Looking back on Futurism

looking back at futurism“Let’s break out of the horrible shell of wisdom and throw ourselves like pride-ripened fruit into the wide, contorted mouth of the wind! Let’s give ourselves utterly to the Unknown, not in desperation but only to replenish the deep wells of the Absurd!”
– F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto

In Lisbon, a month or so ago, still sweaty from our show at the Rabbit Hole queer party, we talked with our host about a film program he is curating on the topic of Afro-futurism. The conversation stirred memories of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and the Italian futurists and I wondered if there was a connection.

Futurism is an Italian artistic movement from the early twentieth century which celebrates the destruction of the past to make way for the future. The futurists felt that Italian culture and society was decaying and laid the blame at a reverence for the past: “To admire an old painting is to pour our sensitiveness into a funeral urn”.

To break out of this anomie, Futurism makes no firm distinction between creation and destruction; in fact it closes the two into an Ouroboros circle:

“Let the good incendiaries come with their carbonized fingers!… Here they are! Here they are!… Set the library stacks on fire! Turn the canals in their course to flood the museum vaults!… There go the glorious canvases, floating adrift! Take up the picks and the hammers! Undermine the foundations of the venerable cities!”

There isn’t a connection between this and Afro-futurism, or at least none that I could discern from my cursory research (more on Afro-futurism here). My research did however re-evoke for me a kind of revulsion for the archetype of futurism: masculinity in control of an automobile, two things towards which I am deeply ambivalent.

In his “Manifesto of Futurism”, Marinetti declares his desire “to sing the man who holds the steering wheel whose ideal stem pierces the Earth, itself launched on the circuit of its orbit.”

In place of a reverence for ancient and renaissance culture, the futurists prefer “the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke.”

It’s desire is its death drive and so the futurists gladly cheers militarism as well as industrialism, with Marinetti even celebrating the catastrophe of World War One in a poem titled “War is the World’s Only Hygiene”, in which the War is the only solution for cleansing the society of its passivity and dullness. The War, as we now know, produced only a decidedly undynamic and unproductive churning of human flesh in the trenches, something which greatly undermines Marinetti’s coupling of unreserved creation and destruction.

Wrong, in so many ways, in their understanding of what the Machine Age would produce, there is something nonetheless attractive about the Futurist ideology for an artist, a musician and a political activist.

There was a time, up until very recently in fact, where I devoured every morsel of the past, or at least a past centred on the nucleus of 1984: the year of my birth. David Bowie, Visage, Liquid Sky.

Ironically this vision of the past I coveted was the future as imagined from the past: a future of geometric lines cut in cloth and etched in make-up, of smoke machines and flashing lights, an aesthetic. I devoured this future-past in order to escape the now, the dry cultural landscape of suburban Australia in 1996 or thereabouts.

Perhaps this fascination with the 1980s has to do with a desire for the music from early childhood: the sound of music intertwining with the beating of my mother’s heart in a fantasy of inter-uterine existence.

If this is the case then it falls into the always tragic category of longing an impossible return, our dance a desperate flailing against the diaspora into which every human being is cast by being exiled from the first homeland – the womb. Such nostalgia removes us from political agency, entangles us in an impossible, backwards journey, turns us away from the future, from its hazard and risks, but also the opportunities it presents.

As a musician, I face the question: Why spend creative energy rebuilding analogue synthesisers designed forty years ago when we can design digital modes of synthesis for sounds never heard before?

So I find it hard to dance to the old songs any more – Blue Monday, Sweet Dreams, all the rest – not because they are not good – they most definitely are – but because of what the dance entails, not only nostalgia, but a nostalgia for a nostalgia, wretched invocation of neurons excited by the sounds of a synthesiser decades old.

This temporal cringe is not just about musical novelty. If I think of any account of what the future might look like, the one which I find the most compelling, disturbing and frustrating is that of Ray Kurzweil – futurologist (not futurist) and now Director of Engineering at Google who observes and predicts a rapid acceleration of technological development in all fields, but especially in artificial intelligence known as the Singularity. This acceleration culminates in an event some time around 2045 where artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and a superintelligence saturates civilisation and eventually the entire universe.

When I read about the Singularity, a little pit of despair emerges, the fear that the future does not belong to us after all, but to the technocrats, to Kurzweil’s employer Google, to the NSA and the rest, that what the human technological development has set in train is a hyper-intelligent algorithms in the service of a capitalistic authoritarianism, ice-cold to culture, beauty and freedom, a future where knowledge subsumed to data, building, expanding, producing, but oblivious, contemptuous even to the costs for human consciousness.

