by Authentically Plastic

Header Photo: Jorge Rigamonti 'Urban Fluidity' (1966)


An intense body of music. It makes you want to die...not a pained, melancholic death, but something stuttered, propulsive, obliterating. The feeling: the force of the sound as too much, too loaded; that the only potential for release would be the spontaneous destruction of that body, which was forced on you anyway. The limitations of the finite, located body as a vehicle for experience are reached in the affective violence of those moments. Obliterate, dividualize yourself(s).

Dancing, at its best, is a way of not only escaping but dissolving power. You escape the coding mechanisms of the eye, you cease to be a subject/object, you become a kind of floating, non-pulsed individuation: not only evading regimented time but actively scrambling it. There’s a sense in which we, our psyches, our bodies, are pulsed by the time, gestures, and tedious rhythms of capitalism. The club space, as a field of transmutation, opens up a possibility for non-pulsed time and rhythms to permeate us. Becoming molecular, through sound, and through the collective body of movement. The everywhere blackened space of the club provides a Null Space in which to unleash alien temporalities onto otherwise regimented bodies.

The concept of the club as a Mobility Engine for Desire is an idealistic one. Everywhere we encounter dominant approaches to sonic composition and presentation that are less about accelerating this mobility engine, and more about a neutralization of music’s affective intensity. There’s a sense in which the sonic priorities of Late Capitalism lie in creating a meta-stable ground on which work & mindless consumption can be hurried along, or at least proceed uninterrupted, without any real external shocks.

When we talk about how Techno has become commodified, there’s a sense of loss there, like a charge has been diffused, its potentials diminished. Capitalism has a tendency to water down the radical charge of new forms and movements. The widespread conversation around Techno’s Black roots betrays a nostalgic urge to return to the unique larval agency of that moment when this music was swarming with potentials. There’s a desire to repeat the singular event of this music’s shock, to rediscover its capacity for decentering. We try to access the energies of that moment, in the hopes that they will inject something new and truly radical into our present.

Today, we find ourselves in a political reality in which Real Power has increasingly become centerless, and hard to localize. It has become nearly impossible to orient oneself meaningfully in a dizzying landscape in which power has become supple; its grip so tentacular, reaching not only all around us but inside of us. [1] The punk notion of “selling out” presupposed an “other” or “outside” capturing and overturning the authenticity of the “inside”, but distinctions between inside and outside no longer hold. [2] New language has continuously been created to define these new power relations, that seem to operate less through direct coercion or persuasion, and more through pervasive modulations: Capitalist Realism, The Capitalist Axiomatic, Psycho-Politics, the Control Society. This centerlessness of power, which is commonly believed to be uniquely postmodern, has in actuality been historically experienced by Black Diasporic People, for whom control was always exercised in both central, and diffuse means.

This non-localized power has, as one of its counter-points, a non-localizable Black Politics that increasingly transcends borders, interpenetrating the cities of the western world, acquiring new capacities and vulnerabilities in different spaces. The goal of this text is not so much to make an argument as it is to trace the trajectories of these roaming energies, to find out how they exist, how they hover around the Atlantic, finding different realizations in different spaces. This is a Transnational Cartography in which America-Europe binarisms only serve to offer temporary relief from the center-lessness of these ethics. The “outside” from which these energies emerge is ultimately Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic: that transnational space of diasporic fusion, which is of course also internal to, and persistently inter-penetrating these cities. [3] There are sonic fourth worlds within London, Paris, New York, LA, that carry on, in spite of the suffusion of power and control.

How does one act within a modulation? I feel like this is the most pressing political question of our time. Within this dizzying field of relations, the question of Political Agency is perhaps best interrogated through sound and movement. Sonic Agency can help orient us in our pursuit of Political Agency. However, one must not forget that Black Sonics do not exist solely as resistance, but possess an excess of pure brilliance. They have as their motor a Politics of Transfiguration that strives in pursuit of the sublime, struggling to repeat the unrepeatable, to present the unpresentable. [3] These radical sonic worlds might offer us clues on how to create new, more sympathetic and exhilarating realities in the material world.

The club is a microcosm of wider power relations in which the gaze, and access to space, are contested, a field in which bodies are coded. More than this, in the club space, we find a microcosm of the social within the music itself. Musicologists often speak about the ways that musical compositions model social structures. The possible encounters that are played out between material bodies in the social field are transposed into the encounters between sounds on the musical plane. Within music composition, there is a politics that has to do with the affirmation/assimilation of difference, and the acceleration/diffusion of shock/change. These politics of sound are worthy of as much investigation as has been dedicated to the exercise of power in material space – think of the discourses that orbit The Gaze, or Privilege – because sound, more than any other medium, contributes to the transmission and reproduction of sensibility in the material social field. Sound operates as a generative medium for keeping open the project of a new social body. [4] It is an immaterial politics with material consequences.

