Radio & Aural Destabilization

(To appear in De Gekke Kooie Krant - The Crazy Cage Zine - in solidarity & support of the once again silent Radio Patapoe in Amsterdam and a paper delivered at de Appel's SOUNDLESS / SEAMLESS exhibition: sound / texts / installations / videos
Tuesday May 19 Dinsdag
a word / text / dj event)

by bart plantenga

1. Exploring the Disorienting & Inspiring Openness
To find the mood I decided to write this piece on the set, during my radio show on a pirate radio station that was located in the Silo, a giant fortress-like, reinhabited granary silo, squatted by artists and punks. It housed studios, a cafe, performance space, a radio station, and looms Medieval and ominous along the River Ij in an industrial strip in Amsterdam's north.

I pick up my music, buy Grolschs at the Shell station and walk to Radio Patapoe with an old taperecorder exposed to the traffic, headphones on to hear exactly what the machine is "hearing" in the rain - that wOOsh of traffic pushing through rain - "...sound comes from everywhere, unbidden. My brain seeks it out, sorts it out, makes me feel the immensity of the universe..." (David Toop). The rusty gate is locked again. I spot someone in a doorway who lets me cut through the bike stalls so I can balance along the cement ledge on the Silo's riverside to the metal door that allows entry into this musty cavernous shaft. I climb 5 flights of rickety rusty, taped-up steps - I think of Vertigo's belltower scenes - "metal phase echoes of footsteps moving along an alleyway, wind in drainpipes..." (David Toop) I unlock the padlock, enter the studio where every horizontal surface is covered with beer bottles, empty dolmens that mark the passage of (festive) times experienced here.

This dank HQ of sound is, as Sir Francis Bacon (1624) said: "a Sound-House where we practice and demonstrate all sounds and their generation..."; the equipment basically held together with hope and duct tape. Some things work: 1 of 2 turntables, 2 of 4 tapedecks, 1 of 2 CD players - but which? One deck eats a tape right away. I sit down, uncap a beer, put in another tape and let it unwind, and gaze out the window - the tape's a rehash of an old show with a new spin - Queen Juliana speeches on turntable II slowed down, backmasked, mixing out of Glenn Branca's "The World Upside Down" mixed into ocean surf which blends into Gavin Bryars' "The Sinking of the Titanic" when - I need to pee (the cold - you can see your breath lay itself down on your cassettes). Its either pee in a bucket in the silo's main shaft (I look down - a net would perhaps catch me) that is so pungent with aged piss it gags you while peeing; or I can pee out the window which could send me into severe vertigo. I kneel, shivering in the sill, see "Het Steenen Hoofd", "The Stone Heads," a configuration of old concrete pillars of a pier long ago removed, now appropriated as an official preserve of "art" sitting in the cold Ij.

Then another old radio show tape from which arises David Toop's "Bodies of Water" into which emerges a reverb-enhanced and slowed down Reverend Ike (capitalist Christianity at its baldest) "acccccept whaaaaaat yooooooouu neeeeed" mixed to the point of perfect amalgam; I can't believe I'm hearing something I have done which makes me smile - perfect, beautiful and totally UNconscious. TSSSH - another Grolsch. My breath falls dankly, saturated with grey cement dust - Urban Sax' "Fractions Sur Le Temps Dans L'Eau", Hafler Trio's "Fuck", Aphex Twin's "The Sinking of The Titanic", Gainsbourg's "L'Eau a la Bouche" and now we're "psychic travellers driven by desire and curiosity" (Hakim Bey,T.A.Z.) in a subworld of shared frequencies where ghosts of distant voices are heard through headphones. Or, as Toop described KLF's great samplodelic symphony, Chill Out, "tuned in to organic and synthetic rhythms normally inaudible to the human ear without radio receivers, hydrophones, parabolic sound reflectors, satellite listening roaring across the soundfield...waves on the seashore..."

