Originally posted on comatonse.com November 1998. Accompanying text to the album of the same name (Germany: Mille Plateaux, 1/1999), MP58. Text and images by Terre Thaemlitz. Special thanks to Dont Rhine for his editorial assistance. Please note there was a production error in the initial manufacturing of this CD wherein the last two seconds of each track was deleted and replaced with a silent "pause". Although the defective units were recalled, some of them may have been sold by mistake. The Mille Plateaux Queer Media Series was a prank on Queer commodification. Upon seeing my design, Mille Plateaux actually asked me to curate such a series. I refused because, despite the sincerity of their invitation, the label's direction and staff were quite un-Queer, and I felt any such series would only typify the process of sexual commodification this album critiqued. However, the prank was continued with future releases, such as the packaging to Interstices reading "Mille Plateaux Queer Media Series #14," so as to inspire Queer collectors to search for missing albums in the imaginary series. A few copies of the original Mille Plateaux CD release are still available from the Comatonse Online Shop. Click here to view original release artwork.
Love For Sale - Taking Stock In Our Pride, by Terre Thaemlitz, is the first installement of the Mille Plateaux Queer Media Series. A portion of the proceeds from each record sold will go to support the artists involved. Coming soon, La Cage à Faux - Gaffng Sexuality In The Works Of John Cage.
Chances are that several people, Queer and Straight, did not purchase this album due to its openly-advertised Queer content. Some long-term fans, Queer and Straight, may be getting tired of my insistence upon overt Queer thematics. Others are undoubtedly listening to my music for the first time simply based on the cover's pronouncement of such content. Still others are less interested in myself than Mille Plateaux's promise of a Queer Media Series. There is no such series. It is a fictional ploy intended to incite a market based response prior to actually hearing this CD. A response that may include feelings of empowerment, embarrassment, and/or indifference. A response that is no more resolved by the act of purchase than by finding this entire project may be a hoax - after all, doesn't an admission to the deliberate use of Queer imagery as a marketing ploy amount to an invalidation of any 'radical consumption'? Is there such a thing as radical consumption in the first place? A music industry convinced that it can Rock Tibet to freedom would surely like us to think so. In fact, it's literally banking on it. Even a secret part of myself would like to think so. If a boycott can enact financial strain to gain political leverage, why not envision a grrlcott capable of triggering enormous prosperity and growth? In terms of a Queer politic revolving around Ribbon campaigns and benefit CDs, how did we come to measure our progress in terms of dollars and cents while increasingly distancing ourselves from localized means of implementing such funds, self-determined means for which we fought so fervently in the late '80s and early '90s?
L I B E R A T I O N M O D E L
Alone in my room of production, distracted by the sounds of the street, I attempt to model a socio-material thesis of Queer sound by placing source materials through dislocating process after dislocating process. My attempts to materialize such a product are seemingly at odds with relatively insular studio processes. And while several of my previous projects have attempted to locate these contradictory positions within cultural processes, I find myself starting once again with a sense of dissatisfaction in the recognition of such conditions. A dissatisfaction that intensifies when claiming a defense of Queer difference and 'sexual radicality' while attempting to both directly critique and operate within the Queer marketplace. A marketplace that is an ideological moving target when compared to larger and more traditional economies. After all, for many people the development of a 'Pink Economy' is considered a natural outgrowth of successful Queer radicalism, indicating a cultural progression away from the need for direct action and internal organization, and toward representation through legislation. Any pontificating on my part of a model for liberation cannot hold the idealism of a course of action, but merely project the face of a model parading down the runway of the Queer marketplace. As I stand on the runway ready for an attack run, my critique not only targets the standard implications of myself as an operative within dominant cultural structures, but I find myself entrapped by the execution of my vehicle of resistance - a commodified Queer identity. Catharsis is truly harder to come by these days.
S H E M A Y B E M A Y B E . . .
In considering various electroacoustique approaches toward Queer signification, I find myself handed a palette of muted spectral tonalities. At the same time that Lesbian and Gay visibility seems to be on the rise within mainstream American culture, there is an increased demand to temper such visibility in relation to popular 'good taste.' Items developed and marketed for sale to Lesbians and Gays - a visibility concept rooted in the previous actions and demands of more 'radical' and vocal elements of the Queer community - have come to rely on an obtuseness of images and wordings which avoid explicit or potentially subversive Queer contents. Such contents are relegated to the closet, for discreet acknowledgment in shadowed secret-society meetings of those 'in the know.' Some people consider this repression of explicit contents a betrayal of Queer visibility. Others take comfort in the ability to see their lifestyles reflected in the popular marketplace without risking overt spectacle or negative judgments. For the Heterosexual parent who unknowingly buys her child a Gay Pride rainbow flag in the form of rainbow-colored aluminum 'friendship rings' at the local shopping mall, a policy of "don't ask, don't tell" will do just fine. After all, if sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, can't a rainbow be just a rainbow?