The club is no liminal non-place but is always already enmeshed in the spatialized relations of power that we call the City. It is here that marginal bodies are simultaneously heavily coded, yet liberated. The City has historically been a place of escape for the marginal (the runaway slave, the dissident, the pervert). Becoming imperceptible is suddenly possible in an arena of congestion and perpetual movement. The metropolis is a machine for the simultaneous subsumption and generation of difference: an intensifier of relations, a vibrational field in which we are continuously ungrounded, and forced into ever new configurations and constellations. Within this new formation, things break apart, languages fragment, and the meanings that once cohered in the form of localities and common identities lessen or are relocated within a framework of virtual force. [4] In the City, we are continuously constructing new formations and assemblages to “ground” us amidst its dizzying affective field, yet these constructions are always already conditioned by flows and ruptures, by desire’s ceaseless restlessness. [4]

It is within this vibrational field that I’d like to situate the Afro-diasporic subject, and more specifically the Black Musician/Artist as a synthesizer of this field of fragments, vectors, and pulses that we have come to know as the Metropolis. If we exist as vibratile bodies in this vibrational field, then sound and movement play an important role as a means to investigate how the Body might be differently constituted. Think Body in the broadest sense: the body of the city, the body of sound/noise, state-body, physical and psychic bodies. As oscillations moving through a range of mediums, sounds and sounded actions are vibratory in nature, and they perform as intensely relational events. [4] The club is both a relation-intensifier and synthesizer.

The image I want to render visible here is one of a space of perpetual transposition between the immaterial plane of sound and the material social field. We are continuously creating sound, as sound re-creates us. The experiences of auditory events do much to puncture our psychological constructs with continual intensity. [4] The body of sound acts on our bodies with as much ferocity as we act on it. I will thus perpetually jump between an experience of both the social, and musical plane, between the personal, and the universal, between the club and the city, with the question of Black Mobility as the primary concern. What, in other words, might such a movement sound like?


It feels like I haven’t really moved since I left California. It’s strange; that the country which exerts the most horrid violence against the Black Body would be the last place my body was at its most mobile, most divergent, most dynamic. America is a place in which Blackness continues to be immobilized, but where divergent Black Mobilities have perpetually been constructed, through politics, movement and sound. The delirium of my time there was fueled by the discovery of marginal thought, music and movement unlike anything I had encountered before. Magic in the midst of shocking cruelty; the propulsive space of Black America.

It is quite telling that I have only ever felt at home in this mad, highly contested place. A place that the privileged cannot make any real claim to. All the efforts by conservatives to claim America as a primarily White, Christian domain come across as fabricated, forced, and ultimately absurd in a culture where identity itself has become plastic and ready-made. A Special Effects Fascism, no less deadly in its simulacral quality.

Perhaps my fixation with America has less to do with its physicality, but more the sonic and political space that has been opened up by Black America. A Sonic Politics that has permeated other spaces, encountered other forces and, by virtue of its permeability, its truly radical openness, has continuously mutated as a result. Constructing the body of sound in this way gives it a unique diffusive power, which is also its very real vulnerability; an openness to being shaped and repurposed by any desire/interest, both liberatory and repressive. This music emerges from, not only the pursuit of transfiguration, but also a Minoritarian Politics of Ungrounding. A blunt refusal of dominant narratives and trajectories, ungrounding Historical America, revealing it to be no more than a simulation, turning it into a simulation, opening it up to alteration, interruption, and mutation.

When theorists characterize America as “a place in which the ground has disappeared,” or when they oppose an “Intimate and Theatrical Europe” to a “Kinetic and Cinematic America, [5] what is this kineticism? What is this groundlessness, this charge, this excess that somehow escapes coding? What is this thing, and how do marginal bodies create or feed off of it, accelerate it by any means possible? How is it actualized in the Black Body of Sound and in fluxes of Black Movement? It appears that the American metropolis, designed explicitly for the mobility of machines, commodities and capital, has within it zones of indiscernibility for the construction of cyborgic realities. When one listens to Total Freedom, DJ Rashad, Shyboi or Jamal Moss, one gets the feeling that Black Bodies, everywhere enclosed, policed, and coded have now become deterritorialized cyborgs. The convulsions of the 1960s, suppressed and drained by the State, have given way to a politics of re-constructing and schizophrenicizing the Black Body. These energies, when suppressed in one place, ultimately resurface elsewhere, in other guises. Stammering, stuttering, erupting, krumping, jacking, voguing. What does the Black Body think it is?


To encounter Mobility requires an apprehension; first of the Gaze, as it is primarily through the Gaze that difference in the social field is mediated. As a black, gender-non-conforming artist, I have pretty much surrendered to the fact that my body is bound to be perpetually overloaded with gazes. As a marginal figure, I experience the gaze as yet another mode of inscription upon my body. It usually comes with the feeling of being marked and coded. A codifying, “picture-taking racial gaze” that fixes and frames the Black subject within a “rigid and limited grid of representational possibilities.” [6] The frequency with which I am visually inscribed upon renders the gaze, in my view, less as an event, and more as a continuous modulation to be perpetually played with: diverted, tempered, intensified.

