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Decolonial Hacker
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ABOUT

Decolonial Hacker critically examines cultural institutions, their alliances, interests and behaviour. Born of a desire to entrench more consistent and collective engagement with institutional critique, Decolonial Hacker operates through a web browser extension that “hacks” institutions’ URLs with commissioned criticism, and an online platform that archives these texts. The extension activates when a user logs onto an institution’s website, dissolving their webpage to reveal an article that analyses certain problematics of that place informed by decolonial politics at large – for instance, pillaged colonial objects, funding sources and labour conditions.

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Decolonial Hacker critically examines cultural institutions, their alliances, interests and behaviour. Born of a desire to entrench more consistent and collective engagement with institutional critique, Decolonial Hacker operates through a web browser extension that “hacks” institutions’ URLs with commissioned criticism, and an online platform that archives these texts. The extension activates when a user logs onto an institution’s website, dissolving their webpage to reveal an article that analyses certain problematics of that place informed by decolonial politics at large – for instance, pillaged colonial objects, funding sources and labour conditions.

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Instagram
Twitter

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. We acknowledge the ongoing violence and dispossession which characterises the so-called settler-colony of “Australia” and pay full respects to First Nations peoples past, present and emerging.

Archive
SHOBUN BAILE — TRUST STUDY #1 (2020)
Screening: 28 JUNE 2022 - 12 JULY 2022
SHOBUN BAILE — TRUST STUDY #1 (2020)
Screening: 28 JUNE 2022 - 12 JULY 2022
SHOBUN BAILE — TRUST STUDY #1 (2020)
Screening: 28 JUNE 2022 - 12 JULY 2022
No items found.
Graffiti in Istanbul, Turkey. Source: Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung

Editorial

Blowing Up The Train

27 January 2022
Decolonial Hacker
Decolonial Hacker
Decolonial Hacker
Words
Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung
27 January 2022
Decolonial Hacker
Decolonial Hacker
Decolonial Hacker
Words
Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung

“I waste my time with an excess of punctuality.”

Violette Leduc, Mad in Pursuit, (1971)


“I’m just afraid ‘today’ is too much for me, too gripping, too boundless, and that this pathological agitation will be a part of my ‘today’ until its final hour.”

Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina, (1971)


“The only people more stupid than those who stand in the way of history are those who prostrate themselves before it.”

Alaa Abd El-Fattah, “The Birth of a Brave New World 1: Between Uber and The Luddites” (2016) in You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, (2021)

contents

I fear that I’ve conjured a general anxiety amongst my friends. They have begun sending panicked messages whenever they are more than five minutes late to meet me. Sometimes they even call, breathlessly, to apologise. And although those closest to me know I dislike waiting and being waited for, I did not conjure this petty tyranny on purpose. I consider lateness as nothing beyond a minor annoyance, if that at all. Attempts to pinpoint where this dislike of lateness comes from usually end in memories of my being scolded. My mother—a woman of God, a former cop—used to profess that the time of others is sacred. She believed, and instilled in me as truth, that it demonstrates discipline and respectability for one to be thirty minutes early than ever ten minutes late. Her proposition is, at its core, ridiculous: that one must always be early for that is from where dignity is derived. 

I have begun thinking more closely about the resonances of lateness, or the political power of being slow. First, as a potentially unconscious strategy of Decolonial Hacker, but also as a reaction to some of the conversations I have endured over the last year, where I have been looked at like a luddite for not adopting or taking in my stride developments in the art world which I find wholly repugnant.

A man tells me that the art world’s present bend toward embracing blockchain and crypto is a train that will leave with or without me on it. There is snideness to his words: that the conductor is about to blow their whistle, previous conductors have already blown their whistles, that this whistle I’m hearing is the last. An ultimatum dressed up as advice. But my impulse is not to get on the train. In fact, I’d rather like to blow it up.

