Arca - Mutant
Patricia MacCormack, a researcher publishing in areas of transgressive media, posthumanism, feminism, horror, and body modification, speaks on “de-signified corporeally massacred bodies…[a] sealed, facialised, and genitalled body which is complicit with the massacre that capitalist and Oedipal systems perform on the body…” Specifically, she spoke on this in relation to Necrophilia, forming a dense argument for the multiplicity of body and its often painful molecular disorganization by signification and forced relationality. Questions of perversion and subjectlessness are discussed at length, as dehumanization becomes coordinated with the “massacre [that] signification perpetrates upon flesh and desire.” Her thought formulates a necessarily extreme view on how the body unfurls in light of the emergencies it undergoes through identification. Difficult questions emerge: How do our signs work on the plateau of flesh? Does the territorialization of body mutate in death? Is a body without organs mutant?
On a slightly less extreme note, MacCormack’s questioning into body-materiality highlights a drive for indistinction — one perhaps only found in death, but a death of the subject as it de-identifies and sublimates itself in the dance of body dysmorphia. How erotic is it that the body can instantaneously become so foreign? Are you a necrophiliac for giving yourself a phantom limb to masturbate?
The statelessness of body and identity have been common themes in Alejandro Ghersi’s work as Arca, be it through his invented, genderless muse “Xen” — explored fully on his 2014 debut — or within the amorphous representations of bodies done by regular visual collaborator Jesse Kanda. The topic has found a sonic equivalent in the malleability of his compositions, works that bend rhythm and willowy synths over textures spilling over one another perversely, cataclysmically, and serenely. In a few short years, the producer has morphed almost grotesquely into the art-pop of Björk and FKA twigs — even the bravado of Kanye — all the while maintaining a unique voice that finds exhilarating freedom in his solo work. Despite a steady release stream across the plateau of 2015’s electronica fetishes, Arca’s work has been building momentum toward something, perhaps toward extending both body and identity into the virtuality of rotten digital trash, sour samples, and crumbling percussion that exist as extensions of constant work. The prolific output of Kanda’s next-new humanoid form dancing in cadence with Arca’s next-new insectoid track establishes a view on their organic symbiosis and artistic fluidity morphing into indistinction, into dispossession, into multiplicity.
Mutant epitomizes this theme of dissected and fluid embodiment through its brilliant treatment of digital material flowing procedurally and in wild manipulation. Phaser, flanger, and chorus — all favorite effects in Arca’s color palette — are used relentlessly to force sounds into weird stereo-fields. Samples are time-warped and formant-synthesized into queered shapes, made differentiated from their source material as an organ is made foreign when transplanted into another breathing body. A liver can be severed from a warm fleshy abdomen and inserted into another body’s gut — a body perhaps of a different gender, perhaps bearded, perhaps with brown eyes, perhaps short. Similarly, Arca takes disparate sounds and places them in foreign spaces that often emphasize the sameness of all sound when arranged non-hierarchically. Album opener “Alive” begins as a triumphant call for empathy stitched inside devastated sound-terrain; the synths are bruised with phased tonality, while harmonies crawl out of hidden spaces. Quickly after, the album’s title track introduces earth-shattering scrap-metal blasts, bent and molded amongst laser-fire, human screams, and deflating air. The sounds themselves disintegrate, traveling from dry textural landscapes into immense explosions of cathedral-sized reverb in seconds. It’s here, particularly, where Arca’s treatment of space is a consuming force, one pursuing, absorbing, and assaulting in an effort to deterritorialize any position, any footing. The “space” itself isn’t particularized; rather, it’s placed and replaced as an abstracted plateau that sounds momentarily sit upon, only to disappear as feeling disappears suddenly from a body. As Arca states, that traumatic disappearance can be absorbed trauma, as one “uses softness as a weapon when the mind attacks itself.”
Violence is flexed in tracks like “Umbilical,” “Snakes,” and the stunning “Sinner,” the latter of which moves with a force that savagely convulses over splayed-out sirens and piano. These pieces are supplemented oddly with serene works filled with sentiment; or, the harsh rhythms and strange emotionalisms are sewed together, as in the beautiful, explosive flutework on “Snakes.” The works flow into one another often interchangeably, calling to mind Arca’s use of the mixtape format. Fast pacing and fragmentary delivery show how Mutant’s tracks operate as experiments in obsessive dysmorphia, taking flaws and magnifying them to scale drama, affect, and beauty out of digital refuse. Exhilarating moments are found next to tracks that only feature impact tail-ends, panned and swirled around a headspace to suspend spatiality further. The diverse temperament of the tracks visualizes a body separating itself from itself, a phenomenon surrealist Roger Caillois describes as when “the individual breaks the boundary of their skin and occupies the other side of their senses…” He goes on to describe this disembodied space as tragic, as a “dark space where things cannot be put.” Arca literally composes to the struggle for this escape, for this mutation of embodiment through detachment from body, shown sonically in severed rhythms and grossly warped texture. In some ways, Mutant speaks to the trauma and massacre happening through sound manipulation and alienation amongst various modes of music signification — rhythm, symphony, instrument, tone, experiment.
Through its fragmentation of body’s location in space, Mutant is a definitive statement on the sheer possibility that the DAW affords within de-railed imaginative contexts. The digital workstation is a tool — abstracted and simultaneously linear — a tool that speaks to the access and potentiality afforded to new generations of musicians armed with software and unrestrained imagination. Yet, too often, the tool can constrain work through its linearity — its grid structure can fix a composition into strict BPMs and loop-based predictability. The DAW can assume an almost oppressive context; the artist stares at the computer screen to sculpt their next work, a work materially located in the binary structure of a rhythm/harmony dichotomy or the strict sample vs. synthesis split. Perhaps through his relentless work output, Arca has transcended the limitations of digital structure to arrive at fluid alien-jazz. It’s as if the album’s source material was only constructed from the audio that was projected ahead in the linear space-time of the DAW; silence was inserted to project these sounds into the workstation’s linear future, furthering their “failure” away from more immediate compositions. This “distance” imbues Mutant with an ethereal feel, showcasing the ineffable process of one of this decade’s visionary producers.
Clearly, the album’s trauma isn’t merely the product of sounds colliding and interacting; instead, trauma is found in the melancholic timbre of the subject, located brutally between the onslaught of excessive sound and excessive space: a body spilling over itself through its potential mutation into all possible bodies, or its potential control of all possible sounds. This body contains the potential to wound itself violently in its longing for escape from an internal plight to signify, to identify, to represent itself. Likewise, with limitless creative possibility, how does the artist not damage themselves in choosing to express their longing in sound? Mutant contains an utterly unique language to express this desire. A vitality is found in its dysmorphic dissatisfaction and fluid manipulation, perhaps a desiring production rooted in the anxiety and multiplicity of the morphing body. This body’s music is a music constantly eating itself — the sound of molecules subsuming other forms, crystalline viruses entering the body-field only to be ejected by spindly cells ravenous to eject forms from their host, their life — or the sound of a genome, on fire, mutating itself into goddesses.