The American Metropolis, that wild space of encounters, is fascinating to me as the backdrop against which Black Mobility is constructed and asserted, by whatever means possible. New York and Los Angeles feel like a sea of wild gazes overloaded with affects, all the more empty and asignifying for being so. That impersonal, indifferent, gloriously shallow gaze, with its appetite for spectacle and variety. Do gazes that have absorbed an excess of affects eventually arrive at a zero-degree of expressivity? Or do they become even more animated, more hungry in a desperate clamor for more spectacle?

The apparent indifference of the American urban space is not to be mistaken for a truly enabling attitude towards difference. The ease of White America is also a misguided assurance that, like everything else, Blackness too has been overdetermined once and for all. The labor of coding the racial other falls heavily on the police, on institutions, on the organization and appropriation of space. In the beating heart of Capital, cruelty becomes banal, automated, molecularized. Americans are too busy shopping.

The way the Black Body is received, is coded, in particular spaces and times is tied to the larger perception of flows of difference into the society, the possibility of coding these flows, assimilating them into the larger social body. With the influx of refugees comes a proliferation of specific modes of gazing upon marginal bodies. When the marginal stop being mere oddities and start to signify a wider failure in the coding mechanism, you increasingly encounter the gaze as the dark precursor to an assimilationist imperative, and then to violence.

Moments of racial outrage appear like a failure of the coding mechanism as such; an overflow of a difference which up until that moment was assumed circumscribed, channelized once and for all… A Black mobility that has supposedly come too close; become too real. It is important to read mobility here less in the aspirational capitalist sense of upward or lateral mobility (extensive), but more in the sublime sense of a body that has retained its power to affect and be affected. A moment of intensive mobility of The Other, which is received by the racialized gaze as a violence of perception. How is this intensive mobility crystallized from everyday experience and condensed into movement or sound? How is this power to affect, or be affected, performed and accelerated?

In “Time Distortion”, by Black Quantum Futurism, a vocal recording of the unsettling encounter between Sandra Bland and a White Male Police Officer is overlapped and drowned out by a barrage of power electronics. The track offers a double-image of the pure rage/intensity of that critical encounter, and an insurgent, turbulent flow of sound. Here, we see an insurrectionary sensibility in effect, both in Sandra Bland’s assertions, and in the unfolding of this charged body of noise. Intensive mobility is reached in the affective violence of moments such as this; in the confrontation of an absolute limit. Rage and resistance, peace and exasperation, are intensive affects.

Totalizing surveillance and affective control are not new to Black people. Long before the age of digital surveillance, Blackness had to contend with the white gaze as a body-borne camera, preventing escape and regulating action. We might think for example of the Jim Crow era, when the slightest gaze of a Black person upon the White subject (usually a white woman) could lead to violence or death being visited upon not only them but their community. What is the Charge of that moment, experienced by the racialized gaze as a kind of Affective Violence so threatening to the general order that it must be so ruthlessly expunged? In this regime, there is an unspoken imperative for Black people to dull/suppress their affect. We can contrast this with the post-civil-rights-movement Black Subject, who not only gazes back, but can talk/shout back...can react. What we have here is a struggle for this very basic right to be a body, to receive stimuli, and to respond to/act on them: the affecting, affected body.


To not be seen, to go unnoticed, is a luxury that the marginal experience in very few places. In our age of self-care and community-as-praxis, there’s a great deal of romanticization of this notion of “feeling seen, feeling heard,” the need to be seen, and affirmed. This tireless pursuit of human status is more broadly articulated in the struggle for human rights and for representation within the economy of images. The logic here is that “The Other hurts me because they do not really see me, they do not see my humanity.” This framework fails to account for the fact that there is very real enjoyment to be gotten from racism, from classism, from casual cruelty. It ignores the possibility that marginal bodies are precisely seen, but as non-human. I’m more interested in the ways Black people render themselves out of sight, the ways they evade the gaze, language and ultimately power.

What happens when the Black Body becomes imperceptible, loses its human face; becomes even more “beastly”; more machinic? What is possible when we are not seen nor heard by the dominant Other? To what degree does creating a propulsive zone require being indiscernible to the powerful, or does propulsion itself produce indiscernibility as such?

Black Creative History is populated by the figure of the disenchanted and wandering Black Musician/Writer/Dancer, traversing the cities of the western world, roaming over the Atlantic in search of new potentials and unrealized mobilities. One might say that the disillusioned Black Artist acts as a medium for these restless energies that are always in flight; in pursuit of different fields of (in)visibility, seeking new assemblages in which to mutate. Detroit to Berlin. New York to Paris. Chicago to London. Invisibility or hyper-visibility? Getting to choose one’s oppression is the most marginal privilege imaginable. Invisibility presents potent dangers, but it brings singular powers as well; the possibility of developing new weapons, outside the scope of the powerful; Jazz, House, Acid, Jungle, Techno – homemade atomic frequencies. All the disruptive language games of the Black Diaspora are techniques of disguise and escape from the coding apparatus of power. To what degree are tactics of evasion and disguising present in Black Diasporic music and movement? How are bodies able to not only escape coding, but transmit counter-signals capable of scrambling the coding apparatus (the gaze, or the listener)?

