On Friday night I was travelling home after a few days in Zurich. Waiting for my plane in Zurich airport, Bats by Uncluded came up on the random playlist I was listening to. I hadn’t realised Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson had collaborated. I was immediately gripped as what had been background listening suddenly grabbed my full attention, immersing me in the music in a way that was involuntary. I couldn’t help but listen to it a few times in quick succession, with the lines below gripping me in a way that is hard to get into words. As I often do, I looked up the lyrics and reading them alongside the music only added to the power of the song.

In times of death and disorder
You look for shooting stars
In the reflection of the water

And you open the gifts that you didn’t expect
On the birthdays of the dead friends that are stuck in your head
Like love, and hugs and songs and rage
And the keys that you needed to unlock your heart’s cage
The ability to put the pen back to the page
The heat beneath your feet to propel you on stage
The beat that completes your shit these days
Yeah the beat that completes your shit these days
(The beat that completes your shit these days)

I wasn’t able to download the track before getting on the plane so I was delighted to resume immersion once I arrived at Heathrow, listening to it multiple times on my journey home before my headphones ran out of battery. I couldn’t get the phrase “love, and hugs and songs and rage” out of my head and fleetingly wondered if this might be the second tattoo I’d been thinking about for a while. I continued listening the next day but the effect was subtly diminished, the song felt flatter and my attention was more deliberate and less voluntary.

Another 48 hours later and I realised when listening to it that these lines were no longer standing out to me, manifesting in little more than an awareness that I had missed something. But if I listened closely, I still missed it because ‘something’ was a response these lines provoked in me rather than the lines itself. It was what I’d call the resonance opened up within me by the music, the interplay of associations and responses that emerged from my immediate relationship with it. The music gripped me and moved me and changed me. But now it was gone. After 48 hours.

This isn’t an unusual experience. I’ve had many conversations with people about obsessively listening to the same track until it becomes flat. I suggest this is mining resonance to the point of exhaustion i.e. taking advantage of our immediate control over the resonant item to repeat the experience, with the cost of diminishing effect as the resonance evaporates in the fact of its instrumentalisation. It changes our relationship to what resonates and involves exercising subjective control over what is otherwise outside us, eviscerating resonance by turning an external relation to a piece of art into an internal relation to an experience we are choosing. If we have to wait until something is on the radio or on TV then we can’t exercise this control. If the resonance is generated through live music, it remains something with a transcendent dimension to which we have to open ourselves up. If it is something we can repeat on demand, we risk emptying out the experience and destroying precisely what brought us to it in the first place.

Reflecting on this has left me wondering about binge watching. It can be an experience in which we are gripped by what we are watching, immersed so completely in the narratives of an alternative universe that to leave it feels fleetingly impossible. It can also be something hollow and compulsive, repeated with a grim but unspoken awareness that we are being nudged into continued engagement by the architecture of Netflix. What makes the difference? I would suggest it is resonance and that what we call binge watching or immersion isn’t just about consuming a cultural production, it’s how we relate to that cultural consumption. The ontology of this relation is subtle and streaming platforms simultaneously treat us as sovereign decision makers and hollow selves to be moulded. The phenomenology of cultural bingeing is much more complex than either characterisation can grasp.

In the last week, I found myself unable to put down The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Coincidentally, I happened to be listening to The Mighty Ocean & the Nine Dark Theaters by Astronautalis throughout the week. I now can’t listen to the song below without immediately being transported into the world of The Secret History. There are a melange of narrative elements at work here (I imagine “this house” as Francis’s house in the country, “her uncertain arms” as Camilla’s, “the smudge on the street” as Henry’s vision with his glasses removed) but it’s more to do with the mood of the song, the creeping menace and melancholy which builds through a juxtaposition of mundane elements, as life strains at the seems without anyone feeling able to recognise this is the case out-loud. If the book were made into a film, I could imagine this song as the background to a montage of Richard wandering through life in a narcotic daze towards the end of the book. However the song somehow leaves me feeling as if I inhabit the mood of the book in a way that transcends any one act within it.

A little kid turns the corner, quick on his feet
My vision’s no good no more; he’s just a smudge in the street
The colors blur in my eyes just like ink in the rain
The city, soaked in its lights, is slowly washing away

Everything is just a background, waiting to take shape and appear
Inside my windshield eyes with Vaseline tears
Muffled chuckles and leaky ceilings
Hazy coffee stains, collectible keyrings

A scrapbook of snapshots taken in shaky concealment
Never trusted my love and her wallpaper feelings
There’s something so comforting about her uncertain arms
There’s beauty in danger, safety in harm

A five dollar psychic offers bargain predictions
Connecting my murdering a mantis to my moderate affliction
Once when I was a child I ran to my door; upon grabbing the knob
I crushed the prostrate bug inside of my palm

I watched his little green frame fall far from my hand
I guess his prayers were never answered by God, He got the upper hand
Struck blind over time inside flashes in steps
We all pay for our sins in the most subtle respects

How quick we forget how fast the past is washed away
Diluted in music, TV, and the talk of the day
How slick a little kiss can get her bony hips to block the way
Lend the world your ears and they’ll just sweet-nothing it all away

