art is dead until it decides to wake up
Autodigest might be best known around these parts for their confusing, and amusing, and to many wholly irritating record A Compressed History of Everything Ever Recorded, Vol. 2: Ubiquitous Eternal Live, which was essentially an entire record of applause, the cheering and clapping and whooping and hollering, from before and after various performances, all woven into an hour long “piece”. In some weird way, the concept did actually become something almost listenable, a sort of strangely textured and dynamic bit of weirdo dronemusic. So we were pretty excited to hear this latest in Autodigest’s Compressed History series, this one purporting to contain “Every Bootleg Ever Recorded”! The liner notes on the tape elaborates: “The Music on this cassette spans over 40 years and was originally recorded on analogue and digital equipment. We have attempted to distance ourselves as much as possible from the sound of the original recordings. Autodigest Volume 4 is an attempt to reveal all limitations of the source tapes.”
And so what we initially imagined as some insane plunderphonic cacophony of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Bob Seger and the Doobie Brothers and Hall & Oates reveals itself as something more akin to their applause record, or even more appropriately, Reynols’ Blank Tapes record. As Autodigest have collected what sounds like the leaders, and the almost blank spaces between songs, the left over tape at the end of recordings, and woven them into a swirling abstract wash of hiss and whir, laced with little fragments of actual music, buried voices, muffled melodies, layered barely there rhythms, everything seems to be way off in the distance, and while there does seem to be full on rocking going on here and there, it’s rendered nearly unrecognizable, buried beneath a haze of crackle and buzz, layer after layer after layer of tape hiss.
The “music” in this Compressed History definitely benefits from headphones. In the store or on the stereo, these sounds might tend to bleed and dissipate, blend into the sounds of daily life, but with headphones, it’s a total minimal psychedelic abstract spectral sound headtrip, until the very end of side one, when the murky sonic clouds clear and a voice calls out from the stage “Awwww, for fuck’s sake, stop letting off fireworks and shouting and screaming, I’m trying to sing a song…”
The flip side begins with a flurry of shouting, and caterwauling from the stage, which begins crystal clear but quickly dissolves into another hissy buzzy swirl of abstraction and absence, a gorgeously textured sprawl consisting of the sounds that lurk between the sounds, not just tape hiss this time, recordings of muted muffled rocking, recorded from what sounds like the dressing room beneath the stage, the B-side much more dense and dark and noisy, like some fucked up field recording (which it pretty much is), but still shot through with random voices, shards of music, bits of sirens, distant shouts, and all the other mostly non musical detritus of a surreptitiously captured live recording. Quite cool, if not entirely musical enough for most folks, but most aQuarians into far out found sounds will definitely dig this.
For some reason this one is limited to ONLY 100 COPIES!!! So grab one while you can…
It takes a certain wayward determination to run a cassette-only label in the 21st century, eschewing the ubiquitous ease of CD-Rs in favour of the clunky plastic artefact. Since 2008 [2009 – ed.], The Tapeworm has been justifying that effort with a series of releases that make explicit use of the benefits and limitations of the format, and each of the disparate works that make up this latest batch highlights, in its own way, the enduring peculiarities of magnetic tape.
For the fourth instalment in its “compressed everything” series. the UK’s[Portuguese -ed.] Autodigest collective turns its attention to both the physical properties and the social functions of tape, purporting to boil 40 years of pirate recordings down to half an hour of layered tape hiss, murky loops and muffled melodic ghosts, like a painter mixing all his pigments into a featureless brown gloop. As with all Autodigest’s work, there’s a satirical intent – commenting on the alienating degradation of modern popular culture – but it also achieves a dreamlike drift that echoes the work of American post-Noise artists such as James Ferraro.
Autodigest’s A Compressed History Of Every Bootleg Ever Recorded gives exactly what it promises, but does so in a mesmerizing, ghostly way. Tape hiss, crowd noise, screams, and distant badly recorded music are all smashed together into a roiling cascade of complex noise. The second side of the tape initially loses some of that momentum, but soon evolves into a similarly twisted (though less aggressive) soundquake. The anonymous members provide a very erudite theory behind their releases (this is actually their fourth instalment) that references Baudrilliard’s theory of hyperconformism and explains that their music is created to provide “a space for the analysis and allegory of the catastrophic state of contemporary social and cultural structures.” Usually such a mission statement is a harbinger of very, very bad music to come, but not this time- Autodigest manage to expertly balance their high-concept philosophical roots with an unexpected amount of humor and raw, visceral power. That doesn’t happen very often, but it is a convergence that has found the perfect home.