These ‘tactics of evasion’ are deployed in challenging ways in the work of Dean Blunt, a child of the Black Diasporic Urban Space, whose music has been described as a forcefield of irritation capable of deflecting the attention of anyone naive enough to enquire as to its purpose. (Eshun, quoted in Singh Brar) In this music, tom-foolery, language games and noise play an important role as a means to remain imperceptible; free from coding, and free from inscription.

In Dean Blunt’s collaborative project: “Hype Williams”, the signature noise of multiple mediums can be heard: the hazy, lo-fi effect of their recordings is mostly generated by analogue and digital media noise. Tracks are undercut by hiss, while tape warbles create distinctive pitch bends... Many of their samples sound as if they have been ripped from YouTube videos: the audio artefacts and effects that arise with lossy digital compression....feature frequently. Just as it is impossible to tell what is fact from fiction about Hype Williams, the saturation of their music with noise makes it difficult to discern what sounds are coming from where—what is 'live' and what is sampled... Hype Williams' production style both generates and disrupts a sonic fantasy: their music sounds as if it could be played from 'lo-fi' media, and yet repeatedly reveals this to be an illusion–it is simultaneously too noisy and not noisy enough to be true. [7]


Just as much as the gaze, it is space too that fixes, frames and assimilates the marginal subject. The dominant organization of the contemporary urban space is built, not on the affirmation of encounters with difference, but upon traditional notions of cohesion and familiarity in establishing community. [8] Very little experimentation has been done with modern urbanisms that affirm encounters with disorder; with the strange and alien. If we created and prioritized urban formations that encourage the invisible proliferation of heterogeneous worlds, of Counter-publics, what then would the modern city look like? The western city, constructed as it is upon compulsory conditions of visibility and appearance – is nonetheless embedded (and "dirtied") within a greater world of opacities. [4] The profusion of Neoliberalism’s spatial logic of imposed clarity and transparency has hastened the reproduction of a globalized urban space in which we all increasingly desire the same things. However, in this field, which has the leveling of desire and difference as its priorities, there exists, enmeshed within it, zones of indiscernibility which are perpetually reconstructed and reinvigorated by the marginal, through various means and mediums.

In the western city, I feel like space itself thrusts me into an ocular field in which my otherness is perpetually put on display. This privileging of ocularity and visibility in the shaping of urban space is something one experiences to different degrees in different places. Traveling around Europe I am always prompted to question the degree to which space itself has this framing, ocular quality as its dominant affect. Of course, there’s a sense in which we are all had in advance by the European city: its so-called universal proportions, its continuity of style…but I am curious how these spaces are experienced by the marginal, how they construct mobilities for themselves in these settings in which relations have been so explicated, determined once and for all. Perhaps new tactics of rendering oneself imperceptible are needed when space itself reflects back an aesthetic image of assimilation.

The European city is distinctly different from the American Metropolis, with its insistent vanishing points, its culture of congestion; or Kampala, a city in which wherever you are, you have a grasp or an inkling of the immense totality of the city: a glimpse of chaos, either through vision or noise. When I walk through Paris, I carry around with me a cube of experience, it feels like space is anchored and does not really take off. Here, urbanism’s holy grails such as Human Scale Architecture, and The Street as Theater, appear less as liberatory or life-enhancing, and more as the passive agents of an Ocular Pressure perpetuated by a space where all bodies are forced to appear and to properly facialize themselves.

We can think of the European city as a Faciality Machine, an apparatus that has the production and assertion of the face as its abstract logic. The concept of Faciality finds its seminal articulation in Deleuze and Guattari’s text, A Thousand Plateaus, in which they argue that the face-function has come to dominate all language, thought and art in the west. In the literal sense, the face-function is exemplified in how architecture positions its ensembles – houses, towns or cities, monuments or factories – to function like faces in the landscape they transform. [9] More abstractly, the face-function is expressed in modes of thinking that have the transcendentalist search for the “Real” or the “Essential” as their motor; a conviction that there is an essential truth to be uncovered underneath a web of surface significations. In both cases, you come away with the feeling of coherent subjectivity and interiority as the norm.

This notion of the city as a Faciality Machine opens up questions as to how cultural objects or phenomena that are outside of this logic are engaged when they enter into this assemblage of hyperfaciality. Within this framework we can, for example, regard Centre Pompidou as an alien, defacialized architectural machine from a post-cartesian world in which the body (literally) shits and fucks. We can also think of Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite, or Hito Steyerl’s CGI Burqa-wearing ninjas, as all the more politically charged for highlighting the surveilling priorities of this Abstract Machine of Faciality, its creation of targets, its processes of rendering visible. From the standpoint of Black Mobility, Ballroom Culture makes for a critical object of inquiry because of how these questions of visibility and appearance are performed in its spaces.

