2018

This is the planet Earth, our planet. It is a small planet wrapped in clouds, but to us it is a very important place. It is home.

the extinction symbolGlobal warming is currently around 1°C. That’s on average; in some places it’s much higher. In the Arctic, for example, it’s more than 3 degrees. The 2016 Paris Agreement aim is to limit the increase in the global average temperature this century to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to “pursue efforts” to limit it to 1.5°C. These targets represent the idea of a ‘tipping point’ to a ‘hothouse earth’ scenario. In fact there are many interlinked tipping points in complex ecological and Earth systems. This year’s IPCC special report describes the impacts of 1.5°C and 2.0°C warming, and identifies pathways to staying within those limits. It says that that to have a chance of staying within 1.5°C we must reverse the increase in carbon emissions within 12 years and reduce it to zero by 2050. All pathways involve behaviour change, innovation and investment in technology, and a transformation of economic and political systems. On current policies we will reach 1.5°C in 2040 and we are heading for 3.3° warming by 2100. Recent measurements of greenhouse gases are breaking records, global temperatures are exceeding expectations, and the rate of warming is rising. Groups like Extinction Rebellion are raising awareness about climate crisis. Their aims include a move towards a better democracy, based on the creation of a citizens’ assembly to oversee the required policy changes. The extinction symbol, above, represents the climate crisis in the form of an hourglass and the planet. As Greta Thunberg said in her speech at the UN COP24 climate talks, “We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

All of this means that unless we change course dramatically and rapidly enough to limit the worst effects, our existing way of life will be destroyed anyway. On top of so much new evidence this year of the extent and impact of global warming, one paper – Deep Adaption by Jem Bendell – tipped me over to that conclusion. From the abstract: “The purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near term social collapse due to climate change.” It is bleak but realistic and important reading. Deep Adaptation is an “agenda of resilience, relinquishment and restoration” and an approach to engaging with social and environmental dilemmas:

Recent research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals (Bendell et al, 2017). Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful.  http://www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf

Joseph Poore & Thomas Nemeck – Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers (Science, 360(6392): 987–992)
The single most effective way to reduce our impact on the environment is to eat less meat. This large-scale data study shows that if everybody switched to an animal-free diet, it could cut greenhouse gas emissions by half. It would also cut land use for farming – which currently takes up 43% of non-desert, ice-free land – by three quarters. In the context of rising sea levels, this would mitigate the loss of habitable land. The paper (PDF) is quite technical, but EnvironMath has a good summary of the research and its significance.

Christophe Bonneuil – Climate and Collapse: Only through the insurrection of civil societies will we avoid the worst
An interview with historian Bonneuil, for whom the idea of social collapse is real: it has started and is accelerating. He’s not talking about the extinction of humanity (we will survive, even though we’ll end up trying to kill each other, he says), but about the end of the “globalised industrial civilisation resulting from five centuries of capitalism.” Eating less meat may be an effective individual action, but collective action is needed too. Bonneuil argues that we need to work together to reform the political systems and economic structures that have failed us collectively from avoiding the current crisis:

Only a massive mobilisation of civil societies and victims of climate change already facing the damage of existing “globalisation”, only an ethical and political insurrection against all attacks against the living and human dignity itself, only an archipelago of revolutionary changes towards well-being and self-reliant societies can thwart this scenario of ecofascist capitalism. https://www.activisme.fr/climate-and-collapse/

[That’s the end of the stuff on the climate crisis in this post. It made sense to put it all together. The work cited above is genuinely amongst the things that meant the most to me this year. I admit that I’m struggling to deal with it: it affects my mental health and I worry about the future for my family and friends. At the same time, I have hope in the establishment of new economic and political systems to deal with both global warming and inequality.]

Absolver (Sloclap)
This game was given away free with PlayStation online subscription, and it’s become a favourite. Fighting games aren’t usually my thing but this is a bit different. It’s calm and quiet, and the characters don’t have grossly exaggerated gender features. It’s short and fairly simple to learn the basics, but it has a lot of depth and complexity, especially in PvP mode where the rock-paper-scissors aspect of the different fighting styles comes into play. It looks great too. New moves are acquired by successfully countering them. These can be built into a ‘deck’ of moves to suit your style of playing. To succeed against an opponent you need to learn their moves. One thing I noticed whilst playing is that what works well as background music with this game really doesn’t work for driving games like Gran Turismo, and vice versa. With Absolver, music with strong beats makes it difficult to perceive and judge the timing of punches and kicks, whereas soft drone music doesn’t interfere. On the other hand, dance or rock music with repetitive beats works well with driving games, possibly because it provides a metric tempo that helps judge braking and turning points. In contrast, drone music is distracting because it interferes with the sounds of the engine speed and tyre grip which provide necessary feedback. This is a masking effect – the aesthetic sound (background music) must not mask the semantic (information-carrying) sounds.

