the upward spiral

by lucky dragons

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Optical illusions have a healthy life in the world—as puzzles, cognitive experiments, quiz tricks, and platforms for mind-bending artworks—but auditory illusions (tricks of the ear) are less well documented, less well understood. Two examples of auditory illusions that were discovered relatively long ago, Risset rhythms and Shepard tones, deal with pitches or looping patterns that give the appearance of constant motion in a single direction: infinite acceleration, or a pitch that is always rising—the sonic equivalent of a barber pole stripe, moving upwards as it rotates (the opposite effect, a pitch continuously descending or a rhythm forever slowing down, also qualify). Examples of these illusions privilege the smooth, consistent rise: seamless and eternal. But what about the lumpy, striped or stepped rise, hopscotching or leapfrogging forward? Isn't there something salient and familiar about a clumsy version of vertigo?

Accelerationism proposes an end-game scenario for capitalism that either transcends the currently visible horizon, entering some unforeseen landscape (free from constraint), or results in technological singularity—in either case, eternal acceleration suggests moving along an asymptote so extreme that it provokes an ontological shift for everyone. These sounds play with the auditory illusion of continuous acceleration, but with a particular focus on the clumsy, spontaneous, and sporadic leaps that reflect our own engagement with progress. Two steps forward one step back; we digest the shapes of boundaries, constraints, and borders which attempt to guide us into smooth channels, as we blindly expand forever in wild directions.


released February 2, 2010




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