As the byline describes with rapt attention, this is “spontaneous, improvised, slow crescendo by every audience ever.” Yes, it is what it says: an entire disc of applause. A ceaseless, neverending, nay-eternal timestretch of the manic, slavish response of rawkshow sheep goggling tight spandex cockjocks, the disgusting, hamfisted crapclaps of the orgasmic bourgeoisie, the pre-pubescent squeals of Britney Spears fanclub flambés. Whatever: the show must go on, and when it ends, it ends as the only thing the show ever wanted and will want: its fresh, stinking load of applause dumped in your lap like tomorrow’s burrito and six-pack on the exit-run. Which is to say that this is quite possibly the most daring finger-flip of an avant-garde attack to hit since, well, since Sid’s punkspit, Zappa’s lights-on gyrodances, Dada’s destruction, and Breton’s audiente alienation. It’s up there, a useless disc for perfect times of utter irony in the face of a world gone mad slapping their fatty, flabby appendages together. Three cheers for the bravado of Autodigest.
Tobias C. Van Veen
Voici un disque spécialement destiné aux chroniqueurs qu+il défie par son concpet initial radical. Si l’audace artistique est amplement auscultée, décryptée, décortiquée par les journalistes encartés ou passionnés, l’audace éditoriale des labels l’est beaucoup moins, peut-être par réflexe consumériste qui veut que la démarche de chroniqueur renvoie fatalement à l’acte commercial de production d’un produit, même si la bonne volonté non lucrative des protagonistes n’est pas toujours à mettre en doute. Ce second volume de l’anthologie très spéciale de la musique selon Autodigest pourrait donc apparaître comme un suicide commercial s+il n’était pas inscrit dans une démarche partagée entre le situationnisme et et la critique musicologique. La plage unique de ce disque, uniquement composée d’applaudissements de concerts avec de variations et des intensités successives, expose la nature symbolique du disque dans une société du spectacle et de la consommation de masse. La musique dite d’avant-garde elle-même tend à devenir une nouvelle form de pop, la précédente étant tombée dans la fange nostalgico-recycleuse. C’est alors bien leur propre processus consumériste qui excite les auditeurs et non plus leur intérêt dans le contenu artistique du sopport. Ce fatalisme est exacerbé par une ironie poussée jusqu’au non-sens, jusqu’à l’invitation à activer le mode “repeat”. Ce live ubiquiste éternel est aussi un pied de nez à l’industrie du disque qui joue la victimisation doublée d’une diabosilation des effets d’un système qu’elle a elle-même engendré par pur intérêt mercantile, dans le mépris total de l’intelligence du public. Ce second volume peut donc être perçu comme une forme d’hommage à ce système autodestructeur, un disque à la fois humaniste et radical à ranger auprès du single au papier de verre “I’m Psycho for your love” de Dust Breeders.
Crónica’s arch satirists Autodigest serve up a second volume of postmodern pranks. Last year’s Volume 1 took as its theme the reduction of real huma experience to data streams and binary code, resulting in a sonic illustration of a world sucked down a technological plughole. funny and frightening as the concept was, the spluttering digital momentum of the superbly executed music was equally strong.
Volume 2 acts as a kind of punchline to the earlier work. The album purports to collect the sounds of every audience ever recorded and crush them into on hour-long piece. As with its predecessor, the conceptual basis of the piece is simultaneously silly and unsettling. Autodigest believe that as all art is crunched into numbers our responses to it can be as well. this is an idea likely to give any liberal aesthetes the creeps, if not send them flying into an apoplectic rage. Luckily, the new work is as carefully contrived as the older volume, allowing the listener to ponder these worrying themes at leisure as the piece unfolds purposefully.
Experiencing the sound of an endless clamour of stadium crowds is spookily disorientating, especially when individual cries and wails are picked out and the atmosphere changes from one of mass ecstasy and adoration to one of existencial pain and private alienation. Autodigest seem to be positing the notion that we get what we deserve, that the album’s opening and closing announcement “Thank you and goodnight!” is a farewell to all human-mediated cultural activity.
