Pulse continuity haunts A Long Echo to Noise. It haunts the installation because, there, it cannot be experienced. The interactions between this piece’s vinyl and needle are machinic, nonhuman. They will fade out, but not for human ears. They sit, unlistenable, well below even the productive energies of perception, and hence their ability to mediate experience is in question. Matter and medium appear to come apart. Or if some subterranean connection still remains between them, what Traubeck’s experiments with sound show is that, among the spectral affinities shared by material processes and the rhythms of cognition and perception, there lingers a question regarding to whom or what a particular medium is addressed.
There are ways, however, to heuristically - or, as I will soon show, axiologically - approach this problem. Félix Guattari’s work on political and libidinal ecology centers around similar processes. His use of cybernetic concepts such as allopoietic and autopoietic processing gauges the way subjectivity is processed over and through a jagged and heterogeneous terrain, one woven together by machinic interfaces, semiotic and material fluxes, and the flows of capital. In Chaosmosis, systems theory offers a privileged view of these phenomena because the twin structures of allopoiesis and autopoiesis frame a milieu of many moving, though apparently disparate, parts within a kind of matter-agnostic ecological analysis.15 Guattari uses allopoiesis to designate machines producing “something other than themselves,” as opposed to autopoietic machines that “engender and specify their own organisation and limits” (1995: 35). While the latter only respond to alterities in their environment, recalibrating production and regulation as external perturbations require, allopoietic systems seek these alterities out; they organize what they will not be (a car on an assembly line, a child in a womb). In the case of Pet Sounds the record modulates into this latter sphere when its refrains manage to breach the material of cognition; those allopoietic figures send a listener’s brain into its own autopoietic circuit of reiterated and reiterating phrases, organized first from without and then propelled along on their own. A voice pipes up in the ensemble, and like the composition technique from which this draws, others join in an imitation of that original theme.
But in its crossings between one register of materiality and the next, the allopoietic shades back into the autopoietic. Once bridged, the former’s heterogeneous materials begin to operate in tandem and will do so with a degree of stability until the joint force of their newly operative autopoiesis takes on yet another allopoietic trend. The process is less dialectical than phasic, and for Guattari, rewriting the junctures of these systems as so many modalities within a single structure demands a rethinking of autopoiesis “in terms of evolutionary, collective entities, which maintain diverse types of relations of alterity, rather than being implacably closed in on themselves” (1995: 39-40). Opening this autopoietic closure stretches Guattari’s thinking beyond a human frame to point toward a “prospection” of value and reference among “virtual Universes,” ones extended toward sites where machines couple together in ecologies operating “in relations of complementarity or agonistic relations [...] or again in the relations of parts of apparatuses” (1995: 41). Canvassing these clashes of forces - interior even to the constituent parts of a single machine - enunciates change less as the clean transfer of force or information between objects, building upwards to singularity, than as “wear and tear, fine balance, breakdowns, and entropy” (1995: 41). Moreover, this change may be entirely outside the purview of perception, as it often is in Traubeck, making a careful, sometimes unabashedly straightforward listing of these breakdowns a necessary step toward understanding their subsequent interactions with consciousness.16 “Details count here,” writes Matthew Fuller in his analysis of distributed systems like pirate radio and shipping containers. “Perhaps any discussion of media technology needs to meet with and use at times the convention of a ‘straightforward’ account” (2005: 45).17
As Traubeck’s Fisher-Price needle grinds against vinyl until the latter wears away, it enunciates machinic alterity - and the entropy accompanying it - to the finest degree. The components of this ensemble touch each other, and in their touching, acclimate to their mutual frictions through a nonhuman operation that will slowly adjust to its own stresses and stabilize itself with a set of elements unique to its organization. Eventually this system will scratch itself into silence, but not before that silencing progresses through any number of changes in autopoietic stability and allopoietic viscosity. Here, auto- and allopoietic forces are accounted for, a chaotic and machinic history materialized; media are cozied up, touching one another, and material storage eventuates entropy - all too cleanly, perhaps. Indeed, framing A Long Echo to Noise under Guattari’s thinking seems to leave no room for the machinic autonomies he otherwise champions. Formalized theory would utterly capture their operations, in stark contrast to the immanent activity these autonomies reveal. Crucially though, while Chaosmosis walks both up to and through the point at which the tonearm’s needle and Traubeck’s vinyl meet, theorizing this moment ends in an almost untheoretic particularity, that which Fuller calls a “straightforward account.” As is so often the case in Traubeck’s pieces, the problem is the way materiality - a materiality in which perception participates - grates against formalized medium specificity: a full exposition of A Long Echo to Noise would need to account for how the record he encodes “usually deteriorates fast and then slows down at some point because as the grooves get smoother, less friction is produced between needle and groove. So it [the rate of decay] really depends on the needle, the heat it produces through friction, which is again the quality of the needle, the weight of the vinyl and how much weight is added to the tonearm.”18 Needle and vinyl almost meld, and even Guattari’s formalizations in Chaosmosis would curtail a view of that process as it unfolds amid this assemblage’s good vibrations.
Without an inbuilt way to delimit the elements of this installation - and resisting such limitations is precisely what Guattari aims to do with autopoiesis - this tabulation may never end. Paradoxically, a specified account of these details would seem to lead to an elision, at a different, formal level, of medium specificity. It induces what Fuller calls a full-blown “crisis of the object in art” (2005: 74). Are the needle and vinyl one medium, or many? What of the tonearm? What of the pedestal on which the piece sits, to say nothing of the listener in the room? What of the gallery space, its lights, its tiles, its walls? Might they also mediate an experience of A Long Echo to Noise, even if they largely elude perception?19 The problems entailed in Traubeck’s installations point toward the fact that anything may be a medium (a fact wholly emboldened by Grusin), so that drawing the lines around a specific site of mediation to include every relevant element therein is nearly, if not outright, impossible. And yet, bounding such sites stands as a necessary condition for the beginning of critical analysis.
This problem is amplified, perhaps exponentially, when a theory such as Guattari’s comes to take these difficulties into account. “In the context of a reductionist modernity,” he writes, “it is up to us to rediscover that for every promotion of a machinic intersection there corresponds a specific constellation of Universes of value from the moment a partial non-human enunciation has been instituted” (1995: 47). There “is no generalized syntax for these deterritorialisations” (1995: 52), with the result that following his theory elides medium specificity - because theory is just such a generalized syntax - while simultaneously tracking down medium specificity to gauge its particular effects. The theory of specific values Guattari develops in Chaosmosis enjoins critics to take an object on its own terms, only to erase itself as one begins to follow out its very commands. It demands an “axiological complexion,” one including “all the machine modalities of valorisation: the values of desire, aesthetic values, ecological, [and] economic values” (1995: 55). A course, then, that charts its way among each of these values will become itself auto- and allopoietic, for as it extends its terrain to cover more points in an assemblage, this course manufactures further extensions, further outsides.20 Always on the lookout for these sites of expansion, the logics of Guattari’s axiological complexion drive themselves forward and, paradoxically, drive themselves differently. An analysis of this kind will sit both within these logics and entirely beyond them.