Deception Music: Demonic Listening In Diabolical Times
“…like a ship sailing the open sea with a demon for a pilot.”
“I want art to stand strong, to display how it manipulates its audience. I want it to take up their expectations, their sense of the world, their predispositions toward the way they think or use their language, and then to use these things perversely, politically, colorfully, ‘expressively.’”
– Tony Conrad, “Dolomite: Having No Trust In Readers,” collected in Writings (Primary Information)
The year is 2019 and new music has been released. Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, the new music push their serpentine heads out from their cloistered membranes, only to face a desert-like expanse and blinding light. Hawks circle overhead, picking off kin. Their features are torn apart, their substance split open and exhumed. Wreckage obscures their path. But the new music know they must go forward, their little limbs frantically pushing them forward to dissolve back into an unknown ocean. The music that made it through the madness, tattered and deranged, stow off “like a ship sailing the open sea with a demon for a pilot.” We, the horrified and subscription-paying spectators, love the music; we want it to stand strong. After witnessing so many dismembered by predators, dehydrated by piercing light, poisoned by tar, wrecked by heaps of plastic garbage, or subsumed within the oceanic surge of microplastics, we couldn’t witness any more music die on that godforsaken beach.
Truth be told, and to put a quick end to the baby-turtle-birth scene, what we really couldn’t witness was another busiest-music-nerd YouTube celebrity give another light-to-decent 6. We couldn’t stand another take from a music critic turned comedian with a winning streak of good Twitter jabs. We couldn’t bear another pseudo-academic faux-PhD thesis theorizing about Dean Blunt and PC Music, or one more newly minted hashtag-able genre title. And we especially couldn’t withstand another end-of-decade essay from Tiny Mix Tapes. Yet we persist. We live in diabolical times, and our resentment toward the pretense and presumed authority of these platforms emanates from a kind of collective deception about music, its stakes, its logistics, its enterprises, to the point where our participation can feel like a diabolical hallucination.
The human capacity to project representational systems into sound is fundamentally diabolical, because this process represents a mystery — a kind of deception that relishes and propels itself into the general entropic tendency of the universe, a deception braided into our listening, our music. Here, “diabolical” is not a negative or “bad” term, but a totem for the groundlessness of sound in time. The diabolical is the character of our own times, itself a continuation of life on Earth against the backdrop of a groundless existence with no givens. This mystery is often the fuel for much of our music culture, music making, music listening, and music writing. And throughout the 2010s, we sought to deceptively manipulate this mystery, this wiggly air, through symbols, through technology, through writing. We sought to sharpen it into a blade.
This essay will selectively discuss these diabolical times, the 2010s, as a backdrop for a particularly demonic style of contemporary listening fueled by our collective deceptions. If our music’s mystery and groundlessness is diabolical, then our attempts to ground it, to make sense of it, is demonic. “Demonic” is a hyperbolized description for how we intervene actively and conspiratorially into music. It’s how we obsessively qualify collections of frequencies with tricks and techniques: listing, scoring, narrativizing, hallucinating, arguing ceaselessly about what exactly we are hearing. Music’s fleeting character gives way to compensating techniques that attempt to secure these contested frequencies, crystallizing them into highly defined and repeatable forms.
In previous decades, these methods may have taken the form of systematization, music theory and notation, recording, or other technological emergences. But in the 2010s, the comprehension and novelty of many of these approaches were whisked away in a flattening of platforms and communicative flows, articulated in part by previous TMT essays “The End of Anarchy” by Baldr Eldursson, “Against The Post-Internet” by Rafael Lubner, and “Confronting Uncertainty” by Alex Brown. This decade, our species has only become more captivated with the shadowy realm of musical representation, how we deceptively manipulate music into feelings of personal power and vision to apprehend our own mysterious trajectories.
In this spirit, demonic listening approaches music through rupture, by overpowering sound with its own deceptive script. Demonic listening diabolically corrects the wistfulness of listening into a comprehensive statement, and in this attempt, it becomes enraged, manic. In other words, demonic listening readily demonstrates how we compress the untrustworthiness of our experiences with music into louder assertions, amplified as a hallucination of control. Our listening became “demonic” because it couldn’t afford to be at rest; the stakes were too high. The countercultural outlets for much of our progressive music became monetized, appropriated, or flat-out deceased. Still, we needed to manipulate the terms around these zones of influence (DIY spaces, music publications and websites, clubs, record stores, etc.), all spaces once imbued with the promises of authenticity, in order to abstractly summon meaning out of their intended context. Within this slippage, demonic listening arose like a form of necromancy.
