Nature’s Best Nomadic Noise:
Devi McCallion and Katie Dey
Some New Form of Life
words by maria sledmere
In her ‘Glitch Studies Manifesto’, Rosa Menkman implores us to ‘Get away from the established action scripts and join the avant-garde of the unknown. Become a nomad of noise artifacts!’ Thinking the artifact, as Steven Vogel defines it in Thinking like a Mall: Environmental Philosophy After the End of Nature, invites a way of considering how ‘the environment we think of as natural turns out to be something that humans have always transformed’. This is Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, the making of ‘nature’ — ‘the real thing’ — and the way ‘nature’ makes us: the assemblage of artifact as reality’s socially constructed ornament. But there is something fresh in Menkman’s manifesto, an impulse towards interruption, feedback, echo. She invokes the term ‘noise’ to mean something like alarm and aggression and power. What might a glitch aesthetics mean for pleasure and politics? I look no further than Devi McCallion and Katie Dey’s new collaborative album, Some New Form of Life, to tell me. The title itself proclaims a sort of post-human shriek, but it’s by no means a simple call to utopia.
I take the ‘some’ of the title to gesture at casualness, a kind of abrasive indifference to the shimmering mutations contained on this record. Yeah things are growing and dying, whatever. This is not to say Some New Form of Life deals in ice cool, pomo cynicism; rather, its heat flares up in the sort of electric rage you might expect to flourish between two continents, sustained on sweet tweets and wifi. This is everything occurring at once: ecology. Internet simultaneity. Among her other monikers, Toronto-based McCallion makes music as Girl Rituals and one half of the industrial frenzy merchants, Black Dresses. Dey’s own releases evoke a kind of digisublime in the hyper lilt of pitch-shifted pop songs. Together their sound is something akin to being in love at high velocity, or on a browser comedown, feeling most proximate to the wreck of extinction. Who knew drowning in existential crisis would benefit so hard from all that slap bass MIDI sound? Some New Form of Life is laughter, derision, artificial sunlight, orange crush, jouissance, acceleration, rage. It’s total stimulus.
On the album cover, McCallion is on a webcam, dipping her hand into tortilla chips, pouring a bottle of what looks like wine. There’s a kind of hunger and thirst in suspension across the album. Claire Colebrook says one way to think about the present ‘is by way of an all too natural epidemic of hunger confusion’. We don’t know what to make of our appetites, we don’t know what our rights are about what to eat. Should we just cannibalise ourselves? There’s this cultural cynorexia for mass information, delivered in chunks we quickly devour and forget just as easy. Contemporary hyper-attention, Colebrook argues, makes it super difficult to think through ‘the complex temporalities’ of issues like climate change. Some New Form of Life opens right into that confusion: its first track ‘Sunshine’ is solarity’s paean to disaster: ‘it’s so hopeless / soul eroding’. Voices slur shrilly over apocalyptic bleeps and drum beats, and every quiet piano interlude is something like looking up at the sky for a clearing. Things are burning and there’s a force that swells, ‘I feel like a nuclear fucking bomb right now’. McCallion and Dey push the limit of the human, the way we feel strained by the pressure of extinction’s seeming imminence. The way it makes us more of the world, in turn corroding our hubristic identities.
There’s a certain pleasure taken in ripping the veneer off language: ‘everything u know about the world / every place you’ve been everything you’ve seen / it has no name / it’s just a labyrinth’. Zigzagging rhythms expose a sort of chicanery of spirit, dragging us meandering into this tricksy world in which plastic infinity meets a more fleshly finitude (hey Cary Wolfe). Sirens wail and sexuality is this viscous thing, desire trapped between levels where the body is subjected to chemical interference. It’s ecstatic terror, it’s deliciously silly. McCallion and Dey play with these tensions, shrieking ‘i always wanted to die’ over upbeat wav sequences of electro brass, a whole kitsch take on this state of annihilation. ‘No One’s in Control’ is a luxurious, r&b MIDI jam that circles back on itself, lolling on the word ‘no-one’ as if it were the lozenge to fill a void, this self-devouring ouroboros sexuality. Throughout the record, there’s an intensity that screams out for a love unspecific; that’s a sort of ‘sludge’, fucking itself into the flight that would find us, club techno making its siamese light, sweating palms and meatspace euphoria. Internet narcissism wants an earnest commune, the scale of planetary crisis filtered through bedroom lofi.
Imagine trap beats stuck in the ghost zone of a hard drive, the spectrogram libidinal with its own sonic chaos. The summoned smoke, the currents that connect, the cool economy of disembodied voice; wherein a forum ‘my soul won’t float / it burns my eyes’. An LP to scorch spirits, the vodka cascade to abyss, an undulating Drexciya intimation of subaquatic ‘Stream’ in the ‘super hyper link’. This is a dream album, an elegy for death online, death as it occurs in the voice streamed live; it’s more than allegory for the material world that dies around us. A summoning of decomposition’s visual imperative, accompanied by tonal thrums from the deep: ‘crystalized .jpegs / crushing our souls in lossy / deforestation’. The bittersweet sadness of that line, ‘all of the trees grow around us’, like some hymnal echo made fractal now, sublimated into pixelation’s rain. I think of a friend at the other side of the world, showing me this beautiful, precarious forest through a frozen Skype window. All of the trees together, glitched holding hands as binary children. The internet is made of matter, it convinces us of phantoms; but its base deteriorates like these warped, feminine voices, beamed through soldered servers beneath the sea. Meaning is a cirrusy memory of itself, ‘it’s almost like it doesn’t mean anything’; chasing the Real implications of blue sky thinking, vapid and backwards clarity: ‘evian / cuz i’m so naive’. With this record, McCallion and Dey make themselves post-internet sirens, calling out to something hot and lost and deep.
Some New Form of Life is a kind of queer, cross-continental epic that encapsulates friendship between spacetimes, accelerated youth in death and a hunger for something of what’s left of the planet. Imagine if you plugged Lorde into a sort of Burroughsian cut-up machine and what came out was the high clear product of celestial extinction, its power pop melodies exposing all longing and shame. Made somewhere ethereal between McCallion’s Canada and Dey’s Australia, the record is spliced online and makes a menagerie of hurt species, a safari through personal and political tortures. Error runs away with its own promiscuity; bristling between the micro and macro, you might say inexorable. Viciously millennial: this oscillation between numbness and true pain, stasis and the sometimes hope of change. Listen five times and it starts to shower upon you, the weight of this rage and grief distilled, its tangled dialogue of brands and lives blown down the rainbow road of happy hardcore’s half-suppressed melancholy. Inevitable nuclearity feels like a labyrinth, the oil swirls of industrial residue made lurid with sugary energy. No centre but all this roaring chorus, colour’s catharsis within the artifact, spectral critique. What Menkman calls the glitch’s momentum: pulling us between ruins and futures, devastation and sensation, language and lightning. Life as endless, nomadic germination.
‘Some New Form of Life’ is out now.
Buy it via Bandcamp