Music as Freedom

We take Debord seriously when he claims that no single artist of any real interest has appeared since 1954. It is impossible for Art to properly generate interest when humanity as such has long since ceased to be capable of interesting. What can Art do against the crippling inertia of self-inflicted extinction? Perhaps we could tweak this date more precisely with a significant estimate for the Death of the Holocene:

Art’s corpse has been rotting since 1945.

Oh no! Another diatribe on the death of art!

Fuck no. Art missed its destiny and purpose because humanity committed suicide – but this is not the fault of Art. Art flickers on, a wisp of senesence in a species long made stupid by entertainment. Art still generates horizons of liberation when it stops trying to entertain. But only then.

These are neglected corners of Art’s Imaginary – and few explore.

Art is a rotting corpse, art is a zombie that lives on after its death – Art is Undead.

Zombie Music

I’m gonna particularize to Music here. No offense to other arts, it’s just that it’s the Art of Temporality, and it’s the one I know the most about. It’s where I’m in my element, art-wise.

Let’s assume that music has been specifically undead since 1945. It has certainly had no detectable historical impact since. Music was murdered by entertainment, wielded by the recording industry, backed by the exterminatus machine. When it died, the end of the Holocene gaped beneath, revealed.

A brutal and as of yet unavenged atrocity.

Art is one of the points of existence. It is its own Truth Process. It has always and will always reflect Geist back at itself. While it is economics that generate art, it is nonetheless art that is one of the only real points of economics (the others being science, love, and politics respectively). We should always have had an economy geared towards these ends, and these before all else.

Alas, instead we have an economy that kills Art, along with all else. The murder of music was so long ago it has passed from the memory hole – but it was nonetheless a tragedy.

Music was one of our greatest achievements. Musicians were these:

  • magicians, wielding the power of (what seems like) raw, pre-symbolic emotion in auditory form.
  • craftsman and an artisans of sound and time.
  • master specialists of an incredibly narrow speciality.
  • Loathe to look at or understand their own art-praxis in its historical context, or any context beyond that of the narrow horizon professionalized (commodified) artistic practice sets for itself.

The latter is understandable – the clarity of an external analysis never throws things into the best light. We have to do it tho, if we wish to understand the phenomenon of zombie music:

For that is what we have. Music from a past that died long ago. Music that does nothing. Music that sits and stays. Music that repeats. Music that loops into itself endlessly, floating in a void of inconsequentiality, touching nothing solid. Music that is silent. Music that addresses itself abstractly to no-one. Music that touches no Real.

Music that is beautiful.

But what is beauty in the epoch of entertainment’s triumph?

Another price tag on the ass end of accumulation’s rampage.

If beauty and entertainment can be abstractly related by mere number – then beauty too can only entertain.

The historical task of art was clear – to defeat entertainment by any means necessary. What means? By being challenging, by judging its audience, by being ugly, nasty, hard, difficult, painful. By shocking. By sticking in the throat. By choking. By enraging. By hurting. By refusing to entertain. By busting out of the value form in any way it could.

By committing to the relentless momentum of freedom, rather than the passive stasis of beauty.

Few heard the call. But those that did had a chance of generating music that I will call this: not-undead.

How to beat zombification? How to make a Musick that outrages once again?

Meditate on this: you are a mass extinction event reading a mass extinction event through the medium of a mass extinction event.

A Materialist Theory of Music

Art is produced by a society, and only under specific conditions and relations of energy distribution. For any artist, there must always be many more materially productive and necessary workers (food, water, land, energy, &c), simply to enable that artist’s ability to convert his energy and resource intake into an output that is, energetically speaking, a dead end. Art is and has always been spewed out as an afterthought.

Sorry you arty bitches. Them’s the breaks. Art is the one of the most thermodynamically decadent energy expenditures any social project will ever generate. Massive amounts of energy infrastructure and labor differentiation have to be present to generate even one specialized artist, even in pre-capitalist tributary modes.

This means Art is also the most fragile, the most precious form of energy expenditure. It means that rather than civilization judging art – it is rather always and necessarily Art that judges civilization. Society exists for Art’s sake and never the other way around, no matter the physical dependency structure. Without Art, we really would have eradicated a biosphere for nothing.

It’s a good thing Art is known for lasting a long time without human or biospheric support systems!

Because of the eternal energy constraints facing artistic production, Art that does not aim towards fulfilling its historical function (presenting the audience with an horizon of liberation beyond that of which society can provide otherwise), Art that merely entertains or beautifies – this is just a waste product.

Yeah, we’re doing this. I’ve already said a culture that can’t make qualitative distinctions isn’t a culture at all – so I’m going to make some qualitative distinctions, and ya’ll are gonna deal.