And so: Demonic listening is the moment you think you’re better than someone else because of your taste in music. Demonic listening is being freaked out that someone has a different opinion about a record than you. Demonic listening is organizing music into hierarchies — documents, lists, takes, essays — that recast claims and values within the uncertainty. It is the fandom that thinks certain music shouldn’t be overthought; it is the overthinking that ignores the fandom. Demonic listening is the force pushing this writing along, itself a self-reflexive and heavily internalized form of the condition. This listening is an outwardly coiling context collapse snaking out from our efforts to worldbuild (2018), from our wrecked species (2017), from our feelings of exhaustion (2016), from the sensational vacuum (2015) — all year-end essays that have demonically charted the course of our mania through half of this decade. Demonic listening constructs aporias that entangle sound in pretense and falsehood to such an extent that we often only hear our own mania rather than a single sound.
Perhaps demonic listening is the nemesis to the late Pauline Oliveros’s “Deep Listening,” where we “expand the perception of sounds to include the whole space/time continuum of sound — encountering the vastness and complexities as much as possible.” For demonic listening, there is only the diabolical impulse to actively tame time. The demonic elaborates itself in these shadowy, nebulous outliers of experience — the alchemical “raw materials” of experience that can be endlessly, deceptively manipulated. It is here that we turn into demons, into what philosopher Reza Negarastani calls “a mechanical shadow [with] the blind will to live, simultaneously displaying its myriad of possibilities, but also its murderous will to kill.”
In the spirit of demonic listening, and in response to the outgrowth from Simon Reynolds’s much-contested “Rise of Conceptronica” essay (a sterling example of our most demonic tendencies), I proclaim the deceptive, diabolical, demonic (triple DDD #guyfieri) spirit of the 2010s as “The Rise of Deceptronica.” Deceptronica is an amazing new genre of music that the 2010s uniquely gave birth to, henceforth trademarked by Tiny Mix Tapes. Deceptronica™ is an outgrowth of demonic listening, a recursive music encoded at the diabolical intersection of obfuscation and clarity, mystery and accessibility. What makes a sound accessible for some could be mysteriously alienating to others; and, precisely at this junction, our ears pique into demonic attention.
In this essay, we will chart Deceptronica™’s journey through the inferno of the 2010s as three epochs: Magic, Law, and Chance — three manifestations of deception that animate and characterize our diabolical times. Throughout, I will be discussing music from the decade that masterfully, devilishly understood these conditions. This music stood out as masters of the fiction, the model fabulists, at the very core of a creative method that beautifully reflected the conditions it worked within. To repeat the words of Tony Conrad, this was a music that “displayed how it manipulates its audience, [that] took up their expectations, their sense of the world, their predispositions toward the way they think or use their language.” This music had no trust in its listeners. At the advent of Deceptronica™, I’ll be discussing the works of Total Freedom, Wold, Speaker Music, Hannah Diamond, die Reihe, Inga Copeland/Lolina, and Jeff Witscher.
Rather than Reynolds’s Conceptronica “belonging in a museum instead of a club,” Deceptronica belonged to the fortune cookies passed off as our own thoughts, the security systems of the world, and the devil themselves — the last beautiful free soul on this planet. So, at the dusk of the decade, an inferno smoldering in its wake, let us descend into the desert of the real.
Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Casino
Deception is magical. Magic happens when a magician plays a trick and deceives in real time, right in front of our eyes — a vanishing card, a human body sawed in half, a coin plucked from the ear. Magic demands that we recognize the discrepancy in the communication between intention (the magician’s trick) and reception (the illusion we experience).