I veered into radio in 1986, as a standard "alternative" dj at WFMU, listener-sponsored radio in the NY-NJ listening area, where freeform, that loose (but not unjustifiable) association of various music(s) into a more fluid, less categorizable whole, is like improvisation, it encourages - almost enforces - the incongruous and beautiful meeting of musical forms at that magical intersection, that anticipatory instant, the segue. Thus djs can create an atmosphere (call it "auditory dérive") where listeners are surprised - sound as Zen satori - to discover new ways of hearing from the collaged infiltration of one sound source by another. This is further encouraged by WFMU's massive record library - artists aren't categorized by style or genre, but alphabetically. This means djs predisposed to certain kinds of music in their searches come across music they may never have heard and, as often as not, their curiosity, leads them to wander away from style preconceptions into uncharted sounds thus further encouraging the adventure, the cross-fertilization of genres and cultures.

2. Wreck This Mess Compilation [liner notes for the Wreck This Mess / Radio Libertaire CD in Paris]

"... varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling ... must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb, and flow of the music ..."
* Hildegaard von Bingen

Dub Syndicate in concert: The speakers emitted deep, swelling subterranean tremors - dilated, diffuse, insistent like a heavy train rumbling through a dense fog, into the cauldron of the solar plexus until finally - vertigo, awe, breathlessness - somewhere between hangover and rite of passage; my partner was mugged by the music; it pressed consciousness from her body. There she lay, puddle of pretty unconsciousness at my feet. Further into the evening, mate in full upright revival, a young man dancing, suddenly withered and collapsed and then a taffy-legged woman wilted away, eyes lost in her forehead.

Dub causes wax to dislodge from the innermost portions of our tympanic nerves - fomenting disorientation, derationalized music, blurring - sound begins residing both forward and back, as well as inside one's head (head as drum) where sound can wreak its havoc, invoke boundlessness, alter relationships to body, environment, desire, and linear time. Woofers begin to fibrilate, shred like paper flowers, let go of all moorings and we realize speakers (like our minds' ears) were not designed to accommodate such sonic tremors.

Audio shaman "Scratch" Perry believes dub is meant to "cause a confusion." He has scratched psychotomimetic loops and kinks, atmospheres, mad laughter, gunshots, religious invocation into dub for 30 years to create eerie multi-tentacled ghostly insinuations.

The subworld is the aural nether where these sounds grumble along below sea level, snugly hugging the contours of territory with great spectral and counterfrictional lassitude, beyond "economies of desire," below fetishized thresholds of pain, near the edge of all audibility. Where its signature sound (pungent alloy of ephemeral noise, TV ghosts, found sound, archival musics, distended metarhythms, nomadic radio frequencies, hidden currents, mind-altering echo, natural ambience, auto-piloted composition, psychodynamic mood enhancement, and disembodied voices), rumbles along at the somnabulatory frequency of 30 hertz. Like a dense and spacious iceberg, scraping across a parking lot, immersive dub produces large vibrations in objects.

This vast substratum's denizens, remain behind their turntables, in the dark; lit only by constellations of L.E.D. pinpoints strung across mixing boards. Here they evade the prefabricated pitfalls of fame, the knick of the knack of product endorsement, the standard "fandemonious" infantilization of stars, the vectors of conventional power, prefering to subsume ego in meaningful patterns found in noise.

Mark Stewart and the Maffia's post-situationist deconstructions, feedback, cut-up polemical wall of throbbing noise is the essence of anxiety-as-terror on a discotheque floor. "As The Veneer Of Democracy Begins To Fade" - the world upside down 15 years years ahead of its time never sounded better - this is where the history of Wreck This Mess begins.

In 1986, dark music became celebratory for me. Transcendental gloom (Doris Lessing calls it "divine discontent") is a noir fictional psychonavigation through tattered rhizomes and the dingy corridors of Burroughs' nervous system. Gebrauchsmuzik for internal organs that processes the hypermediation malaise - information decomposing into data, meaning into false emotions.

Unlike concert halls, cinemas, video arcades, street theatre or sports, radio goes anywhere, everyday - flexible, nomadic, proletarian, wallpaper, subliminal. Radio precedes your arrival and prepares your environment as ubiquitous, prescient and subconscious soundtrack of life. Radio is everywhere and yet, radio is nothing. Lucky then, for the pirates, independents, and community radio stations where sound still flourishes, as sacred fun. Amazing then how little effulgence fills the ether. As if creativity is the enemy of commerce - maybe it is, and maybe they are rightfully worried.

