Shit & Rats

World War II movies don’t exist anymore. Movies are about individual and collective identity now. A friend and I who worked together at the Telluride Film Festival were discussing this recently. At that festival, it was a bit of an inside joke, dark albeit, that every year there would be a Holocaust movie that would very realistically, almost gleefully, depict Jews crawling through a sewer full of shit and rats. Shit and rats up to their eyeballs. Wading nose-deep in shit and rats. The reason we don’t have those kinds of movies anymore is not merely because identity politics have taken over where global politics left off, but because the entertainment industry wants to make room for World War III movies.

In these movies of the future, we will see other groups of people wading through shit and rats. Ukrainians first, then whomever is next that we all agree to stand by and allow to disappear as if they were one of three potato chip brands, or HBO miniseries, on some perverse social media meme: You can only save one, the rest have to go.

The highest compliment that you can give any place in the world is the shit and rats stamp of approval. If, in a World War III picture of the future, you would be willing to be seen wading through rats and shit, that’s the place. That is your homeland.


On golf

I’m not normally one for sport, but this summer I did have the good fortune to go golfing with James Woods and Jeremy Irons. Jeremy Irons and James Woods both teed off with 1-Woods. On the fifth fairway with about a hundred yards to the cup, to Jeremy Irons’ amazement, and mine, James Woods took out his nine iron and nailed the shot. But the game went poorly thereafter and by the eighteenth hole James Woods had broken nearly every one of his irons, and Jeremy Irons had spent most of the time looking for his balls in the woods. Jack Paar rounded out our foursome.

Genius Glitch

Those Pants You Like Are Going To Come Back In Style

Happy anniversary, David Letterman, Paul Shaffer, Barbara Gaines, and everyone who worked on what was pound-for-pound the greatest late-night television show. Better than everyone. That is not to diminish anyone else’s nocturnal accomplishments. But Dave bent the aerial.

Thank you for following this extremely niche account. I created it for something to do, and as an artform. Like Marge Simpson’s Ringo Starr studies reimagined by Gerhard Richter. Or Lucy’s character in Fear & Loathing, who takes LSD and paints portraits of Barbara Streisand from the television. It started out as a hare-brained hobby and quickly evolved into a hare-brained hobby.

This account peaked, culturally, in early 2019 when it was mentioned in a very important thread on the blog Hipinion. Just like Orson Welles, we started at the top and worked our way down. Exactly like Orson Welles.

David Letterman attracted a select audience of awesome weirdos on TV. And @geniusglitch has gathered together a similarly select audience of awesome weirdos on the Internet. As Stewart McLean of Vinyl Café wrote, we’re not big but we’re small.

It is both wonderful and strange that the followers of this account have been largely kind, in a sea of negativity, throughout the Trump era and global pandemic. I think our followers are a testament to the kind spirit of David Letterman. That’s the energy that I’ve tried to bring to this project. Thank you for smiling back.

On this auspicious anniversary of Letterman’s 33 years of service to the light side, I am excited to announce that we are going away for the summer to make a Show for you to watch.

It will be a small Show. But we did, after all, graduate from Show school. In the Melman Productions spirit, we are going to put our Show heads together and Show you something.

In September, this Show will premiere from the greatest city in the world. No, not New York, Montreal. There will be clever segments, and interesting interviews, and live musical performances. We are going to laugh, too, so hopefully you will, with us, @ us.

That’s the “idea”, in the loosest sense of that word.

I’ll be your “host”, in the loosest sense of that word.

My name is Ryan Alexander, and the Show is called Genius Glitch. Our cameraperson is called Andrei Khabad. He is Russian, I am Ukrainian, we live in Canada, and we get along. So far.

Wish us luck, send us money, letters, but good vibes only please!

Thank you, David Letterman, for teaching us whatever it is we “know”, in the loosest sense of that word.

Have a safe and delightful summer, stay tuned to @geniusglitch for updates, and see you in September.

