Predicting the Past

Commemoration

In “A Still Life of Thought” I brought Persil and The Pelvis together as markers of the beginning of an era. I applied metabletics, a one-man-science invented by Jan Hendrik van den Berg. Metabletics deals with the change of mentalities through the ages. Van den Berg states that the mentality leading up to a significant event would need forty years to be spread among the broad masses. So that is how Persil and Elvis came together at the funeral of Princess Diana, where a dry-cleaned Elton John could sing his tearjerker.

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The Games Must Go On

When writing that piece it started to dawn upon me, that I might have been wrong in choosing the period. I went on however, because I wanted to attend the funeral. I also thought it an attractive idea to live in an era that was still at its beginning. Sometimes you are what you write. In the weeks after I realised I had picked up some bones that were lying at the entrance of the cave. The place where the corpse had been roasted was deep down in the cave.

In the years 1972 – 1974 some significant events were the advent of the colour TV, the fall of Richard Nixon because of the Watergate Tapes and the incident in Munich during the Olympic Games.

The colour TV made the creation of a parallel life almost perfect. Today we are at a point that this fact is not only fully accepted, in Second Life the process is taken even a step further. More over, people undergo the weirdest initiations to deserve themselves a place on TV. Television has replaced myth. To appear on it is like gaining immortality for a brief period.

Watergate showed that journalism was stronger then political rhetoric. Journalists acted like the care takers of democracy, in a way replaced the parliament. Today the newly elected President of the United States also acts like the chief editor of a big newspaper. He speaks up before the journalists come up with an issue that could discredit him.

A crucial point in history happened in the summer of 1972 during the Olympic Games. Palestinian terrorists (or freedom fighters) took Israeli athletes in hostage. Helicopters and snipers ended it all. The whole liberation action was covered live by television. Kidnappers and athletes were killed. The president of the IOC, Avery Brundage, declared: “The games must go on.”

Building a Transparent Wall

A message can contain direct information. The games went on.  Another game became more serious. The end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies saw a great increase of political actions, some of them in the streets, some of them at universities, some of them on leaflets. All of them by people who could be classified as extreme left in their political opinion. In fact they were so extreme that they supported the Palestinian cause against a so called Zionist=fascist state.

The decision by the Olympic committee was disrespectful towards the victims, their family and the other athletes. It was disrespectful towards the moral values of our civilisation. The message was clear. In ignoring the point the Palestinians wanted to make, the significance of a dialogue with all the critics of the western political/cultural system was ignored. The coup in Chile on 9/11 -1973 when the elected left wing leader Salvador Allende got replaced by a the military regime of Pinochet was a loud and violent echo of the Brundage Declaration in Munich.

The era that started in 1972 would bring us to an accepted reality in which we are living in two parallel worlds. One of them is defined as mainstream. You can visit this world at every mediagenic event. You can see it on television. The other is not mainstream. If nobody reads you, you don’t exist.

Home

“hey, hi where are you?”

“ Somewhere around the Galapagos Islands…”

“Yousaywhat?”

“ Joking.. listen, I will get home a bit later.”

“oohhh..”

“ It won’t take long … can you wait?”

“ …”

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Darwin

This year it is two hundred years ago that Charles Darwin was born. In his time the use of steam in ship and trains added movement to the landscape. Factories with their chimneys heralded a new era. Day to day needs and its seasonal rhythm of rural activities got replaced by an abstract notion of time. The future had arrived, and it was not called Utopia. Whatever happened and whatever would happen, it was very important to think of what couldhappen. Life got organized in a different way. So did Darwin. And he gave the western world two key words to work on: struggle and survive.

I don’t care to find out if there is a missing link that connects the chicken, the German Alsatian or the firefly to a primordial being. As far as information comes to me, I even don’t know if it is proved that in some time in history the purring cat walked out of the bushes and laid itself down in the lap of some cro magnon heavy metal freak. I only know, I don’t believe in Darwinism.