Voguing: The Black Body as Nomadic War Machine. It seems at its most powerful when something escapes comprehension: a series of movements too fast to grasp, a sudden deceleration/acceleration, an impossible physical/sonic contortion, the masculine becoming feminine, and vice-versa. The initial gestural tendencies, executed with precision and machinic grace, draw the viewer into a false sense of security, leaving them completely unprepared for the bodily explosions to come. This is where the delirium is…the decisive break from one extreme of movement to another; out of one kind of embodiment and into the next; a weaponized ‘style’. Through the construction of a disparate field of movement, the Black Body becomes a vehicle for the simultaneous construction and break-down of the machine.

There is an ethics of dismantling the face which is regularly performed in voguing: a Well Beat Face that becomes a stuttering probe-head. The gradual or sudden disintegration of a facialized, 2D space of gesturality (of posing and “serving face”), into a dizzying corporeality where any direction could become the “Front”. In Ballroom’s disparate field of movement and utterance, the performer’s body emerges from, and remains mostly enmeshed in the chaotic body of the crowd. Its visibility and its possible facialization are always complicated from the outset by the collective, yet disjunctive body of expression. What we have here is a highly transmutative space where corporeality is perpetually overcoming faciality and vice-versa. Ballroom culture speaks to how marginal subjects negotiate the demands of appearance in white society; finding routes in the Faciality Machine through a continual process of “making faces” and dismantling them. [10] Why do we keep creating these spectacles, if not to luxuriate in the construction of images/guises, and in their violent propulsion into the void? Against the backdrop of Black immobilization, Balls perpetually pose and address the very critical question: What can a Black Body do?

You feel the weight of European culture everywhere, even on the dance floor. Solid, robust, unshakeable. Two French theorists once said, polemically, that “The tree has planted itself on the western body.” [9] In the heart of Babylon, movement is encouraged to be, at best, a binary game. Western Power has been historically achieved and continues to reproduce itself in the disciplining of the body, ever more so in this age of infinite plasticity. What has changed in our time is that in place of the containment and overdetermination of disciplinary societies, Capitalism now allows for a small degree of variation in spatio-temporal rhythms. In place of the acceleration and intensity that could generate new charges, we are presented with a steady onrush of bare repetitions.

The imperative to move, to dance, to escape and dissolve power, becomes even more urgent within the highly coded environments of Europe, but capitalist axioms prevail in the dominant sound itself: “You can have a little indeterminacy, but only as a treat.” Rupture and discontinuity, those horrendous acts of (Black) Aesthetic Terrorism; are like demons that must be relegated to the margins or expunged altogether.

All repetition, no difference; Fascist Techno. The body of sound is not innocent.


In reading Black Sonics, it is important that we consider the role that the Open Space of Chances plays in the Black Imaginary. “Fuck the ghetto, think about outer space, become outer space,” Chicago-based artist Hieroglyphic Being proclaims in his album We Are Not The First. The Black Body in the contemporary urban space is the object of singular modes of regulation, and inscription…the meaning of inscription in this scenario can of course be so broad as to mean a Stereotype, a Gaze, a Bullet. The American Metropolis, with its monstrous proportions, its wide-open spaces and its vanishing points, offers an aesthetic image of the mutant, of chance collisions, of the propulsive. As the object of multiple forms of coding and inscription in the American City, Black people know that it falls short of this promise to be a mobility engine for all bodies. And as a result, there’s a sense in which the Open Space of Chances must be constructed on the Sonic Plane, in what is not an escape from the Political, but its frenzied acceleration.

Lines of flight, for their part, never consist in running away from the world but rather in causing runoffs, as when you drill a hole in a pipe; there is no social system that does not leak from all directions, even if it makes its segments increasingly rigid in order to seal the lines of flight. (Deleuze and Guattari)

The resistance to both state- and market-capture find an interesting convergence in the South Side of Chicago of the mid-1960s. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) was founded in a housing project, amidst the cries of Black Power, cries of unjustness and riots, as well as the increasing homogenization of Jazz by market forces. The AACM’s development of Chicago’s Free Jazz scene at this juncture serves as a unique effort to resuscitate the insurrectionary potential of the music; to re-situate the Black Body – both sonic and social – in an open space. The group’s unusual hybrid of energy, multi-instrumentalism, their use of humor, silence, found sounds and homemade instruments were all devices for exposing the Black Body to the alien, in the service of its transmutation. The AACM’s singular attempt to open up/create vistas of sonic space stand in stark contrast to the housing projects in which it was formed; state-sanctioned instruments for the containment and overdetermination of the Black Body. Out of negation and escape, a field of potential unfolds. Out of resistance, an excess of brilliance.

The Open Space of Chances is the space of the Diversal, the space of Real Virtuality, and it is something artists as disparate as Sun Ra Arkestra, Moor Mother, Hieroglyphic Being and Juliana Huxtable effectively mobilize through their mediums, ultimately arriving at something that skirts around the edges of chaos. This is not the dominant, cartesian Universalism of European space; the space of the autonomous and self-determining individual. This is a Minoritarian Universalism of Change as the only constant, of the constantly shifting relation, of the Dividual enmeshed and cut up by a polyvocal field of affects. How does the Black Body act in this space? What can it do? Is it still even categorizable as such?