In 1988 I migrated to Paris, got a show at the anarchist station, Radio Libertaire. They're engagé/enragé but also talky, talk all day long. Then I listened to my old show tapes - I never shut up either. "Wreck" means causing the ruin of any structure - iconoclasm. "This mess" means the marketplace-reshaped inner ear. Consumption aesthetics, aesthetic consumption. WTM is an abstract explosion inside utilitarian radio. A response to trop de blabla everywhere; a strategy of contrary seamlessness - against time without pleasure, labor without meaning, menace without fun; no talk, no breaks, no announcements, weather, time, news, gossip, playlists - unclog the aural and imaginal pathways. Prodigal uninterrupted sonic voyages, where one sound integrates with another, a daisy chain of overlapping instants, conversing, collaging, mutating. Seamlessness derationalizes song as passive product - music becomes more of what it is. Anonymity became a signature, absence an obverse presence - wallpaper became wall, wall became structure.

3. Urban Funk
The Urban Funk Campaign is something much more evil. It was employed by the CIA Audio Harassment Division in Vietnam and Laos. The idea: bombard the local citizenry with sound instead of bombs. The desired effect: rouse the populace from their hideouts and destabilize their resolve.

In 1972, 13 choppers were equipped with Sound Curdler Systems (costing $50,000 each). The Curdler is a small oscillator unit that is capable of hundreds of hours of uninterrupted operation from a simple 9v. battery. It emits a shrill pulsating shriek at 120 decibels at 10 meters. (Standing on a runway during takeoff of a 747 measures 112db, in other words, potential aural harm.)

The system is also called a "People Repeller" when used with a hand portable US HPS1 Public Address System with a 350 watt amp and anti-feedback microphone. This system delivered intelligible speech over 2.5 miles. The system also came with an optional siren system with built-in wail/yelp audio frequency oscillator with adjustments to frequencies from 500-5000hz.

Code-named "Wandering Soul" because the audio engineers spent weeks recording eerie sounds based on their exposure to local music, foklore, ghost stories. The eerie sounds are similar to the soundeffects employed during a radio mystery play, but transposed to live theatre of Vietnam. These sounds were intended to represent souls of the enemy dead who had failed to find the peace of a proper burial. The wailing soul cannot be put to rest until this proper burial takes place.

The purpose of these intrusive sounds was to enhance panic instincts and facilitate crowd dispersal and the disruption of troop strategies, village chanting, rites, routines, and celebrations. The target audience (victims) are forced to drop everything to cover their ears. At night the system was at its most effective as it harassed the sleeping and preyed on the sensibilities and superstitions of the target population. It was further intended to destabilize beliefs, disorient the human targets, and enhance intra-community irritability.

The 10,000-watt airborne systems were mounted on the choppers so as to best project sound downward in a pyramid apexing at 3,500 meters altitude. This was the technological heart of psychological warfare.

In 1973 the Urban Funk Campaign tested super/sub-sonic and ultra/infra sound with a weapon system called a Squark Box which creates 2 simultaneously inaudible ultrasound tones at pitches of 16 and 16.002khz. These 2 ultrasonic waves of highly directional beams are aimed to coincide at the target point. This interference pattern creates a sub-beat of 2hz outside normal auditory perception and when played at immense volumes causes ars, shoulders, chest wall and buttocks to resonate. It converts the target body into a human tuning fork. Symptoms include headache, visual distortion, epidermal tinglings. the skin actually gets heated by localized ultrasound and gently cooked." Other effects are the formation of cavities or bubbles in the body, choking, excessive salivation, testicular pain, nausea and giddiness - a technological extension of witchcraft. And when combined with rapid flickering hi-intensity lights it caused systematic disorientation, sensory destabilization. Prototype for the modern dance floor where for an admission price, revelers willingly submit the ennui of their everyday bodies to the photo/auditory-epileptic effects of intense stroboscopic light. Synchronized at between 10-30cps - photoepilepsy will occur during intense prolonged conflict exposure.