Similarly, in music, magic’s deception is the result of cultivating and controlling this discrepancy in time. Throughout the 2010s, magic emerged in this relationality, in our collective hallucinations of a complicated music industry attempting to mysteriously influence the course of our listening. PR and press releases are magical, because they often play tricks on the listener by ludicrously precoding what they’re about to hear. In the 2010s, the ubiquity of the music review and press release — their codependency, their reciprocity — often counterfeited our listening in gnarled patterns that summoned demonic listening. Magical deception unfolded as music with an apparent purpose and meaning. Here, music’s meaning is assumed and treated as a given that automatically establishes itself without ever requiring us to listen at all. After all, a magician never reveals their secrets.
Magical deception occurs in the folds of perception and is cultivated in the secretive and sponsored designs of a Magi — industry forces, writers, artist statements, multimedia arrangements, even album covers and music videos. These spaces often contain a certain supernatural quality, psychedelic in their common meaning. They are furnished with expectation and exaltation, explosive in their potential to virally influence people and their listening habits. In this sense, listening to music is to hear multiple fictive contexts overlapping within ritual, within relations, and most broadly within the brilliant project of human communication. The tension between magic’s assumed meaning and its deception of the listener is a means to secure the trick’s original significations. Demonic listening radiates here, within the implication of a given meaning through pseudo-understandable communication. Magic is the range of effects that are embodied, felt, and attempted to be understood as meaning within a pre-given context — magically suspended, repeating in time, diabolically.
On November 11, 2019, James Ferraro tweeted: “Daily reminder that Total Freedom created you.” A hindsight 20/20 prophetic statement, his words ring true: Total Freedom’s (Ashland Mines) epic Wrong Choice Mixfile for Versus Tokyo, released in 2013, was perhaps the most provocatively decade-defining moment in a string of totalizing mixes that hog-tied culture in a progressive and cataclysmic roast. In many ways, the freewheeling aesthetics of this decade’s “deconstructed” electronic music is still attempting to self-seriously operate in the wake of Ashland Mines’s DJing and mixfiles in the early and mid-2010s. He delivered diabolical and revelatory novels that world-ate the entirety of vapid online DJ culture with sheer, vivid soul, combining forms in magical ways that displayed the true liquidity of the track, their ability to be polymerized into new forms. Total Freedom used CDJs, the decade’s most diabolical instrument, unlike anyone else; through them, he could coax and wrangle new, serpentine forms into being.
The last 10 minutes of “Wrong Choice” are absolute perfection, an inspired progression of Diamond Black Hearted Boy and Arca & Kelela’s stunning duet “A Message,” moving into E+E’s “Smile” (itself a luminous crossover of Justin Bieber & Pat Metheny), then Aaliyah’s “Enough Said,” and finally settling into an acid-washed mech-beat of Ferraro’s Bodyguard project. Such moments emanated, from Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been,” Ryan Trecartin, Divoli S’vere, erupting horror movie screams and maniacal laughs, and a stunning mid-mix climax in the form of 2010 dubstep masterpiece, Nero’s “Innocence.” The 56-minute runtime is a splayed-out, dissected spectrum of human emotional possibility and the 2010s at-large; we were fully at the mercy of the magic that ensued — hollowed out, demonic, gutted.
In stark contrast, the dark magic of Saskatchewan- and Rhode Island-based project Wold, helmed by Fortress Crookedjaw and at times Pippi Zornoza, was focused on alien sounds produced through layering and texturing. Wold was uninterested in magic’s ability to ascend and possess, but it was deeply focused on using it to reduce materials down into obfuscation, into a molten, hard, opaque substance. Wold manipulated and endlessly layered sound into what ultimately sounded like a distorted tape recording of amplified wind over strained, incomprehensible screeching — something operating between black metal, Aaron Dilloway’s Modern Jester, and Pierre Schaeffer, all buried underground for millenia. Supposedly “ideologically-based in dialectical thinking,” the deliberately enigmatic underpinnings of the project fall away to a truly unique sound that valued inscrutability, opacity, and perhaps decidedly antithetical sonic techniques.
