lundi 30 avril 2012

Paul White

Resisting the Rhetoric in Retromania: Philosophical reflections on popular music criticism (3/4) 
Part III: Metaphors, Undersights and Oversights

Two central tenets of the retromania argument are that I) digital technology is reversing society's perspectives away from the future and instead towards the past, and II) that this is problematic. I think that both of these claims are specious. In reference to the first claim, what the retromaniac position may overlook, or at least not award sufficient weight, is that the use of brand new digital technologies is itself a thoroughly up-to-date way of doing things. The significance of this should not be underestimated when it consists in using the new and efficient tools, for example finding old music on YouTube, or using torrents for tracking down recordings of obscure and deleted vinyls that enthusiasts have digitalised and put online. The tools being used are modern, and to the extent that they are it is wrong to say that there is something unreservedly retrograde about this change in access. Nonetheless the second claim pushes this point, and suggests that even if the means of access to music are new, the fact that technology is being used to revisit music of the past renders this meaningless. 

This second claim also has a flaw, however, which relates to the fact that our perception of what is 'really happening' is limited. The further we move from an event, or phenomenon, or cultural shift or movement, the easier it is to see its full impact and view it as a totality of causes and effects. When we are relatively near the beginning of an event / phenomenon / shift / movement and in the middle of it we can only see increments or groups of increments of the whole process. Moreover we approach new situations with a degree of cultural baggage, and a set of personal assumptions about reality that are informed by the contingencies of our own experiences. Indeed, as has been argued previously in this blog, ‘a work can only be perceived as original by its position in music history.’ All of these factors limit our view. We do not yet know what the long-term effect will be of the ability to more easily consume an increasing proportion of the music of the past, but we should not assume that it will necessarily produce a net deficit of creativity or originality. The most we can do is observe that our access to the music of the past is growing, as given the newness of this phenomenon it is not yet possible to view it from any kind of larger perspective with authority. With this in mind I think we should reserve judgement, or if we cannot do that then to err on the side of optimism about the persistence of originality. 

DJ Crystl - Warpdrive (LP "Meditation / Warp Drive", 1993)

Dave Clarke – Miles Away (Album "Archive One", 1995)

The first thing to say about this is that in one very basic sense we do not need to worry about newness, because what constitutes our past is permanently changing and being added to with every present moment that recedes into it. In the book Retromania and elsewhere, Simon Reynolds asks 'what happens if we run out of past?'. Whilst the question is easy to understand, it is again primarily a rhetorical question, rather than one that is properly rationally grounded. Given the ongoing production of present events, we can literally never ever run out of past. Every moment that moves from the future and occupies the present is unique. Although no single moment can be said to be any more original than any other, there is a fundamental sense in which newness is occurring permanently by virtue of the ongoing creation of unique moments which become the past. I admit that this is a somewhat metaphysical point, however, and is at risk of sounding obscure. We can ground it by reference to another quote from Reynolds himself: 

'Nowadays, [musicians are] no longer astronauts but archaeologists, excavating through layers of debris (the detritus of the analogue, pre-internet era). The exploratory impulse survives, but the accent has shifted from discovery to rediscovery. They’re questing not so much for the unknown as the lost.' 

This is a seductive argument. It sounds persuasive, in large part because of the metaphors that Reynolds has used. In reality though it is misleading. For example, in what sense can we compare musicians of the past to astronauts in a way that we cannot do now? In what sense can we even compare musicians to astronauts at all? Presumably Reynolds' argument is that astronauts operate at the very limits of man's technological capabilities and that space exploration exemplifies the human desire for discovery and progress. In this respect it might look like we can draw some parallels between pioneers of space science and pioneers of music, but my view is that is unfair to liken the two. Just as not everybody who would like to be a brilliant physicist can be sufficiently exceptional in mind and body that they can push the boundaries of space exploration, so not every musician can be Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, or Aphex Twin. There are many more musicians than there are astronauts, and all astronauts need to attain extremely high standards of achievement in their field in order to use the title 'astronaut', whereas a vast number of people can be musicians if they wish. Hence, the comparison is unreasonable. 

