We have been lied to, subjected to a cruel and chilly lie, one so vast and total it’s no longer fully perceivable but has turned into the unseen substrate of everyday life. It’s a political lie. They told us that outer space is beautiful
- The Manifesto of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space
ASCHE Though a quiet slimebabe, can tell a heart-breaking tale via the slightest tremble of a hand. ASCHE gets their name from the mud-planes of WHITE DUST where they spontaneously coalesced from the corpses of an ancient army. Although they are only a guest in their current body and long to rejoin a fluid existence, they have secretly grown fond of their warm meatbag companions. FLAME Hotheaded tomboy with a lust for entropy. She worked as a body double during the 'new queer motorsport' craze of the 22nd century but was let go after an incident that resulted in the ignition of Jupiter's atmosphere. In her quest to disembowel the stars she accidentally invoked ASCHE into this world. They now have a weird but functional patch-work-type relationship. THE SHIP Formless, flippant body-swapper. Have lived a billion lifetimes in their search for ever more extravagant and delicious skeletal remains to occupy. They have grown weary of this reality and have therefore agreed to aid FLAME and ASCHE in their quest. SHIP are often seen enveloping the gang in a hunk of bones to provide shelter and sustenance. THE SUN Many epic poems and love songs have been written about this majestic celestial body. All of them wrong of course. THE SUN has no mistresses. She is YOUR mistress. Submit. OFF Pretends to be an all-knowing diva but is actually just THE SUN in crossdress.
A divination for 4 players: I.Each player rolls a dice. The player with the most regrets takes the first turn. II.Each player chooses a role, then receives and shuffles their respective deck: The Flame - Suit of Wands Asche - Suit of Coins A Telescope Driver - Suit of Cups The Sun - Suit of Swords III.Each turn, draw three cards and place them face-down. Hang on to them as long as you can bear. Then discard. Players may choose to draw from other's discard piles. IV.Fall in love. Grow older. Fall out of love. Rekindle an old friendship. Meet again in a million billion years. V. The Sun has now lost. End of game.
Welcome to the swampland. This page is an accompaniment to the elusive but quite hot electro-organic opera called Heiße Asche. It was formulated as part of a graduation project at the Kunsthochschule Kassel from around early 2020 to the late, meandering summer of 2021. Like the opera itself, it remains a fragmented piece of work through which I want to invite you far into the thick trek of operatic production. If you have ever had the chance to bear witness to a production of Heiße Asche, I hope the following words will be of some consolation to you.
Sending fierce love,
In March 2020 I bought a telescope off someone on eBay Kleinanzeigen for 10€. It came with a very dusty spare parts
catalog that dates its production to sometime in the 1990s. The telescope
itself is a Bresser 76/700 reflector type, which means that it
works by collecting and bundling light via a curved mirror, almost like a
collecting rainwater. Self-proclaimed internet astronomy enthusiasts would
call this Bresser a
torpedo, due to
its very common and cheap make which makes it look like an underwater
projectile. But for me it is a fascinating device that I retrofitted with
various parts like a 3D printed solar filter, which I later used to record
footage of the June 2021 solar eclipse.
At the time I already knew that I wanted Heiße Asche to be
somewhat sci-fi-y but was still leaning towards weird fantasy, marshy planets and anthropomorphic monsters. While playing around with the telescope and the
imagery it produced, however, I remembered a text I had read some years
prior: The Manifesto of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space.
It is a wild thing that makes me giddy with excitement:
We have been lied to, subjected to a cruel and chilly lie, one so vast
and total it’s no longer fully perceivable but has turned into the
unseen substrate of everyday life. It’s a political lie. They told us
that outer space is beautiful[...]We do not hate outer space, because
it’s impossible to hate something that doesn’t exist. When the universe
is already in the process of unmaking itself, when this unmaking of
itself is the first condition and the final truth of its unreal
existence, abolishing it means something very different from destroying
it. Our slogans are short and rousing (“Fuck the moon!”), but we intend
to abolish outer space out of love.
