Sonic Contents: Why I Let the Litmixer Die and Other Stories

Sonic Contents: Why I Let the Litmixer Die and Other Stories

Trace Reddell

Trace Reddell introduces Sonic Contents.

I’ll be up front and say that the new content you’re encountering here isn’t all that new, and much of it reflects on works that were originally created years ago. But sometimes it is an editor’s job to sit on things for a while. I admit that’s a bit of a perverse philosophy for something calling itself a “review.”

But over the years, I’ve found myself particularly annoyed with the concept of the “review,” particularly where audio recordings are concerned. In popular, academic, and independent presses, it seems that the music review has come to be synonymous with the simultaneous itself. This simultaneity is, of course, a trick; reviewers and journalists receive “advanced” copies of soon-to-be-released books, CDs, DVDs, and computer games. Only on re-release have many excellent and important recordings come under the eye of recent scrutiny, and that usually with an eye toward package design. Take the new Clash “singles” collection - a bloated NINETEEN CD set retailing for close to $80 a pop. Each disc sports a meticulous reproduction of the original 45, and includes only two cuts, an “a” and “b” side. And to think some complained about Sandinista. The price tag of the set is the most disingenuous part of it, as the Clash had always been about giving you more music than you were used to paying for. They were adamant that London Calling come out for the price of a single album, and they got their way. The three discs of Sandinista were initially supposed to sell at bargain bin prices. They wanted space on their albums to experiment and try out different sounds, treat albums as documents of all manner of sound explorations, and they encouraged their listeners to indulge them by not gouging them at the register. The point is, it becomes exceedingly difficult to talk about The Clash, to give their media output review beyond the fact of its mere re-emergence onto the market. The review is governed by the pace of the market, with even negative reviews still drawing attention to possible consumables, and therefore serving as a mode of advertising; perhaps this is marketing as negative capability.

The four new essays presented here in the “sonic contents” issue of music/sound/noise have aged as well as the objects of their review. This ranges from DJ Spooky’s first book, Rhythm Science, to Kerouac’s Visions of Cody, and includes Dylan, the Sublime Frequencies recording label, President Bush, Zizek, and Harry Smith. It has taken some time to assemble just the right set of new writings, and cast them back in a meaningful way on other Electronic Book Review content for a review of the review, so to speak.

As editorial objects, the new essays are records of awakening. It has been my extreme pleasure over the past few years to watch the essays by Marcus Boon and tobias c. van Veen take shape in leisurely morning conference sessions, usually on merely the first cup of coffee. Come to think of it, my sense of most of the new work published here has taken shape on the verge of caffienation - never quite there yet, when thought is still dubby and vision glossed. This is literal in the case of my interest in the ideas of Frank Seeburger, whose descriptions of systems of addiction and the nature of event have charged many an early hour coffee house chat, waking up into a complex sonic network. Seeburger’s “Why 9/11 Never Happened”, along with Riley’s essay on Kerouac, are the most recent pieces to come my way, and provided just the right points of balance for a mix with the essays by van Veen and Boon. Together, a few key themes emerge: a concern with what happens when our idea of “identity” becomes connected to the use of musical and other sound technologies; an articulation of several ways in which sound participates in the imaginative construction and epistemological processing of shared social spaces; and multifaceted approaches to the technologies of sound, the processes of media production, performance and distribution, and the ways in which these technologies and media form cultures of listeners.

“Sonic Contents” is the Goth issue of music/sound/noise, less the offspring of Round One, published way back in 2001, and of which I offer a kind of “Greatest Hits” further below. No, “Sonic Contents” is more like a spectre, as in The Spectre, a shapeshifting superhero ghost. Everything’s a bit dusty around here, but bear with me, I grew up in West Texas, and these things have stood the test of time. By “things” I mean the various writings included here that are hard to classify as reviews. These are complex reverberations, responses to having lived with something for a while, and I have let them fade a bit in order to reveal the underlying textures, the deep-in-the-bass but not down-in-the-mouth soundplays of DJ Roses for Emily Angel, aka the Multilingual Kid. Graffiti systems underscore the identity moves of Afrofuturist performance across the globe screen. 9/11, erased from popular reality, re-emerges in the form of Bob Dylan as philosophical muse while Kerouac scratches protest songs.

