HOW LONG TO FORGET THE SECRET?

The music of video games. They are fitted into tables. You can drink, you can lunch, and go on playing. They open onto the street. By listening to them you can play from memory.

The Pizza Hut in Gaffney had a cocktail-table video game of “1942.” Mom buys me a pair of Solar Shades and passes a quarter to play while we wait on a pepperoni with green pepper and onion. I play from memory: take a barrel roll and blow those Nakajimas out of the sky.

He claims that electronic texture is the only one that can deal with sentiment, memory, and imagination.

I’ve never agreed. Who says no? It’s not so easy forgetting how to play the drums.

He described to me the ceremony held at the zoo in Ueno in memory of animals that had died during the year.

At the Cleveland Zoo, I asked my aunt why she married my uncle.

And beneath each of these faces a memory. And in place of what we were told had been forged into a collective memory, a thousand memories of men who parade their personal laceration in the great wound of history.

Each leaving a loss, each loss a wound: Canton, Gaffney, São Paulo, Tokyo, Wooster, London, Pittsburgh, Prague, Brest, Dębica, Kraków. Even leaving Dubrovnik after a few days is masakra.

That’s how history advances, plugging its memory as one plugs one’s ears.

Memories are knocked out poorly without earplugs.

I’m writing you all this from another world, a world of appearances. In a way the two worlds communicate with each other. Memory is to one what history is to the other: an impossibility.

Memory all too possible: forgetting does the real damage in its impossibility. History is never impossible; only as compared to history is memory sometimes impossible.

I envy Hayao in his “zone,” he plays with the signs of his memory. He pins them down and decorates them like insects that would have flown beyond time, and which he could contemplate from a point outside of time: the only eternity we have left. I look at his machines. I think of a world where each memory could create its own legend.

A world in which each memory creates its own machine, more likely. Cannot—must not—sufficiently investigate that simulation. Too fatigued by outrage and devtool-babble.

Everything works to perfection, all that we allow to slumber, including memory. Logical consequence: total recall is memory anesthetized. After so many stories of men who had lost their memory, here is the story of one who has lost forgetting, and who—through some peculiarity of his nature—instead of drawing pride from the fact and scorning mankind of the past and its shadows, turned to it first with curiosity and then with compassion. In the world he comes from, to call forth a vision, to be moved by a portrait, to tremble at the sound of music, can only be signs of a long and painful prehistory.

To understand that prehistory before forgetting it. To understand very little, to already have forgotten some, most.

But it was then that for the first time he perceived the presence of that thing he didn’t understand which had something to do with unhappiness and memory, and towards which slowly, heavily, he began to walk.

After each happiness of memory, ASMR.

I remember that month of January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed of the month of January in Tokyo. They have substituted themselves for my memory. They are my memory. I wonder how people remember things who don’t film, don’t photograph, don’t tape. How has mankind managed to remember? I know: it wrote the Bible. The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a time that will have to reread itself constantly just to know it existed.

I remember snow in the month of January in Tokyo. Two inches, max. School called off. We met in Harajuku and tried out some longboards. By afternoon the snow had melted, we skated around Shinjuku.

That a short wave announcement from Hong Kong radio picked up on a Cape Verde island projects to Tokyo, and that the memory of a precise color in the street bounces back on another country, another distance, another music, endlessly.

Is it a choice? Precise colors on the streets of Santo Amaro, Ebisu, Ohio City, Farringdon, Ridgewood, College of Wooster, Squirrel Hill, Žižkov, Krowodrza, Hongdae, Újlipótváros, Delfshaven.

All those who remember the war remember him.

His father took photos in Vietnam with a Japanese camera. The tail of a downed American bomber, torn off the fuselage, down the road.

Madeline traced the short distance between two of those concentric lines that measured the age of the tree and said, ‘Here I was born… and here I died.’ He remembered another film in which this passage was quoted. The sequoia was the one in the Jardin des plantes in Paris, and the hand pointed to a place outside the tree, outside of time.

To meet the person you could have become, become that person prepared to meet who you could have become.

He said, “I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?

How long will you take to forget the secret?

PHOTO-TECHNE I: IT IS BEST TO LOOK AWAY

Ultimately — or at the limit — in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. “The necessary condition for an image is sight,” Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: “We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.” The photograph must be silent (there are blustering photographs, and I don’t like them): this is not a question of discretion, but of music. Absolute subjectivity is achieved only in a state, an effort, of silence (shutting your eyes is to make the image speak in silence).

– Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

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From whom do you look away?

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Year by year fewer of your photographs have people in them. To ignore the objects – the mountains, slow trains, beat courtyards – and let them leak slowly from your memory. The art of forgetting demands strategies and this is one – forget everything except that which was not captured in the photo. When in the early evenings you find yourself screen-bound, listening to the rain and long, rolling thunder, you negotiate the recollection embedded in the image with that of who was by your side at the time – talking gently, craning their neck, pointing out some sight you missed, making corny jokes, pressing on up the steps, taking a sip of water.

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Not only do you not include those by your side in your photographs, you try not to include anyone anywhere at all. Your gestures with a camera are born of a desire for recall that is quickly overpowered by the need to locate forgetting somewhere close by, between patience and erasure. The more vacant the scenes you record, the better.

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To draw the gauze of forgetting over a photo you take in the end strengthens your memory of what was outside the frame. This ambition from Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil flashes with every click: “I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining.” The crux of oblivion in your pictures is encircled by memories of those who were by your side. And these memories fortify your forgetting while allowing it in turn to diffuse any possibility of solid, consistent frames surrounding the images you harbor. As your forgetting punctures this mnemonic lining, other memories are let in – like sunlight projecting the shadows of tree leaves on your bedroom wall. You will have spent your life trying to understand the function not of remembering that which was barely seen, but of forgetting in order to see more.

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You remember taking this photo, which is not of an island but of those who were behind you, looking around, joyful at the sun and sea, jet-lagged, curious. With every wish that you had taken more photos of them directly, you understand further how unnecessary that would have been, what a permanent part of your remembering – primordial fortification of your forgetting – they are.

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The image is no semblance of solitude or superiority. But still, you must delineate who is to be remembered outside the frame with an unseen texture. You realize the impossibility of forgetting them, no matter how much you may think you want to. And for this you are, in the end, grateful. However, that does not mean you need to photograph them, nor does it mean you do not photograph the cuts in the rocks of this island in order to forget their sight.

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Is it not the ars oblivionis driving you to detail a certain emptiness, to show where people live without them living there? As Barthes writes, “Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see. In short, the referent adheres.” But the photograph’s invisibility is of no consequence – you take it to forget it anyway (though you forget even this reason).  Forgetting what is portrayed – any inability to remember “being there” – is of little consequence either, as you only took a picture of this scene to remember who was around you at the time. The referent may adhere, but it only overcomes the invisibility of the photograph through an activation of everything outside the frame – and to forget a particular outside is a threat to overcome with every glimpse. For what you do not see – and certainly what others never will – is what you search the image to address: the shape of the rock, his lopsided hat; the water, her hair. These are more than correspondences – these are the triggers of your remembering set in motion around the forgetting at the crux of the image. It is this forgetting that becomes the referent. And although you have not forgotten what you are not seeing here, you suspect that since this may not have been clearly identified until now, it was thus never even remembered. But in this you are incorrect. For they were sitting on a bench under the pines as you took this photo. This photo is of them sitting on a bench under the pines, watching you.

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It was off to the left here that you sat and talked, before walking across the island, through the monastery, to get ice cream. You have no photos of enjoying that exact spot, though. You realized in advance how superfluous they would have been to that most pleasant point of the day, how they would have only accentuated the scar left as the moment burned away in the sun.

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Do not forget that they have all the photos of you together, that they took them so you did not have to. And when you eventually do see their particular visions of  cypresses, city walls, and tables laid in stone alleys, will you be able to read your face for some expression of sincere enjoyment and natural duty, even as you look tired and annoyed at the simple fact of posing for a picture? Yes, you will because you must. You must forget not what is within those particular images – as they were not taken with the impetus of forgetting as yours were, far from it – but certain choices made before and after they were taken.

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Your embarrassment over not fully inhabiting this city, you took photos to assuage this. Why not just accept your role, in which you construct your images of a foreign scene while forgetting where you come from, disregard the thick zones of history through which you pass while remembering reluctantly how soon you are to leave? Your photos become marks of that disconnect, of a particular lack of sympathy, of continents traversed and obliterated from concern, of all the choices that bring you there and allow you exit. That is to treat your photos as records of forgetting, as evidence that what you really wish to remember is that which you do not photograph.

