The Upward Spiral

“The Upward Spiral” (2010)

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 tones or looping cycles that appear to constantly accelerate, or rise in pitch – the sonic equivalent of a barber pole stripe, moving always 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 an azimuth, a state of motion so extreme that it provokes an ontological shift. These sounds play with the auditory illusion of continuous acceleration 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 attempting to guide us into smooth channels, as we blindly expand forever in wild directions.

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