Ancient Methods – The Jericho Records
Probably one of my most-played albums this year, just because it’s a nice one to relax to (if you like relaxing to banging gothic techno). Autechre – NTS Sessions (Warp Records)
Whenever Autechre release new music, it always seems to illustrate something I wrote about in post a few years back, the ‘adjacent possible’. The original idea by Stuart Kauffman is an application of complex systems analysis to evolutionary biology. It refers to the way in which species evolve from what they are into the previously-unknown. It describes a limit in the space of possibilities and at the same time limitless potential, because some changes alter the space of possibilities itself, which enables increasing complexity. There are problems in drawing an analogy between biological evolution and musical evolution: individuals, species and families don’t map neatly to albums, artists and genres, and it’s difficult to find a cultural counterpart to the biological genotype/phenotype distinction (what is the ‘DNA’ of music?). But an evolutionary pathway in music might be imagined in terms of the way in which successive albums occupy or develop different styles. In both biology and music, an evolutionary history can be explained after the fact in terms of causes and contingencies, but its future direction is always unforeseeable.

Jacques Beloeil – Exit (Bandcamp)
Excellent musique concrète by the mastering engineer behind most of the albums on Entr’acte.

Kate Crawford & Vladan Joler – Anatomy of an AI System
An essay and diagram that maps the structure of the information economy by looking at one particular product. Crawford and Joler analyse Amazon Echo in terms of the processes and resources that go into its making and the network of systems involved in its operation. They show how information architecture plugs into the material world. https://anatomyof.ai/

CO-DEPENDENT (Bandcamp)
This collaborative label is run by the people behind the labels Conditional, FLUF and Disformation. In just over one year CO-DEPENDENT has released around 40 albums, providing a showcase for new musicians. It uses a generic format for album titles and artwork. Artists only get to choose the 3-digit number associated with their release. CODE666 by Calum Gunn was the first release in November 2017. The latest was released yesterday, 30th December 2018 – CODE404 by Victor Moragues.

Consumed – A Decade of No (Umlaut Records)
My friends Steve Ford (vocals, guitar) and Chris Billam (drums), who I’ve known since the first incarnation of Consumed in the early 90s, got the band back on the road a few years ago and in 2018 released this new material. As always, it’s produced immaculately by Andy Sneap.

De Leon – De Leon (Mana Records)
Beautiful bell sounds and slinky rhythms.

Beatrice Dillon – FACT mix 657
Includes a few of my favourite music from this year, like 0009A by NYZ, and some great things I’d not heard before. https://www.factmag.com/2018/06/11/beatrice-dillon-fact-mix/

Films: Suspiria was a bit of a let-down, especially the ending, but a nice detail in Thom Yorke’s soundtrack was the music in the scene of the public performance, whose 5/4 time signature matched the pentagram hidden within the markings on the dance studio floor. Hereditary was much better: properly spooky and more coherent, and the music by Colin Stetson is particularly good. Best of all were You Were Never Really Here directed by Lynne Ramsay and The Phantom Thread by P.T. Anderson, both with soundtracks scored by Johnny Greenwood. My favourite is Mandy by Panos Cosmatos, which features Nic Cage on top form. It’s a bloody, twisted tale of revenge with retro psychedelic visuals and what turned out to be one of Johan Johansson’s final scores.

RIP Peter Firmin, artist, illustrator, model-maker. I grew up watching the TV programmes of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate: Bagpuss, Clangers, Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine. I still have a book by Firmin, the Winter Diary of a Country Rat, that I was given for Christmas back then. I’ve always loved his style of drawing. The lines about planet Earth quoted at the top of this post are from the introduction to Clangers.

GOHV – AA0008 (FLUF)
The first in the AA series of two-track releases on FLUF, AA0001 by tuuun, was in my end-of-year list for 2017. Since then the series has grown impressively. Here I’m picking out just one release, but the whole series has been one of my favourite things to listen to this year. GOHV is Casper Gottlieb and Jesper Bagger-Hvid. They specialise in making musical moiré patterns. I bloody love the track ‘0008A’, admittedly partly because it’s the kind of thing I’m trying to do with my own music. Although we have different aims and approaches, the ends results are similar: the music has a slightly disorienting effect based on slow changes in non-repeating patterns.

