§1 Travelogue of the DOMUS
After a swift tour of the layout of the main storeroom conducted by archivist Santie De Jong, I seek to establish my own circuit of the confined quarters to create a map and apparatus of capture to engage with artistically. Like Ariadne’s thread, I trace a route:
§2 How may I decentre it?
The proposed task of “decentering the archive” that I set for myself, revealed the need to establish a centre in the first place, in order to begin the decentering process. However paradoxical this affair is, it marks a position from which to slowly build the vertebrae of the body of work that I read and write out of the archive.
Decentering proves to be the operative word when the records/artifacts (contents) are no longer central, no longer the centre of attention/focus, as representative of facts/figures within the archive. The materials that contain, enclose, enfold, entwine, endure the contents become the focus – the surfaces are foregrounded by the amplified attention to visual and sonic surface noise.
The resonance of any archival document lies in its potential to be an agent of the interpreter’s code. In attempting to shift focus from the (established/canonized) centre, to the (previously) marginal – one may be tempted to re-name the marginals as central figures, but this begs the question: is marginal/border-identity always and only a relational position that demands a priori centredness?
§3 On my positionality…
In terms of this archive of music histories of South Africa – my fixation with decentering boils down to my estranged relationship to South African identity and its spectral sonic evocations, since I arrived in South Africa in July 1980 as an infant Scottish immigrant. A position along the margins, scratching the surfaces that constitute the margins, therefore offers the most sensible zone to reflect within – even though I am now classified as a South African citizen. But what exactly lies in the margins of this particular archive? And what tensions emerge once “margins” are identified between the classified and the “margins of the classified”?
§4 Sub-Questions of the Question
How may any of the contents within this archive speak to constructed South African music identities without the divisions by which they are currently situated?
How may we understand lost histories through the archive?
How do we measure the histories that do not lie therein?
What histories do not lie in some way or another?
Just what is the relation between the archive as container of time past and the domestic sphere that contains daily ritual performance?
What are the tensions between these two spheres?
What dwells within their border zone – an intermediary or liminal pocket?
What should it sound like?
What do marks of time say to us about this cultural archive?
What dwells within the folds of surfaces?
And how does one weigh the absence of presence?
§5 Content & containment
Content is the glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It’s very tiny – very tiny, content.William de Kooning, “Content is a Glimpse” (1960: online)
In my very round-about way of grappling with this expandable and collapsible enquiry I managed to “decentre” my proposed issue with the archive and its “biased categories” to deal with issues of confinement and containment through the archive as a container of records, evidence, traces, residue, and ghosts… since that is what resonates most with my art practice to date. The surface is the content, the margin is the surface, the containment is the domestic, and the generative process is invagination.
§6 DOMöbiUS membrane
I go into the archive storeroom to blindly explore the territory of DOMUS for yet unknown treasures that I believe to lie outside the borderlines of given categories. My movements are unhindered, but given the constraints of the layout I decide to enter the first aisle, look at the first shelf and conservatively stick to my left-to-right reading mode, top to bottom to top again, while holding Ariadne’s thread between the thumb and index finger of my left hand. This thread outlines the path of navigation for my “blind” circuit of capturing DOMUS, that becomes a Möbius strip
I call this transmuted circuitry my DOMöbiUS membraneInspired by Jean-Francois Lyotard’s description of “The Great Ephemeral Skin” in his Libidinal Economy “Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces… perform the dissection of the polymorphous perversion, spread out the immense membrane of the libidinal “body” which is quite different to a frame. … All these zones are joined end to end in a band, which has no back to it, a Möbius band which interests us not because it is closed, but because it is one-sided…” (1993: 1).
Upon which I curate my own Domus
To domesticate the DOMUS
I feel as if I should be working back to front, or
Is chaos internalized
The brittle exoskeleton cracked open
Chaos cracked through and forth
The crack “that lets the light in” unmasks
Lays wide open
To my practice…
Of confined space and time.
Domestic confinement mirrors confined space of the archive storeroom: confined space of stored time. The personal associations I hold of the broad concept of an archive = death: collections of the deceased, the tatters and ruins of dead matter – the material traces of layers of death. And of course my aesthetic experience of this confined storeroom of time gone is fully captured in my data retrieval stop-motion audio-visual composition #1: The DOMöbiUS Membrane, also known as, On the passage of a few ants through a rather brief unity of time.
