Interview: Achim Szepanski

Achim Szepanski: “Clicks'n'cuts is not a genre”

1. How is the newest reboot of Mille Plateaux different from all the previous ones?

To be more than constructive, the action of a label policy must free itself from the idea that salvation lies only in publishing now and in the future. In this framework, time remains trapped by declaring what is to come. The opposite is true when time is subverted, for example, when it is said that what is happening now makes a certain past possible, it becomes possible once again, but differently. So there is definitely a kind of intra-temporal communication between one period and the other. New label politics not only allows for a better understanding of yesterday's label politics, but, by freeing it from the force field of circumstances, it allows label politics to be experienced as an ongoing task, to be brought to its true, ephemeral conclusion. At the same time, the horrors of yesterday, thus imprinted on memory, are in this way zero and void. To do this, one must have the courage to partially excavate the old and, together with the new, allow it to become the protagonist of memory.

I mean, political music is music without words. It is not oriented towards the world (it has no object in the world that captures it), nor is it a question of perception. Political music indicates a non-world of pure auto-impression. It is radically black. The black aesthetic, which works without representation, contains the superposition of theory and music and leads to a suspended or non-communicative relation.

Only by subtracting from the system of light and color one can see the generic reality of blackness. Alexander Galloway refers at this point to the Haitian Constitution of 1804, which states that, regardless of their skin color, all citizens are called black. This pure blackness, such a cataclysm of human color, overrides color and denies the endless dynamics of black as white or white as black. Black is no longer the limit case, no longer the case of the slave, the poor, the indentured or debt-ridden worker. Black is the condition for a new Uchronia, a new utopia of the colored based on the generic black universe. It is about a new form of black justice unilaterally determined by the real, but never by a worldly reality. 

2. And what does this mean for the music? 

Radical music is like a kind of black box; it is a music box of and for blackness, and the theorist and consumer of music takes a place in the black box themselves and doesn’t  approach it from the Outside. There is a non-musical triangularity to report: The (multiple) producer who makes the transversality of the black sound; the black jukebox as an infinite sound of the ungraspable/black; the consumer who hears parts from the infinity of the black jukebox. The immensity of this triangularity is in turn part of the limitlessness of music. In this sense, the black of the music is the basis for the Ultrablack. Producer and listener share the imperfection that only Black can authenticate. Neither can the producer assume that his activity will ever end, nor can the listener assume that he will ever stop tearing fragments out of the music. Ultrablackness then points to continuing, never giving up the search beyond the black and seeking the Ultrablack of the black - while the black jukebox is hyper-playing and/or silent.

Today, however, all possibilities of Exodus seem to be closed. The escape seems at least to be desolate. But it doesn't have to be desolate, even if it is negative, because it is never more exciting than when it spreads out in the streets, where the trust in appearances and words, the trust in this world, disintegrates into a mobile zone of imperceptibility. In these moments of opacity, insufficiency and collapse, darkness is the greatest threat to the relationships that bind us to this world today. But what does the politics of flight involve? What are the tactics of imperceptibility and opacity that appear independent of the forces and relations of capital and are useful for the destruction of this world? The zones of imperceptibility and opacity are less features of reality that can be applied in any situation, but are instruments that are there to fight against this world. It is precisely in this situation that we find ourselves empowered to confront ourselves with the daily rhythms of capital, some of which are also those of its music, and the apparatuses of the state. To abandon the street because it is at the mercy of the military, and to want to replace it with the club or the rave, as Eshun demands, means to simulate the uprising, to only enjoy the cyberactive war-machines of Underground Resistance or Public Enemy, while the logistic cyber-infrastructure of capital and its interruption is not an issue. Although communication is interrupted or derealized when sonic forms attack power or even deprogram programmers, isn't it the mutual feeding of sound and sonic-fiction that leads to label fictions that have either vanished in the meantime or are  today wallowing in the gambling hell of the entertainment industry?   

3. Out of all the old-school artists the only one left is Thomas Koner. What fuels this prolific partnership in your own opinion?

Thomas Köner invents his musical concepts autonomously, of course. We met again years ago at a Deleuze congress and presented and discussed our sonic concepts. Thomas Köner has a contribution in our book Ultrablack of Music, which is always somehow present in our encounters and telephone conversations.

