GOD IS DEAD
Foot for Fraught attempts to be serious as she surveys the art of archiving in the age of nostalgia...
I am lying atop the sunken-in side of my 13-year-old mattress. I can feel the springs jabbing into my back… his image soars for a split second before I realise the once period-stained sheets now resemble the salmon-pink of my Caucasian friend’s dusted elbows. I am sore from the previous day’s travel and a 1.5-year stint in Melbourne.
The walls start to close in around me, whispering their corroded memories of what once happened inside my Barbie-gleamed prison cell. I drop deeper, cocooning between the comforter, leaving no space for gaps. I lift my legs and place them above the traces left behind from a similar day’s past. I type, “The Bear soap2day” into my browser tab and click on the first link.
At the end of season 2 episode 7, Richie (Cousin) finds Chef Terry peeling a pile of mushrooms on her own. She invites Richie to join and he does. He asks her why she does it, at this stage in her career. She replies, “I think it is time well spent.”
She tells Richie about her father, how she mostly learnt about him after his death from finding a stash of tour notebooks he’d left behind. In it, he described "the palm trees he’d seen or the escargot he had tried or the time the ocean looked purple”. She says, “The way he wrote everything, it was like a reminder; don’t forget this moment or don’t forget this interesting strange detail. Hundreds of entries he’d sign each off the same every time…”
Chef Terry gets called to duty before finishing her sentence but in cinematic satisfaction, Richie turns around to face the placard hung up above the kitchen clock of America’s finest restaurant.
“Every Second Counts”.
The inflight serving of chicken satay and peanut sauce gurgle upward, spilling out in dribbles onto my already-manky keyboard. “Cringe” I mutter under my breath as I cling to the bolster beside me. Grabbing tissues from the headboard behind me, I begin to wipe up the mess till I remember my own… Crawling across the room I grab my phone to open up my voice memos.
‘New Recording,’ 29th June 2022, 30th July 2022, ‘Dryburgh St,’ 1st August 2022, ‘Racehorse Road,’ 21st August 2022, ‘Beurepaires,’ 27th November 2022, ‘Royal Park,’ the list continues for 8 more entries.
A year ago, lonely, distraught, and all other pitiful things, I started walking. A lot. Sometimes long enough to find me on the doorstep of Australia’s finest export, Bianca Censori’s Ivanhoe; a foreign suburb on the other side of a city I thought I kind of knew.
I still cannot believe she’s from Ivanhoe.
When the days slowed and the sun settled back down into the Earth, I wandered toward home, grounding myself in the memories of another life.
Shutting my eyes, I would try to sniff out the sugarcane sap of the dewy grass underneath a grandmother’s steps when she taught two fighting sisters the importance of perspective, of difference, of disagreeing but still understanding.
Breathing in deeper, the sap turned sour for the over-brewed woman at a gallery café. Acidity coated the underside of my tongue when she greeted her old friend and his brand new wife after her own recent divorce. I listened to her worry with dryness in my mouth; her daughter was dropping out of an engineering course to pursue the arts. As my tongue started to numb, I heard her reconcile with the overbearing father of her eldest daughter. He scolded her for cycling down their quiet suburban road, alone. I finally swallowed when she explained how she had grown tired of him imposing upon them his own OCD-induced thoughts of fear and fatality. I sat up straight and opened my eyes as she shook her head, raised her hands and said, “Enough about me! How was Vietnam?”
Catching onto the nearby chitchat of actual passersby, I’d breathe out, slowing my footsteps to sync with their echoing laughter. Harbouring their happiness as my own, I’d sometimes save them for later. For when I felt tense in the softness of my bed. I’d release them with closed fists.
I called these walks my “adventure days”.