The lessons from this campaign have since been employed by the U.S. Armed Forces in Panama where in 1990 former CIA employee, Manuel Noriega, barricaded himself in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City. For 10 days the Army bombarded him with pop music, loud hits, message songs such as Martha and the Vandellas' "Nowhere to Run" and "You're No Good" by Linda Rondstadt. In 1991 heavy metal by such bands as Metallica was employed to harass the Iraqui troops into surrendering during the Iraq Crisis. During the siege at Waco, Texas, ATF agents employed sounds such as Tibetan chants (deep unsettling growls) to unnerve the Branch Davidians. Other songs employed were Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" and Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Were Made For Walkin'."

Today the effects of sound on human psychology are not lost on the employees of Muzak, the latest rock bands, or advertising agencies. In fact, documenting the effects of song and noise go back to the times of Odysseus who was warned by Circe about the marvelous singing Sirens who could make a man forget everything and ultimately steal his very life away. Skeletons of those who'd succumbed washed ashore and piled up in mounds where the Sirens sat singing. The first musicians were gods while today's djs play god.

4. Sub-Para-Dubabolical [Liner notes for the "Reservoir Dub" CD compiled by Black Sifichi, dj at Radio Nova and JF Bizot, editor of Actuel in Paris]
"Some people are searching for something different, something unknown, something darker than grey, louder than an espresso machine, and a challenge to decipher."
* Black Sifichi

Vibe is slang for the invisible emanations of feeling that operate between receptive souls. Vibration is the emotional, physical and acoustical agitation of stagnant space by aesthetics, passion, jazz, dub; the amplitude of emotion that sits atop every bass string, trumpet valve, and looped rhythm. As Joscelyn Godwin described it in her "Speculative Music": "The whole universe is in a state of vibration; in fact it is a fair speculative position ... that it is nothing but vibration. There is an unbroken continuum of vibrations running from the infinitely large and slow to the infinitely fast and small ... Approached in this way, our perception of sound becomes something of cosmic significance for us ..."

Humans are genetically predisposed to seek out transcendence - or kill a boring Friday night. People continue to chew, snort, smoke, inject, beat or blow almost everything, be it extracted from nature or the lab, to get into some beyond, induce trance states - time-space perception alteration; deep feelings of cosmic unity, lucid thought - by tweaking neuro-transmitters which allow tangibility to become insubstantiality; boundaries and prejudices get blurred, are liberated from the mind's "material matrix" as paleontologist-theologian, Teilhard de Chardin once described it.

Think of the spliff's smoker's exhalation of blue spectral fumes tagging its surroundings, defining space. Dub is the first ambient music of ganja because it has the ability to aurally mimic narco-ecstatic feelings. It tags our space as it emerges from inside, reeking havoc with exteriors, holding mental territory for ransom as it emanates beyond bodily limitations so that the awesome "out there" is brought in and the in is drawn out. This is its magic, its subterranean aspect - the ability to maintain a seamless abstract; mammoth, yet implosively intimate; "inner music," beyond polemic, enjoyable yet provocative, inscrutable, (mystery, texture, density, stratas of meaning - a harmonious discord melted right into its grooves) ever mutating, migrating, gypsy, cyber, mestizo and homeless - art, in other words.

Hearing is our most temporally accurate sense; vision our most spatially accurate. And dub mimics these psychotropic time-space dislocations; present becomes a future in a reprocessed past. Time goes fluid and into a non-calendrical "intimate immensity." Space goes tentative, non-geometric, sonically-defined.

The modern recording studio, with its faders, knobs, and microchips deployed in the role of psychotropically-drenched cells in synaptical space, creates a subworld where musics are destratified defactionalized, genre-obliterated and engaged in inveterate play.

Echoes ripple outward at 331 meters per second and into our conch shell shaped ears bouncing off pinna neuro-transmitters which gauges the precise locations of a sound's source - in vain because in dub echoes reverberate back upon themselves to jam with one another and further disintegrate standard musical syntax and smudge precise instrumentation.