The concept of a piece of art announcing that art is dead may not be startlingly original, but Autodigest’s work might just be powerful enough to make you start to suspect that it’s true.
Accompanied by mysterious pictures of nearly deserted places, but with a blurred photo of a cheering crowd in a stadium or concert hall, Autodigest’s new installment is a tough one to, ahem, digest. Conceived as a “history of audience applause” (“Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten what exactly we were cheering for… Until we eventually stopped cheering, as nobody was playing anyway”), the hour-long track is exactly made of that: endlessly looped samples of applauses and cheers and delirious screaming. No other sounds, except for a minimal drone which actually sounds like a kind of resonance or echo of that hyper-exposed apocalyptic mess. Quoting the press sheet, “[The piece] is presented as less of an archive and more of a critical eye loaded with a few conceptual cards as foundations, from Debord to Baudrillard, from Harvey to Adorno”. Whatever. It was fun to read a few reviews which have been published meanwhile, as they spanned from “pure genius” to “pure crap” to a more diplomatic “most bizarre record of 2004”. I recall listening to an untitled work by Francisco López and thinking it was a bad joke as it was only crickets sounds throughout, then re-listening to it some years later and losing myself in it with amazement. Save for the political/conceptual differences, this is a similar case: it starts sounding like a joke, then it finally makes your bowels churn. The screaming voices, once looped and overlapping in a droning mass, pass from pop hysteria to pure tragedy – this could be a nightmare of Altamont. But on a deeper level, what makes this cd so frightening to me is the sense of futility and loneliness oozing from this sweaty über-audience – Autodigest coldly re-creates and contemplates modern nonsense as in an in vitro test.
Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap… L’ovni sonore de l’année ! Soit l’alignement ininterrompu, pendant une heure, d’applaudissements captés à la fin d’une multitude de spectacles. Un patchwork à mettre au compte d’Autodigest, un des projet les plus emblématique du “media-label” Crónica. Un mystérieux collectif (ou artiste solo) se faisant un malin plaisir de dynamiter le rapport à la musique selon une philosophie esthétique se réclamant autant de Baudrillard et David Harvey que de Debord… Après avoir donné le concert le plus court jamais enregistré (une demi-seconde, montre en main, à Porto en juin dernier !) puis avoir compressé un nombre hallucinant d’œuvres musicales sur un seul CD, formant ainsi une sorte d’apocalypse bruitiste, Autodigest s’attaque maintenant au coda ultime de toute oeuvre, son acclamation par un public fervent. Passé les premières minutes d’étonnement puis d’enthousiasme (comme le rire, ces ovations distillent une ferveur très communicative) et enfin de stupeur (mais qu’est que c’est que ce truc ?!), on fini par entendre autre chose ! Par percevoir des variations qui transforment ces standing-ovations en une étrange symphonie… Longtemps après, lorsque nous sommes définitivement immergés dans ce brouhaha, des ondulations se révèlent et ces clameurs finissent par ressembler un peu au bruit de la mer que l’on croit percevoir lorsque l’on se rive un coquillage sur l’oreille… Oeuvre conceptuelle par excellence, ce disque est vraiment un “objet” à part qui n’a d’égal que certaines productions des labels Foton et Firework Edition (Leif Elggren). Bravo, re-clap clap et fermez le banc !
Why applaud? To make a noise, to show approval, because it’s part of the social contract of seeing a performance. (The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, who has hearing problems, reportedly requests that his audience shows its appreciation by snapping fingers instead of clapping.) Applause is an artless noise; it reinforces the power relationship between the receptive mass slapping its palms together and the (relatively) focused expertise on the stage. It also can be a demand for a present everyone knows will be awarded, a way to call back a performer for the inevitable encore, the lagniappe without which we consider our experience incomplete.
If you want to hear applause for its own sake, there’s Autodigest’s A Compressed History of Everything Ever Recorded, Vol. 2: Ubiquitous Eternal Live (Ash International/Crónica). The back cover describes it as a “spontaneous, improvised, slow crescendo by every audience ever.” It is exactly an hour of applause, bookended by a commanding voice twice announcing, “Thank you! Good night!” It’s not just the kind of ooh-that’s-good applause heard on Burma’s live albums; it’s riotous, maniacal, progressively louder and more rapturous clapping and cheering from an audience that demands more. Shrieks leap out of it like dolphins. As the shouting and clapping redoubles and layers over itself, faint patterns emerge. They become overtones, notes, even faint tunelets. The applause can become the featured attraction, and does to anyone who buys or hears the album. It can go on forever. “Best played in ‘Repeat’ mode,” a note says.