Thomas Köner's music is often defined as Dark Ambient because he uses low frequencies and soundscapes that, also visually supported, remind of desolate, arctic places. French philosopher Fréderic Neyrat has pointed out the following: If the drone of Köner’s album Permafrost is particularly unsettling, it is because its point of reference has changed over time. For example, when permafrost was first published in 1993, the material reference was permafrost, understood as a ground below the freezing point of water; but with climate change, the thawing of Arctic permafrost will release greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, which contribute to global warming. Now when we listen to permafrost, we may be listening more to the release of time, its material dissolution, than to its frozen state. The sublime is gaseous, and toxic. Gloomy enthusiasm, says Neyrat. To get in touch with a sublime that would not be just depressive, we need to access another relationship with the cold: This happens in Nuuk or Daikan, the latter a Japanese term that means "the coldest." But the coldness in Daikan is not primarily a problem of temperature, but of perseverance: to be cold means to hold, to resist, even when microscopic thunder happens, just to test our ability to survive the shattering of the drones of sound. 

I think furthermore that Thomas Köner has a very own way in his sonic examination of the pure material of sound. Let me cite for this his text in Ultrablack of Music: 

“Ten thousand million noise gates open in an instant and yet nothing is triggered. This means Ultrablack is near. There is no oscillator, no modulator, no fading. Whoever reads the diagram in this way will hear the Black Noise. Whoever understands the immensity of Ultrablack hears the immeasurable. The incessant change is without intensity. Every filter is driven into self-oscillation. 

The many waveforms radiate across this world of sound and blacken the vast worlds in all ten directions. All sound sources in these worlds, from ten thousand million speakers to ten thousand million headphones, are getting darker.”

4. What makes the Mille Plateaux book stand out? What would be the main reason to read this philosophical work?

In the intention of this approach to electronic music, both in science and in music, the formal structures of time collapse, regress to mud, and space is pushed back and forth until it bends to be trampled by the pulsations of alien music, while the thinking space becomes seasick: this is the disruption as it can be experienced when ultrablackness hits you. The all-absorbing and all-imploding power of ultrablackness exercises a radical, pervasive and fundamental negation. The one message, the one action, the one intervention of ultrablackness says: NO. That might be a short resume of the book. 

Underground Resistance says somewhere that disappearance is our future, and according to Kodwo Eshun the Black Power of UR should therefore be invisible, not identifiable, hidden, unrecognizable and not public. Everything has to be rejected – and everything has to be rethought. It needs an act of major and painful disruption, an act of distancing, maybe even of violently marking a break, a rupture, a stopping of routine communication. Ultrablack of Music recognizes precisely this distancing and disruption in the theory practice of sonic fiction. Ultrablack of Music is a striking approach and research strategy that acknowledges, scrutinizes and acts accordingly to this catastrophe. It is a kind of disaster study. Ultrablack of Music or non-musicology composes theory as its own object, writes an autonomous music fiction. Fiction implies invention and destitution in a non-expressive and non-representational sense as immanence. Non-musicology insistently demands not to separate the research practices of a discursive reflection from precisely those particular material practices they are actually reflecting on. 

An essential part of the strategy of ultrablack is the rejection of existing institutional procedures, regulations, musical and linguistic orders, of ideological framings, of ethical routines and habitual forms of behavior.  Everything must be discarded and everything must be rethought. It needs an act of great and painful disruption, an act of distancing and a break, a rupture, a stop of routine music and communications. Sonic warfare is to be understood as a revolting practice. Thus, the sonic war machine is fully operational. As a mob of machinists with technical apparatuses, the sonic guerrilla unit fights against the machine-urban machine-body of the capital.  The extremist endpoint of this resistance is a sensory practice that is activism and aesthetics, thinking and listening at the same time.  

Music today is already itself highly conceptualized. Alien music is a-human or inhuman music that litigates with a touch high for cruelty. It calls for the thought synthesizer that functions as the design, fabrication, invention, cutting, pasting, and editing of an artificial discontinuum, as a future-rhythm machine whose alien discontinuum crawls through breaks, gaps, and intervals and is anti-genealogical. It is catastrophic science as an act that dismantles the formal structures of space and time. 