While many would argue that the emergence of a market of deadened Queer contents is simply a market tempered by the 'external' foe of dominant cultural homophobia, I cannot help but consider its effect as a developmental outgrowth of a Lesbian and Gay mainstream which seeks to emphasize our communities' 'normality' by frowning upon overt representations of Queer difference. By and large, I do not perceive my relationship to this market of deadened contents as mediated by an openly Queer subculture accepting scraps of representation from a stifling dominant Heterosexual culture. Much to the contrary, it is a blossoming marketplace actively responding to a mainstream desire for the ideal of sexual privacy founded in the bourgeois distinction between private and public space. In this manner, any blatant disclosure of Queerness is perceived as a threat to sexual privacy in that it disrupts the communal continuity of the public sphere. I begin with the presumption that my acts of production and this project's release reside within the Queer marketplace's ability to dissolve potentially deconstructive contents. Coupled with the spiritual and Humanist implications of Contemporary Ambient music within the dominant music marketplace, a music press fixated on notions of music's experiential Universality at the expense of contextual specificity, and a hostile music industry which makes the clearance and disclosure of source materials virtually impossible (particularly when dealing with a great deal of abstraction), I must reconsider more 'radical' interpretations of the distorting processes of digital synthesis. Despite imagery and texts, it is ultimately the ability to perceive an obtuseness of content within my music which allows it to float such violent cultural currents.
O N E - S T R E N G T H I N N U M B E R S
Most forms of musical identification, particularly when dealing with fringe audio forms, allure listeners with a sense of 'shared uniqueness.' Consider recent crazes around The Prodigy and Marilyn Manson - nearly all of us instantly conjure similar images of massive audiences which all but defy interpretations as 'unique,' despite the constituents' ideological self-placement outside of the homogenizing effects of dominant culture. The popularization of Queer identities initially appears to suggest a rather similar process of homogenization, a claiming of semi-autonomous Queer space filled with K.D. Langs, Eltons and RuPauls. However, there is a tremendous directional difference between these two examples in that the Lesbian and Gay mainstream seems to be struggling for reabsorption into dominant culture. In the mainstream press, high-visibility Gay Male mouthpieces portray the Queer Left as a group whose refusal to embrace a 'healthy' assimilative lifestyle can only result in a medical and political death at our own hands. We are told that our salvation lies in the cultural apparatus of the respectable private household - a cultural apparatus that has historically thrived on our active exclusion from such a lifestyle. The camaraderie, concern and respect implicit in attempts to progress Queer political struggle are dismissed in search of the joy one may experience as a politically passive 'contributing member' of society - welcome news for a White Gay middle-class that was only reluctantly political anyway. But as the Feminist maxim goes, the personal is political. The decisions we make in our private lives are inextricably linked to our interactions in the public sphere, and sustain our positions (economic and social) within society. For example, the fight for Lesbian and Gay marriages (more progressively dubbed 'domestic partnerships') is not about some primal quest to live respectably as a family unit. It is an assimilative battle for the right to avoid the social displacement which occurs by living outside of dominant cultural values - (family) values which perpetuate the interests of specific classes, and oppress others, so as to sustain the status quo. The fight for Lesbian and Gay marriages is the fight for the same economic and political privileges provided to married Heterosexuals on dominant cultural terms (in particular, access to insured healthcare), preserving privilege rather than dismantling an oppressive cultural apparatus. A stance that, as Dont Rhine of Ultra-red quickly points out, was only "embraced by the Lesbian and Gay establishment after it abandoned a coalition-led movement for universal healthcare."1
Returning to our models of musical identification, we are left envisioning the Queer listener as a Manson fan seeking respectability. A condition which entered a downward spiral during the early '90s with Madonna's "Vogue," in which most of the Queer community had no problem with her representing a dance form deeply rooted in African-American and Latina Transgendered communities with the phrase, "it doesn't matter if you're Black or White, if you're a boy or a girl." It appears the material girl's Queer-sanctioned cultural pillaging is contingent upon an eradication of material context. In contrast to such an increasingly assimilationist music economy within the Lesbian and Gay mainstream, I must at the same time consider my own counter-directional history of production starting with more thematically obscured projects specifically marketed toward the overwhelmingly apolitical Ambient scene of the early '90s. While I can cite much of this early thematic repression as a result of certain label affiliations, as well as my then-fresh experience with being 'burned out' from the physical and/or ideological dissolution of certain political groups I had been involved with, I cannot help but acknowledge a correlation between the popularization of Queer identities I am critiquing and the openness of my own thematics.