He speaks of NFTs as a form of revolutionary chattel that shifts the balance of power in the art market toward artists, as an expansion in the possibilities of how they can earn money, and thus being an entirely good thing. Everest Pipkin has written on why utopian framings of NFTs—and crypto more broadly—are pernicious: that they obfuscate and impede how we ought to imagine and strategise ways out of existing social inequalities, not to mention the immediate consequences participating has on the climate catastrophe. In the end, crypto-art and NFTs represent the further refining of the ways in which the market already regulates the logic of accumulation and possession under capitalism. There’s not much use arguing against those who want to make money—our conditions of existence dictate that much. To quote the artist Jesse Darling, “The point is the money, not the object. And I’m all for people making money, but let’s not talk about that shit like it’s art.”

Web3, with its grift that users can assert proprietary ownership over a piece of the imagined digital landscape, might calcify a similar logic. If the object of Web3 is to syphon power and influence away from Big Tech, why does it appear that we’re now doing the same thing these companies have always done—carve out and acquire property—only in more fragmented ways touted as “decentralised” and “autonomous”? And, why must we be quick to adapt ourselves to these ‘new’ regimes of accumulation, under the particularly gross metaphor of the internet being a landscape we must conquer? Nothing about these technologies is liberatory or ideologically advanced to the extent of figuring them as the emancipatory tools that they promise to be. Aligning yourself with Web3 and the crypto marketplace is at best a short-term salve. It may feel as though you operate on a piece of land beyond the surveillance of Zuckerberg et.al. You might even make a quick buck. But without advancing the principles of collective bargaining, one risks the creation of another world that exists only in service of private wealth and accumulation. Colonialism and capitalism grow stronger through shifting into forms that trick us into believing what’s happening is their antithesis. The consensus, it appears, is that shaping the world on these terms, in this moral image, is ok.  

Ten months have passed since Decolonial Hacker began. We have published nine long-form texts traversing a range of subjects: setting out new principles for governance at MCA Australia, bringing to light how the severance clause operates in the New Museum Union’s contract, and explicating how the relationship between hip-hop and state mediations of culture by the Cuban Rap Agency inscribe a national artistic grammar on the island nation, to name a few.

What began as a project that sought to document a list of structural grievances and misdoings about cultural institutions is slowly moving into a field that is beyond the immediate, obvious purview of the art world. Museums and their fraught working conditions are only a constitutive part of a greater depravity, and our activism and thinking must grapple with this larger reality even if the art world is the reference point we have familiar to us as cultural workers.

In the first months of Decolonial Hacker’s publication period, I had the feeling that a large part of our audience was expecting ‘call outs’ on particular directors and institutions which could easily circulate as industry gossip. I do not wish to indulge this tabloid mentality. It is an insult to the rigour, research, and personal experiences of the authors. If all one can do is read their essays and mine them for scandal, then they have entirely missed the point of how this platform conceives critique, and the type of thinking this platform seeks to advance. To be more direct, we have been concerned—and will continue to be concerned—with what it means to imagine and work toward the annihilation of unjust structures. Yet this work, I have realised, will continue to be framed as scandalous and too radical by some. For instance: before the publication of a particular essay last year, the Australia Council for the Arts—this project’s funding body—was contacted by a museum director who, knowing only that a text was being written about their institution, sought to quash the piece. This went so far as the Federal Government portfolio issuing a ‘please explain’ to the Council, with the substantive question being whether public money had been misappropriated in funding Decolonial Hacker. 

I share these anecdotes and arguments to say that there are so many things about ‘culture’ and the industry that mediates it that enrage me. Certainly, I have become less interested in the idea that the art world or its institutions can be reformed. Going forward, I will continue to resist the pressure of Decolonial Hacker becoming a program that is fast, reactionary, and gossip-oriented. I hope that the work done here feels measured, illuminating, and intellectually expansive. This work, however, does not have the man I spoke of earlier in mind. Nor his friends already on the train, the museum director, the Government. They sneer at the stained and battered concrete platform I stand on, yet it remains the vantage point from which I can see the passage of history most clearly. So get on the train, I want to tell them, get on the damn train.


“Dance little asshole dance

oh he gets elected, like a Calvinist 

He says, I have these guts 

Men, I have these guts.