5. Would you consider trying to resurrect the genre of clicks’n’cuts a gamble? I think Clicks & Cuts wasn’t understood very well. It is not a genre, it's not only about failure. What is it?

In Clicks & Cuts we find transversal disjunctions and heterogeneous temporalities as well as divergent spatial components that overlap and coexist in a track; entirely in the service of the heterogeneous temporalities and spatial components, the Click shows its invincible evidence precisely when it opens up various potentials that the imperative “Always-proceed!” demands, because the Click is too short to associate a fantastic imagery on its own or to tell an already known story, but long enough to work in rhythmic relations with other Clicks and to come close to the Music of the Real. An indetermination begins to indicate itself through the concatenation. At this point, the Error is not something that is written into the Clicks & Cuts as meaning, but it is a fact that releases potentials. By potentially turning every sound into musical matter and at the same time into an a-signifying sign the head runs amok. The Music now emerges precisely from a shift in what has to act as a Click, Pulse or Noise in the most minimal symbolic way. Only through the concatenation of a-signifying signs does the material become Rhythm and Music. There is a transversal disjunction that is articulated internally in the track, but also exists in its relationship to other tracks, and this implies the transition of the Clicks & Cuts. Transversality is a topological concept, an extending over, lying across and intersecting without resulting coincidence, while transversal Music condenses the Click/Cut in the play between the Actual and Virtual in the Event itself, from the mutation of an instrument, which links the past with the present, to a new futuristic kind of sound. When you hear a Track, Deleuze describes it as power, duration and sensation, which are varied by Tempos, Rhythms, Textures and Sound. 

Glitch music is normally characterized by a transformation of sonic artefacts that can result from malfunctioning digital technology, such as those produced by bugs, crashes, system errors, hardware noise, CD skipping, and digital distortion. Rather than writing new music inspired by older recordings, it constructs new non-music inspired by the technological conditions in which those recordings emerged. For us glitch is more a part of Clicks & Cuts: Dark glitch is the non-signal, which is not used to capitalize the click as a signal for the quasi-derivative of the surplus of successful targeting, but as a non-successful swimming in the noise of non-music. And its a problem of time: When non-frequency-politicians are listening to the clock, they don`t hear always the same tic, tic, tic, tic, but “tic – toc – fuck the clock” , because they know, that the beat or metronome has to be stressed: the relation between the different speed of waves and the maxima of intensity or timeless degree of different waves constitute a dispersion, which cannot be measured. Exterior to the clock-ban non-frequency-politics is the supertrace, the tracing of the immanent rhythmicity of Rhythm in the hearing-in-Rhythm, it is “flow an sich'' or the quantum, because the generators of non-frequency-politics are always over-sweeping the beat of the significant “ding ding ding ding”.

6. How has techno music changed since the inception of the label "Force Inc." till now?

With the modification of a Baudrillard quote one could say: The culture industry irrigates and energizes the excited and at the same time exhausted nervous system, letting people hear until they themselves want to hear more and more often, and they would actually like to hear much more. This does not mean that they have a taste or believe in the meaning of music - on the contrary, it expresses a bulimic desire for hearing: the music system is devoured and digested in a voracious and excremental way. One gets rid of it by an excess (not by rejection, but by a digestive disorder) - the whole system is transformed into a huge white music belly.

This also means that the retro mode in music has finally become ubiquitous. Although there have been retro tendencies in pop-based on fashion from the beginning, but for a time, until the 1990s according to Mark Fisher, it was possible to distinguish “retro” from so-called contemporary music, which captures the moods of a period. Today, all retro styles are sold as contemporary precisely because there are no truly contemporary alternatives. That was truly eerie. The retro mode has thus become the standard, i. e. styles, fashions and objects that are retro are sold as contemporary products, precisely because the real innovation no longer takes place in the present. If everything is retro, on the one hand it is pointless to call certain phenomena retro, on the other hand nothing is retro anymore. Time gets white. 

