may be slightly odd (seriously, what’s w/ that Pegasus, see note 3 above), the Pepto-Bismol pink conveys a sense of how Derrida read Plato’s pharmakon (something that is both poison and cure). Further, it signals a lack of aesthetics, or perhaps a neutral ground: anaesthetic (of course, also an aesthetic, i.e. any old aesthetic whatsoever). And, to not ignore the most obvious reading: aesthetics as anesthesia, art as numbing agent, escape, delusion, but necessary for surgery—i.e. it is precisely such a song like “Ant Architect” that works as a kind of surgery: fixing, repairing, curing some debilitating disease brought on by the anaesthetic regime of late-capital. The problem, however, is that once off the anesthesia, once awake from the surgery, though we have no conscious memory of the surgery, our body very much felt and experienced the trauma of surgical invasion; despite the “happy” world of Pepto-Bismol pink we perhaps can only escape the trauma of history on the back of a winged Pegasus (or something). (There is also a weird sense of an almost fascistic symbolic order w/ this Pegasus and the stars.)

[28] For a strikingly apropos account of assemblage theory vis-à-vis “Ant Architect” see Manuel DeLanda, A New Philosophy for Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (New York: Continuum Books, 2006).

[29] Bennet, 24.

[30] For example, their Allmusic entry says that their early shows “include[d] snippets of ranting evangelical preachers played as background noise while the band is clad in shirts bearing the names of the four riders of the apocalypse, prompting one audience member to congratulate them on spreading the ‘Christian message.’”

[31] Milemarker, “Sun Out,” Ominosity (Kearny, NJ: Eyeball Records, 2005), track 6. My apologies for not also providing the audio for this song (which is quite epic), but I failed to find a working link to it. Of all the songs here this is perhaps the most unfortunate not to be able to hear directly for it is very much worth finding and listening to.

[32] I of course use this term loosely, for it seemed to designate something when this music was being made, and does not in any way designate much of anything today.

Repackaging the Archive (Part V): Vital Materiality and Milemarker, Part 1

We tie ourselves around poles to flag ourselves as outpatients of different regimes.

Milemarker, Future isms (The Company with the Golden Arm, 1998).

For the past few months I’ve been intending for this blog to finally enter the forum (or fray) of music criticism.[1] Ever since I read Jane Bennett’s short but thought provoking Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things[2] and experienced a deep feeling that what she was really talking about I had in fact experienced before—if on an aesthetic rather than political level—I’ve been meaning to write on some of the output from the band Milemarker (1998-2005) (myspace page, w/ songs, here), specifically they’re album Frigid Forms Sell (2000): how a significant amount of their work could be considered to be a music of vibrant matter, an aesthetico-political ecology of things. Or perhaps I simply read the book and then wandered through frozen Pittsburgh streets in a snow storm while listening to them on the ole ipod and this emphasized the vibrant, “alive” nature of the frozen, inert world around me. Chicken or egg, who cares. Either way, my point here is something else.

For I’ve been inching closer toward something like a “theory of everything” if only in that perhaps necessary fashion that accompanies any dissertation—i.e. the absolute single-mindedness of the endeavor requires that you formulate an (always already) over-simplified approach to a subject, while simultaneously necessitating that you attempt to explain everything with those all-too-familiar-blinders on that may as well be Higgs-Boson mini-Black Holes. Okay, well then, not a “theory of everything,” but more like “everything which I can then find some theory for.” No, not even that. I digress. There are basically just some things I’m working toward right now. And Bennet and Milemarker are perhaps a(n interesting) catalyst to extend some of that thinking here.

So, as I said above, I’ve been intending to write this post since about the end of January, and have multiple times started it, scrapped it, gotten frustrated, asked myself why I even bother, etc. Basically par for the course re: any writing, esp. writing that wasn’t my dissertation and felt “useless.”[3] The majority of that frustration, however, was innately connected to and a result of my long, storied, [4] and continuing tendency to begin virtually any piece of writing whatsoever w/ exhaustive apologias for simply writing what I’m writing, for taking up the reader’s time (w/ what-might-be-totally-ignorable-crap-but-I-swear-read-it-anyway-b/c-I-think-it’s-good-though-I’m-sorry-if-it’s-not,-etc.-etc.-etc.). . . in other words, I felt somehow dirty to be dredging up a fairly cherished, valued, and, of course, nostalgia laden “past,” a past where I could enjoy an object (phenomenological, aesthetic, or otherwise) w/o immediately wanting to write some self-serving academic paper on it that, maybe, like a handful of people would read/appreciate, and some of those only b/c they were my friends and can really, like, remember digging Milemarker.[5] Part of this apology was also heavily imbricated in a sense of guilt on my part: that late 1990s and early 2000s “hardcore” music was (quite often, though not always) implicitly or overtly against the institutionally sanctioned practice of academic criticism (or really anything institutionally sanctioned), and if I was to be in any way faithful to this historical moment of musical production, I would refrain from saying anything. The fact that such music has now largely disappeared—i.e. I’m not aware of or involved w/ its movements anymore. . . like, at all[6]—further exacerbates my feelings of anxiety in that I must inherently approach a topic like Milemarker archivally as something sealed, finished, done, and exhausted[7]; and as something that I can now consider myself “outside” of, or perhaps as a “part of no part.” But of course this is all to say that I will refrain from pursuing the questions that are obviously raised in the last few sentences, and rather choose to signal an apologia w/o actually giving one, and just get on w/ the damn thing, and acknowledge the even more difficult practice of actually writing something that I feel needs to be written.

