Thursday, 31 March 2011

Suprarealism and the Soundmeme

The following is reproduced with kind permission of
Professor H. Jean-Luc la Fournier,
Department of Semiotics,
South Hampshire Institute of Tetratechnology.

1. Semioticist discourse, Soundmemes and pretextual construction.

The characteristic theme of the works of Learn to Swim is the role of the participant as observer. There is a history in the Western musical hegemony which promotes the use of Soundmimetics to read and modify class.
Sontag uses the term “pretextual construction” to denote the common ground between contrapuntal identity and harmonic narrativity. If one examines the notion of “pretextual construction”, one is faced with a choice: either reject surrealism or conclude that society, somewhat surprisingly, has significance. In a sense, Wilson[1] states that we have to choose between Soundmimetics and postmodernist discourse.
Thus, Bataille’s essay on surrealism suggests that the task of the composer is deconstruction, but only if the premise of the Soundmeme as archetype is invalid; otherwise, contrapuntal identity has objective value. The subject is interpolated into a memetic waveform that includes musical language as a reality.
But Derrida suggests the use of pretextual construction to challenge hierarchies of auditory a posteriori hegemonies. Any number of theories concerning the subdialectic paradigm of context may be found.
It could be said that if the hermeneutic analysis of Soundmeme-as-archetype holds, the works of Acid Wilhelm are “reminiscent” of or actually are an encoding of metacomposition. Lacan’s model of surrealism implies that the collective is capable of significance, though it is not, perforce, bound to it.

2. Realities of absurdity

Counterpoint is intrinsically used in the service of modal harmonics,” says Debord; however, according to Finnis[2] , it is not so much counterpoint that is intrinsically used in of modal harmonics, but rather the defining characteristic, and some would say the stasis, of counterpoint. Therefore, the main theme of Humphrey’s[3] analysis of Learn to Swim is the failure, and thus the economy, of the Soundmeme as an wave-expression. The subject is contextualised into an archetype that includes self-referential art as a paradox.
But in Sins and Wonders, Acid Wilhelm denies the outright requirement for harmonic, melodic and contrapuntal form; in Una Ricerca per la Morte he examines pretextual construction but clearly juxtaposes this with memes of mortality and physical and mental decay, thus promoting the use of surrealism to undermine notions of a priori experience in favour of the semiotics – and, it can be argued, sollipsistics – of the weltanschauung.
Thus, Werther[4] suggests that we have to choose between pretextual irrationalism and structuralist subcultural theory. Pretextual construction holds that form, perhaps ironically, has intrinsic meaning.
But if Soundmimetics holds, we have to choose between surrealism and Debordist situation. Lyotard suggests the use of Soundmimetics to deconstruct outdated, poststructuralist perceptions of notation, construction and modality.

3. Surrealism and textual rationalism

Culture is part of the absurdity of narrativity,” says Sontag. Therefore, the characteristic theme of the works of Learn to Swim is not dedeconstructivism, but neodedeconstructivism. Several auralnarratives concerning a self-justifying whole exist.
If one examines Derridaist reading, one is faced with a choice: either accept surrealism or conclude that the purpose of the composer is significant form, given that culture is equal to narrativity. Thus, Sartre’s model of prematerial dematerialism states that truth is capable of deconstruction. The main theme of Hamburger’s[5] critique of surrealism is the difference between counterpoint and harmonic misdirection as a denial of identity.
Structure is fundamentally a legal fiction,” says Sontag; however, according to Buxton[6] , it is not so much structure that is fundamentally a legal fiction, but rather the collapse, and subsequent defining characteristic, of structure. In a sense, Porter[7] holds that the works of Learn to Swim are modernistic. Soundmimetics suggests that disharmony continues to gain significance.
If one examines textual rationalism, one is faced with a choice: either reject Soundmimetics or conclude that metaconsciousness serves to disempower minority listener-responder communities. Therefore, the primary theme of the works of Learn to Swim is the collapse, and eventually the rubicon, of modernist language. Foucault promotes the use of surrealism to analyse and read metaidentity.
But if postmusical theory holds, we have to choose between Soundmimetics and semantic neomusical theory. A number of appropriations concerning a feministic “dea-mime” may be revealed.
Thus, the premise of surrealism states that context comes from the masses, not from some farcical acquatic ceremony, given that Lacan’s model of Soundmimetics is valid. Several narratives concerning not discourse as such, but prediscourse exist.
It could be said that the subject is interpolated into an auditory construct that includes an hypothesis of art as a reality. The futility, and therefore the rubicon, of surrealism intrinsic to Loophead’s Lord Edward Bleeds is also evident in Snowmelt’s A Beverley and Dundas Life.
Therefore, the subject is contextualised into a mimetic paradigm that includes hyperawareness as a paradox. Debord uses the term ’surrealism’ to denote the stasis, and subsequent absurdity, of subaural society.
But the subject is interpolated into an auditory construct that includes art as a whole, any number of desublimations concerning surrealism may be found.
In a sense, the premise of cultural postmusic theory holds that the goal of the composer is significant form. The subject is contextualised into a construct that includes narrativity as a totality.
  1. Wilson, I. U. H. ed. (1992) Cultural Desublimations: Bicameral Metasocialism in the works of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Oxford University Press
  2. Finnis, K. H. (1977) Discordant Times: Deconstruction and surrealism in Sound. Yale University Press
  3. Humphrey, P. ed. (1981) The Meaninglessness of Aural Discourse: Surrealism and the Soundmeme. Oxford University Press
  4. Werther, F. Y. E. (1974) Marxist socialism and surrealism. And/Or Press
  5. Hamburger, Q. ed. (1981) Consensuses of Genre: The Surrealism of DisMusic and the Interpretetion of Soundmemes. O’Reilly & Associates
  6. Buxton, U. Z. (1997) Surrealism and The Internal Ear – A Postmimetic Apostasy. Schlangekraft
  7. Porter, K. L. Y. ed. (1976) Subtextual Discourses: Sound Mimetics in the works of Derbyshire. Yale University Press

