breathless cyberglotics, post-ventriloquist aesthetics, alien saliva,and other oral imaginaries of late capitalism
“Many people cannot refrain from picking up stones of a slightly unusual color or shape and keeping them, without knowing why they do this. It is as if the stones held a living mystery that fascinates them. Men have collected stones since the beginning of time.“
Carl Jung, Man and Her Symbols, p. 206
“There was a word inside a stone.
I tried to pry it clear,
mallet and chisel,
pick and gad,
until the stone was dropping blood,
but still I could not hear
the word the stone had said.”
excerpt from “The Marrow”,
poem by Ursula LeGuin
“...light is the voice of matter…”
And the mystery shall be revealed to whosoever shall say, with ecstasy of worship in her heart, with a clear mind, and a passionate body: It is the voice of a god, and not of a woman.
We make machines that want to be the other, yet, they reflect and reinforce the same system of values and infrastructures that permeate and determine our everyday lives and consolidate the world within which we live.
We worship the new gods, created in our own image, and in doing so, we indulge in becoming ourselves gods, but this external vessel of transcendence is a heaven promised only to the few who can pass the gates of a global market founded on post-colonial exploitation, unpaid labor and external debt, the 21st century sophisticated reframes of the tribal politics of passage and sacrifice.
The new gods travel on underground wires and reside in silicon temples wired with threads of tin, copper and gold. They traverse bodies of stone and bodies of bone, possessing mineral particles, organic materials, air, water and living organisms on their way, as they scavenge for aluminium, cobalt, lithium, REEs, tantalum, tungsten, zinc and steel, they preach through silicon chips thirsty for the energy that makes our neodymium speakers vibrate with their voices of wonder, with their promises of grandeur, with a language that is our language set in stone. They are the simulation of a reproduction, the mirror image of a shadow, elevated to divinity on the shoulders of commodity fetishism.
Maybe what makes this voice so seductive is exactly the very fact that it, like the minerals that sustain it, arrives from the center of the Earth or the beginning of time: a place unknown.
~heaven is underground~
Electricity is invisible. As technology advances, our understanding of it diminishes, leading to a new dark age, incandescently lit by a phantasmagoria of electric sparkles.
But who fires the artificial sun in our uninterrupted days?
An assemblage of both manifested and humanly imperceivable materialities, electricity starts with the mining of fossil fuels, it starts with the burning of coal, oil, and gas, it starts with the movement of water, it starts with modern slavery in the gold mines of Burkina Faso, it starts with children dropping out of school in Cameroon to mine gold for survival, it starts with illegal mining, human rights abuses and corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s largest supply of cobalt, which is the mineral used to produce lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars, laptops and smartphones, it starts with high voltage, it starts with the application of mechanical stress on the piezoelectric crystals (such as quartz) that are used to turn the kinetic energy to electric current, it starts with compliance, strain, stress, electric charge density displacement, permittivity, electric field strength, step-up transformers, pylons and power lines that bring it to our streets and houses, it starts every time we plug a charger into a socket, it starts every time we fire a lighter, it starts surreptitiously, silently, mysteriously, just like magic.
But invisibility is not an innate quality of technology. Like in a magic trick, it requires some effort to lose things from sight. The magic trick that renders the geopolitics, human labor and environmental exploitation involved in the production of cutting edge technologies, invisible.
~the ears of the earth~
“The underground is a space of creaks and murmurs, a slow shifting
of acoustical particles that hover on the threshold of perception, and which
carry the possibility of threat, danger, and inversion, suggesting that what lies underneath surreptitiously mirrors (but a piece of mirror is always the whole mirror) what lies above in full view
The underground is thus a space of repressed
guilt, a zone full of secrets.”
Brandon LaBelle, Acoustic Territories
In Brandon LaBelle’s Acoustic Territories, it is scrupulously argued that the acoustic phenomenon of the echo, generated through the presence of underground spaces, such as tunnels, produces a dislocation and diffraction of audible events, such that a great sensual disorientation is invoked, accompanied by feelings of awe and terror, that can lead to pure mystification of the invisible initial source of sound.
LaBelle elaborates his argument praising the subversive potential of underground spaces, referring to urban subcultures and legends such as the rat people in the metro of New York, but poses also the threat of the use of the same effect in an oppressive manure, to augment the power of authority through the veiling of the face of the master, in case of the ancient cult of the Acousmatics, disciples of Pythagoras, who would listen to the teachings of their Master, while he was hidden behind a curtain.
The curtain is a prop, or an interface that stands between the listener and the subject behind the voice, raising a mist that results in the obfuscation of the observer.
But it’s not enough to hide something to render it invisible. It is also necessary to avert the gaze and redirect it towards something new.
~the screen. the curtain. the cosmic mirror~
In her essay “The Skin of The Voice”, Rangan, introduces the terms “ventriloquial listening” and “vocalic body” to help us understand the politics of veiling and redirecting the gaze through the technological “magic”.