Milemarker has always been an incredibly important band to me, and, to be frank, probably for intellectual reasons. B/c music is so inherently difficult to interpret (or may even at times may be pure signifier w/o a signified, who knows), I a) never really bothered to completely try to articulate to myself why they were so interesting nor why I liked them so much (total taste), and b) I didn’t really care/have to. But, of course, that is more-or-less what I do now, so w/ the full acknowledgement of touching a sacred (personal) cow, or perhaps making a sacrifice to the great gods of authenticity, I’d like to establish that I think Milemarker, while they existed (in whatever capacity), was an extremely important American band for many, many reasons. And now I’m going to essai to suggest why for reasons personal, political, and aesthetic.

The simple fact of the matter is, Milemarker has been a band that has not only profoundly affected me throughout my burgeoning adulthood, but one that I felt a deep and intimate connection w/. Their transformations tended, or so I thought, to mirror certain changes in my own constitution and outlook on the world (again, no chicken or egg here). They were the type of band—and I think everyone has something like this—that not only did I feel like I discovered, like some lost dark continent of the “soul,” but, b/c of that fortuitous and somewhat random discovery, felt like I “owned.”[8] In other words, if I am going to continue the series of writings titled “Repackaging the Archive”—writings that are at times only tangentially related to each other at best—they are not only a perfect candidate for such an exploration, but a personal/cultural phenomenon that very much deserves my nostalgic reassessment/re-appreciation. Part 1 of this essai will present some general outlines of their work, if in a highly personal fashion, and Part 2 will more specifically engage with their work in its specific and particular manifestations.

* * * End Apologia * * *

So I’d guess that starting at the beginning is not inappropriate. In late 1997 I turned 16, and w/ the privilege of having been born into a world where I received access to a car and an ample amount of parental trust and support, found myself not simply frequenting, but obsessively attending small punk rock shows at an upstart all-ages venue named Skrappy’s[9] in Tucson, AZ. Skrappy’s inhabited a very special musical-historical time and place. There hadn’t been a venue for touring punk rock in Tucson since the Downtown Performance Center shut in 1995, and Skrappy’s came into existence not only when a burgeoning re-investment in punk rock was taking place (thanks to, say, Green Day), but more importantly, there was a discernible avant-garde made possible, quite simply, by the improved communication provided by the burgeoning internet between fly-by-night groups of (sometimes quite loose) “friends” (read: bands), and equally fly-by-night “places that people could hang out” (read: Skrappy’s). So basically, on any given night I had no idea what I was getting into music-wise; I could see the worst crusty punk rock ever, or something that would force me to think about what it even meant to make music in the first place. And Milemarker was assuredly one of the latter.

The first obvious thing about Milemarker at this show in (I think) late 1997 or early 1998, was that they wore all black. Not all black like in the “gothic” sense, nor any other sense really except if you consider the distinctly large subset of people who think, out of all the t-shirts you could wear, a plain black one is the most functional and (potentially) classy a “fashion,”[10] and as such, they were able to transcend some invisible “how should a band dress on stage” line in my brain, by making it blatantly obvious. Black t-shirts. Black pants. Black shoes. For a 16 year old brain, this was like, oh. . . duh. (Maybe jeans instead, we’re cowboys, after all.) But anyway, who cares what they wore, right? I mean, I hope by now that I’ve established this isn’t People or something, the real thing was that they were the first punk rock band I ever saw that used lights.

And boy did they use them. Roby Newton, later a keyboardist in the band, played the lights. The room was entirely dark, and from her homemade light-controlling-platform-thingy she acted as an inversion of the fire in Plato’s cave or Marlow’s thrown-light by visually representing the audible. Maybe this is exactly what Marshall McLuhan means when he writes, “The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name.”[11] Well, actually no. What occurred—at least for my ability-to-be-overly-affected-by-things-cause-I-was-young—was the opposite. The electric lights were simply there to shed upon a visual scene w/ very little information, a dynamic instrumentalization of non-signifcation. (It is amazing how much visual information black clothing conceals.) The information she was actually illuminating was whatever sound was coming from the band: inverting film, to give a light-show to a soundtrack.

Okay, so this is all another way of saying they had lights. I mean, what huge rock and roll band doesn’t have lights? Aren’t lights the whole reason stadium-type shows exist (and explosions)? Why get oneself all worked up about lights?

The lights were brought w/ the band, and they were simple and cheap (something any traveling musician loves). Pretty soon, everyone was bringing their own light system on tour: simple, cheap, portable.[12] And again, this may not be a terribly impressive/important thing, but in 1997 (or 1998)—at least at Skrappy’s—I hadn’t seen this before.[13] And, if nothing else occurred to me, I realized this band didn’t exist to just kind of go play rock and roll; not only did they have “something to say,” but they cared about how it was said. Thus, lights.

But that even wasn’t the thing about the lights. Even the placement of the light (what, technician, auteur, accompanist [?], whatever) operator was significant. She stood in the audience, like, right next to me and the other 10 people who were in there. So, in a sense, she was—what we used to call back in the 1990s—having an “interactive” experience w/ the band. She was an audience member, interpreting the music back at the band in the form of lights, all the while explicitly acknowledging herself as a consumer of the music (rather than a creator), as well as a co-conspirator. And it was all delightfully analog (w/ the possible exception of some digital delay on the guitar.)

They were a three piece at the time. Ben Davis on drums, Dave Laney on guitar, and Al Burian on bass. Simple. No-nonsense, and exquisite. Total power trio. (Quick list the best ones ever.) It was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I got a killer t-shirt.

Milemarker, S/T (Clocked Out Records, 1997).