My opera owes much to this manifesto. Its exhilarating critique of the
colonialist culture of space exploration in juxtaposition with this
magical, unreal and defiant language seemed to be just what I was looking
for as a basis for Heiße Asche's libretto: A quest
to abolish the sun and the universe felt just operatic and fantastical
enough while still being utterly ridiculous.
Bresser 76/700 reflector telescope with dust cover.
Early on in this production process it became apparent to me that I had to build some kind of instrument. I did not want the soundscape of the opera to just remain this abstract yearning of samples and voices but instead wanted something haptic and gestural to contain this desire. Something that would enable a form of embodiment for the sounds. Unfortunately the aesthetics of the MIDI input devices I was using at the time were utterly dull and pretty much devoid of any haptic pleasure, so I decided to create my own.
I think out of everything I did I spend the most time researching and building this instrument, even though it was only one small piece in the opera stage installation. My concepts were particularly influenced by 1980s Midi instruments like the Suzuki Omnichord or ROM synthesizers like the Suiko ST series: Devices with that yellowed ABS plastic look and cheap sounds that try to emulate other non-electronic sounds. I also looked at the earliest electronic instruments like the theremin, an instrument that is played without touch and which is also heavily associated with campy sounds in sci-fi and monster flicks.
Overall I created maybe four or five prototypes for instrument designs. At one point the instrument was connected to these ultrasonic piezo elements that through their vibrations would vaporize water molecules and create mist, so instead of noise the instrument would make nebulous and leaky substances. But while it was a hot thing to explore at the time, I realized that this part of my work should have been its own dedicated project and not an addendum to an already elaborate opera concept. In the end I did scale this part way down and even had to resort to including those fiendish MIDI controllers to perform the score. It would be a lot of fun to rework all my sketches and electronic schematics into something like an instruction manual for a kind of speculative instrument whose function and sound would remain ambiguous.
Piezoelectric disk soldered to circuitry which generates ultrasonic frequencies.
Perhaps it is an understatement to say that I get sidetracked occasionally.
One such sidetrack happened during the production of the opera when I got
the sudden impulse to create a 3D sequel to the 2010 RPG Maker game
Space Funeral. The story of Space Funeral revolves around protagonist Philip
who perhaps dies at the beginning and then starts on a quest to save the
world from a mysterious corruption. Along
the way Philip gathers his party (Leg Horse, once a human but turned into a
horse made out of legs) in search for the legendary City of Forms in order
to restore the world. The as of now unreleased sequel called Space Funeral 3D takes place a million billion years after the
events of Space Funeral and was made with a software called
a deep level editor with lots of features. I can best describe KateLabs as a just-for-fun game making software that is very janky to use.
The interface can be quite confusing and the whole thing was programmed in
the ancient Blitz BASIC language, making the tool prone
to crashes and the occasional misclick which causes you to loose hours of
I really did want to make a very straight, conservative RPG, but part
of the reason I wanted to make one was the strange composting of
meaning and character and theme that used to happen when I was making
RPG Maker games years before - starting over and over again from
scratch, keeping the character names and a few rough outlines but
reusing them in different ways each time, so that any random character
might cycle through being a party member, a bartender, an emperor, a
villain... So while it was disappointing to feel like I'd spent six
months of work in the wrong direction I was also excited to feel like
at last, I was recovering the "true swamp mindset".... I had all these
vague ideas in my head and had run through enough builds and variations
that they were all becoming confused and mixed together[...]in other
words....... I was finally in the perfect state of mind to work on my
homebrew RPG ;}
Perhaps that is where my unhealthy obsession with producing this fan-sequel came from. But there is another connection: The ending of Space Funeral is this weird meta-commentary on the technological framing and community around RPG Makers game-making at that time. It is kind of a lame joke but also a cathartic ending due to its use of iconography. And that reminded me of something else.
During scene ten of The Rocky Horror Picture Show
, as the floor show amps up to its great finale, Frank-N-Furter enters the
stage posing in front of a giant recreation of the RKO Radio Pictures logo. All action halts for an orchestrated
version of the RKO jingle to let this grandiose entrance soak in.