§7 Marks of time in space…
For space, too, is a temporal concept… The state of rest on earth is an accidental inhibition of matter… The pictorial work originates in movement, is itself a record of movement, and is perceived in movement.Paul Klee, Paul Klee: Drawings (cited in Grohmann, 1960: 11)
A surface reading of DOMUS through my material encounter of its spatial make-up draws up an audiovisual composite map that compresses a series of sessions following a particular circuit route. Single close-up photographs are doubled, thereby stretched and sequenced on a timeline to animate the choreography of surface chaos/noise. This provides the visual surface noise navigation of the archive storeroom in counterpoint or juxtaposition to the audio surface noise landscape. Although my scanning of material information is intended to be systematic, the actual, physical aspect of engaging the space (on a blinkered “microcosmic-level” – only focused on a subset of surfaces that constitute the DOMUS), influences the path of discovery in unpredictable ways. In exploring the surface of the archive in stop-motion mode I am taken to the nooks and crannies, and discover the unreachable parts – I am lured in but inevitably kept out. The seeking camera weaves in and out of folds and creases, cracks and closures – a tear or erasure begs more intimate attention – while composing the visual surface noise of the archive. Making this extreme close-up portrayal (in parts) continuous (and seemingly never-ending) upon a timeline renders the whole secondary and unreachable – outside of the frame yet implied by the clues from my surface-texture-map. The montage of thousands of single photographs laid out in succession creates a staccato passage of movement as the surfaces flash past – the textures may tease or frustrate and partially disorientate the viewer by way of the absence of a total shot, or sense of the complete whole. That absence of an establishing shot of the archive reveals a lack – that hole in the whole becomes an aperture, better reflected in an extreme close-up navigation of the surface details, the minutiae. Those very surfaces – that enfold/enclose/protect/order/stack/serialise carry the traces of time passed, time measured and time present – are single frames made continuous along a seamless timeline to imitate the great ephemeral film.La grande pellicule éphémère (Lyotard: 1974) – in the context of Lyotard’s theoretical play with the Möbius band Iain Hamilton Grant translates pellicule as “skin” in the English publication (Lyotard, 1993: 1).
§8 On the passage…
The title of this filmwork is derived from French Situationist Guy Debord’s documentary détournement: Sur le passage de quelques personnes à traverse une assez courte unité de temps (1959). Détournement, in short, is “the re-use of pre-existing elements in a new ensemble” (Knabb: 1967). The journal Situationist International (1), June:1958 explains the “détournement of preexisting aesthetic elements… within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which reveals the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres”. [Online]. Available: [13 April 2018]. In his technical notes on the film Debord relays his intention to detourn “the usual documentary practice regarding spectacular scenery” (by shooting in the opposite direction), as well as the “style of ‘art documentaries’”, with a dry critical commentary that incorporates “detourned phrases, drawn indiscriminately from classical thinkers, a science-fiction novel, and the worst pop sociologists” (Debord, 1959: online). In the spirit of my cut and past methodology of montage, stop-motion, appropriation, and remix, I replace the word “persons” in Guy Debord’s title with “ants” to execute a detourned assemblage of texture, pattern and rhythm upon the original détournement in microcosmic detail.
§9 Sounding the decentered archive
The first sound experiment in the editing process of this surface study of DOMUS involved juxtaposing the visual map with an example of music lying outside this archive of study – a foreign entity, namely “Stillpoint” (2010): an industrial techno track by Canadian Duo ORPHX from their Black Light Album. Its identity is clearly unrelated to the contents of this particular archive of music-related material, and therefore dis-indigenous to DOMUS. I had to ask myself what such an experiment of framing could discover and disclose of this archive? It is in fact not a framing I am committed to in this case but a decentering which is a slightly different process. In the context of Jean Piaget’s cognitive development theory decentering is “the ability to consider multiple aspects of a situation” (Alleydog.com: no date). In the context of my practice of “decentering DOMUS”, rather than identify the privileged or centred and contained aspects of the ordered archive I attempt to conceptualize multiple perspectives from an audiovisual skinning and skimming of the archive – producing a multivalent work of surface noise. As a visual artist the “skins” of the archive hold the most compelling impressions of time handled and captured… from an ant’s perspective.
§10 What we hear is what we get?
The worn and torn edges and aged surfaces of these archival materials are captured in extreme close-up detail and visual sharpness, but kept in constant motion by the speed at which the stills pass by – in and out of focus. The superficial clarity of the seen archive stands in stark contrast to the audio haziness of the heard archive, especially in terms of my subdued and democratic mix of the DOMUS samples. However the visual clarity of the photographed archival material is in effect complimented by the sonic clarity of the amplified surface noise track, in other words, the sonic materiality in surface noise concurs with the surface materiality of the archive. The image track alone may record a superficial orientation across the surfaces of Everyarchive,By “Everyarchive” I mean the generic or universal conception of the archive – I take this liberty with reference to the late 15th-century English morality play Everyman. but the audio track infuses the visual map with a hauntological resonance that takes the mind of the spectator beyond the sight of surface, of mere materiality. The visual track carries the surfaces of the material records of the archive while the sound track carries the hidden-from-view parts of the records, that is, sonic contents that must be listened to. The sonic journey interacts with the visual one, in and out of sync, in and out of focus, in direct relation to the abstracted formal elements of the cropped stills flashing past. We see material, and we hear material… historicised material.