As well as being unreasonable, the comparison is also absurd, for the quote suggests that it would be possible for there to be no musicians who wish to push the boundaries of originality or are artistically capable of doing so, and I do not believe that this can be true. If we are being asked to believe this then we are being asked to believe that creativity itself could be expunged. Given the cultural, social, and moral importance that art has for humans and the societies in which they live the grounds for suggesting that digital culture or hyper-referentiality threatens its existence are weak. Even Reynolds himself does not believe this, as the penultimate sentence suggests: 'the exploratory impulse survives'. My suggestion is we should assume that creativity to be an immutable feature of mankind. The aesthetic impulse is a product of consciousness, and a means of articulating otherwise inexpressible attitudes, emotions, feelings, and beliefs about existence and what it is like to be human. I argue that as long as there are humans there will be art, and as long as there is art there will be art which finds fresh ways to say something newly meaningful about human life, and art which does not. In short, as long as there is consciousness, original art will emerge - even if we do not and cannot yet know what form that originality might take. 

On this final point Reynolds in fact concurs. At the very end of the book Retromania, Reynolds states he believes that 'the future is out there' . Presumably his view is that whatever is new and original will eventually emerge into the present. I think that this is absolutely right. Moreover I think it is important that this point is made, because in other respects the retromaniac position is unduly negative. My assessment is that it relies too heavily on a microscopic view from within new, rapidly changing socio-cultural and technological circumstances that we cannot yet fully perceive and which we may not yet fully understand, and it draws conclusions for which there is no long term conclusive evidence. It does this because it overlooks the crucial role that consciousness and the capacity for self-reflection play in defining mankind and what it is capable of. I will try to demonstrate this by returning briefly to the question of the nature of time. 

(end of the Part III on IV. next and final Part to be published soon)

Anthony Rother – Past Represents The Future (Album "Sex With The Machines", 1997)
The Cure – A Short Term Effect (Album "Three Imaginary Boys Pornography Tour 82", 1982)

jeudi 26 avril 2012

Stewart Weir
Resisting the Rhetoric in Retromania: Philosophical reflections on popular music criticism (2/4)
Part II: Exploiting Ambiguity

It seems easy to refer to the past. We have memories of it, we have artefactual and historical evidence of things having happened prior to the present moment, and we listen to music that was made in the past. To extend this a little further, people sometimes suggest that when we look at the stars we are 'looking into the past' by virtue of how long it has taken the light from them to reach us. The light that reaches us may have left the location of a distant star billions of years ago, and so what reaches us represents the star then, not now. All of these examples are in a sense misleading, however. It is not possible to directly experience the past any more than it is possible to directly experience the future. Wherever we are is the present moment, and whatever exists is a constituent of it. Although artefacts in the present were made in the past, we always experience them now. The present is the frame of our experience. There is, therefore, some confusion built into terms such as 'plundering the past' which are redolent of the retromania argument. It is not the past itself which is being referenced, revisited, plundered, or pastiched, just an entity or an idea that was created in the past but which we experience in the present. This might seem like a trivial point but it highlights an important ambiguity in the retromania argument. 

Dan Corco - Hold On

Perhaps the normative point of the retromaniac position is that musicians and artists ought to look forward rather than back, and should try harder to make music of the future than of the past. I have highlighted 'ought' and 'should' as a reminder that this position is not free of dogma. However much the argument might appear to objectively report what is happening and draw rational conclusions about what might happen next, we can doubt the veracity of the claims concerning the future as well as the ones about the referencing of the past. The scepticism can be expressed simply: all music, however futuristic-sounding, instantly recedes into the past as soon as it comes into existence. Thus there is no music that it is truly 'of the future', other than all the music which has not been yet created. This holds true irrespective of whether we are talking about somebody writing Beatles pastiche rip-offs, or composing music that is unprecedented in its other-worldly difference from what has gone before.