In a voice memo from 30th July 2022, I noted how everything felt so sparse and yet so insular. Like, short and coinciding stop-motion films. That conceptions of a viable life existed in places with more street lights; a vibrancy mostly constricted to the 6km radius of Melbourne’s CBD. In the spaces between, I narrated the faces of people inside their cars. Giving them new stories. In doing so, I became aware of the endless stories I wrote for myself, that I clung onto fictitious worlds as a child cries for their favourite stuffed toy. With them, I never felt scared.
But imprinted in the back of my skull is the notorious pinging of my mother’s incessant calls. On a 2-hour journey to Footscray Park a few months into my great adventure, I felt a tickle in my ear… I stopped by the side of the road to find that my eldest brother’s hand caught on fire and he was in the hospital receiving a skin graft. I choked on my own saliva for the remainder of my trip.
Once I sat down on a bench by the highway, I understood. I was living in a nostalgia of my own making. Appropriating what happened like Philipp Perlmann, a linguist in the novel Perlmann’s Silence by Pascal Mercier. For him, things lost their presence and he only seemed capable of fully experiencing life when remembering it, clutching onto the sentences his acquaintances expressed in the past.
I’ve looped around these hallucinations for a while, dropping hints into my bedside drawer, stashing them away in my pillow case and littering them amongst the dust, to pick back up later. And only briefly in I AM MARTIN NEWELL or WAS I BRITISH IN MY PAST LIFE?
I didn’t call my brother to check up on him.
It has been two weeks since my last edit. I am at a café in KL’s city centre and a previous nightlife hotspot, Changkat, Bukit Bintang. I am listening in on two law graduates discussing their painstaking clerkships. I jot down their tremors into my black leatherbound notebook with a semi-broken but well-cherished 0.05-point pilot pen that I buy in bulk from Art Friend in Malaysia. I pause for a second to scoff at their renditions of ‘emotional’ female colleagues.
Minding my own business has never really been my thing. As a young girl, my mother and I often engaged in eavesdropping together. Sitting on a bar stool in a hair salon in Colombo, Sri Lanka, we pricked our ears backwards to the people around us and our eyes forward at the mirror. Giggling and stealing glances at one another as my mum translated Singhalese into Sindhi for just me. Admittedly, the conversations around us were not very interesting. I think, I mostly derived pleasure from listening in on what felt like ‘stolen’ conversations… Soon, I was eavesdropping everywhere regardless of whether I was stuck at a salon waiting for my mother to finish her blow-out or at dinner with friends I adored. I had become disposed to eavesdropping.
It’s no wonder I finally found a calling in Anthropology at age 23, my dream job is to be an Archivist for a gallery and I spend my free time watching 3 hour long podcasts.
In preserving some sense of an archival project, I came across Voice Memo Bootleg online. They are a gig archival account based out of Melbourne that records concerts on a field recorder to post online. From there, I found an entire subculture of Australian music archiving including Eternal Soundcheck (2009 - 2018) and Weirdo with a Dictaphone (2012 - 2014). Their recordings offered the listener (me) an opportunity to reside, if only for an instance, in an otherworld. It is evident, that most of these accounts were made in the 2000s– the first truly digital decade, and also the first decade that saw widespread use of the public internet. Alongside a spike in innovation and globalisation, the naughts were characterised by an intoxication for what came before.
Approximately 130 years ago German philosopher Friedrick Neitzche famously proclaimed: “GOD IS DEAD” as the dissolution of a specific and ‘sacred’ moral structure after the Enlightenment period. He recognised the uptick of intellectual-philosophical debate had prompted a modern rationalism that had removed God from the contemporary Western understanding of the universe; replacing religion with the "cult" of science. And, while Nietzche’s proclamation of the death of God is often characterized as the beginning of nihilism, Nietzsche explicitly opposed nihilism on the grounds that it weakens one’s passion for life. He writes, “What does nihilism mean? – that the supreme values devalue themselves”.
So Nietzche was a bit of a romantic, and as an atheist, it is obvious he didn’t believe only religion could impart meaning unto life but what he did believe was there was no objective order or structure in the world but what we give it. Mostly, he recognised the importance of systems of value in helping us to embrace the drama of existence.