Anti Darwinists get classified as creationists. Of course this is the Darwinist point of view preaching conflict. If you are not with us, you are against us. It is how rulers reason, no matter whether they belong to the inquisition, the French revolution or if they are called Stalin or Berlusconi. It never occurred to followers of a dusted 19th century theory that an other point of view, not connected to a 6000 years old idea could be brought up.

Darwin analysed the political moves of mankind. His work presented the glorious British Empire the “ rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves “- empire as the jewel on the crown of evolution. In fact western man was so superior that it was no problem to kill the savages by the masses.

Our culture is drenched with the notion of superiority, conflict, struggle and survival. Gentrified neighbourhoods, politicians surrounded by an army of security guards, G8 meetings creating temporarily fortresses, Africans embarking on a dangerous mission to reach the shores of an enlightened society, even the language used in the official (= funded) art world mark the two sides that are opposed to each other.

Darwin stated that a tree became the present day (it is:1859) tree thanks to natural selection. He attributed some kind of intelligence to the plant: the tree seeks its way through history and nature to make his kind survive. If one would state that the same tree exists (where is his missing link?) because it loves to be here, you would get dismissed as a tree hugger, and there fore as not serious, and not fitted to be part of society. Nowadays, in the EC, it is regulations and airports that do the natural selection.

Another form of psychological exile was implanted in our culture thanks to a massive wave of “positive thinking.” Yes, it is very good to be positive and to praise. But it also helps to maintain the sense of doing so, by praising and encouraging those who have accomplished something. Positive thinking has invaded every day life to an extent that one could think the entire western civilisation is suffering from a traumatic experience.

The opposite of positive thinking is negative thinking. You don’t have to go far to find out what mentality is behind positive thinking, because we are also sucked into a system of winners and losers. A disrespectful way of defining people or individuals is widely accepted. It is a Darwinist definition. Critics are outside society. If nobody reads you, you don’ exist.

Thinking creates a duality. It starts from understanding. Next step is either to preach, dictate and terrorize, or to forgive, be tolerant and support.

There is a very subtle difference between positive thinking and believing in someone. Once the thinking stops to be positive one might believe that there are alternatives.

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Left Ear, Right Ear

Environmental sound has become an essential part of the way we represent the world to each other in art, whether musically or non-musically

The Wire 300: Will Montgomery On The Changing Uses Of Field Recordings Published 13/02/09

Auditory fields are not music and by trying to present them as such we end up depleting them of their grain and deadening their soul, leaving little of value to share with the listener.

the grain of the auditory field – Kim Cascone published in Geometer

These are last lines. There is a hint in it that leads us away from music. Will Montgomery’s entry reads as an introduction to field recordings. The picture that adorns his article, a man standing on the rocks of a stormy coast, has an epic touch to it. The image resembles Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer.’ Montgomery’s mentioning of Cusack’s and Kirkegaard’s missions to capture sounds at dangerous places, suggests that there might be more to field recordings then sound alone.

Kim Cascone follows the trace a bit further in his calmly written very convincing self-portrait.  Apart from the anti Darwinist line by rejecting the things that don’t fit we end up reducing the dimensionality and complexity of everyday life his piece can be read as a walk into unknown territory. It is unknown, because he is been mislead by a false  guide: John Cage.

It is comforting to read how the argument used by Darwin’s savages to refuse to have their pictures taken, returns in Cascone’s short story: By recording a field we steal its soul.

It is not that dramatic, of course. What he calls the auditory field will stay, also after he has walked away from it with a recording. What might not come back is his experience of a transcendental atmospheric sum greater than its parts. There is several ways to describe an inspired moment. Not only did Cage implant the wrong definition on him, also the self misleading description of a field as auditory causes doubts and struggles.

