Undistilled was recorded at live performances in London and Rotterdam
in January, February and March 2002. Components are a restricted
of percussion (Eddie Prévost), electronic sounds confected earlier
intuitive, tweaked release (Rosy Parlane), and nervous hyper-attention
to every noise present, allowing spontaneous digital transfiguration of
some (Mattin). The product is a formidably dense mesh of textures
subtle alignment of urgency and stasis, persistence and interruption.
sound-body exalting in its raw and varied outer abrasions, tormented by
heaving intestinal bass and pierced irregularly by silver screeches, yet
somehow concealing a few inner surfaces of all but languid smoothness.
Needless to say (or to continue demonstrating), it is wholly
incommensurable with any attempt at verbal description.
To accompany the CD release, Mattin requested a text building on recent
conversations between various musicians and others about music and
ideology. As should be obvious, the writing can in no way be regarded
as a commentary on the recordings, or even as a
tentative gesture towards one. Nor, under ANY circumstances, should
music be imagined as having been played with the remotest intention of
exemplifying quasi-ideas like these.
Thirteen Dubious Theses on Music/Freedom/Time
1. A long-serving accusation against 'free' music is back in local
circulation lately, thanks to two well-known 'destroyers of the
professional field'. Their case, more or less, is this: "It's
music!" That is to say, it's (all but) incapable of bearing
discursive content. Therefore it's a reactionary, specialist bourgeois
2. Of course those who rehearse this quarter-assed 'critique' need
be reminded of the difference between real and symbolic politics.
live with a perpetual superabundance of 'communication' about every
nuance of continuous crisis; spectacular machinery welcomes infinite
indictment, the multitude flexing its right to self-expression, the very
exercise of which confirms that we are 'free', and therefore (now as for
an 18th century Tory poet) that 'whatever is is right'.
3. The sweaty vocabulary of 'protest' can be grafted easily enough
any kind of sound, but if this is to be the limit of music's historical
ambition doesn't that make role models out of, say, Rage Against the
Machine or Joan Baez? A career path which some of us continue, however
irresponsibly, to scorn.
4. Yet having easily established grounds for mockery of this demand,
(that music should not only 'speak' to and about the world, but that in
doing so it should be something other than a laughable, narcissistic
failure as a socially disruptive/constructive force), we're still left
with a question less easily answered than entrusted to the realm of
tacit, provisional understanding. Namely, just what kind of non-
symbolic, non-discursive intervention in the real might the acts of
producing and distributing noises aspire to?
5. It would be quite reasonable to respond to this by talking about
social and logistical elements of long-term commitment to hearing,
making and exposing unmarketable sound, the forms of human contact that
go with part- avoidance of capitalist means of seduction. And these
things are undoubtedly necessary, hard-won and fragile. However
the blindest and timidest kind of anarchism imagines that friendly,
local forms of exchange (or for that matter those 'intimately' networked
across an asymmetrical globe) can be in any way corrosive of the larger,
colder economy they provide makeshift shelter from.
6. Rather than trying to celebrate such an inevitable compromise,
really stubborn desire for musical practice that at least generates
interference somewhere might turn with fractionally more hope towards
the production of subjectivity.
7. Traditionally production of subjectivity has
referred to the fact
that in order to expand and thereby survive, capital has always had to
produce not only goods and services, but also workers, managers,
capitalists, etc., disposed or at least resignedly willing to function
as such. In the last few years, of course, the outward reference
have changed, as working- class populations in 'advanced' countries
assume the cultural self-perception of what Giorgio Agamben calls
'planetary petit-bourgeoisie' at the same time as sliding into
sub-proletarian economic vulnerability. Attributes sacred to today's
think-tanks are no longer obedience for workers and rationality for
bosses, but on both sides of the hazy line, dynamic opportunism:
'flexibility', 'personal responsibility', 'communication skills' and
other similarly abstract images of affliction.
8. And so, in an outburst of desperate, palsiedly wavering 'optimism
the will', I contend that at least in a few freakish cases, 'free' music
can require and consequently reproduce in single or collective subjects
attributes hostile if not actually destructive to the qualities of the
flexible, 'entrepreneurial' worker and 'communitarian' post-modern
9. This intuition presumes that 'freedom's' embodiment in musical
practice may differ radically from the prevailing understanding of the
term. When attached to 'improvisation' the way it's meant here,
word 'free' is far from implying omnipotence of the individual will,
with the correspondingly unlimited personal liability for misfortune so
familiar in a post- welfare, post-Fordist world.
10. Instead, the musician has no choice but to act, to affect things,
against a densely nuanced horizon of partially and wholly unintelligible
'outside' forces. Players' and listeners' freedom consists of their
power as partially autonomous agents to bring about the sound event
despite their inability ever fully to 'possess' it, to become
'responsible' for it.
11. More fundamentally still, the 'freedom' in 'free' music never
'do what you like, it doesn't matter'. It lies at the utmost remove
from the indifference of the marketplace, the outrageous equivalence of
hours sold as labour-time. Peace- lovers (appeasers of the given
suffering) imagine freedom as an inconsequentiality of action akin to
children's play (or more precisely the aspect of play by which children
are most frustrated, its failure to become explosively,
immediately 'real' on the dazzling wide screen of adulthood). In
music the opposite is true: freedom means maximum consequentiality.
Everything is at stake in every indivisible moment, movement, breath.
12. Having no recourse to a score/code/algorithm
or other such
authority able to delimit the scope of action and
immediately interpret it, the player is indefinitely bound to musical
(i.e. continuous, productive) temporality. As each variation in
sound recasts or at least resituates what came before it, the player
produces the music's past as well as its continuous present. S/he
already produces its future, in determining now the conditions of
possibility for what comes later.
13. Such is the extreme anti-nihilsm of this rare thing of which
Undistilled is an example: fully realised 'free' improvisation.
intimate, reciprocal binding together of temporal phases lies at the
opposite pole from the 'gambler's dice throw' which Walter Benjamin saw
as the model for commodified 'experiences' - utterly disjunctive,
exchangeable items in a sequence, incapable of shedding the least
glimmer of meaning on one another. The freedom incarnated in music
'like' Sakada's, founded on the obscure indivisibility of sensual
realities normally caricatured as 'past', 'present' and 'future', is the
antithesis of 'living for the moment', and an insult to
Matthew Hyland August 2002