Originally posted on comatonse.com April, 2012 (replacing previous versions). Accompanying text to the album of the same name (Japan: Comatonse Recordings, May 31 2012), C.020. Copies available from the Comatonse Online Shop. Click here to view original release artwork.
SOULNESSLESS IN FIVE CANTOS:
PLUS BONUS MATERIALSWORLD'S LONGEST ALBUM IN HISTORY &
WORLD'S FIRST FULL-LENGTH MP3 ALBUM*
WITH REMIXES BY DJ SPRINKLES & K-S.H.E +32HRS. 320KB/S MP3 | 80MIN. MP4 | +150PP. PDF
LANGUAGES: BG, DE, EN, ES, FR, IT, JP, PL, PT, RU
16GB MICROSDHC CLASS 4 | MAC/WIN
* "Full-Length MP3 Album" refers to a maximum length <4GB 320kB/s stereo MP3 file based on FAT32 size limitations, first actualized in the recording of the 31hr. 25min. acoustic piano solo, "Meditation on Wage labor and the Death of the Album" (edited duration: 29hr. 42min. 30sec. 53msec./3.984217739664GB). When combined with the other audio files in this album, the total length exceeds 32 hours.
INDIVIDUAL SUPPORT: Gerardo Alejos, Jos Auzende, Pierre Bal-Blanc, Thom Blake, Steve Brite, Michele Corda, Cathy L. Cox, Mark Fell, Gauthier Herrmann, Dean Inkster, Naoki Kanehisa, Vlad Kudryavtsev, Johnathan F. Lee, Dave Malham, Antoni Michnik, Tony Myatt, Matthew Paradis, Johnny Pavlatos, Stefan Pente, Laurence Rassel, Dont Rhine, Pedro Rocha, H. Rotante, Takahiro Saitou, Eszter Salamon, Nico Seipen, Ivaylo Spasov, Bernhard Staudinger, Tim Stüttgen, Geri Thaemlitz, John Thaemlitz, Ralph Thaemlitz, Aiko Tsuji, Simon Fisher Turner, Rupert V., Vinciane Verguethen, William Wheeler, Nikodem Witkowski, Peter Worth, Chigusa Yoshida, Izumi Yoshida, Wojtek Zrałek-Kossakowski, and the many others who have been involved in this project over the years.
TRANSLATION SUPPORT: Gerardo Alejos (MX), Michele Corda (IT), Gauthier Herrmann (FR), Turgut Kocer (DE), Vlad Kudryavtsev (RU), Antoni Michnik (PL), Pedro Rocha (PT), Nico Seipen (DE), Ivaylo Spasov (BG), Bernhard Staudinger (AT), Aiko Tsuji (JP), Vinciane Verguethen (FR), Nikodem Witkowski (PL), Chigusa Yoshida (JP), Izumi Yoshida (JP), Wojtek Zrałek-Kossakowski (PL).
INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT: B_Books (DE), Bul-Let's (JP), CAC Brétigny (FR), Café Oto (UK), Cité de la Musique (FR), Culturgest (PT), Dancity Festival (IT), Forest Limit (JP), Fundação de Serralves (PT), Gerrit Reitveld Academie (NL), Hebbel am Ufer (DE), In-Famous (FR), Issue Project Room (US), Mikroton Recordings & Publishing, Ltd. (RU), Noise Vegetation (JP), Secession (AT), Shhhh... (DE), York University Sir Jack Lyons Music Research Center & New Aesthetics in Computer Music (UK).
World RecordWORLD'S LONGEST ALBUM IN HISTORY: After a great deal of personal research, it is my firm belief that Soulnessless is the World's Longest Album in History, with the definition of "album" limited to non-compilation releases of new materials. (This distinction is important so as to differentiate the notion of an "album" from recent digital releases compiling a producer or label's entire pre-existing catalog. Accordingly, a project such as my Dead Stock Archive: Complete Collected Works, although over 61 hours in length, is excluded because it compiles previously released materials.)
The "Longest Album" claim is based only on the total audio duration of the MP3 files. This and other album statistics are:
WORLD'S FIRST FULL-LENGTH MP3 ALBUM: Beyond unprecedented playback duration, Soulnessless presents another first: The World's First Full-Length MP3 Album. The term "full-length MP3 album" refers to a maximum length <4GB 320kB/s MP3 file based on FAT32 size limitations, first actualized in June, 2008, with the enclosed recording of the acoustic piano solo "Meditation on Wage Labor and the Death of the Album" (Canto V: "output.mp3," file duration: 29hr. 42min. 30sec. 53msec., file size: 3.984217739664GB). When the "full-length MP3 album" is combined with the other audio compositions herein, the total playing time of Soulnessless exceeds 32 hours (not including video playback duration).
At the suggestion of several people, some more serious than others, I did approach The Guinness Book of World Records with this project. As of November 18, 2010, they officially declined the creation of the category "Longest music album (non-compilation, new release)," so we will not have their certification on this project. (Their rejection was a standard form letter stating they favor categories with more active competition and of greater public interest.) However, this does not alter the fact that at the time of its release on May 31, 2012, Soulnessless is, to the best of my research, the world's longest album.
