Artist: Kim Cascone
Album: blackCube ()
Review date: Sep. 1, 2003
Extra, Extra: Xenakis Quote
Begets Mass Hysteria
“The quantity of intelligence carried by the sounds must be the true criterion of the validity of a particular music.” – Iannis Xenakis
Under the title “Concept Queens,” Kim Cascone posted this apparent quote from Xenakis to the microsound.org email list on August 25, 2003. Like a grain it arrived in my Inbox, translated from bits and bytes to my intelligence, an out-of-context imperative for not only the contextualization of music but its judgement. With no proper citation, it was a shard of something substantial left unsaid. And properly invalidated. And yet it said all it needed to say – like a commandment, this sliver was simple if left unquestioned. If left in its apparent purity, unhooked from its networks of questioning, it provides the safety and comfort of any dogma or divine proclamation.
Yet, snickering from the sidelines, I heard – far off in the echo chamber:
What is a “true criterion”? What is “validity”? What is “music”? What is “intelligence”? What is a “quantity of intelligence”? How does one measure “intelligence”? Why must it be measured? Why “must” music be subjected to the “valid,” the “true,” a “criterion,” an authentic mark? “Must”?
Why why why – echoing away it went... Why why why – the easiest answer being: because Xenakis’ quote, if it is his, and at face value, is a prime example of the totality of dominant thought that commands Western art music, a thought that is concerned with nothing less than its own self-validation in the ears of its own intelligence. “Must!”
Think of it this way: this soundbyte is a feedback loop. It requires a certain quantity, which is fed into the beginning of the sentence. This quantity – call it “intelligence” – is given a subject to ride on. It’s too fat to walk, to big with its heavy head of ideas. Call this vehicle, this oddly-legged, lumbering and unintelligent animal, “sound”. A certain quantity of this thing called intelligence is thus shouldered by a groaning sound. This intelligence, then, a certain amount of it, then, once securely sat, becomes something called “the true criterion” – a basis for not only a truth, but the truth, of the criterion, and moreover, not only of its own truth, – a kind of basket thing that keeps the intelligence sat on the groaning-sound – but of a “validity,” a “validity” which is, in its power to decide the (invalidity) of its object, the validity of “a particular music.” The intelligence looks down at its groaning sound, secured by its true criterion, and says: “Well, ho, before we get started, is this a piece of music or is it just a sound?” If it’s just sound – then intelligence and its true criterion quickly dismount, searching for another sound worthy of its backside. If it’s worthy – then this groaning-sound is christened “music,” and bears the full weight of intelligence! “What an honour!” (we might think, or speak aloud, if manners had not told us to hold our tongues).
What is this “particular music,” then ?
It would seem to be nothing less than the burden of sound.
Think of it this way: Intelligence sets up a true criterion on which to judge itself. But to judge itself is has to shift the object of its judgement to something else – sound, which upon being subjected to the true, self-referential criterion of intelligence, is either deemed valid of the title of “music” (or not). Intelligence cannot “validate,” i.e. judge and authenticate, itself. It needs a slave.
Sound it out this way: sound is intelligence’s bitch (according to “intelligence”).
And whose ruler are we using, anyway?
What is left of our (supposed) shard of Xenakis is but a shred, at this point, and which leaves us languishing in purgatory, a state of untruthful, criterionless, invalidated hearing of a particularily short bit of sound, this being Kim Cascone’s blackCube ().
If we were to apply Xenakis’ criterion to Cascone’s work, we’d be left saying: well, it’s rather short. The sounds are small sliver things, so the concepts cannot be very big. In fact, at this level, there doesn’t seem to be much intelligence at all in this particular work of post-digital music, if not all of microsound. The micro doesn’t have a lot of room for big thinking. –Of course this is a ridiculous and facile thing to say; we are equating the length, size and volume of a piece with its intelligence, performing a ridiculous equation of thought to the actual application of sound. What we should, if not must be doing is...
But whose ruler are we using, anyway?
Granulate Xenakis’ commandment in the immersion of Cascone’s datascape. The concept of the micro is a very abstract concept. A very connected and complicated abstraction, like the dataclouds of granular synthesis that make up the bulk of Cascone’s short explorations on this 3” square CD. If “intelligence” is “carried by the sounds,” then this is not a mark of validation or a burden of the sound-slave, bitch to the mastery of the true criterion and its scepter of validation – if “intelligence” is “carried by the sounds,” then it is carried like wind.
If “intelligence” “must” be the criterion, then it is only a criterion of itself by itself – an echo of itself is intelligence – an echo lost without an-other – sound – an-other sound – echoed – is intelligence – a self lost without sound, the carrying sounds, the wind or air that carries even the sound of its own self-proclamation: the sound of words. The intelligence of sound, when it is asserted as such, becomes music. This has the odd effect, if we run a process command on this thought, of making all rational thought music. “Must?” says Xenakis. Not “must!” – but “must?” – here he was: slightly apprehensive at realising that all logic is nothing but music. (Quick – equate a new definition of “music” to “intelligence” to eliminate the sudden deferral and difference this introduces.) And that music is nothing but sound. And that intelligence is nothing but the exhalation and intake of air: sound-waves. The wind.
He’s not sure of himself. How could he be? What he said had already drifted away. It needed permanency, as “music:” it needed writing (ahh, the old critique). Thus Xenakis (supposedly) wrote it down or had someone write it for him, so intelligence could be rendered perfect, without the failures of its slave, sound, its wanders and anonymous travels, its echoes.
The most perfect music is music unheard.
“The music of the spheres” – and of numbers.
Everything is written.
There becomes sound – still, even in writing. And Cascone’s sounds are a swirling introduction to his more complex abstractions found on dust theories 2: alchemical residue. blackCube () resonates for not nearly long enough and is but a sound-sketch. A humming, low-intensity hissing, a pooling bubblebath of semi-tones and clicks, without apparent direction, without beats, “ambient” yet unsettling, the sound of imaginary molecules, all set to algorithms, numbers twirling and pooling and swirling, always out-of-context, a sliver refracting a world of grains.
It’s a good thing we can hear it.
By tobias c. van Veen