Our four featured writers treat spectrality as a mode of sonic ontology, an idea that I hope to further reinforce through the republished work drawn both from within and without the EBR archives. I’ve compiled a “Greatest Hits” collection as other items for comment, reflection, and discussion, mostly from the 2001 “music/sound/noise” release, plus Larry McCaffery’s double-edition along with my long overdue riposte. Among this replayed content is my own prior publication, “Litmixer: The Literary Remediator.” The Litmixer sits like something on a pawnshop shelf. The lights go on, but there’s no sound anymore, and you’re left with only the manual to read and the sounds to imagine for yourself. As a motif and a strategy, litmixing has merely become more distributed, maybe more embued in our sense of Web reading and writing communities. My hope is that “Sonic Contents” will provide a space in which a network of litmixing writers might together fashion a sonic philosophy, or perhaps set multiple sound philosophies into a shared mix, through ongoing overdubs, or glosses, remixes, and ripostes. The name of this album is Become Remediator, and it’s priced right for the virtual bargain bin.

Litmixing was always just a strategy anyway, something waiting to be transferred to other remediators invested in the automatic generation of aphoristic raps, hauntings, and electronic voice phenomena - that is, writing. The writing/sounding object gathers dust while the spectre morphs and distributes itself across multiple sites, no longer a tool, not even an instrument, but a way of approaching the sound of philosophy and its others, for instance, literature, or writing, or music, or sound, or noise.

Compiling cuts initially played outside of the general boundaries of EBR, “Sonic Contents” includes something new to Electronic Book Review: “outbound threads.” I have collected three reprints of material from other Web sites and prior publication: Erik Davis’s important talk on the acoustic nature of cyberspace from 1997, an essay on Lee “Scratch” Perry from the same year, and Rothenberg’s “The Phenomenology of Reverb.” These works illuminate the key themes of our featured new content, as well as point our review well across the blip of the past decade. I wish to thank our first outbound authors, Erik Davis and David Rothenberg, for permission to fade up their voices into this awakening messenger.

New Content

tobias c. van Veen, “Rhythm Science, Part I

Marcus Boon, “Sublime Frequencies’ Ethnopsychedelic Montages

Frank Seeburger, “9/11 Never Happened, President Bush Wouldn’t Let It: Bob Dylan Replies to Henri Bergson

James Riley, “’I am a Recording Angel’: Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody and the Recording Process

Replayed Content: music/sound/noise’s Greatest Hits

Larry McCaffery, “White Noise / White Heat, or Why the Postmodern Turn in Rock Music Led to Nothing but Road” (2004/1989)”

Paul C. Rapp, “A Somewhat Legal Look at the Dawn and Dusk of the Napster Controversy” (2001)

Allison Hunter, “Primary Sounds” (2001)

Elise Kermani, “The Sonic Spectrum” (2001)

Skip Laplante, “Responding to Kermani’s ‘Wak Auf’” (2001)

Trace Reddell, “Litmixer: The Literary Remediator” (2001)

Remastered Outside Content

Erik Davis, “Acoustic Cyberspace
Based on a talk delivered at the Xchange conference, Riga, Latvia, November 1997

Erik Davis, “Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry
A version of this piece originally appeared in 21C, issue 24, 1997

David Rothenberg, “The Phenomenology of Reverb
This essay originally appeared in Hermenaut, March 15, 2000

Joseph Tabbi:

The electronic book review initially defined the word “review” in the sense of a “retrospective”; see “A Review of Books in the Age of Their Technological Obsolescence.” The editors’ opinion on the timing of ebr reviews are given in the introduction to the thread, Fictions Present.