You made your bed
Now, you must sleep
Underneath the sheets

There’s something inside this house, footsteps by the couch
It’s all shade and shadows tracking the suspect silence down
It’s not the sounds they make, it’s all the noises that we never hear
Old cliches on attraction, raindrops after the weather clears

Tapping fingers for living; counting out the notes
The door ticks when it sits open and rattles when clicks closed
Twelve lines, one in the light switch, a chip in the globe
The radiator is always breathing, teeth clenched and lips float

It’s more than I bargained for, but nothing I can’t handle
I learned to listen for the kitchen, feel dust fall on the mantle
Everything is done in inches, fingertips, and little skills
Nothing is done quickly except tying shoes and electric bills

The relentless drills, constant repetition, daily grind
Same set of pants put on one leg at a time
Every morning’s filled with breath and the rest is just fine
I never forget my mistakes but sometimes I forget I’m blind

I just came across this series of videos in which Aesop Rock explains the backstory to his album Skelethon. I’m struck by the thought that there’s no piece of creative work I care about that wouldn’t leave me interested to hear such a story about it. Particularly when it has this degree of granularity, offering an account of the work as a whole through stories about its component parts.

On a slightly mundane level, it gives context to the things I get stuck in my mind. As with this lyric from Crows 1, which I’ve had reveberating around my brain for the last few days for reasons I didn’t completely understand:

Now let me slow this whole shit down for all you half-goat cowards
I’ll even grit my teeth for you
I am so completely off the god-damn grid it’s not a question of addressing me
It’s “what do these symbols under the dresser mean


I still don’t completely understand the lyrics. But the account in the video has deepened my appreciation of them in a way I find interesting. It’s given them depth through providing a context that was lacking. I understand what Crows 1 is about as a whole and this fleshes out the song in a way which enhances rather than detracts from the resonance which has continually drawn my attention back to the lyrics in recent days.

This is not a chair
That is not a table
This is not a cup
That is not a kettle

It is not raining
My shoe is not untied
I have not been unhappy my whole life

This is not a wall
That is not a ceiling
This is not a scrape
I don’t know that feeling

Not a spoon
Not dirty dishes
Not a knife
And I have not been unhappy my whole life

All the lies I’ve ever told
Will come back to me one day
If this rain keeps coming
It’ll wash the world away

This is not your hand
That is not my rib
This is not your farewell kiss
And those are not your lips
I became a writer
You became my wife
I was not unhappy my whole life

All the lies I’ve ever told
Will come back to me one day
If this rain keeps coming
We can wash the world away

All the lies I’ve ever told
Will come back to me one day
If this rain keeps coming
It’ll wash the world away

If it keeps coming
It’ll wash the world away

I blogged last week about the micro-politics of noise. I didn’t put a great deal of thought into the use of the qualifier ‘micro’: I recognised a legal framework within which noise is regulated (or not), a structural context which shapes working routines, technological changes which create capacities and tendencies towards noise generation and a cultural context which mediates and shapes our responses to ‘noise’. But I’d just assumed the questions I was addressing, matters of right and obligation that emerge through our everyday interdependence and that elude final resolution, must in some sense be confined to the micro-social. Not that these considerations wouldn’t factor into, say, policy-making but that they’d be secondary. It hadn’t occurred to me that there could be a social movement emerging out of this micro-politics. But there was one and it’s really interesting. As Evgeny Morozov explains,

Vienna is perhaps the most interesting example. Whenever the anti-din advocates — led by German intellectual Theodor Lessing— called for individual reforms, they were mostly unsuccessful. However, their struggle was not in vain, for through public debate they turned quietness into a leading indicator of urban life quality and firmly established it as a challenge for city councils. Or, as historian Peter Payer notes, “by changing public awareness of the acoustic environment, their endeavours influenced not only the way that urban peace was to be restricted, but also how this space was to be perceived and used by the people living in the city.” And even though many of Lessing’s proposals sound eccentric – he wanted a professional, centralized rug-beating service to do all the work in some restricted area and for people to play musical instruments with their windows closed – many others sound quite reasonable even today, such as “the use of rubber tyres and quieter paving materials to dampen the cacophony of vehicular traffic, the careful packaging of freight shipped through cities to cushion it from rattling and banging, and the construction of schools in public gardens and forest preserves to ensure the tranquil atmosphere needed for learning.”

To Save Everything, Click Here pg. 222

What I find particularly interesting is that these ambitions were tied into a broader commitment to socialism and feminism. There’s always a faint hint of the reactionary around noise complaints. At least that’s my perception. As if to seek systematic regulation of noise somehow puts one in opposition to technological change. I’d like to read more about these historical noise campaigns, with other examples including the Anti-Noise League in the UK in the 1930s and the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, to understand how they conceived of their objectives as a movement. To what extent was it seen as creating social norms to regulate new technology?

Given the revolution in our personal capacity to generate noise in recent years – I say while surrounded by an iPhone, an iPad, a portable speaker and sitting at a desktop computer – I wonder what a comparable movement would look like now? Is it even feasible? How has the noise in question changed and the meaning it has for those producing the noise? I’m particularly interested in whether the use of music to isolate oneself within public space, creating a zone of immersion through volitional noise, has historical precedents or if it’s something radically new which simply wasn’t technologically possible until relatively recently.

