Mirrors In An Empty Room: Metal Gear Solid and the Catch-22 of Constructing Better Realities

            On June 27, 2020 something inspiring happened that gave hope in a time where there is little. On a 7th generation console from 2006 on 5-year-old multiplayer server, every nuclear warhead was dismantled for PlayStation 3 in Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. This was done without any given objective from the developer nor was any infrastructure put in place to do so. Subreddits were made and alliances were built, R/Philanthropy and R/MetalGearPatriots, respectively. Nuke watchers were ever present hoping to reach a virtual world free of nuclear weaponry. After the impossible was achieved they were treated with a previously known but never authentically unlocked 8 minutes cutscene around the fight against nuclear proliferation and to leave the world as we found it for our children. Although the PS3 reached nuclear peace, the other servers seem to be in a perpetual nuclear age with PC servers carrying 1193 and the PS4 showing an astonishing 2479 nuclear warheads. With both subreddits having over 5000 posts and countless discord replies, why go through all of this effort in creating sides, narratives, friends, enemy, and rallying cries? What do you do in the aftermath of a completed myth?

            Jack, the protagonist from the second game in the series, Metal Gear Solid 2, said it best, “It’s like being a nightmare you can’t wake up from”. The decay of the world seemingly reaching terminal velocity all happening behind our screens is a particular dystopia I don’t think we saw for ourselves; at least so soon. In this techno-psychedelia where certain truths only makes sense depending on what timeline you find yourself on. Mass social labor movements as you click through your stories, race wars centering around a white womans bantu knots on another, and the full transition of a site we used to find our old middle school sweethearts now a swamp of fascist leetspeak. Life can begin to feel like just another day in a war without end where to imagine a world worth fighting follows the law of diminishing returns like driving a car off the lot. The one space we first enjoyed with the bright optimistic potential of a digital utopia was co-opted as the largest vehicle of manipulation through ad-sensed misinformation. The shattered black mirror only presented another empty room to us all.

            Hideo Kojima, an artist seemingly obsessed with this technological anxiety behind and in front of us has been wandering in these Bladerunner backrooms since 1988. Games he made prior to Metal Gear Solid like Snatcher (1988) and Policenauts (1994) spoke of fears surrounding state sanctioned violence spreading past our atmosphere, but it was with Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation in 1998 that elevated his text surrounding the slow, granted stripping of agency in a world that takes the reign of our future and places it in a government funded hard-drive mount. A game about the choices of a hard-nosed veteran, Solid Snake, assigned what was to be his final mission of taking back an Alaskan nuclear warhead testing facility from a group of terrorists, Metal Gear Solid predominately carries theme centered around genetics, political/military corruption, nuclear proliferation and disarmament, cybernetic prosthetics, gene therapy and genetic engineering, child soldiers, and post-traumatic stress disorder but carries a torch in fighting to take back agency in our own lives. That our futures are not dictated by our genes but in our choices. Such comments examined at length in a video game was unheard of at the time in 1998 where the other top games at the time being Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Banjo Kazooie. Now we have Kojima’s offspring in the ways of Bioshock (2007), Spec Ops: The Line (2012), and just about any game that speaks of player agency in their own postmodern metafictional ludonarrative dissonant ways.

            A series about genes shifted to a series about memes in the follow-up to Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Without falling into the endless hypertextural rabbit hole around what the game is and what it’s about, 2001’s MGS2 is a game about the inherent failings of a sequel but it’s also siren cry around the perils of the Information Age we now face today. How the rapid flow of information rids us of any context to understand the world around us, it speaks of echo chambers on forums that carry their own truths while never being able to see other truths in other subcommunities. All this information is “junk data” but who could or should be the curators of the ideas worth passing on? They can’t all come with us and given to future generations. In 2001 (!) MGS2 believes that choice was never in our hands in the first place but in artificial intelligence. That AI term has been moved into the present day under the guise of The Algorithm. Deciding what will be show to us on our feeds. The canary in the coal mine was already dead in 2001 and we’re only coming to terms with the smell in 2020. For almost a two-decade old text, they really nailed it on the head. Honestly, I’ll let the colonel, the who’ve you follow all your order from through all games in the series, say it better than me. (Spoiler warning as this is easily THE cutscene of the entire game; if you do wish to play it then you maybe shouldn’t be reading any of this anyway?)

           first documentation of a video game blackpill?

MGS2 moves its theme from the prison of the body to prison of the mind but still believes in a fight towards living with your own agency in life. That the stories we tell ourselves, and not the ones we’re told, are ones worth fighting for. That words don’t mean so much. We should look past the words to find our own meaning in a world filled with symbols only given meaning by those before us. In all its truth telling, this game still believes in a story; it still thinks the empty room that we awaken in after the nightmare is salvageable.

            14 years later, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain shows us what it’s like to live in that empty room where all we face is our own ineptitude. MGS5is the terminal conclusion of a dream denied. A game about blind revenge and the lies we tell each other to keep that fire alive at all costs, it tells us what a nation-state does when it run out of enemies to supplant their jingoism into. When the memes we tell ourselves run their course. When the flow of information is so fast that history can’t keep us. When poor intentioned American sentiment of solidarity turns into paranoia and imperialism overseas becomes at-home authoritarianism. The two games really document to the pre and post 9/11 American objective quite clearly in my eyes: as MGS2 came out weeks after 9/11 (and had many parts of the game taken out due to taking place around New York), it heeded warning over information, unmediated spread of memetics, and hypertextual discombobulation. MGS5 looks at the carcass of a culture that once stood for something, albeit violence against others, and the endless spiral that can be strewn in every direction, including your own, when your enemy is a just another phantom.

            Culture used to be a very small thing. Whole countercultures distilled into street names, bricks thrown, and seats taken on buses. Now we don’t know how to cope with how much history happens to us every day. The names, the protests, and tragedies coming at such a rate where it’s impossible to reconcile and place within a greater context. So how do we cope? We don’t! They wash over us as we create our own slower, smaller fiction that makes more sense than reality ever could, not unlike what the colonel spoke to in games prior. MGS5 is an ode to the third act of America, where we are no longer the scrappy nation fighting from tyranny nor are we the king of the hill for the rest of the world to look up in jealousy, we’re the snake eating its own tail since we’ve run out of food to eat. How can we create meaning in the abyss?

