Radio Quarantine – Joel Graham – Urban Animism (1984)

I’ve often made offhand allusions to the idea of urban animalism, or rather to the city having a life and a life force of its own, one large organism in and of itself. It has its own life force, its own energy and one could say its own soul. We’re each a part of it, of course, but no more or less than any other piece, organic or inorganic. We’re each a skin cell on a larger beast and when we move or pass on we’re replaced, etc.

JOEL GRAHAM, an artist who at least used to be based in San Francisco, is entirely new to me, but we are kindred entities in these… suspicions? Observations? This idea is ostensibly what Urban Animism is about, this living thing, in his case, the Bay Area. Just a little background from the Archaic Inventions blog, where the arcane, odd and rare are archived:

Animism – the attribution of a living soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena – placed in an urban context reveals the underlying sound of a city that is defined by urban development (city-planning, industry etc.) and its social structures (inhabitants, movement, classes). A concept that is also to be heard in certain tracks by Venezuelan electronic composer Angel Rada for example. An esoteric sonic interplay between what is visible and invisible in the urban environment.

I would say that the soul of New York City defies any single person’s ability to accurately define it as being this or that. We will each see, hear and experience it in our own way, from our own biases, etc. It exists not as our individual perceptions, but all of our perceptions collectively, and beyond that. It is its own beast. We each see what we see. We hear what we hear. Smell what we smell. And so on. It’s bigger than all of us and will continue to mutate and evolve as it always has done. And the rare individual will attempt to capture the essence and maybe release a limited run cassette or CE or digital album and it could come out something like this. It’s just too big for any of us to get a complete view of its reality.

This recording though is nearly 40 years old now and still there are familiar elements. The samples of the street sounds are warm and familiar and then you go deeper into an unknown and it’s somewhere in there that the essence exists. There is nothing threatening or mysterious about any of it, not mysterious in any eerie sense. It’s just life. We may see a flower and be comforted by it, but we don’t see the part beneath the earth that isn’t as traditionally lovely. We don’t see it on the frenzied cellular level. We can only imagine that it has its own intentions. That’s how the music here moves along. That’s how anything moves along.

Enough ramble though. One day I will be able to more aptly explain this bigger life beyond our life. I’ve half-jokingly told people that I’m an animist and not an atheist or even an agnostic. We never see the overwhelming majority of the world in motion/action. It’s beyond us. Any one of us only ever exists on the surface of everything going on, like a microscopic mite. There is life in everything though, even that which our science describes as inorganic. When we move singly or in groups we set off a ripple effect in everything else. Nothing is ever still. Nothing is ever really dead.

Nothing ever really has more than a working definition because all our words are invented to suit our bias and nothing more than that. There are an infinite number of objects and phenomena that we have no words for. That’s where the mystery is.

Does that make enough sense for you?

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