There’s one other brilliant joke on Ubiquitous Eternal Live: When you put the CD in a computer, it identifies itself as “I am sitting in a room.” That’s the title of a 1966 piece by composer Alvin Lucier, in which he recorded himself reading a short text about what he was doing (and stuttering a bit), then played it back in the room where he’d recorded it and recorded that, and repeated the process until the decay of the source material and the room’s resonant frequencies had together evolved into a single faintly fluctuating tone that sounds like the overtones of the applause. (Mission of Burma’s Miller actually did something conceptually similar on his 1990 album Oh (guitars, etc . . . ): “F.W.R.,” short for “The Fun World Reductions,” is a series of playbacks of Burma’s recording “Fun World,” doubling the speed each time, until it’s no more than a quarter-second burst of trebly static.)
On the front cover of Ubiquitous Eternal Live, there’s a picture of an empty bed being hit by morning sunlight; the audience is still out clapping, or maybe we’re the audience. Behind the disc itself, there are two X-rays of hands. An audience’s unsated desire for more can make them slam together hard, hundreds of times. What will it do to those bones?
At first, it makes you think of a bad joke or a divertissement: an infinite round of cheer and applause sampled from live recordings, more or less the same for long minutes. Then you notice it: there’s a drone – a dark, deep growl – lurking under all this mess. The low buzz slowly grows, while the voices start sounding tense, saturated with negative energy in dire need of exploding. And explode they do, in the shape of “soloists” (male and female fans) screaming their lungs out of bodies like if they were skin-burnt in hell flames; this progressively apocalyptic mess literally ices me (no pun intended). Such a “reality based” composition is certainly uncommon; I can only recall Ror Wolf’s “Der ball ist rund”, made with layers of football TV speakers’ voices – but “Ubiquitous Eternal Live” is sonically devastating, nerve-shattering and right to the target, which is the description of the totally idiotic behaviour and utter desperation intrinsically present in all kinds of people – especially when amassed. We’re all destined to be eaten by the “blob” that’s everyday life’s brain deterioration. Autodigest is a genius.
Consumers now find nothing expensive. Nevertheless, they suspect that the less anything costs, the less it is being given them… When thrown in free, the now debased works of art… are secretly rejected by the fortunate recipients, who are supposed to be satisfied by the mere fact that there is so much to be seen and heard. Everything can be obtained.
– Theodore Adorno The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception
On first listening, this recording might fool you into thinking that the release is merely a very clever, conceptual dig at the present day circumstances of the music industry.
Reading somewhat like a manifesto, the press-release hails “the collapse of music as we know it,” and describes Ubiquitous Eternal Live as an audio illustration of this collapse. The press release suggests that our relationship with music has been changed “beyond redemption” through music’s widely spreading availability and points out bitterly (and truthfully) that we “can [now] download music much faster than we can listen to it.” Ash International and Cronica are not the first people to speculate that ease of availability devalues culture; The press release openly cites Theador Adorno as a conceptual cornerstone to the ideas behind developing Ubiquitous Eternal Live, along with Guy Debord and other “conceptual cards.”
Autodigest’s first release, AUTODIGEST – A COMPRESSED HISTORY OF EVERYTHING EVER RECORDED, VOL. 1:, “proposed an aural illustration of current syndromes in digital compression which abandon fidelity, subtlety, and complexity in favour of speed, efficiency, and endless storage capabilities,” and so was exploring some of the sonic deficiencies of highly compressed music – the inevitable consequence of everything being encoded in MP3 format, so that we can have “the ability to stuff 20,000 (or whatever) songs” in our front pockets.VOL. 2 has evolved directly out of this first work, but the concepts have arguably become more complex in Ubiquitous Eternal Live. On first listening, it’s not easy to see how hearing over an hour of progressively more hysterical audience clapping and applause is a cultural investigation of our contemporary relationship to music; even less easy to see how this work interrogates how we value music in the new contexts provided by completely altered distribution systems. That is, it’s not easy to see this until you realise that you can’t use the recording as ” an endless private soundtrack for one’s earphones,” the way most music is now experienced.
