Freezing Time
Moving Without Moving

Still Frame from the Grouper Video  “I’m clean now”: Liz Harris in the rain in front of a red smoke screen ©Grouper / Licensed to YouTube by The Orchard Music (on behalf of Yellowelectric); Secretly Canadian Music Publishing, BMI - Broadcast Music Inc., and 4 Music Rights Societies

As we all know, it is pretty immature to talk about a phase of late capitalism. There is no such thing as “late capitalism,” there is only capitalism, period. It began, and perhaps, it will one day end, but in between, it has always been stagnant. The question is how best to live during this static phase ’cause an end to the current system seems a long way off. The proletariat, after all, is not really thinking about abolishing capital; on the contrary, it is to blame for its existence in the first place. 

Leonhard Hieronymi

Let us initially assume, therefore, that the status quo cannot be changed in the near future. Let us assume, for example, that the electronic music of the 1990s — with its repetitive insistence, its “four‑to‑the‑floor” rhythm that sounds forever the same, and its 150 beats per minute — describes precisely this state of capitalism that reached its zenith in the 1990s and has been the norm ever since: namely, the endless fiesta of unabashed consumerism that gives us the freedom to always choose the same things every time.

Even if we may briefly wish to believe that there might be something beyond liberal democracy and that something else simply must come along in its place, we can be sure that we will still continue for some time to plod along in much the same way as we are now.

In the current period of standstill, it would appear at first glance that the only possible way to lead a reasonably dignified existence would be to improve upon capitalism and democracy to the point where we are able to look each other and the universe straight in the eye. Or we could combat the standstill and the repetitions with a counter-standstill. By which I do not mean slowing things down, but by actually abruptly bringing time to a standstill.

This is what we all dream of in any case. If we were given just one wish and made to choose between making ourselves invisible, having the ability to see into the future or read people’s minds, having people and objects beamed over to us Star Trek-style, or being able to freeze time, we would always choose to freeze time. Though only on the condition that we would be able to move around and sort things out while time stands still and everyone else remains static, unable to move (and also do not know what has happened in the meantime when time resumes). That is our dream of secret manipulation!

But how is it possible for us to bring time to a standstill and nevertheless continue to act within this continuum?

One example of the sound of standstill during society’s immobility is the music of Liz Harris, who is very well known under her project name Grouper — at least in the ambient and psychedelic pop scene.

Liz Harris lives in a house in Astoria, Oregon. Likewise, Astoria marks an endpoint, and thus, a standstill in history, namely Westward Expansion. Astoria was the first Euro‑American settlement to the west of the Rocky Mountains; it was set up by the entrepreneur John Jacob Astor (right after the expeditions of Lewis and Clark) as an outpost for fur trading.

Liz Harris’s music is not a deceleration, nor is it a repetition, even though it is stuck in a loop. Her music is a space in which distortions and mistakes, silence, profound sadness, and misunderstandings all have their place. And it is through this music that we can, among other things, break through the standstill in consumerism. Listen to the track “Alien Observer,” for instance. We move to this song and believe that we are not moving. This music takes us into the centers of capital, and we destroy them. We go into wealth and destroy it with the song “It Feels Alright.” We stop washing our hair, and we free our friends from prison to the track “Made of Air.” We are only awake when it is dark, and we are listening to “Wind Return.”

Liz Harris grew up in a commune that lived in accordance with the principles of the Greek-Armenian mystic Georges I. Gurdjieff. She was taught to self-remember, to suffer consciously, and to renounce her desires, as well as to educate herself to a — more or less — immeasurable degree. The combination of abstinence, education, and clear consciousness in this commune was intended to put a stop to daydreaming and fight against inner absentmindedness. This mixture of clarity, education, and abstinence is reflected in the music of Liz Harris, and if we educate ourselves, retain clarity, and abstain, we will be able to survive in rampant consumerism. In this case, we would suddenly be quicker than all the others and notice, despite the frustration, unease, and fear, that all the others are standing still, and only we are moving forward. It is very simple to free ourselves from other people by complying with just a few rules and to observe others in their standstill while we race forward. It is very easy to freeze time.

Logo Das Wetter © Das Wetter This article was commissioned by and created in collaboration with Das Wetter – Magazin für Text und Musik.

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