Despite my long-nagging suspicion that the casual surveillance of U.S. citizens would be silently institutionalized by our corporatized nation-state, recent revelations about the NSA’s PRISM program have nonetheless had a disquieting effect upon my psyche. Making PRISMatic, in turn, has allowed me to refuse the potentially quieting effects of this knowledge, and transform my unease about these revelations into an opportunity for self-renewal.1 The process of musically mirroring the anxieties attending my awareness of corporate-state surveillance has served as a tactic of transforming its imposition into an opportunity.2 As corporate encroachment upon my possible communicational futures becomes increasingly evident, my joy in maintaining agency through the creation of musical “anti-environments” only intensifies.3 Though in part motivated by the pleasures of tweaking and fiddling in an absorbed state of flow, my interest in mixing is more broadly based upon the necessity of creating reliable, renewable experiences of shareable surprise and actionable anxiety rooted in an awareness of neoliberal power.
Sequencing a mixtape requires a purposeful narrowing of musical possibilities not unlike those performed by genres, networks, and algorithms of popular music distribution. Or by the NSA’s curation of “metadata,” for that matter, which focuses not so much on communicational content as the formal indices of transactional activity. For this mix, I used search keywords to filter my initial musical choices: “nsa,” “prism,” “meta,” and “data.” Listening through these options, I intuitively decided whether they captured my feelings regarding the concept at hand: disappointment, melancholy, paranoia, but also the absurd flamboyance I feel compelled to assert in response to such a disturbing breach of trust. Though the moods at times feel oppressive, their expression through the mix feels liberating. Should I be so satisfied by the mere feeling of liberation?, I wonder. Here, my satisfaction seems fitting. By articulating these moods through mixing, I at the same time disarticulate them from my becoming-aware of preemptive neoliberal power.
PRISMatic was not narratively sequenced so much as dictated by song-to-song flow. In order to provide space for various attentional modes in listening, I toyed with juxtaposing bold tracks and jarring cuts with more lulling spots of time. One of the most pleasurable aspects of this process was how the topology of the mix became increasingly predictable the more I went back to tweak. By the time it was ready, I’d long enough inhabited the grooves and cuts of the mix to feel comfort and familiarity in listening; at the same time, as my attention inevitably dispersed during the ambient patches, I still found myself wowed by the manifestation of latently-known left turns.
This dialectic of remembrance and forgetting analogously applies to the way finished mixes ferment promise over the longer term of weeks or months. What time my mixes spend stashed away in my personal media archives gets paid back in amazement upon re-listening. (“I made that?”) Though I’m glad if anyone but me ends up also listening my mixes (and please do!), I’m satisfied enough with the possibility of experiencing with fresh ears the auditory corridors of mood and motion I’d once constructed. By taking advantage of the disjuncture between my own short- and long-term auditory memory, I reclaim the right to shape my own experiential future with more empowering forms of revelation.
0:00 // “data.matrix” – Ryoji Ikeda (dataplex, Raster-Noton, 2005)
1:10 // “Bose-Einstein Condensation” – Biosphere (Shenzhou, Touch, 2002)
2:20 // “Metallophone” – Max Eastley (New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments, Obscure, 1975)
3:06 // “Vessels That Float Out of Metals That Sink (Part 5)” – Casino Versus Japan (Casino Versus Japan, Star Star Stereo, 1998)
4:27 // “Data Distill” – Walker & Kennedy (3 Stacked Layers, From Macro To Meta, Inner Surface Music, 2012)
6:10 // “At Home I’m a Tourist” – Bruno Pronsato (Why Can’t We Be Like Us?, Hello? Repeat, 2007)
9:11 // “Metall Dub” – Alec Empire (Low on Ice (The Iceland Sessions), Mille Plateaux, 1995)
9:45 // “Lufthansa 1983” – Legowelt (Amiga Railroad Adventures, Strange Life Records, 2009)
10:32 // “Kansas City Stomps” – Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers (Vol. 2: Chicago: The Red Hot Peppers, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 1928/1992)
10:58 // “Hyperprism” – Edgard Varèse, perf. Asko Ensemble, cond. Riccardo Chailly (Varèse: Complete Works, Decca, 1923/1997)
12:48 // “Darkside 1 & 3” – Sensations Fix (Music Is Painting in the Air (1974-77), RVNG Intl., 2012)
13:52 // “Follow Me and So” – End of Data (Sahrah, Divine, 1984)
16:02 // “Recombination” – Mikkel Metal (Pop Ambient 2013, Kompakt, 2013)
17:02 // “Colonized (Perc Metal Mix)” – Paula Temple (Colonized, R&S, 2013)
17:07 // “Church of All Images (Church of the NSA)” – Vatican Shadow (Ornamented Walls, Modern Love, 2012)
20:02 // “Korpikansa” – Uusitalo (Karhunainen, Huume, 2007)
22:20 // “Prism” – Keith Jarrett (Personal Mountains, ECM, 1989)
25:37 // “Small Metal Gods” – David Sylvian (Died in the Wool, Samadhisound, 2011)
28:46 // “Running Up That Hill (Datassette Remix) – Kate Bush (self-released mp3, 2005)
31:52 // “Take It While It’s Hot” – Sweet Sensation (Take It While It’s Hot, Next Plateau, 1988)
34:13 // “Meta Incognita” – Thomas Köner (Permafrost, Barooni, 1993)
34:45 // “Don’t” – Datassette (People Without Mouths, Shipwrec, 2012)
38:22 // “Onsay” – Fennesz (Venice, Touch, 2004)
39:23 // “Meta Concrete” – Rene Hell (In 1980 I Was A Blue Square, NNA Tapes, 2012)
Victor Szabo is a Ph.D candidate in the Critical & Comparative Studies program in Music at the University of Virginia. His dissertation-in-progress, tentatively titled “Turn On, Tune In, Drift Off: Ambient Music Recordings and the Experiential Counterculture,” investigates the cultural history and aesthetics of the ambient music recording. Victor is also a seasoned radio DJ with a weekly electronic music show on WTJU Charlottesville. Follow him on Twitter @icvicvicvicvi.
- In the vein of Attali’s political theory of noise, sound studies scholars continue to elaborate in terms of audition the ways in which technologies of sound discipline a potentially vocal citizenry. Robin James, for instance, posits that the NSA’s PRISM program operates according to a metaphorics of listening by which the nation-state constantly tunes and re-tunes to communicational patterns; see James, “On PRISM, or Listening Neoliberally.” it’s her factory (blog), June 7, 2013, http://its-her-factory.blogspot.com/2013/06/on-prism-or-listening-neoliberally.html. Likewise, Steve Goodman elaborates on the ways neoliberal power is preemptive in nature, imposed by the military-entertainment complex upon the range of our possible audible futures; see Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009). ↩
- Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven F. Randall (Berkeley: U of California Press, 1984): xix. ↩
- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 2nd ed. (New York: Mentor, 1964): ix. ↩