On Broken Music
Prototype instructions on using the herri as a composing machine
Go to any page in the Theme section of herri#01. Navigate down the page and press play at each embedded video you encounter. By the bottom of the page you might have anything between three and six ‘lines’ of bow and voice playing concurrently. The resulting sound textures might seem out of time with each other, but in fact they are always ‘in time’, just not a time that has been reduced or rendered mechanical by musical notion. Because one can never absolutely replicate a performance of any one page of the herri, each performance is always unique. The minute time stoppages and spillages that always occur on the internet continually force new sets of patterns and linkages to emerge. As the herri player develops her skills, she can become virtuosic. A herri player always has the option to start from the bottom of the page, indeed to start anywhere, and of course, once a page has been ‘mastered’, to include other pages in her repertoire. The herri is thus an interactive music composition and performance tool, which, in its first iteration has used extant single line recordings (by Mantombi Matotiyana) to illustrate how it functions. A second herri composition in the first issue of herri is the one on the Marietjie Pauw page. Here two film soundtracks interact with each other, one of which is called Suiwer producing very low, deep, rumbling resonances and throbs while the other, called Sewe, provides an array of higher pitched sound events. When played with each other, in any order, it becomes clear that the space that has been created in each individual sound piece was always waiting for its complement, or its ‘other’ in order to become whole. In this sense all South African music is broken, and what else could it be given the infernal history of this bleak house of laughter and forgetting, and the histories of erasure and super-imposition that are its ongoing palimpsests of coloniaity?Aryan Kaganof, commissioning e-mail, 10 September 2019
herri as Deleuzian composing machine is a curated and infinitely variable instantiation of connections and multiplicities. It is an unscripted – not uncurated – polyphony that overrides the signifying gesture of the rupture. Ruptures are breaks, obvious points denoting territorialization, structural confirmation of discrete significations. Broken music – as opposed to the music of separation in the formulae represented by the genealogies of ‘pre/post’, ‘for/against’, ‘in/of’, ‘by/through’, ‘high/low’ – as performed by herri makes obsolete the notion of separate units through negating rupture. It is important that the herri composing machine is not located in a studio (although it can be operated from one) and does not require a concert hall or public performance space (although it can broadcast into one). Spatial ramification is a principle of South African rupture; hence a composing machine that eschews spatial rupture has to be an apparatus of ecstatic short-term flights of memory directed by curated, acentric content in the plateau of choice.
The herri composing machine is therefore pitted against History. History in South African music is the long-term stratification of roots and their arborescent relation to genres, styles, fashions, categories and the central organizing systems of long duration historical memory. If History is ‘the infernal history of this colonized space’, and music is doomed constantly to sound against layers of erasure and super-imposition, the herri composing machine delinks the creative act from the obligatory position of subject (and the genealogical choices ‘pre/post’, ‘for/against’, ‘in/of’, ‘by/through’, ‘high/low’) and from the creation of sound objects conditioned by History, determined by History, ruptured by History, ramified by History.
Located in History, South African music breaks bread with politics, breaks even with oppression, breaks away into exile. Broken on the wheel of History, it has been historicized as the blood and soil fanfares of nation and volk. If a single documented history of South African music existed – and it doesn’t – it would have had to be a History balkanized into small histories of oversignified types and genres. The possibility of History is a constant reminder that music in South Africa is a deaf, broken social contract, with occasional breaches (discoveries of missing sites) celebrated as achievements precisely because of the miracle of restored hearing.
History will not be gotten rid of, easily. The herri composing machine replaces the composer with the curator, and the performer with the player. The curator is not outside History, but can be outside the Tradition. The relation between curator and History is different to that which exists between the composer and History. The composer is beholden to History in one very important way not applicable to the curator: in her focus on object rather than space. This constitutes the composer as a necessary Subject in History, positioned with regard to music as some sort of Object, however ontologically diffuse. The curator’s primary responsibility is the articulation between objects and objects, objects and subjects, subjects and subjects – and therefore a concern with space and time. This relationality is not ahistorical, but is at the same time not historically determined as is the Subject-Object relationship characterizing the composer and the composition/work/score/music/song. The role of History in the operation of the herri composing machine is therefore one of schizoid consistency that functions as a first principle for the audible anomalies (paranoia) of its (surface) creations.
This relational structure decrees the non-applicability of the nomenclature of ‘performance’ to the activity suggested by the herri composing machine. There can be no ‘performance of’ the apparatus (which can be set in motion but not musically performed), nor can there be a performance of the material enabled as potential sound that could approximate something called a ‘performance’ in the sense that it would constitute ‘a performance of something’ in the musical sense. Activating the herri composing machine initiates sounds, and operating control of the apparatus inheres in decisions pertaining to times of instantiation and termination of curated materials into unique tunnels of sound articulated by a curator as coordinates in space and time.
