By Alexander Iadarola
Slime—often in vibrant neon—is a common trope in the work of EVOL. It shows up in
release titles like Rave Slime, Melting Pinkness, and Purple Melters; in the viscous feel of
their tracks, brought on by acid house-styled sonic bending; and in the monochrome
kandi of their artwork. Although Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and Stephen Sharp’s affinity
for it no doubt has to do with psychedelic rave aesthetics—exploration of rave’s media
history and sonic template is a recurring theme—slime in their zone takes on a life of its
own. There, a big part of its fun as a figure is its ability to function doubly as a conduit
for academic styles of inquiry as well as more everyday, tangible, and straightforwardly
visceral kinds of engagement.
An important place to start with slime is the fact that it’s very hard to pin down. It’s
slippery and evasive not only if you’re a protagonist in Ghostbusters II (1984) but also if
you’re attempting to ascertain unequivocal knowledge about its form. Indeed, one of its
common features in popular media is its ability to dramatically shift its shape. Recalling a
familiar plot within the horror genre, The Thing (1982) tells the story of a contagion that
infiltrates and takes the form of living hosts, while The Blob (1958) never stops growing,
eating up everything in its path.
Definitive slime taxonomy is not really possible because slime is constantly morphing.
You can’t draw a line around it or take concise measurements because it’s constantly
growing or redefining itself, much like an EVOL track as it lurches, stretches, and
bunches up unpredictably throughout the sonic register.
Slime is thus defined by a constitutive internal difference with itself: it could be one
thing, but it might just as well be another; what it “is” is by definition variable, never not
in a liminal state. Whatever you think defines slime one moment could prove totally
inapplicable in the next. In that way, it could be said to be Hardly Itself, a phrase that’s
also the title of a text in the form of a dialogue between Jiménez de Cisneros and Guy
Birkin, researcher of aesthetic complexity. There, the duo talk about the impossibility of
translation, particularly as it relates to EVOL’s numerous versions of German artist and
composer Hanne Darboven's composition Opus 17a, the seventh “Slime Variation” of
which accompanies this text.
In Hardly Itself, their starting point for a very wide-ranging conversation is a line from
Bergson, brought to bear specifically on the theme of translation: “To analyze is to
express a thing as a function of something other than itself.”
Early on, Birkin points out
the different locations the Opus17a exists, emphasizing, “It is difficult to separate its
content from its form because, as a piece of generative music, the process by which the
piece is created is a central concern.” He elaborates:
Where is Opus 17a as a piece of art amongst all these layers of work: the concept
of the piece in Darboven’s mind and ours; the visual artwork (Wunschkonzert,
1984) made of framed grids and numbers that provided the basis for Opus 17a,
17b, 18a and 18b; the mapping system used to translate numbers into notes; the
physical/digital musical scores; each live performance of the piece; recordings of
those performances; the act of listening to a recording; the act of transcribing
Along with this slime-like unlocatability, Darboven’s work is also interesting in its
relation to the EVOL project because of how they both deal with time. That theme has
recurred regularly for the latter, and was also a central concern of their last long-term
translation project, which involved multiple versions of Ligeti’s Continuum—a piece
which Jiménez de Cisneros described to me via email as dealing with “the perception of
time in the illusion of continuum.”
Reviewing Darboven’s mammoth late work, Kulturgeschichte (Cultural history) 1880–
1983—an unscalable accumulation of quotidian media, ephemera, and collectibles—
Lauren Sedofsky praises her art’s ability to “rupture chronology as we know it.” Against
the mainstream narrative of predictable linearity and historical progress - which is of
course designed to preserve the interests of those in power into the future - she claims
that Darboven’s critical edge resides in her “ruination of various historical models, in the
nonlocalizability of events within ‘the long accumulation unnoticed.’”
In her introduction to that show, Lynne Cook describes the “libidinal exuberance” of
Kulturgeschichte, concluding that Darboven seems to acknowledge that excess is in fact
constitutive of time as opposed to being something that arises only in abnormal instances
of contingency. Elsewhere, Ina Blom considers Darboven’s musical works, arguing that
Opus 17a, 17b, 18a and 18b are haunted by the “fundamentally political alignment of
life-time and musical time.” A similar kind of unscalable complexity courses through
those compositions in their endless variations on minimal, mathematical figures, much
like Kulturgeschicte: she writes that “the range of possible variations is so finely
calibrated that any attempt at a structuring overview is impossible.”