            The players on the PlayStation 3 version of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain created their own meaning in the abyss by creating a problem worth believing in. On R/Philanthropy (now r/metalgearantinuclear) and r/ThePatriots vicious sentiment travelled between cross posts, many would take shifts in the middle of the night to see if nuke we’re being made under the shroud of darkness. Private discord had watchdogs figuring out next steps towards how to avoid hackers and moles infiltrated into their own voice channels. The names are based off of in game organizations: The Patriots Philanthropy being Snake and his partner’s anti metal gear NGO and the Patriots, the metal gear’s equivalent of the deep state. Started in earnest back in March, reddit user u/thehunghorse created a discord server to round up anyone will to get the war count to zero for the first time ever. In an interview with arstechnica, thehunghorse admitted to the beginning issues ,”At first, nothing got done because we simply didn’t have the numbers. But slowly, our numbers grew to 60, 70… It was heartwarming to have everyone come together for this goal. Me and a few other members actually bought a PS3 copy [of Metal Gear Solid V] just to help out”. Planned coordination brought the number of warheads in the thousands in June to just 100 by July and to zero by the end of the month. After they reached the number they had been fighting for all of lockdown, Japan’s Metal Gear twitter account responded quickly but in the way they had hoped. “A nuclear abolition event has occurred in PS3 version of MGSV:TPP from July 28, Japan time, but we are currently investigating this matter.” Was posted the very next day and have yet to confirm Philanthropy’s efforts. Some people feel as if getting confirmation of nuclear abolition day will unlocked some new content in a game that is widely considered to be unfinished, but this is all hearsay and will most likely result to nothing. A discord server can dream, I suppose.

            This journey shows that when your dreams are denied you construct your own approval. And even through all this inane hardship they were still rewarded with Kojima hiding a 8 min cutscene in the game only seen once by hackers fooling servers into thinking the nuke count reached zero over two years ago. Echoing the same sentiments as MGS1 we have a role in not bettering the world but leaving it be for our children to allow them to make their own choices. MGS5 continues to show its prescience even half a decade over in other ways too. A large story beat surrounding MGS5 is the spread of a vocal cord parasite that grows only when certain languages are spoken from the host. In this case, it’s the English language, the world’s lingua franca, to liberate society from the social consciousness of how our brains are shaped by the English language. The coincidence of how predominately English speaking countries refuse to come to grips with our own reality’s global virus where the more we talk the faster this virus spreads is not lost on me through replays of this Sisyphean game about forming an enemy in an empty, endless war. These phantoms also have their own analogs in modern times. In MGS5 its “Cipher” and “Zero”, but in real life its Qanon, the Deep State, and Antifa. We must create our own myths to fight, even if nothing is really there. 

            The reason this series is in the medium of video game in the first place is due to Kojima’s ideas on player agency and how the form of video games can supplant textural narrative, elucidating the passivity of storytelling other media showcase. The character will not progress in the story unless you do, unlike a movie where the story will unfold the same way every time with or without you present. Form and Metal Gear Solid go hand in hand. These games not only speak of agency, but  alsomaterially confront what it means to control an avatar that being controlled by higher power both in game and in real life. In MGS1, the only way to beat a particular boss battle was to switch controller ports from player 1 to player 2 so he could no longer “read your thoughts.” You were expressly told in game by a character that you could only find the phone number for another character by reading the back of the game disc case. These fourth wall breaks were impressive at time but MGS2 took it a step further. Multiple times through the last act you are ordered to turn the game off. That Jack will face continuous hardship as long as we play. That we enjoy all the killing. By holding the controller, we aren’t just a part of the conflict, that we are the source of it. MGS5 provided a more subtle examination with the nuclear proliferation multiplayer component. The only way to stop this is if both side stop playing. Why are the servers still up for a lesser version of a five-year-old game on a console no one plays anymore? Why we’re subreddits and discord servers created for dismantling virtual nukes? Why does this make me happy that people fought for something? Do we enjoy all the killing, the posting, thee tweeting, the in-fighting? Maybe because even if we never arrive at an absolute reality, the joy of believing in something was worth it.

            On June 27, 2020 they’re were 0 nukes, touting a small victory in a subset of an already tiny microcommunity. By August 2, 2020, 40 nukes were back on those PS3 servers,106 at the time of me writing this. In 2021, the START treaty initially made in 1963 will expire, leaving us with nothing towards supervision against facing the second nuclear age. Nuclear proliferation as it happens on servers can now happen in real life with the US and Russia’s arsenal now left unchecked. As Putin states that he happy to extend the treaty without any precondition, the US stalls on signing the extension. The mirrors of conflict face each other in an empty room- battling for a decaying world stripped of its resources and wonder. Do we continue to stare in a never-ending brinkmanship? Do we break these mirrors, or do we walk out the room and build a better one? Whatever we do, we must something. Lest we face just another day in a war without end. 

A Biography, Curriculum Vitæ, and Selected Works

A selective chronologist from the Northern Gulf, Ryan C. Clarke notices the passage of time through both an oceanographical lens as a trained Coastal Geologist and musicological as a co-editor at Dweller Electronics. He is currently studying ethnomusicology at Tulane University.

