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Failing to See, Fueling Hatred.

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I was 19 years old when a some configuration of anonymous people came after me. They got access to my email and shared some of the most sensitive messages on an anonymous forum. This was after some of my girl friends received anonymous voice messages describing how they would be raped. And after the black and Latinx high school students I was mentoring were subject to targeted racist messages whenever they logged into the computer cluster we were all using. I was ostracized for raising all of this to the computer science department’s administration. A year later, when I applied for an internship at Sun Microsystems, an alum known for his connection to the anonymous server that was used actually said to me, “I thought that they managed to force you out of CS by now.”

Needless to say, this experience hurt like hell. But in trying to process it, I became obsessed not with my own feelings but with the logics that underpinned why some individual or group of white male students privileged enough to be at Brown University would do this. (In investigations, the abusers were narrowed down to a small group of white men in the department but it was never going to be clear who exactly did it and so I chose not to pursue the case even though law enforcement wanted me to.)

My first breakthrough came when I started studying bullying, when I started reading studies about why punitive approaches to meanness and cruelty backfire. It’s so easy to hate those who are hateful, so hard to be empathetic to where they’re coming from. This made me double down on an ethnographic mindset that requires that you step away from your assumptions and try to understand the perspective of people who think and act differently than you do. I’m realizing more and more how desperately this perspective is needed as I watch researchers and advocates, politicians and everyday people judge others from their vantage point without taking a moment to understand why a particular logic might unfold.

The Local Nature of Wealth

A few days ago, my networks were on fire with condescending comments referencing an article in The Guardian titled “Scraping by on six figures? Tech workers feel poor in Silicon Valley’s wealth bubble.” I watched as all sorts of reasonably educated, modestly but sustainably paid people mocked tech folks for expressing frustration about how their well-paid jobs did not allow them to have the sustainable lifestyle that they wanted. For most, Silicon Valley is at a distance, a far off land of imagination brought to you by the likes of David Fincher and HBO. Progressive values demand empathy for the poor and this often manifests as hatred for the rich. But what’s missing from this mindset is an understanding of the local perception of wealth, poverty, and status. And, more importantly, the political consequences of that local perception.

Think about it this way. I live in NYC where the median household income is somewhere around $55K. My network primarily makes above the median and yet they all complain that they don’t have enough money to achieve what they want in NYC, whether they’re making $55K, $70K, or $150K. Complaining about being not having enough money is ritualized alongside complaining about the rents. No one I know really groks that they’re making above the median income for the city (and, thus, that most people are much poorer than they are), let alone how absurd their complaints might sound to someone from a poorer country where a median income might be $1500 (e.g., India).

The reason for this is not simply that people living in NYC are spoiled, but that people’s understanding of prosperity is shaped by what they see around them. Historically, this has been understood through word-of-mouth and status markers. In modern times, those status markers are often connected to conspicuous consumption. “How could HE afford a new pair of Nikes!?!?”

The dynamics of comparison are made trickier by media. Even before yellow journalism, there has always been some version of Page Six or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Stories of gluttonous and extravagant behaviors abound in ancient literature. Today, with Instagram and reality TV, the idea of haves and havenots is pervasive, shaping cultural ideas of privilege and suffering. Everyday people perform for the camera and read each other’s performances critically. And still, even as we watch rich people suffer depression or celebrities experience mental breakdowns, we don’t know how to walk in each other’s shoes. We collectively mock them for their privilege as a way to feel better for our own comparative struggles.

In other words, in a neoliberal society, we consistently compare ourselves to others in ways that make us feel as though we are less well off than we’d like. And we mock others who are more privileged who do the same. (And, horribly, we often blame others who are not for making bad decisions.)

The Messiness of Privilege

I grew up with identity politics, striving to make sense of intersectional politics and confused about what it meant to face oppression as a woman and privilege as a white person. I now live in a world of tech wealth while my family does not. I live with contradictions and I work on issues that make those contradictions visible to me on a regular basis. These days, I am surrounded by civil rights advocates and activists of all stripes. Folks who remind me to take my privilege seriously. And still, I struggle to be a good ally, to respond effectively to challenges to my actions. Because of my politics and ideals, I wake up each day determined to do better.

Yet, with my ethnographer’s hat on, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with how this dynamic is playing out. Not for me personally, but for affecting change. I’m nervous that the way that privilege is being framed and politicized is doing damage to progressive goals and ideals. In listening to white men who see themselves as “betas” or identify as NEETs (“Not in Education, Employment, or Training”) describe their hatred of feminists or social justice warriors, I hear the cost of this frame. They don’t see themselves as empowered or privileged and they rally against these frames. And they respond antagonistically in ways that further the divide, as progressives feel justified in calling them out as racist and misogynist. Hatred emerges on both sides and the disconnect produces condescension as everyone fails to hear where each other comes from, each holding onto their worldview that they are the disenfranchised, they are the oppressed. Power and wealth become othered and agency becomes understood through the lens of challenging what each believes to be the status quo.