---------------------------

Having dedicated whole 

regions to the destruction

       you inspire, the 

logic will be to go on doing it 

doing it. Having proceeded by


the logic

      of your per-

sonal vaccuum 

you will perceive your continued

       lightlessness 

as an excuse to go on. having 

gone on 

as you have. And so one continues.”


From Alice Notley’s “Logic”, (2011).

2021 and beyond

In line with the Government’s COVID-19 roadmap to re-opening the country, the doors open on 17 May 2021.

 

Almost all of the Barbican’s casual staff don’t show up for front-of-house shifts. They have moved out of London or found employment in places that value them more. The Barbican’s creative upper class have to become hosts and invigilators to open the centre.

Barbican Stories is published.

 

Barbican employees are shocked at the stories and recollections of racism in the book. They can’t believe that this is all true and so they dive into their minority workforce to find out for themselves, once and for all. Unconvinced and under mounting public pressure, the Barbican hires an external consultant (a friend of a director) to publish a public race report that concludes that whilst the Barbican could do better, there is no systemic issue.

 

2,000 workers across London’s cultural sector create a picket line in solidarity with Barbican workers. The demands of the protest are impossible and necessary.

 

During the Barbican’s opening concert, as the conductor enters the stage to fill the auditorium with music, it is instead filled with the sound of 400 people standing up and leaving the orchestra on stage with no audience. A violinist cries.

 

All the employees of colour evacuate and the Barbican is left with a purely white workforce. There is a palpable sigh of collective relief: If there’s no one but white people, then we can’t be racist! 

 

Artists stop aligning themselves with backward institutions so cultural producers at the Barbican have to become artists to fill the programme.

 

Whiteness clings to the walls like moisture. Visitors are too ashamed to cross the picket line.

Coffees go undrunk, B R U T A L tote bags collect cobwebs, the conservatory grows wild. The ducks leave the lake in solidarity. Old Barbican guides litter the foyer. The orange carpet turns grey with dirt.

Eventually, audiences don’t need a picket to stop them from coming to the centre. A primed and ready-to-pay cultural audience now reflects the fastest growing demographic in London. Now, these younger and more diverse audiences that make up the city’s landscape find different and better cultural spaces that actually care about them and reflect their lives without skirting around the ugly facts. Why see another token diversity event when there are now whole institutions dedicated to the complexity of the diaspora?

One by one, lights are cut from the Barbican’s many rooms and offices, as they grow dusty in the absence of people. Moss grows between the cracks in the concrete.

 

The only room that remains open is the directorate office.

 

The directors maintain a throne of old catalogues, leaflets and newspaper clippings, in a never-ending meeting where the only thing on the agenda is to dust. 

 

One unremarkable day, the Barbican ruins collapses in on itself. The debris blows away to reveal an ON SALE sign.

 

The only thing worth anything at the Barbican is the land it used to occupy (and even that won’t cover the debt left behind by the brutal beast).

 

Blitz Property Developers find EC2Y 8DS and they love a bargain.

 

Once again, the site is raised by the Blitz.

No items found.

II. Listening

Today, the Phonogramm-Archiv’s collection of wax cylinders reside in an annex of the Ethnologisches Museum in Dahlem, a building constructed in the style of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) during an expansion in 1973. Before entering the building, we register ourselves with a security guard and await the arrival of the collection’s archivist. Brought through catacomb-like corridors, doors of mountainous weight and stairwells painted white with pale green lacquered handrails, we arrive at the resting place of Jaap Kunst’s wax cylinder.


Not dissimilar to other institutions, the depot we found ourselves in is an environment of conditioned circumstances. It has a temperature of nineteen degrees celsius and a relative humidity of fifty percent, a syncopated soundtrack of humming neon lights and murmurs from an air conditioner, all of which when taken together attempt to mimic a neutral space. Here, in this performatively coy room are musical instruments from gamelan orchestras, whose only emitted sounds are those of silence. Originating from the Southeast Asian islands of Bali and Java, these instruments are accustomed to a climate of high temperatures and humidity. Their primary functions were spiritual: to be played at religious rituals and ceremonies, as well as traditional performances. Now, however, the ensemble is attuned to a spiritual decay—conservational poison is used to ‘preserve’ their function for archival purposes only—inside storage within the depot of Berlin’s Ethnologisches Museum.