Co-Editor (2020 – ) @ Dweller Electronics

Musicology, MS (2022 – ) @ Tulane University

Earth and Environmental Sciences, M.S (2019 -2021 ) @ Tulane University

Geological Sciences, B.S (2012 – 2016) + M.S (2016 – 2018) @ Louisiana State University


Reverse Hallucinations of the Lower Delta” (2020) @ Rhizome

Southern Electronics” (2021) printed in Arena Annual 2021 @ Arena

“Running Out of Space: Drexicya, Boards of Canada, and the 9/11 Digital Psychedelia You Haven’t Processed Yet” (2021) @ Dweller Electronics

The Collapse of Modern Culture (2021) @ Terraforma (Journal #1)

Ghettoville (2014): An Ode to Forgotten Black Geometries” (2020) @ Dweller + printed in Cultural Bulletin Issue E, Jan 2021

Where’s The Drop?: Notes on Dance Music Ecologies” (2021) @ Soap Ear

“Microtuning” (2021) @ LuckyMe Records

Fog Springs Eternal!” (2020) in Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry by Speaker Music @ Planet Mu

“Mirrors In An Empty Room: Metal Gear Solid and the Catch-22 of Constructing Better Realities” (2021) @ GreyOverBlue

Digital Techno History Library (2020) @ Dweller

Space is Our Place: Notes on Southern Electronics” (2020) @ Dweller

“A Brief History of Techno-fascism, 1976-1996” (2020) @ Dweller

Vertical Sediment Accretion in Jamaica Bay Wetlands, New York” (2018) @ Louisiana State University

Black Care, Blue Notes” (2020) @ Dweller

Fate with Love: Actress – ’88’ Review “ (2020) @ GreyOverBlue

“’We Don’t Come Past Here’: Impressions of ‘T’, a film by Keisha Rae Witherspoon (2020) @ GreyOverBlue

A Lost Care Package” (2019) @ GreyOverBlue

Suffocation of the Void: Hauntology, New Orleans, and Art Neville” (2019) @ GreyOverBlue


Shirley Sound (2021) @ Boiler Room Festival New York 2021

“Nature’s Notifications” (2021) @ Computer Mouse Conference 2021

Tired” Official Video (2018) by Suicideyear @ LuckyMe Records

Album artwork for “Hate Songs” (2018) by Suicideyear @ LuckyMe Records

Care Forgot: A Southern Electronics Visual Mixtape” (2019) @ Rhizome

Ep. 11 of Silent Reading Hour w/ Sparkle Nation Book Club (2021) @ Montez Press Radio

“WORKER005 (。・ω・。)ノ❤️ Early Works 2012-2019 (。・ω・。)ノ❤️” (2020) @ Worker

Lüisiana Fugiēns” (2020) @ YesWeCannibal

“UNITY MUSIC” (2020 – til) ; Every Monday from 6-8@ 91.5 WTUL New Orleans

Well-versed in

Louisiana Geological History, Sedimentology, Grain Size Analysis, Vibracore/Multicore/Auger Sampling and Analysis, Coastal Dynamics, Sequence Stratigraphy, Radiocarbon Age Dating, Geochronology Gamma Dating, ARCGIS Data Interpretation, Radio Hosting, Podcasting, Editing & Publishing articles

Technical Skills

Microsoft Suite, Genie 2k, MSCL 7.9, Sigmaplot, ArcMap 10.1, LS 13 320 Laser Diffraction Particle Size Analyzer, Adobe Photoshop CS7, Ableton 9, WordPress, Audacity, GarageBand, and a wide array of audio devices

Honors, Awards, and Leadership Activities

GSSA Representative for Tulane’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, 2020-2021

Critical Minded Grant for Dweller Electronics, 2021

Member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, 2012-2016

Vice President of LSU Geology Club, 2015

Member of the American Geophysical Union

Recipient of the LSU Staff Senate Scholarship, 2012

Fate with Love: Actress – ’88’ Review

Communication is really hard. Not just getting across your message across, but the tone, emotion, posture, context, meaning, etc also wants to be nestled in between each letter and space within and between those words. Even with these acts of good faith, words often if not always fail us. Being in agreement with such a statement with the main verb I do is “to write”, it’s an acute pain to realize your reality is that of an errand boy in a fool’s dream. But these failed words are in me to the point where I need to get them out unfortunately, usually in a hurried frenzy. Today’s hurried frenzy comes out due to Darren Cunningham, or Actress’, most recent release, 88. Released as one whole piece, Actress’ new work is a prelude to his upcoming sonic love letter, Karma and Desire. 

The worst failings of communication come about when expressing the seemingly inexpressible, love. How can one show the intangible product of external joy from another now internalized within you? Or your own internal love cultivated into something larger? How can you get it out in a way that doesn’t feel inauthentic, like you’re not giving the emotion the medium it deserves? Many feel like art is the only way as we’d otherwise burst from emotional pent-upedness. For many, going abstract feels closer to reality than taking the literal route of word. Words are a rough and often harsh language, I’d consider (the good) writers and poets the true magicians of our time; able to translate the ethereal into something legible. In our daily lives, we feel our own limited capacity towards translation by including an “lol”, “LMAO”, or an emoji. In certain tough text conversations, the inclusion of a period or not tells the true emotion of the operator on the other line moreso than whatever paragraph came before it. In the world of the Message App, we may feel like this sort of thing a somewhat new phenomena but its goes back (probably farther) to the early 1800’s. Morse code telegraph operators used various number successions to communicate a sort of short hand to the operator on the other line. “73” stood for ‘best regards’, ’21’ meant ‘stop for meal’ (the ‘brb’ of the 19th century), and ’88’ for ‘Love and Kisses’. These numerical protocols emoji consolidated such a powerful feeling into muffled beeps and tones. This abstraction probably felt just as strong as we felt sending our first hearts to our gradeschool sweethearts across T9 keyboards back in the day. 

Text messaging - Wikipedia
Forgotten/forgiven love languages

This counterintuitive idea of how the abstract can get us closer to our feelings rather than spelling it out is the prevailing theme of 88. The record seems to be split up in three or four parts, giving homage to Darren’s past output that those who took the time to crack the code needed to access the file for 88 are surely well versed in. The first large suite feels like a fugue state coda for his last release, 2017’s AZD. Sounds straight from that album’s prime jewel, “Dancing in the Smoke”, are on full display as well as some snippets from his Rinse FM show back in 2017 (still yearning for that first tune, geez). Here, these sounds feel like an old friend who came home for Christmas to see his family, but found time to grab a drink for a bit before they gotta rush home. The second chunk of the record reverbs the mood of a dance floor much moreso than what came before with the mere input of a 4/4 from Actress immediately begins a remembrance of 2010’s Splazsh. As the four on the floor gives way to swelling violins and generous arpeggios, the concept album loosely based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, 2012’s R.I.P, comes to mind. 

