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A beginner’s guide to mass hysteria

Downpour – “A beginner’s guide to mass hysteria” – Destroy It Yourself – Bandcamp

Nobody knows exactly what happened to members of the American envoy in Cuba, and their spouses, who in the fall of 2016 started suffering from unexplained hearing loss, nausea, vertigo, and a variety of other vague physical symptoms. The Associated Press reported in August that they had been attacked by some sort of sophisticated sonic weapon: “an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound.” The new American administration retaliated by expelling the two sole official Cuban diplomats from the US. The Cuban government denied deploying or even possessing any such weapon, stating in its defence: “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, or for that matter any logical or definitive explanation, commentators have been forced to speculate on the cause of the Americans’ mysterious illnesses. “There may have been chemical exposure,” say Lisa Diedrich and Ben Tausig in The New York Times; “mass hysteria,” say Julian Borger and Philip Jaekl of The Guardian. “None of this makes sense until you consider the psychogenic explanation,” argues Robert Bartholomew, a medical sociologist familiar with the case.

Mass hysteria could be one explanation. In 1518, around four hundred residents of Strasbourg, Alsace, in modern-day northeastern France, took to dancing for days without rest in a bizarre case of “dancing mania,” many dying from heart attack, stroke, and exhaustion. The 1962 Tanganyika laughter epidemic, which affected ninety-five students in a mission-run boarding school for girls, was attributed to a mass psychogenic illness near the Ugandan border. On November 8th 2016, nearly sixty-three million Americans voted for Donald J. Trump to become their next president. Anything’s possible.

 

JK Flesh – “Exit Stance” – Exit Stance – Downwards

Last chance to evacuate planet Earth before it is recycled.

 

CMD – “Graviton Cloud” – Wavecraft – Low Noise Productions

Corina MacDonald, aka CMD, is a Montreal-based electronic music producer, who sometimes performs under the name Cyan, too. MacDonald also hosts “Modular Systems,” a bi-weekly show on CKUT community radio, every second Sunday. And she is a mainstay of local events and festivals like Mutek. CMD is what might be described as an “overproducer,” an active member of a creative scene generating far more material than is rationally possible to parse. But it’s fun to try.

 

Sabrina Ratté (with Roger Tellier-Craig) – “Créteil” – Machine for Living

“The ancient idea of pleasure still seems sacrilegious to modern architectural theory,” wrote the famous deconsructivist architect Bernard Tschumi in the early 1980s. And little has changed since then, says Anna Klingmann, in her 2007 book Brandscapes: “Most critical practices in architecture are still governed by the Calvinist credo of the ‘socially conscious,’ who condemn every sensual design as ‘spectacle’ without any understanding what that might mean.” What it means to me is that, in the future, built environments won’t need people to populate them. Paradoxically, they will be much more “socially conscious” in absence of the social altogether.

 

Kate Carr – “Ascent” – From A Wind Turbine To Vultures (And Back) – Flaming Pines

I have been re-reading Of Walking On Ice, a beautifully written travelogue penned by Werner Herzog in 1974, during the course of his three-week walk from Munich to Paris to visit his friend and fellow filmmaker Lotte Eisner, who had fallen gravely ill. “Flat countryside,” Herzog writes, “only the crows, shrieking all around me—I suddenly ask myself seriously whether I’ve lost my mind, as I hear so many crows but see so few. There is dead silence around me, as far as I can hear, and then there’s the shrieking of crows. Mistily the heights of the Vosges Mountains are penciled along the horizon.”

“There was mainly just wind, mud, and the odd wire fence or cryptic red sign post,” writes Kate Carr, of her equivalently Herzogian quest in Velez Blanco, southern Spain. “I didn’t know until towards the end of my stay at Joya, but the signs denoted that the mountain was hunting ground for local residents at various points of the year, and boar were quite common there, although I never saw any, and only very few birds, whose calls were often muffled by the wind. The only exception being the mighty black vultures which flew over the crest of the mountain, and could be identified by the whistling beat of their wings.”

I cannot think of a better soundtrack to accompany this book than Kate Carr’s From A Wind Turbine To Vultures (And Back)—the “sonic transect” of her harrowing ascent.

 

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