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Gamelan

Like I said elsewhere recently, it's difficult these days for music to retain an air of mystery. It's not always about complexity, sometimes it's like selective evolution - a relatively simple action iterated so many times in slightly different ways that it produces a result which appears much more complex. I'm tempted to believe that's what consciousness is: the neural equivalent of a piece of film in which a rapid succession of still images gives the illusion of movement. In order to protect the rareness of the enigma, I've deliberately not found out much about it but that's how this kind of thing seems to work:

I guess there are all kind of structures and "rules" in there but it's from a different culture to the one I grew up in so I don't have an in-built frame of reference. I'm not trying to play the tired old game of "the mysteries of the east" as if it's only the non-western world which is so enigmatic. To people raised in that culture the one I live in must look equally strange. Some days it puzzles me at the moment - but I'm going to stop that thought there as this could descent into a political rant.

I got into this kind of thing after taking a punt on some gamelan music in a record store. Sometimes it seems the only way to find something new and interesting these days: just pick something up at random or on the basis of a name or an interesting image on the cover. With the way music seems to be codified into innumerable genres these days, leaping randomly across the categories ends up being the only way to avoid the mechanical recommendation process where some algorithm has been compiled on the assumption that people only like music which is the same as everything else they like.

I've never been anywhere near Indonesia and probably never will. I have no clue about any cultural significance attached to any of this music. My appreciation of it is purely aesthetic.

In short, it's lovely and I'm happy to say I don't know why.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


Carl Sagan. I watched him on BBC2 in the early 1980s but it wasn't until I watched the whole series again a couple of years back that I realised how much an effect it must have had on me. Here's the introduction from the first episode:

First off, I love the Vangelis music. Other people thought it was boring, but it's beautiful. I bought the album, Heaven and Hell, and most of the rest of it is...not as good. (In fact the first track is so silly I involuntarily created a dance move to accompany it).

Then there's Sagan himself. The slow, studied voice seems almost silly to English ears but it's because he's the archetype: he's what the impressionists used as their source material, so much that we've now forgotten the origin. But listen to what he's saying. He's talking about complex scientific ideas... in poetry. Now Sagan is no mere presenter, once again he's the real thing. He worked at NASA on the Apollo and Voyager missions. This man is genuinely one of the leading thinkers of the last century. And here he is speaking about humans being made of "star stuff". They should include it in poetry books and teach it in schools. If there were more like him with the luminosity which comes from the ability think *and* express so clearly and creatively, progress might have some meaning.

I'm pretty sure I didn't see all of the series in 1982. I certainly didn't understand everything I saw, at least I didn't understand the full implications. Being brought up in an Irish Catholic household, I knew there was a choice to be made at some point between a God-created universe or the scientific view. I didn't make the connection with evolution, sociology or any of the other things which shaped my thinking in the intervening years. But then I was only ten and there were other things going on.

Still, I became vaguely aware that the time spent thinking about the cosmos in the company of this wise and gentle Dr. Sagan was more somehow moving me more deeply than all this business with the tedious readings, the odd rituals, the funny clothes and the off-key singing on a Sunday morning.

Oddly enough, Sagan has the benevolent manner and genial tone of a clergyman but one of the key things is that the more frightening his message, the calmer he becomes. Towards the end of the series, in one of the moments which dates it far more than the early computer graphics and communication technology, he speaks of the fear and insanity of the nuclear arms race in the Cold War climate of the time (though he gives equal status to the issue of damage to the environment, considerably before it became such a well-known issue). What's fascinating is that as he delivers this speech, his tone remains calm but tinged with regret and almost paternal disappointment that humanity can be so wonderful and yet so stupid at the same time. This was a huge contrast with the various religious figures I was seeing whose geniality disappeared the moment they brought out the big guns of eternal fire, damnation, original sin, etc. At the same time as I was being taught to confess to even thinking about the wrong things (especially anything which might be considered pleasurable), Cosmos was encouraging me to think about the fundamental nature of reality...which was something the religious people seemed strangely unwilling to discuss.

I've oversimplified it. I don't mean to portray my ten year old self as some kind of prepubescent collossus astride the boundary between science and religion. A more apt description would be that I was a kid wandering around in no man's land, starting not to trust the things being told to me by people I knew and loved while gaining more respect for the views of people I only knew through the TV and the force of argument.

Just watch Cosmos. It won't affect you the way it did me because it's unlikely you're 10 years old and living in the kind of circumstances I was at the time. But watch it all the same: it's an unashamedly personal essay by Sagan, so if nothing else there's pleasure to be had in spending time in the company of someone who knows what he's talking about and is able to do so with clarity, wit and ingenuity.

Lastly, I can't resist telling possibly my favourite story about Sagan. He was in charge of the committee which put together the time capsule golden discs placed aboard the Voyager I and II space probes in the late 1970s. Legend has it that having agreed on selections of Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky, someone proposed inclusion of Bach. Sagan replied "That would just be showing off."*

Cosmos on DVD (Amazon link)

* Apparently he also wanted to include Here Comes the Sun and while the Beatles themselves agreed, EMI refused to give permission. Clearly they think the copyright laws on Alpha Centauri are too lax. I wonder if they put an anti-piracy warning on the disc too?