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<nettime> the logic of repetition
Philip Sherburne on Sun, 16 Sep 2001 09:52:55 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> the logic of repetition

[The following is excerpted from today's installment of "Needle Drops," my 
weekly column of electronic music news for Neumu.net. This week's column is, 
and is not, something of a departure.]


++ It occurred to me at some point Tuesday, as I watched the umpteenth 
replay of one of the many videos showing the second plane disappearing into 
the tower, or of the tower collapsing - the fireball, the collapse, the 
fireball, the collapse, over and over in finite variations endlessly 
replayed - that I have at least temporarily lost my taste for repetitive 

The logic of the loop, inscribing the event in a haphazard but inevitable 
trajectory, is a staple of the contemporary media. The Reagan assassination 
attempt, the Challenger disaster, a white Bronco speeding along LA freeways 
- all these have become stripped of meaning, have become hyper-real. We 
accept those image-facts because they have become history, part of our 
collective archive; but Tuesday's images fell into their indexed slots in 
that archive almost as soon as they were created.

Given the symbolic power of the twin towers, and their rapid destruction, 
the endless looping amounted to nothing less than an instant nostalgia in 
the making, a spooky de-realization. We kept watching, over and over, an 
event only hours old, which sped further from us with every viewing. The 
media use the loop as a tactic to package reality, to force possible 
meanings into a set and predetermined form. And much as I love the looped 
minimalism of all kinds of house and techno, suddenly I had no desire to 
listen to music that replicated a logic I found questionable.

In the absence of meaning, the logic of repetition began to feel like a 
crutch, or a defense, against grappling with the still-more-difficult issues 
now facing the country. I promised that soon I would listen - because I have 
listened to less music these past few days than at any point I can remember 
in recent years - to Ekkehard Ehlers' "Plays Albert Ayler" (Staubgold 2001). 
It's a fantastic piece, written for cello and then digitally post-processed, 
in which there is no boom-tick, no regular playback and reracking - just a 
long, fluid line of ebb and flow, interruption and rerouting, an embodiment 
of energy and strangeness, sad and complex and profoundly beautiful.

Even the non-mechanical repetition was getting to me. The first-hand stories 
that I had found so compelling, so moving, so real, began to wear me down. I 
could no longer tell them apart. I read them in the Wall Street Journal, in 
the Village Voice, in the New York Times. I read them as they rolled in from 
friends and acquaintances. They began to bleed together, and while I 
understood the need to tell them, I was reaching my limit, and long after 
having turned off the TV, I was feeling the need to log off, to withdraw 
from information entirely.

But perhaps the logic of repetition is not so easily escaped - especially 
here, in a story so deeply inscribed with it: twin towers, twin attacks, 
twin collapses. A building bombed for the second time in less than a decade. 
The mirroring between New York and D.C. The interior ironies beating with a 
strange and subtle pulse: the son on a hijacked plane phoning his mother, a 
flight attendant, on the ground.

I sat on my stoop tonight, drinking a beer and reading today's Times, when I 
ran into my neighbors from next door. The husband works for an investment 
bank. We chatted in the way that acquaintances share distant grief, careful 
not to be maudlin, not to overreact. And then he surprised me. 
"Unfortunately, we're from New York," he said, unprovoked, and I knew what 
was coming. He paused: "I know a lot of people that didn't make it out of 
the building."

When they had walked on, I thought about how these things touch us, the 
seeming unlikelihood that I would have any connection to one of the victims. 
And how suddenly, distantly, I did. The ripples just keep moving out from 
the center, regular and in perfect succession. I think we would all be wise 
to mind, in the coming weeks and months, this eerie, awful logic of 

-Philip Sherburne


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