Issue 3/2005 - Net section

In the Realm of Hallucinations

Cartographies of the possible or: Politics of sonic perceptive distortion

Krystian Woznicki

With the return of the local, many musical styles from the so-called Third World have found their way into the global distribution networks dominated by entertainment corporations. The rapid success of locally rooted musical styles »paved the way for a form of marketing based on authenticity and resistance that gradually took hold of continent after continent, scene after scene.« 1 In this success story, Ibero-American localisms were only one phenomenon among many. From a historical point of view, they did not attract attention at a particularly early stage, nor were they able to register their greatest effect in creative circles. But, all the same, they play a special role today: anyone who sings in Spanish or draws musically on the stylistic repertoire of the Ibero-American sphere signalises a resistant potential. This has mainly to do with a shift within the political landscape: whereas yesterday one was against the state, today one is against the imperium 2 – which, to put it simplistically, takes the form of a space arranged in concentric circles that has visibly stricter organs of control and visibly more impermeable barriers towards its centre (USA/Washington). To put it another way: the borders of the imperium are seen as permeable, but also as grades of power and influence that structure the imperial space. 3 The Spanish language has become an arena for resistance to the imperium because, although George W. Bush addresses the Hispano-American voters in Spanish, the highest stage of alert has been called in the conservative centre of the country vis-à-vis »castellano«. »There is no Americano Dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share that dream and in that society only if they dream in English.« 4 But what is the relation of this resistance to the imperium to Ibero-American music?

The largest proportion of the minority that has managed to emerge from the periphery and penetrate the centre of the imperium consists of protagonists from the Spanish-speaking world. Their presence does not only turn metropolises like Los Angeles into Latino strongholds. And it does not only profoundly transform the conservative and, up to now, very white middle of America. 5 For some time now, a large Latino segment in the US entertainment industry has been in existence that sucks in and appropriates Ibero-American musical styles and complacently lets this sound context, projected from the centre out into the word, resound as a flowing continuum: Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey know no boundaries. People who work on this context often resort to reducing the composition of the imperial sound context to absurdity. The borderlessness is preserved, but it is recoded as a geography of sensorial and perceptive distortion. This approach contrasts with that of treating borders as sound contexts 6, where audio-topic projects also take on form as sound maps of the possible that are in a position, if not to turn political realities on their head, at least to leave them behind or to call existing configurations of power into question.

As early as the nineties, Uwe Schmidt was able to set new trends in the first regard. When, for example, »Fonosandwich« appeared on Rather Interesting, the label he founded in 1994, it did not make much of a sensation at first. Recorded in his chosen home of Santiago de Chile, it was one production among countless others by a workaholic. The album drew on the interest for techno-pop that Schmidt developed in the era of Lassigue Bendthaus, at least to the extent that the singing of the Frankfurt composer on all eleven tracks has been distorted using a Vocoder. Comparisons with Yellow Magic Orchestra come to mind in several passages, if they had developed musically and exchanged the point of reference »nation/state« – like Nagisa Oshima, they brilliantly exercised a vocabulary that was ideological in Zizek’s sense – for a roaming interest in sonic localisms. At this time, Schmidt constantly revolved around the sound contexts of Latin America. The results of his explorations found an outlet in his continuous collaboration with Lisa Carbon, who at the time personified the musical vision of “Latin Electrica”. Schmidt also became a talking point for his invention of new identities such as the now very famous Señor Coconut 7.

»Fonosandwich« marks what is perhaps the first important point of crystallisation in this development. On this album, which delves deep into the rhythmic canon of Latin-American music, the composer as programmer rises to great heights, for example in the track »Supertropical (Neotradicional)«. With every passing second, fruitier peaches with a digital centre are revealed, sparks fly. As the title already implies, food is the thematic emphasis. »Fonosandwich« fluctuates between a resort restaurant and a drive-in along the Panamerican Highway. On the menu are distortions of consumption habits that are articulated in sounds or sound adaptions. In »Tandoori Club«, for example, a band emerges from under the thunder of a short jingle: drummers and musicians with stringed instruments appear. A blissful good-night song is played. Suddenly – a change. Flesh detaches from the joints of the performers. Metal ball bearings make an appearance. The movements become more angular. The band swings. The undulation becomes jive. What starts as a rousing finale soon reveals itself to be a kind of abstraction typical of Uwe Schmidt, as also heard in pieces like »Verbal Herbal«, »Eat My Chilli« and »They call it Donut, but it doesn’t have a Hole«. As usual with Rather Interesting, a motto accompanies each album instead of series reference numbers. In the case of »Fonosandwich« it is: »Triggering the Latin Subconscious«.

Today, the universe marked out by Uwe Schmidt is examined by numerous like-minded researchers for unknown finesses. For example, musicians like Argenis Brito and Pier Bucci look for new horizons with their joint project, Mambotur. Argenis, incidentally the voice of Señor Coconut, has put it on record that her latest album »Al Frente« (multiColor, 2005) is intended to »represent the soul of the Third World with the sound of the First World.« This aim is expressed with a track like »Latino America« when Chile’s superstar Jorge Gonzalez complains that his home continent is appropriated by the United States like a village. The lament is embedded in soft, drifting electronic waves – as a pleasant sounding result of a game of ping pong that the two composers have played with the local atmosphere of Ibero-American sounds. At any rate, the colourful sounds possess barely any characteristics that could be said to derive recognisably from localisms. This sonic cartography is illustrated by a graphic design on the cover, where Latin America is re-assembled using geometric areas of colour. The political order has been suspended in favour of a multi-hued mosaic. Some elements of the new configuration function like Op Art. Is it a hallucination that Mexico is out of place on this map? Possibly a reference to the border between Mexico and the United States, which is the most closely watched in the world. There, the perversions of the imperial household are a matter of everyday routine. The »Tortilla Curtain« is a drug-ridden morass, a landscape marked by poverty and a place where would-be migrants accumulate. But it is also a source of friction and the object of sonic geographies of resistance.


Translated by Timothy Jones


1 Christian Höller, »Around the World? Around the World! ! Global Electronica zwischen Differenzausbeutung und kultureller Demokratisierung « In springerin, Volume VII, No. 2, p. 10.
2 It should probably be added that the resistance is also directed against the empire. But there is not enough space here to differentiate between imperium and empire, and the forms of resistance that belong to each.
3 See Herfried Münkler, Imperien. Die Logik der Weltherrschaft – vom alten Rom bis zu den Vereinigten Staaten, Berlin 2005, p. 16.
4 Samuel Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. New York 2004, p. 256.
5 Mike Davis, Magical Urbanism. Latinos Reinvent the US City, London/New York 2000.
6 Josh Kun, »Listening to the Line, Notes on Music«, Globalization, and the US-Mexico Border«, in Ibero Americana, No. 17, p. 143-152.
7 See my interview »Hacking in Cha-cha-cha. Uwe-Schmidt-Interview«, in Nordic Art Review, Stockholm, 06/2000.