More Samples

by devinking

Timothy Morton linked to the last post and then wrote some more about sampling:

In the mean time, I’m having a conversation with Jarrod Fowler about sampling, in which we agree that sampling is part of wider configuration space of non-music in which music sits like an island beset on all sides by other forms of sound and non-sound. Every sample is a translation, in that it chops a sensual slice out of an object and thereby creates another object. To that extent then, causality is a kind of sampling. Thus when we observe a phenomenon, we are always looking strictly at the past, since we are observing a sample of another object. To sample is to posit retroactively.

This would account for the uncanny quality that Nate intuits in objects (as far as I can interpret his comment—I’m sure I must have clumsily misconstrued it.) All objects have some kind of extimacy stuck to them, by dint of their being samples, and by dint of their sampling of other objects. The excessive subject is simply one of a plenum of excessive objects.

I’ve been slowly seeing how my two teaching interests found their way together and I think Morton nails it here. Samples are both new, sensual objects and also posit retroactively: k-punk and reynold’s hauntology (cf Harman’s “smoky dubstep powerpoint”) and objects of OOO.

I’m still unsure whether samples always posit retroactively though–I think this is maybe and probably the case most of the time–but I think there might be some instances when samples posit something outside the retroactive. Maybe this is just flaking dust off the retroactive seen anew–changes in envelope seeming more progressive than they are or outward ripples that seem unconnected but aren’t–but I wonder. Take, for instance, Morton’s metaphor of the island: “music sits like an island beset on all sides by other forms of sound and non-sound.”

Here’s a quote from the new David Toop book, Sinister Resonances:

The death of Pan is a story reported during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Attributed to Epitherses, it was retold in Plutarch…and Rabelais…Epithersis was sailing from Greece to Italy. One evening a disembodied voice called out to the ship as it came near the island of Paxos. The voice cried loudly once, twice. ‘No one replied,’ wrote Rabelais, ‘but all stood silent and trembling. Then the voice was heard a third time, more terrible than before.’ This time, the pilot of the boat, an Egyptian named Thamus answered, what do you want from me? The voice commanded him to set a course for the island of Palodes and on arrival to announce that the Great God Pan is dead. Close to Palodes, the wind dropped, the ship was becalmed, and silence fell upon the scene. Reluctantly, Thamus climbed on the prow and shouted the message: Pan is dead. ‘Immediately there arose from the forest a great lamentation which resounded through the peaceful evening sky,’ wrote W.R. Irwin, in his essay, ‘The Survival of Pan’. ‘But the shore was empty; no wailing devotees could be seen.

A bunch of things to get through, but I’m interested in the movement from the first sample–Thamus singing “Pan is dead” to the island–to that of the sound coming from the lamentation coming from the “wailing devotees” who could not be seen. One sees the action of manipulating a sample in this story:

sounded object: “Pan is dead”
sampled, sensual object: “Pan is dead”
final, manipulated sensual object: UNSEEN MOANING

The first two connect to each other in much the way Morton describes. The sample represents and posits the sounded object retroactively. What to make of the third? It’s still, in some way, a retroactive positing of the first, sounded object and it also posits the journey in between–the manipulation of the sample. But! It also demonstrates something else–yes, this could be the weird underbelly of the sample object, and yes it also demonstrates the translation of the sounded object into the final manipulated object–but what to do with that final manipulated object on its own? Or:

sounded object: unseen moaning

Or: Ezra Pound sampling in the early cantos, when he has his books with him is different than the Pound of the Pisan cantos, sampling from memory. I don’t know that this has to be a moral or political difference, and I also don’t mean to bring up this example to add a necessarily human element: this is also what happens, I think, in the move to synthesized pasts in recent music–Ariel Pink, Ghost Box, etc.