Much like any other combinatorial strategy of sound layers in search of polyphonic adventures, these coordinates hold the potential of Historical echoes, interfaces, amplifications, distortions, revisions, denials. But – and this is crucial – not in the sense of Music History as a narrative of generative material awareness. In this sense, then, the herri composing machine is not only decoupled from Music History, but also from Performance History and its regimes of listening and consumption. In the words of Nicolas Bourriaud, who identifies the ‘curator’ and ‘player’ as the DJ and/or the programmer:
These artists who insert their own work into that of others contribute to the eradication of the traditional distinction between production and consumption, creation and copy, readymade and original work. The material they manipulate is no longer primary. It is no longer a matter of elaborating a form on the basis of a raw material but working with objects that are already in circulation on the cultural market, which is to say, objects already informed by other objects. Notions of originality (being at the origin of) and even of creation (making something from nothing) are slowly blurred in this new cultural landscape marked by the twin figures of the DJ and the programmer, both of whom have the task of selecting cultural objects and inserting them into new contexts.Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction. Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, tr. Jeanine Herman (Lukas & Sternberg 2005), 2nd ed., ‘Introduction’.
Situated in this way with regard to History – breaking from the subject/object determinant of music as a cultural practice and the attendant ways in which such culturally situated music is brought into the world through performance and reception – the herri composing machine produces broken music entangled with contemporaneity unlimited by the units of History, or rather, Music History. The directions encouraged by the apparatus of herri as composing machine could instantiate any number of unexpected multiplicities, points of encounter, significatory paths and unanticipated circulations with all histories, with all forms of life, with all manner of becomings. In this way the herri composing machine speaks to the species history of a time of impending ecological catastrophe and the irrelevance of History in the face of extinction.
Broken music, viewed as what emanates from an activation of the herri composing machine thus understood, therefore provides alternative ways to think about erasure and super-imposition. Predicated on erasure and super-imposition, the herri composing machine is nevertheless reframing the conditions for these actions by its suspended relationship to History and Performance and Consumption, to the History of Music and the History of Performance and the History of Music Consumption. The plateaux of the herri composing machine are unplugged from the colonial matrix of power reproduction that operate through History and Performance and Consumption; not by eschewing erasure and super-imposition per se, but by limiting all choices to degrees of erasure and super-imposition (of which the Colonial variety is only one, linear trace, of limited interest and importance), and by searching for relations with other plateaux. These relations are ultimately relations between surfaces, ungrounded in History but not severed from the problems of its constructed consistencies.
Broken music thus elicited has the directionless flow of an absent organizing memory and a delirious deep memory freed of its organs, plugged into the worlds of herri. This is a sound world of apocryphality (or inauthenticity) invoking opportunities related to misauthorship and the intervention of anonymous collectivities in composing music. But broken music in this sense also speaks to steganography, and the celebration of the obscurity, wrongness, distortion, shifting voices, inconsistent punctuations and rhetorical divergences of sounding multiplicities inauthenticated as positive disintegration.Both these concepts belong to Reza Negarestani’s ideas on Hidden Writing, elaborated in Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (re.press 2008), 60-8. The herri composing machine therefore creates the possibility of broken music as the sonic equivalent to Reza Negarestani’s Hidden Writing (to which the concepts of apocryphality and steganography belong), particularly with regards to the notion of ‘ungrounding’ as a sonic process entailing the surface corruption of sound. See Negarestani, Cyclonopedia, 43. Ungrounding is a different perspective on what was described above as the principle of ‘decoupling’ from various frames of History, and the subsequent obsolescence of ‘rupture’.
The ‘tunnels of sound’ related to times of instantiation and termination of curated materials articulated with respect to the History of Performance above, resonate with Negarestani’s ‘holes’, ‘Holey Space’ and ‘( )hole complex’ (a degenerate wholeness). Holes, for Negarestani, are ‘ambiguous entities – oscillating between surface and depth – within solid matrices, fundamentally corrupting the latter’s consolidation and wholeness through perforations and terminal porosities’. Ibid., 44. ‘For a solid body’, writes Negarestani, ‘the vermiculation of holes undermines the coherency between the circumferential surfaces and its solidity’. Ibid., 44 Quoting H.P. Lovecraft, he describes holey space or ( )hole complex as ‘the zone through which the Outside gradually but persistently emerges, creeps in (or out?) from the Inside’, a worm-ridden space ‘that makes solidity [History, Music History, Music] the altruistic host of emergence’. Ibid., 45.
Broken music was conceived at the start of the essay as an emerging phenomenon entangled with contemporaneity unrestricted by the units of History. In the subsequently described Lovecraftian vision of a ground ‘where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied’, Ibid., 43. the broken music of the herri composing machine turns sound into what Negarestani calls the ‘ultimate zone of emergence and uprising against its own passive planetdom’. Ibid., 44. Emphasis on ‘ungrounding’ enforces the listening-playing engagement enabled by the herri composing machine to attend to surfaces, to the invention of ultra-active surfaces.