§11 chords, voices, and surface noise
After this experiment with music alien to the archive, I return to the DOMUS to select a disconnected set of vinyls. Of course hidden within this selection of “de-linked” tracks are clues to points of interest/horror that emerged in my research process of invaginating the DOMUS for meaning:
“Princess Waltz” (also known as “Agnes Waltz”, written by Scottish accordionist William Hannah) – sleevenote: “work of a Scottish composer, this melody only became a hit when recording broadcast in SA. It is now standard offering on all ballroom floors”. From Africana: Africa in Rhythm (Horst Wende and his orchestra: 1960);
“Toespraak Deur Die Eerste Minister, Dr. H.F. Verwoerd By Die Voortrekkermonument, Pretoria. 31 Mei 1966” [Part 1];
“Bayeza” – Invocation from Bantu Choral Folk Songs: The Song Swappers and Pete Seeger (1955).
+ digitized reel-to-reel tape:
Eoan Opera Group (voice: May Abrahamse, ‘Ah, fors’ é lui… Sempre libera’, aria from La Traviata, 1964)
I produce a “democratic mix” of these samples in terms of their sound levels, making distinctions between tracks barely audible so that they play together in muted discord. What is foregrounded in the soundtrack however is the surface noise textures of vinyl, making the multiple voices retreat to background noise. This multiple broadcast mix from the DOMUS accompanies the visual noise for some time until a black screen interjects with the french and english title of the filmwork, and then a piano chord abruptly returns us to the visual stream of surfaces tracking the bright notes of an aged songI use the term “aged” to relay that the digital record of the song carries the signal as well as the surface noise of its playing. : “I Tore Up Your Picture When You Said Goodbye (But I Put It Together Again)” (Frank Petty Trio: 1950) – selected for its significance as a sonic memory reference (and not a material entity) within the Kaganof collection of DOMUS.
The next phase of the soundtrack includes another dis-indigenous speeded-up version of a composition by Greek-French music theorist, architect and engineer Iannis Xenakis: Pléïades (1978). This is a composition for six percussionists with four movements, each movement is played on different materials/surfaces: Metaux (“Metals”), Claviers (“Keyboards”), Peaux (“Skins”) and Mélanges (“Mixture”). My sample is from the Metaux movement that was played on specially constructed instruments by the name of sixxen (twelve bars of alluminium, bronze and steel played with metal hammers), that may sound sync with the visual rhythm of the filmtrack, in its speeded-up version of itself. In a curious effect of placing two tracks of surfaces next to one another, something happens, there is a small gap of “friction” at play. A kind of surface tension. They start to speak to or counterpoint one another. This sonic time-lapse of “Pléïades” – Metaux fades out to traffic sounds introducing a multilayered electronic track, “Post”, by Niklas Zimmer and James Webb (Zimmer, Conference: 2001).
§12 Seamless S(h)elves
With my aim to create a durational and dimensional Möbius strip of the archive I place the extreme close-up stills on a timeline to create a strip of time and space captured: approximately twenty hours, and five by four metres – compressed into Duration: 13:32, and Dimension: digital film. I do not script answers by this work – S(h)elves seek their own script – one that is kept on the surface of the archive. The surfaces alone, when stretched out like this (a strip of timeline twisted once, and joined by the ends in order to be made seamless and continuous), are overwhelming enough when reading the archive – the edges in ruin; the fading ink of various inscriptions; the folds; the cracks; the spaces between; the dust and decay; the pockets and peepholes, are arranged in sequence to create notes and ciphers for my proposed process of composing by margins.
Decentering the DOMUS
My voice is the instrument
Composing the margins
The marginalised voice
In somebody’s soundtrack
Like grooves on vinyl
By egg-shaped lead outs
The personal is still political
At the heart
of every absent centre
when the centre is a void
An empty or negative space around which generative processes take place
eg. the gastrulation progress resulting from the process of invagination in embryology.
Is the void also the abyss?
“The abyss ellicits analogy… but analogy succumbs to the abyss as soon as a certain artfulness is required for the analogical description of the play of analogy…” said Derrida (1979: 4).