As you listen to Ubiquitous Eternal Live, you realise it can’t be comfortably thrown on in the background while you do the dishes; it can’t be slung into the player while you drive somewhere; and it probably doesn’t work well in a discman either. The only way to listen to this recording, is to sit down, remove all other distractions, and envelop yourself in what is a very masterfully collaged and seamless piece of audio work. The crescendo builds increment by increment; what starts as the tense apprehension at the start of a concert, becomes the screaming, mass-hysteria of some kind of apocalyptic terror. The human voice is captured in some of its most raw and cathartic moments here, as fans scream and holler for a conspicuously absent “main act.” Then you realise, this is the main act. Perhaps it’s greatest achievement as a political statement on “the state of music at the beginning of the 21st century,” is to simply resist distribution along all the regular channels. This recording will not be put on in the background in bars for people to quietly enjoy while they discuss the results of the league football match. Banks won’t buy it to play in their branches while customers fill out their direct debits. It has, through the very nature of its own sonic language, defied the possibility of being quiet, easily disseminated audio wallpaper. It is, however, of and in itself, a very intense and enlightening listening experience.
Reading through various theorists and pages on this work, which is a joint release between Ash International (UK) and Cronica Electronica, (Portugal) one thing puzzled me: why the image of the deserted bed on the front cover of the CD? And then I remembered Guy Debord, paragraph 21, Separation Perfected, The Society of the Spectacle:
The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.
The back cover of the CD refers to The Society of the Spectacle, and asserts that “it is the process of consumption, not its object, that we are currently enjoying.” Perhaps to interrogate this idea, to explore what eternal consumption, spectacle and expectation might sound like, is to refute the desire to “sleep.” This work is a refusal to make something that can go on the intercom of any company in between the reglar announcements of “we appreciate your call,” and so on. This music will not be played in hotel lobbies or lifts, barely there, seemingly invisible, maintaining comfortable yet false atmospheres. This work is very much awake, saying “Hey! Sit up and listen to me!” Regrettably though, this might only be noticed by the people who already know and enjoy the theories whose ideas comprise its conceptual bedrock.
Reviewed by Felicity Ford
Felicity Ford is a sound-artist and writer. Her most beloved possession is her shiny, red accordion, but her advancement on this instrument is hampered by a frequent desire to play with the internet instead of practising arpeggios.
Referencing postmodern theorist David Harvey’s concept of “time-space compression” as well as a soupçon of Jean Baudrillard, Autodigest can be interpreted either as a sonic illustration of culture consuming itself or a kind of archive of byte sized flickers from the dying embers of cultural diversity, depending on each syllable you choose to stress in the word “digest”. Luckily for the listener, there is a lot more in this album than a neat idea. The sounds of whooshing datastreams sucked into the black hole of info meltdown may be horribly prescient conceptually, but they are great sounds nevertheless.
As you may imagine compressing all the recorded sound of the past 100-plus years would be no easy, or for that matter ‘quiet’, task. This conceptual piece is a heavy listen – deep reverb caverns are intersected with tiny clipped particles of noise. This then rolls into tiny high-pitched noise fragments that bring to mind the ripping apart of all matter as everything funnels into a black hole. Expect intense shifts in tone, bizarre compression and expansion and unexpected sonic phenomena.
Just a flick of the switch and you’re right into an absurdly efficient sonic end of the world or, even better, the audio equivalent of the Big Bang. As the title suggests, this is music dealing with compression; nevertheless, among the incredible accelerations and enormous expansions heard in this “History”, you can reasonably think about hidden space caves and obscure galaxies without sounding like a Star Trek (or Tangerine Dream, for that matter) aficionado, as breathtaking suspensions and harsh awakenings run together like there’s no tomorrow throughout the CD. Impossible to catch, never giving an inch of confidence to even the most courageous listeners, this artifact avoids “dark ambient” and “post-techno” stereotypes in favour of a no-genre fast recollection, similar to life frames running in the eyes of a man in extreme life danger: if he manages to save himself, surely he will remember those moments for a long time. Yeah, I’m waiting for the second volume!