UPDATE - APRIL 4, 2012: I just found out about ITB Noise, by JLIAT (a.k.a. James Whiteheat), completed in February 2012, which spans 233 DVD-R's and has a total running time of 711 days 14 hours. [Insert sound of baloon deflating.] Given that ITB Noise is an edition of one, and functions more as an archival art object, for the sake of argument I will continue clinging to my definition of an "album" as something produced in bulk for distribution, and imagine his piece changes nothing. ;) JLIAT is currently working on a 2TB project called 19 Million Tracks, with plans for 23 Million Tracks (2.7TB, each track is 6 sec.), 30 Million Tracks (3.4TB), and 37 Million Tracks (4.2TB). For those who are thinking smaller is better, don't bother... JLIAT has also released the shortest possible piece using PCM data, 1/44100 of a second.
AUDIO: Ambient, computer music, electroacoustic, experimental, fagjazz, meditative, modern composition, new music.
VIDEO: Anthropological interventionism, collage, documentary, narrative, science fiction, subtitles/textual.
TEXT: Academic, anti-religious, atheist, autobiographical, Feminist, fiction, Gender studies, Marxist, narrative, non-fiction, post-Humanist, post-Identitarian, post-Modern, Queer studies, Transgendered studies.
The following passages are taken from "Soulnessless: Annotations," a 48 page PDF book of annotations, interpretive guides and images included with the album (English only).
soulnessless noun, neologism (distinct from soullessness or an absence of soul) 1. lacking or divested of belief systems through which the dichotomy of soul/soulless assumes value; 2. a meta-state critically rejecting religious and non-religious ideologies employing belief in the existence of soul(s), that belief being prerequisite to sensing or conceding presumed soul's presence or absence ANTONYM soulness neologism.From "Preface"
If my 2003 album Lovebomb/愛の爆弾 was an attempted deconstruction of the love song, Soulnessless could be summarized as an attempted deconstruction of soul music. More precisely, a deconstruction of notions of spirituality, meditation, superstition, and religiosity perpetuated through audio marketplaces that insist upon judging audio in relation to "authenticity" and "soul." And like Lovebomb/愛の爆弾, this album approaches its central theme from a variety of vectors - in this case, the various parts' tenuous points of connection being gender, electronic audio production and spirituality.
Soulnessless was composed from an openly non-spiritual and anti-religious perspective. I do not consider atheism a diametrical "solution" to religious organizing. Rather, it is an act of self-defense entwined with the hopelessness of life amidst an unstoppable onslaught of spiritual dogmas and superstitions. In my opinion, the actions of non-believers such as myself are, as a precondition, relegated to invisibility and failure - as stated in Canto I, "Rosary Novena For Gender Transitioning":
It is from this ideological basis that I have spent over four years actively investigating a series of seemingly disjunctive events and contexts. Canto I is concerned with the ways medical gender transitioning fosters essentialist "gender cults" that further entrench patriarchal gender constructs. Canto II attempts to decipher the social messages underlying the unusual frequency of ghosts and hauntings experienced by undocumented Filipina(o) workers in Japan. Canto III investigates the use of electronic audio devices by nuns in their convents. Canto IV uncovers the secret anti-war functions of all-male Catholic military prep schools in the US. Canto V offers an intense meditation on the functions of labor within the field of academic computer music. Far-flung and layered, these events and contexts may just as easily evoke a sense of risk as a sense of inconsequence, depending upon where and how you live.
The overall story of Soulnessless is not linear. It is constructed through a complex interweaving of subjects that gain their qualities from secrecy and resisting attempts at documentation. This deliberately dissonant assemblage may at times appear haphazard. Yet it serves as a metaphor for the incongruous social simultaneities of daily life. Soulnessless employs language developed in critical opposition to the dangerous reductionisms of populist spiritual and religious discourses. Discourses that are fraudulently touted as explanations for, and answers to, the very social injustices they implement. Soulnessless does not postulate answers. At the same time, importantly, it does not withdraw into social apathy, the comfort of which is always laden with a willing blindness to one's own privileges and power. Rather, Soulnessless practices a model of diversity as disconnection, distinct from diversity as the controllable and celebratory contrivance hypothesized in mainstream Humanist discourse. I concede to the inevitability of the former, and protest the homogenizing dangers of the latter.
It is my hope, when meditating upon this massive field of recorded media requiring a minimum of days to consume and perhaps weeks to digest, that one senses certain critical information still remains unheard, unseen, and unwritten. I am not interested in romanticizing or celebrating such invisibilities. Nor am I seeking forms of self-actualization through active invisibility. I simply seek to identify forms of violence as they are mutually averted by and born of silence.
From "Introduction"Many First World nationals have the luxury of openly claiming a common sense agnostic rejection of religion. Simultaneously, they cling to a vague yet insistent Humanist spirituality which is still often monotheistic in form, including notions of a shared singular "human experience" and universal-oneness. This is a far cry from an active divestiture of religions, or a materialist grasp of belief processes. Rather, the faceless (or "Godless") spirituality of secular Humanism seems nothing more than the predictable abstraction of god figures within an age of commodity reification, wherein shopping malls are gradually replacing churches as centers of social organization. Similar to Christian missionaries who seek to bestow access to paradise, the Humanist missionary seeks to give global access to a network of pleasure-based, ethno-centric consumable goods. This proselytizing goes so far as creating a fashion boom for Western lingerie in the Sunni Islamic nation of Saudi Arabia.