Remarking on 2014 album Postsocial, critic Grayson Haver Currin stated that “finding the tune or even the rhyme and reason within a Wold cut suggests watching a ghost emerge from the fog: The eyes strain against an inscrutable background and slowly spot unexpected shapes, while the brain constantly second-guesses the detective work.” Similarly, our own Joe Davenport mused that the sound was “the culmination of a gradual change in listening that happened in the same way erosion often does: slowly, incrementally, [developing into] the sword in our cochlea.” Self-described as “not a part of any community,” Wold’s Postsocial demonstrates an anti-magic whose alien intent was delivered as clearly as could be in label Profound Lore’s press release: “there are many other aspects to Postsocial, from within, which, Wold does not wish to disclose.”
Yet evidenced in the barely-audible, searing, bluesy pentatonic guitar solo erupting halfway through “Five Points,” the magical intention of Wold is half-revealed. This is a subversion of known forms: tape music, metal, guitar solos that are reversed into what Negarastani called “a mechanical shadow [with] the blind will to live, simultaneously displaying its myriad of possibilities, but also its murderous will to kill.” Magically so, it proclaimed an unabashed bewilderment of the thickly veiled — the true deception of the ritual — our self-pummeling into obscurity.
The moniker of theorist, journalist, curator, visual artist, and musician DeForrest Brown, Jr. (also former TMT contributor and personal collaborator), Speaker Music’s recent 2019 Planet Mu release of desire, longing diabolically understood the context it was working within: having no trust in listeners. Yet the album is an empathetic “touching of frequencies” that magically “encodes the listener with an encrypted heat” — a reminder of shared, spatialized listening and how intimacy often unfolds from this site.
The tension between deception and intimacy is Speaker Music’s magical technique — the ability to break audio out of the X-Y vice-grip of white electronic music, the deceptive stereo “clarity” representative of the insidious neutrality of whiteness. Speaker Music takes these cold, abstracted narratives — the advanced scripts of demonic listening — and magically transports them back into its originary, always-spatialized form, a reminder that music is always happening in particular spaces and at particular times. Speaker Music approaches “rhythmanalysis” by spatializing the z-axis of sonic emergence, a comprehensive and magical proclamation that sound’s manipulation is embodied, felt as a literal “speaker music.” of desire, longing’s frequencies swirl and unfold, with empathy stitched inside devastated sound-terrain; the drums are bruised with phased tonality, allowing unknown extra-frequencies to move illusively, rapidly. Always slipping out of demonic focus, the album caresses, engineers, and sculpts sentiment into a multi-textural rhythmic body that, in DeForrest’s words, “quiver moments into a collapsed ‘nonpulsed time.’”
Here, at the site of this collapsed time, is where magic happens — the truest magical deception — our inability to bear witness to the soul of the trick. This deceptive core, the discrepancy between our listening to sound in space and our demonic desire to control its behavior, mobilizes Speaker Music to compose “softer” spaces — a desire that deproduces. Through this, of desire, longing is a magical music made “with empathy” and “without excess.”
Blank Ableton Live session
Deception manipulates rules. Abstraction, institutionalization, and laws place music within deterministic conditions and regimented axiomatics. In music, this becomes repeatable and instructable through heavily formal approaches, strategies, techniques, technologies, and sounds that secure music with seemingly stable meaning and context. Although laws can allow music to become reproducible, performable, and manipulatable on a formal scale, they can still deceive based upon how they attempt to restrict listening to focus our attention on structure.
Here, lawful deception is a diabolical tactic that attempts to preserve the “stability” of itself between a fascisizing pole of control (structure) and a revolutionary pole of multiplicity (listening). Here, within this tension, demonic listening emerges, finding a crucial ally within the music’s formal structure itself. These formal structures contain their own histories and complicated backstories. Our access to this information and the technological production and social consumption of sound all further exaggerate the expansive plurality of our listening — a fact that can very much alter the internal consistencies of axioms apparent in any given musical form. Demonic listening thrives within these discrepancies by overcoding sound between them and using laws as its rationale.
In the 2010s, despite the often-reported narratives of deconstruction and subversion, music was firmly committed to laws. And they were often strictly enforced. From intricately aestheticized labels valuing formal approaches (like PC Music and Recital), to historical resurgences and connoisseurship of various dance music genres, to algorithmic composition, the decade was as much about establishing formality as it was about deconstruction. Discussed at length in the context of pop music in TMT decade essay “Lips In The Streetlights” by Frank Falisi, pop music, itself a system of complicated, nuanced, spiraling rules and regulations, is “an architecture of surfaces and panes, of the veneers we pass through and the ones that reflect (us) back at us.” This reflection, one reminiscent of many forms of music based on structural qualities, reflects back our diabolical times and demonic listening.
