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  • Intimachines
  • Michael Filimowicz (bio)

A live performance offers its seduction in the title—"LIVE." Not liveness as opposed to deadness, nor life as opposed to work, but live as opposed to recorded. In the raw flesh, not the cooked media. If Nietzsche were writing aphorisms today, he might perhaps expound: Against live music—Stop recording it!

Embodied as opposed to disembodied. To say (to advertise, to promote, to recount the experience, to justify spending the money on an ephemeral event rather than on the album) that something is live is to instantiate a whole series of specific differences —oppositions, contradictions and ambivalences.

To see musicians "live" is different from seeing them "in person." Live is always in person, but in person is not always live (e.g. autograph signings, backstage, in a restaurant, etc.). Live means playing live, that the creation of the music is co-temporal and co-spatial with the audience's presence [1]. Even if the music was created well in advance and exhaustively rehearsed, there is still the belief in an essential, irreducible spontaneity in re-creation. The body, its creative excesses irreducible to the machine, is what is demanded by liveness.

To redouble the question of a performance's liveness—When is life a performance? A DJ entices his listeners to stay tuned by promising to play an emergency-dispatch recording of a man being strangled by his boa constrictor. The nightly news shows footage of catastrophe shot by Citizen With Camcorder—but it won't show footage of my niece's birthday party! Is this thanatology of mechanical reproduction inherent in the human/machine relationship, the result of an absolute, encrypted and primal-repressed past (as represented, say, in the origin-story of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the appearance of the alien monolith initiates the human history of technological violence), or do the media embody specific power relationships that have alienated us since "time immemorial" from the world of made things (e.g. the near-universal phenomena in the development of towns where economic specialization [technical skill] goes hand in hand with the creation of social hierarchies [privilege])? When Bakhtin speaks of the mummification of the image, or Derrida of film's multiplication of ghosts, or the liner notes of the compilation Reggae Africa expound that

Reggae's appeal was the thrill of hearing a live music that once again knew how to use syncopation and silence, this during a time when sterilized production values ruled and megalomaniacally wailing guitar solos and a flood of synthesizer washes were filling every musical space [2]. . . .

or when Jerry Leiber recalls,

It all had to do with capturing the spontaneity. . . . Not that we didn't use overdubs, but we didn't use overdubs normally to get the central performance. We would use them to fix a moment, something that was off. But we always felt the band, the rhythm section and the singer—there was an interaction that was irreplaceable. I don't like to make tracks and over-dub a voice. We thought that sounded dead [3]. . . .

we should recognize a powerful superstition and history that posits the essence of life as in some way opposed to the essence of the technological, with technology as the danger of sterility, death and things undead or unalive.

How should we characterize the technology of a musical instrument? It is a machine useful for doing nothing useful, that is, useful as in materially necessary for life in the way that tools keep us fed, clothed or sheltered. It is an expenditure, as Bataille would say, of possibly productive resources towards nonproductive ends, sheer mechanical exuberance, a ritual production enacting the luxury of surplus energy. (In Bataille's cosmology, life exists in the sun's effulgence, returns nothing to the sun, is incapable of unlimited growth and so cannot convert all the available energy towards its uses. Life wastes more than it uses. Thus, what most characterizes a society is not its modes of production but its modes of consumption.) In discussing the difference between the utility and expenditure of things, Bataille offers the example of a church:

A church is perhaps a thing. A thing is what we...


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