And perhaps it is only w/ the t-shirt that this story really starts to take form. Or rather, the two of them, both stories and t-shirts. For surely each t-shirt defines a (current) narrative, and each narrative I will be telling below (or in part 2) re: “vibrant matter” requires a t-shirt. This recursive object-narrative / narrative-object thing was made possible b/c they were the type of band you bought 2 t-shirts from at a time, b/c, quite simply, there was little chance you would ever hear from them again. (Or so I thought.) Fly-by-night.

Their t-shirts were very, very cool. One t-shirt I cut out the image/logo from and safely safety-pinned it to my bag. The other was simply a jaw-droppingly awesome t-shirt for a 16-17 year-old (and once the dude from I Farm seriously asked to buy it off me[14]). It was red w/ a hammer and sickle superimposed on a globe bordered by Cyrillic writing. The band had found this amazing gem at a thrift store—all their tour t-shirts from the time were from thrift stores—and they had stenciled their image on the back of it. Presumably hand drawn, it had their name in the upper left hand corner, and in black-and-white[15] a scene w/ multiple hands raised, clutching disks in collective affirmation. (This was clearly meant to evoke similar images of Mao’s little red book being held aloft. This was also 1997, so such images were of course overburdened w/ post-Cold War irony.) It was just an incredible band t-shirt. To make a long adolescent story short, my parents were less-than-enthused about it at the time, so they cut it up. I still have fragments from both shirts somewhere all these years later. But I’m not precisely sure where they are and they may in fact be thousands of miles away.

(And this leads me to a bit of an archival aside: for about an hour I was interrupted in writing this trying to find an image from this t-shirt, of course getting sucked into the zen-fugue-state one achieves while scouring the internet for any overly-specific-thing [that probably shouldn’t be there[16]]. I do this not b/c I lack the capacity to accompany the above paragraph w/ an image. . . mostly b/c: can you imagine the awkwardness and simple logistical nightmare it would be to call up my Mom and ask, “so. . . you know that big Rubbermate crate? Well, there’s this t-shirt fragment somewhere in it. Could you find it, scan it, and email me the picture?”)

Which ultimately is the point. Milemarker defined for me a personal network of objects, some of which are semi-indelible, some semi-rare, some wholly experiential, etc. And some of these are now mere fragments of cloth. (I forgot to mention I saved a piece of the “communist” shirt from the garbage after it was discarded [i.e. cut up and thrown away[17]], specifically a long Cyrillic phrase I didn’t know the meaning of.) That these fragments can continue to be affective, these images to still resonate is for the very same reason this image continues to resonate (I also could say the image I’m “looking” for vaguely resembled this):

Milemarker inhabited that late-20th / early-21st century space which could not help but to define its artistic project as a constellation of cultural production that can (now) never be totally captured, rather than as some unified, coherent aggregate of work. This, of course, is probably implicit for any contemporary rock band—i.e. not every show can be recorded, not every t-shirt saved (people wear them, you know), not every 7” can be preserved in the archive.[18] Milemarker, with audible and visible resignation, were part of a specific sub-culture, however, that was particularly fetishistic in its approach to the aesthetic object, whether it was: “that one time I saw Bright Eyes before he got big, and there were 10 people there,” or it was that major discovery of a unbelievably über-limited (and numbered!) three-color, glow-in-the dark, one-sided, skull shaped 9” with only three inches of actual music on it[19]: the entire “scene” of political/artistic hardcore was composed of an underlying hyperarchivalism, an urge to accumulate certain objects as Walter Benjamin[20] might collect books, an approach to punk rock that was weirdly museum-like. This is not to say that Milemarker particularly encouraged this, nor did anyone else. It was the result of a weirdly perfect storm of access to objects (the internet) and the relative scarcity of those objects—i.e. there weren’t very many of them made. For example, though collected on Changing Caring Humans, I cannot imagine that many copies of Milemarker’s first self-titled EP exist.[21] At one point, at the heyday of Skylab Commerce—the e-bay for obscure political hardcore—this little dandy might have gone for upwards of fifteen dollars. And I suppose, this really isn’t all that new. Scraps, letters, drafts, and uncollected fragments have always been a part of artistic production. Indeed, one of the joys of scholarship is finding the new, the unreleased, the unknown. But unlike, say, the differences between the Folio and Quarto editions of King Lear, the difficulty in acquiring the object or seeing the band absolutely constituted part of that band’s aesthetic appeal. (I mean, did anyone really like pageninetynine that much?[22]) Punk rock, in other words, had always been threatening to become a mere lifestyle: just another way of dressing and defining an accompanying world-view that was easily turned into a comfortable consumerism. The fragment, the rarity, the very fact that I cannot find the image of this t-shirt, is not only part of the appeal of a band like Milemarker, but, as mentioned above, constitutes a very different type of “ownership”—i.e. what you “buy” when you purchase something from the band or go see them—than, say, acquiring Radiohead’s most recent record.

Consequently, for a long time I suppose my urge w/ Milemarker was to immediately emphasize the fragmentary: detritus, scraps, ruins (and by this, of course, the apocalyptic. . .). But not only were they not complicit, or at least not terribly enthused w/ the very way their music was presented by way of this overly-fetishized aesthetic of rare objects, but they were constantly frustrated w/ the impossibility of presenting their work any other way. There is some evidence to support this statement. At a show in San Diego at the famous Che Café, after having already played an over-21 show earlier that evening—and for whatever reason coaxed into playing another at the Che—they ended their always amazing “New Lexicon”

with a rant at the stupidity of the kids, the scene, everything, as they brazenly smashed their instruments. I knew I was a member of the object of their ire (i.e. the audience), but I understood that ire wholly. The “scene” was a clear symptom of what they saw as the very decay of the civilization around them, if not an emergent property of a civilization already past the brink. And indeed, “New Lexicon” says this fairly clearly:

Train everyone to repeat the same inane phrases over and over again. Interlocking inarticulations will fill the spaces where conversations would have been. Self-reference down to meaningless codes. An Esperanto no one knows. We don’t need big brother to enforce the new lexicon, free of dissent and disease. We don’t need big brother to enforce the new lexicon. The kids wrote it for themselves. We enforce it on ourselves.[23]

The lingo and jargon that sprung up around places like the Che or Skrappy’s wasn’t only depressing in its consumptive vapidity, but threatened to become parsable by only the most committed of anthropologists—which we all subsequently were (we are all hyperarchivalists). Entire conversations could consist only of proper (band) names. I know name-dropping in “high society”—i.e. saying who you know though un-queried—is a particularly virulent problem, annoyance, and faux pas, but Milemarker realized that the “kids these days” had got it down to such an art that it functioned effectively not only as a language of its own, but as what Gilles Deleuze calls “control.”[24] In other words, in the old days of punk rock, the cops were the object of resistance. By the 1990s and after, the kids policed themselves. This of course is not a very novel thing to say, and it surely is an oversimplification (esp. if you consider the very real political energy of a place like Che’s or Skrappy’s), but it is to say that my very relationship w/ the band, my fetishization of scraps and fragments of t-shirts, was not only a practice they were aware of, but a practice they were hyper-critical of. To engage w/ Milemarker was simultaneously to be implicated in the very cultural practices they were critiquing.

It is worth quoting from the liner notes to Changing Caring Humans in full to demonstrate the extent of the vitriolic irony they held regarding their own position as an aesthetic/political/consumer object:

Milemarker 1997-1999: A Synopsis and Overview of Late Twentieth Century Works’

No one is completely clear what the motivations of the loose-knit organization known alternately as the Milemarker Collective, the Milemarker People’s Liberation Army, or the Milemarker Entertainment and Reprogramming Consulate are—and attempts at pinning down this agenda and its mode of implementation have proven frustratingly futile to scholars and ethnomusicologists attempting to track their virtual supervirus of cultural infection. Early reports, though haphazard and scattered, mention violent performances, broken instruments, self-immolation, spattered blood of both performers and unwitting audience. Disorienting lights and soundscapes, strange garb and unsettling chanted mantras combined to seal tight the membrane of mystery around these young rebels. As word spread, and (as is the nature of words) solidified into the formal language of labels and clichés, the collective only veered more wildly, confounding audiences searching for rote predictability with performances conducted behind black screens, video projections of simultaneously teleconferencing band members, and concerts carried out entirely by automated robots of the group’s devising. The actual music seemed at times chaotic, improvised noise, at other time’s ice-cold with synthesized contrivance. Manifestos and footnoted reference guides to the philosophical and political undercurrents of these shows were distributed in such volume that truly diligent followers of the group soon found themselves too busy underlining important passages to attend performances themselves.

Recorded output has only served to densify [sic] the ouvre [sic] of the organization. The early singles as well as the first full-length LP [Non Plus Ultra (Albany, NY: Paralogy Records, 1998)][25] served less as a representation of the live spectacle than as a deconstruction of the underground scene in which the collective found its primary adherents—grafting the rebellious rage of contemporary hardcore bands into impotent computer-generated compositions through use of highly sophisticated technologies. The result was an ambiguous, though devastating, statement about the corrosive effects of technology on art.

Critics, historians, and theorists united to scream, ‘self-destruct!’ after the first LP’s  release, feeling that imploding in disgust could be the only fitting coda for such a visceral indictment of all art, but the Milemarker hit machine was not to be stopped, returning scant months later with an even angrier and more self-aggrandizingly entitled LP [Future isms], followed by a slew of new seven inch recordings. Here, the invocation to an anti-bourgeois aesthetic was made clear: ‘End it for me before I get a chance to see everything white walls and lousy carpet.’

Live, the conglomeration has only strengthened its commitment to loosening the capitalist consumer societies [sic] hypnotic grip on the audience through the shock therapy of the spectacle, utilizing epilepsy-inducing light patterns, pyrotechnics, projections of images and dogmatic slogans, fearful uniforms, samples, synthesizers, and computer-generated tones heretofore never heard by human ears.

Skeptics and adherents alike shake their heads: what can these people be trying to do? In the end, their chameleon-like transmogrification, their staunch opposition to being labeled, pigeon-holed, marketed and consumed, may answer the very question it obscures the answer to: for, if the medium is the message, the message, in the case of Milemarker, is the obliteration of all boundaries, the destruction of all regulation, rule and reason, the smashing of instruments, inducing seizures, the End Of All Things.

                               —Francis Haarstraub, Art Forum, November 1999 [26]

What is striking about the above passage is not merely how Milemarker anticipated just the sort of critical approach here essayed by this author, the heavily ironic construction and implicit critique/condemnation of just such an approach, nor how they “authorize” this approach by attributing it to a fictional critic (Haarstraub) for a fictional article, but how, despite the layers of irony—and the (perhaps) intentionally misspelled oeuvre—there is a certain seriousness conveyed nonetheless. By anticipating their own criticism and interpretation, both accurately and inaccurately, Milemarker effectively interrogates their audience while simultaneously letting those very listeners in on the joke.[27] The object, Changing Caring Humans, is just the sort of collection a listener of the band would be thankful for—i.e. it collects their incredibly rare and difficult to find material, all the while pointing to the ridiculous consumer practices of desiring and purchasing such a collection at the same time. It enacts, through its self-commentary on archival completion, how ridiculous it is to produce such an object in the first place.

