David Golberg is an African American Renaissance man (if such labels fit together). He recently graduated with a degree in Computer Systems Engineering from DC's Howard University and has already embarked on several projects aimed at getting high technology into the hands of urban youth. David is also a fine fiction and non-fiction writer and a member of Bucolic, a heady and experimental band that is equal parts hip hop, jazz, and industrial noise. Look for their first release on Ladd/Frith records.
We asked David to write an essay on the relationship between the street tech ideals of cyberculture and the street tech realities of hip hop. (As David pointed out the first time we met, the inner city IS the sprawl and hip hop artists are hackers "fighting the powers that be" with gomi tech.) True to David's overactive imagination, what started as an essay became a tripped out jam on the points he wanted to make. In true c-punk style, he jumped twenty minutes into the future to give us a glimpse of a mutant form of cyber- industrial-hip hop culture and the symbolic history of the factions and conflicts that lead to the consummate expression of the "New Survival Generation."
Ladies and Gentleman...All the way from the future...Waning Black Ice!
to express it through recreational pharmaceuticals and through the music. Waning Black Ice passes honorary blunts out to the audience while Bob Marley and Cypress Hill thump in the background, both advocated heavy use of the sacred herb in their own unique ways. Guns are loaded and timeless dreads are shaken out of red, green and gold caps as gangsters and rastas alike unify around the weed. Some of these kids are Watchers and Listeners, too. They know about the lies and the great cover-ups that once tried to convince them that their suburbs were safe and that the darker people would work out all their own problems if they got enough Television shows and movies about them.*
Waning Black Ice is the marriage of these Watchers and Listeners to the surviving communities of b-boys who once wore giant clocks, Kangol hats, ugly glasses, gold teeth, and pacifiers. (Their sisters and wives participate but often only in ritual parodies, keeping their own responses to Pain & Noise Inc. a tribal secret).* In acts of male bonding, the boys surf across each other, collide and jump up and down to the grinding steel rhythms and fat Miami bass sounds that are punctuated with clever audio extractions from the airwaves of their exploded culture. WBI has an expert mixer whose agents scour the networks for new samples that can be played live -- the mixer (a hacked 2006 Newmark with five megs of bandwidth and TCP/IP) brings pop-fascist visuals, more leather, and who-gives-a-fuck plaids together with oversized fishing hats, hoodys and sagging jeans. Anger melts across the turntables as one side of the room joins in the chant, growls vivisection, possesses Burroughs and shrieks in incoherent fury, while the other side milks the breast of Television for wittily strung-together nonsense rhymes, brags about notches in guns, rants of hollow Black Rhetorical, and griot-influenced* homages to sex, violence, and cannabis.
Waning Black Ice is well-centered. They know their audience and they know that Port Gibson will attract the last of these societal outcasts. All of them have been laughed at by the low-resolution Kodak Photo CD memorabilia albums that animate their 1990s ancestors. Somewhere along the line their grandparents forgot about struggling against Pain & Noise Inc. and settled for fat checks, parental warning stickers, and the hopelessly exaggerated holographic images that were their fake-angry, fake-revolutionary, transparent angst-ridden egos. The Nomads and the most capable of the Watchers and Listeners of that period had built fortresses of coded noise so that the Thieves and the Emulators couldn't break in. From behind their watchtowers they did ground-breaking things with guitars, horns, turntables, and voices; they scrounged libraries and archives for documented atrocities and showed them*; they defined the new struggles as wars of WORDS and REPRESENTATIONS; they covered themselves in vomit, blew things up, staged epic mechanical battles; they embraced the factories and the ghettos, found common imagery in chain link and barbed wire fences; they both stomped around in high boots and black gear. They knew that this was their last chance for a wakeup call as the Internet began to stir and groggily came to know itself beyond the packets of meat at all of its extremities.