Play Recent

Play Recent archives on Repeater Radio

The good people at Repeater Radio have created an archive for Play Recent episodes after they’ve aired live. There’s no reason to tune in live anyway, it’s pre-recorded. Although I do. Yes, I’ve been known to listen to my own show because the music is so great. Hey, if you can reach just one person, right?

find your favourite Play Recent episode >>here<<

Word Virus

Cut-up experiment #111

What follows is an excerpt from my 2020 work, The Limits of Control. I wrote the book entirely on a Brother Activator 800T mechanical typewriter. At regular intervals, I chose pages at random, alternately cutting them lengthwise, horizontally, diagonally, as well as digitally, and reassembling them to produce the sort of experimental textual cut-ups proposed by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. I transcribed these cut-ups onto new typewritten pages, scanned them into the computer, and ran the images through optical character recognition software.

According to Gysin and Burroughs, splicing into written records from the past can potentially cut into the future, too, revealing ruptures in the flow time. As with any experiment, there is a temporal lag between conducting the experiment and observing its result (I chose one solar year). Furthermore, there is no expected or anticipated result — anything could manifest. Nor would it be known to causally or correlatively follow the experiment. Therefore, the fruit borne of these experiments could be categorized only as items of interest or disinterest.

This extract was submitted to but not included in the Unsound Intermission edition.

The Limits of Control is available here.

cut-up experiment excerpted from The Limits of Control
Never Once Reflect

There’s no ‘No Future’ anymore

[the following is a working extract from a forthcoming article for the French-language journal Revue Audimat, as well as a sequel of sorts to my end-of-2010s roundup, Nothing Shocking]

“Modernity invented the future, but that’s all over”, wrote Nick Land in his 1995 essay. “In place of a way forward they deliver a hypermedia product, telling you it’s about Georges Battaille.” “A brand new Radiohead jigsaw is available to purchase from the W.A.S.T.E. Store”, reads a 2021 dispatch from the band’s merchandise webstore, “now that you have completely run out of things to say to each other.” Sneering cynicism nonetheless prophetic.

In a number of ways in the 20th century, new sounds ruptured: generic borders; creative communities; circulatory modes; media themselves. The searing distortion of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo in 1969 was only conceivable, technically, through overloaded circuitry and saturated magnetic tape, a breach of media’s limits, modernity’s true excess. Capitalism always seeks to refold that excess into recaptured value. The danger of excess is necessarily in the margins’ spilling-out, or spilling-over, a vital technical assemblage incapable of managing sudden surges in signal, abrupt deviations in direction. The contained uncontainable by virtue of containment, always striving for escape. Though, the idea of a freer future was replaced in the 2010s with an ambient hopelessness, intended to stretch through and smooth over every possible rupture, and to make the most of the appearance of instability in an otherwise entirely stabilized economic environment.

The notion that cultural objects should exude aesthetic newness on par with consumer products, or more accurately with vintages, or provide commentary upon contemporary subjects as might a late-night chat show, betrays the capitalist productive model’s absurd arbitrariness. But it is not enough to say that art supersedes capitalism’s unsentimentality; rather it is wholly reliant upon it. Hence, Radiohead’s bleak brand identity just as easily adapts to climate change or pandemic-themed products. Taylor Swift in 2014 can release eight seconds of noise on iTunes and in so doing blur the boundaries between pop and noise audiences. Disguised as anthropology, the culture machine — distanced, objective — barely bats a lash.

Reality itself in the 2010s was becoming too complex, too diverse, too unmanageable, to represent with a single artist, genre, or even a cluster of them. Concurrently, the idea of something so radical as to entirely upset the dominant cultural order became less palatable in the midst of an increasingly uncertain quotidian climate. In the face of this complexity, genre ceased to be the organizing principle around which scenes and movements formed. Around this explosion of generic homogeneity came a circumscribing streaming industry seeking to enfold all of recorded music’s history, present, and future, into the cloud. Quickly, playlists replaced albums; moods replaced genres. Moods implied affective manageability — nothing to disrupt the apparent simplification of complexity. All music is hypothetically Muzak under this model, nothing so extreme that it cannot be tamed by curation. The curatorial turn is a kind of cultural compression, maximizing value by minimizing shock, the 21st century’s Big Unwanted.