You get five seconds of a groove here, a quick melody with a counterpoint there; the experience of this album begins to feel like piecing together a morse coded message and as you piece together your dots and tones together, you start to crack a smile. The signal may not strengthen but your love grows with each subsequent transmission. Many speak to Actress’ more later works post-Splazsh as sketches, but if 88 is galvanizing anything for me is that the message isn’t to be found in the fog and haze, it is the message. The in-between we decide ourselves is whats worth fighting for, not whatever structure we we’re told is necessary to best get your feelings across. What we feel in the in-between is our native tongue. The ’88’ at the end telegraph received in 1871 most likely is what let the heart swell to lovers apart. Morse code and radio signal in general can reach further at night as the signals can bounce off of Earth’s Ionosphere allowing much farther transmissions to reach. In 6th grade, we did this sort of thing for our HAM radio operator club (on brand, I know) where in the afternoon our puny device could reach China with my teacher speaking Mandarin to students on the other side of the world. Not much could be heard so shorthand like ’88’ was used and was responded by excited yells from children on different continents. What was said is not what matters, but what was felt. 

track titles with (maybe?) some songs being five seconds.

I must say, even piecing this writing began to feel like a code, hearing bits of side projects like Levantis and smaller releases like the Xoul EP in small songs where I had to write down timestamps as track titles we’re given but in a tweet with no numbers, its hard to feel solid on when a song begins and ends. The nostalgist in me related it to IDM Newsletter contributor Greg Eden piecing together names for Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, with the track titles merely being pictures with name. Like Richard, this connect through the abstract felt different, like having a conversation with someone through design instead of dictating feeling and meaning on the back of a jewel CD case. 

The Aphex Twin Community / Learn / F.A.Q / The SAW II GRAPHICAL F.A.Q
SAW2’s track titles

The last suite reflects a monster work and namesake of this blog, Ghettoville. The beeps from AZD are ever present as they then form into a haze of desolation until ending on a murky but hopeful melody. Something that I’ve always felt about Actress’ mainline releases is that I feel like he’s carries the desire to end his work on a hopeful note. IWAAD, Visa, and Rule are the examples where each monochromatic tone poems surrounding Hell, cybernetic otherness, and poverty oft speaks towards a brighter future and 88 does something but a bit different, it speaks. The last few moments of the record before being driven back into the digital haze are words. Hard to decipher, yes, but you hear a voice. It feels like we can see the lighthouse just barely on the horizon after being out in the cold for so long. Maybe we’ve finally begun to get through and can understand what he’s been trying to say to us this whole time but we hadn’t the language to hear it really. Karma and Desire’s tracklist (once given in a ig story but is now switched from letters to triangles/the real ones know what’s up) suggests the jump from non-word into something spoken is on the way. Excited to hear what Darren has to say in his newfound tongue.


Views From The Quar

J Dilla

This will be a general rambling in a way to produce something that merely isn’t falling into the void of “no one is bored, everything is boring” loop of social media. It carries such a numbing effect in a plethora of ways that within the absence of never being bored, we’ve “decided” to substitute that with anxiety for a future with no horizon. All of this is in tandem with the writings of Mark Fisher and his ideas of the slow cancellation of the future. Although he predominately used music and its surrounding culture as his example of how cyber-capitalism has squeezed the idea of a singular moment to align with cultural production, I think the present moment of George Floyd’s murder and its subsequent result on our timeline can be another mark on this idea of a watching any semblance of a future merely become an dated aesthetic, like 80’s day for spirit week. The “future” in so many way is behind us. We’ve been delegated to a hamster wheel of the same hot takes, death videos, responses, appeals to humanity towards a system explicitly designed to strip any idea of exactly that, calling congress people who could care less about us, urges to call police station to fire their own fellow blue bloods. I’m exhausted, enraged, and numbed out simultaneously. 

I honestly got up and decided to type this after watching the same James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Malcolm X instagram excerpts that almost begin to feel like a sociopolitical Punxsutawney Phil that communicates a summer of Black Death two weeks early ahead of time. This combined with how there’s truly nothing new or at least cogent ahead of us is most seen in these clips. Imagine those in 1968 purely referencing those that came before them 50 years ago for a moment that is intimately happening to them. I believe in ancestors like the rest of us but when I look around to a movement, or a moment or a group that we can singularly define us I find myself at a standstill, at a loss. Who will our children look to as a guidepost when their world is burning (and it will be burning, make no mistake)? This is not to place blame or the onus on us singularly as the compression, horizontalization, and blurring of any actual time markers (this becoming even more clear in the lockdown) produces such a structure where we as a people have no means to rise up. There is no culture to place in context of this pain so the only thing that makes sense to people to revert to a time of coherence. We have no choice !

How do you speak about the credit sequence of a movie? The era we find ourselves is the empty wake of when things actually happened and carried weight. America has begun to treat black people like marvel movie characters. Completely flat, static characters we either emulate or plea to exterminate. “Black girl magic” and “black boy joy” place us on pedestals where we have been yaas’d and king’d into unhumanity. Racial politics in America is so warped where those who outright call for our executioners because they don’t want to leash their pets are granted a light, euphemistic nickname. We historically police our own blackness in so many ways that we strip our own people from finding some sense of happiness in this hellscape through revoking black cards for one reason or another (this is a whole conversation that I am only willing to have over drinks). White people that have no black friends are obsessed with a people they know nothing about. Kids in the suburbs fantasizing about living in Staten Island with the Wu Tang Clan. This isn’t our fault but due to the structure of capitalism, we end up commodifying ourselves into a flattened object. One to be passed around and spread across the world through memetic virality. Nothing new of course, but we’ve reached critical mass where instead of the new hot Jazz tune, our views of our own deaths are now hitting billboard-like numbers. 

