‘Cybergothic,’ write the Ccru, in an essay titled ‘Unscreened Matrix’, ‘finds the deep past in the near future’. There is a Crypt, a shadow space that exists beneath the gleam of our cyber reality:
Sprawling beneath public cyberspace lies the labyrinthine underworld of the Datacombs—ghost-stacks of sedimented virtuality, spiralling down abysmally into paleodigital soft-chatter from the punchcard regime, through junk programming, forgotten cryptocultures, fossil-codes and dead systems, regressively decaying into the pseudomechanical clicking relics of technotomb clockwork.
I’m reminded here of Tom McCarthy’s novel C (2010), a scene where the protagonist Serge finds himself in an Egyptian tomb: ‘a kind of warehouse’, where objects from all ages and contexts are cluttered together as temporal junk, with its promised cryptonymy of connected histories. McCarthy’s text, performing a self-conscious media archaeology, invites a sort of enticing trypophobia, describing the poriferous writing inscribed on the coffins: ‘the texts are written in deep, blue-black ink that disappears in places into the dark mahogany, which, in turn, is full of holes’. Serge’s companion Laura notes the irony: ‘“sarcophagus” means “flesh-eating” — and now it’s being eaten itself’. A mutual consuming of meaning is enacted between materials; taken together, the speckling excess of print is a sort of horror. Every scarab beetle is decorated with secrets. The womb-like tunnels are saturated with bitumen, carbon; the originary element returned to infect this porous khora of the ancient archive. The letter C clicks across everything in these texts. We are smudged with matter, just as Serge emerges from the tomb smeared with black. The Earth gives back our occulted narratives.
And this is all data, the promised abyss of the infinite given. What is the writer’s task, if not to lay every sentence as a probe of the future? Timothy Morton writes about ‘curation’ as an ideal metaphor ‘for how we might interact with ourselves and with other life forms on this planet’, because it means ‘taking-care-of, allowing-to-happen’. In the highly tactile, densely textural poetics of the Ccru’s and McCarthy’s writings, objects and concepts are curated in a way that allows their effects and affects to jostle together in the sliding present tense of reading, its myriad zones of simultaneity.
Oneohtrix Point Never’s new record, Age Of, is nothing if not a curatorial album. Not only does Daniel Lopatin assemble an array of collaborators (from James Blake to Anohni and Prurient), but the record’s stylistic eclecticism gestures towards the epic, drawing the aesthetic planes of former OPN albums into more dramatic contexts. The use of Jim Shaw’s painting ‘The Great Whatsit’ in Age Of’s cover art indicates Lopatin’s interest in a digital sublime. We drift through wonder and warning, awe and fear, pleasure and terror. Composed in a rural lodge, fronted with glass, the record exhibits a deep, pastoral hermitude while reflecting the sheen of the future. The ‘little nightmare ballads’ (Lopatin’s words) together comprise a four-part ‘epochal song cycle’ which folds recursively over generations of living beings in the Ages of Ecco, Harvest, Excess and Bondage. Like Giambattista Vico’s description of human societies passing through stages of growth and decay (the ages of gods, heroes and men), Lopatin is interested in how these epochs unfold as waves in the struggling relations between humans and technology.
As with the ink-dripping scarabs of Serge’s tomb, nonhuman actants of sound and meaning pulse through Age Of. With the dolphin cries that permeated Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1, or the Pixar-esque thalassic dreamscape of ‘Toys 2’, there’s a sense throughout Lopatin’s work of echolalia, of the Lacanian pre-mirror phase of the swirling, babbling Real: ‘a sea of other things’ (‘Babylon’). A sensual, primordial language that courses through vibration, timbre, entropy; what might erupt through the white-noise of the present, the return of repressed materials. Those carnivalesque harpsichord motifs, the coruscating vocal samples, the hypnotic dissonance of MIDI effects. As the record progresses, it feels like being lowered through time’s vertigo, a glassy, reflective darkness where shadows rasp across the surface, like the horrifying glass box in Twin Peaks: The Return that unleashes a faceless, lashing shadow creature, of origins unknown. Turns us metallic and then back to mammalian flesh and blood. Those rasping intakes of breath on the record’s centrepiece, ‘Black Snow’ feel distinctly Lynchian, the eerie blur of human/machine. And doesn’t black snow itself seem to encapsulate the sensory dynamics of carbon, this residue substance a potential fuel—the way snow is originally water, leaking through the atmosphere? Every note, perhaps, is a crystallisation, a flake of time’s uncanny trace.