During our correspondence, Jiménez de Cisneros observed that Darboven’s work
“functions as a sort of door to a weird perception of time,” a statement which resonates
interestingly with a description he gave relating to his own work. “We're really good at
digesting 4 minute tracks with a very clear narrative,” he explained, “but 50 minute tracks
with almost no changes become a very different experience, and at some point you either
lose interest or shift your attention to something else. Hopefully your perception of time
bends a little bit and you don't know how long it's been since that thing first hit you in the
The opening to altered perception that occurs in Darboven’s work arises in part because
of its huge scale, in his opinion. Illustrating this point, Jiménez de Cisneros quoted
Achille Varzi’s article for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on mereology, the
theory of parthood relations, or the relations of part to whole as well as those of part to
part within a whole:
Think of objects such as clouds, forests, heaps of sand. What exactly are their
constitutive parts? What are the mereological boundaries of a desert, a river, a
mountain? Some stuff is positively part of Mount Everest and some stuff is
positively not part of it, but there is borderline stuff whose mereological
relationship to Everest seems indeterminate. Even living organisms may, on
closer look, give rise to indeterminacy issues. Surely Tibble's body comprises his
tail and surely it does not comprise Pluto's. But what about the whisker that is
coming loose? It used to be a firm part of Tibble and soon it will drop off for
good, yet meanwhile its mereological relation to the cat is dubious. And what
goes for material bodies goes for everything. What are the mereological
boundaries of a neighborhood, a college, a social organization? What about the
boundaries of events such as promenades, concerts, wars?
Upon closer inspection, parthood relations thought to be crystal clear lose their
persuasiveness when seen through the lens of mereology, just like historical models of
quantified, linear time become fragmented within the work of Darboven, and
epistemological or ontological certainty about the nature of slime loses traction when
faced with its constantly morphing nature. At each of these junctures, the situation
becomes geared toward the study of vagueness, which is something Jiménez de Cisneros
is “admittedly obsessed with.” Indeed, here we are with Slime Variation #7.
Although vagueness is by no means a quality that everyone celebrates—it isn’t expedient,
its essential point is that it’s not easily assimilable to popular existing models, and you
can’t really fact-check it—along with its analogs of slipperiness and fluidity, it can be
wonderful. It is in fact the vague, slimy nature of EVOL’s work that produces what is
unmistakably its enthralling kind of sublime. Theirs isn’t the sort that one feels when they
feel they’ve encountered one of life’s transcendent, immutable truths—cue slide of a
Hudson River school painting—but rather something much more unhinged and zany.
Their sublime is ugly. It represents a gross sublime, or, better, a wrong sublime. Perhaps
a queer sublime.
In the introduction to his book Delusive Spaces, media theorist Eric Kluitenberg
summarizes the sublime’s figuration in centuries of aesthetic theory as an “ambiguous,
almost dialectical mixture of anguish and delight.”
Maybe a little unexpectedly, this is
actually a perfect description for the way EVOL flippantly takes what would usually be a
fleeting affective peak in a dance track—the certain way a 303 is twisted, for example, or
the lashing pleasure of a particularly robust element—and stretch it into a ten-minute
experiment in unmitigated excess. Or in the case of Opus 17a Slime Variation #7, how
they redeploy Darboven’s blunt thud of a composition in the cheesiest of Euro popclub
In Darboven’s original, she denies the pleasure of satisfying variation in a musical theme
by running it through an OCD-like straightjacket of repetition, forcing it to touch and
acknowledge every object in a set before moving to the next. The result is
psychologically very uncomfortable: like encountering relentless blockage in a space you
had perceived to be smooth, yet being unable to abandon the driving intuition that it
should be smooth. By running the score through sounds some might associate with taking
too much meth-cut ecstasy, EVOL creates a kind of cognitive dissonance, dislodging
from each ingredient’s original context the possibility for a previously unconsidered kind
of pleasure. Furthermore, on a level less concerned with cultural signification and more
with the visceral effects of sound, the unpleasant-but-rewarding nature of Darboven’s
composition gets an even more intense delivery than its original designation for double
bass with these garish, saccharine, and psychoactive rave arrangements.
If, for Lee Edelman, anxiety signals “our too-near approach to what we’re driven to
and the undoing of the subject that such enjoyment promises: desiring, then,
takes on a certain privileged position in relation to actually attaining the object of
desire. EVOL presents the direct inverse of this value system for maximum effect: no
desiring at all, in favor of immediate delivery of the desired object. EVOL tracks, though
they use dance music as the host to their contagion, never have that host's dramatic build-
up; their sounds only come in floods. Their work delivers pleasure in a form you simply
didn’t ask for—too much at once, too much for your own good. Famously, Lyotard
argues that for Kant the sublime “presents the unpresentable”; but where Thomas Cole
hints at the light of god, EVOL’s is a pleasure so titillating that it ultimately takes on a
shade of repulsion or disgusting-ness.
