Sunday, 4 November 2012

Protect And Survive

I was never very impressed with Cabaret Voltaire when I listened to them during my early teens. By the mid-eighties their grainy, early stuff sounded outdated and cheap, and by the time they'd upgraded their synths for their entryist phase, they just sounded a bit bland. That said, I've recently come to appreciate what they were philosophically pointing to.

What I hear in them now is the connection between the Cold War and institutionalised child abuse, that connection being one of pathological secrecy. The Cabs intuited the bond between the redbrick public toilet and the nuclear bunker, between the North Wales cares homes and Porton Down. Compulsive habits reinforced and looped through rationalised institutions, veils being drawn over what the public didn't need to know. Gagging orders and D-notices reining in a torrent of psychic effluent. Power digging deeper and more byzantine channels through which it could enact domination.

And yet, toxic fumes were continually emitted and settling over the landscape. Like News from Nowhere, the culture of silence meant nobody could quite intuit where they were coming from. As with shortwave radio signals from a foreign propaganda station they crackled in and out of consciousness, leaving a distant trace of menace that was impossible to pin down to a physical location.

You could hear the screams, but you couldn't see the victims.


aridtrax said...

I reckon this can be filed alongside

aridtrax said...

Actually the whole "Conet Archive" of numbers stations recordings is here:

Phil Knight said...

Blimey never knew about numbers stations.

Another dark rumour, which until about 3 weeks ago I would never have believed, is that the SIS were involved in filming foreign dignitaries at Bryn Estyn for blackmail purposes.

So there's yet another connection.

aridtrax said...

cutmistakemusic advise that Irdial are crowdfunding for a reissue of the Conet project with an extra CD of strange noises. I like that SIS have their own website with "about us" and "careers" sections. I always get confused about MI5 and 6 and whether one's real and one fictional or whether they're all real or not or what. All I know for sure is that big monstrosity by Vauxhall Bridge is the most offensive building on the South bank.

Greyhoos said...

> "You could hear the screams, but you couldn't see the victims."

Nice closer, that.

A few points, speaking as someone who really liked them back in those days...

1) The early material can be dodgy going, especially on the LPs. Mostly because of their utter disinterest (or perhaps inabilityy) when it came to anything vaguely resembling melody or hooks, coupled with numbing reiteration and repetition and a tendency to let songs run on at twice their tolerable length -- all of which was rendered moot when they transitioned into their "entryist" club/urban-music phase, on account of being aesthetically par for the course.

2) Re, "Byzantine channels" and the babble of SW radio propaganda: The geo-political white noise that crackled around the hazy periphery of life in a certain era. A non-lyrical buttresses of the band's primary (if not sole) lyrical content: Cold War paranoia, anomie and alienation. But mainly a bunch of stuff about social control by way of mediated escapist diversions and sundry addictions (pornography and whathaveyou), and then the backlashing state apparati of surveillance and incarceration, that kick in to cull that part of the population who indulged or trafficked too heavily in said diversions. Lots of accoladic blahblahblah about Burroughs and Ballard, but ultimately it's very Foucault on 45. And while I dunno if child abuse directly enters into it, I suppose it works in a tangential way -- key words here being "institutionalised" and "pathological secrecy." Pathologies and secrecy all around; it was the Cabs' one-noting thematic thesis -- about the societal facades that mask the various manipulations, misuses, and abuses of power. Dunno if you could say they pioneered that sort of musical territory, but it seems everything else that dealt with such dystopic tropes owed them (for better or worse) a debt.

3) Numbers stations: About the same time/my early teens (1980-ish), my step-brother had a big shortwave radio, and I think we stumbled across a broadcast or two of that sort. But just like with so much else we came across as we noodled across the SW dials, we didn't know what to make of it -- one among a number of weird & perplexing things/noises. When I later found found uploaded files of the broadcasts in online SW enthusiast forums many years later (and when the Conet Project thing started circulating), I had a "hauntological" type of experience.

Phil Knight said...

I'm wondering in light of recent events if the Kincora Boys Home scandal will be unearthed again:

Allegations there about senior British military officials involved in abuse. I'm being imaginative here, but I do wonder if the numbers stations were partly an elite paedophile communications system - informing of which homes or reform schools were compromised, where parties were being held, which police forces could be relied upon not to peer too deeply etc.

Who knew that reality could be so disturbing?