Friday, 18 December 2015

Slides from my talk at 3hd, 'What is the Musical Object in the 21st Century?'

Here are the slides from my recent talk at Creamcake's 3hd festival in Berlin. This one was a bit more freeform, so apologies if the discussion threads are a bit unclear from them. It was a great festival altogether, with a great line-up of performances too - there was a write-up about it on AQNB.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Interview with Elysia Crampton

'Three generations of Aymara-Bolivian-American women under one roof'
For years now, I've found Elysia Crampton's music has some of the most beautiful and fascinating out there. This year she maintained that by releasing American Drift on Blueberry Recordings. She was kind enough to share some thoughts, images and videos with me recently as part of an interview:

1. Where are you today? What is it like?
1. i just landed in Sacramento, CA this morning. im visiting my mom, my grandmother, and my dog in sacramento. three generations of Aymara-Bolivian-American women under one roof. my dog is a teacup pomeranian that i bought several heads ago when i lived as a sex worker in Los Angeles. i hustled hard back then, and i remember paying for my puppy with cash at a "kennel for the stars" (every puppy was named after a celebrity). i remember the garage was lined with cribs, full of poms. these days, my parents help take care of him. i'm grateful i get to spend time together with my family before going back to La Paz. 
2. Your work regularly references geographies, such as America, Axacan and Shenandoah. You have also talked about landscape and geology. How does space, place, and landscape, especially, structure your experience and how are they expressed in your music?

2.  now that my relationship to the US has changed (I no longer live here), i've started thinking about realms of language as worldings themselves-- worldings that allow or negate the birth of certain identities, ideas, expressions, laws. thinking of this prenatal weight within language that gives rise to possibility spaces while preventing and/or destroying others-- a sort of necro-linguistic dimension on one end. the way reality is even processed/encountered changes with each language space. for example, in aymara, instead of implying a gaze directed forward, moving through time (with tomorrow coming sequentially "ahead" of today which came "ahead" of yesterday), speakers instead face the past and have their backs to the future (q"ipa, the word for "future" translates as behind or back-- q"ipΓΌru, the word for "tomorrow" translates to "some day behind one's back").
when i think of geography, i think of all the things that cling to/ define a body as it moves through space or manifests a locality, toward/ away from something else, where and what it was or couldn't be. we carry whatever was thrown onto us at birth-- things clutter, signalling divergent, sometimes contradictory messages, changing with each new environment we find ourselves in. i live as the embodiment of a continued dreaming by my ancestors-- progenitors of stone, chemical, single-celled and zooidic forebearers, to my native family under the enslavement of the inca and then the spanish, to my mother arriving in the US as a child, unable to speak english at a school in Barstow, California. my desires quantize into the detrital unmooring that is Americanness. negotiating this scattering, this shift, is an act of de/recolonization, a continuous motion. pushed into waves, molecular vibrations recoordinate/realign with those nucleotidic impulses braided through me. musically, i use everything-- recycle myself, regurgitating bowels and entrails-- chance and haphazard divinations that would or might lead me back to certain lost rhythms and cadences; light shattering on the face of a river, the bob of a pigeon's head in a city i have become homeless in, the syncopation of a human heart as it metabolizes an injection of tar and coke. this is my gait, the cascade of my dismemberment, seismic pulse of my re-formation, my American drift.
3. Although you have moved from more sample-based productions to more freely-composed ones, your work remains a rich and provocative conglomeration of sources and ideas both musical and 'extramusical.' How do these sources and ideas find a new context and a new life in your work?
3.  this is where movement filters into something like my own language-- monstrosity of the embodied dream of an erased family, a lost history that i re-build, scraping utopias, a minimal place of freedom.
i constantly forget that the ways i touch/encounter the real or relate concepts like pop-ness, luxury, extravagance and suffering to one another through music, are somewhat isolated, discrete. for me, writing music has crossed into the elaboration of a specific language that sustains the tension of my being, eases the inherent trauma of existing. this language-world is dialetheic, pluripotent, sensuous in that its hapticality forms its own varied dialects-- destroyed/transmutated/regenerated by strokes of appropriation, love, simple bonds, the violence of commerce. this voice, this language-world bends, equilibrates-- altered when friends, comrades introduce said dialects into their own music and writing-- a kind of morphological leveling.
4. You have talked of the 'continued dialogue in my work with the prefix "trans."' Can you tell me more about that? How does the pursuit of change and transcendence drive you as a trans woman and as a musician?
4.  trans is always already in becoming. trans is movement. transness signals something across and beyond humanness as it has been defined. as trans, i've come to know my own beyondness-- this selfhood, this selfness that walks alongside and through this space this isn't quite a space-- between thinglyness and subjectivity, object and phenomenon, fold and vortex, etc. trans is trans-thing, trans-animal, trans-human.
this "withness" of trans-locality recalls the power of self-determination. for this reason, even when a trans person takes a selfie, it's a transgressive act. when i walk down the street, when i use a fucking public bathroom, as a trans woman, it all becomes political. that can be tough sometimes. sometimes i just want to go pee! on occasion, however, i own that political/ jurisgenerative burden, and i'm filled with the bravery of my sisters that have gone before me. still, we need to remember that trans bravery, or transness does not only manifest via visibility or passability. any trans or queer person that lives another day, as living negation of binaries, regardless of access to controlled surgeries/medications/documents etc., is an activist.

