Universe Dub

Every sound in the beginning of Sam Sparro’s Black & Gold – pulsing and then distorted bass, swirling wind, reverberating, ticking piston drum, pops, swelling synth, the muted screeches of machines – Every sound represents a negativity, an absence, a space. Every part is introduced individually as it reaches its crescendo, so much that it seems that the silence which precedes and follows the act of actually listening to the song is as much an integral part of it as its contents.

’cause if you’re not really here
then the stars don’t even matter
now i’m filled to the top with fear
that it’s all just a bunch of matter

If this appears on first glance to be another iteration of the old ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ love song then its opposite is also true: ‘Without you I’m afraid there is nothing’, these two views represented here by the first two and last two lines of the chorus respectively. First, the universe is rendered a vacuum by unrequited love, followed by straight existential angst divorced from that love.

The addressee acts as a distraction from the vacuum, the issue by which the validity of existence is adjudged by the contingency of whether or not the addressee returns love. But the song is generally dominated by fear of the void, such that love seems more like a desperate grasp at temporary distraction against a universe which is always already uninterested in the individual’s wellbeing, rather than having the authority to decide whether to break the existential deadlock or leave an individual to face it.

i looked up into the night sky
and see a thousand eyes staring back
and all around these golden beacons
i see nothing but black

Here the universe is acting as the void which the Psychoanalyst would fill, opening up spaces in the patient’s psyche so that they fill this space with meaning, drawing out the unconscious. Presence (of stars) brings no more comfort to Sparro than does absence: pins of light, objects gaze back at him and reinforce isolation amongst the black absence of space. If dialectics is always tending towards incorporating the totality of existence, then this for Sparro is a totality of nothingness. Zizek: By one view physicists measure that the presence of matter amongst space is so sparse that the entire universe’s electrical charge is neutral. It is nothing as against out apparent observation that there are at least some things.

i feel a weight of something beyond them
i don’t see what i can feel
if vision is the only validation
then most of my life isn’t real

Love and nothingness are the same thing, have the same characteristic of resistance to empirical observation. This is a song obsessed by that which cannot be seen, either literally by the eyes or figuratively as the unrecordable visions of the psyche. Enlightenment science offers no answers to these questions:

If the fish swam out of the ocean
and grew legs and they started walking
and the apes climbed down from the trees
and grew tall and they started talking

and the stars fell out of the sky
and my tears rolled into the ocean
now i’m looking for a reason why
you even set my world into motion

These are the two first two verses offered as a given to later be dismissed: These might be facts, but they offer explanations of aspects of reality which lie out of the realm of the psyche which dominates humanity, they are trivia.

Black and Gold as colours within the song deliver perfectly fitting symbols of this dialectical negativity which always meets its end point in nothingness: Black as absence, Gold as the height of presence, the most valuable of presences, the colour of luxury, decadent materiality. But gold’s value is purely that of exchange value rather than use value, it is a fantasy constitutive of economic reality. If everyone ceased to fantasise reality into gold, it becomes another metal with very little use except, in practice, in minute quantities as part of electrical components. Behind the fantasy, Gold is Black.

Where the song does reach its crescendo and indulges in a short, bright melody and some singerly masturbation on Sparro’s part, it is bookended by the same sonic negativity at the end as at the beginning, outlined above. In this structure, presence is transitory where absence is eternal, the beginning and the end.

What’s really heartening about the song is that it tackles the same themes as Dub: millenial dread, existential angst, the triviality of actuality, without being a straight copy either in its discourse or its sound.


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