PRINT September 1996


Table of the Elements

AT A TIME WHEN many are describing vinyl as thoroughly “auratic” (in Benjamin’s sense), recording labels are attempting to make CDs “unique” through any number of desperately ingenious packaging ploys (using cardboard and metal, among other materials). Atlanta-based label TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS is clearly ahead of the game: putting a conceptual spin on the “inauthenticity” of CDs, the label has gone back to the hardest form of hardware: pure, chemical substance. Fans of avant-garde and atonal music are still referring to two recent releases—by Chicago’s Gastr del Sol (the brilliant collaboration between ubiquitous composer and theoretician Jim O’Rourke and poet, Red Crayola guitarist, and former Bastro member David Grubbs), and the somewhat overpraised (at least in America) German group Faust—by the material composition of the CD booklet: Gastr del Sol being “the Golden One,” Faust, “the Silver One.” But this metallic description doesn’t just apply to the color of the booklet paper or the title; the chemical element the label assigns to every release gives the catalogue order number for each CD, as well as determines the minimal design of the CD jacket. Just a critical-theory one-liner? With the recent release Slapping Pythagoras, by the underappreciated Dream Syndicate founder Tony Conrad (who may also be America’s greatest living philosopher), Table of the Elements shows it puts serious philosophical and political issues at the center of more than its packaging strategy: the manifesto that constitutes the CD booklet explains how the decline of heterophony—a term Conrad defines as “the failure of voices to merge ‘as one’ under an idealized autocracy of tone”—in conservative Greek thought, then through the history of mathematics, political thought, and philosophy, is responsible for the poverty of representation to this day. Anyone who wants to know more should have a listen.

Diedrich Diederichsen

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.