In an interview on the podcast Between The Covers, fiction writer Brian Evenson states:
We go through life really liking to think that it is stable … that we understand it in some ways, but I really think that the way we take in life is an approximation in some regards. We’re not interacting so much with the world out there as with a kind of model of the world and as a result our sense of reality is never as rich or never quite as precise as reality itself is. Usually that just doesn’t matter because for most of our daily interactions, it doesn’t make a difference: it’s close enough to kind of be functional, we can order coffee and it’ll work out just fine. But every once in a while we have these moments where our perception is just off or wrong or where we think that we’re seeing one thing but it ends up being something completely different.
I’d like to know just what the use of the word “realistic” means when applied to Jib Kidder’s mixer. I’m at a time when I have been told — or, at least, I feel like I have been told, by someone at least — that I have not been living realistically, and that now I must put myself in check. I suppose this means that the model I had had in my mind as a sense of reality had been just slightly too fanciful, and now it is time to snap back, stay grounded, and look around. I feel that I am dying for a reality that might surprise me — as Evenson’s realities do — because I have lost the future-tensed model of reality that I thought I would now be living in. I can’t survive on as little as I would like, and I can’t find work that I find desirable. All I have are the desert fruit flies in my room, and I am even waiting for them to pull a trick. I am waiting for a glitch, an Evensonian moment. Of course, you can’t wait, and of course, Kidder’s reality doesn’t feel like this.
New Works for Realistic Mixer feels cynical. It feels mechanical and expressionless and, as such, it feels unforgiving. It feels as cold as the daily interventions of exchange that tell me I can’t afford comfort and that I have made mistakes. No, Kidder’s realism doesn’t carry the grounded semi-magical weirdness of an Evenson story. It feels like a cold slap.
I think about the fantastic maximalism that decorates a portion of contemporary electronica — Holly Herndon’s hyper-technical naturalism, James Ferraro’s vibrant funhouse mirror pointed at high capitalism, Elysia Crampton’s demonic utopian dream at the heart of her Demon City — and how it seems particularly invested in a narcotized surrealism. I then remember that Jib Kidder’s previous album Teaspoon to the Ocean also pursued this interest in surreality, presenting a trip-induced vision of artificially lifelike song collages that blossomed in high speed and high fidelity. So, why has he turned to the cold? I consider the contemporary minimalists of the sequencer — the steady pulse of Actress; Laurel Halo’s chill melancholy; Raime’s dark capacious energy; the focused exploration within a Mark Fell piece — and how their processes and affects feel so inwardly directed that they open doors for relation. Their cold mechanic minimalism is a site for comfort and collective escape.
But New Works for Realistic Mixer is standoffish. I wonder if there could have been a more suiting word to use than Realistic: Constrained, Unforgiving, Contemptuous, Dry. I consider Materialist as in its non-ideological and procedural definitions. Seems fair. Realistic Mixer is described by Care Of Editions as “an uncanny dance LP featuring no-input mixer sequenced together with drum machine.” This means the music likely arrived in a reductive process: a chipping away and not a building up. No-input mixer is a notably wild instrument, tending to act just outside of the full control of its handler. Providing instantaneous feedback as cable and circuit noise is led directly into its own closed circuit, the no-input mixer will respond feverishly to the smallest gesture, often unwilling to return to its former melodies and effects once it has left them.
As an example, imagine being reminded again and again of something — a hurtful thing — you have said and done. Each time it is brought up, however, it is distorted and amplified minutely such that you can’t locate at what point the accusation has left the bounds of truth (of reality) and, as such, you can’t stop the slander until it seems to be too late. This is something like the way the no-input mixer functions. This is also, I imagine, why Jib Kidder chose to intervene by introducing a sequencer, sampling and stabilizing the irrational workings of the “realistic” mixer. By taming and refining the spontaneously chaotic decisions of the mixer into dance statements and musings, Jib Kidder forces the sort of pragmatic sense of reality that Evenson hypothesizes — the “model of the world” that is “close enough to kind of be functional” — upon his instrument. Every now and then, there is a slippage — a clunky phrase, harsh gesture, or odd beat — but in the end New Works for Realistic Mixer is a steady and controlled work, pragmatic and well-tempered.
So often it feels that pleas to “be realistic” only mean that the person they are directed at is not conforming to some constructed set of values that they had no interest in working within in the first place. If that is so, any act of revolt seems to be imbued with a sort of magic. For one reason or another, I feel that I must repeat the story of the French surrealist poet Robert Desnos — a member of the French Resistance during World War II — which has been widely recounted and which I first heard through the magical nomadic American poet CA Conrad. Susan Griffin writes:
Even in the grimmest of circumstances, a shift in perspective can create startling change. … Leaving the barracks, the mood is somber; everyone knows the truck is headed for the gas chambers. And when the truck arrives no one can speak at all; even the guards fall silent. But this silence is soon interrupted by an energetic man, who jumps into the line and grabs one of the condemned. Improbable as it is, Odette explains, Desnos reads the man’s palm. Oh, he says, I see you have a very long lifeline. And you are going to have three children. He is exuberant. And his excitement is contagious. First one man, then another, offers up his hand, and the prediction is for longevity, more children, abundant joy.
