Big week. Whether you’re in the UK and staring down the business end of a (minimum) four-week lockdown, or in the US and facing what will undoubtedly be a very normal and straightforward election, or in another place where bad things are almost certainly happening also, I sincerely hope that you are able to obtain and organise what you need to get yourself and your people through this next bit of time. For what it’s worth, I’m going to continue sending one of these distraction letters every Monday morning for as long as you keep reading them (and probably beyond, arf).
This week’s header image features internet sensation and calendrical star, Barnacle. I fully encourage you help to support Barnacle and her humans by investing in 12 months of sustained and wall-hangable communist feline joy. (Initially the header image was going to be some heavy shit about surveillance capitalism or something but I switched it because god knows we all need cat pics right now.)
If you are a new subscriber (there are a lot of you this week,) welcome.
Some things for you to read and watch and hear.
Contributions always welcome. Tell your pals.
This week’s mix includes a track from Clipping’s new album that samples a long-time favourite by Infinite Body. Like when Kanye sampled Arthur Russell but better. Also in there is new stuff from Flora Yin-Wong, Drew McDowall, and Actress, plus various other jarring and incongruous cuts to keep you on your toes.
Big thanks to Rosie for recommending Hari Kunzru’s new podcast, Into the Zone, which has immediately become a very firm favourite.
Kunzru’s recollections of the Virtual Futures conferences at Warwick in the mid 90s are a real highlight, and provide a great history of the notorious milieu that would soon produce the CCRU, while also surveying the cultural and philosophical landscape of 90s cyberculture more generally. Worth listening to for the interviews with Manuel DeLanda and ORLAN alone (both of whom appeared at the conference), but the contrasts sketched between the jungle-driven post-humanist visions of the conference and how things are actually going feel particularly profound.
I’d also firmly recommend the episode on country music and cultural gatekeeping (which, amongst other things, alerted me to the existence of infinite AI-generated death metal) but honestly the whole thing has been gold so far.
Danny Bushes produced this excellent and inspiring mixtape-essay for Peking Spring around the legacy of the Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs. Really well assembled excerpts from interviews and discussions with John Akomfrah, Saidiya Hartman and others on civil unrest and the world-ending capacity of anti-Blackness, plus many thoughtfully assembled tunes.
Handsworth Songs itself was briefly watchable on YouTube over the summer but seems to have been removed now, so make sure you grab any future viewing opportunities when you can. In the meantime, be sure to read Mark Fisher’s essay on the film which was written in the wake of the 2011 protests.
Jen Calleja’s Oubliette is set within the menu of Labyrinth: The Computer Game and offers a suggested soundtrack for reading, two factors which, it turns out, produce something like my ideal micro-fiction experience with remarkable specificity. Aside from convincing me that the menu screen of Space Harrier almost certainly represents a font of untapped speculative potential, the shapes made by the Sarah-Jennifer and David-Jareth collapse in the story really speak to me. Personal meta-fanfic dreamscape soldered onto obsolete circuits.
I had the good fortune recently to watch Sisters With Transistors, Lisa Rovner’s much-anticipated new documentary about Éliane Radigue, Pauline Oliveros, Maryanne Amacher, and the pioneering women of early electronic music. The film is available to stream via Sheffield Doc Fest until November 12 if you’re in the UK, and I honestly cannot recommend enough that you do so. At four quid, a steal.
Adam Scovell wrote a good bit on Derek Jarman’s Bankside, which more than anything made me yearn to spend entire days wandering around weird corners of central London again. With the continuing (and not undeserved) attention enjoyed by Prospect Cottage, though, this was a nice reminder of Jarman’s formative years in the city, and the sort of mythical studio/living opportunities that we tend only to associate with NYC in the 1970s.
I was very into this interview with Radio Earth Hold at The Derivative, a new digital journal from Beirut Art Center. Its focus is the territory explored in their 2018 audio essay ‘The Colonial Voice’: the connections between anti-colonial struggles and telecommunications (specifically the history of radio in Palestine) as well as natal acoustics, material entanglement, embodied transmission, vocal authority, and natural radio.
It would be mad not to mention Radio Alhara here also, an excellent community-run digital radio station based in Bethlehem and Ramallah which more or less soundtracked my summer. As REH mention in the interview, the accelerated radio revival we’ve seen this year demonstrates the ‘intimate internationalism’ inherent to broadcasting sonic content globally and in real time, for which social distancing has been a real catalyst.
As the Internet becomes increasingly corporatized, we face similar types of gentrification as we might away from our screens; the consolidation of conglomerates that control our digital spaces—and our data therein!—is commensurate in many ways to a major developer building a skyscraper right in the middle of a small community.
Legacy Russell’s conversation with McKenzie Wark for BOMB was a reminder that I really need to read Glitch Feminism, as well as Sarah Schulman’s Gentrification of the Mind and Juliana Huxtable’s Mucus in my Pineal Gland. Out of control tbr pile right now lads
You can also still read the original Glitch Feminism essay, ‘Elsewhere, After the Flood,’ on Rhizome if you’re curious. More on the book as and when, perhaps.
Cyberfeminism cannot be reduced to women and technology. Nor is it about the diffusion of feminism through technology. Combining cyber and feminism was meant as an oxymoron or provocation, a critique of the cyberbabes and fembots that stocked the sci-fi landscapes of the 1980s. The term is self-reflexive: technology is not only the subject of cyberfeminism, but its means of transmission. It’s all about feedback.
Also related is something I neglected to mention last week, Mindy Seu’s vast Cyberfeminism Index. Apparently this archive is intended to gather materials for a forthcoming edition of Seu’s Cyberfeminism Catalog 1990-2020, but there is already a wealth of new and obscure (to me) stuff throughout.
It had been a few years since I’d caught anything new from Ben Rivers but I watched Ghost Strata on Mubi yesterday which was a delight. Deep time, extinction, tarot, mudlarking. If you’d like to watch but are stuck for access give me a shout and I should be able to send you a pass.
That’s it for this week. Please share with your networks as you see fit, and keep those suggestions coming 👋