Only music that is potential can genuinely be described as music of the future, for all actual music has already been created. All music that exists is of the past and the present, by virtue of it existing. This is important, because once we realise it we can see that the exhortation for artists to make 'music of the future' is primarily a rhetorical device for advancing a normative argument that relies on just one particular interpretation of empirical facts. In the second of the two examples just given (i.e. the attempt to write music that is completely new) there is even a possibility that the pursuit of this kind of absolute originality is futile, since something can only be 'different' if it is preceded by a tradition that it can be different from. On this view a tradition or convention is a prerequisite for 'originality' without which the concept would make no sense.

It is important to take this into account, and keep in mind that there may be good grounds for disputing the suggestion that hyper-referentiality or the plundering the past could be genuine long-term threats to originality. What we should also be aware of at this point when we discuss 'originality' are the various contingencies associated with the word itself. Originality in the way that we understand it today - in the sense of meaning novelty, newness, a departure from earlier forms and so on – was not held to be of particular value until around the 18th Century. Prior to this, in relation to art at least, it was considered to be of greater value to be part of an established and already respected tradition. Viewed from a slightly different perspective, even a quick search for a definition of the 'origin' portion of the word suggests potentially contradictory meanings to the way in which originality is understood today. For example, to have 'an origin' is to have antecedents, or a bloodline, or an ancestry, and the meaning of such a relation is to bear similarity to others, rather than to be different from them. There is not space to develop this point further here, but it is illustrative of the fact that the way in which originality is understood and valued is not necessarily now fixed and may undergo further changes in future. Thus we should be careful not to valorise its current meaning unduly or assume that it will always retain its present socio-cultural value. For a fuller discussion of these questions click here for an edition of Radio 4's 'In Our Time' that explores them in more detail.
(end of the Part II on IV. Part III to be published soon)

lundi 23 Avril 2012

Guy Tillim
This month is extremely prolific for Peur Bleue. We are thrilled to welcome today a new and eminent voice in these columns for a series of four articles on popular music criticism. In the late 90s through to the mid-2000s, Alex McKeown was a key member of Leeds collective Most Wanted who ran the city’s influential Technique club night and introduced a whole new audience to legends like Derrick May, Dave Clarke and Richie Hawtin. With DJ partner Kid Blue, he was also at the heart of the then-burgeoning breaks scene: DJ-ing around the world, producing records and guesting on Annie Nightingale’s Radio 1 show. Towards the end of the 2000s he went into semi-retirement from DJing and producing and swapped music for academia, hanging up his decks for a PhD in philosophy. 

Resisting the Rhetoric in Retromania: Philosophical reflections on popular music criticism (1/4)

Part I: The Analytical Gap 

Pete Simpson - Philosophy (EP "Orbit E.P.", 2003)

The aim of this article is not to give opinions on new music and whether I think it is good or bad. My purpose is not to justify my own tastes in music, because taste is irreducibly a matter of subjectivity, even where tastes are shared very widely and over long periods of history. No music has objective – that is to say a priori – aesthetic value without the presence of a listener, and my view is that this is not the appropriate place to argue for why somebody should or should not like a particular piece of music. This article is therefore not a piece of music criticism per se, though it crosses over with one of the wider concerns of music writing proper, and that is the analysis of music as a culturally situated phenomenon. My educational background and my day job are in philosophy, and my angle is therefore philosophical, but there is an overlap in the Venn diagram of the various different approaches to thinking about music. 

By virtue of the fact that music is a cultural phenomenon it is hardly surprising that the majority of 'serious', academic or quasi-academic analysis comes from the perspective of anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies and so carries the assumptions and theoretical approaches of these disciplines. Whilst these perspectives have produced and continue to produce a wealth of useful socio-cultural and historiographical documentation, they also have weaknesses that are often overlooked. I suggest that these weaknesses can sometimes create a faulty analysis, hoodwinking the reader and leading him or her to erroneous conclusions that seem plausible but which in fact are not. 

The impact of this problem is amplified when these dominant forms of musical analysis migrate from the margins of academia and into the mainstream via music critics writing for papers and magazines and perhaps also writing entire books of their own. The greater the traction that these kinds of analysis acquire, the more that they come to constitute the received wisdom on how it is that music in culture works and what we ought to think about this. In this article I aim to use one popular current reading of current musical culture – what we can call the 'retromania' argument – as an exemplar for demonstrating the ways in which received forms of analysis can be predicated on faulty assumptions, and so lead to suspect conclusions. 

