Like radio waves, the audible spectrum prioritizes transmission, consisting of mechanical vibration between 20Hz to 20kHz. Sound cannot be generated or observed unless it can pass through a medium (air, for example), yet it inhabits and surrounds every object it encounters. In understanding the recuperative potentials of the electromagnetic frequencies, it is necessary to interrogate the histories related to the audible spectrum.
Detached objects resonate in unison with mechanical radiation (sound-ghost-matter). Audio generated below 250hz is a bodily experience, felt more than heard. The instinctual reaction to sounds produced in this frequency range prompts motion, escape or retreat — these are biological responses in anticipation of the events that cause them (volcanic eruptions, thunder, earthquakes, etc). This is a frequency that contains histories of communication and control at once – utilized by the Christian church through the booming sounds of the organ, utilized in West Africa for long distance communication through the talking drum and consequently forbidden from use by enslaved black Americans.
Dub, developed in 1970s Jamaica, puts bass frequencies at the center of the mix. The genre is defined by its medium — destructible ‘dub-plates’ containing custom mixes(‘versions’) of songs pressed directly from the recording studio. As Michaele Veal describes in Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae: “successive generations of lyrics are juxtaposed against each other ... [creating] what can be called a mixing strategy of fragmentation, the abrupt introduction and removal of formerly continuous musical material.” These songs were remixes or reworkings of their previous version, often made for a specific party or sound system, generationally linked by a bass frequency.
Dub outlines a compositional strategy that is invigorated by digital composition and echoed by sampling practices throughout many other genres of black diasporic musical production – one whose fragmentation is generative and generational. It utilizes bass frequencies to denote an instruction that is socially embodied and venue specific.
Kodwo Eshun posits the afrofuturist project, not as futurism with black people (a celebration of technological innovation, space travel, or it’s resultant materials), but as a “critique of futurism:” an account of strategies towards the articulation of it’s alienating effects which may point towards alternate modes of operation.
Music lies at the center of much of Eshun’s analysis, positing rhythm and ancestral consciousness as types of technologies of their own. Producers of Techno, Dub, Drum and Bass, Hip Hop, and R&B articulate the conditions that define the contemporary, maintaining a relationship with the machine that imposes humanity. The history of black musical production is one of recycling and sampling, using tools against their original purpose, employing sonic frequencies as a method of speech. While electromagnetic frequencies are overwhelmingly deployed towards exploitative ends, self organization, and isolation, these bass frequencies are used to construct meaningful social frameworks.