BOREDOMS, Ritual Communications and The Theater of Cruelty

Music Features
BOREDOMS, Ritual Communications and The Theater of Cruelty
Feb 20, 2009, 06:35


A cultivated ‘civilized' man is regarded as a person instructed in systems, a person who thinks in forms, signs, representations--a monster whose faculty of deriving thoughts from acts, instead of identifying acts with thoughts, is developed to an absurdity.” Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double

What is said within a community is seldom as important as the way in which it is said. From the perspective of ‘inside' and ‘outside,' our vocabularies are affected by our relationship to and participation in social groups. Participation in the continuous social construction of reality is contingent upon our desire to find better suited ways to conceptualize the world outside ourselves. Just as social groups are established to reinforce identities of commonality, there are forms of discourse given particular meaning within these social organizations such that their expression propagates the desires of that community.

As implied by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, culture is a matrix which categorizes each of us by particular behaviors, however,  cultural identities are merely different ways of saying the same thing. As a manufactured realm, then, our myriad conversations (including the one-way discussions with mass media) are imperative only as rituals. No matter what information is disseminated, all expression is the same means to reinforce social structure.Â

The stances and gestures offered within particular musical genres, for example, indicate an established belief in the semiotics of the musical medium. As categories divide and specify the social identities they serve to maintain, we can see music as a medium of particular communicative rituals. The love song, the anthem, the lament; each become specific media to which we attend to participate in rituals of pleasure, solidarity or grief—to name just a few. Communication, particularly in music, is dependent upon gestures: the physical motions or lyrical phrases which refer to specific cultural codes that circumscribe the limitations of language. Gestures of ritual, such as handshakes, vary from culture to culture; just as music occupies similar notes of the scale, but tells its listeners different things from one audience to another.

Actor/philosopher/post-linguist Antonin Artaud saw very clearly the distinction between information and ritual functions of communication. The continual fracturing and fragmentation of image—and its constituent lack of meaning—made it necessary for us to abandon language in order to communicate. “Written poetry is worth reading once, and then should be destroyed,” Artaud wrote, “beneath the poetry of the texts, there is an actual poetry, without form and without text.”

Artaud proposed a Theater of Cruelty—a state of pure ritual of communication wherein spontaneous, anarchic expression of social desires, unencumbered by text/meaning, create a dialogue of what it means to be human, and our need to connect with other humans. Artaud explained, “In this spectacle the sonorisation is constant: sounds, noises, cries are chosen first for their vibratory quality, then for what they represent.” It is a state of flux, in which truth becomes contingent upon the spontaneous meanings generated by a media audience. It is a state of pure spectacle where the crash of a cymbal, or the sight of the space shuttle explosion, instantly transforms and invalidates language.Â

Imbibing the vessicant intensity of Artaud's Theater of Cruelty, the Japanese hypersonic-noise group Boredoms are a dramatic example of communication as ritual. Their music could best be described as post-textual, since there is no structure or discernable information to their sounds. There are no ‘lyrics,' only gibberish as sound manipulations. There is no immediately recognizable structure of verse and chorus, rather, each song is a chaotic stumble toward explosive conclusion. Using a pastiche style of almost random instrumentation, with churning drums, clattering metal percussion, blurting and lurching guitars, found-audio cut-ups, blabbering vocal meanderings and many other interloping noises, Boredoms fully intend to say nothing. They have stripped the presentation of music as formal art—as transmission of detail, of emotion, of information—down to pure ritual of sonic discursiveness. As boldly demonstrated on the cover of their Soul Discharge album—wherein group members clothe themselves in objects of specific cultural significance such as vinyl records, diving goggles, clamps, ‘disco' t-shirts, et al.—the meaning of objects and words is ours to create, rather than we being created by our vocabularies. Those observing from outside the community of Boredoms, will find no information—and very likely, no content—within their recordings and performances. However, what appears as just a chaotic blur of exaggerated motion, disjointed noises, chanted and screamed gibberish and bizarre costumes is the creation of new vocabularies with which a new generation of listener can repossess space afforded previously only to texts.

With this distinctive format, Boredoms have forsaken any notions of communication as the transfer of information. Their audience is forced to reconcile with the attentive rituals of the musical medium. Boredoms subvert the cultural ritual interred in music by stripping it of its meaning. Without the mask of information transferral, the barren, meaningless gestures then are seen at face value: as arbitrary social constructs. Just as Charles Manson believed the Beatles sang to him—that their songs were missives constructed to impart veiled details of the apocalypse—music listeners often believe their favorite songs are sung to them, even sung for them. However, this is precisely what makes music a ritual experience, because it can be personalized to occupy individual relevance as well as cultural interlocution.

As most directly asserted in the sounds of Boredoms, and their embodiment of the Theater of Cruelty, communication is simply the manipulation of cultural symbols. Communication can only establish ‘the world' where vocabularies are chosen and given meaning by its communities. As reality is constantly constructed by culture, it uses gestures and signs to serve as guides to understanding our relationship to the world outside. By conceiving of communication—and more specifically for the purposes of this article, music—as ritual, we are better equipped to understand the contingencies of our social interactions. By elucidating the underlying importance of ritual in music, Boredoms stand to redirect popular concepts of the social function of music, and media in general.


1. Artaud, Antonin, The Theater and Its Double. New York: Grove Press, 1958. p.8

2. Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer,  Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Continuum, 1972.

3. Artaud, Antonin, The Theater and Its Double. New York: Grove Press, 1958. p.78

4. ibid. p.81


This article originally appeared in Your Flesh #31

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