Posted 29 May 2014 by nathan | Comments Off
Another extraordinary online commission specially for the EVP website. The five videos here [below] are accompanied here by an essay by the artist, circumambulating and extending the reach of the artworks into Curt’s own family life and theoretical ether.
Electronic Brain Violence, Creepy Pasta, and Undecidable Texture [essay]
+ STATIC TRAPPED IN MOUTHS [video works] by Curt Cloninger
The father of Electronic Voice Phenemonon (EVP) is Friedrich Jürgensen. He was making field recordings of birds and when he listened back to the recordings he heard voices on his tapes. At first he thought they were aliens. Then he thought they were ghosts. But what he first thought, before he thought either of those things, was probably something like, “what the f*ck?” Then he probably thought, “Is there something wrong with my equipment?” And then the troubleshooting began. But before you shoot the trouble, and before your conscious mind even diagnoses the trouble as “trouble,” something else affectively happens. You sense or feel something, not “wrong” or “right,” but something undecidable. Hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Your body “knows,” but it knows a feeling rather than words. (“What is the name to call / For a different kind of girl / Who knows the feelings / But never the words” [INXS]). This feeling of undecidability is a kind of aesthetic feeling, and whenever media are involved (as in the case of EVP), the feeling has more to do with the grain or texture of the medium than it does with the “content” or “meaning” of the medium. Similarly, during Victorian seances, the “vibe” of the seance experience had more to do with the “aura” of the medium (“medium” here being the live person chanelling the dead person) than with anything the medium actually said. Her facial expressions, her bodily movements, the timbre of her voice, the way the candle light in the room flickered across her hands — such were the Victorian grains and textures of the medium.
Following the path of D.W. Griffith (a path which leads directly to Die Hard 5), Hollywood blockbuster audio/video production has sought high resolution media textures. Such high production aesthetics seek to to re-present an(other) experience rather than to create an immediate experience. (A mediated experience becomes immediate immediately when it is experienced.) Blockbuster film production is akin to Salvador Dali paintings — an attempt (so the story goes) to re-present a dream in high definition. But there is another approach to surrealism — the automatic painting of Joan Miró. Miró (so the story goes) went into a dream state and painted from there. With a Miró painting, we get a trace of an actual dream event, something qualitatively different than Dali’s re-presentation of a dream event. Miró himself may have been seeing melting clocks and ant-infested hands, but all we see are the lines and shapes and colors Miró drew while he was dreaming those things.
EVP audio recordings, like amateur ghosthunter video recordings, follow the Joan Miró low resolution media path. The texture of EVP audio is crunchy, vague, indistinct, and undecidable. With Hollywood film, we get a re-enactment, a re-production of the original experience (fictitious or non-fictitious, as the plot may be). With amateur EVP audio and video, we get (what is purportedly) (a documentation of) the experience itself. Jack Black’s joke rock band Tenacious D writes a song about the time when they improvisationally wrote the greatest song in the world; but, as the lyrics of the second song admit, “This is not The Greatest Song in the World, no. / This is just a tribute.” Had they been able to actually record that original improvisational performance of the greatest song in the world, you can bet the quality of that audio recording would have been pretty low. The low resolution of a medium keeps us in a state of undecidability. Low resolution doesn’t convince us that the content is “true;” instead, it defers our ability to assess whether it is “true,” or “false,” or “a mere representation,” or “real.” Such low resolution keeps us in a state of wonder.
The internet is a great place to remain in this low resolution state of wonder, because the contextualizing “frames” (Derrida’s “parergons”) which surround online media are fairly malleable. When I go to see Die Hard 5 at the movie theater, I know from whence it comes. All the framing signifiers of the film’s origin are present (the listing of the movie times online, the movie poster on the front of the theater, the theater itself, the trailers that precede the movie, the high definition quality of the movie, the famous actors that I recognize in the movie). Whereas, if I watch a video on Youtube, I don’t know who uploaded it. Is this a viral stunt by a marketing firm made to look hobbyist? Is this some digitized version of old analog newsreel footage? Is it a video from someone’s cell phone in Malaysia? I have to derive and construct my own “frame” from the medium itself. Sure, the content of the Youtube video tells me something about its possible context. But what supplies my contextual frame to a large degree is the grain and texture of the media itself. My body affectively feels the low resolution undecidability of a Youtube video even before I consciously “know” what is happening in the video.
If the online audio and video are low resolution, and if the content is some purportedly paranormal phenomenon, then I am not looking and listening for a paranormal experience to be re-presented to me (like in a hollywood horror movie); I’m looking and listening for an actual paranormal experience. Or am I? Granted, I am actually looking and listening for “real” “documentation” of an “actual” paranormal experience. And documentation is still a kind of re-presentation, because all media mediate other (more) immediate experiences. But with the low resolution mediation of a (purportedly) paranormal experience, we begin approaching the immediate experience. The voices are writing themselves “directly” onto the tape through the channeling media (radio or whatever). Without the medium (radio), no one hears the voices. Like in the Victorian seance, the voices of the dead are only “immediate” to the medium receiving them. But you can bet those present in the seance room were having their own kind of “near-immediate” experience. Or rather, they were having an immediate experience of the medium. When I watch a ghost video on Youtube and I get spooked, I am having the same kind of immediate experience of the medium.