Demdike Stare - In The Wake Of Chronos (Album "Elemental", 2012)
Model 500 - Future (vocal) (EP "No UFO's", 1985)

The retromania argument is one that has been popularised by the renowned music writer Simon Reynolds in his 2011 book of the same name and in which he coined the term. The book's success is a testament to Reynolds' skill as a musical historian and reflects the widespread agreement in which the argument is held. It has been fastidiously researched and is so comprehensive in its reach that it is not possible to provide a response to every aspect of it here, so I will focus on one aspect in particular – namely, the impact of increasing ease of access to music via digitalisation and the internet upon creativity and originality. 

The central idea is quite simple: our ability to plunder the past is growing as a result of the digitalisation of music. This increased access allows us to revisit music of the past more easily, and so rather than creating new, original, and futuristic music, instead artists increasingly engage in pastiche and ape the past because it is easier to do this than to do anything else. The term 'hyper-referentiality' appears frequently to describe this reversal of perspective towards the past rather than the future and is, so the argument goes, one the key drivers of a diminution in creativity, and consequently a reduction in musical originality. Whilst I understand where this argument comes from and cannot disagree with some of the observations about what digital technology allows us to do, I argue that the normative conclusion – i.e. that new music is shrinking in quantity and decreasing in quality – is incorrect. I am drawn to this view because to my mind the retromania argument is predicated on philosophical beliefs about the nature of time about which there can be legitimate doubt. 

The philosophy of time is very difficult to understand, and this is partly because of the high degree of abstraction that thinking about it requires, as I have written elsewhere. For example, the reality of time itself is extraordinarily hard to prove as a matter of logic, and this is problematic. To conclude that time does not exist is deeply counter-intuitive, as a belief in the reality of time seems rational given its apparent omnipresence in our lives. How are we to go about resolving this tension? There is not space to revisit all of these arguments here, though this book and some information about the philosopher J.M.E. McTaggart and his work on the unreality of time may be useful if you are interested in pursuing these questions further. Nevertheless this gap between reconciling the difficulties in explaining time as a matter of logic, and the straightforward way in which we refer to time in everyday life is important here, and so we should focus on it. 
(end of the Part I on IV. Part II to be published soon)

Ryuichi Sakamoto – Reversing (Album "BTTB", 1998)
Regis - Slave to the Inevitable (Album "Penetration", 2001)

samedi 14 avril 2012

Photostatic n°9 - No One Must Know

Du fantomatique dans la musique : le cas Basinski (3/3)
Of Ghostliness In Music: The Basinski Case (3/3)

J'ai pour cette série d'articles pensé à écouter quelques morceaux qui me semblaient significatifs. Le plus marquant est Disintegration Loops de William Basinski, qui est sans doute un des évènements esthétiques les plus décisifs de ces dernières décennies. Basinski, minimaliste new-yorkais tendance Steve Reich / Philip Glass, fouille dans ses tiroirs, découvre des vieux morceaux qu'il avait enregistré vingt ans plus tôt. En les écoutant, il est saisi : ce n'est plus la même musique, ce qu'il entend n'est plus ce qu'il avait enregistré au départ, c'est autre chose, une tentative échouée de justement retranscrire ce réel perdu. À toute vitesse, Basinski se décide à numériser les bandes de peur qu'elles se dématérialisent encore.
For the prupose of this series, I listened few tracks that seemed meaningful. Here is a striking one: Disintegration Loops by William Basinski. This is probably one of the most decisive aesthetic events of the last decades. Basinski, a New-York minimalist influenced by Steve Reich / Philip Glass, rummages in his drawers and discovers some old tracks that he had recorded twenty years ago. He is stunned by what he hears: that's not the same music anymore, that's not what he had recorded, it's something else: a failed attempt to rightly transcribe this forgotten real. Hastily, Basinski decided to digitalised these tracks seized by their further dematerialisation.