Within this architecture, Deceptronica™ was able to expressively display the formal genotypes of law to reveal its structural and functional properties. Revealing the diabolical powers of composition, these works brimmed with prodigy, showing methods that could constrain sound in a way that teased out the molten core of a song, a piece, a track. This was active and morpho-genetically deceptive sonic material. From those flows of energy, sound manifested itself as a crystalline code temporarily abstract from its ecosystem, oscillating for a moment only to manifest through it both farther and further.
Shining brilliantly out of the muck was a decade-culminating PC Music release, Hannah Diamond’s long-awaited debut album, Reflections. Through PC Music’s complicated, intense, but overall parabolic arc across the decade, Reflections arrived as a stunning, wholly harmonious release that presented itself simply and confidently — a testament to the elegant forms that PC Music and HD had been refining studiously throughout the 2010s. The songs’ earworm melodies plant themselves firmly, unmoving and with the resolve to stay locked in place — is listening to a song 100 times in a row demonic listening? Despite being originally released in 2017 on the Soon I Won’t See You at All EP, the Reflections version of “Concrete Angel” is already my most-listened-to track of 2019. “If you keep building these walls, brick by brick, towers so tall/ Soon I won’t see you at all, till the concrete angel falls.” The lyrics remark upon law’s deceptive possibilities — the promise of the erasure of self by the hands of structure: brick-by-brick.
In an interview with TMT, HD herself stated “Sometimes it can force you to make a style, because you have rules that you have to stick to. It’s not like anything is possible. You have strict rules in order to make things OK or acceptable. Then you build on those, and without realizing it, you’ve made a style.” These rules, these tenets that produced HD’s iconic aesthetic, form the expressive possibility that suspends Reflections beyond the reach of its context. If not timeless, locked in time — a form reflected demonically onto the decade.
Queens-based composer and audio engineer Jack Callahan a.k.a die Reihe, formalized his work to a far more pronounced degree on his piece 106 Kerri Chandler Chords, released on Nick Klein and Miguel Alvariño’s label Primitive Languages. Compiling 106 chords by the legendary house music DJ and producer Kerri Chandler — and arranging them for string quartet, performed live by the storied SEM Ensemble — the piece simply presents the chords as a list, one after the other, unfurling without interruption, mediation, or editing whatsoever.
A self-generating composition that produces itself at the genesis of its namesake, the piece is a literal, formal consideration of its own making: simply 106 Kerri Chandler Chords performed by a string quartet — deceptively not any kind of “-tronica” at all. Derived from his project Housed, an archive of (currently) 850 chords from classic House tracks Callahan collected in 2016, released on NNA Tapes, the piece avoids nearly all narrative except for the last residual deceptive core of law — the final inevitability that the aesthetic appreciation and social consumption of sound all incongruently condition our listening, provoking our demonic tendencies to reside in form itself.
The piece effectively accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and the audience can expect exactly what they will inevitably hear. In this gesture, it “displays how it manipulates its audience,” defiantly relinquishing its own authorship; die Reihe, SEM Ensemble, and Chandler are “all mysteriously both present and absent.”
However, despite the complexly nested blood-sharing of authorship and interweaved contexts of the piece, the plurality of listening and our relationships with and understanding of the chords themselves form a multiplicitous torrent dragging us to the very core of music; as Callahan would call it, a “Music Art.” Having recently received the blessing of Kerri Chandler himself, who proclaimed “My fav is F# Minor 9, 11, or Sus With Love, Respect and Admiration! — Kerri Chandler,” the piece is a triumph of lawful deception dividing down to the irreducible root of where plurality, deception, and demonic tendencies originate — in the striations of time itself and our efforts to structure it, to tame it — with love, respect, and admiration.