I confess, in some situations I actually consider agnostics to be more dangerous than religious zealots. Most agnostics believe their spiritual vagary is a subversion of religious processes. All the while they turn a blind eye to the interrelation between their beliefs and (largely Western, monotheistic) Humanist cultural processes. Or at best, they believe the interrelation is innocuous.
Although my anti-spiritual stance has been documented in many places and forms, the process of dedicating several years to this project has always conjured a sense of dread. The very thought of religion - any and all religions, from those I know to those I do not - evokes an anger within me that verges on hysteria. More than homophobia. More than sexism. More than racism. More than nationalism. More than classism. Because religion is so often the social vehicle through which all of these problems and more manifest themselves, in hymnal unison, and by the all-too-willing hands of the oppressed ourselves.
I realize this kind of anger is not considered a comfortable nor productive starting point for conversation, even within Left circles. Still, I cannot overlook the fact that the majority of homophobic assholes who physically and verbally harassed me since my youth - children and adults alike - were often popular and upstanding members of local Christian and Jewish communities. I was not being spit on and pummeled by gangs of atheists. My abusers in public were consistently the good guys - God fearing and country loving. To retell an old story, when I was age 17, a pickup truck filled with baseball bat wielding fag-bashers pulled up to my house. I was out at the time, but when they politely asked my father (whom they addressed as "Sir") where they might find me, he never thought twice about telling them. In fact, during the ensuing hours until I told my father what their bats were really for, he was proud to think I had finally befriended such fine, wholesome young men who were thoughtful enough to invite me to join in their sports games.
Now is when many people - particularly people of faith - will jump in and say, "Those boys were horrible. You can't blame their actions on religion!" To the first comment I say, socially they were not the horrible ones. I was. I was horrible by all common standards of consensus regarding a freak or outsider. For anyone to imply that the harassment I faced was not enacted in defense of the status quo is to embrace a blindness that compounds the insults leveled against people in my position. A passive eye toward lynching's connections to mainstream culture is the same as tying the rope. As for whether such actions can be traced to religion, we all know that the words of my attackers have been echoed countless times from pulpits and altars, with little to no countering voices of dissent emerging from the congregations. If dissent does have a voice, it is one of silence at best. I concede this does not mean everybody in every congregation agrees with their leaders. However, if the faithful purport religion is a necessary ideological framework through which we guide our lives - even imagining that societies would collapse without religion - how can they cling so firmly to faiths they supposedly disagree with on fundamental issues?
For example, in the 2008 US presidential election (as in all US elections), Catholic priests were under diocesan mandate to advise their congregations not to vote for anyone in favor of abortion rights (i.e., Obama and most Democratic candidates). Certainly, many pro-Obama priests softened the message and snuck in their critical opinions by encouraging people to "vote their conscience." Members of congregations softly muttered their intention to vote for Obama like a secret being passed through a classroom - a scenario often relayed to me by my parents with a sense of politically self-directed pride. But the question as to why someone would actively devote their minds, money and time to an ideological organization whose mandates they oppose remains unanswered. This is especially vexing when those same ideological organizations claim the price of transgression is eternal damnation or some other threat of violence. The answer, of course, is that freedom from religion continues to remain a taboo in most social circles.
Within my own experiences, the religiously inspired ideological basis of fag-basher hatred toward me - as someone who personified social illness and evil, and whose existence went against the works of God - was clear in their words. I was going straight to hell, and they were going to send me there. They were enacting a cleansing ritual. This was obvious. It seems that most people simply refuse to contemplate the irony: a society's finest young men can simultaneously be the purest and most refined executioners of that society's exclusionary and violent tendencies through which its positions of power and status are achieved. It is the same insensitivity to irony exhibited when the upstanding gentlemen punching me used to bark, "Keep your fucking AIDS blood off me!" - a bizarre command which forever sticks with me as the greatest black joke ever.
I imagine people jumping back in again, "So you had some hard luck at the hands of a few bad apples in the outside world. And as for your home life, don't you know that everybody's families are strange and messed up?" To the former, I remind you my luck was at the hands of society's good apples - and they were not so few as you would like to think. As a result, I simply refuse to exonerate the dominant social systems that directly and indirectly promote the social and economic welfare of said fag-bashers over said fag. And a part of that refusal includes my rejecting your desire to disavow your own possible implication in those power dynamics through the defensive construction of your own petit bourgeois family lifestyle. Which brings us to the latter: everybody's strange and messed up families. If you acknowledge that families and other clan systems (which include religions) have a propensity to abuses, why do you so feverishly defend them against attempts at transformation or abandonment? Why is the punitive price for questioning the family structure, and searching for less abusive social relations, the very social ostracism and isolation from which your family values claim to protect people?
The spiritual and religious person believe social discord occurs when existing social orders fall out of sync with a supra-social cosmic order. For them, spiritual ideologies represent the keys to harmony. The social order must gradually be reconciled with those spiritual ideologies, resulting in paradise or apocalypse, depending on one's faith. Heaven and Hell, apparently, become preferable to material reality. This notion of moving society toward a supra-social cosmic order through the guidance of a divine ideology is, clearly, the opposite of a materialist understanding of the roots and functions of ideology within social orders. Conventional historical materialism would tell us that the social dynamics in which we live determine our ideological assumptions. And this gap is what makes it so difficult to communicate on a peer level with believers, let alone aspire to deprogram spiritual thinking.