Imagine a stone tossed in a pond, see the concentric emanating waves. But then the waves hit shoreline and fold back into one another to produce a crunched accordion effect of sound, ricocheting from one ear to the other dislodging wax from the innermost portion of our tympanic nerve - a visualization of the aural havoc that reverb can wreak on the stable human ear.

But what exactly is dub? Dub is Jamaican "roots" slang for versioning, doubling, duplicating and was originally a reggae strategy (B-sides of old 45s) of reconfiguring songs by stripping their vocals and then customizing them with stratum upon substratum of echo, delay, and interspliced samples; transforming a song into a remixed rambunctious instro version with a new sense of timing (inspired by ganja? meditation? tropical heat?) Perfect post-modern music: cool, meditative, danceable, speculative grooves, relaxes while it nails your head into the floor.

Into the future through the mythical with dub: because dub breathes, sweats, re-creates, re-constitutes, re-mixes and constantly re-inspires as it expands space by plowing deep vibrating silences between sounds. These empty spaces, these synaptic sectors serve as exposed orifices, tympanic playgrounds for producers to play in; the deep breathing space where contemplation and invention thrive. Or as Godwin explains: "...expansion into bigger and bigger spaces slows down temporal events, to the degree that a single vibration, or rotation, of our planet takes a whole day, and that of a galaxy, millions of years."

Dub occurred "accidentally" in the presence of King Tubby, electronics engineer and sound system operator, who was fidgeting with sound's components and producing "crucial" 4-track shack attacks. And, along with some other "Doctors" of bass-bound sound (Prince Far I, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Prince Jammy and some others), forever altered the methodology of musical construction by unhinging intoxicating rhythms from gravity, utilizing the hyper-post-modern tactics of appropriation, dissembling, sampling, and détourned function to skew the vestibular apparati which monitors aural signals, apprising the brain of the position of the body with respect to gravity, sound and other forces thus most certainly reshaping our inner-most ear. Dub is a sound exchange. The re-mix was born here.

The "doctors" used pre-historique tools to sonically re-sculpt their 'instrumental' tracks into 'mental' tracks by converting linear chug-a-chug-a, folksy reggae music (beholden to pop song construction) into urban spatial jazz. A bass and drum and effects voyage that sends shivers and "sympathetic vibrations" down that most "bass-ic" of neurological bass strings - the spinal cord.

The subworld is the aural nether where these sounds grumble along below sea level, snugly hugging the contours of territory with great spectral and counterfrictional lassitude, way below fetishized thresholds of pain, near the edge of all audibility; sub-bass frequencies. This is where its signature sound (pungent alloy of ephemeral noise, found sound, archival musics, distended rhythms, echo, auto-piloted composition, psychodynamic mood enhancement, and disembodied voices), rumbles along at the somnambulatory frequency of 30 hertz.

The metarhythmic subworld of hidden currents is produced by an enclave of neuronauts, marginal homebodies, bassomatics, soundwave surfers, macrobiotechnicians, and electro-prosthetic hypnoriddimtists who extrapolate and amplify the neural-organic sound of the 21st century - producer as ambassador, audio-pharmacologist, and surrealist. They make revolution and noise into a subworld unity. The struggle for individual rights and autonomy are the broadcast messages that reverberate outward from the independent "Sound Systems." Dub is a free man's music. It's experiments are its basic principles and legacy. They have made of this web of data that some might call consciousness, into a kind of clandestine sanctum of the inner ear where musical sounds can become the phenomenon of "hearing music in one's head." Brainwave music for the airwaves.

by Wreck This Mess: sampled from his "Subworld Dubafarianism: Intersecting Exterior & Interior Disturbance," and "Seamless Sound / Consumerless Music." Dj at Radio Patapoe and author of Confessions of a Beer Mystic andWiggling Wishbone. Recently appeared in Rasta, Reggae & Revolution (Simon & Schuster).

bart plantenga
zeilstraat 23 / II
1075 SB Amsterdam
The Netherlands
fax: 020 427 75 37

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