I wonder how people remember things who don’t film, don’t photograph, don’t tape. How has mankind managed to remember? I know: it wrote the Bible. The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a time that will have to reread itself constantly just to know it existed.
–Chris Marker, Sans Soleil
I don’t want to leave pompeii.
–Killd By, Neotropical
Listening to work created by departed loved ones I can’t help but pause to tarry with the uncanny depth and complex emotional mixture surfaced when hearing a familiar voice associated with a body no longer embodied. In a world where we are bound to our mortality and the mortality of others, it may seem like a banal reflection to note the fact that all recorded sound is destined to be listened to posthumously, one day, after the recordist’s passing. However, if this is a banal observation, it is also a sign of how thoroughly naturalised the experience of hearing the voices and recordings of the deceased has become over the past century. Our species has only been privy to the experience of reproduced sound and media for a relatively short period of time. It is a form of hubris to assume that we understand all that it affects.
At the risk of making ontological statements about the nature of recorded sound that would take us too far afield from the matter at hand — reflections on a recently released cassette, Neotropical by the deceased artist Colin Ward Ferguson, presented under his alias ‘killd by’ — it occurs to me that, while echoes, earworms, and aural memories have existed in various forms for as long as we’ve been listening, it’s only since the advent of sound recording that humanity has begun the process of weaving the vast and unique tapestries of sonic affect (tapestries akin to Chris Marker’s ‘eternal magnetic tape’) through which our shared concepts of history, temporality, and epistemologies of occurrence are given to be refracted, renegotiated, re-heard, and re-wound.
As a listener and DJ, I take solace in the exploration of this incipient archive. As a collector, I appreciate the ceaseless accumulation of testamentary traces that bear witness to so many lives lived and navigated through the medium of sound and its machinations. Loved ones are recalled, sonic spaces re-constituted, and relationships between all kinds of telematically mediated and unmediated experiences are revitalised in a manner that, although perhaps not fundamentally different with respect to the evocations produced by other media, certainly resonate in intimate and neurologically unique ways. When we listen to Neotropical, we are listening to a work of negentropy; a negentropic gift in a cosmos seemingly circumscribed as much by mortality as by the second law of thermodynamics – the entropic tendency of matter towards ash; equanimous, and impersonal dissolution ¹.
For everything that Neotropical is, and amidst all of the reflections that it incites, it is also a wonderful entrance into the body of work that Colin left us. As the first posthumous release of his, which we are told he was working closely with the label Noumenal Loom to prepare at the time of his untimely passing, Neotropical is also a curious attempt to review, collect, and reflect on a body of work that, given its incredibly sprawling breadth and volume of output, resists attempts at linear, cohesive synthesis. As an artist, musician, organiser, and staple fixture of the shifting DIY scenes that constellated around the arts space Rhinoceropolis in Denver, Colorado, he performed under a rotating litany of monikers and pseudonyms and created a beguiling amount of work before passing at the age of 27. One of his most well-known projects, alphabets, was alone responsible for over 50 records, released serially month-over-month until the termination of the project.
The body of work we’re given to hear is thus always both less and more than a body. It is a body that can only be constituted retrospectively, after the last note is played, so to speak; and even then its constitution is always provisional. The desire to determine the extent of an artist’s legacy or corpus of work is the conceit of archivists and historians as much as a task left to be completed by grieving friends, struggling to determine the edges of the artists expression through the feverish, necessary, exploration of what remains. On Neotropical we encounter a collection of work that is not entirely ‘new’. Alongside a jubilant collection of unheard music, we also revisit fragments of music iterated upon and already released, in the form of YouTube videos, art exhibitions, and B-side collections between 2014 and 2017. Are the A-sides to those killd by B-sides that we hear again on Neotropical (I count at least eight, sometimes obscured under the guise of slightly deviating track titles) to be considered the other nine records released under the killd by moniker while Colin was alive, or an invisible and as of yet to be heard record to come?
In the way the music continues to give anew on each listen and the aporias opened by our attempts to wrestle with death always resist closure, Neotropical can be seen as much as an annotation on a body of work as a record proper; completed through the labor of others, it is a guide map, a technology of love, and a tentative bridge that we cross through the attention that we give in listening to it; it is a joyous device for navigating the bardo of life that we, the living are bound to and it is a testament to Colin’s spirit, which urges us – at the emotional climax of the record in “Leave Pompeii” – to stay with the coming catastrophes, to retain a fidelity to all of the figurative Pompeii’s the universe will manufacture, and in that sense, to revel in the tender sorrow of the ashes that are our access to the memory of life.
Listen to Neotropical here.
¹ For more information regarding my views of media artefacts and their relationship to the principles of entropy and negentropy, see the work of Jewish Czech/Brazilian Philosopher Vilém Flusser. A good collection to start with, available in English is the collection ‘Writings’, published in 2002 and available here.