Mais ce qu'il y a d'historique là-dedans, c'est que tout se déroule le 11 septembre 2001, et qu'en même temps qu'il essaiera de sauver ce qu'il lui reste de sa musique, Basinski filmera la nuit tombant sur Manhattan, scrutant d'un plan fixe ce qu'il pourrait encore rester des Twin Towers. Il n'y a pas de revenants en tant que tels, mais il y a bien les thèmes que nous avons abordé précédemment. Et cela m'évoque une des thèses phares du Docteur Geley dans son « Essai de revue générale et d'interprétation synthétique du spiritisme » (1897) : « Toute matérialisation s'accompagne d'une dématérialisation proportionnelle ». Chez Basinski la disparition du World Trade Center répond aux ectoplasmes de musique répétitive.
The historical feature here is that this experience takes place on September 11, 2001: while he was trying to save what remains of his music, Basinski filmed the night falling on Manhattan, scanning a fixed plan of what it could still remain from the Twin Towers. There are no ghosts as such, but there are many topics that we have discussed previously though. That reminds me one of the leading thesis of the Dr. Geley in his "Essay of General Review and the Synthetic Interpretation of Spiritualism": "All materialisation is accompanied by a proportional dematerialisation". In Basinski, the disappearance of the World Trade Center meets the ectoplasm of repetitive music.

mercredi 11 avril 2012

Photostatic n°9 - Manacled

Du fantomatique dans la musique: manifeste pour une musique spirite (2/3)
Of Ghostliness In Music: Manifesto For A Spiritualist Music (2/3)

Parmi les quelques livres de spiritisme que je possède, une description fait consensus. Les esprits, dans leur rapport à notre monde, vont et viennent dans un entre-deux qui n'est ni la présence, ni l'absence. Cet entre-deux fluctuant s'exprime par un double-processus de matérialisation-dématérialisation. Le spectral, c'est à la fois l'apparition imparfaite et la forme dégradée, c'est ce qui tend à être du réel mais n'y arrive jamais, bloqué dans une représentation altérée et/ou éphémère.
Amidst the few spiritualist books I own, a description is commonly admitted: the spirits, in their relationship to our world, are back and forth through an interval that is neither the presence nor the absence. This fluctuating interval is expressed by a double process of materialisation/dematerialisation. The spectral is both an imperfect apparition and a damaged form; this is what tends to be real but never gets it, stuck into a affected and/or ephemeral representation.

Sous cet angle, on voit bien où peuvent se construire les ponts entre théorie musicale et spiritisme. Il suffit pour le créateur ou l'auditeur de considérer la musique enregistrée non pas comme une banalité culturelle, mais comme un moyen de matérialiser l'absent : resignifier les distances géographiques, réévoquer les fractures du temps, souligner avec plus d'insistance les dégradations et modifications de matières. En un mot, restaurer à la musique enregistrée son étrangeté première, son caractère contre-intuitif et potentiellement inquiétant.
From this angle, one can see how the bridges between musical theory and spiritualism can be conceived. The creator or the listener just has to considerate recorded music, not as a cultural commonplace, but as a way to materialise the absent: reformulating geographical distances; bringing back on time rupture; stressing material damages and changes with more emphasis. I sum, let's go back to recorded music with its basic strangeness, its conter-intuitive and worrying feature.

Nous fonctionnons aujourd'hui dans une fusion totale avec elle. Zéro distance, c’est la révolution du sujet capitaliste: les objets ne sont plus différenciés de nous, ne sont plus en notre possession, ils font complètement partie de nous, ils sont nous. Avec la numérisation de la musique, les phénomènes conjoints de miniaturisations des objets et de maximisation de capacités de mémoire, avec également l’avènement de la gratuité « de fait », la musique est devenue avant tout une expérience narcissique, quasi-amniotique, où le consommateur baigne dans son propre plaisir avec une musique qu’il fait sienne.
We are operating in a total fusion with recorded music nowadays. No distance: it is the revolution of the capitalist subject. Objects are no longer distinct from us, no longer in our possession; they are completely part of us, they are us. With phenomenons such as the digitisation of music, the miniaturization of the objects, the maximization of memory capacity and the de facto advent of free music, music became mainly an narcissistic experience, almost amniotic, in which the consumer is immersed within his own pleasure vis-à-vis a music that he monopolized.

