How can contemporary music drift into non-music? Distinguishing musicality as a unique sonic behavior in reference to an official, ‘universal’ epistemology doesn’t feel incredibly pressing, interesting, or possible. This is not to mention the fact that both John Cage’s work on silence and the Italian Futurists’ devotion to noise relied more on metanarratives of music history that have since intensely fragmented. And yet, English artist Teresa Winter’s new record Untitled Death, released via The Death of Rave on September 15, makes a persuasive case for a uniquely inviting kind of non-music. Or, more to the point: the work is suspended between music and non-music, asymptotically gravitating back and forth while it unwinds internally.
Untitled Death doesn’t purport to induce something formally new into the legitimated archive of music history. ‘Non-music’ is more interesting as an index for the aesthetics of fatigue and decomposition. The album is enunciated through traditionally musical forms like drones and chords, but there’s an interesting way that it just falls out of reach of the affective pull usually found in music. The difference is not an abandonment of musical principles of organization but a certain estranged relation with feeling, communication, and productivity. These six songs aren’t quite able to get out of bed and go to work.
Steadfast anhedonia charges Untitled Death’s affective world is almost completely unalloyed sense. It becomes oddly mesmerizing: feeling bad while feeling good while feeling not very much at all. This has something in common with ASMR, a libidinal, extra-musical sonic craft: simply there on the screen, no aura, unmiraculous. Affect is modulated on a granular level, reminiscent of SSRIs’ dulling edge—the lowest lows might be mostly gone for now, but so are the most piercing shades of joy, replaced with a self-alienating defamiliarization process. Settling back into self to find that the furniture has all been rearranged.
Arrangements that might be considered normatively ‘beautiful’ or ‘pleasing’ occur regularly on the record, but barely happen. Corrugated keyboard improvisations and lulling chord sweeps on the first track, ‘Oh,’ render ambivalence sublime, inviting the listener to participate in melty iterations of non-event. Time moves like a protracted, time-stretched sample of an ephemeral mood shift: the sudden realization of dissociative non-sovereignty in the face of vapid aporia. Even the record’s most visceral moments, like the billowing ‘นม and Earth’ or the strained release of ‘สวรรค and Earth,’ are like empty husks degrading from the inside out. Agoraphobic vignettes ‘Untitled Death,’ ‘Anatomie De Lenfer,’ and ‘Pain Of Outside’ are similarly structured by tense auto-negation.
During one vocal passage on ‘Oh,’ Winter decides, ‘I really wanna hear excitement.’ She then sings ‘Oh’ in a descending lament suggestive of attempted sensual indulgence, turning it into a guiding refrain. Vividness is generated according to apophenia protocols attuned to intense banality: producing meaning just below the threshold of beholding anything worth really noticing. In that way the album alludes to something like horror through negative inference: substantively disturbing punctum crowds the constitutive outside of the mise en scène’s frame like fog.
There’s a phrase in Paul the Apostle’s Epistle to the Romans that could be turned into a template for thinking through intense sensation, and its lack: ‘Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.’ On Untitled Death, the subjectivation process Paul figures as “law” does not have a strong positive presence—like the stylistics of horror, it is mostly defined negatively. Instead of “law,” Winter organizes sensation in relation to something like a deictic linguistic function without a center: a word like ‘this’ or ‘that’ that just hovers without reference, lacking denotational meaning without context.
Constituting meaningful absence and a mode of productive eschatology, deixis is the means of distribution for the record’s anti-desiring thrill. The approach is reminiscent of Italian composer Lorenzo Senni’s formal experiments deferring the spectacle of pleasure fulfillment in mainstream electronic music, withholding the mythical ‘drop.’ Where Senni is concerned with the enthralling rush of corporate rave that never arrives, Winter engages much more quotidian material. Untitled Death isn’t fatigued in the sense that it feels half-hearted or poorly executed on a technical level. Rather, the work just seems tired, and held in a world that is very tired. The album reminds us that anhedonia has a vivid internal life of its own, with many textures and registers.**