It took me years to understand that the boys who tormented me in college didn’t feel powerful, didn’t see their antagonism as oppression. I was even louder and more brash back then than I am now. I walked into any given room performing confidence in ways that completely obscured my insecurities. I took up space, used my sexuality as a tool, and demanded attention. These were the survival skills that I had learned to harness as a ticket out. And these are the very same skills that have allowed me to succeed professionally and get access to tremendous privilege. I have paid a price for some of the games that I have played, but I can’t deny that I’ve gained a lot in the process. I have also come to understand that my survival strategies were completely infuriating to many geeky white boys that I encountered in tech. Many guys saw me as getting ahead because I was a token woman. I was accused of sleeping my way to the top on plenty of occasions. I wasn’t simply seen as an alpha — I was seen as the kind of girl that screwed boys over. And because I was working on diversity and inclusion projects in computer science to attract more women and minorities as the field, I was seen as being the architect of excluding white men. For so many geeky guys I met, CS was the place where they felt powerful and I stood for taking that away. I represented an oppressor to them even though I felt like it was they who were oppressing me.

Privilege is complicated. There is no static hierarchical structure of oppression. Intersectionality provides one tool for grappling with the interplay between different identity politics, but there’s no narrative for why beta white male geeks might feel excluded from these frames. There’s no framework for why white Christians might feel oppressed by rights-oriented activists. When we think about privilege, we talk about the historical nature of oppression, but we don’t account for the ways in which people’s experiences of privilege are local. We don’t account for the confounding nature of perception, except to argue that people need to wake up.

Grappling with Perception

We live in a complex interwoven society. In some ways, that’s intentional. After WWII, many politicians and activists wanted to make the world more interdependent, to enable globalization to prevent another world war. The stark reality is that we all depend on social, economic, and technical infrastructures that we can’t see and don’t appreciate. Sure, we can talk about how our food is affordable because we’re dependent on underpaid undocumented labor. We can take our medicine for granted because we fail to appreciate all of the regulatory processes that go into making sure that what we consume is safe. But we take lots of things for granted; it’s the only way to move through the day without constantly panicking about whether or not the building we’re in will collapse.

Without understanding the complex interplay of things, it’s hard not to feel resentful about certain things that we do see. But at the same time, it’s not possible to hold onto the complexity. I can appreciate why individuals are indignant when they feel as though they pay taxes for that money to be given away to foreigners through foreign aid and immigration programs. These people feel like they’re struggling, feel like they’re working hard, feel like they’re facing injustice. Still, it makes sense to me that people’s sense of prosperity is only as good as their feeling that they’re getting ahead. And when you’ve been earning $40/hour doing union work only to lose that job and feel like the only other option is a $25/hr job, the feeling is bad, no matter that this is more than most people make. There’s a reason that Silicon Valley engineers feel as though they’re struggling and it’s not because they’re comparing themselves to everyone in the world. It’s because the standard of living keeps dropping in front of them. It’s all relative.

It’s easy to say “tough shit” or “boo hoo hoo” or to point out that most people have it much worse. And, at some levels, this is true. But if we don’t account for how people feel, we’re not going to achieve a more just world — we’re going to stoke the fires of a new cultural war as society becomes increasingly polarized.

The disconnect between statistical data and perception is astounding. I can’t help but shake my head when I listen to folks talk about how life is better today than it ever has been in history. They point to increased lifespan, new types of medicine, decline in infant mortality, and decline in poverty around the world. And they shake their heads in dismay about how people don’t seem to get it, don’t seem to get that today is better than yesterday. But perception isn’t about statistics. It’s about a feeling of security, a confidence in one’s ecosystem, a belief that through personal effort and God’s will, each day will be better than the last. That’s not where the vast majority of people are at right now. To the contrary, they’re feeling massively insecure, as though their world is very precarious.

