IASPM'd - day.one : Afro-Futurism

[report on day.one of IASPM Montreal]

Here's a few words as posted to the Afro-Futurism email list on day.one of IASPM :

hi list,

As requested, here's a few words on the first day of _5 full days_ of panel presentations (often with _three concurrent streams_). IASPM is the first conference I've been to where there is somewhat of an even balance between the under 35's and over, as well as a passable cultural-racial mix (at least the conference is truly international, with participants from Mexico, Spain, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, France, Eastern Europe, the African Continent [trying to figure out who and where from] and all over Canada and the US... so the conference has some good energy to it (also as evidenced by the fine social drinking last night). But onto the goods --

Without further ado, I caught Nabeel Zuberi's paper entitled
"The Transmolecularization of (Black) Folk: Space is the Place, Sun Ra and Afrofuturism." Zuberi, a U of Auckland Prof, was apparently on this very list up until about a month ago -- in any case, like all 20 minute marathon presentations he touched on more than he could analyse in-depth, but managed to present a basic overview of Sun Ra in the development of an "Afro-Futurist" aesthetic (replete with a great clip from the film _Space is the Place_). Fairly straightforward for those knowledgeable of the history, although he took the time to point out Sun Ra as a precursor to Detroit techno and threw in a good quote of Kodwo Eshun. Zuberi also went into a bit of detail surrounding Ra's (mis)use of the mini-Moog to create his wacked out, distorted sounds, and explored the pastiche elements of the film via its collaborative creation. As the panel was focused on sound in film, the focus was more on the ways in which Ra's abstract jazz and use of synthesizers drove the film than theoretical or historical elements of Afro-Futurism (I would have preferred to hear more of the latter than what amounts to me as basic film analysis). Nonetheless Zuberi's paper was the best of the session -- I'm looking forward to speaking more with him today. Apparently he's got some work coming out in that new _Afro Futurism_ volume culled from last year's (I think) _Social Text_ (71).

There was also two papers on Cronenberg and Godzilla respectively, but nothing really mindblowing, mainly dealing with the use of synthesizers and Japanese traditional music motifs respectively. Strong film analysis, but little extrapolated beyond that into the social or political.

The other panel I managed to snag was on cyborgs -- I'm always up for some cyborg analysis. Steve Dixon from U of Salford gave a rather .. well, lacking paper on Stelarc (esp. for those who have read Brian Massumi's brilliant work in _Parables for the Virtual_) which failed to mention Stelarc's use of sound completely (he mic's his machines / robot apparatuse / and his body and amplifies it) & dealt with the Deleuze and Guattari theoretical aspect at a very self-described "cheeky" level which just came across as .. well, "cheeky" -- lacking substance. To Dixon's credit, he was analysing cyborg and robot art (including Stelarc) as _camp_, which I found fascinating, although I couldn't see the thesis as credible. Stelarc's work is anything but camp for me.

Moving on, Catherine Langabeer, also from the U of Auckland, delivered a paper that began to analyse Bjork's recent work with computers and laptops in terms of its paradoxical presentation of digital subjectivity (Bjork sings about closeness and samples her breath while being oh so far away, etc). Unfortunately Langabeer only began to touch onto the laptop aspects and claimed that digital sounds "connote" their digitality; this being in stark contrast to current theses of "areferential" sound from Achim Szepanski and others (ie. "clicks and cuts"). The paper was enjoyable, but suffered from the usual cultural studies perspective of "apply analysis to X object" -- and there's been a good deal of work done on laptop performance and digital sound that could have aided her work. Nonetheless, it was exciting seeing someone reference Matmos and Twerk, at least in their abstract, and her final direction is one I can agree with: "popular music theory needs increasingly to become a cyborg creature in order to accommodate this emergence [of 'the cyborgian relationship between musician and computer-mediated musical practices']."

Well -- I'm off to a few more sessions today, one featuring a paper on "Dance Tribes and Club Cultures" and another panel on "Semiotics and Meaning" -- both of which have papers tying into various aspects of rhythm, dub, reggae and other black diaspora musics and cultures .. as well as shit like simulacra and The Matrix. And tonight I get to DJ for the academes and lay down some techno turntablism -- I think it will be a night of Detroit and abstract minimal techno .. Underground Resistance meets the Germans -- Afro-Germanic ..



posted. Fri - July 4, 2003 @ 10:06 AM           |