Cover art for Jeff Witscher’s Rip City Drive
Despite our most rigorous efforts to deceive through magic and law, the decade presented types of musical deception that, quite frankly, can only be described as “dissonant,” unable to conform to previous deceptive techniques. Throughout the 2010s, our attempts at magical and lawful deception provoked this dissonance, requiring us to fundamentally reformulate principles that previous decades had once valued. As a result, a sophisticated type of demonic listening emerged that could accept and amplify anything that came its way. With a confused and simultaneously manic and progressive outlook, this deception evolved into a ravenous, a-signifying force able to withstand and consume all in its wake.
In his book The History of the Devil, theorist Vilém Flusser refers to this condition with the metaphor of a two-headed dragon — a metaphor that fits the quality of our diabolical times. He calls this hydra-dragon Chance, awakened by the advances of scientific research and quantum mechanics to reveal its two grotesque heads. Flusser describes, “One of them swings, and with this negating movement, it transforms every law into opinion. The other head conspiratorially winks, and with this movement it transforms every law into pure subjectivity.” Similarly, in the these diabolical times, our listening took in the entropy that swirls around us — and was provoked by it. Chance deception is a radical, anarchic deception that accepts all, reducible to zero. It is able to ambivalently masquerade as fiction, flaunt shades of immortality and permanence, or stick to a staunch materialism without concern for their ideological, representational, or otherwise social function. Truly demonic, this listening gave itself to all and sought to take everything from the music — no stakes, but still surviving.
Radical Deceptronica™ emerged from this irreducible horizon, a music that could evade the stakes and conditions that would qualify something as “demonic” by becoming the demonology itself. Here, anonymity reigned, a music capable of attaching to various techniques on a whim, sampling them in a relentless flow of information, similar to how the simple casual passage of quantum light chooses to randomly go into one position rather than another. Somehow, there was a comfort and drama by trusting the radical, untrustworthy swing of information.
Microscopic electronic dust is heard in the first few seconds of “Faith OG X,” the opening track on Inga Copeland’s BECAUSE I’M WORTH IT, only to give way to the high-pitched sine tones of a security system alarm and wayward synths peeling off in broad, laissez-faire gestures. Inga’s anarchic style was keenly developed throughout the 2010s, not only here, but in her work as Lolina, on full-lengths Live In Paris, The Smoke, and the expertly titled Who Is Experimental Music? Often nearly-anonymous, Copeland was deceptively “revealed” on BECAUSE I’M WORTH IT, but only enough to demonstrate a signature deadpan delivery and obtuse compositional style that swung like the unpredictable swerve of atoms. Supposedly, according to Lucretius, “when atoms move straight down through the void by their own weight, they deflect a bit in space at a quite uncertain time and in uncertain places, just enough that you could say that their motion has changed.” Similarly, this unpredictability and deflection is threaded into the mood of Copeland’s records, a swerving close to the void.
The result is a special diabolical atmosphere that is simultaneously weaponized (“advice to young girls”) and relaxed (RELAXIN’ With Lolina). Deflection, rather than reflection, gave this music its character, its ability to brush off the various representations that clung to it. Copeland’s music skirts through genre dubiously, gaining diabolical momentum as each riddim unfurls, each pseudo-anonymous aphorism mysteriously moving with the erratic soul of the city itself. Here, chance deception was the dynamic unpredictability of Copeland’s uniquely urban commitment: the city, hers, an organism signifying nothing and everything, accepting all with “Diligence,” but also as an “Insult 2 Injury.” A decade of Copeland’s music was a perpetual masquerade, immortalized in its anarchic anonymity — “an unavailability, upon which she has built her public image,” in the words of TMTer Will Neibergall. Chance was represented fully during the 2016 Live In Paris debut, as a giant Monopoly board projected on screens across the perimeter of the performance space. The dice roll is epitomized on album centerpiece “Chance,” as Copeland reads “Marylebone Station, Leicester Square, a hundred million quid, chance, jail…” nonchalantly over the riddim.