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But you allowed these photos of miscellaneous detritus because you know all too well to whom your duty is. “I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at,” again writes Barthes. Your duty is to remember the photos of them you have already seen – with the cars and dogs and sisters – as well as those you have taken – on the porch, in the square, outside the train station. Do not doubt that your strategy is spurred from a forgetting of the myriad choices you would have had to make differently – dating long back – in order to take more photos of them. To account for this is only to remember more thoroughly the pictures of them that already exist.

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Was it enough to just be there, taking photos beside them as they took their own, when so many of theirs were of you? It is as if you were trying to appear like you did not miss them, why you photographed only the space around them, the world they were in rather than their being in that world. So many moments went undocumented by any of you – there was little need. After all, you would never need a photo of the expression in their eyes when you were leaving. For to remember their eyes at that moment, all you need to do is forget your own.

ON THE DISINTEGRATION LOOPS, REAL REPEATERS, AND PLAYING DRUMS

William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops contains the most striking intersections of memory and forgetting that I have ever come across in music. The story of this collection is well-known by now, and begins with Basinski making these loops in the early 1980s from snippets of classical and easy-listening. In 2001, while he was transferring the loops to a digital format, the magnetized metal was eaten up from the tape as it passed through the reader head. Basinski let the tapes run to record this tension between preservation and destruction, resulting in engrossing music born of a process of inadvertent subtraction and the devouring of mnestic traces.

The context of this process was 9/11, and stills from the video that Basinski made from his rooftop that day comprise the covers of the records. The skies went dark, the day ended, but the music remained with the ruins and trauma.

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I heard the first two loops (there are nine in total) for the first time in the spring of 2004, after purchasing the cd at the Bent Crayon in Cleveland, Ohio during a visit there with my friend “Medina” Jim, who also bought the record. This immediate sharing with a friend was beneficial, as it took me awhile to come to grips with all that was entailed in the backstory, process, context, and imagery. Making it through the first loop, “d|p 1.1,” which is a little over an hour long, took a few attempts, unused as I was to listening to gauzy drone and long-form experimental music. But that first full listen was a powerful experience which clued me into the enterprise of deep listening, and discussions with Jim helped to flesh out what we had both found in the music.

This was around the time, too, that I started to become interested in memory and to see opportunities of discussing art from that angle. In addition to getting into Basinski’s music, seeing Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil and Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour for the first time played a major role in the development of this interest, all of which helped me to make a little sense of the few years after 9/11. But I still cannot listen to “d|p 1.1” that often. Simply put it is just too heavy, and in an hour-straight sitting the horn sounds move far, far beyond melancholy.

Recent mornings spent with the 40-minute “d|p 6,” however, have reignited my interest in The Disintegration Loops, particularly how the listening experience utilizes an active forgetting. I have found this particular loop endlessly repeatable.

What are the mechanisms of forgetting at work here? There is a mechanically-forced oblitus in the degradation of the tape, first of all. This destructive element is an expansion of absence through subtraction from the loop rather than addition (an alternative recording could be imagined based around, for instance, an amplification of the scraping of the metal from the tape, which would lend itself to a more noise-oriented result). If the loop can be considered a mnestic trace to be repeated endlessly, with a requisite balance of integrity and minor variation, then what we are left with is the sound of a progressive forgetting of that trace as the loop subtracts from and degrades itself.

It is no stretch to say that this sonic experience of forgetting operates beyond a concentrated, metaphorical parallel to mortality. Because the destruction focuses your attention on an instant by instant basis, deep listening encourages you to try and remember what has fallen away, notice the subtle changes, and monitor the absence. This data – lost and retrieved and lost and retrieved again, both instant by mnemonic instant and long after the piece has finished – has no place to go, hanging as it is from a loop that is skeletal and spectral from the beginning.