Dazed Media recently dropped its 2023 trend report on the future of youth culture. I tried to purchase it before my jaw unhinged itself from my skull when I saw a £2000 price tag. So I pulled research elsewhere by going on their website and searching, "nostalgia". It is safe to say I had to click "load more" a lot of times.
In the 1976 novel, Speedboat, Renata Adler recalled one of Edith Piaf’s numerous final concerts at the Paris Olympia:
“She was singing “Je ne suis pas folle.” She ended the song, as always, with maniac laughter. On this particular evening, someone way back in the theatre echoed that laughter. At first, it was thought to be a prankster, or at least a heckler. Then it was thought to be part of the performance. But when that insane laugh continued, bitter, chilling, on Edith Piaf’s precise note, like one tuning fork of madness responding to another, three ushers and six members of the audience escorted the laughing lady, with infinite courtesy, to the street.”
The world echoes… listening is never passive.
In an interview, Herbie Hancock retells a story of a concert he played with the Miles Davis Quintet in Stockholm, Sweden, in the mid-1960s. He says they’re on tour and the show is heating up, the band is in sync, the music is flowing, and the audience is connecting. It’s magic. Until, Miles starts playing, building up to his solo and Hancock misplays a chord. He says it is just “so wrong” and “it’s hanging out there like a piece of rotten fruit.” But Miles pauses for a fraction of a second and plays a note that somehow miraculously makes his chord “right.”
If structure would absolve any ideas of radical freedom, it is here we see the value of its constraints in propelling creation. We are always responding to something.
Nostalgia is the spirit of our times.
I know we’re all probably at our wits-end with the idea of nostalgia (especially since the pandemic). But if you haven’t already caught on, I think nostalgia may as well be Gen Z’s religion, so to speak. We’re a generation so obsessed with history, in both repelling it and honing in on ‘tradition’ (it is somehow extremely sexy when a DJ spins vinyl and not a USB). Also, anthropologists actually have a place in the job market again and it’s probably because of climate change and maybe because of where we’re at culturally.
The internet has reserved us victims of our increased capacity to archive; store, save, organise and instantly access large amounts of cultural data at the ease of a finger-tap. I think it is fair to say, that we are living in an overtly aestheticised climate where the old cannot be old if the new is not so much new at all… a new variation of Lacan’s ‘schizophrenic signifying chain’. Time doesn’t go away anymore, instead, it is put on a shelf where it persists in syndication. A perpetual ambience to modern life. A coping mechanism in the face of ‘rapid change’.
And so we’re back where we started:
All around us lie features that, like ourselves and our thoughts, have more or less recognizable antecedents. Relics, histories, and memories suffuse human experience… Whether it is celebrated or rejected, attended to or ignored, the past is omnipresent.” –– Lowenthal, 1985: XV.
~ like one tuning fork of madness responding to another ~
In Svetlana Boym’s ‘The Future of Nostalgia,’ she separates nostalgia into two subsections. The first, ‘restorative nostalgia’ mourns the “impossibility of mythical return” to a magical world “with clear borders and values”. Its adherents define their identity based on the boundaries of a bygone era, they long for and seek to reconstruct a past supposedly marked by greater “authenticity”. The second, ‘reflective nostalgia’ is aware of the potential gaps between identity and resemblance. There exists a distance that allows for connection in a way that is conscious of the past’s imperfections and more importantly, irreversibility. There is acceptance of no “absolute truth” and the past as Boym writes is a way to meditate “on history and the passage of time”.
At first, I assumed music archival blogs like Voice Memo Bootleg, Eternal Soundcheck and Weirdo with a Dictaphone were reflective because they are unique and systematic, unconstrained by any commercial markets, paying audiences or manufacturing. They reflected freedom of international copyright law and I assumed they offered a useful hearing aid in the past. They are awash with a sense of ageing, scruffy, shabby and decoupled from digital production software like sound editing. If purified, I thought these accounts as storehouses of tradition would naturally diminish because ‘purity’ is elusive and quickly leads to a sense of subjectivity and stereotyping.