“Open the gates, we arrive. Energy time! Universal sound law, not guilty, not doing time, unbound! An offering for freedom…” (Irreversible Entanglements)

While the construction of this intensive space is a primarily marginal endeavor in which Blackness occupies a unique agency; it is also effectively an open arena into which anyone can enter; even the privileged. We are all traversed and interpenetrated by minoritarian-becomings whose mutant lines of variation can carry us off into unknown territory, if we let them. Techno, Jazz, Acid all create and link up this space in different ways. These mutant lines need to be nurtured and accelerated. Unfortunately, the power of this space is also its greatest vulnerability. This openness allows for the entrance of segmentary lines/desires which have capture, measurement, and value accumulation as their primary interests. Sedimenting processes are set in motion that prioritize certain tendencies over others, and contribute to the striation of a space that was previously populated by delirious trajectories, pressure accumulations, vortical movements. The variability, the polyvocality of directions which is an essential feature of such a space, is gradually crushed in the favor of uni-directional development. [9] Gradually, intensive movement ceases to exist for its own sake and is assigned origin points and goals in which to agglomerate. Movement becomes solely extensive, in the service of stable forms, narratives, genres, and markets.

In Hieroglyphic Being’s music, we come up against a body of sound that is political and erotic in equal measure. If House today functions like an agglomeration, a massing of tendencies and energies, then the priority of Hieroglyphic Being’s ethics is to make the House/Techno form leak in all directions, to free up these mutant lines wherever they’ve been captured. The 4x4 time signature occupies a steady place in these compositions, but is nonetheless swarmed by snaking, feverish fluxes that are perpetually dislocating themselves from it, turning back against it, or escaping into the unknown. Jamal Moss implores us to “think about the space you want to occupy,” and this distributive music shows us how to open up and occupy such a space. It is a question of arraying oneself, filling up a space in the manner of a fluid, or a vortex; of maintaining the possibility of springing up at any point: the movement is not from one point to another, but becomes perpetual, without aim or destination, without departure or arrival. [9]


The Black Artist experiences a condensed version of what all Black people experience in the regime of White Capital: the Black Body is particular and cannot under any circumstances be universal. There is a silent complicity in this regime that ensures Blackness remains conflated with the particular – immobilized and mappable, while whiteness retains its mobility and access to Universality, on its own terms. The Black Artist who dares to play in the open, dark sea of the Universal, is often violently pinned back onto the white wall of the particular, in a process that is perpetuated by the press/media, curators, and audiences alike. Constructing the Open Space of Chances, Mobilizing the Virtual, involves a necessary stammering of the Black Body of Sound as we know it, making the Black Body stutter so that even Alien phenomena can enter, and other potentials for the body can emerge. In all of these artists’ work, noise, repetition and the break play an expansive role in constructing the body of sound; as a gateway into Real Virtuality, into the Universal. The Black Body of Sound travels through different regimes of movement and intensity, even if the social body refuses to.

Is it possible to speak of a Black Sound? The term Black Music so often sounds dated and pointless. To use the phrase is to presume a consensus that has never existed, to assume a readily audible pre-synthetic essence which machines have externalized, manufactured and globalized. [11] This essentialist trap must be avoided at all costs. Therefore, rather than being limited by the invocation of some distinctly Black Music, we can argue instead for the existence of a Black Ethics in the construction of sound. We can speak of Black Sonic Priorities, which are exemplified in forms of repetition that have displacement, disguising and decentering as their effects.

We should contemplate what it means for the zero-subjectivity and intense momentum of Techno to have come out of the dispossessed and immobilized subject-position of Blackness. Techno is a construction of mobility out of stasis. Intensive Movement serves as a motor for Black Diasporic identity, and artistry: Being a still nomad, traveling without going anywhere, movement on-the-spot, arriving at difference through repetition, the changing same. One has to consider how the pursuit of mobility and delirium within strict oppressive parameters has informed Black Diasporic subjectivity. An orgasm on a slave ship. Spirituals on a plantation. Drug use and Rampant Religiosity in a collapsing city. The micro-fascisms of gangs. The unrelenting pursuit of dynamism and momentum within a strict 4x4 grid. When all means of extensive mobility have been suppressed by dominant powers (the machine), it seems like what emerges is an intensive propulsion of energies, frenzied and necessarily amoral. While Blind Hope fails to escape the domain of power and subjugation, delirium generates an excess beyond the oppressive frame, its limits are dissolved, if only for a moment. The body of sound presents a unique possibility of both constructing and breaking down the parameters. The Break, in both its decisive and accidental form, is the minimum real unit. Evasion and break-down of the limit as singular events to be repeated over and over to different effect.