Negative space of the heart of anything created = the absent centre
The presence of absence vs. the absence of presence
Due to my misfiling of the source, I was under the wrong impression regarding the authors of the electronic track “Post” (2001) that I sampled. Upon following the academic convention of referencing my “cultural borrowing” I discovered my error, and had to face another breach of the objective surface reading by the disquieting resurfacing of my personal past. I cannot deny the ambivalence this discovery stirred in me, though the details of this history are irrelevant to the discussion, this was a point at which my work turned on me unexpectedly. I immediately wanted to replace the track. Yet I also wanted to remain true to my experimental selection process of sampling. This rupture brought up the matter of the embargo imposed by the self. I found myself wanting to suppress certain uncomfortable facts that my research had unveiled. It did however inspire another work title the embargoed voice: an unwitting collaboration (2000-2020) that is currently under self-embargo.
A short film study (duration 13:32) that engages the surfaces of contents and containers of archival records. As a surface reconnaissance of DOMUS, this passage provides a circuit to read the archive by in its “systematic” movement through the aisles of the main storeroom. It constitutes a visual map in motion kept at surface level – capturing only the material information accessible to the macro lens of the digital camera.
§14 This surface reading…
of archival matter in visual terms has produced a literal skimming of the surfaces to create an expanded, all-encompassing view of the minute-scale terms of their photographic capture. A surface reading of the sonic contents of the archive, however, produced a discontent mix of waltz, choral folk, political speech, opera, and over-amplified surface noise. The experience of this audio mix of distinct genres and voices with the visual track of generic surface-textures may prove to be “less curious” to some ears than a soundtrack of pure surface noise alone. The hauntological significance of the surface noise of the vinyl sample may be understood from Mark Fisher’s perspective in “The Metaphysics of Crackle” (2013) with his claim that sonic hauntology “restores the uncanniness of recording by making the recorded surface audible again” (2013: 44), and identifies the textural and temporal disturbances caused by this to reveal “the grainy materiality of sound, sound as a medium in itself rather than as a carrier for Meaning” (2013: 44). He reflects on this accordingly: “Crackle unsettles the very distinction between surface and depth, between background and foreground… we hear that time is out of joint. The joins are audible in the crackles, the hiss…” (Fisher, 2013: 48). Fisher continues describing the metaphysical implications of disturbing the “illusion of presence”:
…first, temporally, by alerting us to the fact that what we are listening to is a phonographic revenant; and second, ontologically, by introducing the technical frame, the material pre-condition of the recording, on the level of content (Fisher, 2013: 48-9).
I do have a long passage of dense surface noise between the “Post” and “Stillpoint” tracks that may allow one to meditate upon the two forms of materiality, two surfaces of representation – one sonic, the other visual – they run alongside one another, they seem to meet somewhere along the margins. One may even experience the soundtrack as sonic equivalent to a double exposure photograph. Faint sounds fluctuate, like veils of light and shadows competing for form, fading in and out of each other’s generic musical structures, while the sonic materiality (surface noise) endures. There is something about surfaces, when they are brought into close proximity to one another that they may create an illusion of depth – the illusion of being more than surfaces… the simplest form of montage (visual as well as sonic) knows this well by its play of juxtapositions and counterpoints.
§15 … and the framing
(by decentering) of DOMUS. When conceptually using music as surface, one observes the unexpected opening up of surfaces to meaning through ruptures, leakages or bleeds, acknowledging the illusory nature of surface. Closer inspection of any surface always reveals more of that surface than one expected, since surfaces (of the material world at the very least) generally display the traces of their interactions with other surfaces. Can surface really be separated from depth? Underneath every surface is surely another surface? It has been suggested that by making my selections (whether “blind” or by “chance operations”) I am setting up conditions by which the surface will inevitably be punctured by my (framed) encounters with myself.
§16 What remains to be unsaid?
Surface alone cannot provide a decentering by the skins/masks/shells of the archive (its material containers) – one must make an incision or excision, or an enfolding…
Alleydog.com glossary. (n.d.). S.v. ‘decentering’ [Online]. Available: [2019, October 19].
Debord, G. 1959. Technical Notes on The Passage of a few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time [Online]. Available: [2020, April 14].
de Kooning, W. 1960. Content is a Glimpse. Interview with David Sylvester, recorded March 1960. [Online]. In The Willem de Kooning Foundation. Available: (2021, June 24).
Derrida, J. & (trans.) Owens, C. 1979. The Parergon. In October, Vol. 9 (Summer), pp.3-41. The MIT Press. Available: [2017, October 16].