Kim Cascone’s piece starts of with a quote. A man in an elevator is listening. There is mention of the sharp tocks of a secretary’s heel. Then Cascone starts his article with an autobiographical moment: a woman arrives. She is a harpist, starts to play. Cascone unwraps his sandwich and his ears. He drifts off into a reverie about the ideal listening situation.

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The Romantic Notion

Let historical periods last longer. Maybe then reflecting becomes a bit less frantic. And why not have twined periods? Can’t naturalism, romanticism and modernism live happily together? Add a baroque touch to it, some pre-columbianism, shintoism, animism and druidism if you like. Just take a look at the objects you would bring into your living area, the sounds you listen to. Oh, this new bricolage might be presented as alter modernism on an other page of this endless book of thoughts, maybe even as next year’s hairdo, but then you have to click this one away.

I will take those who remain on a haunting ride to the ruins of medieval castles; they will hear the wind howl and fear that the wolves are waiting in the deep dark forest. Tales of children getting lost and held by witches mingle with inflaming fantasies about oriental women dancing in the scarce light of an oil lamp.

Emotions knock on the doors of our souls and the brain doesn’t know what to think of it. However, the games must go on. The romantic notion of the other side of the horizon made young men embark on a voyage to an unknown world. They came back as naturalists. The children were encyclopaedists. And their children were alchemists, put things together and started an era of inventions.

Those inventions lasted longer then human life. Suddenly society could be defined by its organisation. It was modern. Modernity as a final result of the Enlightenment, because it gave us prefab and life styles to choose from; it gave us expiring dates. Political and religious imposing served as a motor. And when that motor choked due to post modern disturbances, all the intellectuals got confused. In fact every one got confused. But there is no reason for it. Either you have the money to buy what you like, or you don’t have it. Well, if you belong to the latter category, enjoy the view. There is nothing that you can do to escape from it. Maybe if you are interested in recording sounds you can escape from it all.

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The Invention of Nu Folk

Ancient Greece was a society with vertizons. I know this word doesn’t exist. There is no believe for it. We have horizons all around us. But the ancient Greeks had Gods (up there) and the underworld (down here). And they had a lot of stories to fill the space in between. One of  them is about a guy who lost his wife. He is a poet and a musician. Nowadays you would call him a singasongwriter. The present day parallel would be that the girl had enough of the pyjama attitude of her lover with his endless yormywondawàààh, would jump on a train and go boogie with some trash metal fellow.

Or maybe not, maybe she is a harpist as well and waits eternally in a shopping mall for her next lover to step out of the elevator. Who knows. Thanks Gods and anonymous writers, things were way more clear in the old days. Your wife dead? Go find her in the underworld. And so he did. Mind you, not every mortal could do this. But the Gods were full of pity. Ehm, let’s see. No, the Gods basically wanted to fuck and drink and beat each other up once they were pissed.

It must have been one of the lovers to whisper in a God’s ear while licking it as well, that this dude who could sing such nice love songs, had changed his repertoire ever since his wife died. His new songs made even the dogs cry along with him. One just couldn’t tell the difference anymore. The cats are in heat as well. That is what she tells her God, who grunts in between his tidal movements that the fellow can go down to get his wife, on one condition.

Don’t look back, not even in anger.

That was good news for the poet and musician. Off he went. He found her. Anticipating on a song that a madman would sing a few millennia later he told her that he was coming to take her away ha-ha. Alles klar, said the wife, packed her bag, stood up, asked if she should bring the scarf she was knitting (ah, no, you won’t need it), and followed her singasongwriter to the end of the underworld.

But then, almost there, he looked back and whoosh, she disappeared for ever. One can only guess why he did so. It is almost impossible that he doubted his wife would follow. I mean, life was good, and she loved him, right? And why should it be impossible for her to return, he did go both ways. Personally I think it was for another reason that the sucker deliberately turned his head. He was too used to singing nu folk songs. He wanted to return to the girls who came to comfort him, and served him breakfast the day after.

