Nuisance

Nuisance

- Terre Thaemlitz
nuisance noun 1. a thing, person or situation that is annoying, inconvenient, or causes trouble or problems; 2. behavior which is harmful, offensive or annoying to the public or a member of it and that a court of law can order the person to stop.
For those who have seen me perform electroacoustic projects before, you know that I typically begin with a short discussion of a project's theme, origin or context of production. Part of this is to fight the larger context of electroacoustic performance, which emphasizes abstraction over content, leaving most audiences unfamiliar with how to "hear" themes within the language of abstract noise. Another part of this is simply to be a nuisance, and rob people of the standard enjoyable concert experience by defeating entertainment through boring talk. In doing so, how many times have I been interrupted on stage by some drunk macho bastard existential hippy-fuck waving a beer bottle and screaming, "Muzik!!!"? Men suck. Don't misunderstand me. By all means, break that barrier between stage and audience. I don't enjoy it at all. It's nothing more than an antiquated convention predetermined by the venue, promoters, and most performers, about which I have no alternative but to accept as a precondition of my employment. I'm doing my best to deconstruct it, too. But when you interrupt me, please do it in a way that shows some thought. I mean, really shut me up! Really make me so fucking confused and shattered by some amazing point that the show cannot go on! I beg you! I recall one fine German fellow in particular who, during an introduction to Interstices, optimistically exclaimed, "Yeah, we know all this transsexual stuff! We see specials on TV about it all the time in Germany! This prejudice is not a problem! You're boring! Where's the music?" I could only ask when was the last time he saw a transgendered person working in a bank, or as a super-market cashier, or in an office, or a hospital, or at any other job that would demonstrate a level of widespread social acceptance… I believe his response was, "Muzik!!!" Another time, at the premiere of Lovebomb in a small Frankfurt bar, the interrupting cry for music actually came from a Mille Plateaux label mate. Dear audience, do you really want music? Do you really want to dance? Do you really want to forget it all? I know you do. But before I give you what you're asking for (as I must in order to pay my rent and eat, particularly here in Japan where my DJ Sprinkles persona is the only one ever employed), let me ask how much do you allow yourself to remember? How much do you allow yourself to feel pain and contemplate the unhappiness from which you want to flee? And if you're looking for a good time, why do you think you'll find relief by coming to see me of all people, perform in some venue that is probably either connected to the state or crime syndicates or both? Among whatever other addictions you may be fostering, what is at the root of your apparently insatiable craving for music (surely the two are related)? What deafening miseries will the noise be blocking out in your mind? Surely you did not come to listen to music, but to unlisten to yourself. This is the core of concert and nightclub ticket sales. And this is the core of why we leave most music events thinking they could have been better. Such is the mundane incessantness of our unhappiness. If your demand for music holds any value at all, it is in your ability to outline my occupational role as a tool in perpetuating the cultural mechanisms of denial and suppression some of us gathered to critique, and your role as a tool in demanding your own subjugation to those mechanisms. We are both defeated before the audience lights have been dimmed and the "real show" has begun.
In attempting to write about such defeat, I find myself lacking in language skills. Two friends recommended a Walter Benjamin essay on Surrealism, in which they said he had discussed the potential of social organization through pessimism. I had a vague remembrance that when I last encountered Benjamin I found him pretentious and boring, although from an archeological perspective I can imagine his books have value in that his incessant name dropping gives a very clear list of what books and media he and his contemporaries were influenced by…. Maybe I should take this opportunity to tell you that I dislike reading. I always have. I read as little as possible. I have probably not read a book in its entirety since leaving college in 1990, and before that I only read the minimum amount required to pass exams in school. I hate fiction. The books I buy are usually picture books, or "dead philosophy" such as antiquated sexology encyclopedias and health manuals from the late 1800s and early 1900s, usually found for a dollar in the basement of a used bookstore or stolen from my father's collection. I am particularly drawn to the editing of these compendiums, since a single book may contain essays by scientific rivals clearly attacking one another. Despite the individual writers' self-righteousness, the books as a whole convey a sense of uncertainty and contradictory poly-knowledge. One of my favorite essays is simply a series of graphs by a male sexologist who charted his ejaculation patterns from masturbation and intercourse over a span of eleven years in order to establish what he felt by now would surely be a much more substantial volume of communally maintained charts. (If memory serves, he masturbated least on Tuesdays, which he attributed to the flow of the industrial workweek.) These essays are fun to read because they usually sound utterly ridiculous, but also clearly form the rotted foundations for most of our intellectual guesses about the nature of gender, sexuality and other identities today. In some ways, Marx's writings also fall into this category, hence my deep love of his antiquated books. Much of my library was