One frustrating result of the absence of a concept of materialism is the accusation that atheism is itself a religion or cult. This is essentially the same accusation traditionally leveled against socialism, communism, and Marxism. Such misuse of the term religion arises from the religious follower's belief that religious organization - and social organization in general - is an outgrowth of humanity's attempts to comprehend divine or supra-social knowledge. By severing knowledge from its material roots, and placing it outside the human realm, the relationship between people and knowledge is limited to that of a follower rather than inventor. In Christian terms, it is defined as that of a sheep. The believer may credit humanity for the construction of organized religions, but insists the core of religious belief itself rests in the "beyond."
In actuality, knowledge is the result of people accumulating information about the world in which they live. People then create ideologies, or idea systems, around that knowledge. Ideologies are constructed by using our understandings of the world as a basis for hypothesizing rules and systems for social construction and interaction. Ideology also directs, focuses and filters a society's continued accumulation, censorship and erasure of knowledge. Of course, this process of accumulation/erasure is continually biased by social power relationships, as can be seen in the ways the political interests of dominant social powers are served by their society's dominant culture.
That being so, "religious" is a term properly reserved for ideologies that deny the human origin and construction of knowledge. Faith, which is obligatory to all religions, is the means by which thousands of years of collecting knowledge is disavowed. "Religious faith," as opposed to a more simple concept of faith that is simply equivalent to trust or assumption, requires a suspension of belief in fact. It requires celebrating a belief in knowingly absurd, refutable and unprovable ideas. It requires an embrace of specious reasoning by which a material inability to disprove something is considered proof of the thing itself. Such as the inability to disprove the existence of an omnipotent old man (or spaghetti monster) living at the edge of the universe being a valid enough basis for dedicating one's life to what one imagines are the wishes of that being. Or acknowledging that we as a species have a limited understanding and control of the world leading to the counter-assumption that the world must be in the charge of an all knowing and omnipotent god-species. Despite such obviously asinine juvenility, this is undeniably the intellectual level at which religious faith operates. And strangely, for the majority of people in this world such ideas sound completely reasonable.
Regardless of intellect and education, in the end religious followers value unprovable knowledge above all else. The scientific beliefs they do concede, such as gravity or the earth revolving around the sun (both extensions of brutally resisted suggestions that the earth is neither flat nor the center of the universe), are only accepted with repetition and exposure over time. Ironically, once accepted, such knowledge is retroactively considered to have always been part of an inferior subset of human knowledge stemming from self-awareness bestowed from the beyond. In this way, the religious acknowledgement of scientific discoveries is inherently imperialist. A more recent example of this process is the Christian reimagining of evolution into Intelligent Design. The imperialist act is always preceded by an infantile tantrum against initially unfathomable concepts, similar to a young child protesting the unimaginable idea that her parents were also once children. The tantrum may persist for decades, or even centuries. Unfortunately, these tantrums are often accompanied by the social power to dismiss from employment, disown, evict, ostracize, jail, torture, and even murder those whose ideas contradict religious doctrines. With this powerful cultural backing behind their own belief practices, religious followers lose sight of the possibility for world views - even scientific methods - that prioritize what has been materially proven over the unprovable. In this blindness, atheism and every other materialist idea one might believe in are erroneously assumed to employ the same transcendental belief processes as religion. All forms of belief become indistinguishable from that unique form of belief known as religious faith. Ergo, atheism - or disbelief - finds itself erroneously defined as a religion.
As accepted as the notion of atheism being a religion may be, even among many liberal agnostics, it is a misunderstanding that indicates rampant global ignorance about the various interrelationships between ideology and social process. Ideologies are the means through which social processes are justified, refined and perpetuated. Ideologies actually change according to the demands of a society (sadly, usually a demand for the cultural and economic domination of other societies). This means that ideological truths themselves are contextual, and change in the face of new information and circumstances. For example, the scientific rule that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light is now in question due to the recent discovery of neutrinos that apparently do move faster. Such discoveries require a radical re-evaluation both of one's social practices and world view. They reveal how both ideology and social process are in a chaotic feedback loop that continually redefines truth.
Religion, as an "opium of the people" with the social function of perpetuating existing social power relations, discourages such re-evaluations of social processes by asserting that truth is eternal and unchanging. A belief in supra-social Eternal Truth gives the illusion that religions, as well as all other social processes, orbit those truths, much as the universe was once believed to orbit the earth. For example, many people with no appreciation of analogy, poetry or storytelling hold that the late-19th century Revised Bible based on the King James Bible of 1611 holds the function of the verbatim word of God. These same literalists almost completely ignore a century of geological discoveries of some 30 gospels predating the Nicene Creed of 325AD. One would think such documents would arouse substantial interest among true believers in Christianity, but the fact these discoveries remain unknown among religious circles speaks for itself. It is not surprising that many extreme forms of bible-thumping Evangelical ideology originate in the US, a culture so proud in its monolingual prioritization of English that it is honestly capable of pleading ignorance to the unavoidable distortions of meaning that occur during translation (let alone centuries of translations, as well as the inevitable errors and improvised additions introduced to hand written transcriptions of ancient texts when copied in the same language as their source materials).
