22 March 2009

Horn of Plenty

Photo by: Pam Kaminski

"What does disco do? It programs a random-access search for “origins” and incites in the reader a search for sources, which turn out to be hallucinations or echoes of sources. Such a programming language was once called literature (we have chosen to call it art history), though disco, of course, is not a literature at all; it merely simulates the effects of literature (as empty brand) with the uncanny precision of our era’s version of a lullaby: the remix. Disco is a programming language. It simulates the desire to remember when human remembering has become, from a technological standpoint, unnecessary or impossible. Disco thus proposes a solution to the vast volumes of distributed media (now databased on the Internet) that began in the nineteenth century and have snowballed of late—in the form of photographs, tape recordings, films, records, CDs, and hard drives. How in this morass of information, most of it noncontinuous (i.e., digitized and subject to random access memory) can anything be located? Disco proposes a radical minimalization in the accessing of voices, regarded as discrete and modular data.
For as we have seen, disco involved the systematic subtraction of extraneous information “tracks” and elevation of a percussion track into a remix having minimal harmonic or melodic progression, and grounded in repetition. This subtraction would be exploited in the late seventies and early eighties with Eurodisco, Italodisco, minimal ambient house musics; contemporary artist writing/distribution projects; and a host of disco-oriented stylistics and sampling/appropriation-based poetries.
Unlike the other arts that were bracketed by arts of long-term memory (ars longa, vita brevis), disco was keyed not to memory but to what human memory became with the advent of computerized data storage and accessing: a mood, understood as the by-product of an obsolescent human memory system. For this reason it is customary to say that one can “have” a memory but not a mood; it is more accurate to say that a mood overtakes one. Moods, which are not inherently subjective and do not differ significantly from person to person, are a waste product antithetical to precomputer memory and thus nostalgia. So moods are rightly understood as a mode of accessing data inaccessible to human memory. Before the DJ, moods were harder to come by, let alone produce systematically. This was mainly because moods were amorphous and believed to be subject to a certain “distillation.” But with the advent of large-scale computing, things began to change. The verb “to access” was coined in 1962 with respect to “large-capacity memory,” which was viewed as a kind of “happening.” It took less than seven years for a soft synaesthesia of music, lights, dance, and performance to congeal into a cultural format that reflected systemic changes in how collective memory gets processed. As Ebbinghaus says, “How does the disappearance of the ability to reproduce, forgetfulness, depend upon the length of time during which no repetitions have taken place?” (Kittler 1990, 207). Disco solved a crisis in the same way that the core memory inventor An Wang did, whose work in the early fifties on the write-after-read cycle paved the way for developments in magnetic core memory. Wang’s invention “solved the puzzle of how to use a storage medium in which the act of reading was also an act of erasure.” Disco functions as magnetic core memory does, where every act of reading or accessing material destroys the original source (i.e., clears the address to zero), which necessitates the continual repetition or rewriting (the write-after-read cycle) of data."

Tan Lin Disco As Operating System

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