In our overstimulated, globalized age, there’s a new relational awareness of the body, and of the planet, as organism/organization. There’s a perception of financial systems, climate systems, and social systems as multiplicities, in which a small change in one part of the body can yield massive changes in a different space-time. In this anxious situation, the body-ethic has paradoxically become one of petrified puritanism in which the stability of the organism is the new moral imperative. The situation is not static/closed at all, it is one in which circulation is perpetuated, albeit, at specific cadences/speeds, but never true acceleration/intensity. There must be no intensive jumps or breaks into a radically new reality.

In Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher argues that we live in the age of Affective Management. Everywhere the human is surrounded by imperatives towards Best Practices, to Personal Branding. Affective Management finds one of its realizations in the social imperative to “just be happy,” in the performative enthusiasm of the workplace under Late Capitalism: the bright-eyed totalitarianism of positivity culture. It is part of the mechanism of domination to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces. [12] The search for the authentic true Self, for Wellness and Health, is the new moral obligation. This is the age of managerialism, of others and of oneself. There’s no doubt that Late Capitalism certainly articulates many of its injunctions via an appeal to (a certain version of) health. [13] It is telling that in this age of Wellness, the musical ideal too has almost become an ideal of health: quality, purity, the elimination of noises; silencing drives, deodorizing the body, emptying it of its needs, and reducing it to silence. [14]

The conceptualization of the body has become necessarily organizational and developmental. Everywhere, it seems like the prevention and diffusion of shocks to the body-politic has become the default sensibility. In this regime, we have a dominant sonic treatment that is imbued with the social values of a stabilizing managerial class. This music appears (at least on some levels) to present itself as harmonious, perfect, unified, formally balanced, capable of absorbing and resolving all tensions. [15] All that is solid melts into Tech-House. This music of bare repetitions becomes both a relation and a way of filling the absence of meaning in the world. It creates a system of apolitical, nonconflictual, idealized values. [14]

In the music of the Mono-Culture, we see an alignment of Fascistic Desire with the standardizing tendencies of Big Business. It is worth highlighting the ways in which difference is treated in this body of sound. It doesn’t take much to realize that nothing actually happens in this music, that nothing is meant to happen. It is devoid of The Event, reflecting empty circulation in itself, and a neutralization of difference. Regulation/diffusion of the new, of shock, is the defining form of the music. Neither musically nor semantically does this body of sound announce a world of change…Change occurs through the minor modification of a precedent. Each series is thus repeated, with slight modifications enabling it to parade as an innovation, to constitute an event. [14] Here we see how the primary function of the Drop is to create a pseudo-event in a repetitive world in which nothing happens anymore. [14] The Riser/Drop announces nothing more than the inevitable return to the same, repeated and celebrated for all time. Perhaps in this music, the maximum acceptable difference allowed is that which proclaims its diffusion into the pre-existing order. A simulacrum of assimilation.

In her text, “Unity and Uniformity”, New York-based artist Gavilán Rayna Russom makes a further connection between today’s dominant forms of music and fascism. She says that much popular music, “with its emphasis on a single melodic vocal line and regimented forms of mixing, as well as its modes of delivery to the audience – models fascist social models… While electronic music, DJing and club culture initially existed outside of this system and created sounds and spaces that modeled polyvocal forms of community exchange; as they became commercialized both the music and the social spaces in which it was experienced increasingly began to model similar fascist social frameworks to pop music.” [16] While this points to a latent fascism that is rightfully of concern, it is also possible that musicians and audiences fall back on these repressive, sonic worlds simply because they do not know of any alternative. These approaches to sound betray a general lack of political imagination, a refusal to experiment with how the body might be differently constituted.

As most western cities have become a hellscape of mindless consumerism and classism, Techno’s European Capital offers an antidote to Neoliberalism’s pervasive modes of personal distinction, by-way-of its all-black social uniform. Here we have a kind of autonomous social experiment in uniformity as a gateway to equality. While this propagation of sameness is intellectually justified as being anti-image/anti-symbolic, it is hard not to see this as an aversion to difference disguised as equilibrium. A puritanical ethics, pursued and performed both in the social and sonic body. Single pulsation, single vibration…Insular. It appears Dionysius requires a degree of homogeneity before he can enter the room. Instinctive shudders at rhythm are elevated into an ethical standard for sound, refined into proper Techno for true people. When music is praised as real, pure, proper and true, then it's too late: decay has set in and the maggots aren't far off. [11]

Berlin is the ground on which claims for the Universality of the Minimal play themselves out. Minimal tech is but one variation of the myriad virtual potentials swarming around the Techno form. However, in this context it is one variation that has come to suppress and dominate all other potentials; it has become the Universal. There is a dominant European aestheticization of the Universal as the minimal, unitary, essence from which all other variations spring forth in an arborescent manner. Unity is a fleeting, accidental convergence persistently mistaken for an identity. [11] Austerity is a special effect, like any other. In contradistinction, the “true” Universal is the virtual, the stuttered, the manic, the polycollision, the schizo-beat. The “true” Universal is the discordant figure of the Schizophrenic, from which all variations emerge in rhizomatic fashion. It has the Power of the False as its motor. It knows nothing of roots, retentions, lineages, or inheritances, but intervals, gaps, breaks. There is not an originary “thing” (model) which could eventually be uncovered behind the disguises, displacements, and illusions of repetition; rather, disguise and displacement are the essence of repetition itself. [17] [18]


