Is your approach to contemporary technology one of decomputation or, in other words, of deconstruction of the obscure side of technological power?
“Whether enthralled or enslaved by machines and algorithms, we want to understand them, either to bend them back to human will or push back against them!” announced John Fass introducing his Decomputation class.
Decomputation is a methodology, perhaps a mindset, we were introduced to as part of the Information Experience Design MA at the Royal College of Art in London. At its simplest, decomputation helps designers study the ways algorithms shape behaviour and mediate our experience of the world. It thus acts as a means to approach technology, and conversely to view design through a computational lens.
A decomputational approach aims to humanise technology, harnessing its speed and capacity for creative benefit, and showing ways of resisting its inexorable logic. As a two-way exchange between design and technology, it combines elements of design making with computational thinking. In other words, we find decomputation applies effectively to studying and making things, or even formulating a tactic.
With the Network Ensemble, we identify at least two approaches falling under the umbrella of decomputation. One is a process of demystification. We consider the network a black box, an impenetrable assemblage. We strive to understand its operations by travelling down the layers, protocols and structures that form it, deconstructing it as we go with both an analytical eye and a dowser’s hope and belief.
The other is an active process of deconstruction. We strive to build machinery which expose some of its machinations and construct tools as an open box, so that they be deconstructed.
Selected Network Studies is released through Rizosfera, a music label grown out of the Italian collective Obsolete Capitalism. Through its releases, Obsolete Capitalism gives voice to accelerationist artists influenced by the work of Nietzsche, Foucault and Deleuze. What do you make of accelerationism — a philosophical current that partially owes to UK influences, where you are based, and where a wide range of (not only) musical forces co-exist?
‘[…] an acceleration which is also navigational, an experimental process of discovery within a universal space of possibility’
—Alex Williams & Nick Srnicek, Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics [MAP]
We founded the Network Ensemble in London at the end of 2015, a period of time during which we also formalised our collaboration under the moniker Demystification Committee. The Network Ensemble is the sound unit of the Demystification Committee and it aligns to other projects we run, part of a greater effort in investigating the extra-state, large-scale networks and covert systems of late capitalism.
The systems we investigate make themselves known, often unintentionally, through the production of an incredible amount of noise. The Network Ensemble especially focuses on this noise that we can read as data to identify its actions and intentions, track its machinations and influences, and foreground its accelerated processes.
The exploration of such fluctuating technology encompasses, but is not limited to, the study of platforms, machines, physical networks (of networks), virtual and artificial forces and legal and juridical frameworks. With a focus on these processes, the Demystification Committee attempts to understand and represent clashing technological and societal trajectories through artistic experimentation.
This necessitates a will “to become literate in these technical fields” [MAP 3, 9], and a direct involvement that moves beyond the use of specific techniques, tools or tactics.
Conceived as a vehicle to explore a “universe of possibility”, the Demystification Committee adapts to ever-changing scales and ever-accelerating speeds [MAP 2, 1—2]. Around us, perhaps not geographically but cognitively, we see others that operate across similar scales. Particularly relevant are Benjamin Bratton and Keller Easterling’s writings, their exposition of infrastructure space and its operating systems allows us to consider apparatus such as cities or states in the same frame as computational technologies such as WiFi networks.
Hidden in the crack of these systems, we see artists such as Goldin & Senneby operating at a level of deep engagement, magnifying their actions through the lever of geopolitical infrastructure; Shintaro Miyazaki and Martin Howse channeling infrastructure through custom tools, transforming large-scale technical systems as raw material for sound; Sam Conran, literally in the “universe of possibility”, synthesising signals from outer space to make music; Stine Deja exploring the techno-social matrix and the gap between virtual and real spaces; Maximo Recio glorifying quantitative data analysis and its potential to fabricate (financial) fictions; Hayden Anyasi using the algorithms of surveillance to fight biased representation of identity in media; Jelka Kretzschmar investigating global crisis of migration and the physical barriers put up by societies; Andrew Brash dissecting the symbiotic relationships between visual identity and the urban environment; Charlotte Maëva-Perret infiltrating subversive ways of making, publishing and consuming to unveil the machinery of global mass production.
Finally, collective such as yours and organisations such as Furtherfield in London, transmediale in Berlin, the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam which offer the space, time, focus and stages for new experiments. Perhaps, paraphrasing Williams and Srnicek, rather than aim to somehow destroy the material platform of neoliberalism we should repurpose it towards common ends? “The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed […]” but a stage to perform from.