Silent History

The thing about this Gods and Myths from Greece make me wonder. There is these temples and valleys scattered around the whole Mediterranean. Gods are mentioned by their names in the books of those days. But the myths? Were they written down once the comedy was over? Also Jesus came to life a long long time after his death. What I want to state is: can this myth and religion stuff be seen as a giant fall out after an enormous atomic explosion, But what was the character of that big explosion? And is atheism a conviction of all times? Could it be that at the very edge of our civilisation the view is blocked by an impenetrable veil? I am sure Einstein didn’t resolve that problem.

In the year two thousand and two I spent one hundred days in Morocco. A number of them I stayed in a place so marginal that it didn’t even appear on the map I got from the tourist board. It turned out to be a stronghold of Amazigh culture. I learned that there was not a lot of positive thinking going on between them and the other Moroccans. A people with an own alphabet, their history goes back to the Egypt of Pharaoh’s times. The Arabs who conquered the African north were still seen as oppressors. All through the ages of cultural and political isolation the alphabet was safeguarded as a tattoo on the skin of the women. It made me think of the power of aural history. But what amazed me most was the psychological and cultural vicinity of an event which had happened thirteen hundred years ago.

A day earlier, somewhere around fifteen hundred years ago Clovis Christianized his people by the masses – and through them us Europeans. Those who refused were tied together and drowned in a river. That is what I learned when I was a kid at a catholic school. And I accepted it with my comic strip imagination. Clovis must have used also other methods to convince his subjects. The culture that had to disappear, didn’t go underground. I don’t know of any ethnic minority whose aural history connects our time with the days before Clovis came. But don’t I?

Is it not that the words are the carriers of a feeling rooted much deeper in time as it is in language? What if we try to visualize the arrival of Clovis and his bible and his men? The rumours must have travelled faster. Did people escape? And those who didn’t escape, because they wanted to resist, why were they convinced? Fact is, the killings must have left an impact on those who witnessed it. If it is not words that would transport this pain through the years, up to the coming of other massacres, and so on, could it not be, hurt itself was passed on from one generation to an other? Despite all the positive thinking there is an awful lot of anger and distrust hidden in this society of ours. To survive the traumata you have to struggle.


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Every Mother Loves her Unborn Daughter

Once you come back from an excursion, you can be sure the place you visited will never be the same again. Pictures, be they moving or still, just as souvenirs of the experiences you share, might bring back emotions and memories, but the actual place will continue to change. That’s what time and gravity does. When you come home with a recording of a place, and listen to it again, you will hear the sounds of the past, of a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Yes, death can be very futile. It even finds a place to rest in your last footprint.

Like a modern day Orpheus the field recorder descends in the underworld. He might be unconscious of his death wish, but isn’t  it that what makes fascination so puzzling? It is not a death wish in its most morbid sense, no it is about knowing it as a living being, as someone who can return to his life. It is about being a reversed ghost. The fascination continues once we start listening and working with the recorded material. Those sounds we hear, are the sounds of the death.

Like Orpheus we must have a reason to go down. It is clear that we cross a border. This happens even twice. Could it be this border is the impenetrable veil I mentioned earlier? Do we want to point our microphone in the direction of a place where hurt doesn’t exist? Maybe way beyond the sounds of the traffics, the oilfields and all the voices, lingers this one seducing melody to a different song: the daughter’s love song?

I don’t want to make field recorders the puppets of my imagination. This piece started of with an attempt to find out the character of our times. As cultural historic scholars want it, our times change pretty often. Or maybe there is a longing to end it all, whatever it is that needs to be done with. Today’s most popular drug is alcohol. Following metabletics the period that started around 1972 will end in 2012. By then two civilisations will live next to each other. Money and institutional power will mark the border. Asking for funding will be like playing in the lottery.

To change a time drastically you need drastic changes. The coming of Christianity was one. The application of perspective in painting was another. This last innovation took place at the end of the 15th century, Brunelleschi and Masaccio being two big names.