The Urban areas of the Global North have all fallen victim to the pervasive movement toward a Smooth City as part of the Neoliberal obsession with order, perfection, and regulated urban spaces. The feeling of sensory intensity, limitless expectation, needless friction, and positive disorientation that has always made the Metropolis an exciting experiment, is being diffused in favor of a conception of the city as a stable ground for financial capital and commodity fetishism. [19] It appears that everywhere in sonic, urban, and digital space – Difference has to contend with a generalized ethics of leveling and moderation. The neutralization of affective intensity is the new universal logic propagated in spaces, both material and immaterial.

In light of all this, it is best we avoid the temptation to subjectivate the danger; to construct a face for it. Much as it would be satisfying to posit a grand conspiracy of power behind these universal dangers – like some kind of paranoiac fantasy – the reality is much more complex than that. In the west, there is no longer a central figure on which to lay the blame, no Father against whom to rebel, no Great State to overthrow. The ecstatic nihilism with which the emergence of Trump and Brexit were met betrays the helplessness of a generation in search of a target around which to orient its opposition. Pervasive conspiracy theories act as mental anchors for our embattled psychic regime which is grappling with a global power that has escaped all symbolism and individual agency. Conspiratorial figures function as the temporary targets of that now immanent discontent-without-object, which has come to dominate this shifting, Neoliberal landscape.

These tendencies towards subjectivation in formulating political agency belong to the old forms of resistance, from a time when power was more localizable. Constructing oneself as a non-conformist subject, or being part of a radical subculture in opposition to power has become near impossible in a time when we are everywhere interpenetrated by the axioms of Capital. The instruments of Late Capitalism have long escaped these Subjective Logics, these Facializing Processes that we cling to so desperately. Perhaps paranoia needs to be taken back from the conspiracist, who only seeks out a coherent subject, a face, underneath surface significations. There’s a need to redirect paranoia towards relational ends; towards a hyper-awareness of power as synthesized by and through relations that rarely have a coherent subject as their motor.

In Sonic Agency, Brandon Labelle posits sound as the means by which we can attain an ethics beyond the face. To navigate power today requires new modes of thinking that can move beyond subjectivity and arrive at ways of conceptualizing power through flows, relays and ruptures. Sound forms a critical vocabulary by which to confront the complexity of today's crises; from ecological to economic, social to political challenges. Through such auditory conditions and experiences, one may learn from the affective and conflictual dynamics of relations how to recognize more than what appears in the open. [4]

By recentering Black Sonic Priorities, we can rediscover the Excentricity of repetition, and mobilize its capacity for disguise and displacement. We can actualize new manners of being in space, of occupying space. Creating resonances, pacts, and disturbances between the sonic and the spatial. In this sense, sound and listening are situated as the basis for capacities by which to nurture an insurrectionary sensibility. [4] A seizure of the Body of Sound as a precursor to the collective seizure of the social body.


Authentically Plastic is a musician and writer based in Kampala, Uganda.


  1. Uriah Marc Todoroff, Brian Massumi, and Erin Manning, ‘A Cryptoeconomy of Affect’, The New Inquiry (2018) <>.
  2. Gabriel Meier, ‘The Soul of the Creative: Free Labor and the Psychopolitics of Control’, The Astral Plane (2020) <>.
  3. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 1995).
  4. Brandon LaBelle, Sonic Agency: Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance, (London: Goldsmiths Press, 2020).
  5. Jean Baudrillard, America (London ; New York: Verso, 2010).
  6. Maurice O. Wallace, Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men’s Literature and Culture, 1775-1995 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).
  7. Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound: Noise, Affect and Aesthetic Moralism (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017).
  8. Richard Sennett, The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City Life (London: Verso, 2021).
  9. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
  10. Making Face, Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color = Haciendo Caras, ed. by Gloria Anzalduá, 1. ed (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1990).
  11. Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (London: Quartet Books, 1998).
  12. Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (London ; New York: Verso, 2020).
  13. Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, (Winchester, UK Washington, USA: Zero Books, 2009).
  14. Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985).
  15. Susan McClary, Reading Music: Selected Essays (Hampshire, England: Ashgate Pub, 2007).
  16. Gavilán Rayna Russom, ‘Unity and Uniformity: How Ideas of False Unity Allowed Fascism to Embed Itself in Club Culture’, Voluminous Arts (2022) <>.
  17. Daniel Warren Smith, Essays on Deleuze (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012).
  18. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).
  19. René Boer, ‘WALLEN 2020: A Counter-Manifesto’, 2020 <>.
    *Editor’s Note: Citations are non-linear within the body of text. Each number refers to a bibliography item and repeats as necessary.