Lopatin borrows lyrics for ‘Black Snow’ directly from the Ccru. In their ‘Channel Zero’ piece, they present a prophetic poem, a ‘webcast’ in which ‘the chaotic myriads’ and ‘the lost signal’ seethe and pour, ‘among the tatters of electromagnetic shadow’: ‘That’s what we foresee / A wave of black snow’. Over and over the line, ‘Nothing comes out of the black snow’. Like the carbon that suffuses, both textually and materially, McCarthy’s novel C, the black snow is a hyperobject of sorts. We can’t grasp it comprehensively, can’t cleave it to the scales of human meaning. The assonant turns of the webcast dramatise that molecular reassembling of interobjectivity, as one substance touches and transforms the next in a chiaroscuro of differential matter. There’s a sense of proximate extinction in this sensuality, as though in touching the objects become lossy compressed, the snow itself pixelates. Porousness: to return to the trypophobic aesthetic in C, we might think of Morton’s point that aesthetics are causality. Identity comprises, as Morton describes in Hyperobjects (2013), the ‘history of […] wounds and the secretions we exuded to protect ourselves from them’. We are honeycombs, hives or technotombs of touch, hurt, trauma and love. As gamma rays or electromagnetic signals trace their way through our flesh, the ‘waves’ of Lopatin’s music enact a similar effect. It is no wonder that Prurient, with his oracular howls of the underworld’s abject, turning gravel, was hired to emit a warning.
Black snow also recalls George Bataille’s concept of formlessness, the base materialism and chaos that art must return to within modernity. And certainly, there are moments of abstract expressionism on Age Of: where seagulls are unleashed upon the minimal, industrial canvas of ‘myriad.industries’, or the kitsch, lightly vapourwave acoustics give way to claustrophobic trap beats, slamming synths, factory whirrs and cries of pain on ‘We’ll Take It’. Matter is spattered to decentre human presence, allowing technology to rub abrasively against our yearning for personal meaning. This is also, however, a tightly constructed album, rich with labyrinthine motifs, Eastern-inspired melodies and more conventional song structures that pleasingly veer into pop. It’s as though we were turning ever so close to several black holes, pressed on by the chordal gravitation that allows something like ‘The Station’ to ooze Anthropocenic crisis upon dancefloor sensuality, complete with cinematic synths and a soulful closing odyssey through space. Scales and provocations collide. The human voice, auto-tuned and pitch-shifted, is deferred from its anthro-origins, becomes another lost presence we long for as lyric epiphany. The operatic planes of ‘Same’ fire Anohni’s voice off like roman candles, splicing a cavernous sky with Lopatin’s gory, apocalyptic distortion, over and over, Undo us. Age Of maintains the elegiac ‘soft’ culture of millennial sincerity, plunges us through black metal oblivion, lifts us in the ersatz soar of stadium pop, ironises the jazzy, palm-glazed lounges of enviro-limbo, sails away with the languid nostalgic plateaus of folk. It is curatorial in the sense of all-consuming, but we never quite touch that black hole: Lopatin’s careful, accomplished production requires an appreciative distance.
Even in its oscillations between beauty and death, fruition and asthenia, Age Of resists pure melancholy. There is an openness to its generic plurality, its clustering of forms, that feels expansive, wonderfully absurdist and even utopian: a productive burrowing, the literal instating of worlds, by re-attuning the tellurian energies of desire, sonic expression and techne. If Donald Trump is, as Jonty Tiplady so eloquently puts it, ‘the latent hieroglyph’ of our new ‘phase of savage robo-denihilism and staged eco-panic’, then what better to stamp his face on an ecstasy tablet, to literally chew this refusal of future which turns on a hazy aporia of regressive longing, a golden era, a falsely promised harvest? Morton maintains that to ‘understand hyperobjects […] is to think the abyss in front of things’. Age Of’s final track, ‘Last Known Image of a Song’, is the album’s haunted blueprint, speculation unfolded three-dimensionally: an absorbing space in which instruments flicker interstitially, percussion chimes out, but ever too briefly. It’s a charnel ground where life transcribes itself as elegia, struggles for light, emits disaster as both imminence and aftermath in a state of curiosity, apophenia and dreamy play. Its micro-melodies and rhythmic fragments comprise a subterranean lagoon of ruin, sheltered between times, preserving that eldritch, cryptic flicker which moves through strata, soft-chatter, material archives; that twangs inside us, makes of our bodies a porous skin, a liminal condition, the warm white light of an opening screen.
Maria Sledmere (@mariaxrose) is working towards a creative-critical DFA in Anthropocene aesthetics and the everyday at the University of Glasgow. She is a member of A+E Collective, Poetry & Nonfiction Editor at SPAM and SPAM Press, founding editor of Gilded Dirt and occasional music critic and collaborator. Her work has been published in places including Adjacent Pineapple, Amberflora, Cumulus, Datableed, Erotoplasty, Former Cactus, From Glasgow to Saturn, The Glasgow Review of Books, Gutter, MAP Magazine, Numéro Cinq, Plumwood Mountain, Really System and Zarf. She blogs at musingsbymaria.wordpress.com.
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