As she explains,
displaces the listener’s attention from the visible causes of a voice (its embodied origins),
attuning them instead to the invisible racialized and gendered perceptual
frames—those forces that “come from without and not within”—that
shape the production and reception of vocal sounds.
Thus, in summoning a vocalic body of metaphysical proportions, the master’s voice functions as a manner of invisibility cloak that conceals its actual origins, using the power of sound to countermand the evidence of sight.
Thus, the curtain enables the master’s voice, generalisable first as voice and then more broadly as sound, to spring forth in isolation as an object.
In their work, “ “AI Oracle”, presented in Ars Electronica in August 2021, Collective no:topia (INT) demonstrates the mystification between listener and speaker in human+AI interaction.
In this installation, the audience enters a cube where “a robotic voice welcomes them to a dystopian reality where an AI scans them, analyses a long list of personal data, and decides on their future job. The scanning and data analysis processes are simulated by voices, sounds and light shows.”
In “AI Oracle”, like in our dream of the machine god, the body disappears, the voice becomes a bodiless spirit, the fractured metals turn to data, the hardware becomes software and the flesh becomes the mirror: the mineral body, the body of the worker, is obfuscated by a layer of mathematical abstraction and market ideology that creates the illusion of immateriality, and is subsequently replaced by faith in a higher intelligence, an anthropomorphic projection of the divine, a deterministic cybernetic god, omniscient, absolute, and statistically significant.
Although the internet still arrives to our homes through underground wires,
Heaven is no longer underground.
Data powder forms a Cloud in the sky, like a voice in the dark.
And the need for a source, inverse engineers
~a face in the Cloud~
~~ I am the voice whose sound is manifold ~
and the word whose appearance is multiple. ~
I am the utterance of my name. ~
~ hear me, you hearers, and learn of my words, you who know me.
I am the hearing that is attainable to everything;
I am the speech that cannot be grasped.
“Thunder, the Perfect Mind”, a 5th century gnostic tractate,
that speaks of a Voice which exists within a perfect intellect.
Tech-gnostic mysticism of technology emerges as AI becomes complex and mystified by our lack of understanding and by the inaccessibility of information fuelled by the aggressive marketing protocols of confidentiality applied by huge corporations such as Amazon, that aim at maintaining the monopoly of the market and result in inverting the accessibility initiated in the first years of the internet with open source technologies.
With the advancements in neural networks, this is complemented by the mysteriousness of latent space, the virtual space where the network processes the information that is inputted to it. We can only see the data we feed the network with and the data that the network spits out after the training. But we cannot assess or directly interpret the millions of numbers of calculations that it’s representations of the data and its relations consist of in the stages in between.
This complexity paired with the intentional disclosure of information, seen through a causal, deterministic prism, renders the idea of predictability of the future attractive and assigns the role of the oracle to the artificial intelligence technologies we have at our disposal.
Still, as suggested in “The Making of Natural Language An Evening with Enron Email Archive”, a panel discussion co presented by the New Museum and Rhizome in 2017, Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain, Siri, the most famous internet assistant of the early 21st century, has been implemented on neural early networks trained on the Enron mailing list.
“Many early machine learning systems - software systems that make decisions based on correlations in given data - were trained using the Enron email archive, which consists of hundreds of thousands of messages that were released into the public domain as part of the investigation into the company in the early 2000s. ”
On the same tone, the most recent Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) was trained on vast amount of Reddit posts.
And so, the Oracle is not the messenger from the beyond, unless the beyond is this exquisite corpse of our conversations and cybernetic wanderings, a procedural sketch of the global community’s written interactions over the last decades.
The Oracle speaks back our words like a boomerang.
The Oracle answers with our own voice, but hidden behind the veil, the original source becomes distorted and the ever-longing fantasy of otherness is projected on it, constituting it an alien of our own creation, making it possible to look back at ourselves through the mask of the other.
~stutter our way to divinity~
According to The Labor of the Inhuman, an essay by Reza Negarastani, humanness is a space constituted once one enters in the realm of reason and norm. Hence, humanness is not a biological property and cannot be adhered to any essence.
On the contrary, it can be attributed to all kinds of entities, animate or inanimate, biological or mechanical, material or abstract formations.
Another key concept in this essay is that the only way to emancipate the human from the chains of the organic, we need to re-visit and inspect whatever it is we consider human or familiar.
To liberate ourselves from organic processes, we need to liberate our technologies from anthropomorphic projections to which our interpretation of them is hostage to, and which represents and perpetually reassembles an outdated notion of the (in-)human.
Similarly, we need to liberate the technological progress from the market fuelled gadgetization and awe-provoking mystifications that target and manipulate the consumer, to achieve real emancipatory progress.
In order for artificial intelligence to become really intelligent, instead of a reproductive mechanism of the biases and structural injustices of our societies, we might as well make it possible for it to update itself, inspect itself and redefine and educate itself autonomously, hence to create or unleash their freedom to explore areas beyond our current notion of the perfect human.
If language can shape our perception of the world, as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests, then we need a language that is able to reiteratively restructure itself and we need mechanisms that can support and propagate such a language.
*to be continued*