The making of Rocky Horror was heavily influenced by the kitschy
tropes of 40s and 50s monster and sci-fi schlock movies
and the cinema culture around them. Originally considered one of the
five Hollywood studios, RKO at
the time was a major distributor of these low friction B movies. For me
this is one of the defining moments of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with Frankie's marvelous burlesque
outfit and the blaring fanfares as the camera slowly zooms in on the
cardboard cutouts spelling
AN RKO RADIO PICTURE. It is at once stunningly
grandiose and incredibly ridiculous.
With its archaic interface and recycled asset library KateLabs is a perfect place to set up a grand operatic narrative that devolves through its uncanny, ridiculous and cheap surroundings. I used Space Funeral 3D as a playground to sketch out some narrative and aesthetic ideas that had been lingering around the opera for a while. Space Funeral 3D was co-engineered by fellow game-swampist Hannes krisekrise, from whom I shamelessly but consensually stole the idea to make an opera in the first place. Like with most of my the ideas I tend to latch on to little snippets of ideas other people around me are having and then begin to corrupt them with my own weird obsessions and maledictions. I think that is the best way to get things done. Also I'm including this entire section only because Hannes continually insisted that I should just release Space Funeral 3D as my graduation project.
You have now reached the mid-point of this particular body of water, so it might be interesting to take a step back and look at the metaphor of the swamp. I first encountered this image in The Bog of the 2011 performance Tales of the Bodiless. In it you can find a quite gunky description of the chemical transformations that take place inside a bog and what would happen to your body if you fell into one. At the time it resonated with me for its curiously weird take on sci-fi writing. Rereading it now, this part on page 10 sticks out to me:
The past is not preserved only by humans. Animals, plants,
microorganisms and minerals archive whatever finds its way into the
depths of the bogs. This network [of nonhuman agents] is a collective
Remnants from an early test to create visuals for Heiße Asche. This was once going to be a stage layout.
Keeping with the two ideas of the collective body and
future/past-refiguring, let me make one more note: You may have noticed me
nonchalantly mention how I reference, obsess and
steal from other works
around me and how some of the ideas laid out in this piece are just the
continuation of other's thoughts. In
some way perhaps this is an act of resistance against the formal demands of
the graduation process at the Kunsthochschule Kassel: A process
that is unfortunately quite disinterested in collective practices and
instead tries to drastically individualize the understanding of my work. But
more than that it is an attempt at elevating that swampy collective memory. Heiße Asche is an archive sump, with many other works and
histories and support structures flowing into and sustaining it. I hope it
can become a catalyst for transforming the here and now into radical and
There is an interesting quirk with the imagining of bodies in electrical systems. It comes in the form of a magical concept called ground. In electronics you can think of the ground as a big sinkhole that your voltage yearns towards falling into. Imagining it like the gravitational binding between a smaller celestial body and a black hole, the voltage is pulled down to ground so to speak. There are even different kinds of ground: For example the earth ground, which you get when you just jam a metal rod into the soil. The sinkhole in this case is the electrically relatively uniform surface of the earth. There is also chassis ground which would ground a circuit to the exterior body of a device, either to provide a return path for the current or to then further connect the chassis to another type of ground.
In the end I did manage to salvage all those MIDI instrument experiments into an audio controller for the opera performance. At the core of this device is an Arduino connected to various analog inputs and electronic sensors mounted along the body of the controller. Their electronic inputs are translated by the Arduino into USB MIDI signals that can control the live playback of the opera sounds. One of these inputs is a proximity sensor that works quite similar to the theremin. It detects hand gestures and position and based on that data can modify and morph different layers of the score. Instead of a phallic theremin antenna, however, it takes the form of an object that is more in tune with its sexual undertones: The Klein bottle.
