Tom Knapp Mophoc Rez [EP]

[Ge-stell; 2016]

Styles: held formlessness, cast like tarp, pragmatics
Others: SEAES/Dalglish, Wanda Group, PKKT, Noyzelab

I was recently listening to an 80s industrial group on the train and wondered, “What would it be like if I reduced my affective life to this level of inactivity, bludgeoning it to flatness?” Nothing much was happening in the music, just some simple nonevent gestures going nowhere, on purpose. It seemed to be an experiment in wasting time, an exercise in purposeful boredom. That train ride found this writer in a depressive moment. I had just been dropped off after working upstate (NY) and found myself in one of those fleeting interstices of open-feeling time — only “open” insofar as it is not 100% scheduled — crammed between groupings of various tasks, indistinguishably professional or social. Envisioning meeting the album on its own terms, it felt good to slow down that much, to try to turn myself off.

When I spend time with the recent Mophoc Rez EP by British musician Tom Knapp — who runs .MEDS and co-founded ICASEA — I wonder what it would be like to mimic the record, similarly to how I had fantasized about becoming industrial flatness. But this wouldn’t be an exercise in embracing shame — which is in some way what the previous example was unproductively about — on a gut level, or materially. This would be more exploratory: instead of working within and reproducing something I already know, I’d be trying something on and speculatively imagining new arrangements. Here, art would do affective work in pragmatic ways.

This interpretation of Mophoc Rez could be done with my body, but more exciting is the prospect of performing it by adjusting the infrastructure of my relation to affect, as it moved through and stuck to my ecological framework of grey matter. Like putting on a brace (or something more gentle) that organized the flows of my moods and intensities of feeling in all their anxiety, loneliness, happiness, excitement, and so on. This system-as-synthetic appendage toward new modes of expressivity would be modeled on Knapp’s map-like sound organizations.

In action, they organize themselves in soggy grids, suggesting sequential repetition in traces more than actually following through. Indications as specters instead of built things, softly igniting like light sculptures: lime green, fuzzily vibrant, pale yellow, peach and purple. Different sound objects leak onto other ones, splayed or cast like tarp; others fall across the space moodlessly like dumb trees. Still others — the bottomfeeders — tickle like cactus shards, laced horizontally in a film of hiss. Dry shoots of air, medium-sized slabs.

On a technical level, Mophoc Rezis skillfully and knowledgeably produced, probably with handmade software-based synths or odd analog gear, carefully treated in post-production. But for all that precision, it’s still a little indelicately handled, definitely not quantized, in part knowingly yielded to happenstance. In this approach to expressivity, we can identify a theme of formlessness that extends from the level of the composition of individual sounds to their collective formal organization.

In art historians Rosalind Krauss and Yves-Alain Bois’ catalogue essay for their 1997 exhibition Formlessness, they define the eponymous subject thus: “Nothing in and of itself, the formless has only an operational existence.” Even at the level of the sentence that stakes their claim, formlessness comes in like a second thought, like a semantic net that’s always already going to be a little late or a little off. Knapp reminds us that it can be meaningful to linger in the moment just before the failed and failing net is cast, and to let an operation in action breathe in its lack of cohesion.

In Cruel Optimism, Lauren Berlant writes about how objects that we desire are really constellations of desires, “clusters of promises we want someone or something to make to us and make possible for us.” Furthermore, we cannot — or will not — disclose the full story behind why we orient our lives around some desires and not others.

The techniques of the synthesis-based production Knapp employs here bring attention to sonic detail down to a microbially minuscule degree, as if he’s allowing a glimpse within, carefully rehearsing a breaking-apart of an analogous attachment-attracting cluster. By reaching in to the sonic generative process at the level of the quivering waveform, he seems to perform a kind of biological surgery — curiously picking apart, squeezing, and testing out audio attachments, why or when they appeal. He tells me via Twitter that the EP was composed with sounds set on multiple conflicting timelines, and that he wondered if it would be audible to the listener. Arguably, it’s very much this sense of cross-hatched rift, held open, that makes the experience of Mophoc Rez so delicately enthralling.

Links: Ge-stell

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