Neighboring the gamelan storage room, the first audio recording of a Balinese Sanghyang resides here. An inventory of empty, ‘silent’ wax cylinders necessary to capture this event had been allocated to Kunst by the Phonogramm-Archiv’s then-director Erich von Hornbostel in exchange for his act of sonic collecting. These cylinders embarked on an extended journey—from Berlin to the Sunda Islands and back—as Kunst went on to produce 300 or more recordings on his trips to Indonesia, documenting musical performances and rituals. We seek arrangements for listening to this performance, and attempt to move as close to its recorded event as the wax cylinder allows.

In Bali, times where it is forbidden to play gamelan are rare. One hundred years ago, however, deadly pox epidemics repeatedly infected villages on the island, forcing the inhabitants to close all temples and lock the gamelan instruments up. No rituals and ceremonies were permitted, the kinds that were believed to hold power in halting the spread of precisely such deadly disease. And though the temples fell silent, abandoned by their priests, village communities gathered at them each night to create a cacophony of noise, orchestrated through the quotidian: buckets, bamboo and wood. Noise was believed to be the only medium left to banish the demons of disease and cast the people’s fears away. According to the renowned dancer and sculptor I Made Sija from the village Bona, during one of these dark nights a man became possessed by the familiar rhythms of the gamelan. Yet the sounds he was enchanted by did not originate from bronze cymbals and gongs, but rather, human voices.

cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– –––
––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak –––
cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak –––
––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak
––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak
cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– cak –––
––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak
cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak –––
––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak
––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak
cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak –––
––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak –––
cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak –––
––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak
cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– –––
––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak –––
cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak –––
––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak
––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak
cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– cak –––
––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak
cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak –––
––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak
––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak
cak ––– ––– ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak ––– cak –––
––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak –––
cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak –––
––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– ––– cak ––– cak

From that moment, disease began to ease as death and illness were overcome by sheer oral percussion. To this day, the people of Bona believe that the chanting and dances in trance outside the temple walls saved the village from the epidemic. This moment also marked the emergence of Bali’s most popular dance performance: the Kecak.

In its history from a sacred to a secular chant, the most famous Kecak dancer is I Wayan Limbak from the village Bedulu. When interviewed in the 90s about the origin of Kecak, he recalls a story with a similar arc. Already in the early 19th century, before the Dutch colonization of Bali and in the era of Bali’s kingdoms, Kecak dances accompanied trance rituals, the so-called Sanghyangs. These Sanghyangs were held every year to prevent the cholera pandemic, a rite of prayer performed every night around the village that was believed to ward the disease away.

No items found.

Inside the Phonogramm-Archiv, the room we’re in is just large enough for three. Monochrome, ethnographic photographs from a non-European continent decorate otherwise plain walls, while drawers are labeled by geography: ‘Afrika’, ‘Asien’, ‘Amerika’ and 'Ozeanien’. On the table we’re led towards, a Hi-Fi receiver is connected to a pair of speakers and a myriad of playback devices for a variety of mediums—vinyl records, magnetic tape, analog audio cassettes and compact discs. We immerse ourselves into Kunst’s recording of the Kecak via the wax cylinder’s digitized successor, a DAT cassette tape.

Every transferred sound begins with a short, customary introduction which signposts from which cylinder and collection the listener is about to hear:

Es folgt die Übertragung der Walzen der Sammlung “Kunst, Bali”. Es folgt Walze 1. 
[Coming up the transfer of the cylinders of the collection “Kunst, Bali”. Coming up, Cylinder 1.]
No items found.