As Desnos reads more palms, not only does the mood of the prisoners change but that of the guards too. How can one explain it? Perhaps the element of surprise has planted a shadow of doubt in their minds. If they told themselves these deaths were inevitable, this no longer seems so inarguable. They are in any case so disoriented by this sudden change of mood among those they are about to kill that they are unable to go through with the executions. So all the men, along with Desnos, are packed back onto the truck and taken back to the barracks. Desnos has saved his own life and the lives of others by using his imagination.
By denying the undeniable reality of his situation, Robert Desnos was apparently capable of inventing a new feasible model for reality within the minds of those around him. These were high stakes for Desnos, which are not so apparent in our day to day, but we remember that our bodies are usurped by ideological models of reality in innumerable and immeasurable ways at all times. It is not hard for some of us to see how high capitalism (our undeniable reality) drains its participators, its exploited subjects, and its planet to limitless degrees. If realistic living is that which makes itself useful as pertaining to a socially normalized model for reality, it is funny that New Works for Realistic Mixer has been released on the wholly unrealistic and use-less Negative Money model under which Care Of Editions currently operates.
In Gerhard Schultz’s expository essay on the Negative Money model, he explains:
Care Of Editions is a record label that gives people money for downloading the music we release. … [We propose] a framework for limiting downloads that simultaneously exposes itself to consideration; a framework against which people can gauge what significance a single download might have. Unlike downloads, a calculation that’s always in the making could never be the same twice. By inventing a metric that’s barely useful, if at all, downloads might be able to navigate more clearly against the foreign idea of singularity and suddenly have an elsewhere to pursue.
He goes on to clarify that the money attached to the non-physical objects of the downloads is funded by the sale of physical vinyl editions of the same albums being downloaded. Because of this calculated design and the limited availability of downloads — they come and go like trickles of water through an adjusting floodgate — there should be approximately no monetary gain or loss by Care Of Editions. However, this market engagement does not seem sensibly neutral. Instead, it is by all means a senseless business practice. Schultz adds:
Even though giving money away goes against common economic sense, it sets up the sensible practice of restricting free money as well as downloads to what we can afford. This is riding on the fact that, today, economic reasons tend to set the bar for clarity, as they often go unquestioned. With the music, there is no aesthetic starting point unless it’s borrowed from the economic framework. If the records were only experimental, the business model would seem like a gimmick to help sell records that wouldn’t sell on their own. On the other hand, if we only released music that already had an established place in the market, then the project would be a critical interruption of the market. Instead, the aesthetic coherence comes from a collaborative starting point, set together with the musicians and without being so tied-up in sincerity, which is to say, the Spirit of Capitalism or the Critique of Capitalism.
The Negative Money model is thus suspended by a sense of skepticism. It invents a “sensible” moment of watching what money (and thus value) can, will, and should do when attached to objects that are neither especially predisposed nor opposed to holding value. For this reason, the semi-challenging, semi-populist, semi-emotive, and semi-mechanical qualities that arose when Kidder forced his pragmatic realism upon his once untamed mixer are especially conducive to the business practice that New Works for Realistic Mixer was made to serve. The album’s almost-bland neutrality allows the space for a reality within which representation and non-sense are equally available.
Unfamiliarity and uncertainty have a very real capacity for enchantment, even when their appearance isn’t radically out of the ordinary. As Evenson presents in his short story “A Collapse of Horses”:
Imagine this: Walking through the countryside one day you come across a paddock. Lying there on their sides, in the dust, unnaturally still, are four horses. All four are prone, with no horses standing. They do not breathe and do not, as far as you can see, move. They are, to all appearances, dead. And yet, on the edge of the paddock, not twenty yards distant, a man fills their trough with water. Are the horses alive and appearances deceptive? Has the man simply not yet turned to see that the horses are dead? Or has he been so shaken by what he has seen that he doesn’t know what to do but proceed as if nothing has happened?
If you turn and walk hurriedly on, leaving before anything decisive happens, what do the horses become for you? They remain both alive and dead, which makes them not quite alive, nor quite dead.
And what, in turn, carrying that paradoxical knowledge in your head, does that make you?
What has happened when exchange dissolves? We think about that old saying of Post-Fordism: If something is free, you are the product. This is tidy and elegant, but of course, it is sometimes wrong. I have stolen and I have been given gifts. In neither case did I feel like a product. Additionally, Schultz notes that Care Of Editions “doesn’t oppose gifting to theft” and that downloading can really never be either of these things: “Downloads exist in an endless stream, and so they can’t really be given away. They have no significant value as a gift if the recipients already have more free music than they could ever listen to.” Bland exchange: exchange without value or exchange with value that is somehow beside the point (as is the case when a check must accompany a download). I’ve listened to New Works for Realistic Mixer many times, and I have often enjoyed it, but I’m not sure that I find it particularly valuable (in contrast to how I feel about many of Jib Kidder’s previous releases). Realistic Mixer feels like a useless, senseless, tasteless album, and rightly so.