The compression of blackness on the world’s stage will almost always lead to the result we’ve see before. This is something we too are complicit in but only because we’ve been stripped of the agency to do otherwise. Late capitalism has rendered us without the toolset to produce anything accelerated as we cannot formulate our own awareness in our bouts of constant collective trauma. We have nothing but the past as there’s nothing in front of us. America in so many ways is on the locked groove of time that keeps looping. Unfortunately that needle keeps eroding this record with each revolution; each cycle eating into the material we’re tuning into. Interested when we’ll finally break the record and put something new on. Please ACT in the ways that institute REAL CHANGE in your surroundings, as small as that can look like. It’s only way we can break this incessant loop and listen to something truly new. 

the idea that this is 20 years old should prove my point

“We Don’t Come Past Here”: Impressions of “T”, a film by Keisha Rae Witherspoon

“When you do things with your hands it heals you in places lower than where you cry from”


T is a short film from Keisha Rae Witherspoon, a filmmaker and creative director of the Third Horizon Caribbean filmmaking group based in Miami, Florida. T centers around the artists that are getting ready for what is known as the T-ball, a gala of sorts where people in the community who have passed away are commemorated through artwork on T-shirts and other artistic works. The T-ball is a celebration of people who have passed on to new life outside of this one and the film itself is one that grapples with how we all navigate the world after loved ones have passed. The ball is an extremely colorful night that carries themes of acceptance of new lifetimes. More than anything, what oozes out of every second while watching this piece is this confidence that  past gives light towards futures unforeseen.

Across the film’s runtime, we are allowed us to walk with three people: Dimples, Tahir, and a man whose name is never given. Dimples is a seamstress whose home is both an alter and workshop in remembrance of her son, Jasper. Jasper was a painter and these works strewn across the walls create a prismatic overstimulation inside her four walls. We meet her preparing a dress made completely out of potato chip bags, a common snack for Jasper back in the day. Through our time with her she smiles fondly on memory of her son with such a warm that without a second thought you feel a sense of place and home around her. Tahir and the man create a similar atmosphere; giving such an interiority to the complex textures of their everyday that you feel a sense of closeness to each of these people over only a runtime of about 14 minutes. 

One of the many t’s in T

But it’s the blowback you receive so often in this film that transcends T by forcing a third thought that you actually don’t know these people and whatever sense of binary joy you initially received is so much more complex. Throughout the film, the connections we genuinely make with these people are complicated with actions that morph us as viewer into fifth wall observers. We realize that we aren’t following these people around and that there’s camera operators between us and the subjects. We are flown back into our own bodies and have to reckon with the accountability of ourselves that we so often give to documentary subjects in creating a false sense of kinship beside people we’ve only placed our eyes on for 4 minutes at this point. This is most seen with Dimples and the man whose name is never given.

The man opens his scene jovially announcing to the camera “Welcome to African America!” alongside a dance and a smile that could warm a cold winter’s night. This warmth is immediately chopped down with a blank stare, making you unsure if this a game he’s playing to get us to laugh or if he’s really not that jazzed about seeing us in his space. As his scene carries, on we peer into vignettes of him alongside his children and friends showing a box full of T’s; T-shirts acting as ephemeral tombstones for the passed away with printed faces, carefully crafted text and dates of a homecoming and home going. During this moment we think we’re sharing with the man and his friend the man asks us, “what y’all really here for anyway?… what y’all really wanna see?”. While his friend continues to show us even more T’s he asks his friend why he’s giving so much to these people and realizes he’s changed his mind about this whole thing. We don’t see the man again. 

Near the end of the film, Dimples takes us down a hallway to a back room; a sacred place where she begins a ceremony in reverence to her passed child. As the camera follows closely behind her and by the time we reach the doors entrance, Dimples tersely says “We don’t come past here”. Dimples herself begins her journey in her own temple while we wait on the sidelines realizing that this moment is not for us. 

These moments (and more throughout the film) implicate the viewer to understand that we are but an intrusion; onlookers in a space that is not ours to call our own as much as we subconsciously believe it to be through the power of cinema. Quite often we have a voyeuristic renarrativization of lives not ours. Does this film center around Black Death or Black Life? What are we really here for anyway? What do we really want to see?

T is currently playing at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and the Third Horizon Film Festival begins on February 6, 2020 in Miami, Florida.


Some Treasured Sounds, 2019

Here are but a few of pieces that moved me this year. Thanks for reading and please send me some recommendations !

Solange When I Get Home

Columbia Records

Sound as contemporary architecture; album as physically regenerative material. Coming back to this album countless times only exacerbates just how odd this record is. Barely a “single” on here; fractured and non-Eurocentric ideas in terms of song structure, this record gets a lot said about it but little about how it bucks traditional mainstream album with its form alone. Solange really did so much here and much of happens subtly and namelessly all under the guise of neo-soul. This album says so much with its eyes, not the mouth. Once your make contact with it, you’re complicit in agreeing or exiling it. Polarity matters more to me than “goodness” and no one can be walk away from this record with a sense of apathy. It demands a response and if that isn’t the mark of art worthy of discussing then I don’t know what is. Thanks Solange.

Weyes Blood Titanic Rising 


A haunting subtextual meditation on global environmental collapse that relates it something almost cosmic in its fathom of the horror. As someone who intimately researches global climate change through the lens of how humans have forever altered the history of this planet, listening to this record sometimes sounds like how it feels to observe the disintegration of ourselves by ourselves. This is not only in song content but in form. As the tape wobbles, the synths glisten into silence, and its Carpenter-esque vocals force you into feeling the rift between the past and the present, everything in the record is sitting you down to tell you, “yes this is Over and yes it is Our Fault”. 

The Caretaker Everywhere at the end of time (Stage 6) 

History Always Favours The Winners

The almost decade long series comes to and “end” in a stunning fashion that almost feels like I’d be spoiling a movie if I go any further. Leyland Kirby’s observations on memory and memory loss receives all 10’s on the dismount. The complete 6 hour project is a fading masterpiece that cares just much about the rusting bronze frame turning to dust before our eyes than the image itself. Take a night for yourself and take it all in. 