I said these low resolution online media have malleable frames. Since their frames are so malleable, the least little bit of contextualizing suggestion can hijack the frame altogether and set us up to have a creepy, undecidable experience. At Youtube, the name of the poster, the title of the video, the initial description of the video, and the subsequent comments can have a massive effect on how the video is perceived, much moreso than the wall text next to a painting in a museum. This is because the wall text in the museum is itself “surrounded” by the massive “frame” of the contextualizing institution (the museum itself). You know you are in an art museum, where paintings have descriptive texts next to them. You are safe and can relax. Whereas online, someone’s uncontextualized internet art video may be stumbled upon and perceived as “real” evidence of the paranormal. Are these your “real” narcissistic selfies, or are you an attractive female internet artist exploring selfie culture as part of your art practice? Is there a difference? The more “amateur” your framing/contextualizing para-media text, the more your media gets framed as “real.”
There is a board at 4chan.org dedicated to the paranormal where they discuss an online phenomenon called creepy pasta. Low resolution, close-up video footage of pasta without any contextualizing text describing it as literal pasta can look a whole lot like real guts (or perhaps like B-movie Hollywood re-presentations of guts? or perhaps like Viennese Actionist performance arts guts ["real" guts re-purposed]). This vague realm of visual undecidability is celebrated by the participants of the 4chan paranormal board. Once some known frame is established for one of the videos under discussion (a WHOIS search result naming the owner of the URL where the video is hosted, some external documentation explaining the origins of the video), the board members become less interested. The longer they can remain in that state of undecidability, the creepier the pasta.
I have been thinking a lot lately about lying and its varying degrees, about what constitutes “documentation” of a performance, about the difference between theater performance and performance art, about the difference between a performance and a lived event. Yesterday I was discussing with my two youngest children (ages 4 and 6) the (not altogether distinct) differences between lying, pretending, and magic. If both people know it’s lying, then it’s pretending. (Is art pretending?)
Allow me a sex tangent that hopefully will prove not altogether tangential. What is the difference between R-rated sex and X-rated sex? Does mere penetration constitute “real” sex? What if one (or both) of the people having “real” sex is just putting on a show (“fake” sex)? What if they aren’t really “feeling it?” What is the difference between “professional” sex vs. “amateur” sex? (Is there a union?) Does the staged documentation of amateur sex immediately become professional by its very staging? If I pay amateurs to have sex in a movie, are they now having professional sex? If I pay professionals to have amateur sex in a movie, is it “fake” amateur sex? Is any sex mediated by video “real” sex?
Sex and violence are markedly irreversible. Once they are done, they cannot be undone. A kind of threshold is crossed. The threshold of a hymen, the threshold of stabbed flesh, ultimately the threshold of death. These real-time events are historically irreversible. But media archives real-time events, enabling them to be played back indefinitely. The dead are raised and given new life, but it is only a disembodied, a-historical, mediated life. A hauntology.
Lyrics from the band Spain:
“Oh the feelings never went away
Like she did
Now she haunts all my dreams
Oh love’s traces left in memories
I was once alone
Now she haunts all my dreams”
[cf: http://www.playdamage.org/65.html ]
Is it any wonder we (want to) find (formerly irreversible) dead voices in the undecidable regions between radio signals, in the grainy textures of tape recordings? Is faith only possible at low resolutions? Yes, John the revelator and Daniel both had hi-fi psychedelic personal revelations, but those revelations were immediate to them alone. Once they wrote their revelations down, they became our mediums. Once their immediate encounters were re-presented as text, there began the introduction of a chain of distancing similes, linguistic thrice-removes (it appeared as the image of something resembling the form of a figure like unto a man). An analog tape recording of an analog tape recording of an analog tape recording of a vision of a disembodied experience.
Low resolution media (and text is the classic low resolution medium) distance us from immediate experience, and yet this distancing paradoxically gives us a kind of hope. We can’t immediately say that a documented paranormal experience is “true,” but we are able to defer having to definitively declare it “false.” Low resolution media afford us the immanent trace of a once-present, now-absent transcendental thing. The “evidence” of this now-absent transcendence is made all the more “real” by the low resolution of its (mediated) immanent presence. Low resolution media provide a kind of “proof” of supernatural presence via natural (near-)absence. The liminal, undecidable space in-between (between life/death, real/fake, absence/presence, true/false) becomes (re-)charged with what? With faith, fear, erotic desire, hope. Such hope cannot be fulfilled, but neither can it be denied. It can only be perpetually deferred. (“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”) Silence alone won’t do. Because high resolution silence *could* be evidence of high resolution supernatural presence, or it could simply be evidence of total absence (both natural and supernatural). Grainy media textures incite faith.
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