A welcome illustration is Flubber (1997), where slime takes on a comparable figure of
excess, following its desires with total uninhibitedness. It becomes an object of
idealization—Robin Williams seems to want to hop out of heteronormative expectation
into its endlessly fluid kind of life—adoration, and perhaps on some level, envy, while
simultaneously presenting as gross or even repulsive. It tends to perform something of a
carnivalesque figure in the Bakhtinian sense, definitively implementing rupture into
business as usual, interrupting society’s normal functioning with its presence, opening up
the possibility for unpredictable weirdness. Bending your perception just a little bit,
echoing Jiménez de Cisneros. We can’t imagine ordinary life functioning properly with
completely unrepressed slime on the loose.
When I asked Jiménez de Cisneros why he was driven to produce so many translations of
Darboven’s original work, he open-endedly offered, “It's not so much about doing a
perfect rendition of something, but rather using the same template, the original piece, as a
way of generating new things, different things.” Like some of the horror genre’s scariest
figures of viral contagion, slime is able to auto-reproduce in EVOL’s world. Slime then
takes on another shade: the slime machine, a generative, productive form; a factory for
the gross sublime, a form for producing the form of the wrong sublime.
We can perhaps think of EVOL’s slimy approach as a sonic analogue to what Keller
Easterling conceives of as “active form” in architecture: “Not a new but an extra art and
mode of making in which the action is the form.”
Action is not necessarily movement but is rather embodied in relationship,
relative position and potential in organizations. Action is immanent in
the disposition of an organization.... Active forms design a disposition—a set of
capacities for shaping space over time. Active forms are forms for handling
With an approach analogous to this model, EVOL takes an original composition as a
form with which to produce more forms, in ecstatic generative production, creating in the
resulting array of variations an organization with relative positions and potentials.
Jiménez de Cisneros goes on, “By doing it a bunch of times using different sounds and
manipulating the score in different ways, you end up with a short catalogue of possible
interpretations.” A catalogue that doesn’t sit still, though—one that’s instead living,
breathing, and unpredictable, constantly setting up weird and unpredictable relationships
Mereology again comes into play because of the prominent interplay between the parts
and the whole within the constantly evolving network—for EVOL, the glass is neither
half-empty nor full but shattered against the wall, where’s the broom? As they’re
producing their own archive, they’re also undoing it and rendering it a palimpsest without
any unified sense of direction. Each of the seven versions writes and re-writes the project;
like slime, you can’t pin down their work onto any single piece or version. Or, it’s like
Darboven—here’s Sedofsky again: “Indeed, the distinction between ‘excerpt’ and ‘work’
constitutes one of the most troubling and provocative features of Darboven’s practice.
Given its postulates of quantity and continuation, her shows, catalogues, and artist’s
books necessarily amount only to samplings. Darboven is an artist who–like history—can
be known only in excerpt.”
EVOL’s Proper Headshrinker series is another recent scenario where getting lost in the
space between excerpt and work has a dizzying, intoxicating effect—of course doubled
up by the music’s curdled synaptic undulations. It started with an LP of that name; was
followed up by Harder Posher Pinker—which included a text by OOO philosopher
Timothy Morton; next landed at Rephrased Hiker Porn, a poster (and Easter egg album
embedded somewhere on the duo’s website) containing their 16 favorite anagrams of the
words “proper headshrinker”; and then coursed through the Purple Melters 12”. Not only
is the music interesting in itself, but it also takes on further dynamic articulation in its
“relative position and potential in organization.” There’s no official word on whether the
series is done, and indeed it’s more exciting to think of it as persisting without closure,
liable to rejuvenate unexpectedly.
Considering that music a time-based art form, it’s interesting that the timelines of more
musicians’ discographies don’t feel this alive, aren’t as concerned with their disposition
for shaping form over time. One of the most popular discography browsing websites is
, and they set up what Darboven, Ligeti, and company might think of as an
illusory continuum of artistic history. EVOL offers instead an alternative method for
purposeful detouring with their ecstatic slime machine.
Jiménez De Cisneros, Birkin 2
Berlant, Edelman 8
Bakhtin, M. M. Rabelais and His World. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T., 1968. Print.
Berlant, Lauren, and Lee Edelman. Sex, or the Unbearable. Durham and London: Duke
UP, 2014. Print.
Blom, Ina. "Hanne Darboven." Frieze Sept. 2007. Web.
Cooke, Lynne. "Hanne Darboven." Dia Art Foundation. May 2003. Web.
Easterling, Keller. "An Internet of Things." e-flux. Jan. 2012. Web.
Jiménez De Cisneros, Roc, and Guy Birkin. Hardly Itself. Barcelona: ALKU, 2015. Print.
Kluitenberg, Eric. Delusive Spaces: Essays on Culture, Media and Technology.
Rotterdam: NAi, 2008. Print.
Lyotard, Jean-Francçois. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1984. Print.
Sedofsky, Lauren. "Lauren Sedofsky on Hanne Darboven." Artforum Mar. 1997. Web.
Varzi, Achille. "Mereology." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. May 2003. Web.