We can think of compression more generally as a technical method to smooth out outliers of frequency and amplitude in order for sound to adhere to the standards of recording and broadcast media, and ultimately to protect equipment from damage and destruction. The automation of risk in the market at large is reflected in the automation of side-chain compression in musical production, the compression algorithm always anticipating sonic attack, apparently predicting the unpredictable, meanwhile obscuring its regularity, its inevitability.

The collapse of musical genre was naturally preceded with the analogous collapse of literary genre described by Fredric Jameson in his analysis, Postmodernism: “…the older genres, released like viruses from their traditional ecosystem, have now spread out and colonized reality itself, which we divide up and file away according to typological schemes which are no longer those of subject matter but for which the alternative topic of style seems somehow inadequate.” Enter technics as typological scheme; Mumford’s clock, giving structure to the unstructurable, imposing the human schema upon Heavenly order. Just as MIDI’s clock inscribed standardized time into electronic music’s initially tenuous architectures, side-chain compression removes the immediate shock of time as a variable from music’s experimental aesthetic equation.

There are two examples of compression that, I believe, transcended the order of function, and do more than simply represent some disparaged deceleration of cultural zeitgeist, to become a form of aesthetic critique of capitalism’s numbing shock-absorption impulse. The first is intentional, in the work of James Leyland Kirby, aka The Caretaker; the second is unintentional, in Colin Stetson’s 2016 reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony.

Mark Fisher in his kpunk entry entitled “Running on Empty” correctly identified Kirby’s reappropriation of obscure Ballroom and Big Band-era recordings, decrying, “We can’t hear technology anymore.” But, through no fault of his own, Fisher might have been listening for too obvious markers, for some self-evident traits that would make themselves insistently apparent. Rather, technology in The Caretaker’s recordings is obscured not least in its volumetric compression. By extremely squeezing the dynamic range of these archival recordings, Kirby thrusts the record’s surface noise above and beyond the material superficiality of the recording. Noise haunts these recordings devoid of historical context, collapsing the past and the present onto the same unbroken groove.

Conversely, the volumetric compression on Stetson’s recording is sheer function over fashion. The compression’s attack is uniform in time — it manifests ostensibly inaudibly but regularly at somewhere under 100ms — which produces a kind of repetitive breathing rhythm that comes to dominate the recording, much like negative space vies for attention in black-and-white imagery. As the sound pressure level approaches the compression’s threshold of attack, the auditory impression is akin to a speedboat skimming very quickly over choppy waters, making superficial contact only when the wave crests to meet its fleeting bottom. The technology of compression, and its aesthetic blueprint, not only evade a sense of future shock but furthermore deactivate shock’s most powerful ally: surprise. Figuratively and literally, aesthetically and technically, time itself was under attack in music over the past ten years. Technology may not have delivered new forms of culture, but technology nonetheless revealed the imperfections, the cracks, shocks — that which culture through recording (that is, through selective memory) seeks to suppress, deny, and erase. No longer any thing outside time.

As the world endures through the coronavirus crisis, cultural production is not just metaphorically in a state of perpetual suspension. And the previous decade, in retrospect, looks an awful lot like cultural preparation for a term of arrested development. This, too, works in capital’s favour, neutralizing another potentially revolutionary site, forcing meaning further into the subconscious of technical aesthetics, making it that much more difficult for the analyst to tease out any new truths. The duty of culture has ceased to be to determine and posit coordinates in response to the question, “where are we now?”, and rather to simply assert a perpetual “now, we are.” If there is no future, neither is there space nor time. “’So, it’s all over,’ you mumble weakly”, Land, that is, mumbling on our behalf: “He shrugs, emptying his glass, and refilling it.” Who is the ‘He’ here? He who creates that which we call new?