Earl Sweatshirt Some Rap Songs

Columbia Records

Some Rap Songs may have come out in 2018, but it was late December so that narrative for best albums (for me) that year was already encased. Nevertheless, this album has walked with me through this year and so it deserves a space. Recollection and the solemn sadness that follows us as our foundations of reality become stories to tell those who they themselves mythologize our own lives seems to be a bit of a motif for all of these works but SRS puts that notion to the forefront. A eulogy of what was/could’ve been/never can be is the thread through each of these tight, less-than-three-minutes-a-piece group of songs. Ranging from the raw admissions of guilt pertaining to a broken connection with the father to a textural collage of spoken word where Earl’s parents speak their truths that inform his own language is a deft piece of storytelling that doesn’t overstate its welcome with a running time of 25 minutes. The killer is the closer “Riot!”, sampling his uncle and South African Jazz legend, Hugh Masekela. This instrumental piece encapsulates the theme of the record of unfinished stories, regret, second guesses, and momento mori all in a 1:08 jazz tune ! More than the sonics of actual piece, with the sounds arising from the brass being Earl’s own uncle solidifies the quiet sadness you’re left with as the records reaches its end. This life is a family affair whether you want it to be or not and as we look back to watch those we formally believed to immortal fade into memory of record, photography, or writing all we can do is connect the dots to inform where we’re headed for better or for worse. Again, all of this is at play in a short 1:08 jazz piece. I can’t stop thinking about “Riot!” , this record, and where we all fit in it. How someone can arguably have their magnum opus at 24 makes my heart rate jump. 

Klein Lifetime

ijn inc.

I, admittedly, thought Klein was doing nothing special with her Hyperdub debut back in 2015. Almost with a jealously that “anyone could do what she’s doing here”, which I misinterpreted as something flippant. This notion really should be applied to someone doing something genius under certain light and “Lifetime” shines with this idea. Interiority is the only word I can use that makes sense in describing this record. Conversations with elders and sisters run throughout the record often making it feel like your butting in on a family conversation that shouldn’t be public. Abstract collages that allude to finding one’s self or voice give this work a feeling of standing between two mirrors. Hard to figure where you begin or end and its up to your to step out of the loop and forge your own path. All this using some pretty deft tonalities of voice and texture makes ‘Lifetime’ one of those pieces where its almost like staring at the sun; this powerful ever-present object that will hurt you if engage with it for just a bit long but so awe-inspiring that its just hard not to. 

Boards of Canada Societas X Tape

Warp Records

Not an actual album, but I pay for this website so I can write whatever I want to on here. This 2 hour mix for the 30-year anniversary celebration of Warp Records on NTS radio holds such a large place in my heart already, I’m almost afraid of how much it will actually mean to me as I continue on in this life. Boards of Canada is such a reclusive duo that in my +10 years of listening to them, I’ve never even thought of them as existing outside of their Scottish countryside vacuum with respect to influence. This mix kicks all of that aside with a flurry of psychedelia, funk, noise, punk, and classical tracks from the 1960’s to present day showing just how much music I need to know. Mixes like these feel like navigational signposts for another 10 years, turning me on to so much music that will walk with me for a very long time. Grateful for the Sandison’s for their music, but deeply humbled for allowing me to look at their homework a bit to see how much more studying I have to do myself. 

Kelela & Asmara – Aquaphoria

Warp Records

Aquaphoria deserves a place on here for quite frankly being a work that, if I wanted to hear anything else like it, I just wouldn’t be able to. Black chords and ambients over a plethora of legendary Warp/Warp Records adjacent tracks is a treat and a three course meal I didn’t even think I wanted but now beg for ! Kelela has been slowly showing her hand that the ultimate goal for her is more a pop affair than an underground electronic legend, but on rise to stardom (wish her the best ofc) if she can throw some gems like this every now and them I have no complaints. Did anyone this 2019 would have Kelela vocalize over a Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2, Oneohtrix Point Never and an Autechre track??? Me neither, but thank god.  

Mac DeMarco Here Comes The Cowboy

Mac’s Record Label

I am so confused about my connection with Mac DeMarco. Something about him both confuses me and endlessly attracts me. His use of bossanova, subtle Japanese new age studio tricks, analog recordings, and now this stillness in his new works is so enthralling to me I can’t get enough. More than anything, it’s pure comfort music. This might be functionally my #1 album this year out of sheer plays (so says Apple Music). I was in Florida this summer quite alone for the most part working in a lab where I knew no one, barely knew what I was doing a spent of lot of time in the afternoon biking miles just to arrive at an empty apartment. So much of those weeks were spent silent and my only friend was this album. It felt like sitting with a pal that was just as comfortable sitting in silence or goofing around as you were. The aura of being in a room with someone was good enough for the both of us and I kept sitting with Mac wistfully strumming at a full breathed bpm over and over. I was really lonely for a bit and I thank this album for being a friend in a friendless space.


Reverse Hallucinations in the Lower Delta

“Are Drexciyans water-breathing, aquatically mutated descendants of those unfortunate victims of human greed? Have they been spared by God to teach us or terrorize us? Did they migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River basin and on to the Great Lakes of Michigan? Do they walk among us? Are they more advanced than us and why do they make their strange music? What is their quest? These are many of the questions that you don’t know and never will.” -The Quest, 2001

A year or so I was at Mood Ring, a New York bar to see a couple of friends, some of whom who were dj’ing that night and absolutely killing it. I don’t have much to remember that night in terms of Instagram stories or pictures outside of me crying to an Aphex Twin track. Someone born and raised in Louisiana for 25 years, you unfortunately rarely get a chance to listen to ’90 Cornish techno not in your own headphones, but it was happening. Later on in the night, thanks to my girlfriend, something transcendent happened. She requested to our friend Chris to play the swiftly now-culturally minted track “Gimme my Gots” by Shardaysha. A song we’d play on the car ride home to no avail now found its frequencies rolling through Brooklyn speakers and it was quite the sight. The song begins with the root tongue of many bounce songs, an extremely harsh rolling of the R for longer than two moments. As celebratory as we got by bringing a little warmth of home on vacation, I became to get really observant. Many of the bar patrons really didn’t know how to act. Some flailed, other recalled loose interpretations of Big Freedia music video choreography and I think someone in the corner ended up screaming for 10 seconds until the beat dropped. Needless to say, New Orleans Bounce really makes a dance floor that almost blurs the line of what’s considered dance.