In 2016, Bini Adamchak came up with a concept called circlusion, meant to be an antonym to the word penetration: Instead of saying that you plug your audio cable into the jack, with the plug being the active part, you can imagine it as the jack enveloping or rathercircluding the plug . Actually we are all constantly being enveloped by the world around us. If you sit outside there are air molecules floating around you, and your skin is engulfed by all the photons emitted by that pesky sun. Perhaps also, if you did indeed fall into that bog from before, you are also enveloped by its wet and archiving chemicals. The humble Klein bottle, however, teaches us that we do not have to look at this idea in such binary terms. Mathematically speaking it is a non-orientable surface, meaning that it has only one side that simultaneously faces inwards and outwards: If you would let your finger caress along the surface of a Klein bottle you could continuously trace its shape until the surface bends inside itself, your hand being swallowed along, only to re-emerge again in the same orientation that you started off with.
Using a Klein bottle-shaped antenna is a fun way to rethink the gestures necessary for playing the theremin. But there is another connection to this idea of bodies enveloping each other that becomes apparent when we look at how a theremin and, by extension, how a capacitor works. A capacitor is created through two conductive bodies that are placed apart from each other. While mechanically separated, they are capacitively coupled and can hold and transfer charge between them: Charging one body causes an opposite change in charge in the other and vice versa. In a theremin, one body of the capacitor is the antenna connected to sensor circuitry. But the other piece of the capacitor is you. Moving your body closer to the antenna affects the capacitive coupling between you and it. It influences how quickly your bodies can charge and discharge, which in turn determines the sound frequency of the theremin.
A principle that is not quite so easily reproduced in the meaty Arduino world. My Klein bottle sensor would unfortunately pick up a lot of parasitic capacitance from other bodies around it and parallel signals in the device itself, which made the generation of valid MIDI data quite difficult. Relief came when I had the idea to enhance my body’s grounding by directly wiring my skin to a ground connector on the Arduino: I'm part of the chassis now, the dream of metal man Tetsuo finally made a reality. But just holding a stray ground wire isn't really that hot, so I embedded it as a layer of conductive fabric in a spiky silicone half-glove that can be strapped to the body. Thinking again alongside circlusion, the grounding strap design was inspired by non-penetrative sex toys like the Rubbie. This solved two problems: Not only did I achieve much more stable capacitance readings but I now also looked really kinky while playing the instrument.
I told you before about MIDI and the kinds of domination you subject yourself to when working with digital technology. There are, however, ways of resisting and playing with that, and in the case of MIDI it comes with the simple realization that you can actually forego all predefined instrument synthesis by using samples.
On my hard drive I have a folder containing just shy of 150 of these sound samples. The complete score of Heiße Asche was bashed together from this set of files. No audio synthesis was used at all, only the mixing and transformation of existing audioscapes. The sample collection started out as just a couple of loops salvaged from the aforementioned effort to recompile a Dandy Dust soundtrack but grew with my ongoing research into campy and queer media. It includes samples from the outskirts of New Queer Cinema and CD-enabled videogame music of the same era, the synthesizer sounds of Ruth White and earlyRocky Horror Show theater productions as well as musique concrète from BBC Radiophonic Workshop contemporaries. I am still unsure why I was drawn to these places in particular. But combined they do seem to trace some history of electronic sound technologies and the magical and transgressive futures past they helped to imagine.
In comparison to the very structural sound of MIDI synthesis or the glossiness of studio-recorded instruments, sampling feels much more sticky to me. The samples I collected all come with a lot of gunk attached: Sometimes they are not quite in tune or they can have tape noise and other audio glitches embedded in them. Depending on their origin, they might even come with overlapping dialog and sound effects layered into the waveform, something that cannot easily be undone. But I am actually not at all interested in undoing all that gunk. Like the biological cohabitants in Tales of the Bodiless' bog, these audio residues make up an archive that traces its cultural and material entanglement and that resists against the neat and structural matrix of MIDI.
These swamps were written by N.B. Spiders as part of their graduation project at the Kunsthochschule Kassel. The project was presented on the 24th of September 2021 and evaluated by Johanna Schaffer and Darsha Hewitt:
I had the luck of meeting Darsha during her guest professorship at the New Media department here at the Kunsthochschule Kassel. That was between 2015 and 2016, she was doing these introductory classes for DIY electronics and sound engineering. Darsha's approach to teaching and using materials has influenced my work intensely and I still have a vivid memory of her getting joyously excited by the smell of when I accidentally overvolted and burned out an LED in class. The odor of the mysterious blue smoke will forever be interwoven with that memory of her workshops and I am glad for it.
