While I was researching the subject of codes, I found disturbing stories about a triple parentheses meme, which months ago circulated the internet. Neo-Nazis have used this “echoing” symbol to encapsulate names of Jewish writers on Twitter, thereby targeting and enabling bullying, racist threats and physical assault.
Echoing joins a list of other kinds of coding in politics like dog-whistling. Fortunately a slew of writers have leapt to neutralize the viciousness of this meme. It is a chilling example of how efficient technology is in targeting people, often with insufficient oversight.
Codes speed up progress to a target, or cloud things over to make them disappear from view. Where you stand will determine your sense of (in)justice around these codes. Whose survival do they ensure? Which lies or truths embody kindness, if any?
Another story circling in my head is about my aunt who died just a few days ago. A few days before her passing, when her daughter was by her bedside, and my aunt suddenly gripped her hand and said, “I have something to talk to you about! It’s been on my mind for five days!” Her daughter leaned in for some deeply personal revelation, especially since my aunt was heavily dosed on morphine, and her waking minutes were precious. My aunt said, “Who’s been doing the washing?” Aside from the bittersweet humor here, my aunt’s words are, like in so many families, code for so much more.
A phrase personal to my family comes to mind. “You know what I mean” was the button-up phrase that would snuff out a conversation that was about to tip into some deep personal disaster, like addiction, suicide or mental illness. This ensured that certain feelings were never expressed (god forbid), and if you waited long enough, the memory could be nicely redefined. When the protagonists of the never-mentioned drama died, voila, erasure was complete.
Except it isn’t. If epigenetic memory hypotheses are correct, our descendants carry our cellular memories encoded in some way. And even if you don’t believe in the cellular theory, family language is a fast and deep way to pass on generational information.
Which is where upcoming concerts come in and take a curtsy.
Poet Bonnie Kwong and I are collaborating through poetry, prose and prepared piano, exploring the fragile relationships of technology and power, culminating in a performance, Signals & Intersections, on April 2nd. We’re looking at what aspects of our humanity are silenced or revealed by codes, via the Rust Belt, post-apartheid South Africa, Hongkong-China, Nazi-occupied Europe, and modern America, with trains, families and our bodies as motifs. We explore experiences often only understood in hindsight, since the purpose of code is to remain invisible until provoked into expression.
Conversely, composer Mark Applebaum takes pleasure in not-so-much-coding in his Concerto for Florist on May 5th & 6th. Inspired by the collaborations of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, Mark prefers his compositional elements to cohabitate rather than coordinate. While there can be seeming congruities, it’s the incongruous juxtapositions that he finds the most exciting. The joy of failure, mystery, courage, of being a kind of voyeur to alien rituals, act as a counter to boredom. Thus while musical codes may assemble, form and disappear, they also might never have existed, offering a spacious landscape for artists and onlookers to frolic in.
What I love about good music and good text, is that both, by nature, put aside the biosphere’s ticking clock, and allow a body (or the communal corps) to feel and think in dreamtime. Codes can be playfully revealed, broken, reassembled, providing liberation and communion for an audience, even as there is discomfort. In a world full of playground bullies and the power structures that smooth their way, this is no small contribution.