Wizard Apprentice I Am Invisible

[Ratskin; 2018]

Styles: digital folk, confessional, therapy, vlogging, electronic, DIY,
Others: Julius Smack, Kohinoorgasm, Colleen, Robert Sotello, YATTA, Mothers, Tirzah,

Wizard Apprentice’s main act toward expression is unpacking: picking their self open, laying their self bare and exploring the remains. For that reason, it’s hard to say much about artist Tiereny Carter that they haven’t already said. If you visit their website U.R.L.G.U.R.L., you will find vlogs in which Carter shares intimate details of their life, their creative process, their musings, and more, conducting a well-informed open therapy session upon their own person (akin to what Testo Junkie author Paul Preciado calls “auto-theory,” or art born of “becoming the rat in your own laboratory”). They do so to educate and uplift others, to share their struggle and to proceed in their creative endeavors candidly. So, as I said, it’s a little daunting to look at their work analytically; often, what I think to say about it is exactly what is already being expressed. Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to continue the unpacking and sharing.

Carter uses the term “digital folk artist” to describe their practice. The use of this term has refreshingly little to do with the tools and aesthetics of the century-or-so-old American musical vernacular that we might often conjure in our minds at the mention of the term “folk.” Instead, they say “digital folk” to specify what could be seen as grassroots left-accelerationist elements of their practices of production and sharing. Several of their recordings are made entirely on their iPhone (including their excellent 2018 split with Julius Smack Computer Folk) and broadcast as such, demonstrating how it no longer takes major investments in recording equipment to experiment with sound or to write, record, and share songs. Of course, they run the risk of indirectly providing free ad space for the corporate behemoth (no matter how tongue in cheek or implicitly critical the other elements of their practice may be), but given the bizarre reality that the iPhone is already a widely shared technology, their pronounced use of it and technologies like it (YouTube and Instagram Live are also notable) instead come off as subtle diversions of those technologies’ implied uses: a left-turn and often subversive exploration into the untraversed horizons of these technologies. Carter performs and gives talks tirelessly, fitting in the cracks and nooks that aren’t being used within larger infrastructure and widening the possibilities within them.

On the introductory and titular track of I Am Invisible, Carter delivers a recitation. It could be directed toward a higher power, or it could be a humbling reminder to their self. Nonetheless, the words are an oddly empowering resignation, much like the artist’s strategic technological capitulation to our late-capitalist overlords. Chanting (with a particularly expressive and skilled use of melisma and non-harmonic embellishment), Carter recedes from light: “I am invisible/ I am invisible/ I am free from the pressure of being special/ I welcome the potential of being mediocre.” These words arrive as an attempt to relinquish the anxieties surrounding millennial exceptionality, the internalized drive to be visible and special. Lest a cynic challenge the mantra as a false promise or a front, one need only listen further to hear a difficult but self-fulfilling truth delivered: “I welcome the likeliness of remaining anonymous/ Many people will never know that I exist.” With this, a clear rejection of a necessary delusion that drives careerists to their heights: the confidence that they are at the center for others to see, that they will be known and remembered.

We could scale this chant outward toward the anthropocene and see it as resignation to the not-so-distant fate of the earth and humanity and, with that fate of humanity, the humanities. (As the editors of N+1 had it in the intro to their most recent issue: “The human belief in immortality seems to have tricked us, allowing us to project ourselves into a humanless future that nevertheless reads and sifts the ashes of human culture.”) A more honest mindset for contemporary human life might be one in which we attempt to let go of the faith in an ambiguous but omniscient spectator of our actions. Read this against rhetorical pleas to be on “the right side of history,” which presumes not only the truth of an arch toward justice, but also the preservation of history whatsoever. Carter’s chant can be read as a humble attempt to realize a mental framework outside of such presumptions.

Once Carter procedurally sheds (or at least, attempts to shed) the ego, they proceed to unravel their becoming. This works because they do not rely upon self-absolution. Instead, they interrogate their self bare, accountability intact. As they investigate the abuse they’ve been victim to, they attest to the difficulty of catching oneself in the act of reciprocation, regifting. On “A debt,” they admit, slowly, carefully, beginning without accompaniment, “I hurt someone so badly/ And now that I have/ I’m reminded of the people who have hurt me.” Upon this troubled recollection is the opportunity for interrogation and mutual healing, “The times that they did/ It was impossible to forgive/ It wasn’t time for forgiveness but now it is.” The lesson is one of ever-present framing and reframing, reevaluation and reconstruction against narrative. Importantly, however, the lesson is not to be ahistorical. This tension finds an internal cadence by song’s end: “I close my eyes to find instructions/ To retrace mistakes that should not be repeated/ I close my eyes and see the one I’ve hurt/ Successful, assured, adored and supported.”

Such openness and reflection is characteristic of Carter’s work, saturating their live sets, videos, and songs. The result isn’t that they settle into their past status as a victim, nor do they extricate themselves for the simple fact that we are all imperfect (doing so would be to parallel what BoJack Horseman’s BoJack Horseman wrongly claims to be the value of his fictional TV show Philbert: “What this show says is that is that we’re all terrible, so therefore we’re all okay”). Instead, Carter dissects their personal history and shows us how to do so ourselves, to truly better ourselves and heal our own wounds in the process.

Carter’s abilities to embrace sadness without wallowing, to uphold theirself to the highest of standards without crumbling and dissolving away, to instruct without preaching all make up their strengths. Their artistic work as Wizard Apprentice and their skill sharing as URL GURL both function so well because they embrace the grassroots framework and aesthetics of DIY culture without tethering themselves to the de facto scene or to the stiffest interpretations of those scenes’ aesthetics and politics. Carter is building a practice that understands and utilizes the specifics of their mode, venue, function, audience, and community to maximize effect, which is really the most anyone can hope for.

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