Johanna I have known since my entrance exam at the Kunsthochschule . I have come to immensely appreciate her ways of teaching and engaging with queerfeminist, anti-racist and anti-abelist thinking, as well as her attention to organizing and shaping collective learning spaces. If I try and think of a smell I will never forget from that time, it will be the one of a cup of herbal tea I drank while sitting together and discussing Vetements in the colloquium of the Theory and Practice. I'm grateful to have had the chance to work and learn and teach and perhaps sometimes also argue with Johanna in our many mutual contexts.
Thank you to both of them for their time and support.
Heiße Asche was bashed together from the sounds of these hot works:
Electronic components used for the instrument. Bottom left: Arduino on perfboard Bottom right: Potentiometers Top right: Touchpad Top left: I/O jacks
Heiße Asche &22 Swamps Towards theAbolishment of the Sun
N.B. Spiders, 2021
View through the telescope. The disk in the center is a reflection of the suspended mirror inside the telescope's body.
I also want to thank:
Charlotte, Chris, Elio, Hannes, Helen, Juca, Lien and Robin
For their immense help in producing this work, for their feedback and ideas, their expertise, for their emotional support and for sharing this time with me. Working on Heiße Asche would have been impossible without them. I wish I could list all the ways in which they helped me and all the memories that I am grateful for, but unfortunately this swamp is too limited to contain all that. I guess I will just have to tell you myself, darlings.
And also thank you to everyone else who has inspired or supported me over the past couple of years:
Aline, Anke, Auriea, Bini, Bjørn, Cat, Cäsper, Christina, Echo, Eva, Feben, Henrik, Ipek, Isi, Jan, Jasper, Joel, Joey, Jonas, Joscha, Julia, Julián, Jörn, Karo, Kerstin, Lea, Loren, Malin, Mareike, Mario, Michel, Milena, nilson, Peaches and Peaches’ manager, Persson, Rosa, Saskia, Sebastian, Shasti, Simon, Tina, Tobias, Victor, all the glorious trainwreckers of the world, as well as everyone else with whom I had the pleasure of working alongside at the Theory and Practice, at the New Media department, in the Basisklasse VisKom of 2013/14 and in many other fleeting places.
I would like to file a formal complaint against your person after receiving
and studying a copy of 22 Swamps Towards the Abolishment of the Sun. This cheap HTML
file, or as you have come to call it, an
has not, in fact, taught me in any way, shape or form how one would go
about abolishing the sun, or any other stellar entity for that
matter! Due to this grave oversight on your part, I see no other way of
action then to draft this letter to you, and to anyone else whom it may
concern, and formally and politely ask you to:
I. Issue a public apology (please @ me so I get a notification)
II. Immediately resign as chair of the teledildonic slime society
III. Abolishment of the Sun and all related celestial and non-celestial bodies
I am thanking you humbly and hope this letter finds you well.
Yours for all eternity,
Negative from which the silicone form for the grounding glove was produced.
Circuit diagram for the instrument. A large version can be downloaded at the end of the swamps.
On my reflector telescope there is a small sticker attached. It warns in
Never look directly into the sun.
The peculiar form of these swamps was deeply informed by the teachings of Black Quantum Futurism, the playfulness in which time and space is imagined there as something malleable which can enable all kinds of radical futures and pasts. Its take on nonlinear timelines and understanding was a huge inspiration in writing about the figuring of Heiße Asche, which was very much not a linear process from conception to completion but instead meandered, stalled and backtracked. Even the idea of this page design with its counter-moving elements was adapted from a piece of Black Quantum Futurism writing I encountered during my research. I desperately wish I could link to it here and show you what I saw but unfortunately the page that inspired me has vanished and days of searching have turned up barely a trace of it. Perhaps this is also a quirk of temporarily, when some futures disappear only to be refigured into a swamp.
