There are so many songs that would be relevant for this offering, it is hard to pick just one. So I’m going with this odd little 80s minimal synth thing that I discovered via means outlined below, and I do not fully understand why it gives me the feelings it does: Karen Marks - Cold Cafe.
Edit at press time: Due to a late discovery you have your choice of Use (link above) or Mention: Zeno van den Broek - Interlude Two, which has some of the flavor of what I reference. Definitely more in your noise/glitch realm.
I wrote a paragraph here originally about how I’m trying to get away from the format of writing thousand-word essays and to something that’s more a bunch of smaller things, and then I wrote the thousand-word essay below. But, I will keep a couple of things from that opening, mostly these: my workload is rather high right now, which makes these harder to get out, the idea that Perfect is the enemy of Published, and also, to wish a particular welcome to those of you who are newly here because Warren reminded me once again that my website is terribly out of date.
Also I do want to take a moment to talk about said workload. The Novel is still in progress. It’s at about 60,000 words right now, in what is theoretically a first draft, but I do tend toward self-editing as I go, so in terms of form it’s probably closer to a second draft. Still makes no sense yet to anyone but me. Whenever I find myself trying to explain it to people I feel like I’m doing a dramatic reenactment of The Hudsucker Proxy.
But I’m doing a massive rewrite on portions of it so I can see the way forward to the end, which is eluding me, as well as understanding the psychology of the protagonist enough that he stops being a petulant cypher and starts being an entertaining petulant cypher. Insider language note to fellow SFF writers: the story does not open with him waking up in a white room, but it might as well have. So, that’s a challenge.
I also have five short stories and one “Novelette” (read: a short story that got out of control but didn’t quite grow into a Novella) currently either waiting for rejection at various magazines, waiting for feedback from readers, or waiting for me to edit them according to said feedback. I recently had cause to write a bio, which included the line “I have received glowing rejections from some of the most prestigious names in publishing”, which I think is a pretty accurate summary of how that is going. This is fine. This is the way publishing works. It takes years of failure to be an overnight success. I feel like I am on the right track, and that is borne out by my colleagues who send me encouraging messages explaining how many times various famous people got rejected and cat gifs.
Recently NTS radio celebrated the 30th anniversary of Warp Records by streaming 100 hours of weird shit. Warp, if you don’t know, is the home of Aphex Twin, along with a bunch of related experimental music, mostly in the “danceable fax machine” subgenres. I got to catch a bit of it, but more importantly I learned that NTS has an app, wherein they constantly output two different streams of music. As I write this they’re feeding me some kind of delightful post-punk “made in Berlin basements.” It’s almost all interesting, and by “interesting” I mean “not going to hear this on the radio.” But, what does radio mean these days?
For me, Radio will always be about my formative experiences. Lugging my bigger-than-my-head radio/cassette recorder to visits to my grandparents’ place up in the mountains and lying awake in the guest room listening to an action movie soundtrack, followed by Laurie Anderson, followed by an announcer saying “All agents in Sector Six, please report to Control.” Practicing what I would eventually understand as a Burroughs/Gysin Cut Up methodology, recording while I punched the dial between random stations, making auditory jump cuts between an evangelist preacher and what I would years later find out was Cop Shoot Cop. Trading these tapes with an affiliate in distant lands, hearing fragments of songs and commercials, some I still have yet to identify, from WFMU. And learning there were places called evocative things like “Exothermic Community College” (the originator of the Sector Six call), and “East Orange.”
It was unpredictable, but you could make broad choices. I oriented on my home frequencies; the lower, scummier end of the dial, where college radio, NPR affiliates, and occasionally low power pirate rubbed elbows. Modern classical, experimental, aggression beyond the stifling confines of three chord punk. Art Bell and All Things Considered, a classical piece that consisted of nothing but orchestra hits, and a production of Hamlet which was only Ophelia’s dialogue growing increasingly disjointed . Songs about eating barbecued lizards. Rarely did I venture above 100MHz, because that was where all the pop stars and moneymen lived. They bored me, and while I was occasionally discomfited by what I found down in the lower reaches, I was rarely bored. Low-end FM, and to some extent AM, existed at a strange attractor; chaotic enough to be interesting, bounded enough to not be incoherent.
And then, as usual, The Internet. Terrestrial radio is almost entirely the property of Clear Channel and other cultural monopolies. And no one listens to broadcast anymore, because you can hear any song you can remember on Spotify.
“Can Remember.” But what about the ones you can’t remember, because you heard them once at a bad party and never got the name, or because they didn’t exist 10 minutes ago? Most of the major services have recommendations, and they work well enough, but they travel down well worn paths created by the flow of what other people sought out. In other words, what the majority of people thought, and what if you’re not the majority? Also, of course, there’s baroque licensing issues. In my experience, from here in the US, I can legally purchase or stream Einstürzende Neubauten’s Strategies Against Architecture Volumes 1, 3, and 4, but 2 does not seem to exist anywhere (2 is the best one).
Curation is, at its best, a cybernetic skill. It is best performed with the aid of the expanded memory of machines, but always with a human at the center of it, bringing the things that only a human can. Well, so far, a human, and by that I don’t mean “AGI will achieve human-equivalent sentience”, I mean that the experience of being a biological being and experiencing time and bodies the way we do will always be at the core of curation. When we make contact with the Arcturians, I will be the first to tune in to their live streaming DJs, but that will be music chosen by someone with a different experience of self than me, just as an AGI is going to choose music that at best can only emulate a human experience. For now, I need that ill-defined element of a human going “This is neat.”
So, now, I’ve been rediscovering Radio, in its current form. Some of it is still tenuously tied to the old models; I keep the KALX (Berkeley college radio) app on my phone, next to the WFMU app. 2544 miles apart , right next to each other on the virtual dial of my “Sound” folder (yes I also have a “Fury” folder. It contains Twitter). Also in that folder is Overcast, which I use for pulling in podcasts like Radio Etiopia, Brainwashed Radio, Crow With No Mouth, and others. Those are, broadly, and in order, Sad Bastard Music, Music From The People Who Used To Distribute COIL, and Experimental Electoacoustic. More precise than trying to find the intersection of Local College Station and 3am, more unbound in time because available at any hour. A cornucopia of discovery, no matter what your taste. The experience of Radio has, like everything else these days, fractured and fragmented. There are the big obvious pop star answers given by those with power and money, and a fractally complex ecosystem of microgenres when you put forth the effort to search and filter. In many ways we’re approaching the days of the record shop and word of mouth recommendation again, only now the record shop is a server in London and the recommendations come from, well, newsletters like this.
Every episode of this newsletter I’ve put a music recommendation at the top. They are not for everyone. In fact, some are explicitly for no one. No one except the modern equivalent of that kid (no matter what their age) tuning through the dial, pushing past the pop, and listening for the songs of their people.
All agents in Sector Six report to Control. Radio is dead, long live Radio.
Thanks for sticking around. As always, you can find me at the links below. Feedback is welcome and encouraged, through any of these channels, including just hitting Reply.
It was called “Ophelia and The Words”, and I’m still trying to find a recording of it, if anyone within the sound of this transmission can hook me up. ↩
If you’re new here, “Autonomous Generative Intelligence”. “Artificial” Intelligence is a slur. ↩
Which, in an oblique nod to the current state of these things, I learned by looking them up on the Wolfram Alpha app, also on my phone. ↩
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