The emergence of recording tech was nothing less than the onslaught of the commodification of music. The besieging of the concrete time of music by the abstract time of entertainment – of the infinite time of music by the rigid metricality of universal commodification: this was the beginning of Music’s slow, agonized descent towards extinction.

The contradiction between Art’s historic mission (liberation) and Art’s economic function (entertainment) has split the history of music multiple times. Schoenberg is here a figure of titanic importance – the first to step onto new, anti-entertainment terrain in response to commodity music’s onslaught. Serialism and all it’s heirs are nothing less than a fortress – the Fortress of Music’s Last Stand Against the Darkness.

It is, alas, but that – a Fortress. And guarded only by a meagre paywall – which is the darkness itself already.

Modernism realized the threat posed by music as mass-produced entertainment but responded only defensively, by disabling the harmonic basis for mass-produced linear emotional responses. They conceived this as progress, a step ‘forward’ – we can now see it was but a step sidewise. Post-modernism went on to disable these triggers in all musical dimensions – melody, harmonic, rhythm, meter, timbre, texture – leading to further horizons of the avante-garde, to post-serialism spectralism and beyond.

More lateral movement, alongside the zombie zone. Modernism’s trajectory is trying to escape from the value form – postmodernism is a truce.

If modernisn (and post) are the Fortress, where is the Music Army? Where is Music’s sword?

Peace is death, escapse is undeath:

Struggle is life.

Groove As An Horizon of Liberation

Within entertainment/commodified music itself, music’s inherent temporal concreteness – this ineradicable horizon of freedom – it bursts forth forever anew, unable to be contained by the strictures of abstract, quantitative, merely economic time.

Everywhere there is music now, there is this tension. Music in chains/music forever free. Undead.

Groove is the name of that music that tries to overcome the value form by moving through it. By sublating it. Preserving, cancelling, transcending.

You know it originally as jazz. But this name is imprecise and kinda racist. We call it Groove, and Groove is Jazz, it is Rock, it is Pop, it is Country, it is EDM, it is HipHop, it is Metal. It is anything with a backbeat, anything that syncopates, anything that grooves, any old riff.

Groove is what happens when the concrete, unquantifiable time of the Afrikan peoples collides with the abstract, machine time of the European algorithm societies. Groove is an unholy bastard borne of a meeting in the depths of hell – the music of master and servant. Freedom and Slavery. Subjection and liberation. Life and death, all bound up in struggle.

Modernism fled the scene, Postmodernism signed a truce, Romanticism was gruesomely pillaged and couldn’t even put up a fight – but Groove?

Groove dove into the demon, shotgun first.

I have declared a war on the present in the realm of the concept – but I find myself late to the party. Groove got there first.

Groove has always been a battleground. Take the simplest unit of the simplest blues track anywhere and you will find it: abstract time vs concrete time. The most rigid, brutal metrical straitjacket giving birth to a space of infinite iterative creativity and complexy.

At the dawn of commodity music, Groove realized that the only way out was through.

Let’s take it all the way:

Choose time over space.

Choose concrete time over abstract time.

Choose freedom over slavery.

Choose life over death.

Choose art over entertainment and beauty.

Choose struggle over fleeing or false neutrality.

Choose reason over wisdom.

Choose thermodynamic disequilibrium over the peace of the void.

Choose knowledge over ignorance.

Choose the relentless pursuit of truth over delusion.

Choose the future over the present.

Make the leap into the post-holocene.

What now are you left with?

Metal as the Music After Music

You are left with some musics somewhere where horizons of liberation still exist. Musics that are, if not alive – precisely not-undead. Musics that are capable of historical self-consciousness. Musics that know. Musics that grapple with the Real.

One of these is metal.

Music with teeth. And claws. Music that fights back.

Music that makes abstract time its bitch.

Music that doesn’t compromise. Music that is indifferent to both entertainment and beauty.

What need has Art of Beauty when there is already beauty to be found everywhere around us? Is not selling Art for something as cheap as Beauty to betray its potential, its historic mission? What could be as worthless as Beauty? – sold on the market for scraps of number in tubes.

Beauty hates Art for asking of her what she cannot do.

Entertainment hates Art for exposing it as thermodynamic wastage.

Metal doesn’t care about your feels:

It goes to the end in the pursuit of truth.

It can be biosphere-conscious.

It can be historically self-conscious.

It can be extinction conscious.

It can be sufficiently materialis.t

Music from a future that never came – properly post-holocene.

Ever wonder why the official channels of artistic discourse/practice can’t adequately respond to or grok their historical conditions?

I sure don’t have to.

In the post-holocene – Art is either dead, undead, or struggling. It must choose.

Which side are you on?

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Still alive, and there's never been a better time to be alive. Still #zerocovid, and gonna stay that way plague rats.

Categories Essays