Daisy Alioto on post-COVID reconstructive aesthetics.
It’s a tale familiar to “serious” music people: In 2001, William Basinski was in the process of digitizing tapes that were in such bad condition they were falling apart. This decay became the subject of Basinski’s then-new recordings, which he finished the morning of September 11th, 2001. The project is known as The Disintegration Loops.
Lesser known, but in a similar vein, is a quest by DJ Spooky aka Paul D. Miller to capture field recordings of ice in Antarctica and create a musical portrait of the vanishing environment. Since 2007, when these recordings began, the parallels between DJ Spooky’s project and Basinski’s have become even more apparent through accelerating loss. The original name of the project was Antarctic Suite: Ice Loops.
It’s interesting to look at these projects now, as the American consciousness shifts gear into the denouement of another generational crisis. I am currently reading Mark Fisher: The Last Lectures in which the philosopher-blogger paraphrases criticisms against Occupy protestors made by Louise Mensch and others, “They may claim, ethically, that they want to live in a different world but libidinally, at the level of desire, they are committed to living within the current capitalist world.” We do live in a society!
I’ve read a lot of Mark Fisher, and to be honest, sometimes I’m just feeling my way through it. But that’s what I like about Fisher’s approach to theory. Whether he is writing about music or politics, he is always evoking a mood. And my mood at the moment is very much conflicted. Intellectually, I know that we are dangerously close to collective amnesia towards COVID-19 and even, frankly, the Trump presidency. I know the damage this forgetting would cause, the potential futures it would preclude. And yet, “libidinally,” I, too, want to forget.
In other words, I want the renewed class consciousness of COVID-19 without the trauma. But it never works that way, does it? There’s a reason 9/11 is memorialized while The Great Recession is not. Both are tragedies, but only one is politically expedient. Fisher describes 2008 as the year many people woke up from the dream of capitalism. And that sucked so much that, understandably, we all went back to sleep.
“The banking crisis is some kind of repressed trauma which is known about but never confronted, a Real that the dreamer stays asleep to keep avoiding. Capital is the dreamer here… yet capital is also our dream,” Fisher wrote. Will the pandemic be remembered like 2001, or like 2008? (I bet if I read the Slavoj Žižek book I only posted in my Instagram story I would find out…)
While Basinski’s disintegration took on a spiritual significance after 9/11, the primary auditory impulse of the pandemic seems to be the opposite: reintegration, forensic reconstruction, trying to UNO Reverse Card the inevitable decay.
2021 might look like new forms of currency layered over wage stagnation, but it sounds like the ambient soundtracks I Miss My Cafe and I Miss My Bar, and the inside of Olive Garden. “I spent an hour last night perfecting what the inside of an Olive Garden sounds like,” says one TikTok user. Plates clatter, a baby cries, and That’s Amore competes with a commercial for steak medallions. This isn’t ambient noise, it’s Mark Fisher’s hauntology. Ambience creates a mood; hauntology recreates one. It’s as if the pandemic took mallwave and extended it to every aspect of our lives.
Whether through reality as intellectual property, fictional worlds as content farms, or the novel-to-Hulu pipeline we’re not exactly interested in what’s new. But is there really nothing new, or are we avoiding the new? Is it possible to have “new” pop culture without a new politics? New is not compatible with collective amnesia, it requires the painful process of waking up and the patience to endure an arc of history rather than a meme cycle.
Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis is a cautionary tale about the limits of disintegration vs. reintegration. When the film, widely understood to be a class allegory, premiered in Weimar Germany it was the one of the first feature-length sci-fi films: unlike anything seen before. However, when the disco musician Giorgio Moroder worked on a major reconstruction of the film in 1984, the substitution of Freddie Mercury, Pat Benatar, Billy Squier, and Bonnie Tyler for the original soundtrack was a major distraction from the message. Anyway, it was a flop.
The COVID-era equivalent of Music for Airports is a TikTok that sounds like drinking shitty coffee at LaGuardia. Even if we beat the odds and come out of this with a lasting sense of class consciousness, it will be accompanied by pop-culture malaise. Still, I have to hope. — By Daisy Alioto