The flipside of this mechanical process is the forgetting of the human touch in the actual composition. Basinski did not play this music; he recorded, sliced, and manipulated it to create the loops, and the source music and original musicians have long been forgotten. This is one step removed from a traditionally “authentic” musical creation (an issue comprising a different discussion).  Additionally, what matters are not the original loops, made by Basinski with a different intention (whatever that was). What matters now is how the loops were once again given over to a machine, which led to the devouring process, and thus the forgetting of the human touch is doubled. But at the end of each loop, should we assume that the tape completely ate itself up, resulting in a silence that would semi-neatly mark an endpoint, or should we assume instead that this was Basinski’s choice, to finish at 52:21 or 20:07, to cut the loops that could go on for longer? We forget these questions of the process – in part as a result of the hypnotic effects of listening to such music – and thus the forgetting of the human touch is tripled. So while memory resides in the narrative and the historical context of the music, forgetting dominated the process and the end result, and forgetting continues to dominate the listener’s response.

The loop form itself is an ouroboros of memory and forgetting. The loop remembers and/or forgets only itself, and it can add to and/or subtract from only itself. It is self-sufficient and fully integrated, and it maintains its integrity despite external manipulation. Furthermore, the loop induces the listener to forget – a structured song seems passé except as a brief respite from the power of the loop; other loops are unnecessary (at least for today); and why remember what is outside the window, which has already been folded into the loop anyway?

Have you ever repeated a song for hours, do you have what I would call real repeaters? Such songs function similarly to loops but operate on a more limited scale. Their extension is not necessarily infinite, closely measured as it is via the repeat button or the repeated pressing of the “previous” button on a device (the difference of these gestures, of course, marks the desire for repetition – there is planned repetition and there is more spontaneous repetition, respectively). Such repetitive engagement may cause you to forget where you are, untethering you from any one place in favor of an internal navigation, or it may fully root you in place, especially if the song’s repetition is guiding recollection and nostalgic reverie.

But as responses to “traditional” songs, these acts of repetition are all on the listener-end. The loop, on the other hand, is composed on the creator-end to submit the listener to repetition without question. The loop becomes the location of the listening experience, and that’s why music such as The Disintegration Loops can apply as well to images of space (with a kosmische approach), cities (with cycles of frenetic social energy), and nature (with a slower sense of wonder that the music attempts to “culturize”). Loops can put you to sleep (i.e., invite you to drink from the river Lethe), or keep you going for hours in a trance state with their utilization of longer finite measures as impetuses to forget everything else. For example, “d|p 6” has a length of 40:37, which for the melodiousness and length of its base loop seems even too short. This in turn qualifies it as a real repeater and encourages the foresight of planned repetition, i.e., the pressing of the repeat button on my player, which loops the loop infinitely.

I have read about live performances of The Disintegration Loops here, which sound captivating and bring up a different set of mnemonic issues. In “d|p 6” there is a definite rhythm at work with the percussive echoes, which makes it all the more intriguing, and as a drummer, I can picture playing a pattern that would work sufficiently. Subtraction from such a rhythm that was never fully there in the first place, diffusing the pattern gradually throughout 40 or so minutes, this would help to signify the role of forgetting in the live setting. Keeping time while inserting longer rests and more silence as well as decreasing volume and minimizing form would surely be an exciting challenge. A mechanical stiffness would be needed, too, paralleling the mnemonic interplay of machine and human that is at the heart of the piece, and further reflecting the emulation of the metronome that a drummer interminably struggles for and against with degrees of musicality, sweat, and imperfection.

There is no better example in music I know of interactions between memory and forgetting than in The Disintegration Loops. Perhaps extended free-jazz or noise jams would offer other possibilities, but those types of music operate with a different set of dynamics revolving more around improvisation, addition, stamina, and collaboration. While playing drums and utilizing such dynamics, memory functions as technicality (i.e., “chops”) and as the driver of both improvisation and collaboration, while forgetting works towards the potential of playing in a kind of trance state, wherein conscious and formal effort is subtracted (or at least replaced by physical/muscle memory). Basinski’s loops operate on another level entirely, and you do not need the backstory, the historical context, or any of the underpinning ideas to be moved by these pieces and to observe how your forgetting may operate in response to them.

I have only thoroughly listened to “d|p 1.1,” “d|p 1.2,” and “d|p 6” – I forget that there are six other loops to investigate. I do not feel the need for additional stimuli while listening to this music, nor do I feel that greed for immediate accumulation that is part and parcel of our cultural consumption nowadays. “d|p 6” is especially calming and giving, and in the end I like the idea of only investigating another piece every few years. It is as if I do not want to forget the forgetting involved in each loop, which is just another way of saying I would like them to fully occupy my memory.