T A K I N G S T O C K I N O U R P R I D E 2
My acts of production seem to parallel an ability to see 'myself' mirrored in the Queer marketplace at large, despite the fact that I do not typically find such reflections within an economy of Contemporary Ambient production. It is an ever more frequent mirroring resulting from a cultural shift which my own catalog seems to attest to. But I am largely disturbed by the popular semiotics applied to my marketplace döppelganger, creating panic in my ability to trace her appearance so clearly in my own patterns of production since the early '90s. Production which is, for the moment, reduced to a material trace of the unconscious.
It was during the early '90s when, in the wake of successful corporate profiteering within HIV and AIDS related medical markets, numerous Gay marketing firms produced reports portraying Lesbians and Gays as an overwhelmingly wealthy and active buying demographic. These reports were widely accepted as accurate, despite the reality of more poverty and fewer high incomes among Lesbians and Gays than Heterosexuals.3 The image of the White Gay Male couple earning two high executive incomes with no wives or children to care for took hold. Caught in the excitement of the peak of the Queer movement, most members of the community accepted this portrayal - regardless of how dissonant it may have been with our own experiences - as a means of wedging our way into the mainstream. For a lot of people, declaring "we are everywhere (especially the upper-middle class)," didn't seem like the worst thing to say at the time. After all, opening doors to Queer visibility was supposed to lead to opened economic doors for Queers overall. But as Amy Gluckman and Betsy Reed point out in their introduction to Homo Economics, "in a stark illustration of the discrepancy between image and reality, in 1993, at the height of the 'gay moment,' nineteen initiatives around the nation to repeal progay legislation or to institute antigay policies passed, while not one local or statewide legislative effort on behalf of gays prevailed."4 With Queers suddenly being perceived as commonly holding positions of power and wealth, is it any wonder that Right-wing conservatives had little trouble in representing anti-discrimination policies as exorbitant privileges for a deviant sexual elite?
As Michael Warner points out in his essay "Media Gays: A New Stone Wall," the Queer community's sense of 'arrival' coincided with political energies shifting "from direct action groups like ACT UP, in which intellectual and activist efforts often required one another, to national electioneering, in which money talks. The notion that what we really wanted was to be represented - either by officials or by celebrities - dislodged the sense of belonging actively to a movement; it made having a vital public seem less urgent."5 Internal debate turned away from broader issues such as race, class, gender and ethnicity to focus on 'outing.' After nearly a decade of struggling to help people make the connections between sexual identity, civil rights, economics, and public access (particularly in relation to health care), we suddenly decided our rights and placement within society hinged upon the individual's ability to voice her sexual politics - an ideological 'regression' to the tenuous opposition between the public and private. Emerging out of increasingly numerous agendas which now prioritized the capacity to voice an ideology of Queer desire within the workplace and marketplace, and forgetting Queerness' previous basis as a form of diversifying resistance to a broader cultural environment which perpetuates our cultural and economic exclusion in order to sustain those best served by the marketplace, the moment of the 'Pink Economy' had arrived. Love was up for sale, and plenty are still buying in.
C O M M O D I T É S E X U E L L E
I am left to wonder, what relation can this network of commerce have to attempts at reigniting a sense of cultural urgency, if any? The Queer marketplace does not represent an attempt to overcome alienation from dominant culture, but an attempt to achieve the same right to alienation experienced by the Heterosexual bourgeoisie under Late Capitalism. The Lesbian and Gay mainstream seeks to distance itself from lifestyle activities which emphasize the interrelationship between Queer sex acts and the public sphere because they present a deconstructive threat to dominant ideologies in which the public and private are distinct. Ideologies which virtually all of us internalize and respond to at an early age, regardless of our ultimate sexual identifications, and even crossing boundaries of class and race. As most people do not "grow up gay" in terms of being raised in an environment supportive of sexual diversity, and must undergo often painful and humiliating processes of 'coming out' or 'being outed,' it is little wonder why the Lesbian and Gay mainstream can declare it difficult to attain validation in openly Queer social structures which seem isolated from the dominant lifestyles and ideals we were raised to aspire for. The result is an inherently contradictory economic situation which embodies both the desire for validation through Queer identification within the marketplace, and a requirement that such identification must be sublimated and innocuous enough to maintain public continuity during the consumptive act. Via our old friend commodity fetishism, Queerness is repressed as a state of action and transferred to the object of consumption - the commodité sexuelle (Fr., literally 'sexual convenience'). It is through the commodité sexuelle that Queers are encouraged to ignore our larger social and economic struggles in favor of the convenience of individual consumption. It is the commodité sexuelle that allows the 'Pink Economy' to exist as a marketing demographic within dominant economics, appearing to seemlessly merge Queer politics with bourgeois objectives. And it is through the commodité sexuelle that objectives of realizing civil rights through the transformation of cultural apparati have been replaced by a desire to experience 'sexual convenience' through the existing 'free' marketplace.