Reading this excellent paper in the Sociological Review reminded me of this video which I’d not seen for ages:

The comments on the video would be interesting to analyse in the terms Malcolm James adopts in the paper:

Back when Pro Green was a G. Now he’s makin tunes to ensure he gets that energy drink sponsorship. money over music, cant hate but dont rate

Rather then seeing Professor Green as engaging in a performance which has shifted with time, he’s instead regarded as having foregone his prior authenticity in pursuit of material gain. I wonder how widely accepted this view is?

“Excuse me, I’m lost…”
“Who are you? Why would you come to me?”

Here we are (“up here at night”)
I’m tied down
in the dark in my mind
baby, come on, come on
and i know
girl i know you want
to trust you
and going and going
the night you feel alive
the night you feel alive for me
(“come down to us”)

“don’t be afraid to step into the unknown”
“become one…”
“don’t… don’t… don’t be afraid”
stars, down
come on, the stars, down to us, in the dark, in my mind!
“This is the moment when you see who you are!”
baby, come on! come on!
stars, dark, down, in my mind, in my mind, yeah!
“let yourself go, don’t be afraid”
to trust in you and

“…love me”
you are a star to me
you are the world to me
you send a good a star
look for assure you
unlock the love
key and lock
want the love
“sorry I ran away”
just to be me

you are a star
there’s no one like you, angel

saw myself crying
and i feel hunger or i feel sick of
somewhere with love, somewhere
“what you should never do is give up.”

“you love me?”
i am down… to me
“you are not alone.”

“There’s something out there!”
there’s something in all of us

“Without examples, without models, I began to believe voices in my head, that I am a freak, that I am broken, that there is something wrong with me, that I will never lovable. Years later, I find the courage to admit that I am transgender, and that does not mean that I am unlovable. This world that we imagine in this room might be used to gain access to other rooms, other worlds, previously unimaginable.”

“…who are you? …why would you come to me?”

(description in title from this Jacob post)

Here it comes again the beautiful warm weather
Right before the end of everything forever
The end of bars and clubs with lines around the block
The crowded dancefloors winding up to feel the drop
So meet me by the river, let’s go for a ride
With the windows down and the stereo loud.
Feels like a dream tonight, a little break in time,
as we howl at the moon.

It never would have been as good if built to last
We never would have stood a chance if it didn’t move fast
The end will come for holidays and sweet sixteen
For friends and getting lost in your computer screen
So meet me by the river, let’s go for a ride
With the windows down and the stereo loud.
Feels like a dream tonight, a little break in time,
as we howl at the moon.


I just came across a lovely point in Harmut Rosa’s book about the relationship between social change and musical innovation. Certain forms of music come to be seen as emblematic of the age but, as that age changes so too does the sensibility which is brought to bear upon that music:

today certain forms of jazz music that, at the time of their emergence in the first half of the twentieth century, were experienced as breathless, hectic, exceedingly fast, machine-like, and stupefyingly chaotic – and thus as fitting reflections of their era – are touted as “music for tranquil hours” or “jazz for peaceful afternoon.”

Harmut Rosa, Social Acceleration, p. 82

If I’m in the right mood, I love music that is “stupefyingly chaotic”. I wonder if digital hardcore, gabba and breakcore will come to see quaintly relaxing in future years? Or are there inherent limits upon musical innovation which entail an upper limit on elaboration of this very particular sort?


Valuing Electronic Music

Upstairs at The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Rd, London N1 9JB

6 June 2014 4.30-10pm Admission free

Valuing Electronic Music is an ongoing study of electronic music and the people who value it, carried out by Daniel Allington (Open University), Anna Jordanous (King’s College, London), and Byron Dueck(Open University). Our work explores how the value of electronic music transcends economic value for producers, DJs, and audiences — and how geographical location continues to play a significant role in the recognition of musical value even where musical scenes become increasingly international (thanks in large part to websites such as SoundCloud). Such findings have implications for the careers of music-makers more generally.

On 6 June, we are holding a public event at The Lexington in Angel, Islington, featuring talks, live performances, and an interactive panel discussion with electronic music producers. Come along to find out what we and other researchers have discovered, as well as to hear some great music and to put your own questions to the people who make it. You are welcome to drop in at any time.

4.30 Doors open

5.00 Free food

5.30 Introduction

5.45 Music: Glitch Lich

6.30 Talk: Luis-Manuel Garcia

7.00 Music: Winterlight

7.45 Talk: Daniel AllingtonAnna JordanousByron Dueck

8.15 Music: Slackk

9.00 Panel: Chad McKinney (Glitch Lich), Tim Ingham (Winterlight), Paul Lynch (Slackk)

9.30 Thanks

The Valuing Electronic Music project combines social network analysis of online data with ethnographic interviewing and observation to understand how music-makers produce value for their own and one another’s work, especially in genres without mainstream recognition. It is currently supported by an AHRC Research Development Grant.