Jul 27, 2016, 10:20AM

Phasing In and Out

52 Weeks of Elizabeth Veldon, Week 30: “1w” (08/28/14).

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Towards the end of Grant Morrison’s celebrated run on Doom Patrol, in a turn of events far too convoluted to encapsulate here, Robotman’s brain was removed from his metallic body and destroyed. Morrison—a fan of surrealism and high concept—would follow up with a story where Robotman alter-ego Cliff Steele wandered through a humdrum, not-quite-right life. I haven’t read these issues in years, but some images have stuck with me: Cliff seated in an armchair, gazing at a gigantic television set, wild with popcorn static, and eventually discovering to his horror that this static was everywhere. The static was the substrata upon which existence was built; the static was actually inside of him. As a teenager, these Richard Case-illustrated tales fascinated and repulsed me in equal measure. As an adult, the appeal of static isn’t hard to grasp; I crave music borne from it and the blotting effect that result, the sense that someone has adjusted a mind’s ear knob from “NPR” to “oblivion.” “1w” harnesses and channels the aimlessness of radio static oblivion into something just sort of oppressive; it’s like a storm-force gale you’ve got to push through on your way somewhere else—except this is music, you’re slouching in an office chair with headphones on, it’s decompression time. The timbre shifts from channel to channel like tumblers in an oiled lock, the volume intensifying or abating from moment to moment: sometimes the Blue Angels are in town, sometimes the storm is peaking, sometimes tug boats announce their arrival at port. Sometimes “1w” deigns to remind us of why radios used to matter to so many, under-handing a few seconds of buffered, battering sotto voce between anonymous commentators—but that’s swiftly erased, almost as though it had never even been there.


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