As far as I am aware, spiritual discourse dominates every society. And yet, despite this spiritual hegemony, religious people perceive of the world as a largely godless place. The faithful consider it their duty to conquer a world that they have no awareness has already been conquered. To the religious follower, declaring oneself a disbeliever of any kind - atheist, agnostic or of a competing religious faith - testifies to surrounding social orders being out of sync with their religion's concept of harmony. Tolerance of religious diversity, although often preached, becomes impossible on a practical level. At best, it means that Christians justify tolerance of Jews or Muslims (and vice versa) by convincing themselves the other faiths simply do not realize they are worshiping the same one-God... but the Christian one-God is believed to be big enough to forgive them when they die... probably. Even when considering polytheistic cultures such as Japan, where the majority of people find monotheism utterly ridiculous because every object is considered home to a unique god, liberal Christians believe the risen souls of kindly polytheists will find their way into Heaven. They just assume the polytheists will just have a bit more explaining to do when standing before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. In the words of Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons when asked if he was qualified to perform Apu's Hindu wedding ceremony, consensus states "Christ is Christ." Certainly, this kind of cultural myopia does not lead to real tolerance nor understanding. To the contrary, it reveals that the chief form of disbelief throughout the world is actually inter-faith antagonism - and not the skepticism of atheism. Having said that, within such a climate it is not surprising that atheist disbelief becomes reified as a specter of yet another religious desire. It gets treated as a childish and egocentric faith. A faith held by people who lack the maturity to step outside our fragile human egos and believe in more powerful monsters.
In the West, many people act baffled when confronted by the fact religious fundamentalism persists in an era demarcated by democratic ambitions, state leadership, and a supposed Western Humanist divestment from organized religion. Let us assume for a moment that the desire to divest of religion is real. It must be conceded that ventures into democratic ideologies and state structures over the past few hundred years are global and historical aberrations. Democracy defines itself in opposition to birthright hierarchies, which have been rejected as the antithesis to human equality. If we consider socialist and communist ideals as sci-fi projections of democracy taken to extremes, we can see one of the most unusual features of all egalitarian agendas is the ineluctable erosion of family and clan structures. This makes any democratic project a radical affront to virtually everything that all cultures have cultivated and cherished for millennia.
Within self-proclaimed democratic nations such as the US, the radical rejection of socialist agendas and the embrace of religious and family values by both right-wing and left-wing political movements gives testimony to this traditional antagonism with actual democratic ideals. Asking people within these countries to reassess their notions of family is a doomed proposition, much in the same way that asking historically antagonistic clans in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan to share water and other resources fails to register as anything other than outside interference. To the majority of the world, throughout history, logic has strangely dictated that it makes sense to murder others so as to secure food and resources for one's own family. These same policies of exploitation and death continue to be employed on massive, global scales on behalf of democratic nations. However, for most people within these nations, the violence of this hypocrisy is diffused through the ideological division of public and private space.
The average US citizen might admit to being willing to kill for their family, such as killing a home intruder. They might also imagine kill-scenarios in which this passion to defend one's family would be in violation of public policies against vigilantism and clan warfare, such as a revenge killing of someone who raped or murdered a family member. Yet, despite an awareness of how family can warp social mores, when dominant cultural discourses in the US place family values at the core of democracy, it repeatedly fails to register as dissonant with one's democratic beliefs. From a global perspective, such self-delusion along lines of private and public within democratic nations (the nation itself being a source of clan pride) appears as a blatant hypocrisy, if not as a culture's all-out psychotic break from reality. By extension, more radical concepts of democracy rooted in social-materialism - particularly atheistic ones that reject religion as a clan organizational device - will inherently appear to the majority of the world as a sign of social psychosis. Meanwhile, synchronous with the post-Soviet global proliferation of capitalist growth in non-democratic nations, the world has still not seen the successful establishment of a single new democratic nation since 1996. Today, what the religions of the world ask us to admit is unfortunately inarguable: that all claims of democracy or socialism should be recognized as nothing more than the socio-psychotic denial of traditional clan tendencies.
So why bother with any of this? Why not become the best follower of [insert local religion here] one can be, and forget the rest? The reason, of course, is that religious intolerance results in countless emotional and physical forms of abuse, violence, and murder. The opposition to religion is not a liberal choice, as many would like to frame it. It is a position of resistance and opposition that arises in response to the mental and physical mutilations imposed by a world of faiths. Opposition to religion is less fueled by the luxury of those born into non-religious homes, and more commonly emerges from the experiences of people with deep religious roots seeking ways out of our indoctrinations. It is a position of necessity for some, with no prospect of appeal to all.
However, the act of identifying oneself as bearing psychosis is not exclusively self-defeating, like the pre-operative transsexual who willingly confesses to their doctor-priests that they suffer from Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in order to facilitate their hormonal and surgical transitioning. Such confessions may also facilitate personal and social momentum. And that momentum need not necessarily be about romantic ideals of empowerment, which implies alternative power establishments. The confessions may simply exist as resistance without outcome, without conclusion, without transformative end. They need not always be about what we wish ourselves or the world to become. They may simply be about surviving the abuses societies inflict.