found in the garbage, and, like my record collection, is valued more for its collective eclecticism than any book's individual coherency. My dislike of reading is surely the basis of my career emphasis on audio and visual media production. When I do read, it is in a glancing way. I find that most books – including philosophical and social treatises – are as predictable as Hollywood movies. You can usually see the formulas and patterns within a few pages, if not paragraphs, and guess the book's conclusion without making too much of an ass out of yourself. I realize that I lose out on a lot of details, but I do not miss them - in the same way that I know there is a lot of "amazing music" on the internet but I do not feel compelled to download any of it. Perhaps I am more interested in observing the vehicles of distribution, and understanding how they influence the messages transmitted, more than receiving the messages themselves. This would extend to my own works. I sample, steal, paraphrase and repeat to fill space… but mostly make things up in the spur of the moment, then keep combing it over until it sounds believable. I also make lots of mistakes. For example, I misspelled the word "transsexual" with only one "s" for over 10 years and nobody corrected me. I also make up words to sound poetic; or accidentally use antiquated spellings and terms that are found in my old print dictionary but unknowingly no longer in common use; or mix up U.S. and European-English punctuation and quotation rules; or combine two words into a new word (which is common in German, but not English), sometimes just because I am too lazy to look up an appropriate existing word. Year after year, these errors and oddities build into a simulacrum of nuance, flavor and personal technique. But they are as unauthentic as everything else about my life. I have no idea why you bothered buying this book. You made a mistake, like so many mistakes before. You know you will not finish reading it all, part of the fault for which I admittedly share with you. Even I would not buy this book. You should simply read a few pages in the store, see the formulas and patterns within a few pages, if not paragraphs, and guess the book's conclusion without making too much of an ass out of yourself. After all, what are the mathematical odds of somebody engaging you in a conversation that would require extensive knowledge of these works? Thus I turned to Benjamin, after one of my friends was so caught in a moment of optimism about helping me find a way to discuss pessimism that he actually purchased and shipped me a collection of Benjamin's writings which were readily distributed by Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble or some other major online book dealer.
As anticipated, I did not find anything useful in terms of discussing pessimism. However, I did find a nice quote about Benjamin's problems with latent conservatism among his contemporaries that could also describe certain things I have observed in my own contemporaries, as well as myself: "It is typical of these left-wing French intellectuals – exactly as it is of their Russian counterparts, too – that their positive function derives entirely from a feeling of obligation, not to the Revolution, but to traditional culture. Their collective achievement, as far as it is positive, approximates conservation. But politically and economically they must always be considered a potential source of sabotage." Although I am unsure whether he was referring to their being considered potential saboteurs by dominant conservative culture, or their potential for sabotaging what Benjamin identified as the left-wing from the inside, for arguments sake let's concede to the potential for both since this is the dual role which most of us "experimental" media producers assume, equally betrayed (and betraying) by our marketability and non-conformity. We don the appearance of experimental "saboteurs" while participating in state-sanctioned, financially bloated tourist events such as Sónar or Love Parade. Events that, despite (or because of) their funding, are still likely to ask us producers to pay them for the opportunity of our appearing in their festival, serving as nothing more than trade-show style promotional showcases.
A memorable example of this dynamic occurred during a panel discussion I sat on with Spanish indie avanteur Genis Segarra of Austrohungaro, and British industrialist Alex Murray-Leslie of Chicks on Speed, at "QUÉ C*** TÉ A VEURE LA MÚSICA AMB LA INDUSTRIA I EL FEMINISME, EN UN CENTRE D'ART?," organized by Montse Romani and the Belgian cyberfeminist collective Constant at Centre d'Art Santa Monica, Barcelona Spain. To be precise about my own placement within the event, I was invited by Constant and Romani, who were in turn invited by curator Oscar Abril Ascaco, who is known for his involvement with Sónar's new media art section and who was the personal connection to the Centre d'Art. The event itself spanned four days from October 25 to 28, 2005, occupying the museum space with public, open and streamed interviews, debates, meetings, underground radio broadcasts, an information room and a party on themes of gender, feminism and the music marketplace. As usual, Constant's organizational strategies were precise in their moments of discontinuity, reading in much the same way as my old sexology books, filled with contradictory views and trivia reflecting an era other than today in which mono-knowledge editorship increasingly means consistency rather than debate. At the same time, in this generation we are all conditioned not to debate, but to seek solidarity, sisterhood and amicability in our struggles. We want to be liked on a personal ego level for our works of media manipulation and alienation. These were the ingredients of the strange panel-sandwich comprised of Genis, Alex and myself – all of whom were meeting for the first time on a leather sofa.