David Graeber – Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (Simon & Schuster)
Graeber’s book expands on his 2013 article, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs. The elaboration of the theory into a typology of bullshit jobs is based on a collection of testimonies and interviews with people who answered Graeber’s call for evidence on Twitter. It’s an engaging, informative book with lots of little insights alongside the main subject, such as: men tend to take the jobs they can tell stories about, while women tend to do the kind of work they can tell stories during. The book is good because it not only makes sense in itself but also connects with other things. For example: In the Deep Adaptation paper mentioned above, Jem Bendell recognises the bullshitization of academia that Graeber writes about (see also his article in the Chronicle of Higher Education), and pins it on neoliberal economics: “This ideology has now influenced the workloads and priorities of academics in most universities, which restricts how we can respond to the climate tragedy.” Graeber’s analysis of stories about a managerial culture based on futile tasks is complemented by research on what makes work meaningful which “showed that quality of leadership received virtually no mention when people described meaningful moments at work, but poor management was the top destroyer of meaningfulness”. His link between bullshit work and illness also relates to Mark Fisher’s ideas on the link between mental health and capitalist realism:

Neoliberalism reproduces itself through cynicism, through people doing things they “don’t really believe”. It’s a question of power. People go along with auditing culture and what I call “business ontology” not necessarily because they agree with it, but because that is the ruling order, “that’s just how things are now, and we can’t do anything about it”. That kind of sentiment is what I mean by capitalist realism. And it isn’t merely quietism; it’s true that almost no-one working in public services is likely to be sacked if they get a poor performance review (they will just be subject to endless retraining); but they might well be sacked if they start questioning the performance review system itself or refusing to co-operate with it. https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3051-they-can-be-different-in-the-future-too-mark-fisher-interviewed

Alvin Lucier – Criss Cross / Hanover and So You … (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice) (Black Truffle)
The image above is a spectrogram of ‘So You … (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice)’. I looked at ‘Criss Cross’ and ‘Hanover’ in an earlier post. Spectrograms seem to work well with Lucier’s music because they can reveal ordinarily inaudible details and show the bigger picture in a way that’s difficult to perceive whilst listening. In this case, it shows a structure that represents the descent to Hades in the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce. In ‘So You…’, three sine waves start at around 2,000Hz and gradually descend in pitch to 64Hz and back again. This covers a range of around 5 octaves, approximately C2 to C7, over a duration of one hour. Against the sine tones there are three accompaniments: voice, cello and clarinet – which pitch in at around the same frequency. Because the sine waves are constantly changing pitch, the accompaniments are always slightly ‘off’. Lucier’s recent compositions are as vital as his early work.

rkss – DJ Tools (UIQ)
I recommend reading Xenogothic’s post on DJ Tools which describes it better than I can. The part that resonated with my experience of listening to this album is where he says that the album “is not saying: ‘Look what I can do with these out-of-the-box sounds.’ It’s saying, look what lurks just below the surface of EDM today… Here be dragons…“. Making something out of well-worn pieces of music has been a bit of a thing this year. In addition to rkss’s re-working of generic EDM sample packs, there’s been Rian Teanor’s RAVEDIT made with cheesy Euro-dance, EVOL’s Ideal Acid amassed from 1-second, 4-beat samples from hundreds of different acid tracks and Battle Tracks, instrumental MIDI-file versions of 57 dance pop tunes. rkss has also created a counterpart album of remixes of some well-known (copyrighted) tracks: DJ Tools: Illegal Material.

Laurie Spiegel & Don Christensen – Donnie and Laurie (Unseen Worlds)
A motorik drumbeat played by Christensen pans around and underpins Spiegel’s delicate oozing electronic synth chords. The two parts contrast highly – fast/slow, loud/quiet, hard/soft, simple/complex – and work together nicely. It’s a happy piece of music which is why I like it a lot.

Massimo Toniutti – Il Museo Selvatico (Black Truffle)
Like a soundtrack to a very dark comedy. In the first track, nerve-jangling sounds of scrapes, clanks and rattles reverberate in what might be a barn or a courtyard, whilst a low horn tone seems to alternate in perception between an ominous groan and a sad trombone. It’s arty, abstract music but humble, not pompous. Overall it has a very uncanny atmosphere. A metallic bell sound, occurring around 17 minutes into the 6th track, is so similar to the first note in the De Leon album (see above) that I had to check it wasn’t accidentally playing at the same time.

Rian Treanor – Contraposition (Arcola)
Possibly my favourite thing this year. Music to be jealous of, seemingly effortlessly combining cutting-edge razor-sharp sounds with taut rhythms to produce something that’s actually danceable. Really nice design on the vinyl too.

Buy Music Club
A simple web app to create and share lists of Bandcamp albums. Here’s a list of some of the good things I bought this year: https://buymusic.club/embed/guy-2018-long-list

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