A Ubiquitous Subjectivity?
polemical, this argument is the necessary precursor to rethinking
our approaches both to the study of music and to the idea of subjectivity.
As more and more kinds of music are played in more and more settings
alongside more and more activities, it becomes crucial to develop
ways of approaching this phenomenon. As Gifford puts it,
Muzak anticipated the way we live our lives today, accompanied by a constant soundtrack of radio, television, video and film Muzaks real significance is that it paved the way for a new ambient culture, a culture that Sensurrounds us with digitized music and pixelated images, endlessly looping screen savers and point-of-purchase interactive displays, occupying all areas of our multitasking minds. (installment 6, page 3)
If the music industry manages to sort out the piracy problem, the Internet will become a hugely important source of revenue. The record companies sold their music all over again when the CD came out, and they can now sell it all over again over the Internet, again. What is more, they can sell it in more flexible packages to make it more attractive to different kinds of consumers. (A Survey 32)
- This third selling
is a performance of the ubicomp world in the making. Its attendant
subjectivity is not individual, not defined by Oedipus or agency or
any discrete unity. The listener of this third selling is no mere
subject, but rather a part of an always moving ever-present web. S/he
is not a listener of a genre first and foremost, but rather a listener
tout court. Ubiquitous music is cable that networks all of
us together, not in some dystopian energy-producing array à
la The Matrix, but in a lumpy deployment of dense nodes of knowledge/power
figured by, for example, the SETI@home project. SETI@home uses home
computers when they are otherwise idle as a resource for ramping up
computer processing power for the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence
project. In this extreme model of distributed computing, each home
computer is a little lump or node in an enormous array of computing
activity. Likewise, we are each nodes in an enormous array of listening.
- There are numerous
attempts to describe what Im getting at here, from many different
directionsfrom Xerox PARC, to Donna Haraway, to Gilles Deleuze
and Felix Guattari. In Autoaffections: Unconscious Thought in the
Age of Teletechnology, Patricia Clough proposes a new ontological
perspective and an unconscious other than the one organized by an
oedipal narrative (20). Throughout, Autoaffections works
in two genresacademic prose and prose poetry. Not only the chapters,
but also the genre shifts themselves are performances of the books
opens with a prose poem, Television: A Sacred Machine,
which is a work of remarkable power, both more beautiful and clear
than what we usually call theory. Clough says:
My machine has more parts; it has more action,
Like the action of fingertips attached to ivory keys,
Playing in between the beats of a metronomes patterning. (22)
Still, I was destined by that piano,
Destined to find myself in attachment to machines. (25)
- What I am proposing
is a theory of subjectivity based on ubiquitous music called ubiquitous
subjectivity. Like ubiquitous music, parts phase in and out of participation
in ubiquitous subjectivity, but it never leaves usand we never
leave it. If that sounds ominous, it isnt meant to. Its
simply a habit of mind from an earlier notion about our discreteness,
and its time to notice that ubiquitous music and ubiquitous
listening have been forging a different subjectivity for quite some
time now. Like Star Treks Borg, we are uncomfortable
being unhooked from the background sound of ubiquitous subjectivity,
so we turn radios on in empty rooms and put speakers under our pillows.
We hang up when a telephone connection is not kept open by sound.
We prefer to be connected, need to listen to our connections, cant
breathe without them. We already live a network we insist on thinking
of as a dystopian future.
- This networked-through-music
subjectivity could seem similar to ideas about music and collectivity.
As Eisler and Adorno argue in Composing for the Films, many
anthropologists and writers about music suggest that music operates
differently from the oculocentric individual of contemporary Western
culture. They say that music listening:
preserves comparably more traits of long bygone, preindividualistic collectivities . This direct relationship to a collectivity, intrinsic in the phenomenon itself, is probably connected with sensations of spatial depth, inclusiveness, and absorption of individuality, which are common to all music. (21)
- I am not suggesting
that ubiquitous music has reintroduced such a collective identity
through music to modern or postmodern societies. Far from it. What
I am arguing, rather, is that ubiquitous music has become a form of
phatic communication for late capitalismits purpose is to keep
the lines of communication open for that lumpy deployment of dense
nodes of knowledge/power we call selves. We are Borg because isolated
consciousnesssilenceis unpleasurable in the extreme.
- As we enter the second century of the disarticulation of performance and listening, new relations are developing that demand new models and approaches. It is easy to see that the industry is changing. It is perhaps harder to hear the changes in music, in listening and in subjectivity that all of this portends. Yet musics, technologies, science fiction, social relations and subjectivities have been fermenting these changes throughout the twentieth century. At least in the metropolis, listening to music is ubiquitous, and it forms the network backbone of a new, ubiquitous subjectivity.