In a world where the majority of people empirically believe in ghosts, spirits, luck, superstitions, premonitions and purpose in life, we nonbelievers live as the true ghosts. Recent atheist visibility movements in the US and EU seem to miss this very point. They seek structured visibility where invisibility seems to them unjust. When in fact Humanist terms of visibility place them deeper into the self-denial and delusions of democracy before a clan-reconciled world. I do understand the validity of “coming out” as atheist within Western cultures as a material verification of one's legal right to do so. This coming out parallels the logic of lesbian and gay outing. However, it must simultaneously be contextualized as a culturally specific gesture that understands the limitations of its global applicability. If one wishes to avoid the tactics of globalization that have led to the colonial export of a Western LGBT PrideTM lifestyle at the expense of countless other approaches to sexuality, contextual specificity has to be the starting point for conceptualizing representations of one's disbelief within the global arena. Please, if only to avoid tedious committee meetings about where to place the transgendered contingent in the Atheist Pride Parade, walk away from this notion of atheist pride and its quasi-nationalist trappings.
The rise and maintenance of a First World quality of life rooted in democratic and/or socialist thinking has always meant our boots stand on the faces of other nations from which we steal labor and resources. If we can accept the historical fact of imperialism, then we can also recognize how this has always been a case of a global elite whose democratic ambitions justify undemocratic means. The profundity of atheism will not be realized through fantasies of democratic populism. Rather, the force of atheism emerges from its potential as a critical rejection of the populist ideologies of family and religion that facilitate said means. When conceptualizing terms of atheist visibility and representation in resistance to cultural dominations, anti-populism is one of the most valuable assets available.
Within the microcosmic realm of left-field audio, issues of spirituality and religion are consistently dealt with in mainstream terms. Believers and nonbelievers alike generally avoid direct discussions of organized religion and personal religious practice. Liberal Humanist spiritualism shields this silence. If we take a canonical producer like Brian Eno as a barometer of status quo discourses within the progressive electronic audio establishment, the spiritual drivel strewn throughout his 2011 spoken-word album with Rick Holland, Drums Between the Bells, is not a good omen. Opening with the agenda-declaring track "Bless This Space" and going downhill from there, the album persists in its spiritual vagary to a numbing effect. Not cold. Numb. The seeming eccentricity of a character like Holland belies a worldview that is thoroughly reconciled with the agendas of bourgeois Humanism. His spiritualist language is used to conjure images of First World urban landscapes such as London and New York, which are portrayed in the cover art by Eno himself. One immediately senses the culture of capital at play, if not in budgetary fact than at least in sign. The sound of this First World urban spiritualism is, as one might expect, one of comforting shiny objects.
Of course, Drums Between the Bells is just one of countless examples to be made. Because what we as producers say in our projects is so consistently dismissible and deliberately uninteresting, I find myself drawn back to those unspoken discussions of organized religious practice amongst us, in hopes of finding something more thought-provoking. In the substrata of praxis that flows like lava beneath the crust of spiritual signs, one discovers important record labels run by people discreetly but actively practicing a broad range of religions. It is easy to understand why such religious practitioners - like non-believers - remain relatively quiet about their acts of worship, particularly when practicing minority or notoriously right-wing faiths. It would be all too easy to suddenly have one's image reduced to that of a propaganda machine for one's faith, becoming the "Baptist label" or the "Muslim musician," etc. As the openly "queer and transgendered producer," believe me, I get it. I recall the practicing Mormon owner of a world renowned experimental computer music label telling me that for years he had no idea one of his chief artists was also a Mormon, and vice versa. Both were fearful of discriminatory backlash.
At the same time that these religious practitioners fear backlash from outsiders, many of them also carry the fear of negative judgments from members of their own faiths. Perhaps their cultural work would be judged as perverse or diabolical. Perhaps they produce dance music, but members of their faith are not allowed to dance. Or perhaps they hold business relationships with unsavory types such as myself. All of which is often compounded by the fact that many of us - regardless of beliefs or practices - spend our lives with partners, friends and family who have limited interest in, or understanding of, what we do. Our actions are tolerated, usually in direct relation to our ability to financially sustain our activities, but we are ultimately seen as acting irresponsibly and selfishly. Our works' lack of mass appeal bears a twisted testimony of our selfishness. Among the faithful, this absence of appeal to one's larger religious community or congregation is always less likely to be considered in relation to cultural processes of alienation, and more likely proof of individual dallying in soul-endangering vices.
It is the religious practitioner's fear of judgments rooted in the dogmatism of one's own faith and the faiths of others - or more precisely, a fear of the material consequences of such judgments - that I can understand and identify with more than anything. More than the estranged and anesthetizing secular Humanist spiritualism cloaking our activities. More than the smiles meant to assure one another that a person's belief or disbelief has no social ramifications in the "sacred spaces" of music and art. Smiles that so quickly dissipate into hypocritical judgments behind closed doors - particularly against those who are utterly faithless. In the end, the shared point of social intersection for producers and pundits - believers and nonbelievers alike - is not represented in music and art that preaches idyllic communal openness. The music and art industries' verbosity about the persistence of spirit functions only as a decoy. We actually meet in the place of unspoken conversations, fraught with silenced and disrespected responsibilities.