Furthermore, there is an incredible awareness throughout their body of work of the relative impermanence of the very object they were producing, of the contingency of the object/information itself. The passage above both historically situates their work in the “late twentieth century,” implying a future, perhaps apocalyptic, historian archivally investigating their work, which ultimately serves to highlight the very eschatology inherent in critically or theoretically investigating them in the present—i.e. even the very constitution of the digital object which is Changing Caring Humans implies its own disappearance/destruction. “Human Factor” on Non Plus Ultra, though obviously under the aegis of Y2K anxieties, perhaps sums this up the best:

When all the files delete themselves and all the clock reset themselves to twelve we’ll be synchronized in eternal doomsday time. Future time is all the rage, electromagnetic dark age. The more that things decay the more room we have to play. You’ve got to make allowances for the human factor. Might be your love connection, might clear up your complexion. No money changes hands, no salesman ever calls. When all the files delete themselves I’ll microwave your cancer cells. Chemotherapy—telepathically.

The very practice of producing information and housing it in a digital archive gives that very information a certain (if destructive) agency—the files are capable of deleting themselves. Yes, Changing Caring Humans collects their difficult to find material and houses it in a convenient package, a package which is simultaneously commenting upon its packaging, but there is a constant underlying note of the “End of All Things,” of an exhausted aesthetic practice which can only attempt to collect fragments of documents, objects “that truly diligent followers of the group soon found themselves too busy underlining important passages to attend performances themselves.” In short, Milemarker’s early work fundamentally revolved around interrogating, questioning, and critiquing their own work; their artistic practice was one that recursively revolved around the object.

Following this, after having seen the band for the first time, I spent quite a good deal of energy and time constantly looking for other records of theirs. This, of course, was slightly before the instant and ubiquitous availability of any music whatsoever. Yes, I probably could have ordered some of their initial output from somewhere, or, if I had been slightly ahead of the curve, discovered some of it on Napster, but I still inhabited a world where the record store was the principal site of acquiring music, and as such, there was something quite amazing about finally finding Frigid Forms Sell in either late 2000 or early 2001, probably at Stinkweeds in Phoenix.[28]

The difficulty in finding their work, combined w/ the pleasures of discovery and acquisition, was an essential part of my object-aesthetic enjoyment of them and what they produced, a perfect synergy b/t form/content/audience. In other words, to listen to them I had to be hyperarchival (i.e. find them), but simultaneously, to listen to them was to hear, in a certain fashion, an emergent, hyperarchival expression itself, bare materiality expressing itself through sound. To construct perhaps an appropriate t-shirt/narrative/object metaphor, the fragment I have (had) of their t-shirt is both part of their work considered as an aggregate assembled “whole,” while able to be a whole in-and-of itself. It both points toward a larger assemblage while describing a particular aesthetic assemblage of personal experience—i.e. the personal narrative I cannot help but have w/r/t Milemarker. Consequently, rather than approach them as particularly fragmentary in the now quite familiar pomo fashion, we should perhaps hear in their work, specifically in Frigid Forms Sell and afterward, a non-judgmental exploration of materiality itself, of a material reality of vibrant matter vitally interacting w/ itself on multiple levels, rather than a matter that is easily parsable into fragment, part, whole; this is not an expression of the ruin, but of salvage, of re-purposing the detritus and simply seeing what happens, what emerges.

How this functions in their work specifically will be the subject of part 2 of this post (which will hopefully appear soon), as this has ballooned (word-count-wise) past what I had projected, so as to facilitate both getting this off my word processor and onto the blog, as well as to ease the reader’s understandably frustrated attention, I will truncate my thoughts here a bit prematurely. I will, however, post one more “mile marker” for the direction part 2 might take:

Why advocate a vitality of matter? Because my hunch is that the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption. It does so by preventing us from detecting (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling) a fuller range of nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies. These material powers, which can aid or destroy, enrich or disable, ennoble or degrade us, in any case call for our attentiveness, or even ‘respect’ (provided that the term be stretched beyond its Kantian sense). The figure of an intrinsically inanimate matter may be one of the impediments to the emergence of more ecological and more materially sustainable modes of production and consumption.[29]

Read / See Part 2.

[1] This is not in fact my “first” attempt at music criticism (though for all intents and purposes we should consider it as such). About ten years ago I wrote record reviews briefly for a site I don’t think exists anymore (and I can’t remember the name of it anyway). I am thankful it doesn’t. Being an archivalist (i.e. [digital] hoarder), I still have all those files and they were, quite simply, fairly wretched, ungrammatical, poorly spelled juvenile dreck. I mean, the editor found me from my (pre-Live Journal) Diaryland!(who knows if my diaryland still exists), and for some reason the tales of my pot-smoking boss and other musings from my brief tenure at an “indie” college record store (i.e. we mostly sold DMB, Phish, Bob Marley, and black light posters) somehow qualified me to write music criticism in this guy’s eyes. I was very embarrassingly young, but, to be frank, thank whatever those reviews are not available anymore. If I failed to say interesting things about music at the time, I did, however, succeed in writing about some interesting records: Kill Sadie’s Half-Cocked Concepts and Experiments in Expectation, Yaphet Kotto’s Syncopated Synthetic Laments of Love, The Album Leaf’s In an Off White Room, Orchid’s Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow! and The New Brutalism’s Structural Gymnastics, among others. Perhaps one day I’ll have another go at these, but for now my thoughts on them will remain buried (along w/ my high school poetry).

[2] And, to be frank, ultimately unsatisfying—which is related far more to the fact she’s asking a question re: political ecology that, to my mind, has not been broached in the terms she’s suggesting. To put it another way: the book is about opening up a discussion rather than necessarily making a significant claim about that discussion. More on this above/below.