One person made a body pillow of themself as their graduation project. Damn, I should have done that instead.
Hypothetical depiction of the KateLabs source code.
I have a delicately insatiable obsession with the 1998 movie Dandy Dust. It is actually also a kind of space opera, with this convoluted cast comprising of protagonist Dandy and many other quirky characters aimlessly running around on weirdo planets. I saw Dandy Dust for the first time in 2014 and I should have realized that something was off when I thought to myself midway through the viewing: Hey, this wacky sci-fi quest would make for a great RPG Maker game. Since then I have come back to this film again and again. Once between 2017 and 2018 where I transcribed the entire movie line by line in order to create a subtitle file which I hoped would help me make sense of the messy narrative. And once again in 2019 where I tried to extract an unofficial soundtrack by cutting and gluing different samples from the film. Unfortunately I had to abandon that project: My library copy of Dandy Dust has an awful 60Hz hum that is quite unpleasant.
But it was only a matter of time before Dandy Dust would also seep into the construction of my opera. And by that I mean that the first thing I did was model my two main protagonists after the Dandy Dust characters Dandy and Flame (a talking flame with a great theme-song). Asche also takes their name from another movie by some of the people behindDandy Dust called Rote Ohren fetzen durch Asche.
a devious technical standard. I had my first brush with MIDI many eons ago
when using an ancient software called RPG Maker, once
used to create crude computer role-playing games. MIDI is actually a
collective terms for a bunch of things, one of them being the MIDI file
format: In contrast to other audio formats like WAV or MP3, a MIDI file
does not actually store any sound information itself. Instead it works more
like sheet music that contains a sequence of notes, including information
such as length, pitch and volume, and then uses that data to reconstruct
the song using synthesized instruments. MIDI files have the advantage that
they take up far less space than typical audio data, since no waveform has
to be saved at all. That is also why it was used with RPG Maker,
since games with MIDI sound files could easily be shared via dial-up
internet. On the flip-side, however, saving only abstract song information
means that all instruments and note data have to be standardized. That is
of course the purpose of a technical standard: So the score I compose on my
device will sound pretty much the same when played on your device, and not
twice as fast or with mismatched instruments. But it also means that there
is a very rigidly defined way in which a song can be translated into MIDI,
as defined by the makers of the standard, and what kinds of audio cannot be
replicated. General MIDI has exactly 128 instruments which
are predominantly from western music. There are however a couple of weird
outliers included in the MIDI sound set: Number 124
Bird Tweet, number
Helicopter, number 102
FX 6 (goblins) and also an instrument
section distastefully titled
Ethnic. Due to
the increase in data transfer bandwidth during the last decades, the use of
the MIDI format has thankfully fallen out of favor. It does, however, still
rear its head when connecting electronic instruments to a computer. There
the MIDI protocol is used to tell the computer which notes are currently
being played and, in case the instrument also contains sliders or knobs, to
translate these mechanical fancies into a machine-readable value between 0
and 127. So how to escape this indomitable matrix of normative sound
THE TELESCOPE DRIVER During the days of Cloud Computing™ this sweet machinist elected to live the life of an anchorite and secluded xerself under the surface of a swampland. There xe perfected the art of theoretical astromathematics and watched every porn movie ever made to see what all the fuzz is about. COZY Once said to have fallen into a hole. It was a very cozy hole. Now he resides in a snake. It is a very cozy snake. THE SNAKE Of mythological origin. Later grew tired of that existence and became a real boy. In a fit of omnivoreism he accidentally swallowed COZY, but when both came to their senses they were actually kinda into it. THE PROCESSION OF THE BODILESS An omnipresent flux that ASCHE once was a part of. Legends tell how THE PROCESSION chose to abandoned all binary forms and instead became the vibrations in particle-wave patterns, the weak electromagnetic field and cheap plastic sex toys.
A fleeting electro-organic opera,fabulated through sci-fi soundscapes.written and performed by N.B. Spiders2021