Sean Bonney

Letters On Harmony

Sean Bonney disrupts, destroys and rips apart the harmonic systems of music and exchange.


Letter on harmony and crisis

Thanks for your list of objections. I accept most of them: my vocabulary, my references (my identification papers) are for the most part things I’ve pulled from the past. Old films, old music: abstractions, commodities. Its exactly the same when I go to the supermarket. The in-store radio, the magazines, the DVDs: all of them register some kind of obsessive relationship with the culture’s recent past.  Don’t think I’m moaning about it. I quite like it in the supermarket, I go there every day, in fact I rarely go anywhere else. Its a kind of map of the future of London, adjusted to admit a slightly censored collective history, where friendly and contradictory forces confront each other with rapidly diminishing strength. Astrology, basically. Or at least some form of stargazing. A weird constellation of information, fact and metaphor that invokes a comforting aura of a very gentle death disguised as a glistening array of foodstuffs, endlessly re-arranged on the gridplan of the shop to give an impression of constant social movement. Its a substitute for the calendar, basically, a system of harmony set up to keep an extremely fragile stability in place. Its why they only ever play certain songs in there. Simply Red, for example. Though that’s not quite the case. I was walking around in there the other day, wondering what it would be like if they were playing Leadbelly’s “Gallis Pole” over their radio system. You know the song. Did you bring me the silver, did you bring me the gold, and all of that. The guitar picking sounds kind of like a spiderweb. It would actually make the whole thing worse: the vibrations would empty the content of the supermarket back into the frequencies of folk ballads and superstition. Rings of flowers and gallows trees. It would be useful insofar as the contradictions and antagonisms of bourgeois production would be strikingly revealed. It would be a disaster inasmuch as all sound in the supermarket, including the old Leadbelly song, would be reduced to a frequency spectrum of predominantly zero power level, except perhaps for a few almost inaudible bands and spikes. We wouldn’t be able to get out, is what I mean. All known popular songs would be seen flickering and burning like distant petrol towers in some imaginary desert. Well, not really. Actually, that’s why I hate all those old bands like Led Zeppelin. They took all those old songs like “Gallis Pole”, straightened them out, and made them an integral part of the phase velocity of  the entire culture, arranged as a static sequence of rings, pianos, precious stones and prisons. It’s not entirely hopeless, though: the circulation of these songs does contain within itself the possibility of interruptions. I’ve been following the progress of the strikes at Walmart with great interest, for example. They’re establishing a system of counter-homogeneity, basically: the structure of the supermarket is kept in place, but all of a sudden the base astrological geometry of that supermarket is revealed as simplistic, fanatic and rectilinear, and the capitalist city as a tight lattice of metallic alloys, ionic melts, aqueous solutions, molecular liquids and wounded human bodies that would prefer not to die. The city is all perimeter. And song is not, ultimately, a rivet into that place, but absolute divergence from it. The event horizon as a rim of music, all vocabularies as an entire symphony of separations all expressed at the moment immediately prior to their solidification into the commodity form. At that moment there is everything to play for. All else is madness and suffering at the hands of the pigs.

Letter on work and harmony

I’ve been getting up early every morning, opening the curtains and going back to bed. There have been rumours of anti-unemployed hit squads going around, and I don’t want some fucker with a payslip lobbing things through my window. Especially not when I’m asleep. Though I don’t expect to be able to fool them for long—my recent research involves an intense study of certain individual notes played on Cecil Taylor’s 1966 album Unit Structures, and so obviously, once I’ve managed to isolate them, I have to listen to these notes over and over again, at very high volume. Someone from the Jobcentre is bound to hear them eventually and then, even though I’m not claiming benefits, my number will, as they say, be up. Taylor seems to claim, in the poem printed on the back of the album, that each note contains within it the compressed data of specific historical trajectories, and that the combinations of notes form a kind of chain gang, a kind of musical analysis of bourgeois history as a network of cultural and economic unfreedom. Obviously, I’ve had to filter this idea through my own position: a stereotypical amalgam of unwork, sarcasm, hunger and a spiteful radius of pure fear. I guess that radius could be taken as the negation of each of Taylor’s notes, but I’m not sure: it is, at least, representative of each of the perfectly circular hours I am expected to be able to sell so as to carry on being able to live. Labour power, yeh. All of that disgusting 19th-century horseshit. The type of shit that Taylor appears to be contesting with each note that he plays. As if each note could, magnetically, pull everything that any specific hour absolutely is not right into the centre of that hour, producing a kind of negative half-life where the time-zones selected by the Jobcentre as representative of the entirety of human life are damaged irrevocably. That’s nothing to be celebrated, though. There’s no reason to think that each work-hour will not expand infinitely, or equally, that it might close down permanently, with us inside it, carrying out some interminable task. What that task is could be anything, it doesn’t matter, because the basic mechanism is always the same, and it involves injecting some kind of innovative emulsion into each of those hours transforming each one into a bright, exciting and endlessly identical disk of bituminous resin. Obviously, what is truly foul is what that resin actually contains, and what it consists of. Its complicated. The content of each hour is fixed, yeh, but at the same time absolutely evacuated. Where does it go? Well, it materialises elsewhere, usually in the form of a set of right-wing gangsters who would try and sell those work-hours back to you in the form of, well, CDs, DVDs, food, etc. Everything, really, including the notes that Cecil Taylor plays. Locked up in cut-price CDs, or over-priced concert tickets for the Royal Festival Hall, each note he plays becomes a gated community which we are locked outside of, and the aforementioned right-wing gangsters—no matter that they are incapable of understanding Taylor’s music, and in any case are indifferent to it—are happily and obliviously locked inside. Eating all of the food on the planet, which, obviously enough includes you and me. That is, every day we are eaten, bones and all, only to be re-formed in our sleep, and the next day the same process happens all over again. Prometheus, yeh? Hang on a minute, there’s something happening on the street outside, I’m just gonna have to check what it is. One of those stupid parades that happens every six months or so, I imagine. One of those insipid celebrations of our absolute invisibility. Christ, I feel like I’m being crushed, like in one of those medieval woodcuts, or one of those fantastic B Movies they used to show on the TV late at night years ago. Parades. The undead. Chain gangs. BANG. “Britain keeps plunging back in time as yet another plank of the welfare state is removed” BANG our bosses emerge from future time zones and occupy our bodies which have in any case long been mummified into stock indices and spot values BANG rogue fucking planets BANG I take the fact that Iain Duncan-Smith continues to be alive as a personal insult, ok BANG every morning he is still alive BANG BANG BANG. I think I might be getting off the point. In any case, somewhere or other I read an interview with Cecil Taylor, and he said he didn’t play notes, he played alphabets. That changes things. Fuck workfare.


Article PDF - Read / Download

Read full Issue PDF here