The Internet Sings

Art-work by Adoxo and Tom Kemp from the vinyl sleeve of Jennifer Walshe’s ‘ALL THE MANY PEOPLS

The Internet Sings

Composer Jennifer Walshe recently released her latest album 'ALL THE MANY PEOPLS', an exploration of our digital lives. Anna Murray reviews.
 

It is the middle of the night and I can’t sleep. Jennifer Walshe has rewired by brain.

After a number of days of listening to her latest release, ALL THE MANY PEOPLS, on repeat, my brain feels like it has too many tabs open, and they are all beeping sounds, flashing lights and bright colours. The experience is not unlike the listening one: compelling, distracting, maddening, exciting, confusing, confronting.

In this two-part track release – an alternative version of the shorter 2011 audiovisual work that has received regular performances – Walshe, as with other recent works, sifts through what is described by Drew Daniel in the liner notes as ‘our cultural search history’ to find the buried, the surface, the banal and the frightening textual nuggets that comprise our online existence. There are comments, auto-completed searches, fragments of Beckett, stories and more. Against an undulating texture of digital detritus – akin to the clicks, pops and hums of circuitry – Walshe doesn’t just set these fragments, but embodies them. Her voice imitates dial-up modems, sets nonsense comments to a perfect imitation of avant-garde opera, and vomits up inane babble.

Not at all weird on the Sunday
The first track of the two, ‘
In Glorious Mono’, is a sonically dense work of almost 30 minutes, beginning with a mechanical engine clattering (most assuredly not in mono – the electronics in this piece in fact use deliberately extreme sound placements, as if emphasising its artificiality), giving way to a simple metronome click and a repeated descending line sung by Walshe with an equivalently false-sounding earnestness. 

Not at all weird on the Sunday, the robot on its feet by the tampons, and the rainbow on its head by the X-Box, and the celebrity dog on its face by the massage table, and the AK47 on its back by the unicorn.

The music repeats, but the scene’s characters change orientation, setting up a kind of mental fog, a sense of not quite keeping up that persists throughout the piece. At an ever-increasing pace of textual change, we encounter all the manic giggling, gasping breaths, bizarre stories, complaints, desires and sadnesses that the lower half of the internet can conjure; we meet auto-completed questions about the Twilight films, stories told in American accents, British accents, Irish accents.

Even in this format, divorced from the physicality of Walshe’s performance, that inescapable kinetic force can be felt as she gasps for breath between renditions of ‘98 bottles of beer on the wall’, a story about dolphins, and echoes of digital sounds. She takes all the internet videos, comments and searches into herself, and, in spitting them back up, becomes the characters she imagines produced them. We feel her efforts not only in the grunts and cries she utters, but in the sheer tension in holding all these characters and sounds together. Just as with our everyday internet experience, this aural chaos is extended to the point of breaking, our focus difficult to maintain, and for 27 minutes and 13 seconds, both we and it – and, we feel, Walshe – is on the verge of dissolving completely into mere pixels.

Musical inheritance
While in ‘
In Glorious Mono’, the relationship between Walshe’s performance and the background electronic texture feels like a battle in which Walshe just about maintains the upper hand throughout, in ‘I Still Love You New York’, the language and sounds feel more fully integrated, working together not against each other. It also has more in common with past works of Walshe: it’s difficult to hear the harsh drone with which the tape interrupts itself in the opening few minutes of this work and not be reminded of works like Dordán or An Gléacht

I Still Love You New York’ plays more with the tropes of Walshe’s musical inheritance than with the internet detritus. We hear a wider range of vocalising that gives us a break from the extreme textual density of the first track. At the same time, this is contrasted with an electronic part that contains actual spoken language samples – ‘it might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you’ / ‘this house is too dangerous, there are terrible demons’. Suddenly we are reminded among all the chaotic abstraction that there are contexts for all these titbits of sound and text. 

However, sometimes – only sometimes – the weighty presence of the artist in the work, the personality of her performance, can be its own downfall. It’s easy to be distracted from the listening experience, compelling though it is, by an imperfect accent, a funny delivery, and some of the coarser elements of language. Of course, these are too what make it brilliant, and we are left questioning why we let it distract us, why we still hold on to expectations of language and form even when listening to the extremes of experimental music. This is music to make us question ourselves, our art and our language.

What makes it all so shocking, as well as fascinating, is not the use of these unusual source materials in and of themselves, but in the complete eschewing of the idea of poetry in what we could somewhat archaically call ‘text-setting’. Walshe doesn’t try to force elements such as pop pyschology, internet comments on vampire erections, or stories about being eaten by wolves into some kind of post-modern poem, mining it and polishing it for beauty, insight and clarity. The text stays as it was found in all its real-world imperfection. The insight we as a listener are granted is not only into the content of the internet itself, but its emerging system of language. This new system no longer distinguishes between the written and the spoken, the correct grammar and the colloquial; it takes an artist like Walshe to bring out the inherent multitudinous bizarreness in this new internet language, present it in this unpolished form, and make us realise that its very roughness is its own beauty. As linguist John McWhorter put it ‘Texting is fingered speech. Now we can write the way we talk’. Now Walshe sings the way we type.

All the Many Peopls is released on Migro Records and is available on vinyl and online. Listen by clicking on the Bandcamp link below. For more, visit https://jenniferwalshe.bandcamp.com and http://milker.org.

 

Published on 26 September 2019

Anna Murray is a composer and writer. Her website is www.annamurraymusic.com.

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