The radicality of this gesture pertains to the deterioration of the deadening binary that conceives of centres and margins, and in which all new creative endeavor is situation with respect to historically determined centres. The attention shifts, with the herri composing machine, to the surface as the locus of actionIbid., 46. and of intrinsic permeability where the already existing sound cannot be recreated, re-animated or re-invigorated, but can only be messed with. Negarestani writes: ‘The cold cannot be reheated; only messed up’, Cyclonopedia, 51.
Underneath the surface there is only more surface,
depth was always an illusion, there is no core
at the centre of the onion, the layers
are endless, mise-en-abyme.Aryan Kaganof, personal communication, 11 January 2020.
The significance of this in a country haunted by the stratified sounds of colonial violence and racial oppression – always conceived of and implemented in binary logics – is that it introduces a sonic poromechanics that suggests a wrong historical logic, one steeped in emergence rather than causality. This logic unfolds as a relationship not only between the genealogies of sounds and musics – which remain present as a shimmering awareness – but also as a relationship between the sonic coincidences themselves and the manner in which these two relationships manifest in surfaces activated by the herri composing machine.
One can adapt Negarestani’s graphic illustration of Mesopotamian necropolises and their sites as models of political archaeology to represent this logic. Negarestani, Cyclonopedia, 63-4. Historical Mounds (HM: historical narratives) function as gates to Wonder Zones (WZ: herri themes) that contain Treasure Chambers and Kenotaphion (TC and K: sounds). TC’s and K are located in WZ’s and imply Missing Sites (MS), establishing non-linear relationships with other TC’s and K in the same WZ enabling of the discovery of MS’s, but also with TC’s (and sometimes K) in any or all other WZ’s congealed from HM’s (thus, again, leading to unexpected discoveries of MS’s).
These relationships function horizontally, as it were, but also vertically. They acknowledge surfaces as the locality of the action, but refuse any one surface a grounding status. herri themes – in their initial iterations entitled ‘Mantombi Matotiyana’ (herri#01), ‘Country Conquerors’ (herri#02) and ‘Nagmusiek’ (herri#03) – suggest the existence of vast musical repositories, sonic entombments of violated pasts and a politics of exploitation. The MS’s eluding the opportunism of sonic looters and vandals are suggested by the densely populated thematic chambers with their indisputably rich discoveries that are nevertheless defective, wrong, falsified, problematic. Negarestani writes:
In a necropolis surface-site – everything – from empty tombs filled with sham bodies to treasures deliberately buried within the ground – suggests to the discerning that there is something else, a missing site nearby. For the looter, however, something is obviously wrong, but insofar as the spoils themselves are nevertheless satisfactory and lavish, no more is said of it. Given these strategic surface absurdities and operational plot holes, if there is such a thing as, if you will, an aestheticism proper to the archaeologist, it is undoubtedly expressed in the uneasy but excited exclamation: ‘there is something deeply wrong with this thing’. bid., 64
And so herri functions as a sensibility of wrongness, and its composing machine as an entonement of the tombs containing a musical afterlife. Discovered as a composing machine operating from the first principles of historical schizophrenia and surface paranoia, it acknowledges that to create music, make music and consume music in South Africa entails a sensibility of brokenness, and its structural and functional implications. If the vision thus elaborated seems obsessed with the past and its manifestation in the present, the sensibility of ‘the missing site nearby’, the ‘real necropolis’ hidden from the profound defectiveness of the discursive formations employed to enact transformation, decolonization, and the post-apartheid, intimate the possibilities of virtuosic, ‘wrong’, discoveries resulting from interactive sound travel that breaks with the organizational consistency of constructed pasts. The herri composing machine is an instrument of ‘wholing’ and wrongness, built on a the principles of ( )hole complexes intuiting a homecoming. And the music of home, is Broken Music.
|1.||↑||Aryan Kaganof, commissioning e-mail, 10 September 2019|
|2.||↑||Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction. Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, tr. Jeanine Herman (Lukas & Sternberg 2005), 2nd ed., ‘Introduction’.|
|3.||↑||Both these concepts belong to Reza Negarestani’s ideas on Hidden Writing, elaborated in Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (re.press 2008), 60-8.|
|4.||↑||See Negarestani, Cyclonopedia, 43.|
|11.||↑||Negarestani writes: ‘The cold cannot be reheated; only messed up’, Cyclonopedia, 51.|
|12.||↑||Aryan Kaganof, personal communication, 11 January 2020.|
|13.||↑||Negarestani, Cyclonopedia, 63-4.|
|14.||↑||An adaptation of Negarestani’s ‘Mesopotamian necropolises and their sites as models of political archeology’, Cyclonopedia, 64.|