its nicer if the dog plays music for two people
Grave Upheaval, (No Title), Nuclear War Now!, 2013
With the exception of their first release, Grave Upheaval (henceforth GU) have suspended any album or track titles from their releases. Perhaps for the first release, a demo (2010), the bias to name the tracks according to the ethos and conventions of the genre (“Death Metal”) was not yet thought through. Or maybe GU thought they needed to name their work something such as “Goat Kommand,” in order for the other idiots mired in the repetition of “their culture” to recognize it “as such” … “as Death Metal.” Irrespective of these injunctions of the genre, which “must” be made explicit, we can say with confidence that GU does perform Death Metal. It’s rather undeniable, and what is the use of arguing otherwise? Who cares? To pretend as if an ontological argument, an argument that says “this is” or “isn’t” e.g. Death Metal, gets anything accomplished. How different is this argument for or against the existence of God, the ubiquitously refuted and hated object of “extreme metal?” This question, or the reference, to God isn’t just a desperate attempt to make you upset or annoyed (“how dare they!”). Rather, it’s a sort of flimsy attempt to finally get to the point, which is that GU unbind the ethical imperative to insist on Death, and moreover experience, without modifying the practical conventions of the genre from which they perform. We will attempt to give a few propositions on why this is.
First, let’s begin on this point of Death and its correlation to experience. We are all familiar with the Music Review: riddled with insipid adjectives and litanies of experiential claims. Can we still afford for such overcompensation and Romantic attempts at “naming” the “experience” that “music” gives to us? What do you think is happening when you listen to music? What GU might posit is that the bias towards Death, and thus an experience embedded in its finitude, cannot or don’t need to be apprehended … cannot or do not need to be paid for any longer. Or, perhaps more urgently, what if we are without the capacity to discern any thing to apprehend or pay for? It might be appropriate to cite some sentences here from Badiou: “Death alone is proof of life. Finitude alone is proof of the transcendental constitution of experience. In both cases, a secularized or sublimated God operates in the background, the over-existent broker of being. One may call Him Life, or—like Spinoza— Substance or Consciousness. […] To unshackle existence down here from its mortal correlation requires that it should be axiomatically wrested from the phenomenological constitution of experience as well as from the Nietzschean naming of being as life.” However, the question is not necessarily to decide that we should axiomatically wrest ourselves from phenomenology, experience, or the finitude of Death—although it’s at least a start —but rather to ask how we, as listeners or whatever, get in a situation where these inane categories of “description” for music are not available or appropriate for what may be described. In other words, we don’t need to, or never will be able to, get a life in order to die and then “experience” the propositions of GU. We must think the existence of GU and ourselves in a “poorer” (for whom? humans? the ones that must be wiped off the universe? the biggest mistake?) way.
In one video (‘vlog’) review of their album released on Nuclear War Now (2013), which is the object of our discussion here, the reviewer attempts to show the viewers the cover of the album, but immediately apologizes for attempting to do so: “Sorry, you probably can’t even see that.” Later the reviewer claims that, in terms of the content of each track: “there’s little to grasp onto.” This is a common sentiment in several reviews given for this album. Invisible Oranges, in a rather comedic way—showing the absurdity of the Modernist injunction to introduce new names, new forms, etc.—offers several “keywords” for GU: “murky,” “muddy,” “wind-tunnel.” IO claims that GU reaches the “peak” of these conditions, which is: the possibility that there can be nothing further to show or provide, nothing further that can result from these conditions. In more absolute terms, another reviewer claims that this album contains „no varying lead patterns, no notable changes in the pace of drumming, no vocal lines that really grab you” and there isn’t much to discern in terms of “riffs” (a convention for the genre … a heterogeneous identity given under a structure that can and will repeat). The Plow Behind You uses the term “impenetrable” several times to describe what may have been heard. All of these reviews demonstrate a desperate, sycophantic attempt to retain the (illusory? presupposed?) injunction that GU, being a musical “result,” must yield some thing to experience and thus describe. But, what has been at least minimally inferred from GU is: homogeneity, indiscernibility, continuousness. Or, the suspension of (though not without a cancellation of possibility for) things, and thus of finitude. To cite Badiou again: “[T]he chain of infinite modes, immediate then mediate, itself intrinsically homogeneous, but entirely disconnected from the presented world of ‚singular things‘” is precisely a description for Being, or: that which is obviously independent of any-thing called a person that claims to experience music.