Genis, who I understand also dabbles in transgenderism, spoke of diverting whatever profits he makes from his pop band success into a lost-cause label and live events incapable of profit. His openness about negotiating a kind of sustainable poverty was engaging, but admittedly fueled by that most conventional of desires to simply, in Genis' own words, "play music"… which pretty much puts an end to any discussion outside of a quest for individualist expression, and a feeling of obligation to traditional musicianship. Alex, on the other hand, displayed a rather enthusiastic embrace of music marketplace structuring and procedure, and somewhat distanced herself from types of "feminist" action that could be seen as potentially bitchy or negative. She simply had not seen many experimental women bands out there, so she formed one. She could not get distribution for her female-produced releases, so she formed her own woman-owned distributorship. She could not get gigs, so she organized her own festivals and events. Each step in her advancement, echoing with Anglo-U.S. styled enthusiasm for capitalist notions of career and success, was a precise self-reconstruction and perpetuation of the cultural mechanisms oppressing her. The actual roots of her success remained undefined, resting on a familiar subtext of individual can-do and stick-to-it-iveness. Her collective achievement, as far as it is positive, approximates conservation. Therefore, politically and economically I must always consider her a potential source of sabotage.
Sitting in the middle, I suppose I provided the negative cohesion between these two different yet positively charged magnetic poles. I spoke openly of my lack of respect for music in general – that I consider it simply one of many mediums which may be used as tools for communication, but I do not believe it is a particularly good medium for expressing the issues at hand that day. I spoke of the difficulties of talking about sponsorship and poverty without conjuring ghosts of starving-artist heroism, and confessed that my primary motivation for talking on a couch in a Spanish museum was financial, and that indeed I was getting paid for my attendance. I said that I did not believe in social transformation or revolution, nor the value of individual artistry, nor had any interest in pretending that "alternative" media industries which mimic dominant industry qualify as alternatives to anything. I said that we must approach "alternative" music industries with the same suspicion as major labels, treating them simply as employers like any other, and the best we could do is to steal their monies through whatever fees and advances we can get hold of so as to weaken their organizational power. And if we are to work for free, as this industry so often demands, that it may be better to reserve our pro bono energies for secretive and undocumented activities disconnected from any media production or distribution, not out of any idealism about sub-culture building, but rather to redistribute funds in unaccountable ways while providing as little free labor to industry as possible – mainstream or alternative, dominant or sub-cultural. Doing something other-than-concert. Something other-than-pleasure. Something other-than-entertainment.
Fig. 1 Bringing down the house: (Left to right) Genis Segarra (Austrohungaro), Terre Thaemlitz and Alex Murray-Leslie (Chicks on Speed) at "QUÉ C*** TÉ A VEURE LA MÚSICA AMB LA INDUSTRIA I EL FEMINISME, EN UN CENTRE D'ART?," Centre d'Art Santa Monica, Barcelona Spain. Note electromagnetic repelling forces between bodies.
This did not go over well with the curators, musicians, critics and other professionals in the audience, many of whom were Sónar enthusiasts, and whose comments and expressions showed disgust at my flagrant exploitation of sub-cultural organizers and music fans. I had violated that most sacred of industry bonds between "promoter" and "artist" by simply stating the obvious, that most "alternative" promoters and producers were little emperors standing naked in their complacency with the understanding that all audience support and government funding is given as part of a consumerist exchange for pleasure based entertainment. By identifying as a thief who consciously steals from sacred alternative industries with the specific intention of not being entertaining, in the eyes of the majority I predictably became seen as an ego-driven individual devoid of all artistry, such that politically and economically I must always be considered a potential source of sabotage.
But I am not a saboteur. I could never be so dedicated. I am just an employee whose heart, like the hearts of so many tired people, lives in daydreams outside the walls of employment. The office complainer. Ultimately, this is a job to be treated with suspicion like any other, and every project is simply the commercial sublimation of other desires.

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