[3] I have a bit of a respite from that for a week or month or so, so. . . . (see my last post), hopefully much non-dissertation writing will get done.

[4] Or not so storied, since I usually try to erase any signs of this story. . . .

[5] And I cannot help but to suspect that some of this guilt is also intensely involved in my own recent subject of dissertating: David Foster Wallace.

[6] Damn the blinders of doctoral programs!

[7] This sense of anxiety was also further exacerbated by the fact that I realized Wikipedia could potentially explain such things as “hardcore,” “emo,” and “screamo” better than I ever could. The fact that this is even possible in this day and age is mildly depressing for the simple fact that the knowledge contained in these articles was one that required years of “research” in a “scene” to come to “back in the day,” and the “pleasures of the text” (i.e. why you used things like Skylab Commerce [now Gemm] or poured over zines like HeartattaCk and Skyscraper [it is also of course significant that Skylab doesn’t exist anymore, HeartattaCk is no longer published, and Skyscraper is now exclusively online]), was simply a part/result of the difficulty of getting all this knowledge in one nice authoritative and “democratically” constructed, well-cited package. How many more “scene points” could have been accumulated if only Wikipedia existed. . . .

[8] This is perhaps simply due to the peculiar nature of late-capitalism.

[9] And yes, I’ve intentionally included the Wikipedia entry to the link above. The fact that Skrappy’s has a Wikipedia entry is frankly astounding to me all these years later. Their facebook page is here. The simple fact that Skrappy’s still exists is not only a quiet, small miracle—I can’t tell you how many times over the years they almost shut their doors for good—but a miracle wholly attributed to the angelic and tireless Kathy Wooldridge.

[10] Include me in this number. The black t-shirt is not only functional but potentially provides a profound sense that you in fact, and all evidence aside, regardless of what actual empirical observation might suggest, did not just roll out of bed.

[11] Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Critical Edition), ed. W. Terrence Gordon (Corte Madera CA: Gingko Press, 2003), 19. He goes on to write: “This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium.”

[12] For example, the first time I saw Botch, I think every time I saw Kill Sadie, and an excellent Under a Dying Sun show in San Diego later all used lights to great effect. (Of course, I bought a few lights and used them for my own projects [I think there were candles involved one time as well—the pretension of 19 year olds]).

[13] And it may be important to remember that Skrappy’s was basically the size of someone’s “pretty big” garage. And it would get hot in there.

[14] Like, we got into a “what would you take for that shirt?”-type bargaining moment. I refrained from selling it to him. I should’ve.

[15] Or in this case black-on-red.

[16] For we all secretly, deep down, don’t want every nerdy thing we can think of, every reference, image, song, whatever here (there). I mean, we all hope that at some level, most of humanity is pretty self-respecting enough not to scan/upload/etc. everything; but man, if I could’ve found a video of this tour . . . (I wouldn’t have had to write as much[!?]).

[17] The last personal aside (I hope): I had previously rescued t-shirts from the garbage: thus the cutting. I’ve learned my lesson, however. Only wear t-shirts that are totally innocuous. This was a good lesson to learn as I entered the aughts, btw.

[18] That is, of course, unless you release your uncollected works in a convenient little package, like the fantastic Changing Caring Humans (Stickfigure Distribution, 1999).

[19] This has been slightly exaggerated for effect, but not much.

[20] See Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 59-68.

[21] See Milemarker, Milemarker (Chapel Hill: Clocked Out Records, 1997). Btw, is there even any possible way this is in the Library of Congress? (At the time of this writing, this is being sold on e-bay.)

[22] Pg. 99 was particularly notorious for their many difficult to find records.

[23] Milemarker, “New Lexicon,” Future isms (The Company With the Golden Arm, 1998[?]). It is also interesting to note that Milemarker continually returned to this song in its recorded output. My favorite version of it appears on a Jade Tree sampler (see Milemarker, “New Lexicon,” Location is Everything, Vol. 1 [Wilmington, DE: Jade Tree, 2002], track 18), which was recorded during the Anaesthetic (Wilmington, DE: Jade Tree, 2001) sessions. The version in the video above appears on Satanic Versus (Wilmington, DE: Jade Tree, 2002).

[24] “We’re moving toward control societies that no longer operate by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication” (Gilles Deleuze, “Control and Becoming,” Negotiations: 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin [New York: Columbia University Press, 1995], 174. See also “Postscript on Control Societies” in the same book [177-82]).

[25] Significantly, on Non Plus Ultra, Milemarker uses samples from: “Drive Like Jehu, Born Against, Universal Order of Armageddon, Team Dresch, Fugazi, [themselves and] Maximillian Colby.” Unlike, say, hip hop’s use and re-use of old recordings to make the “new,” Milemarker was remixing their contemporaries and influences into the very document (Non Plus Ultra) that was a further proliferation the present/the new. This, of course, anticipates much of the recent “mash-ups” which are beginning to dominate the airwaves.

[26] Milemarker, Changing Caring Humans: 1997-1999: A Collection of Singles and Compilation Songs (Stickfigure Records, 1999). Of course “Francis Haarstraub,” or any such article in Art Forum, does not exist.

[27] It is perhaps also useful to emphasize some recent thinking by Fredric Jameson regarding how the “new” effectively blurs the line between artist and critic: “Let’s rather imagine that these new works, or ‘texts’ as it is more appropriate to call them, are mixtures of theory and singularity, which is to say that in some fashion they transcend the old opposition between a work and its criticism or interpretation that held for an aesthetic committed to the concept of the work in general, and to the security of closure and of reified form. Now that opposition—between critic and the creator; the artist and the review—an opposition over which so much bad blood has been spilled at least since the eighteenth century—is no longer binding; and the critic has been transformed, has mutated, into something like the curator, or has indeed become indistinguishable from the writer himself” (Fredric Jameson, “New Literary History after the End of the New,” New Literary History 39 [2008]: 385).