Waning Black Ice's lineage was composed of cyberpunks, hippies, jazzfolk, hip hoppers, gangstas, train hobos, homeless urban griots, and indecipherable European intellectuals. They were born out of a dynamic hybrid of those that theorized the end of the world, those that were living it, and the Interzone runners that were perpetuating it even as they turned laser eyes, digital ears, and viral thoughts back on the military/medical industrial complex that started it all. However, even as beepers, cellular phones, faxes, e-mail, and portable computers began to play a role in even the most destitute citizen of Modern Nation, and the satellite signals funneled thousands of channels into televisions that were smarter than they were, and the triple-yellow class, gender, and color lines divided the Information Highway and segregate their access along subtle shadings of privilege, some were fucking the hardware, software, and mindware* faster than ever -- bringing new survivors into the world.
WBI's lead singer tunes a vocal mike and takes a hit of an inhalant drug called The Bridge that increases the capacity of information flow between brain hemispheres and loosely approximates the fine differences in consciousness between men and women. S'he forgets who s'he is and launches into a reckless rap about the last mulatto generation born between two lethal variants of AIDS. The new methods of thought, interface, and action produced by this New Survival Generation are Waning Black Ice's closest relatives. They were the ones that took the technology beyond the cheap excuse for holism that was hyperlinked and multi-media; the New Survivors were the last great pioneer pirates on the digital seas. The NS realized that "street tech" was a valid piece of slang and knew that there was no better idiom for revolution and change than the blues. It was no longer about linear connections between nodes of information.
Whether that linear connection was in a local area network, the irresistible bass-heavy grooves of hip hop, the adrenaline - stripped rush of industrial thrash and techno, early interactive television, or any of the myriad manifestations of Swing, the New Survivors forged their technique in the mental forge built by jazz bassist Charles Mingus*. Their lead ranter knows Mingus' words and begins pummeling the crowd with fragments of them. The crowd is steeped in the ancient reflex of call and response and they do so in loose choruses of italics-inflected screams and heady chants:
"There once was a word used -- swing. Swing went in one direction, it was linear, and everything had to be played" lived, built and designed "with an obvious pulse and that's very restrictive. But I use the term 'rotary perception.' If you get a mental picture of the beat existing within a circle you're more free to improvise. People used to think the notes" the machines, the programs, the thoughts "had to fall on the center of the beats in the bar at intervals like a metronome, with three or four men in the rhythm section" or R&D lab, or board room or music studio "accenting the same pulse. That's like parade music or dance music" or consumer tech or information nets or intellectual masturbation. "But imagine a circle surrounding each beat -- each guy can play his notes anywhere in that circle and it gives him" HER! "a feeling he" and SHE! "has more space." more space, more space, MORE SPACE! Give us more SPACE! "The notes fall anywhere inside the circle but the original feeling for the beat isn't changed." Can you feel it? I know you feel it! "If one in the group loses confidence, somebody hits the beat again." Boom! "The pulse is inside you" and me and her and him and US. "When you're playing with musicians" programmers, dancers, writers, hardware designers, revolutionaries "who think this way you can do anything" ANYTHING! "Anybody can stop and let the others go on. It's called strolling" and we stroll, yes we stroll, yes... we stroll!
And stroll the New Survivors did, right out of the twenty first century and into the twenty second. Armed with blueprints so that they could re-build, they went out and smashed as much of the existing infrastructure as they could, to the beat y'all, because they had to do what they had to do. The New Survivors had more than enough raw technology with which to work, plus an entire sphere of energy between the charged plates of Africa and Cyberspace. They knew that something had to change and this crazy capacitor built by the syphilis-infected kings and queens of Europe had to be discharged. For ninety-seven days the networks burned, the satellites decayed, and static was the basis for all the grooves. The shrieks of fax machines were silent for once, and money vanished between New York and Tokyo one night as someone yanked the plug at the right time and domino'd all the backup power supplies. As the Televisions went to the endless gray that has streamed through the universe since the beginning of time, rumors began to circulate about an ancient prophecy from 1997 known as the Total Audio Breakdown. This rumor was the New Survivor's gravity well as their liquid organization of ex-industrialists, information technicians, poets, guerrilla health specialists, hydroponic farmers, rappers, graffiti artists, writers, noise sculptors, media pirates, artists, robot-builders, and video game experts began to adopt the philosophy of Saint Mingus, the man who criticized Jazz itself as a half-assed stall between where you were and where you should be.