Now imagine Brad Pitt at the Venice Film Festival Press Conference, with his post Gatsby look and his earphones elegantly dangling from his neck; I choose Brad, because the Pitt/Jolie couple has some affinity with both Greek mythology and Cyberspace. Question for Mr. Pitt, what are you listening to? Answer from Mr.Pitt, a guy called Lopez, don’t remember his first name. My wife bought it for me, she thought it was a brother of Jlo. Same Journalist, Pardon me, Jay Low? Some of his colleagues tell him Jlo is short for Jennifer Lopez. (laughter) Mr.Pitt again, it is pretty strong stuff, a bit ambient. I can recommend it.

It is very well possible that perspective in painting was used hundreds and hundreds of years before it became fashionable and therefore entered history. Who knows. Fact is, showing the three dimensionality and the horizon brought a new subject in life: progress. The objective got defined as well, create a uomo universalis. The painting has been replaced by a computer window. Despite multitasking, the objective, however, is not reached. (Yet?) The epoch that started with the Renaissance has still to end. By defining periods that hardly last a generation, all we are offered is an attempt to identify the tool. Communication is hard these days. Maybe the work is done in silence.

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3 responses to “Predicting the Past

  1. I had a funny experience reading this, Rinus, as I actually *heard* you saying all of these words, with all the passion, and the typical intonations and peculiarities (different, but of course similar to mine) of english spoken by a non-native speaker. And I actually *saw* the way you look while speaking, along with the vivid gesticulations of hands and arms, *and* the many onomatopeia that tend to accompany your words. I guess this goes to show just how firmly “rooted in the oral tradition” you are … 🙂

    It was like being back at “das kleine Intiem”, sitting outside on the Neukölln pavement zipping beer, like we did last summer ( http://tinyurl.com/daskleine-intiem )

    On the other hand, as much as I may relate to your passionate plaidoyer for a world different from the one that we live in, I do strongly object to some of the ‘arguments’ you bring forward in your ‘discourse’. Just to point at one example: did you ever *read* Darwin’s work? The ideas you attribute to the poor man are maybe your idea of his ideas, but they certainly are not his. Either you do not know what you are talking about, or you completely missed the point.

    That is misfortunate, as it will make it difficult to argue about things, because we will not be arguing about facts, but about beliefs about facts; which – as history and ‘de toestand in de wereld’ have amply shown – is pretty much a ‘no, no’ …

    Luckily I *know* you, Rinus, for otherwise I’d surely written you off as a dangerous crackpot … 🙂

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    • Harold,

      Here is my voice again, live from mount sinai.

      Some, and even a lot af facts and beliefs are integrated in our society. They are integrated in such a way, that you don’t even have to read about them. We live in a society based on christian values. Few people know the partly tirannic ten commandments by heart. Darwin doctrine is tought at school. Also I had to learn about it in my teens.

      If we look at the paradisical appearance of Obama, and listen to his words, one can clearly hear a idealistic/pragmatical approach, it is an approach of facts and beliefs.

      Apart from darwinism and the evolutional impact of mankind on nature (yesterday i learned that forest that would cover Belgium disappears annually in Indonesia to make place for palm plantations, that provide the west with Bio-petrol) it might be more interesting to find out the origins and coming into being of myth.

      With historical periods lasting longer it might become more clear how nowadays society is a hybrid of christian and evolutionary values, beliefs and facts. And in this hybrid, the notion of superiority is very present.

      Personally I would like to belief in magic.

      what is a crackpot…is it some kind of firework?
      Then step back and go oooh and aaaah. 🙂

      ps when in Amsterdam get the book
      koude rillingen over de rug van charles darwin by jan hendrik van den Berg.
      He did the reading for me.

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  2. i didnt realize charles darwin is now 200 plus years old. despite the long years, centuries actually, his memories and works and legacy still remain.

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