Apparently, I concluded they formed impure, well-blemished shoes to step into. In some sense, I could be right.
But, now I see what I liked about eavesdropping or archiving or Voice Memo Bootleg was escaping into the highly individualised. That I was able to attempt perceiving a perceived individual perspective like a human centipede, ingesting and shitting out for another to ingest and shit out.
When I think of sensory perception, I think of visual perception ‘closure,’ the perceptual tendency to complete an incomplete pattern by filling in the gaps or the way our brains see faces in patterns. In this way, there’s probably a lot to say about aural perception but the lack of confident research makes it hard to make any real claims. There’s some stuff I can say about the sounds of the Industrial Revolution and how their loudness mostly remained inconspicuous until ‘power’ and social importance came into question but I’d be boring you with another 2000 words. There’s also the idea of binaural hearing and sound localisation which has largely to do with space. Quite a lot of work has been done to mask one sound and bring out another or the idea of auditory fatigue when being exposed to the same sound over and over that you become numb to it. I’ve personally been known to sleep soundly to alarms.
Clearly, individuals and societies of various eras listen differently. Sound partly has to do with an individual’s state of mind, i.e. mood and interest and partly the individual’s relation to the arena as a local or outsider. Some different languages also have special onomatopoeic expressions for familiar animals, birds or insects. Aside from their phonetic limitations in language, their obvious differences in words must indicate something about the manner in which some sounds are heard so distinctly yet differently by separate cultures. Do animals and insects speak dialects? I recently read that bat mothers speak motherese (baby talk) to baby bats and that tomatoes can make sounds to convey pain.
There is one particular recording from Weirdo with a Dictaphone that stood out to me. It is one of Sam’s later ones from 27th June 2015 of Melburnian post-punk band, Total Control’s highly anticipated and final live performance.
The recording is definitely on the shitty side and feels as though you are listening in from outside the venue. It features heavy bass levels, crackling coil vocals and of course, shrieking squeals from the crowd. It cuts out a lot and the set list isn’t complete. But, apparently the venue– Hugs&Kisses was giving more Shove&Manhandle. Sam describes the crowd as antisocial and gives a special mention to the “strung out hip fuckwit who deliberately tries to ruin the recording at a couple of points on some kind of anti-bootlegging crusade” and is told to fuck off by not Sam, but a patron next to him. The man also brags about starting a fistfight and multiple brawls ensue. It’s a punk show; stick it to the man and all that I guess…
What drew me to this particular recording was, the guitarist/keyboardist Mikey Young mentioned it in an interview with The Vine afterwards. I couldn’t read it because the digital magazine has obviously dissolved but according to Sam’s little description, it occurred during ‘Systematic Fuck’. See an excerpt of the lyrics below:
A lonely operation
And curled in shame
You're the one to blame
You're the one to blame
You're the one to blame
Without Sam’s written rendering, we wouldn’t have actually known this happened. That is to say, audio is fantastical because of its missing visual element. Even the most perfectly captured sound is unable to restore the moment of its first inscribing. The world is no longer there and on closer listening, it probably never was. The age of recording was an age of nostalgia, as the digital age only can be.
Like the Hancock example, music displays a sort of haunting presence– ghosts arrive from the past to appear in the present. The historical past cannot be identified with belonging to the present as it fractures a sense of temporality. The ghost becomes paradoxical but if I were to denote a musician’s relationship to their music suggests a sense of nostalgia as an ingrained principle of their musicality whether through listening to past recordings in playing past compositions or creating new ones, you’d probably agree… right? Any attempt to isolate the origin of a sound will find its inaugural moment already dependent upon a system of sounds that have been installed prior to the ‘original’ moment.
I think it was Derrida who said something along the lines of a past that anticipates a future that never occurred.