From "Structure & Evisceration"
The structure of Soulnessless was devised as a conscious, material reaction to the dilemmas of contemporary digital audio production. It pushes the boundaries of the album format in today's post-CD era by filling a 16GB microSDHC card with over 30 hours of new audio materials, over an hour of video, and a book's worth of writings. Admittedly, this unprecedented scale is in part a sarcastic response to marketplace demand for more digital exclusive tracks, podcasts, DJ mixes, etc. I identify this demand as a form of labor exploitation, and would argue that such exploitation has been on the increase since the CD replaced vinyl (by which the standard album's playing time was doubled without increasing producer advances and royalties).
Ironically, despite this album's completely digital format, at 16GB the amount of data involved makes it impractical for download. This introduces a welcome incompatibility with online distributorships (my position against was made clear with the February, 2009, release of Dead Stock Archive: Complete Collected Works, an offline MP3 collection spanning two UFD DVD-R's). Meanwhile, the album's overall size gave me the chance to explore the revolutionary recording lengths offered by the MP3 format - a feature which largely goes unrecognized as a result of the MP3's near exclusive use for quick downloads.
Demonstrating the album's theme of the inescapability of spiritual rhetoric within commercial marketplaces, even the brand name of the microSDHC card used in Soulnessless is tainted by transcendental promise: "Transcend." It is worth noting that this brand was by far the most affordable at the time, illustrating the age-old marketing strategy of using more aspirational language when targeting those customers with the least money to spend. A strategy lifted directly from religions when passing the collection plate.
For those who have followed my projects over the years, the strategy of openly working with and presenting simultaneous processes of structure and evisceration should be familiar. By consistently exploiting the ambiguity of visibility and invisibility, audibility and inaudibility, these production strategies double as metaphors for peoples' daily social engagements with other forms of simultaneous and contradictory cultural identification processes. In Soulnessless, the album's composition provides an actively non-essentialist subtext for discussing issues of gender, sexuality, class, race, ethnicity, migrant status, religion and superstition, among others.
In the past, some of my albums like Lovebomb and K-S.H.E's Routes not Roots critically twisted the reductionist language of US Black/White race politics. Both projects called into question the dominant cultural tools through which I was expected to understand growing up in a differently interracial household. For example, the Black/White racial binary failed to account for my experience of having an adopted sibling from Korea. That paradigm also erased the very real intra-white racism against people of Italian decent, wherein even Italian-Americans themselves discriminate amongst each other, at times using the word "nigger" as a pejorative against those from the South regardless of skin tone, etc. The misrecognition of a broader conjuncture of racisms has continued into my adult life in terms of my own race and ethnicity within a global context and the political struggles of migration. Women-oriented feminist theory has more consistently provided me the analytical tools for understanding these experiences, in the same way feminist theory has informed my countless texts and projects with transgendered themes. And as a matter of course, Soulnessless critically invokes the post-colonial. In response to essentialist assumptions about the appropriateness of my employing such discourses, I am not presenting an "anti-Politically Correct" mockery of those languages, nor dismissing their limitations. As always, my intention is to engender a serious and active non-essentialist engagement with dominant critical discourses, even if those discourses circulate essentialist terms that might exclude my body. The need for such attempts arises out of an absence of precise language and discourse originating from positions similar to my own particular circumstances. I can always respond to this absence of an accurate discourse by attempting to give birth to my own "original and authentic language." But because I refuse to believe in the possibility of a pure experiential voice, that non-belief intensifies the need to wrestle with the critical discourses available to me.
Within Soulnessless, I utilize critical analysis, history, and storytelling traditions. Each of these maneuvers serve as methods for expressing material social circumstances, and are considered mutually able to contribute to historical materialist discourses. Simultaneously, the discourse of anthropology is especially problematic for me. One has to continually challenge the troublesome ways that anthropology fosters essentialist associations between oral history and a primitivist voice of the non-Western "other." That association presumes a binary conflict between the oral versus civilized Western historical analytical method. Even in the US, the image of an American white male storyteller is bound by this anthropological filter to that of a quaint, Old Tyme country gent dressed as Mark Twain. Within Western fields of audio production and consumption, the fetishism of these linguistic stereotypes plays a key role in the mass marketing of countless genres, ranging from hip-hop to techno tribalism to world musics. In reaction to these problematic market associations, Soulnessless integrates personally familiar oral histories and ways of storytelling, similar to what I used in "Sintesi Musicale del Linciaggio Futurista (Musical Synthesis of Futurist Lynching)" from Lovebomb. It is vital to me that these stories beg a prioritization of politics over poetics in their interpretation.
The representational strategies used in Soulnessless are also heavily informed by models of "active invisibility." This is another strategy I have borrowed from left-field feminists (such as postulated by Laurence Rassel and Beatriz Preciado), all the while remaining pragmatic about how "gender safe spaces" so often fall under the domination of queer theologies and mysticism. In particular, many lesbians and transgendered people practice what I term a "spiritual colonialist impulse" toward paganism-as-legacy. This includes the incredibly offensive Western and First World tendencies to propagate fantasies of the "traditionally revered Third World transgendered shaman." These are nothing more than problematic colonialist narratives of the native.
The Western struggle for transgendered rights has also been the struggle for visibility. When rights activists in the West encounter other cultures that have long histories of comparatively visible transgendered communities, the terms of that visibility is all too often erroneously interpreted through Western power models. Visibility is inherently presumed to be emancipatory. As a result, other cultures' visible systems of transgendered isolation and alienation (including the social isolation arising from being cursed as sacred) are twisted into Western fantasies of social communion.
