On not hearing yourself speak:
Mark E Smith at the Controls: Andrew Renton, 2020
“I am trying to reformulate it, it is because this necessity requires that we pass by way of the ear – the ear involved in any autobiographical discourse that is still at the stage of hearing oneself speak. (That is: I am telling myself my story, as Nietzsche said, here is the story that I am telling myself; and that means I hear myself speak.)”
“Can you check the monitors for me please?”
Mark E Smith
He’s a mixer, both in the King Tubby sense and in the sense that he stirs up trouble. Does everything that you shouldn’t with the knobs. Turns things up in the mix. Sends things away. Distorts, dissipates. In and out of the red zone. It’s not a stylish affectation. I’d want to argue for an ethical intervention on his part. Keeping things in check, and letting things loose. And within the excess, a commitment to resisting excess.
Prowling around the stage or the studio. Almost looking for trouble. Listening, curious, meddlesome. Adjusting the sound. And adjusting himself to the sound. He’s inside and outside of it at the same time. Utterance and its echo. When what you hear is always mediated, displaced, delayed. Obstrusive to the extent that you can think of it as an additional performer. Research can take too long trying to hear for the effect of his interventions, or their location. But that’s the point, it’s all about dislocation to the point of no return. No reverse engineering possible.
MES complicates things. Simple principles of intervention or interruption which produce sounds that can’t be undone. He disrupts the hierarchies of making. No point of origin. Some things can’t be unmixed. If this is anything to do with mixing in the conventional sense, it is not so much effect as event, where the intervention involved embeds itself into the moment. A type of pre-nostalgic echo, where the work and anticipation of the hearing of the work are formed simultaneously.
Marking his presence, even when you can’t hear his voice. Always around, even without singing. Presence-in-absence, they used to call it. Moderation? Conducting or directing? More subterfuge and stealth than that. You don’t know what he’s doing but you know that he’s doing it.
Things evolve in a version, or versions, of real time. An almost an ideological imperative towards continuity. Lurching forward, whatever the cost. Moving in and out of its own time. Traces of times.
Things moving in and out of sync, because there is a performance element to the process. Even in the studio, there’s displacement. John Leckie, who made the Fall sound more disentangled than most, tells the story of recording two versions of “I am Damo Suzuki”. MES preferred the music on one and the vocal on the other, so they just combined them, even though the timings and structure were different. The process makes everything slip out of sync. Permeable, as if the ghost of one version is folding itself into the other.
Always work in progress. Almost without origin. Where the engineer might call it ‘bleed’, or some such. Sound from one instrument turn ups in another’s microphone or track or virtual space. Sound and the ethics of space. Encroaching on another’s space. And accommodating others within yours. But knowing this is part of the composition, reveals a radical methodology not so much of composition, but of defining sonic and authorial spaces, which he opens and closes with equal measure and commitment. Type of dub. Mixing made material.
Or the odd stab of a note or two, in passing, on Eleni’s keyboard. Hosting and hosted. Permission and transgression. It’s complicated because the question of authorship is always at stake. The more he intervenes it’s as if the work moves further away from what he set in motion in the first place.
Or that little dictaphone that could re-record playback of his own voice, as if it belonged to someone else. Playback before the moment was over, or begun. This displacement folds the music or the voice back upon itself, so that it’s all but unrecognisable. More than texture. Layering and embedding at the same time. You hesitate to use the word simultaneously, because there’s always a time shift or delay or circularity in the action.
Or holding those two microphones at the same time. Whatever the technicalities or effects, it reads as a manifestation of MES projecting a version of himself, away from himself. A bifurcation of the voice. Taking two paths. Schizophrenic? Too easy…
Throwing the voice.
Ventriloquism. It’s a history of the voice, or many histories of many voices. Coming at you from several directions. The perspective is always shifting. You never recognise the sound of your own voice. Ventriloquism here as a displaced symptom of the voice, where the voice constructs a subject for itself through its performance.
Hearing yourself speak. Or not. Perhaps just knowing that you may have spoken. The voice does not necessarily come back to you.
Or it comes back to haunt you. Like there’s a ghost in your house.
Throwing the voice. Except that you see his lips move, and not necessarily in time with what he is saying.
London, April 2020
Riso zine, 24 pages, 21 x 29,7 cm, edition of 145, loose leaf, Risograph, ISBN 9789492486059 – collaboration with Inge Marleen and Andrew Renton. Essay: ‘On not hearing yourself speak: Mark E Smith at the controls’, by Andrew Renton.