Such an alluring promise of validation from the marketplace has come to be seen by the Lesbian and Gay mainstream as our chance to reconcile with what we have lost by living Out-side of the norm, yet this contradicts simultaneous claims of how we have been everywhere all along. Thus our newfound 'sexual convenience' seems to be welcoming us back to a happy home in which we were already living. As Rhine notes, "These two contradictory impulses reveal the basic contradictions of capitalism itself: the presumed autonomous bourgeois subject who masters the public marketplace versus the rights of the citizen to the collective rights of man. Nineteen-ninety Queers haven't invented this contradiction, we've merely put it in drag."6 In terms of music production, it is this assimilative motion of the Queer economy which differs from the suggestion of disassimilation and transgression proposed by 'alternative' music economies. Both as a producer and consumer I find myself stretched and distorted by these contradictory cultural forces. Meditating on a mantra of the unspeakable bisexual symbol which serves as Prince's name, I am only able to imagine the sound of self-canceling signals.
D O W N I N T H E P A R K
The Queer rallying cry 'Silence=Death,' which once demanded vocality around the material social conditions of an 'AIDS Crisis' that continues to result in suffering and death for millions, has come to be turned on its head. Assimilation's silencing of Queer difference suddenly intimates the death of Lesbian and Gay alienation - cause for celebration. But concealed by the mist of our newfound love and reconciliation with the 'public,' there has been a corollary increase in legislation and police activity against the Queer community, particularly in relation to 'public sex' and cruising. The popular website cruisingforsex.com reports that over one thousand men were arrested between April and June 1998 alone while cruising or engaging in Homosexual sex in the US, with no advocacy or response from either the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). The Gay and Lesbian mainstream silently scrambles to distance itself from such acts, giving way to the pretense that police sweeps are serving a 'public interest' - a public whose interests supposedly include those served by the Pink Economy. Within today's political setting, any advocacy against the 'public interest' could be seen as a threat to the illusory private sphere the mainstream holds so dear to heart. But the reality of these arrests is the destruction of many of these men's families, jobs and friendships by undergoing such public humiliations as having their names and offenses detailed in newspapers, being added to lists of sexual offenders for distribution to local homeowners, and costly legal prosecutions in hostile court settings. An economy of Queer music resonates with the sound of George Michael's recent arrest for openly masturbating in a bathroom at Los Angeles' upscale cruise haven Beverly Hills Park - an orchestrated silence composed to counter a media death. Indeed, it is through silence that we seem to find our strength these days.7
Giving a closer listen to the ambiance of this atmosphere of deadened Queer contents, contemporary electronic musics are particularly indebted to members of 'sexually subversive' communities. In an interview about his life in Los Angeles during the '30s, an a-typically forthcoming John Cage talked of the lack of a visibly organized Gay community, and how "contact with the rest of society was through [cruising in] the parks.... For me it was Santa Monica along the Palisades."8 The post-Stonewall era bore witness to the monumental success of Disco, Glam, House, New Wave, New Romantic... each antecedent being ever more sublimated in its willingness to directly lay claim to such subversion in the wake of popular success, and increasingly reliant upon 'unspeaking' visual Queer codings.9 In the '70s, images such as Gary Numan's dehumanized rape machines lingering "Down in the Park" documented the homophobia surrounding England's intense anti-Gay entrapment patrols, and Numan's own battle against self-loathing implicit in coming to grips with exclusion from the public/private paradigm. Two decades later, the same images may still be applied to the Rambles of New York's Central Park, or the recent forced closure of Transsexual and Straight sex clubs on 42nd Street due to aggressive rezoning policies enacted after Walt Disney purchased a majority of Times Square property. Policies which, given my musical origins as 'DJ Sprinkles' in New York's midtown Queer and Transsexual clubs, have legislated away cultural and economic bases from which I emerged.10
The political acoustics of our new Queer space are hushed by the thunder of doors opening before us.
T H I S C L O S E T I S M A D E O F D O O R S
Penned in by the doors stacked around me, I find myself unable to retreat from processes of reification which have managed to reconcile an identity of Queer resistance with the marketplace. My desire to reclaim such an identity of resistance is as at odds with myself as with my marketplace döppelganger. Overlapping shifts in political climate create unusual environmental pressures. First an ache, then a sound gradually floods my ears. An aggressive silence which projects and absorbs all spectrums, reducing its source to obscurity and paralyzing the listening environment. Or my own shrill, demanding attention over other voices. It is here that I find a sonic metaphor for my thesis of Queer sound - an irresolvable sound which declares its presence at the same time it eviscerates itself.
Production turns to product. One for the collection. A headset full of hollow. Secretly encoded signals for those 'in the know.'