Additional materials of correspondence, provenance and consignment accompany the phonographic recording. Yellowed papers of different grammage, typesets, handwriting and signatures compose together what feel and appear as the past breaking into the present. A watermark shines through one prominent sheet: a mark which signifies the longing of its maker, towards the distant islands the sounds of these cylinders were first captured on. Another sheet of paper reveals terse descriptions of all fifteen wax cylinders recorded by Kunst in Bali: 

Abridged from numbers five and six: “Sanghyang dedari. Male choir (at the end gaggling [Schnattern])”, “mostly gaggle [Geschnatter]”.

It remains uncertain who exactly wrote these descriptions. Scribed in German, the curators of the archive assure us that both the director of the Phonogramm-Archiv at the time Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and his colleague Curt Sachs were diligent in avoiding disrespectful formulations. Whoever it was, these words reprise another compression of the actual acoustic event.

 

Confined to this room at the Phonogramm-Archiv, one’s listening to Kecak is directly produced by the archive’s prefigured auras of hospitality and hostility: the latter feeling affected through the bureaucracies a visitor must face to be given permission to access the collection’s hold. Given the inability to revisit the recording’s original event, any act of listening to its field recording will forever reanimate the conditions in which a colonial gaze captured it. Though, in this space of re-listening, the hands of coloniality and premature technology are easily forgotten. The field recording we listen to operates not only as a narrow range of frequencies, but narrow-minded vectors of power: it comes to represent a recording of an assumed, objective reality. The DAT cassette dislocates the event of Kecak and echoes its sound further away. Is there room for narrative to diverge inside the Phonogramm-Archiv?

No items found.

III. Diverging

In recent years, the act of listening to the wax cylinder had been temporarily transposed outside of the Phonogramm-Archiv listening room—though this public display was only down the corridor.9 In 2013, as part of the Humboldt Lab Dahlem programme the exhibition Seeing Music: Lichtklangphonogramm transformed the optical and mechanical characteristics of the archive’s wax cylinder collection, producing novel installations that facilitated an alternate perception of listening. The artists behind the exhibition—Melissa Cruz Garcia, Aleksander Kolkowski, Matteo Marangoni and Anne Wellmer—produced a mixture of site-specific installations: magic lanterns that visualised a cylinder's textural grooves, self-made ‘gramoscopes’ that hacked a gramophone’s tunnel by transforming it into a projector of light and image, and a multi-body listening booth of selected recordings from collection. Described as an artistic treatment of ethnographic material, the artists facilitated an ocular engagement with an event originally recorded as something purely sonic.10 When asked about the exhibition’s potential to inform the Humboldt Forum’s unconfirmed future display of wax cylinders, Ethnologisches Museum director Lars-Christian Koch appeared skeptical of the presence of artistic intervention within this space:


“As an ethnological museum, we have an educational mission. We are not an art museum. If we want to seriously convey what other music cultures are like, how they treat sound in their processes, how they shape sound, then the question is, how much art or artistic design we require to optimize this conveyance.”11

 

Koch’s hesitancy to open up room for such narratives in the space of the Humboldt Forum is unsurprising given the long-standing aversion between ethnographer and artist.12 His intention to ‘optimize’ artistic interpretation neglects the reality that both the music and cultures recorded were done so on the aforementioned colonial terms. Silencing the noise contained in these field recordings omits its glaring context from the museum’s “educational mission”, not too distant from a former ‘civilising mission’. If Seeing Music’s artistic intervention of re-interpreting the wax cylinder is not welcome at the Humboldt Forum, another means of listening must be sought out beyond the confines of the listening room. By decentering the diegetic sound of Kecak heard within this particular wax cylinder, we turn instead towards the recording’s incidental, underscored noise to listen to its other realities that were present at the time of recording. 


Our ears hone in: the Dutch colonial rule of Bali began in 1849 and reached full control after two puputans (mass suicides) by the royal houses of Badung and Klungkung, in 1906 and 1908 respectively. At this juncture, a cultural policy known as Baliseering (Balinisation) was enforced to prohibit the ‘modernisation’ of Bali and maintain it as a ‘living museum’. Such realities were inaudible, beyond sound and the Phonogramm-Archiv’s collection, and stand to be heard in the noise of Jaap Kunst’s recording.