Of course, to at least imply that GU demonstrates the minimal properties of Being—especially to imply this through the assertions of some geriatric modernist Philosopher—is a bit laughable, considering we’re talking about/ from an album, with discrete tracks. But, what is also laughably obvious is that each track, due to its condition (their decision … relegation?), ends. Moreover, each track has a sample rate of 44.1 kHz. This is proof—as if we needed it?—of a homogeneity intrinsic to not just (No Title), but any record one might acquire. But, considering what our music review frenz have mostly ‘driven home’, GU leaves us with not much else than homogeneity and indiscernibility, or in other words: the fatalism that every track ends and has a sample rate of 44.1, both of which are identical each time. Or: each sample and end of (any) track only happened once, and GU, by yielding an album with discrete tracks—what else would they do?— only perform one sample of the end. But, rather than unifying this singular performance with the presuppositions of the musicians that these performances, samples, tracks, mixes, … must ‘repeat’—expecting a riff, after all—we are left with the incommensurability that they have produced tracks of differing durations, which contain sounds yielded from the perturbation of musical instruments, etc. GU doesn’t modify or attempt to negate the ‘musical’ conditions of their homogenous and idempotent performance. But neither do they affirm them. In this sense, GU might axiomatically wrest themselves from experience, heterogeneity, and Life, involuntarily defaulting them into a condition suspended from the possibility of starting their album, which can also be ‘experienced’ and ‘listened to’. This might imply something like a fatalism, albeit without fatality (i.e. “no effects”).
Sure, there is audio on each track and one can hear that audio, if they wanted. But, one doesn’t necessarily need to do that, considering it might have already happened once and once only, and it’s over. We’ve heard claims like this a bunch of times, mostly regarding how the discursive determinations of a publication—its press release, genre, distribution mechanisms, field of reception, parameters of usage, etc.—basically ‘listen’ or ‘read’ that publication for you.
However, the present review isn’t claiming that sort of overdetermination, but rather pointing to reports of (No Title) that, in the last instance, it both indexes the presentation of presentation, while providing the presenteds of such presentation (of discourse). Instead of starting with discourse, with overdetermination, to then retroactively assert its indeterminacy … no, no … sounds like something Frege would do! Our point is perhaps more along the lines of the press release for (No Title): the album is „immediately arresting to the listener without the need to engage in repeat listens before it even begins to set in.“ The “listener,” should they exist—this ethical “should” is another question that we don’t have time to get into—is arrested by the guarantee of the homogenous end which yields no-thing to discern, immediate and invariant to its any relegation under “the music.” It won’t “set in,” because it has no-thing to do with you or me. Did I listen to this album? This album by Grave Upheaval? How is listening proved? Listening is just another invariant under the album: it doesn’t modify the album, it’s a totally minimal appearance for the album. It doesn’t exist relative to the existence of the album. In other words, this is what we might mean now by death: it doesn’t make any difference … depletion of appearance towards non-identity (contingency?). In other words, the effectuation of listening, as a solely formal procedure that might be performed upon the album, is identical in its homogeneity and invariance to what can be inferred from GU: the end of each track, the suspension of discernibility from ‘impenetrable’ murkiness of identity (result), etc. The ethical imperative to listen, and for there to have something to listen to, in order to effectuate “an experience” might be fairly ridiculous, in this sense. And this might be to practice from or with Grave Upheaval, rather than to demarcate “us” as necessarily autonomous from them, especially when you probably can’t even see that.
Photos: Gina Folly, Courtesy: Weiss Falk and the Artist