Si je milite pour une musique spectrale, en proie aux esprits, c'est pour renouer avec une altérité profonde, radicale, où le sujet est à la fois fasciné et oppressé par l'« ailleurs » qui lui est donné à entendre. Cette musique existe déjà, par-ci par là. Elle n'est pas exactement la musique hantologique telle que la définit Simon Reynolds, pour qui il s'agit plus de faire affleurer l'inconscient culturel en nous. La musique spirite serait plutôt celle qui s'intéresserait avant tout aux phénomènes de surgissements incomplets, d'apparitions manquantes, de résurgences hors-propos. L'échantillonnage et le sampling peuvent en être des outils, à condition qu'on leur enlève toute tentative de se montrer « entre trompe-l'œil ». Ici la clarté est l'ennemi, l'illusion est à combattre : il faut que différents niveaux de présences se fassent entendre, ou du moins que ce soit soulignée cette vérité selon laquelle la musique que l'on entend ne vient pas réellement de là où croit.
If I, beset by the spirits, campaign for a proper spectral music, it is for reconnect with a profund and radical alterity in which the subject is both fascinated and oppressed by the "elsewhere". This music already exists, here and there. It is not about the "hauntological" music as defined by Simon Reynolds, for whom it is more about cropping up the cultural unconsciousness in ourselves. Spirit music is rather the music primarily focused in phenomenon of incomplete or missing apparitions, of pointless resurgences. Sampling may be used as a tool, on condition that we removed any attempt to appear as an "eye-deceiving". Here clearness is the enemy and the illusion must be fought. Different levels of presence need to be heard, or at least, that this truth upon with the music that we are hearing doest not actually come from where we believe.

« Imperium III » de Curent 93, où les fantômes reviennent de partout – voix time stretchée à outrance, échos aléatoires de musiques anciennes : l'angoisse est totale.
Current 93 - Imperium III (Album "Imperium", 1987)

The Caretaker, dont le lien avec les esprits a dès le départ était posé par James Kirby (qui avait amorcé ce projet comme un hommage à The Shining). Le rendu est phénoménal : les spectres tentent de communiquer et échouent toujours par cycles de micro-apparitions informes et carrément flippantes.
The Caretaker - It's All Forgotten Now (Album "A Stairway To The Stars", 2002)

Un groupe français méconnu et pourtant absolument essentiel, Étant donnés, qui a par exemple collaboré avec Michael Gira, Alan Vega, Genesis P-Orridge et qui est également coupable des BO des films de Philippe Grandieux. Le morceau que je vous mets en écoute est une sorte de procession bizarre où les esprits sont invoqués et disent n'importe quoi. « Un gibier, un gibier », s'écrie la foule fantôme avant que la violence se déchaîne, s'abatte sur elle pour la détruire. Je vous laisse imaginer d'où vient cette scène, mais en tout cas on comprend bien pourquoi ces morts-là ne reposent pas en paix.
Etant Donnés - Part I (Album "Wonderland│1", 2001)

vendredi 6 avril 2012

Photostatic n°9 - Mentally Ravaged

Today, Peur Bleue is delighted to invite Julien Lafond-Laumond, co-founder of the blog Des Chibres & Des Lettres "amateur de musiques pointues et de phénomènes farfelus", and Clinical Psychologist for disabled and mentally ill persons. From its very personal approach, he offers us a brilliant series of articles on the ghostliness in music. What would be a better place to talk about that?