 

In More Brilliant than the Sun (1998), artist and theorist Kodwo Eshun advocates for a methodology that enables another kind of listening. Eshun’s alignment of Afrofuturist frequencies with jazz, breakbeat, as well early techno productions, drove him to propose a means of listening to artistic compositions outside that of Western theory and its canonical methods of analysis. Instead, he carves out an idiosyncratic guidebook for “dense personal narrations of imaginations” that emphasises an auditory experience’s material output: vinyl grooves, record sleeves and liner notes included.13 Sound artist Pedro Oliveira has framed sonic fiction’s potential through its ability to voice previously unheard stories, to modify the perception of sound and its effect/affect, in ways that are as much political as they are aesthetic.14 He writes:

 

“Eshun’s sonic fictions are...a means by which the subaltern speak, sound, and unfold their knowledge as theory and culture. Sonic fictions are the proposal for a radical divorce from so-called universal (metropolitan and/or Eurocentric) theories of musicology and social and cultural studies, to make room for other systems to claim their space.”15

Utilising Eshun’s methodology of sonic fiction onto the colonial artefacts in the Phonogramm-Archiv comes highly charged, however. We must first decouple artistry from artefact, renouncing Jaap Kunst—and any field recordist complicit in the archive’s creation—from the role of artist in their production of the wax cylinder’s recording. Doing so allows us to listen with the noise and not with its producer: a reminder of the place and context through which the cylinder was first inscribed, a reminder of the spatial and temporal distance between listener and event—the listening room and Bali. In other words, we decenter the ethnographer as producer and compose a means of listening beyond their control.


A step further, our interest in sonic fiction is woven and informed by Saidiya Hartman’s notion of ‘critical fabulation’: a discursive practice that deals with representing what the archive deliberately omits. In Hartman's essay Venus in Two Acts (2008), she attempts to tell an impossible story: the account of an enslaved young girl, brutally killed whilst captive on a British slave ship. The personhood of Venus, named only once in the legal documents from the trials that followed, emerges at the very limits of the archive. Hartman's writing is at times autobiographical, leaning into a similar empiricism to that of Eshun’s sonic fiction that reveals her authorship in (parallel to) the story of Venus. As much a counter-history as it is critical theory, Hartman welds the gaps between silence and noise. In our own undertaking, such gaps—marked between Jaap Kunst’s original recording of Kecak onto a wax cylinder and our own act of listening today—establish an opportunity to compose a historical narrative counter to that which was originally inscribed.

Woven together, a sonic fabulation is one that must tell one of many impossible stories contained within the Phonogramm-Archiv. To displace Jaap Kunst’s gaze and mediation, we drum up another imaginary. Widening the aperture for analysis beyond soundwaves alone, a sonic fabulation of the wax cylinder and other, similar objects departs from the depot and listens with the yellowed documents left behind, the broken wax seals of colonial correspondence, and the haphazard commentary made by archivists which are bundled up with preserved recordings. With each act of sonic fabulation, the wax cylinder’s suspension inside the archive might then be slowly loosened.

 

To tell a story ‘against’ the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv, as Saidiya Hartman might say, is to tell a story of the wax cylinder’s sonic debris. What was once consequential, the unintended and immovable residue of its mechanical recording, is felt out differently as a sense-making tool for critical ways of interpreting the sonic artefact. Turning directly towards this space in between silence and noise, other subjects for listening emerge.

 

Throughout the wax cylinder’s unstable course of living, revolutions may result in death. At a rate somewhere between 80 and 250 per minute, their divergence narrates its own story.

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Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung is founding editor of Decolonial Hacker. He is currently part of the public programs team at documenta fifteen, on sabbatical from his role as curatorial assistant at the Julia Stoschek Collection. He holds degrees in art history, gender studies and law from the University of Sydney. In 2021, Eugene won the International Award for Art Criticism (IAAC).