If you know me, you most likely understand that I’m a sucker for semantics. In my world, definitions deeply matter so a conversation rarely can progress with me without subjective or personal connotative understanding leading the way; I like being on the same page. During the research of this writing I stumbling on a frustration definition of Bounce music and that it’s considered (at least by Wikipedia) not to be a dance genre, but a sub-genre of southern hip-hop. In a more general sense, classification via an open source information website may not matter all that much and probably doesn’t but it did get me thinking: why don’t we attribute New Orleans Bounce music to the lineage of American dance music? Regionally, many dance parties that start with the 90’s hits flow into house and afrobeat but any DJ worth their weight in the Crescent City will most definitely end the night on a bounce shakedown; Bunny Hop afterparty if you’re lucky. Unfortunately New Orleans Bounce on the flow charted path solidified on dance floors around the world begins to fade out the farther you steer from the birdsfoot to the point of inexistence. This silent shadowbanning of bounce from the continuum of black dance music is upsettingly deafening. 

As nothing new is under the rising sun, New Orleans has been around this block before. New Orleans often finds itself in the ambiguity of the black continuum and this is no different from Jazz expansion throughout America. As suffocating racism through de-facto and de-jure politics force much of black life in the Mississippi delta to Detroit, Chicago, New York and California, new definition and perspective form for the genre and the culture as a whole. Since the great migration, Jazz music has found its worldwide appeal in the Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, and John Coltrane progressing Jazz away from its Big Band/Brass beginnings into modal, transcendent, or free archetypes that bare little to no distinction to Jazz’s beginnings in Congo Square. Bounce music seems to find itself in another pseudo middle-child syndrome within progressive black music circles. That cursory search on Wikipedia delineates bounce music under the genre southern hip-hop but if you head to any bar on a night here in New Orleans, you’ll quickly find bounce can be more akin to footwork than a 75 bpm riding track. That isn’t to say that it cannot be, similar to electro, bounce is infinitely amorphous; able to slow down to play at a daiquiri lounge over Sade acapellas to speaker bleeding Limewire quality Sissy Nobby track that sounds like someone recorded the last millisecond of an 808 short circuiting, tossed in the river and looped it endlessly. 

This sort of black avant-garde obfuscation is seen in Rashad’s magnum opus Double Cup (2016) where he effortlessly applies half time to the usually much “faster-than-you-can-dance-to” bpm of footwork. This celebration of auditory otherness is also seen in techno with the works of James Stintson, Heinrich Muller, and “The Wizard” Jeff Mills. Techno, House, Garage, Electro, Juke, Footwork, even breakbeat has found themselves within the continuum of black dance music that has be seen through the positive purviews of academia and cultural significance. Head to an electronic night at many venues around the world and very rarely will Bounce be played. Definitely checking the index for New Orleans dance music rears little results in a books discussing the matter. Cultural weightless often translates easily to cultural silencing where voices need to finally be heard and this is no different. 

A sort of reverse hallucination that has undergone within New Orleans and its history has been going on long before Bounce music was ever conceived. As New Orleans culture is being forgotten, so goes our tangible products. The Myth of the lost cause, renaming wards and district, repopulating areas where black families have lived for centuries, the amnesia of place brought about through transplants “discovering” “unknown” areas of the city to colonize toward their own sterile vision of New Orleans. The Drexciyan myth has had it 2nd coming in 2005. 

Accelerationism , Black Accelerationism, or specifically “Blaccelerationism” as coined by Aria Dean, touts that black people have been living in a “post” environment since the Middle Passage in the 1600’s. Fractured and spread around the world having to build cultures anew from trash and leftovers and over less than 2000 years that formerly label, ghetto is now the Babylon of the world with Hip-Hop and Black people being the culture d’jour for society writ large. I believe that New Orleans accelerated even faster than many other cities not only throughout America but around the world due to Geologic (subsidence), historically (Treme) and politically (Chocolate City). We don’t have the time. We’ve lost our land. Bedrock doesn’t exist. New Orleans lives paradoxically in the ending and subsequently end of days. The end of our world was early in the morning between 7:21 – 8:29 at August 25, 2005. Along the 4 canal breaches through the Lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview and began to fill homes past attics and roofs, many clocks stopped as they were inundated by the storm surge of Katrina. These clocks formed of symphony of timelessness for the gulf coast as we knew it. A moment of silence for a city once afforded love, care, and resource. The next two months after the waters breach is well documented to be nothing short of a complete catastrophe. FEMA blocked delivery of emergency supplies to Methodist Hospital, turned away Chalmette Medical doctors at the emergency staging area at Louis Armstrong Airport due to their names in a government database, actively blocked flights carrying private medical air transport, refused Amtrak’s many offers to evacuate victims, didn’t return calls from the American Bus Association or the Motorcoach Association, turned away trucks from Walmart, prevented the Coast Guard to deliver diesel fuel, and delayed all emergency supplies, vehicles, and equipment from other nations for months. The complete lack of non-federal aid exacerbated problems greatly as the Superdome had reached past capacity at over 20,000 and were all moved to the Convention Center within one day. For both evacuee areas, there was no air conditioning or proper sanitation.

The accelerations towards the collapse of the American empire is something we’ve all felt and read in the past three years or so since the 45th president’s arrival into our subconscious and twitter-feed, but these anxieties have been torturing the south’s brains for decades and came to a head in more than 10 years ago. Environmental anxiety, climate change, political corruption, etc. are the ABC’s of Louisianan culture. Everyone knows the concept of a post-environment without understanding it at an intellectual level but it’s a whole nother story when its right before your eyes. Taking the I-10 over the Ponchartrain leads you directly through the remains of what once was. First you see forgotten planks of an old path farmers would take their cattle over to reach the metropolis. Then has you reach the banks of the lake you transition into patches of lost earth; once a vibrant marsh wetland is now whittling away back into the muddy waters of the Bay where it rose from over 200 years ago. This habitat is necessity for the large diversity of wetland species in our area, now migrating away to lands more stable or merely going existent. This of course isn’t due to the natural course the earth and its process often take. What we see in front of us is the swollen corpse of what oil and gas corporations have killed and placed at our feet. Passing the sprinkles of mudflat where fertile land use to inhabit lies the culprits. The many smokestacks and refineries at Exxon and Chevron off in the distance. Wailing their fire indefinitely and proudly before New Orleans and surrounding communities. 