Eoan Group Opera. 1964. Aria from La Traviata [Digitised Reel-to-reel tape]. Eoan Group Opera collection. Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), Stellenbosch University.
Fisher, M. 2013. The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology. In Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture 5(2): 42-55.
Grohmann, W. 1960. Paul Klee: Drawings. London: Thames and Hudson.
James, C.L. 1988. This Dark Ceiling without a Star: A Sylvia Plath Song Cycle for mezzo soprano & six instrumentalists. Pretoria, South Africa. Christopher L. James collection. Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), Stellenbosch University.
Knabb, K. (ed. and trans.). 2006. Situationist International Anthology. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets.
Lyotard, J. 1974. Economie Libidinale. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.
Lyotard, J. 1991. The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. (Trans.) Bennington, G. & Bowlby, R. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Lyotard, J. 1993. Libidinal Economy. (Trans.) Grant, I.H. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Müller, D. [n.d.]. The Techniquer (1916) [Photographs]. David Müller collection, Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), Stellenbosch University.
Newcater, G. [n.d.]. Assyrian Ziggurat [Pen on paper]. Graham Newcater collection. Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), Stellenbosch University.
Plath, S. 1963. Child. [Online]. Available: [2020, August 28].
Plath, S. 2015. Collected Poems. London: Faber & Faber.
Random House Unabridged Dictionary. 2020. S.v. ‘möbius strip’ [Online]. dictionary.com. Available: [2019, October 10].
South African Vinyl collection. Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), Stellenbosch University.
Visser, A.G. 1925. Lotos-Land. In Poems. Pretoria: Van Schaik.
On the Passage of a Few Ants Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time 2018, HDV, (Dir.) Nicola Deane, African Noise Foundation, South Africa.
Sur le passage de quelques personnes à traverse une assez courte unité de temps 1959, 35mm B & W, 20:00, (Dir.) Guy Debord, (Prod.) Dansk-Fransk Experimenalfilms Kompagni (Copenhagen), France. [Online]. Vimeo. Available: [2019, November 17].
Eoan Group Opera. 1964. ‘Ah, fors’ é lui… Sempre libera’. Aria from La Traviata. [Digitised reel-to-reel tape]. South Africa.
Donnelly, A. & Morse, D. 1950. ‘I Tore Up Your Picture When You Said Goodbye (But I Put It Together Again)’. Frank Petty Trio. [Vinyl, 7″]. USA: MGM Records.
ORPHX. 2010. ‘Stillpoint’. Black Light. [Vinyl, 12” EP]. USA: Sonic Groove.
The Song Swappers and Pete Seeger 1955. ‘Bayeza – Invocation’. Bantu Choral Folk Songs. [Vinyl]. South Africa: Folkways Records.
Verwoerd, H.F. 1966. ‘Toespraak Deur Die Eerste Minister, Dr. H.F. Verwoerd By Die Voortrekkermonument, Pretoria. 31 Mei 1966 [Part 1]’. Dr. H.F. Verwoerd. [Vinyl]. South Africa: Brigadiers.
Wende, H. & His Orchestra. 1960. ‘Princess Waltz (Agnes Waltz)’. Africana: Africa in Rhythm. [Vinyl LP Record]. South Africa: Polydor.
Xenakis, I. 1987. ‘Metaux’ Movement. DeciBells, Les Percussions de Strasbourg & Iannis Xenakis. Pléïades. [CD]. France: Harmonia Mundi.
Zimmer, N. & Webb, J. 2001. ‘Post’. Conference. [CD]. South Africa: Upland Music.
|1.||Inspired by Jean-Francois Lyotard’s description of “The Great Ephemeral Skin” in his Libidinal Economy “Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces… perform the dissection of the polymorphous perversion, spread out the immense membrane of the libidinal “body” which is quite different to a frame. … All these zones are joined end to end in a band, which has no back to it, a Möbius band which interests us not because it is closed, but because it is one-sided…” (1993: 1).|
|2.||La grande pellicule éphémère (Lyotard: 1974) – in the context of Lyotard’s theoretical play with the Möbius band Iain Hamilton Grant translates pellicule as “skin” in the English publication (Lyotard, 1993: 1).|
|3.||The journal Situationist International (1), June:1958 explains the “détournement of preexisting aesthetic elements… within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which reveals the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres”. [Online]. Available: [13 April 2018].|
|4.||By “Everyarchive” I mean the generic or universal conception of the archive – I take this liberty with reference to the late 15th-century English morality play Everyman.|
|5.||I use the term “aged” to relay that the digital record of the song carries the signal as well as the surface noise of its playing.|