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415C47197F78E811FEEB7862288306EC4137FD4EC3DED8B (EP) Alexander Iadarola , November 19th, 2014 12:27

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In an edition of The Wire's "Playing Favourites", Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland talk about how it's ridiculous that "experimental music" has come to have an easily identifiable sound, how the idea of stasis is at odds with the idea of the genre. More often than not, "experimental music" involves adapting music-making methodologies that were genuinely experimental in the 60s, 70s and 80s—things like musique concréte, industrial, free jazz, and ambient music.

Although TCF's new release on Liberation Technologies, the 415C47197F78E811FEEB7862288306EC4137FD4EC3DED8B EP, isn't sonically unprecedented—stylistically it can be compared to the Janus people (Lotic, Amnesia Scanner in particular, and M.E.S.H.) and like, Autechre—it definitely pushes against the edges of what is usually considered experimental music. First and foremost, this would be because for Lars Holhus' TCF project takes digitally networked culture as not only its 100% concern but as the (im)material basis and productive departure point for his project. While this is not new for the art world, it certainly isn't true for most experimental music consumed. Does that mean it's better? No, just different.

In a Gen F feature for Fader, Lars tells critic Lisa Blanning that the TCF project is an algrorithm. Blanning writes: "Every TCF track title is a chain of numbers and letters, and as he puts it, "All my work has encryption in various layers […] There's a system built around TCF which is not really described to anyone. These tracks, they go over long periods of time, so it's not like I composed a track because I feel like that this day. It's more like it's needed for the system to function. When you build these systems, you have to maintain them. You can expand them, you can see the potentials. [TCF is] something that you might have to go your whole life to fully understand. And it's also getting very complicated for myself to understand it."

So he's working with machines, but he's not controlling them. What's the power dynamic there? This is music that reflects a deprivileging of what we regularly think of as "organically" or "naturally" human, bringing machines into play in a more prominent (or equal) role, a notion that evokes the work of The League Of Automatic Composers who created computer systems that to a certain degree composed of their own volition, independently of human intervention. Whereas the League were humans standing by and trigging things, though, Lars' relationship with the machines (and vice versa) seems to be different. This general zone of thought is nicely summarised in the Art Post-Internet catalogue by Karen Archey and Robin Peckham:

"Our current historical moment has been postulated as the dawn of the posthuman, at least in the cultural imaginary. Since the advent of the internet, theorists of new media have described the emergent possibilities of a distributed global unconscious, a "next nature" that evolves alongside human society, or an "anthropocene" geological era defined by the human accumulation of carbon. In all of these narratives, what matters is the back-and-forth relationship between ecology and the human. As our bodies are extended and perhaps supplanted by prosthetic devices that mediate our experiences of the world, new forms of being — once known as science fiction — come alive in very real, often prosaic ways."

So how to listen to this music if it is genuinely an algorithm, one whose productive human component doesn't even fully understand? One important thing to remember, though, is that even considering these kinds of questions is predicated on the possession of technology that is often made of conflict minerals and that it's a privilege to have the capability to be completely immersed in digitalia, that that privilege is often connected to the systematic, assymetrical and violent dispossession of capital by the world's most powerful countries from its least powerful countries. The fear, and oftentimes reality, is that questions of tech get abstracted from their real world conditions of their production as commodities.

With that said, though, I think the analytic scenario M.E.S.H. offers in his response to TCF's EP is a productive one: think of it like a system. With that established, you can start to list things to listen for: What makes it work? What does it thrive on, and what slows it down? Just like this music wasn't produced in a fully "human" way, it doesn't sound fully human: while it might take a Philip Glass arpeggio progression one moment, it evokes raw information synapses in another. It starts and ends with a repeated enunciation of "slow," though, which is interesting. I would be surprised if TCF were calling for people to slow down information capitalism, to check their emails less vis a vis Ian Bogost's concept of "hyperemployment". Maybe it's an anti-accelerationist joke? Maybe the algorithm just likes the way the word sounds.

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Nov 20, 2014 10:59am

Worse than experimental music having an easily identifiable sound, the term has become an excuse for a new wave of tedious dilettantism.

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