today, trans advocacy and the topic of trans rights in general exist crucially in contrast/opposition to the fast-enclosing, restrictive, highly-policed ideas of trans legitimacy currently circulating the public/media sphere under the catch-all "trans visibility"(alongside economies of radical transparency, false ideas of queer authenticity/ totalizing essentialisms). the murders of trans women of color, particularly black trans women, are being reported at a much higher rate than previous years in the United States-- definitely more so than in La Paz, where trans deaths often go unreported (where police regularly assault sex workers and a trans campesina was stoned to death by a mob in El Alto just a few years ago). we trans and gender non-conforming people from Bolivia and across South America must stand together with those in the US. in Bolivia, we use the acronym TLBG instead of LGBT, putting the T for trans first, as trans women in particular have been vital to the entire movement as a whole since the beginning. and this is how it was in the United States, at so-callled watersheds like Stonewall, with figures like Marsha P Johnson, Miss Major, and Sylvia Rivera. these were trans women of color leading the movement in a patriarchal carceral state, in a queer community still largely governed by misogyny and racism. it's sad to see the continued white/cis-washing of not only the LGBTQI movement but also the disappearance of the real history of that movement. this is why i maintain the significance of putting the names of our influencers and collaborators back into our work, restoring these dimensions of past, understanding how linked they are with futurity, and how preservation of this past forms the maintenance of alternate realties-- (histories made alternate by paradigms that de facto vacuum them into oblivion), spaces of fantasy where new worlds can be envisioned, enacted/performed, analyzed, brought into being, etc.

as salinas once said: "el futuro se llama ayer."

5. At a time when, more than ever, we cannot step twice into the same musical river, what does it mean for a person and a musician to find and have roots?
5.  of course, we have always already been in the river. i am always already beyond, outside of myself. this "without" this "not yet here" is what grounds me, assembles the aggregate rhythm of my being.

one thing i find disturbing (brought up when the current/future "fluid" state of music is similarly questioned) is the quick dismissal of any critique on something like appropriation, by musicians themselves, as though criticizing appropriation
 is merely a knee-jerk reaction to the so-called natural blending of genres, as though such blending were a neutral desiring/action of the music in and of itself, and not something deliberately related to the same old settler colonialist paradigm/logic/horizon that has narrowed the limits of possibility for all people (not just those of color), the same old-ass/always-assumed/unquestioned sense of entitlement/ sovereignty as enclosure disguising itself as some kind of open/egalitarian/limitless artistic possibility. i live for the blending of genres, categories, the creation of new forms, breaking boundaries-- but im not going to pretend that the playing field is flat/level when it comes to something like appropriation. different outcomes result when different people appropriate different things. white men are often criticized for appropriating the cultures of those of color because white histories are thoroughly prioritized and preserved within patriarchal/colonial modernity (a universalized able-bodied white male subject as always-already default). through such ongoing acts of appropriation by those with hegemonic privilege, people of color are often severed from their own histories (and realities) which become co-opted, denied, excluded, and historically erased. this is why it is critical for all of us, especially those of color, indigenous, and/or queer, to speak up about our familial collaborators, our kindred influencers, putting those names and histories back into our work, sustaining them in the face of systemic obliteration. and, along these lines, we must consider cross-thingly/interspecies solidarity as well, because our collaborators, our influencers aren't always human, yet they shape our culture and heritage. it was Geoffrey Burbidge that proved (most of) our chemical make-up is formed in the cores of massive stars. that means that on the most basic, atomic level-- as humans, as things, vortices, etc-- we are all deeply connected to the universe. all of these collaborations form our roots.
6. What do you think are the challenges of decolonisation in the present day, musically and in general?
6.  decolonization begins with educating yourself. it begins by interrogating the ways in which you obtain and resource that education and the ways in which you retain and disseminate the information you receive; it doesn't all just go in one direction. the horizon of coloniality involves the colonization of attention. we must always uncover what it is that is holding that attention, what is actually occupying our mental, emotional, sensual spacing, so that we may recover some understanding, some control over our own becoming. of course, each of us will arrive at our own conclusions, ultimately doing what makes sense to us. it becomes important to continually question our motives as well as the apparatuses that disclose the data we take in, as education is a life-long event.
unfortunately, the resources and capacity to ask such questions, to check facts, to live in such a way, are not accessible to all people. ideas are thoroughly interrelated/connected to systems of power and structural oppression in this manner. some cannot afford certain ways of thinking, certain ideas, and therefor are unable to benefit from such modes of thinking. so for those that do have the privilege of obtaining and utilizing the method of self-education and inquiry i mentioned, the act of service becomes pivotal. when we educate ourselves, it becomes our responsibility to be of service to others, always aware that certain access to information and ideas is privileged, always in hope that such service might alter the grounds by which new ideas can be born, sustained, made beneficial. i can't help but wonder though, if the circulation of those ideas that were generated and allowed to come into being (however radical they may seem to be) within oppressive systems, can only lead back to reproducing the very structural foundations that have maintained such systems, as they come out of said systems (were allowed to generate from them in the first place). this is why transnational solidarity is important, and one of many reasons why i support abolition/ oppose the prison industrial complex. we will never find freedom within a system that still relies on a penal form of bound servitude preserved by the very amendment that was purportedly enacted for its eradication. we must not forget that American law and culture were founded on slavery and are tied to its conceptions of personhood, agency, criminality, contract, ownership, and sovereignty-- among so many others.
7. Is there such a thing as folk music? Is it important? Similarly, is there such a thing as the folk, or the people, or the proletariat?
7.  with folk music, which group of people you decide/happen to engage with will determine which histories/ narratives will be represented/embodied/maintained.