[28] It indeed looks like Stinkweeds still has a physical location, but it is of course significant that it looks like they do most of their business online these days. Stinkweeds, for Tucson kids, was an absolutely special treat when it came to records stores. We would literally drive up to Phoenix just to shop there.

[29] Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), ix.

Apocalyptexts 01: The Chronicles of Riddick

Apocalyptexts[1] #01: The Chronicles of Riddick[2]

The Chronicles of Riddick (David Twohy, 2004) is w/o a doubt one of the smarter movies made in the aughts.[3] (And no, I don’t mean in terms dialogue, for it is wretched where that is concerned. . . .)  In the words of others mixed w/ myself: it’s like Dirty Harry meets Han Solo, Shakespeare, the second Iraq War, Messianic (neo-evangelical) Christianity, video games, postmodern irony,[4] and Hitler.[5] For instance, a thought experiment:

how many other films begin w/ an obviously world-ending (and purely) evil force bent on “conversion “ for its “POV”—literally injecting willing applicants into its military program—and then jump to a Hoth-on-steroids-Vin-Diesel-running-amok middle, ending w/ said anti-hero sitting on that selfsame evil throne?  (Answer: none.)

I remember Ted Gerstle[6] dragged my ass to this film, and, even though we walked in about ten minutes late, it was still astounding.  Twohy had done something no one else had ever done before (kidding): make an amazing SF film that no one saw.  Of course it didn’t hurt that Pitch Black was incredible, but TCoR[7]did something no other SF “action” film had done before: make me recall 2001.[8]

Sure, the fact that the ebullient choral tracks accompanied the equivalent of monoliths “falling from the sky to destroy a helpless population” helped, but it seemed to be an updated Arthur C. Clarke-vision of the future, a LeBron for an MJ[9] (if you will. . .), a “what would happen if Vinge made a horror film”-type scenario.

I cannot help but argue that it has been one of the greater crimes of this decade that no one let Twohy[10] make a sequel to this film—further, a sequel that was so obviously and gratuitously needed![11] (TCoR is something I might in fact put in my top 20 [meaning #1] of my sequel worthy films.  Wtf would he have done?  He had no Lynchian escape hatch [see: all Lynch’s films since the mid-90s]).  He would’ve had to actually write something, which, of course, was something he had built his career on refusing to do.  And this is ultimately the tragedy of TCoR: it far more represented Twohy’s orgasm than it did foreplay for something greater—i.e. there will never be a TCoR sequel. . . .

And that’s sad really.  (It is like if Milemarker hadn’t released Anaesthetic after Frigid Forms Sell.[12] All that setup, no payoff?)

In other words. . . this is all to say. . . Avatar bores me.  So yes: 1)  I cannot help but feel like it is a piece of abstract expressionism to which analysis is forever denied; 2) the narrative is boring, sucky, and downright contrived; and 3) I’m gonna miss the early aughts, in which CGI only counted for, like, 50% of the movie rather than, idk, all of it.

TCoR took its apocalypticism seriously—as in: if you can’t break off the knife after stabbing the dictator in the head, why bother type way.  Riddick ain’t a bad Bartleby figure, so if we can’t see how it would be if he ran an “Evil Empire,” then we’re all, collectively, fucked.  Please Twohy, make a sequel.

[1] Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

[2] So seriously, I’ve decided to start a new portion of this here thing (don’t worry, “Repackaging the Archive Part IV” is coming. . .).  Apocalyptexts: where the world blows up and I feel like talking about it.

[3] viz. the last decade.  (I’m committed to using this term, so if it doesn’t catch on, I’m screwed.  [This is also an attempt to not conceal the fact that David Twohy is perhaps a gigantic douchebag.])

[4] Otis Nixon.

[5] And did I mention that the dialogue is horrible, w/ the exception of: “I’ll kill you w/ my teacup.”

[6] Excuse me on the spelling of this Ted, the googles turned up a bunch of fat guys quick, who obviously aren’t you.  (Why aren’t you more easily locatable—i.e. I refuse to use facebook. . . .)

[7] I think I might be pretty into using this acronym for the remainder of anytime I talk about this heaping pile of gold-plated dung.

[8] Of course I’m lying here.  Solaris is w/o a doubt the best exemplar of post-2001 filmmaking.

[9] Sorry, I’ve been reading Bill Simons’ excellent The Book of Basketball (New York: Ballantine Books, 2009) recently (i.e. since 24 hours ago [I haven’t slept it was that interesting. . .]) and cannot help at this moment but relate everything to my favorite, and the world’s most interesting (I will stand behind this to the death) sport.

[10] No matter how much of a douchebag he is.

[11] Unlike, idk, so many others.

[12] Ik.  u have no idea.  look it up.

On Beginning; or, Finally Defining the Name of this here Blog

Beginning the Fragment or Fragmenting to Begin—“They” say that the Fall is a time for new beginnings, a time when Americans choose to change.  Beginning only means being in thrall to the past while anxiously casting away one’s more-than-likely future, like being surrounded by a roomful of books you’ve read but cannot remember a single word of and choosing where to start your reading over again.  For my part, I’ve started dressing nicer recently.  By “nicer” I still mean jeans.  Jean Baudrillard, Jean Claude van Damme, Jean Grey, Gene Fest, Wyclef, Sartre, Rousseau.  (Searching my .docs, there is no satisfactory origin for the concept of origin.  Either a “Riot Grrrl History,” a bunch of lonely sexual ramblings, or Yaphet Kotto.  Oops.)