The potential virtuosity of electronic music has long since migrated to the interior of the machines, where all sound cards, preset sounds and sound files are stored; it is a space of possibility through which the producer has to navigate. However, it is precisely the limitation inherent in the software that is supposed to give rise to a possibility space. In many cases, however, the sound no longer emerges from playing with or abusing the machine, rather, it is the machines themselves that push music into a new in-humanism: Acid hears the frequencies of the TB303, exactly as they are. The producer then only follows the track that the machine has laid. In this way, the rigid function of the digital studio is accepted, but at the same time, new possibilities should continue to be wrested from the digital studio through optimization. However, this musical practice today most times leads to a rigid standardization, the naive recall and recall of preset sounds and metrics.

And music is never excluded in today's Mega-Cities and is thus predestined to be hyper-present; it is secreted as panic sentiment or flows through contemporary social laboratories (capital knows only laboratories) in a kind of acoustic inversion of energy process. By circulating globally, techno music (any music today is always techno music) transports the post-contemporary energy level - which generates hyperactivity and burnout at the same time - through the central nervous systems (of finance, dance and the individuals), the latter flooding the techno landscapes like gilded rattlesnake tails. Since the hyper-futurized music, as Kodwo Eshun says, is the good cyborg, although, with Arthur Kroker, it can also be described as the ghostly formation of fractal subjects, fun vibrations and panic noise, it makes the technology of capital, indeed capital itself, much better, for example, by establishing social relationships that do not even demand property. It then circulates analogously to the derivative, where also its capitalisation does not necessarily require ownership.

7. What inspires you to green-light releasing a musician apart from their music?

It’s first about music. Second political attitudes. No micro-fascism at least.

8. Simona Zamboli, is it a new music phenomenon?

As we wrote: Ethernity is a piece of haunting music - vibrating, pulsing and cutting through the concrete and the chaos at the same time, when you listen close enough. The album is a journey through trans-reality, not only as a melancholic drama, but also as a travel to alien worlds, hence as a necessity of an electronic intervention. Ethernity is radical fictioning in a non-expressive, non-melancholic and ultrablack sense. Profound music demands blackness, not silence. When we speak of communication or mediation, the reference is always that of the mystical tradition of the via negativa; mediation and communication always imply the dissolution of sender and receiver, leaving not only the message that is the gulf or abyss, but a perception out there, which senses should be able to recognize and even love. 

But it is even more than this. It’s a coexistence between human and machine, in which atonal frequencies coexist with harmonic figures, repellent and strangely warm at the same time. This confronts and pushes us also into the experimentation with this nameless in-between, in which new temporalities can emerge whose winding paths and outcomes can neither be predicted nor guaranteed. 

Ultra-blackness’ love is vigorously informed and fuelled by the hate in ending this World, as we know, and sonically experiencing it.

9.What can we expect out of Mille Plateaux? What other new music trajectories will the label pursue?

As I explained it's this new concept of Ultrablackness or non-music. And it's a lot about Rhythm: Going from sampling to so-called pulse rhythmights, produced with techniques through immanent and generic methods of percussive flights and differential structures of sound, attends not to being-in-the-world, but being in music. A music that remains radically immanent, Rhythmight is constructed from the heterogeneity of Rhythm as foreclosed and incommensurately sampled-in-the-last-instance and binds at the same moment the methods of Rhythmics to ecological hearing-in-rhythm. The relation between Rhythm and hearing remains still unilateral: it only goes one way. The unilaterality of Rhythm doesn’t imply that music can be reduced to Rhythm, but that, aside from its territorial motives and melodic landscapes, music is in-the-last-instance Rhythm and heard from Rhythm. While Non-musicology imposes a unilateral relationship between Rhythm and hearing, hearing-in-Rhythm cannot affect Rhythm, while Rhythm is foreclosed to hearing-in-Rhythm. 

Electronic music processes in a non-standard phase space in which periodic sine tones and non-periodic modulations/transformations oscillate to generate a radically inhuman music. For Deleuze/Guattari is one of the guiding questions in “music“, if the unformed can be heard as sound within the framework of the audible or music. But the unformed is not noise. So another question is, if there exists a passage between sound and noise, made possible by musical events (not music). When deterritorialization brings a long a de-structuration of the articulated sound, which is a kind of deterritorialized and deterritorialized noise, this implies a state of the unformed that is still audible, but definitely not as organized music; such kind of "music" or the audible is no more a representation or mimesis, but a becoming. So always something new can happen, we never know.

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Questions:  Ilya Kudrin