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Past and Present in "Strange Simultaneity": Mark Fisher Explains Hauntology at NYU

By Rhizome

Still from Chris Petit "Content"
If I might extrapolate from what Simon calls these 'comments on half-erased or never-quite-attained songform': perhaps Ariel Pink's appeal is that his sound musters the sonic equivalent of the 'corner of the retina' effect that the best ghost stories have famously achieved. To understand what this entails, we need to reverse, or at least nuance, the commonplace which has it that the ghost is at its most scary only when it can't fully be seen. To say this implies that the ghost could be made the positive object of apprehension. Yet spectres are unsettling because they are that which can not, by their very nature (or lack of nature), ever be fully seen; gaps in Being, they can only dwell at the periphery of the sensible, in glimmers, shimmers, suggestions. It is not accidental that the word 'haunting' often refers to that which inhabits* us but which we cannot ever grasp; we find 'haunting' precisely those Things which lurk at the back of our mind, on the tip of our tongue, just out of reach. 'Haunting refrains' we are compelled to simulate-reiterate are sonic objets a around which drives circulate.

To return to Mike's point, we can now begin to see why it is important to think of the 'negative' aspects of Ariel Pink's sound not as the covering over of porcelain-perfect pop in fuzz and scuzz, but positively, as the means by which an anamorphic sonic object is produced. The anamorph, remember, can only be seen when looking askance, out of the corner of the eye.

In this respect, Ariel Pink has much in common with Jessica Rylan, who should be added to the hauntology canon forthwith. After seeing Rylan live last year, I referred to 'the beguiling illusion of a sonic object that would be perfect if only you could hear it more clearly. Yet the 'perfection' is an effect (a special effect, you might say) of the blurring and distorting techniques themselves.' I made similar observations after seeing Ariel Pink live, writing of 'a deliberate fogging of the digitally hyper-clean, with the result that what you are hearing is as much doubt and speculation as anything else.'

Why hauntology now? Well, has there ever been a time when finding gaps in the seamless surfaces of 'reality' has ever felt more pressing? Excessive presence leaves no traces. Hauntology's absent present, meanwhile, is nothing but traces....

Spectres of Marx

Darkstar - Gold

The Human League - You Remind Me Of Gold
At one point in Chris Petit’s haunting new film Content, we drive through Felixstowe container port. It was an uncanny moment for me, since Felixstowe is only a couple of miles from where I live – what Petit filmed could have been shot from our car window. What made it all the more uncanny was the fact that Petit never mentions that he is in Felixstowe; the hangars and looming cranes are so generic that I began to wonder if this might not be a doppelgänger container port somewhere else in the world. All of this somehow underlined the way Petit’s text describes these “blind buildings” while his camera tracks along them: “non-places”, “prosaic sheds”, “the first buildings of a new age” which render “architecture redundant”.

Content could be classified as an essay film, but it’s less essayistic than aphoristic. This isn’t to say that it’s disconnected or incoherent: Petit himself has called Content a “21st-century road movie, ambient”, and its reflections on ageing and parenthood, terrorism and new media are woven into a consistency that’s non-linear, but certainly not fragmentary.

Content is about ‘correspondence’, in different senses of the word. It was in part generated by electronic correspondence between Petit and his two major collaborators: writer Ian Penman (whose text is voiced by the German actor Hanns Zischler) and the German musician Antye Greie. Penman’s text is a series of reflections on the subject of email, that “anonymous yet intimate” ethereal communication. Some of Penman’s disquisitions on email are accompanied by images of postcards – the poignant tactility of this obsolete form of correspondence all the more affecting because the senders and addressees are now forgotten. Greie, meanwhile, produces skeins of electronica that provide Content with a kind of sonic unconscious in which terms and concepts referred to in the images and the voice track are refracted, extrapolated and supplemented.

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kellycarey May 19 2011 18:13Reply

"Human League preceded the future while Darkstar arrived after it. But
these sounds from the past and present seem in 'strange simultaneity.'"
“I have a better sense of the 1973 sound and texture than 2003 —not
because I ceased to pay attention, but because culture and time relation
has changed.”
Music typically marks time. But “something odd is happening” if you can
imagine Darkstar or Amy Winehouse or the Artic Monkeys performing
decades in the past without any sense of disjuncture."
I'm not sure if this was addressed at some point, but the fact that 1973 has engrained itself into the present exponentially more times, since it occurred, than 2003, could have something to do with why sounds from 1973 seem richer and more contextualized than those from 2003. I disagree that "something odd" is neccessarily happening if you can imagine some modern acts performing in the past without a sense of disjuncture—the past is a "thing" that is necessarily distanced and packaged conceptually, so mentally placing something within it squarely and saying it fits perfectly is easy to do—theoretically. It has always proven true thus far that we are able to look back at art and artists and feel that some were "ahead of their time." But no one necessarily realized that during their time—they weren't recognized as proof that culture was moving forward. So why would we recognize those things now?

Chris Burke May 28 2011 23:58Reply

I think the points discussed by Fisher can be attributable to the simple fact that bands now are hyper-aware of recent music history. The millions in development money spent in the music technology industry developing analog modeling synths and retro effects plug-ins promise to make even dabblers like Darkstar sound just like a synth-pop band from the 80s. Similarly, recording techniques since the late 90s have largely focused on recreating the sound of anitquated recordings. If there is anything "odd" happening, it's that there is now more nostalgic synth-pop from the last 4 or 5 years than there is original synth-pop from back then.
I think it's simply too easy for music, being a non-tactile art,  to be "haunting". I understand Fisher is quoting a cool term from Dererida, but if he's saying more than that, I'm not seeing it. To set this apart as special phenomoemon is simply a stretch. I have to admit I have not read Fisher's blog. Does he offer better evidence than the vagueries above?