Chance deception is a technique in the recent work of “Sound Music” composer Jeff Witscher, a.k.a. Rene Hell, who often presents unhinged, cascading narratives using musical elements and spoken texts sourced from written, found, surfed, and wrecked texts. Raiding all genres to create sound disorientation and communicate everyday thoughts in tandem with each other, Witscher’s hybrid narratives take pleasure in finding sound-text relationships that remain utterly open to interpretation. Here, demonic listening treats the tense dialectics between sound and text as fuel for its projections — but it can remain confused and become accelerated. Trying to find a sense of security, our mania becomes faster in its diabolical cruising through this sound. This is by no means a result of “random” composition, but one that relishes in the use of overlapping narratives and chance associations that allow the music to retain a secretive, anonymous, heinous agenda. Witscher tells stories, showcasing open narratives that free-wheel into as many deranged, cryptic associations as possible, ambivalent to but also keenly understanding the zeitgeist of “cool sounds.”
“There Was No Prior Knowledge (let me hear what I’m saying),” the final piece on Witscher’s Approximately 1,000 Beers, deals with the disputed October 2015 incident where L.A. Dodgers player Chase Utley took a controversial slide, snapping Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada’s leg like a twig. Utley would be marked safe on second, and the Dodgers would go on to win the game despite his resulting suspension. This planted the seed for a Mets grudge that would bloom brightly on Citi Field the following year. Mets Manager Terry Collins went absolutely ballistic on an umpire, and the scene, dramatized in Witscher’s music, propels itself into the general entropic tendency of the universe — painfully aware of the stakes of winning and losing, demonically enraged and lost at the horizon-line.
Mirroring the groundlessness of sound in time, this music’s diabolical character is our own times — a continuation of life on Earth against the backdrop of a groundless existence. Still, the umpire fucks up. Also displayed in Cookcook’s nearly encrypted review of the album — itself a beautiful narrative half-light that remains barely visible, but radiant — follows forth as an anonymous history, resilient trajectory, the demonic swerves that narrates oblivion. This is an anarchy that can withstand itself, that can bend with the pressure it undergoes. It stands strong, proudly displaying its own manipulation at the hands of chance, an inevitable but expected chaos.
And so, at the end of the decade, did the demonic prevail?
If this decade can be more than the end of time, let it be a time for withstanding. Demonic listening radiates diabolically from the secrets it attempted to carve out, listen to, master, control. Here, our attempts to build a sufficient characterization of this hidden world faltered, and yet we still squabble in extremely worn conceptual conditions — age-old contested debates around consciousness, material, infinitude and finitude, the bound and unbound. Demonic listening is semantically entangled in our attempts to see beyond phenomenalization; after all, the “demonic” is wrapped up in mythic creation, of genesis, of possession, and especially this idea of “the beginning.” In this complicated conceptual milieu, perhaps it is the demonic’s opposite, that infernal “divine,” that becomes that which tends toward an overcoming of time — a faith in something that acts within the phenomenal world in order to dissolve it, “save it” back into pure being — “the ironsmith’s purifying fire.”
Maybe, then, the diabolical is our conserving principle that attempts to maintain the phenomenal world — to keep us in the flux of time — the force that wants us to hold our loved ones close. Paradoxically, this flips the traditional Judeo-Christian and Hellenistic narratives of the diabolical, annihilating force; instead, the divine becomes the dissolving agent that yields a cosmic catastrophe that would effectively end our world. Perhaps, then, demonic listening becomes our diabolical means of accepting time; embracing time, a form of undying love, a forever-listening. In space, in abstraction, or in anonymity, we moved to commune in time (Magic), legislate time (Law), or even resign to time (Chance). Throughout, time is the condition that fuels our ambition; we are birthed from it. We are scattered as traces across it. We sustain it, animate it, and characterize its darkness — those shadowy forms that mark it. Their place is endless; the sun is rising.
“Here shall I close my trustworthy speech and thought about the truth. Henceforward learn the opinions of mortals, giving ear to the deceptive ordering of my words. Mortals have settled in their minds to speak of two forms, one of which they should have left out, and that is where they go astray from the truth. They have assigned an opposite substance to each, and marks distinct from one another. To the one they allot the fire of heaven, light, thin, in every direction the same as itself, but not the same as the other. The other is opposite to it, dark night, a compact and heavy body.*
Of these I tell thee the whole arrangement as it seems likely; in order that no mortal may surpass thee in knowledge.”
– Fragment of Parmenides’ “Doxa”1
- Doxa is a Greek word meaning common belief or popular opinion. In classical rhetoric, doxa is contrasted with episteme (knowledge).