Leyland Kirby, under his moniker The Caretaker, created an entire (ambient) musical ID around the relationship between music and memory’s often inconsistent retrieval.
Didn’t ambient music make its grand return in the pandemic?
FUCK I did it again, I found a way to write about ambient music.
Evidently, I have been struggling to come to a conclusion, I guess to find a sort of moral in this story. I’ve been working on this essay on and off for 3 weeks and I was glad every time I had an excuse to divert from it for more than a few days. I thought maybe it was because I was depressed again and didn’t know how to deal with it. You know how they say, your body eventually gets accustomed to things? Or your brain sees faces in dots? I’d been doing well for so long, able to halt manic episodes or at least subdue them but the resources I’d garnered were not working any longer. The gym wasn’t hitting the same nor were these walks– it was much too humid in KL and my SULA was showing. Also, I’ve struggled to be funny in this essay and it has been hurting my ego…
Before it gets too draining to read, let’s get to the point.
I made it outside today. Hoping for some light, to bring back home with me where it is darkest. In the taxi on the way here, I couldn’t locate the off switch on my tears. I kept trying to count to 10 or picture a happy moment but I couldn’t conjure them. I tried to think of a day in 2017 when I first visited Melbourne and we drove out to the beach where it was windy. Or the last time I took a walk along the Yarra trail. Of that woman who sat with her eyes closed as her lids soaked in the heat on a winter’s day. I remember taking a photo of her. But then my tears came down harder, to remember “happy” because in those moments I knew I wasn’t. They were just beautiful attempts at feeling something.
I made it to my destination and climbed out of the taxi, looking up to dry out my eyeballs.
I have not paid much attention to the number 3 in a while, it used to be an obsession when I was manic and on a so-called spiritual journey. Yes, I even added ‘333’ to my Instagram handle at the height of the pandemic and its lockdowns until it became a joke amongst friends and me. Call me neoliberal, I dare you.
Secretly though, I associated it with my Nani because it happened at the time she moved back in with my Nana. And I was happy for her, it is what she wanted for the last five years of her life. Maybe more.
But she hadn’t left me anything behind besides a black leather sling bag I convinced my uncle to let me have. I needed to feel close to her in some way, to pretend we were communicating so I clung to the number 3– my favourite number for my favourite person.
Today I stood up, showered (standing) and wore my favourite black lace gloves to spend the day vertically. I bumped into a barista on the way in here, he ended up seating me and then, serving me at the counter once I was ready to order. He told me there was no more oat milk as I held back tears. They only had almond and soy alternatives, for fuck’s sake. I ordered as quickly as I could, paid and grabbed my stainless steel table number. I rushed back to my seat and sat down. I placed the number on the table and finally, looked back up. It took me a few moments to realise… it was the number 3.
Fuck you, Nani.
I a child of the social media generation, felt it was necessary to tweet about this spiritual encounter. I was escaping into yet another fantasy. A different waiter served me my food and coffee while I continued typing away on my phone.
“Hello, you” I turned around. It was the barista from earlier.
“You wanted a plug point?” I had forgotten that when he seated me, I bent down to search underneath the bar seats for a plug point. He saw me give up and sit back down, breathing out. Irritated with myself for even making my way outside and trying to feel better.
He had found me a table for 4 at the front of the restaurant, with a pink couch and a plug point.
After moving seats, the first thing I did was write down this encounter in my notebook.
There was probably a reason why I struggled to finish this essay for so long. I had gotten so enthralled by another idea, ideas with which I learnt to freeze time, in overintellectualising it that I had lost its essence. Ironic. I wanted to find the “interesting” aspect, to interpret what I saw and heard and maybe to no fault of my own– select the most workable narrative: logic.
What I really did this for was to experience, realise and remember those human moments that stop me from wanting to jump out the window. It was the simple niceties and shared intimacies between others that I clung to.
It was these moments I was trying to remember in the Uber on the way here.