In the context of the current global pandemic, it is an opportune moment to examine theories and sonic fictions that I have loosely termed audio virologies. One key source of the concept of a cultural virus derives from the idea of the meme, the cultural equivalent of the gene, a basic unit of culture. Converging as it has with social media, the concept has become fixated on virulent (moving) image/text combinations. But is there an auditory equivalent? From evolutionary genetics and modelling applied to generative music, AI driven data sonification of protein structures, psychologies of earworms through to sonic fictions of electronic music and science fiction, we will question the neo-Darwinian underpinning of memetics and attempt to go beyond a merely metaphorical notion of virality applied to sonic and musical culture.
Presentation by Diogo Tudela
Under cognitive capitalism, virality is rendered as a measurement of success. The prosperity, and therefore, the validity of a unity of content is accessed by the interdependence of its virulence, the ability to affect a host (time), and its contagion (or replication) level, its capacity the proliferate transversally across a system or network, affecting new agents, bodies or nodes (space). Thus, under the guise of such socio-cultural hyper-structure, becoming viral stands as a pivotal target and constitutive component of a cultural object’s teleology. In that, such units — or memes — respond directly to a series of quantification protocols — analytics and statistics — that map their rhizomatic advancements through parameters of visualisations, clicks, hits, accesses, identifications or sharing rates.
In the 25th chapter of his 2010 book Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear, entitled Capitalism and Schizophonia, Steve Goodman sketches the outlines of an Audio Virology, a subset of the Cultural Viruses, understood as a collection of contagious objects or artefacts deployed through the mechanisms of late capitalism. Drawing from Dawkin’s notion of meme and Sampson’s diagram of an imitative wave, Goodman describes the mutation of artists/musicians and producers into carriers, events into outbreaks, scenes into platforms contagion, media and communication networks into transmission grids. Consequently, a speculative isomorphism connecting biological structures and sonic-cultural manifestations poses an array of interrogations on what would entail to be infected by a sound? What register of affectivity would need to be in place for such phenomena to occur?
Arguably, Goodman’s work seems to operate within a Spinozian framework, moving across a body-mind and nature-culture continuum. The possibility of a virus — that despite its metaphorical nature doesn’t renounce to its actuality — brought by cultural forms stands precisely on the refusal of the Cartesian dichotomy of mind and body. Bodies should then be regarded as metastable actualisation of a flexible matrix whose longitudinal vectors describe an extensive kinetic progression, while its latitudinal vectores trace a body’s competence in being intensively affected by cross modal events. As such, a body’s performativity as a constructive/reconstructive structure should not be precluded by the biological given, nor by the transcendental power of a post-modern discourse.
The global scenario articulated by SARS-COV-2 over the past two years asks for updates on the concepts and notions of virality. This urgency is perhaps more prominent within the construct of a Cultural Virus and, subsequently, within the idea of an Audio Virology. Remaining true to its personal methodology as a concept-engineer operating a super-collider of trans-medial references, Steve Goodman summons Bourroughs media guerrilla tactics, Julian Henrique’s conception of a sound-system as a global transmitter, and Kodwo Eshun’s sonic fictions and futurerhythmachine, among many others, in order to investigate what an Audio Virology would yield after COVID-19.
Steve Goodman (aka Kode9) is a musician, DJ, artist and writer. He has recorded 3 albums, 2 with the late vocalist The Spaceape; Memories of Future (2006) and Black Sun (2010), and a solo album, Nothing (2015). He has compiled 4 DJ mix compilations, Dubstep Allstars vol.3 (Tempa 2006), DJ Kicks (K7 2011) and Rinse 22 (Rinse 2013), and in 2018, Fabric 100 with Burial. In additional to the record label Hyperdub which he founded in 2004, he has also released tracks on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label, Soul Jazz and Rinse and remixed for Mr. Fingers, Lee Scratch Perry, the Junior Boys, Battles and Dabrye among others.
In 2014 he was awarded Innovator and Small Label of the Year from AIM (the Association of Independent Music). With the group AUDINT he has produced numerous sound installations, and his sound designs have recently been presented as part of the Hyundai commission at the Tate Modern (2018) and the Barbican ‘AI: More than Human’ in London (2019). He has produced a soundtrack to AUDINT’s short film Ghostcode (2016) and peformed a remixed score to a reimagined version of Chris Marker’s La Jetee entitled Her Ghost at the BFI in London and the Pompidou Centre in Paris (2013).
His book ‘Sonic Warfare’ was published on MIT Press in 2009 and with AUDINT he co-edited the book ‘Unsound: Undead’ for Urbanomic Press in 2019.