folk music is important because it is knotted to the past, ideas of community, and the dimension of oblivion, the lost.

in Bolivia, a national musical identity was formalized in the mid 20th century by upper-class intellectual progressives. this amalgamated, Spaniardized take on the country's indigenous music was taught in schools, taken on tours and performed in other countries-- basically coined everything we understand today as "Bolivian music." this might have added to the country's culturally rich heritage had it not actually sustained the ongoing erasure/obscuration of real indigenous and particularly Aymara musical personae that, until then, had suffered long to survive-- not only against the physical and ideological violence of the spanish, through the rule of the white racist creole class system and white-washing by indigenista intellectuals, but even centuries before, through the harsh terrain of the altiplano and enslavement by the Inca. when friends that know me consider my indigeneity, my Bolivianness-- when they ask Google what a Bolivian worlding sounds like, they will hear the melodies of this colonial/upper-class accretion of stylings that was never quite folk music (one should recall that in the old class system, Aymara and black African bodies were at the very bottom).
folk is about the construction of a common identity, says "these people exist(ed)," emanates histories by its having-been, yet it is a thing of nascence, as its life hinges on the constant regeneration of all the parts that maintain what it is or allow it to evolve along certain lines, jurisgeneratively reshape its own laws of becoming, undergo mutagenesis. the etymology of the word folk is interesting in that it relates to a "host of warriors" in Old Norse context, and both "dwelling-place" and "battlefield" through its Old English form folcstede. The music i write today is an extension of that eclipsed Aymara legacy, as well as a queer refraction of the upper-class mestizo formations, with a tendency to blend many genres and musical styles. my native family's legacy of survival and solidarity is one of several things that unites me with the greater black and indigenous folk music/histories of America (yungas to altiplano to appalachia), and with my own sense of queer belonging-- always in search of a voice that could carry the timbrous resonations of its own suffering, supported (brought into being) by a historical body of people/things/places that have communally resisted forms of systemic, racial, and ecological violence.
folk music is always already related to the future and its sonic resonances, because folk music recovers what was lost.
8. What music and/or art would you make if any and all material and political limitations were removed tomorrow?
8.  i dont tend to ask myself questions like this because i'm aware my limitations are constantly shaping me into what i am, determining the coordinates of my being, not unlike the way negative space defines an object. without this distinction, wouldn’t all matter be undifferentiated whiteness, holding all colors like a blaring light? obviously, if there were no material or political limitations i would probably do what Motoko Kusanagi did at the end of Oshii's version of Ghost In The Shell or perhaps something similar to the Basset Hound's de/re-dimensionalization in Oshii's other film, Avalon. part of why i make art, make music is because of the pain of corporeality, the suffering of being bodied, materialized in such a local, confined way. but one grows into it, owns it, utilizes it. if there were no limitation to that felt experience, that embodied angst, maybe i would implode like a supernovae, sucking the universe, folding into my vortex. i guess that would be the sound of my music.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Blogpost for Verso: On Music and Folk Politics

I've written a blogpost - click here to read it - for Verso reflecting on some of the aesthetic implications of the critique of 'folk politics' in their new book by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work:

When, in Inventing the Future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams critique the collection of tendencies within the contemporary left they call 'folk politics,' they could also be lamenting the aesthetics that now dominates those areas of popular music that were once progressive. Whether it's underground, or 'indie,' or even happens to be in the charts, contemporary popular music routinely 'chooses the familiarities of the past over the unknowns of the future;... habitually chooses the small over the large' and 'value[s] withdrawal or exit rather than building a broad counter-hegemony'. For independent music as in folk politics, 'organisations and communities are to be transparent, rejecting in advance any conceptual mediation, or even modest amounts of complexity' and both 'emphasis[e] the local and the authentic, the temporary and the spontaneous, the autonomous and the particular'. Srnicek and Williams show that these strategies arose and achieved much in the special political circumstances of the mid-twentieth century, and again, as aesthetic strategies in popular music, they arose during the same period in the countercultural atmosphere of jazz, rock, punk and, indeed, folk musics. And for both folk politics and folk-political music, the time has come to invent what happens next...