I am deeply concerned that the people whose values and ideals I share are achieving solidarity through righteous rhetoric that also produces condescending and antagonistic norms. I don’t fully understand my discomfort, but I’m scared that what I’m seeing around me is making things worse. And so I went back to some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches for a bit of inspiration today and I started reflecting on his words. Let me leave this reflection with this quote:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image from Flickr: Andy Doyle

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nikolap
11 days ago
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Zagreb, Croatia
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mxm23
19 days ago
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Interesting and thoughtful essay.
San Rafael, CA

William Ryan Fritch ~ Birkitshi – Eagle Hunters in a New World

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GGR SINGLE POCKET JACKET UPDATED 032112Birkitshi – Eagle Hunters in a New World is not only a great new film score from William Ryan Fritch, but the first installment of a brand new subscription series from Lost Tribe Sound.  The film bemoans the decline of a once-prosperous way of life, while the subscription series makes a statement of hope “in these uncertain times” ~ the decision to go ahead with a physical set flies in the face of the dominant streaming trend.

Nobility is involved in all three of these ventures: the teaching of the old ways to the new generation of eagle hunters (important note: this does not mean hunting eagles, but using eagles for hunting); the decision to celebrate the old ways of music production; and the defiant, complex music of the score.

Fritch has often veered into the vocal arena, but apart from some appropriate throat singing, Birkitshi is all-instrumental.  The ethnic richness of this release hearkens back to his albums as Vieo Abiungo, as well as his Death Blues collaboration with Jon Mueller.  Once again, the sound is incredibly mastered and nuanced; the sounds virtually leap from the speakers.  The music bleeds an intermingled sense of hope and sadness from every pore, eventually reaching a state of transcendence.  The cello is the most melancholic instrument here, but it provides only one color in a much larger palette.  The racing drums imply tribal life, while the bells and soft choirs imply a deep-seated spirituality.  Permanence resides where memory thrives, and Birkitshi is a work of shared memory, a hard copy in an ephemeral world.

While the uninitiated might call this “world music” (a descriptively poor and ironically noninclusive term), Birkitshi might more properly be called music of conversation.  It zeroes in on a specific region, honors its residents, and adds commentary from another sphere.  The soundtrack is both reflection and reaction, a demonstration of empathy and support, a statement underlining the importance of this particular old way, and by extension, all crafts in danger of disappearing.  Just as vanishing languages rob humankind of the ability to define specific objects and feelings, vanishing crafts diminish global understandings of history.  The press release engages in a bit of anthropomorphism, imagining the golden eagles feeling “a melancholy of knowing the world they fly over is changing so fast”, but the bonus behind this thought is that it honors the eagles as much as the trainers.  Vanishing habitats affect the local species, no matter what phylum.

The title of the subscription series possesses its own seemingly incongruous nature:  Prelude to the Decline.  It’s more of a shout against a potential decline, although the words seem whisper that the battle has already been lost.  There are many subscription options in all manner of formats, but the meat of the series is the talent on display.  The series will include even more music from Fritch, along with a new album from Seabuckthorn, whose last release made our Top Ten in Rock and Post-Rock; a new album from Alder & Ash, along with a reissue of an album we reviewed only a few months ago, lamenting that no physical copy was available; the long-anticipated new set by From the Mouth of the Sun; an acoustic album from The Green Kingdom; and the label’s first ambient album, from kj.  Forget the murmurings about 2017 being a horrible year; when we look at this lineup, we start to think that this might be a great year, and we couldn’t be more excited!  (Richard Allen)

Subscription Series link








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nikolap
21 days ago
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Kangding Ray - HYPER OPAL MANTIS

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nikolap
21 days ago
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Sun Ra / Merzbow: Strange City

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Sun Ra’s presence on the latest Merzbow record is odd: blink and you might miss him completely, but squint and you can notice him almost everywhere. The only time it’s blatantly obvious that Masami Akita, the man behind noise legend Merzbow, is using Sun Ra’s recordings as source material comes in the first 10 seconds of Strange City. Opener “Livid Sun Loop” begins with overlapping saxophones and drums, but Akita quickly steamrolls those into a dense cacophony. For the rest of the album’s 103 minutes (66 on CD and 36 on LP, both titled Strange City but containing different music), he steadfastly maintains that busy din.

Yet focus your ears intensely on Strange City—preferably through headphones—and Sun Ra’s music peeks out through Merzbow’s noise wall. (The Ra estate gave Akita material from 1966’s The Magic City and 1967’s Strange Strings, which he remixed and treated while adding his own original sounds). Rattling drumbeats grow out of crackling static like weeds in a garden, bassy rhythms undulate beneath rolling roars like shifting tectonic plates, and pretty much every screech and squeal could pass for a wailing horn. Strange City is decisively a Merzbow record, but Sun Ra lives in its DNA.