Richard Misrach, 2005

Drexicya, and the Drexicyan myth is from is a techno group of the same name from Detroit Michigan formed by Heinrich Mueller and James Stinston. Not much else outside of possible occupations as truck drivers, little is known about these legendary black men. What is known is the legacy and Mythology they thankfully unearthed and provided to black people often felt left out in myth creation. Mythology is a preemptively healing mechanism. It allows for a context to take place around moments of deep turmoil and change. The Drexicya story is no different. Told across master cuttings in the rings of vinyl wax, track titles, and sleeve illustrations, the Drexicya myth begins with the story of the Atlantic trade. In the middle passage as Africans were being forced into the Western Hemisphere on colonizer boats many pregnant women decided they refused to allow their offspring this life of absolute horror and jumped off the side of these boats. As the women drowned, their unborn offspring adapted their lungs into gills and became Drexicyians, the children of middle passage. They soon navigated their way to their new home Drexicya using their intelligence and ingenuity they developed their own technology such as Wavejumpers. Drexicya (the duo) created cultures, enemies, and an entire livelihood out of immensely painful beginnings. By crafting Accelerationism (unbeknownst to them assumedly) into their own stories, this idea for a narrative to latch onto in times of great upheaval as Detroit in the 1980’s was a little rough historically for black people, can be so necessary when moving through a world that has planted you in an area of permanent between-ness. Instead of finding your people, you create your own. 

This between-ness is nothing new for New Orleans. In the Treme, many people came from descents that were hardly binary. Creoles, Cajuns, Quadroons, Passé Blanc, etc. In the genes of many people here lies an inherent float where you must attach to some formed by you otherwise you’ll pulled in so many directions and have your feet in so many homes, but can’t lay your head anywhere. This blur of life is the defining characteristic of New Orleans. And it’s music. Is Jazz classical black music? Is it folk? Is it noise (I mean that in a beautiful way !)? As a culture, bounce obfuscates what is generally understood as human or human. Is that roll of the tongue the artist on the song? Is it an 808 snare? Maybe it’s a sample from some Carl Thomas deep cut or a voicemail passage back when Cingular was thing. Hard to know. With most bounce tracks refusing to condone to the modern day music practices of sample clearance and the like, it’s tough to get these songs to any sort of legitimate syncopation and while I wished that the producers and artists we’re compensated in a way that respect how amazing these tunes are, it’s tough not to feel pride in the resilience of refusal to bend to the will of the RIAA.

The resilient stubbornness to stay firmly within the between is something that is deep in bounce music and its culture. The party bus where the party is always on the move, the samples and bpm speeding up or dropping off where you can have two slow jams and a breakdown in the same song at the same time, and an amalgamation of identity that many peoples are still coming to terms with but has been a norm here in the Crescent City. One of our biggest cultural exports (sorry to conflate real value with capitalism) is a trans musician. Sissy Nobby is a legend through the city and gets played at cookout no matter who is throwing it. Before terminology of certain folk were communicated to the world as a whole, the dynamic of “cissy” and other forms of queerness were flowing through the Magnolia projects uptown with no fanfare. The bending of masculinity with black men whom usually find themselves shackled to the wall performing a hardened silent strong type in any other setting can enjoy a loose footwork in a second line and a shake if you catch yourself caught in the middle of a cameraman following Messy Mya vlog. 

Rest In Peace

Unfortunately, in most electronic circles, New Orleans Bounce is but a footnote in the long history many have started to cherish in certain circles. The Drexicyian myth has become a welcome foundation for how people view modern black mythology through the lens of music and other art forms. Electro finds itself in the tendrils of black dance music easily as do the old tales of the Warehouse and Paradise garage in Chicago/New York dance scene respectively; but where is New Orleans in all of this? Does the south have something to say?

Historically, the form of southern black erasure is can be found in a similar narrative right up Rampart St with what has been known to be called Jazz. Due to the mass killings and awful segregationist policies of the south, many music migrated to California or Chicago in what has been come to be called the Great Migration. Unfortunately this started a domino effect with how people perceived the history of Jazz itself. Although people give New Orleans the torch with it beginnings, much of the conversation soon deviates to Cool Jazz in California, or the Coltranes and Sun Ra’s of the time. With all due respect to these people, those that write about the great works in their wake rarely carry the conversation back to the roots. A sort of reverse hallucenation is had where the history begins is what where choose to see the joy, not where the pain is had. This sense of black trauma erasure is an oft-forgotten pattern with most of New Orleans. Between Jazz and Bounce, these genres providing the same historical lineage of many cultures first created in the delta, Black Atlantic Music. As the Drexicyas pass the mouth of the Mississippi River onward the clock is reset once in Motor City. 

As a culture, bounce already obfuscates what is generally understood as human or otherwise. Transness, queer identity, masculinity, it’s all up in the area. There are no boundaries between thematic, the performer, and the identity that lies in between. Already too fast for radio. Accelerationism is inherit to bounce music as technology and humanity is in lockstep as a means to the end of dismantling what we have prior perceived to be dance/southern rap or any kind of music at all. Bounce has been deconstructing club music before the website as the likes of Resident Advisor or Pitchfork began to herald the onset of what is to be considered deconstructed club music. This human-machine-ambiguity-boundary is laid bare in Bounce with the fog itself being one of the most radical notions I’ve seen in my time as lover of music (see: birth). The Roland 808 drum machine is the match to the powder keg of modern black Atlantic music. For bounce, electro, footwork, and techno, this machine is the canvas for which black expressive was spread and queered across dance floors around the world. For New Orleans, the Roland 808 and the artists that used it solidified how femininity was viewed as the dominant culture in the city. Something the Underground Resistance thankfully didn’t find themselves speaking to as it was a group of CIS black men. Not to say they had to, but even during their Salad Days, there was a diversity of voice are speaking to black rebellion from even further marginalized environments and backgrounds; to know that there are elders for those who may feel like they are walking alone can be one of the best feelings in the world and thankfully, the people are out there and so is the work they’ve done. We just need to remember that we forgot.


Sorry this took so long. If I kept it in my brain any longer I would’ve needed to make it a second job. This is not at all exhaustive of my thoughts, but I hope it’ll suffice (for now)

-Ryan Clarke 🙂