On dakim's '34 Fragments'

One curious aspect of so-called Conceptualism is the form’s latent interplay of excess and insufficiency. If a given Conceptual work privileges dissolution, then what precisely is being dissolved? Is the text meant to serve as the deleterious excretion of a corrosive authorial edifice? Or is the authorial edifice also in on the decay, and so reified? And if dissolution is part of the game at all, then why is its published output so frequently beholden to relative girth and overload? As Tan Lin succinctly and beautifully puts it in Seven Controlled Vocabularies (Wesleyan, 2010), “mold multiplies on existing structures where abortive mimicry takes the form of routine contrivance” (84).

While such a rubric of intentional delimitation — in Conceptualism’s case, textually construed — provides an unusual allegorical model for experiential problems of the quotidian, a work like dakim’s 34 Fragments (Senufo Editions, 2012) at once plays into and vexes a dialectic of waste and production. In many ways, this work trades in an aestheticized absence that opposes deficiency to compostability while sustaining its own affective complexities.

Take the cover as an example: several threads of ambiguous metadata appear on the front and back of the release, but only one of them appears to be a set. Enclosed by a curly bracket, splitroom’s conspicuous cardinality beguiles, potentially before one even listens.

Are these the nine inconsistent components listed on Senufo’s product page? Are they a music notational reference (i.e., joining staves), a pun on command sequences, something else? What differentiates them from the otherwise unbracketed liner notes (i.e., metadata) and the tripartite structure that organizes the rest of the release?

Working from the information provided on the product page and sleeve, we see that four subsets or groupings make up the primary explicatory framework for the release’s thirty-four untitled tracks. But try as one might, there are leftovers.

A quick breakdown: “sections A–M” consist of field recordings made while dakim (née Dakim Saadiq) was “lost” on Bay Area Rapid Transit; “extensions 1–6” are a “further study of audible displacement”; “track/channel set” presents the outcome of a tape subjected to various abuses, trashings, and weatherings; finally, there’s “splitroom,” our aforementioned set: both an admixture of instrumentation produced by assorted household products (e.g., stew pot, lamp, ladder) as well as the conversion of their recorded output from analog to digital formats and “insertion/removal of audio plugs.” Are the nine numbers the objects of its ensemble? The quantity of tracks?

In any case, it’s too much. “A–M” contains thirteen tracks if one is given for each letter, “extensions 1–6” six. Nineteen total so far, which leaves us with fifteen more slots to fill. How then to account for both the seemingly arbitrary construction of “track/channel set” — which is named a set, rather than represented as one — and the feasibly conjoined data of “splitroom”? To name the remaining tracks, say, after the former’s physical processes (approximately sixteen) exceeds the total, and that’s not even including “splitroom.”

Even 34 Fragments (per Senufo or Discogs) feels like an unreliable constant of a title. Couldn’t you read it as “results in 34 fragments,” per the sleeve? Is this metadata actually referential, or just an overlay?

Attribution might be easier if these sections were distinguished by differentiated aural aesthetics, but even here, everything shares a worn down texturing: source tapes, BART rumble. In other words, the patina is consistent, and always recycled.

Excess considered as environmental happenstance suits a randomized analysis of displacements local, infrastructural, and technological; it also delays potential harmonization with the release’s titular ambiguity. These sections are products of frustration and continuation, critiques of the more insidious excess given empires (e.g. the Bay Area techno-cracy) that homogenize cultural life and waste neighborhoods.

The tape is a recycler and a site of decay and absence: its click signals a punch into a magnetic strip, which in turn notates a palimpsestic and individuated track — a track that can only partially count towards the spool from which it is now inconsistent, at least texturally. Absence as the nonresidue of decay, decay as the nonrhythm of absence, displacement as the nonsite of both.

This aesthetic intentionality — if it can be called that — would then preclude a functional teleology, and would result in the apparent breakdown of sets as engines of moralization and/or order. The surface wear of an imminently segmented decomposition as such is determined via its propensity for integrating forms — one’s own and one’s surroundings, frictive and noisy shuffling — as, rather, impending nonfictions that feed outward, immune to methodological recovery or lack of metadata.

As nonfictions, are these “results” an afterimage of documented inquiry or an amalgam of arbitrarily gathered remnants? Are they only materials recovered during the conducting of an experimental uprootedness?

34 Fragments
utilizes its remainders as omnidirectional recyclables: grouped units broken down and fed into the composition of a future iteration. All this contains some residue of hip-hop production, at least in terms of sampling (cf. dakim’s other releases), through which looping repurposes or advances the discarded, the overplayed, the (nearly) forgotten. Were one to draw another comparison to Conceptualism, the methodologies of sampling might resonate with the collection of data demonstrated by some of its products, and in the mimeses those products assume.

As such, it’s important to note that dakim is working with garbage and compostables. Garbage upends an anthrodigressive inevitability of piling and deterioration, only dimly apparent to passersby. An empty soda or a crumpled napkin are not exactly finished when they’re disposed of, but are instead recirculated, if only toward their disintegration; they accumulate and vanish at a stable rate (depending, naturally, on how much one’s city has poured into waste management). Their foremost topological features are always subsumed by an expectant or imminent removability. The exacerbation of clean living and the nuisance of garbage’s very presence as such commingle in voided, rejected materials. Compostables, meanwhile, make a nutrient of waste. A lot of people compost in the Bay.

Reading 34 Fragments as a kind of empathetic or animistic bracketing of an individual’s relationship with a particular environment is both possible and extremely problematic. While recycling and displacement suggest dependable themes for interpretation, the ambience of the production leaves much to the imagination — “section J” feels little different from “section D,” for instance.

Maybe there’s also a randomized percolation between this walking and riding around, the recording of it, the transfer it makes between frames by which one’s life is represented or transposed (cf. Graham Lambkin, Moniek Darge); maybe it’s the rhythmic systems that organize and characterize their collection (cf. Jarrod Fowler, Ahnnu). Either way, these bring to mind the reciprocal variability between experimenter and experiment so crucial to quantum mechanics.

Other takes: electricity as an etymological result of resin and as related to dakim’s note on analog/digital conversion, as related to Turfing —especially its iterations on BART — which pit fluidly dislocatable instances of body against train platform; Daktronics, the company that (by sheer coincidence?) manufactures all of BART’s LED monitors; as a ghosting, a remembrance.

Yet these lines also beget a contemplation of the cassette. Distancing presupposes metaphor here as an ultimately “imperative” decompositional cyclicity, one reticently posited, and whose dispersal surrounds local networks, listeners, and riders — its retained artefactuality a presentation disaggregated into numbers and objects. 34 Fragments draws its temporal disjunctions up like so many parabolae: they are splits and curves, sporadic collections of terms rendered by the order they cluster and keep around, if only momentarily.