Tragically, intercultural understanding is often complicated by the dynamics of First World colonialism, which fuel Third World counter-demonstrations of nationalist pride that further limit the acknowledgement and discussion of social problems. The message of these self-defensive demonstrations of pride can be easily summarized as, "Your culture may be constantly shitting on ours, but we refuse to be seen as shit!" Ironically, this desire to "save face" is the very sentiment that leads many Third World transgendered people to play into Western fantasies of the proud native. Projecting an image of the self-empowered individual becomes a means of obtaining audience within Western frameworks of social understanding. Yet the terms of such audience inherently limit the ability to discuss the oppressive social realities of Third World transgendered lives. It is feared revealing those realities would undermine one's pride-based appeals for respect - PrideTM being a requirement of most all contemporary Western discourse, both from the Left and the Right.
Conversely, the West seems to have a pathological preoccupation with optimism. The inverse of that preoccupation is an equally pathological aversion to "negativity." Such dogmatisms prevent LGBT activists from representing the oppressive realities of the West and First World in terms that are understandable to those who are not culturally trained to read between the lines of self-help jargon. Taken at face value, such jargon registers as the Westerner's inability to concede one's own problems. Non-Westerners immediately sense that contradictions exist in abundance, despite their absence in the West's self-representations. As a result, Western demands for people uniting in PrideTM becomes itself the chief obstacle to any viable intercultural connection. The terms of optimism continually obscure candid discussions about the immediate material need for group opposition to systems of violence and domination in all their unimaginable forms. We are not allowed to be angry or fearful. We are only to display our conquest of anger and fear. Like a sex worker's rehearsed moans of self-satisfaction, we are forced to revel in our talents at faking it, all the while taking it. Having witnessed the destructive effects of all these various cultural positions, I'm afraid I have little patience for any displays of pride or nationalism, regardless of what side of the fence a person inhabits.
Reacting to this conundrum, Soulnessless very much documents the inability to document. By which I mean something entirely different from the affirmative attempt to document the invisible. Neither am I suggesting that Soulnessless documents that which has not been documented, or that which is considered undocumentable. At the core of each canto festers an insurmountable failure in conventional representational strategies emphasizing "visibility." Meanwhile, those social spheres of "active invisibility" retain their invisibility, not out of my respect as a producer, but on their own terms and through their own social workings. An irreducible invisibility both deliberately and inadvertently foils any attempt at representation. For example, Canto I ("Rosary Novena for Gender Transitioning") revolves around family and religious secrets that become less believable with each bit of photographic evidence. In performance, the most common question from audiences is, "Could you tell us the story of the figurines of the Madonna?" This is despite the fact that they just saw that very story. I built Canto II ("Traffic with the Devil") around "unusable" and misrepresentative interviews. Canto III ("Pink Sisters") documents interviews, but largely with the wrong people. While Canto IV ("Two Letters") was produced with my father's permission, its form is the result of years of failed attempts to record him telling his own stories. As a result, this canto's video preserves a strictly unrecorded oral history distinct from the story presented. Finally, Canto V ("Meditation on Wage Labor and the Death of the Album") obscures what actually transpired over several days of recording by presenting a seamless narrative concatenated into a single audio file.
It has become a fairly commonplace postmodern trope to deliberately falsify the record or celebrate its failures. Such ironic reversals produce the image of a more authentic record. Reacting against this tendency, my intent was to deliberately and openly engage the inescapable dynamics of shame and failure underlying most social praxis - particularly when the actions involve cultural differences and conflicting approaches towards fundamental presumptions about gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class and ideological belief systems. The objective was not to be nonchalant about the problems of power. Nor was I aiming to be disrespectful. Rather, I wanted to show the distortions caused by power/powerlessness and respect/disrespect from as many angles as possible and in all their grotesqueness. It is my hope that through my work, power is understood as always contextual, always in flux, and rarely one-directional. At present, we attempt to communicate within an inability to develop a shared cross-cultural language for addressing the multiplicity of dominations. We are always compelled to respect both the "conqueror" and the "native." When, in fact, the demands for respect are themselves the cause of so much domination. Therefore, it strikes me that one viable strategy for representing divestments from power involves actively ignoring any and all demands for respect on a subjective level. At the same time, one must concede the inevitability of one's behaviors being publicly interpreted through notions of respect/disrespect. It is understandable, then, if some aspects of the results may cause myself and the other parties involved greater embarrassment than self-satisfaction.
All MP3 audio files are compresssed at 44100kHz 320kB/s (fixed bit rate, normal stereo).
Complete video adaptations of Cantos I-IV (original English version plus translations) are located in the cantos_1-4/video folder. The language of each video is indicated in the file name.
A file with previews of other videos by Terre Thaemlitz available through Comatonse Recordings is also included at the root directory level.
All MP4 video files were made using H.264 multipass compression with AAC audio at 44100kHz 256kB/s (fixed bit rate, stereo), and are iPod/iPad compatible. To avoid image cropping when watching the video on a television, turn off the television's Picture Overscan function.
All PDF files included in the album were optimized for available disk space using a maximum image resolution of 200dpi, and embedded subsets of used fonts.
Total pages in all languages combined (text & images): 795pp.
The Five Cantos
Canto I - Rosary Novena For Gender Transitioning