The New Anxiety
The 300+ year technologies built to capture, understand and connect the world - from maps through geostationary satellites to contemporary algorithms and big data collection - have been exposed as weapons-grade systems that pluralise reality and destabilise the present. How does living in this new anxious world feel, and how deep do these systems take root?
bod [包家巷] is the musical project of Nick Zhu, a multidisciplinary artist working between music, visual art, graphic design and the many facets of virtuality and digital spaces.
For someone so consistently concerned with overwhelm - both artistically and on a deep personal level - 2018 was an understandably saturated year for dedicated listeners of their music. The year saw them release three longform 20+ minute releases on significant underground electronic labels Quantum Natives, Knives and Danse Noire. Each of these mini opuses saw fragments of insectoid sound-design clambering for air amidst a suffocating ambient smog, onto which 4K torchlight was shone by westernised MIDI guzheng, docile stock string synths and Zhu's own mellow autotuned vocals. Like a digital utopia of sorts, bod [包家巷]'s music feels constantly teeming with life and sentience, overlaying real and digital soundworlds so masterfully that it is hard to decipher where one world begins and the other ends.
Ahead of their performance at VIRTUALLYREALITY presents: SWAN, VIRTUALLYREALITY's artistic director Michael Brailey spoke to bod [包家巷] about their unique soundworld, contemporary labour, the importance of digitality and more.
music video for 'Prelude to Music for Self Esteem', directed/created/rendered by Marta Stražicic, belock.io, bin koh, @surreal_69 and @acidfridge. Released via Yegorka, 2019.
"I owe my life to the internet and
to digital technology.
- bod [包家巷]
[MB] I found a lot of power in reading some words from you on clotmag.org: "a vast majority of work that I've seen which takes the concept of "virtual" for granted becomes masturbatory and fails to acknowledge the ability of supposedly outdated methods of creating a multiplicity of realities". I wondered if you could expand on this, and talk about what is important to you when trying to create this multiplicity?
[B] I think art and life should be indistinguishable from each other, that the complexities of all reality be seen as simultaneously a wholly encompassing simulation and an unimaginably large absolution. I don't believe that mutual exclusivity exists between anything, nor that it ever has since whichever beginning someone wants to choose - the dawn of sentience, the invention of language, etc.
[MB] To me, the exhaustive sound palette you use - from your own vocals to MIDI strings to corporate age warnings on trailers to the bloops from an MSN notification to field recordings of birdsong et cetera et cetera - seems to evoke this idea. What do you hope these sounds to convey, if anything?
[B] Everything, or I guess as much as possible. The more immediate the response between work and not work is the more reflexive and considered life becomes.
[MB] Is important for you to give off this feeling that - through digitality - all things can always be accessed from one point? I read about your attempt to apply 19th Century composer Liszt's 'tone-poem' approach to structure your work, so I wondered if there is some desire to dissolve time into a singularity, as well? Maybe even a flattening of the hierarchies constructed by the West towards the representation of non-Western music in relation to Orientalism?
[B] Sure, all of those things.
[MB] Haha! I wonder what about digitality do you see as being paramount - transcendental, even - to your existence, or to your art-making? Do you find it to be life-affirming on occasion?
[B] Life support, at least. I owe my life to the internet and to digital technology. I've also come to understand it as something deeper than the things we usually think about in regards to digital, that the digital has always existed in concurrence with what people usually compare it to, like the analog. I have a lot to say about false alarms when it comes to what "-ity" is a distinguishable aspect of reality, but that doesn't take away from my conception of the Sublime or faith in God. There's something comforting in reading into the diffusion of definitions and categories, that all things always have been and forever will be.
[MB] Many of your releases are 20 to 30-minute longform tracks compiling many short (1-2 minute) musical ideas into one rapidly shifting, structurally skittish whole. What inspires this approach to form in your work?
[B] I don't feel inspired anymore. I spend a long time crushed under obsessive workflows that made me blind to what I was making, and the truth of that situation comes out when it happens.
[MB] I wonder if there's any parallel to be drawn between this and your views on the precarity of many contemporary working environments. Do you often find enough time to make things? Has your recent move from LA to Berlin helped/hindered this?
[B] Within an exploitative system of labor, the relationship between people and the infinite eternities of their existence is regulated. People will always find time and doing things like moving to a less expensive place has helped me. Art is either all I have and/or not enough of who I am. Everything is subject to survival, and I'm grateful that I can now allow my art to be subject to supporting my life, but I don't know if this is sustainable, or how long it will stay like this.
[MB] What positive things have come from moving to Berlin for you?
[B] Rent is cheaper and I got to meet all the music people I've looked up to. I also get to play more because it seems like there is more support for me in Europe at the moment.
[MB] I spoke recently to a musician called Jennifer Walshe who said that the term 'post-internet' now feels redundant following Trump's election and Brexit. In this post-truth era of our contemporary predicament, how do you see the role of art and how do you think it may change in the near future?
[B] This is the problem I've been having!!! I really don't know what to do next, with any amount of certainty anyway. I'll keep trying stuff out and get back to you.
music video for an excerpt from 'Advent of the Silicon Rain [硅雨来临]', directed by Samantha Hunter. Released via Quantum Natives, 2018.
Catch bod [包家巷] perform at VIRTUALLYREALITY
presents: SWAN @ Hallé St. Michael's on the 8th June 2019.