Rotary Perception came online in every discipline imaginable. With Rotary Perception it wasn't about the swing between high and low current, or the swing between point A and point B on the networks, nor the radial swing of a laser across a compact disc. It wasn't about clever use of ancient music fragments and angry rhymes in the context of fat beats, nor was it about playing with no skill and quintupled intensity; for neither mode, no matter how many computers you had, worked as a substitute for real Blues expression - the New Survivors saw these modes in the same light that Mingus saw Jazz. Rotary Perception dictated that the whole band had to carry itself along and give respective members enough room to wiggle their toes in the groove of their lives. This meant that a database of information was still finite and the modes of access and interconnection were still restricted -- anyone living their lives in terms of this sham of "interactivity" was still swinging along with the rest of the parade.
What the New Survivor Generation knew Mingus had missed was a world full of computers that were getting faster every day and could process, display, and store massive quantities of various
types of information. The punks had turned against their establishment with anger, feeding back the noise; while the b-boys and girls did the same -- same noise, different aesthetic. Technology was becoming the pervasive medium in both worlds, imposed by the larger context. The "cyber-" prefix promised a new era of personal power or at least new trends in future viewing that still managed to avoid confrontation and acceptance of the idea that this whole system was ready to stomp down, draw down, and get down on anybody's head with smart missiles, orbital lasers, and punk-ass lab-made viruses.
Having been born of parents who had survived more than one of these movements, Waning Black Ice wouldn't use the "cyber-"prefix if you paid them, and neither would the Port Gibson crowd that packed the club. They were all descendants of people who did the real work of reverse engineering, sacrifice, and pragmatic anarchy via Rotary Perception. None of tonight's crowd was around when the lights began to come back on and the now-mutated Internet began talking to itself again. Tonight's patrons had no memory of what it was like to be a data pioneer back in those days, ruled by frontier justice and a complete absence of data integrity or standardized value. Everything split apart and the Information Age crumbled without the gold standards of sexism, racism, and classism that had backed the old info-currency. Waning Black Ice, as a collective of differing mind streams, knew that it wasn't any human act of morality or ethics that eliminated the universal application of these "isms" since they were so economically profitable. They knew that humanity had become dependent on their technologies to perpetuate their ignorance. When the raw potential of information distribution went critical and anyone could know just about anything, the New Survivors knew it was time to wreck the tech* but keep the skills. To this day, Waning Black Ice lives by that credo, destroying their gear even in the middle of the performance and using wise-ass pirated expert systems to assist them in real-time repair and bricolage.
The band is really thumping now with several upright basses under remote control, guitars driven by biofeedback, news feeds running on subconscious frequencies, the drummer funkin' it up, lights, cameras, action, blanks firing, tribal chants and the stage littered with spiritual blessing tools, spanners, logic probes and network analyzers of Choctaw and African descendants. The crowd is down with the scene, sporting shirts with their families' ancestral seals, playing along with the band, shouting, testifying and generally talkin' shit. Faxes scroll in through machines strapped to the ceiling that, along with the video and holo projectors that fling their images across the club, are wired to a rooftop jungle of dishes, antennae and receivers. No one really knows where the band ends and the crowd begins, where anyone's instruments are connected or miked, or even where the club ends and the rest of the world begins -- things are that wired, common-vibed, and connected. Everyone seems to know where the power circles are and where, within them, the beats are falling. Several are overlapping: from sexual courting to political debate, hallucination to poetic composition, acupressure healing to meditative silence -- everyone is strolling, the technology, thoughts and souls are spinning and my man Mingus is finally happy.