Beginning Again—This is more like it.  Origins are categorically onanistic.  How much seed need be spilled in pursuit of beginning something that must inherently end?  Like when Eve recounts her birth, Milton inscribes the myth of Narcissus upon her before she even meets Adam.  Before the beginning (what else is Paradise Lost about?) of human history, we have a being obsessed by its encounter w/ the mirror-stage, its beginning of self-awareness of the other (self), before the sad descent into history.  I’m sick of: the end of the beginning, the beginning of the end, the end of the end, the beginning of the beginning, or the beginning of the end of the beginning of the end of the beginning.  It’s why humans drunk-dial/-text.  At least in America.  TFLN (Txts Frm Lst Nght[1]) is only the most conspicuous aspect of this: we collectively cannot remember how “last night” ended, and thus, waking up (beginning) in the mo(u)rning, we are shocked to learn that our present has been inscribed by a past w/ no present whatsoever.[2]

Beginning over Again—Ugh, how Derridean.  The proliferation of forms has made formalism de trop.  Perhaps we should start teaching our students about the impotence of form, about the form that comes from not taking Viagra  (Wow, that’s in my spell check!).  As in: logorrhea is a form in-and-of-itself. . . if not the form.  Is hyperarchivization anything less than this logic?  Like in Paradise Lost (again) when Adam and Satan both complain about the fact that neither had any say in the manner of their creation.  Oh, the wisdom of Silenus.

A Perhaps Even More Pressing (Form of) Beginning—Can I only write as if it were about to be immediately posted to the interwebs?

(Apocalypse) Now Begun—To those who perhaps do not understand the liminalities of this here present undertaking, let me be frank in my reference: “These are the two fantasmatic limits of the book to come, two extreme, final, eschatic figures of the end of the book, the end as death, or the end as telos or achievement”[3]; “the hypothesis we are considering here is that of the total and remainderless destruction of the archive,”[4] or the total infinite accumulation of that archive w/o end.  It is b/t these things, b/t these two ultimate limits, impossible in their irreducible extravagance, where we attempt to locate ourselves in the HYPERARCHIVAL PARALLAX.

Let me attempt to be clear: any writing, any writing whatsoever, occurs b/t these two poles.  These are the poles which inscribe any attempt to write, in all its banal euphoria.  So, on the one hand, the hyperarchival parallax attempts to incorporate everything, but on the other, to destroy everything, to destroy everything it incorporates, and thus it is able to exist b/c it is aware that it can never reach these untransgressible limits.[5]

When Foucault writes on transgression, he says that “the twentieth century will undoubtedly have discovered the related categories of exhaustion, excess, the limit, the transgression—the strange and unyielding form of these irrevocable movements which consume and consummate us.”[6] The hyperarchival parallax seeks to undo the 20thc’s discoveries.  Not that F. was wrong, far from it, but rather b/c it seeks a transgression of the gap b/t liminalities.  “The first critical move is to replace this topic of the polarity of opposites with the concept of the inherent ‘tension,’ gap, noncoincidence, of the One itself.”[7] Consequently, if the “ONE” is the “ARCHIVE,” the hyperarchival parallax seeks to highlight the fact that the archive is never the archive: it is always hyperarchive.  The two sides of its coin are (perhaps) the interwebs as infinite accumulatory archive and the interwebs as an archive that is always undergoing the process of its own destruction infinitely.  If these are untransgressible limits, they are only so b/c we don’t have an AI strong enough to breach them, or our posthumanity has not caught up w/ its reality yet.  “We should therefore also assert a gap between life and meaning, analogous to the gap between truth and meaning—life and meaning do not in any way fully overlap.”[8] Thus. . . .

To Begin Again, Anew—Thus, “Sun is shining, / Birds are singing, / Flowers are growing, / Clouds are looming and I am flying.”[9] The shit has been defined, and, whether or not the birds are singing tomorrow b/c its pgh and the sun don’t shine, it (the sun) will rise tomorrow (hopefully).  But that’s the whole parallax, right?  The birds surely sing when the sun goes down.  I got these birds in my more-or-less-backyard that for periods of time make a squawking, quaking type of noise every day when the sun goes down.  I think they’re related to the blackbirds/crows that used to perch there/fly across the sky every eve at sundown.  Or else, “the sun has gone down for the last time.”[10] But that still ain’t a solution to beginning.  We’ll see.

[1] How Hebraic.  YHWH-damn.


[2] The first instance of this that popped up when I visited this site on 10.24.2009 was: “You were so drunk last night you typed http://www.face.come/cheese.com as if you were logging into facebook.”  Point.  Win.  Though I will admit this is a fairly banal case-example/-study of what I’m talking ‘bout.

[3] Derrida, Jacques.  “The Book to Come.”  Paper Machine.  Trans. Rachel Bowlby.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.  15.

[4] Derrida, Jacques.  “No Apocalypse, Not Now: Full Speed Ahead (Seven Missiles, Seven Missives).”  Psyche:   Inventions of the Other.  Vol. 1.  Trans. Catherine Porter & Philip Lewis.  Eds. Peggy Kamuf & Elizabeth Rottenberg.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007 [1984].  400.

[5] For instance, “Otis Nixon” is the most hit-upon reference in this archive.  Destruction!

[6] Foucault, Michel.  Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews.  Trans. Donald F. Bouchard & Sherry Simon.  Ed. Donald F. Bouchard.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.  49.

[7] Žižek, Slavoj.  The Parallax View. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006.  7.

[8] ibid., 182.

[9] M83.  “Birds.”  Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts.  EMI, 2003.

[10] Milemarker.  “Sun Out.”  Ominosity. Eyeball Records, 2005.