Kuedo - Assertion of a Surrounding Presence
Knives, Jamie Teasdale (Kuedo) and Joe Shakespeare’s new music and art publication imprint, is intent on operating within the boundaries of zeitgeist. Perhaps the effort is a means to direct their strict production toward an infiltration and suffusion of these boundaries; or, perhaps it’s just an attempt to create compelling or stylish art. Regardless, their curatorial methodology prepares an object for maximum affect regarding the ability for art to function flexibly within a complex, and unfortunately continuously commodified, cultural zeitgeist. The zeitgeist is of “futurism” at large, the inclusion and manipulation of cybernetic or materialist political/academic leanings that often run counter to the productive forces of capital. Yet, unlike similar net-located movements responsive to socio-philosophical subject matter, many “music & art” labels oddly make sure that their artifacts get pumped right back into the system that they attempt to critique — to the point where we get to witness “the best” of our cultural commentators have their work get pressed and designed (gorgeously) into nice fetish objects that get shipped all over the world, ultimately getting nestled in the bedroom milk-crates of our most privileged and our most alienated. As was sent to me in an apt PR email:
“happy blinding eye of summer, music aficionados the LA basin is boiling and waterless but there’s still enough gasoline left to press some weird electricities on to wax for those still hungry for music you can hold in your sweaty hands.”
We see this in the mass-proliferation of Holly Herndon’s collaborative “[platform](https://www.tinymixtapes.com/music-review/holly-herndon-platform” by way of 4AD, or Knives’s 90 Euro price tag used to fund the expensive production of Fujiflex reflective silver halide printed art objects. It’s been continuously argued that there aren’t any other ways to run a label focused on providing quality objects, and no other way for artists to get paid to do what they love. Which is unfortunately often true. Knowing this, Knives’s strategy pushes production in a manner not dissimilar to that of PAN, or really any independent label releasing objects involved in cultural critique. Their method acknowledges a swift digital presence, a serious A&R, that asserts the proliferation of beautiful physical objects as a counter-current to other objects. This is an “assertion of a surrounding presence” on the publication scale, asserting that the art object is flexible within the capital discourse in order to exist with efficacy; yet the assertion is packaged alongside the beautiful, powerful, horrifying realization that critique itself is capitalistically valorized. Given all the critical music getting produced these days — music that Knives will arrange, design, and release now and into the future — the hope is that the cultural price of admission, so to speak, is worth the actual utility of the critique. Even with all this cultural and professional necessity, perhaps the most compelling thing to see is an entire tumult of discourse and ambient signification become realized in a solid effort to arrive at something, well, solid.
We can see the same efficient production in the general drama-dynamics of Kuedo’s Assertion of a Surrounding Presence. Its swelling pads, gamelan, and titular images form a swill of affect primed for sound systems that are themselves capitalized by the counter-market of counterculture. The record pairs relatively accessible music with a disruptive language and agenda. Tracks like “Vertical Stack” weep with a hyper-pathos that pull spindly synth riffs over Reichian bass runs and soaring flute, literally mobilizing an ambient storm of “unbending futurist focus” key to Kuedo’s agenda. That agenda is described as a hyperreal spatialization of genre, specifically footwork, drill, and techno; these are surrounding presences becoming “asserted” as focused affect — something charged, powerful, even emotional regarding its approach to “the zeitgeist.” The ambience is honed in sharp tracks like “Boundary Regulation,” a brill cut that features Night Slugs affiliate Egyptrixx, or “Border State Collapse,” where spatial resonance is tempered by Kuedo’s signature skittering hi-hats. The tracks are quick, incisive, and full of mass appeal.
The act of hyperreal spatialization works well as an extension and recombination of genre, yet its pathos-driven momentum approaches a propagation of ideology regarding said zeitgeist. That is to say, the affect is found in the album and label’s productive efforts; the record does something akin to great trendforecasting. The hyper bricolage undergone achieves the mystification of sci-fi, but not necessarily in the idiosyncratic way I’ve previously written about in regards to M.E.S.H’s Piteous Gate. Whereas M.E.S.H’s work is a bit too esoteric to soundtrack big-budget sci-fi, Kuedo’s vision of “newness” approaches an accessibility and directness that could easily be seen on the silver screen. In fact, its infiltrative nature wouldn’t be out of place in either something as overwrought as Jupiter Ascending or the intense psycho-drama of Ex Machina. This isn’t a bad thing; it speaks to the way the record’s productive affect approaches ideology as the embodiment of the capital forces it’s inevitably reacting to.
Oddly enough, I’m almost certain I heard the instantaneously provocative “Eyeless Angel Intervention” at the end of design team Metahaven’s “After Effects” lecture a few months ago in New York. The lecture meditated on softened and affect-oriented production techniques that hone intended messages, ones that function as perpetual propaganda occurring at the local and global levels to code any message as a representative spectacle. Ultimately, Metahaven was pointing out that ideology itself is becoming increasingly located within the hardware and software infrastructures that bring media to global audiences: cameras, Ableton Live, Fujiflex, or vinyl records. Given the geo-political commentary apparently running through Kuedo’s album, the very geopolitics he seems to be commenting on are directly embodied in his music as a spectacular application of hardware/software, his spectacular production. The album work is clearly propagandizing the cultural zeitgeist, or, as Knives so aptly put it, “divining a metaphysical cybernetic zeitgeist in the vaulted reverb structures of [Kuedo’s] Ghost In The Shell nod,” a soundtrack that happens to contain the “Eastern” mystification that finds further resonance in the gamelan-driven “Event Tracking Across Populated Terrain.”
Recently, I had a conversation with Deforrest Brown Jr. about the term cybernetics and its often idle referencing of futurist tendencies without the slightest bit of critique or production. We spoke about the need for the term to become more than a signifier unto itself, to become located as process and movement — a “cybernesis” functioning as something like a perpetual gesturing, a continuum of action and labor directed at building a future, rather than just representing it. Kuedo’s newest, as well as Knives’s recent orientation as a whole, wants to allow for production itself to become the critique — a definite possibility given our complex and overloaded cultural “zeitgeist” consistently evolving and freezing itself through its sheer capability. Through the label’s recent activity, we’ve seen the amazing J. G. Biberkopf place “objects with otherwise essential properties in a synergy whereby each affects the properties of the rest,” as Stefan Wharton noted. We’ve also seen their fantastic A&R energize the already existing synergy of Jlin’s Dark Energy with even more global zeitgeist, giving way to “the core paradox of Dark Energy… its closeness to, and distance from, that scene and its politics,” as Reed Scott Reid noted. Kuedo, through his music and through his curation and direction as Knives, is developing a grand moment through the sheer aggregation of cultural forces subsumed in affect — perhaps operating as an acceleration, perhaps asserting a surrounding presence.