Du fantomatique dans la musique: la terreur des musiques enregistrées (1/3)
Of Ghostliness In Music: the terror of recorded music (1/3)

L'histoire de la musique est à peu près aussi vieille que celle de l'humanité. Pendant la majeure partie de son évolution, elle s'est caractérisée par son absence de matérialité et sa dimension événementielle : pas de musique sans quelqu'un pour la jouer devant moi. La musique, c'est alors l'éphémère, l'art qui ne trouve à se loger que dans l'insaisissable présent – à peine attrapée que déjà envolée. Ce n'est que très récemment que son expression et sa diffusion ont été bouleversées. Avec la naissance de l'enregistrement, le rapport à la musique a changé de référentiel. Plus besoin qu'il y ait un autre réel pour qu'elle existe, un simple installation machinique suffisait. Le progrès scientifique était bluffant, mais d'un point de vue sémantique, cela avait quelque chose d'étrange. Ce qu'a permis l'enregistrement, c'est en fait de rendre présente la voix absente. Ce n'est pas rien. Au bout du compte, cela signifiait que les morts pouvaient chanter.
Music history is almost as old as humanity. During a very significant part of its evolution, music was qualified by its lack of materiality and its factual dimension: no music without someone playing it in front of me. Music is ephemeral, as the art form that only occurs in an elusive present - barely caught it is suddenly soaring in the air. It is only recently that both its expression and distribution have been disrupted. With the first appearance of sound recording, our interaction with music has changed its referential basis. Needless to have another real to exist, as a mere mechanical installation was enough from then on. Scientific progress was thrilling, but from a semantical perspective, it was somewhat eerie. These sound recording technics have wiped the voice out - which is sizeable. In other words, it meant that dead people could sing.

Tout fin chasseur de fantômes le sait : les esprits sont toujours au fait des avancées technologiques. Impossible de nier par exemple la relation inquiétante qu'ont nourri des générations de consommateurs avec leur répondeur téléphonique ou les sautes de leur télévision. À mi-chemin entre présent impossible à quitter et au-delà inatteignable, le fantôme arrive à trouver dans les nouveaux objets de communication des moyens privilégiés de se manifester. Ce n'est pas du tout un hasard. Le progrès n'a en effet pas cessé de bousculer l'homme dans une de ses intuitions premières : la présence, c'est l'ici et maintenant. La science a ainsi inventé et défini d'innombrables façons inédites pour l'autre d' « être là », révolutions qui, pour le sujet ancien, pouvaient s'avérer inquiétantes.
Any experienced ghost hunter knows it: spirits are always aware about technological progress. Impossible to deny here the worrying relationship between generations of consumers and their voice box and their TV jumps. Halfway from the impossible present and the unattainable beyond, ghosts find out comfortable ways to appear through the new artifacts of communication. It’s not a coincidence at all. Progress has always hustled humanity in one of its prior intuitions: the presence, it’s now and here. It is how science has invented and defined countless innovative ways for the other one to “be there” that was both revolutionary and scaring for the old subject.

Je vous invite à écouter le tout premier enregistrement sonore où l'on peut reconnaitre une voix humaine. Il a été réalisé en 1860 par Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, qui y chante « Au clair de la lune ». Scott de Martinville invente et brevète au passage le phonautographe, 17 ans avant le phonographe d'Edison. Seul problème : le phonautographe enregistre le son mais ne peut pas le restituer. Et ce recueil papier de vibrations acoustiques n'a pu être retraduit qu'en mai 2010. En 2010, donc, nous avons pu écouter pour la première fois cet enregistrement qui surgit d'un passé extrêmement nébuleux, et la sensation est intense : ce passé qui fait retour ressemble bel et bien à l'au-delà. Et si cet effet se produit en nous aujourd'hui, difficile d'imaginer à quel point l'auditeur d'il y a 100 ans a pu être perturbé.
I invite you to hear the first sound recording of history. It has been designed in 1860 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, who sang “Au clair de la lune”. Scott de Martinville invents and trademarks the phonautograph, seventeen years before Edison’s phonograph. Only problem: phonautograph records sounds but cannot diffuse them. This is why this paper piece of acoustic vibrations has been only transcribed in 2000. We were able to listen this recording emerging from an extremely nebulous past. The sensation is intense: this flashback sounds quite like the beyond. If we feel it in that way today, you can imagine how perturbing that was for the listener a century ago.