Where Strange City stands in Merzbow’s massive discography is easier to suss out. Many of the strengths Akita has developed over roughly four decades of noise devotion are put to use here. He creates relentlessly forward-moving music with so much going on that it feels three-dimensional. During such lengthy tracks, your ears and brain accept and acclimate to Akita’s ruthless sounds, and his seemingly random noise eventually starts to feel normal.

Strange City is most successful on the two half-hour-plus tracks that make up the CD version. “Livid Sun Loop” is filled with destructive sounds and stabbing rhythms, but it also has a narrative arc developed through 32 minutes of sonic drilling. On “Granular Jazz Part 2,” Akita grapples most seriously with Sun Ra’s creative spirit. Devoted primarily to the trebly end of the spectrum, the piece subtly rides Ra’s rhythms while building a space-bound aura, a fitting way to grapple with an artist who claimed to come from Saturn.

The three tracks on the LP version of Strange City—all titled as parts of “Granular Jazz”—are less distinctive. In some places, Akita falls back on stock noise moves like firing-laser jolts and helicopter-style whirr. Something interesting happens on every piece, though, and the closer “Granular Jazz Part 4” is particularly fascinating due to its relative restraint. Surprisingly distant and subdued, it’s like Merzbow’s ballad of Sun Ra, an elegy for a virtual partner coming after 100 minutes of sonic boxing. You could call Strange City a Merzbow victory, but it couldn’t have happened without Sun Ra on his team.



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nikolap
22 days ago
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Zagreb, Croatia
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Steve Hauschildt: Strands

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You don’t come to one of Steve Hauschildt’s records expecting, or even hoping, to be surprised. The Cleveland electronic musician's consistency is one of his great strengths: His synthesizers ripple like a mountain stream at peak snowmelt, and his frictionless pulses represent only the finest qualities of electricity itself. They feel like dreams of a coal- and hydraulic-free future, when mammoth wind turbines and sparkling solar arrays offer the promise of a guilt-free grid.

That’s not to say Hauschildt’s sounds or techniques are necessarily very original; he makes no attempt to disguise his debt to artists like Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese, and Manuel Göttsching. But, much as his former band Emeralds did, he has succeeded in taking those influences and spinning them into a fusion that is his alone. Over the course of several albums for Kranky and a handful of CDR and cassette releases, he has channeled those spinning arpeggios into an unmistakable signature.

Throughout his solo career, Hauschildt has signaled his disinterest in strictly repeating himself—thus the Vocoder and new wave experiments of Sequitur, and the occasional detour into ambient techno on Where All Is Fled. But it’s worth bearing in mind that Emeralds’ breakup, whatever its ultimate causes, was presaged by the radical shift in sound they took with their final album, 2012’s Just to Feel Anything. And what keeps many listeners coming back to Hauschildt’s records is precisely the promise that each album will sound practically interchangeable with the one that came before—just, perhaps, marginally better.

On both of those counts, Strands succeeds, yet it also marks a shift in tone: At just eight tracks and 43 minutes long, it is noticeably more restrained. A few songs could have come from any of his earlier albums: “Same River Twice,” whose title goes to the heart of Hauschildt’s approach, unleashes a dizzying moiré of overlapping pulses—eighth notes, 16th notes, 32nd notes, all spinning like pinwheels whose tips are fixed with tinier pinwheels ad infinitum. But five tracks feature no arpeggios at all, which, given Hauschildt’s previous work, is a little like imagining a Four Tet record with no samples, or an Aphex Twin record with no drum machines.

“Transience of Earthly Joys,” in which piano and pipe organ transmute into feedback-ripped synth squalls, has a quiet, blurry calm that's reminiscent of the most ambient moments on Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd’s The Moon and the Melodies. The rich, augmented chords and faintly detuned oscillator voices of “A False Seeming” and the slow, string-like passages of “Time We Have” also recall the The Moon and the Melodies, along with another 4AD album of a similar vintage: Michael Brook and Pieter Nooten’s 1987 album Sleeps With the Fishes, which framed melancholy pop melodies in velvety synthesizers and echoing guitar. In its slowest moments, Hauschildt’s album exudes the same sort of narcotic bliss. At points, it barely resists tipping into the maudlin, but that resistance, that willingness to inch right up to the edge of bathos without falling into it, is part of what makes it so captivating.

It’s a bold move, slowing down like he has here. But by taking the emphasis off of rhythm, he allows us to focus instead on the texture of the sounds themselves. His patches are so physical—rasping, buzzing, peeling off like metal shavings—that you can imagine holding them in your hand. They feel like direct extensions of the silicon in the machines that produced them, like the transfiguration of sand into sound.



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nikolap
22 days ago
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Love Means Taking Action - Croatian Amor

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nikolap
23 days ago
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