By obsessing over movements from the past – the music of the 1980s, classical humanism, analogue, whatever it may be – we become ever more disconnected from the tools which might help us to define a future which is beautiful, queer, transhumanist, multiple, anarchist.We need to assert the values which will guide the machines, we need to extend our vision of what life might be when our bodies become truly saturated with machine intelligence.

Will My Questions Ever Be Answered?

Somehow we got drawn into a binary. Radiating on one hemisphere are the proselytisers of Computer Future, drawing all their energy from the misplaced anxieties of the soothsayers of computer future.

Grounded V2Where the soothsayers point to loss and dissolution, watch the Matrix as documentary and close their Facebook accounts, the proselytisers celebrate the productive nature of the emerging modes of sociability that Computer Future allows.

How different is it, really, to share a photograph on your wall, than it was, in previous eras, to dust off photo albums and gaze at faded glossy memories behind plastic sheets? Not that different, and the now is infinitely better because we can share with an infinite number of people: so quantitatively speaking the act of digital sharing is that many times more valuable than the analogue photograph as the number of followers who “see” your post.

Phenomenologically speaking, concepts like “seeing” and “sociability” remain undefined. In 1980, before digital consciousness, we were not really that much further than Kant or Husserl (*lack of women philosophers noted*) in understanding what the world is beyond our retinas – even the retinas were lost to us, the optic nerve but a theory, the assumption of a “conscious self” written in quotation marks to allow at least the possibility of conceptualising the world.

Computer Future clashes with this philosophical tradition, because it takes as its starting point the existence of the network, and then tries to theorise what the human might mean within it, whereas, at least for some of us (anyone over thirty years of age being essentially a stone ghost of the twentieth century in the flux of the twenty-first) understanding what I am, and what I can know about the external world as more than just flickering lights on the cave wall is a hurdle we have not passed.

So maybe this is how our questions will finally be put to rest, not through resolution but through a fading of relevance, through a fading of the concepts and the experiences which gave these questions life and importance in the first place.

But what, then, when AI wakes up to itself? What will it know of itself? Will it be able to verify, with its near-infinite processing operations per second, that it actually exists, that there is a world beyond its digital tendrils?

Will it even care?

Google Knows Me

I read once that the Stasi ultimately failed because a certain formula failed – the ratio between the information they collected and their capacity to analyse it and render it meaningful was vastly unequal. So they ended up with immense archives of unknowable information. Satisfying to an archivist perhaps, but not of much use to the security apparatus.

In this era of cybernetics the equation is levelled, even though on both sides of the equation the numbers have increased dramatically – There is an increase in the amount of data collected and at the same time the ability to turn this data into knowledge.

Data is essentially 0s and 1s, numbers before they are rendered intelligible to a human mind. Content without form. Information is the start of the transition. Information is my name, an SMS I send, pornography I consume. Knowledge is the end of the transition into intelligibility, where we can really say that we have integration, all the information about me becomes intelligible, you know where I will go before I do, you give me a sexual identity (determine what highly specialised breed of fetishist I am), knowledge is knowing, knowing is an act of violence, of control.

Google knows me.

Leonard Cohen Remix “Everybody Knows” on Local Suicide

Tusk’s interpretation of Cohen’s seething bitterness and cynicism sits quite naturally atop the pumping and strangely fitting melodic groove, with the female chorus backing vocals adding to the resigned, but weary of its resignation, general tone of the song.




Long awaited return of the sci-fi synth supplicant TUSK now reborn as the perennially wandering lesbian vampire of your sweetest, darkest dreams.

Lesbian Vampires is a psychedelic paean to impossible love and the weight of desire.
Buy the EP at tusklives.bandcamp.com

Directed and Edited by TUSK
Cinematography & Styling by Mad Kate

Music written and produced by TUSK
Mix Tweaking & High Definition Mastering by: Bartłomiej Kuźniak (http://studio333.net)

TUSK meets alien duo DUO MEGA Ω MEGA. Video out now.

So after spending ten days strapped to a medibay orbiting the coldest planet in the universe, I have returned to Earth to find my children have grown. The seeds of this collaboration have now produced an inspiring new vision of alternative corporeality.

MEGA Ω MEGA have just released the video to the track “FROM SPACE” that we recorded a little while ago. Watch it here: