Rare performance of
John Wall & Alex Rodgers
Montaque Arms SE15 2PA
Thursday 29th January

John Wall
others TBA
Peckham Rye
Thursday 26th Febuary
CD by John Wall & Alex Rodgers.
Release date: December 2014
Title: Work 2011-14
Label: Entr'acte




John Wall mix for Entracte
Jan 2013

sec A
Alex Rodgers. untitled
(with some sound manipulation by John Wall)
sec B
John Wall/Mark Durgan. untitled
(extract from edited improvisation)
sec C
John Wall.
(sound fragment)
"impassion" by CutHands
Pithoprakta by Iannis Xenakis. 1995
Full moon by DeatnGrips
-noO2. Beautyon1997
Hibiki Hana Ma by Iannis Xenakis. 1970
Depression by Vadar. 2008
Plexure by John Oswald. 1992/3
sections 5.6.7.
Thief severed hand by Muslimgauze
Dedans-Dehors by Bernard Parmegiani 1997
Continuum for 2 player pianos by GyorgyLegeti1970
Jack MacGowran reading from Watt by Samuel Beckett
bsf.tyk 5 by Florian Hecker
Aitsi by Giacinto Scelsi 1974 (short extract)
sec A
John Wall/Mark Durgan untitled
(extract from edited improvisation)
sec B
John Wall/Alex Rodgers untitled
(heavily edited/rearranged by JW )
El Mundo Frio by Corrupted
A laugh by Alex Rodgers

An unreleased composition
from 2005-6
The track above is taken from the cd
of (severely edited) improvisations
by John Wall & Mark Durgan
Released date: March 2012
Title: 139
Lable: Entr'acte

I expected this duo’s debut to be a lot harsher than

it actually is, which probably says more about me

than either John Wall or Mark Durgan. The impression

partly derives from Durgan’s work as Putrefier and his

involvement in the reformation line-up of The New

Blockaders: and partly from Wall’s sporadic live perform-

ances in London over the past few years, typically last-

ing no longer than 15 minutes and involving abrasive

sprays of calibrated, acutely complex digital noise. It’s

certainly not without some caustic passages; indeed

it’s more notable for its discipline and restraint — Wall

and Durgan limit themselves to a relatively narrow

dynamic in terms of sound selection and volume and

activity levels, yet locate a wealth of diversity within it.

It’s a pleasant surprise to discover how well-matched

Wall and Durgan are as a duo. Considering their contrast-

ing backgrounds and approaches, their respective

vocabularies mesh very successfully, yet retain a healthy

amount of contrast and tension. Durgan’s contributions,

generated from modular and pressure-sensitive synth-

esizer, develop the vocabulary which began to emerge

on his 2009 PAN album Ploughing Furrows From Rotten

Burrows: thick, relatively slow-moving sounds —

concrete-style slaps, oscillating granular pitches and

crude percussive blurts which hint at looping patterns.

Wall uses a computer, which presumably allows him to

move and react more quickly. Consequently his playing

is more volatile and diffuse, deploying fraying frequencies

and jittery, sibilant textures, which evolve rapidly into

detailed fractal-like clusters; or glassy surfaces ruptured

by bursts of tonal splintering and structural disintegration.

The album’s incident-packed six tracks — the 34 minute

running time fairly zips by — are compiled from improv-

isations recorded last July. And, given that neither is

primarily known as an improvisor, the duo’s interaction

is impressively accomplished. Wall is the more dominant

voice on the opening track (all are untitled), and Durgan

on the second. From there the balance of power slides

back and forth, sometimes precipitously but always equit-

ably. It’s often hard to tell who's doing what or how much

is in real time or not — in the sleevenotes Wall is credited

with “severe editing” (to my knowledge, he’s never ever

been credited with “mild editing”). His excisions seem

more evident on the album’s second half, in particular

its labyrinthine fourth and fifth tracks, which continually

shift focus and perspective. Regardless of how the music

was created, or how much reconstruction was involved,

this is a powerful start for a gratifyingly simpatico pairing.

review by Nick Cain

CD by John Wall & Alex Rodgers.
Release date: May 2011
Title: Work 2006-2011
Label: Entr'acte

A fascinating release. A bit has been written on what a departure this is for Wall, but I'm not sure. I may have missed something along the way (I have five releases of his on Utterpsalm) but aside from the obvious prominence of Rodgers' voice, I hear it as a not too wayward extension of the previous works. Yes, it was constructed, laboriously one imagines though not so much as had been the case on earlier releases; built from improvisations but so had much of his music been before. It's pared down in terms of elements--just Wall and Rodgers--but much of his music had been as well, even if there were half a dozen contributors at a given moment; it tended to sound sparse and astringent.

Rodgers' texts are not at all improvised, though Wall seems to have taken liberties rearranging and editing them. From what I understand, the slight warping and other electronic effects imparted to his voice are of his own devising as well as having recorded into a cheap dictaphone, hence perhaps the up-closeness of his sound. Wall balances his own contributions equitably, Rodgers phasing in and out of a mix that's not all too unlike Wall's past work despite (one assumes) not be derived from the instrumental work of others and, as stated, having been improvised. It retains the silvery thinness heard before, a unique and beautiful sound-world; I've little doubt I would have recognised the music as Wall's in a blindfold test. I often visualise a think plate of copper or zinc, with various bumps, scratches and other "imperfections" arrayed across its softly gleaming surface. Rodgers, his words slurred, bitter and Beckettian adds just the right amount of soot...or suet. It really meshes perfectly, not foregrounded so much, more embedded.

While certainly episodic in construction, the piece cleaves together seamlessly as a whole, a bleak cascade of shards and syllables, like little else you'll hear. An excellent recording.

review by Brian Olewnick

The CD WORK 2006-11 by John Wall and Alex Rodgers is divided into four sections for no other reason than to make it easier for a detailed breakdown and clarification of the various sound/text pieces used to make up the complete work.

Section A
00:00 to 01:42 Construction 12 (JW)
01:43 to 02:58 Laptop improvisation(JW) Voice(AR)

Improvisation applies only to the sounds generated on computer.
The words are fixed and all from Alex Rodgers written texts.

02:59 to 03:41 Construction 13(JW)
03:42 to 07:05 Laptop improvisation(JW) Voice(AR). No title
07:06 to 08:51 Construction 14(JW)
08:52 to 09:45 Laptop improvisation(JW) Voice(AR). No title
09:46 to 11:28 Construction 15(JW)
11:47 to 13:22 Laptop improvisation(JW) Voice(AR). No title

00:00 to 00:03 silence

00:00 to 00:41 Laptop(AR) ”ununameur“
00:42 to 04:42 Voice (AR) ” Fingerlessly Asleep”
at 02:52 sound (JW) added to original recording
04:43 to 08:29 Construction 20 (JW)"BitFracModify"

00:00 to 00:03 silence

00:00 to 01:10 Construction 17 (JW)
utilising sound samples that were used in the following piece
01:11 to 02:53 Laptop improvisation (JW) Voice(AR). No title
02:54 to 03:17 Laptop improvisation (JW&AR)
heavily edited to function as a sound bridge to...............
03:18 to 05:07 Voice/Laptop (AR) "me washing's all fucked up"
05:19 to 07:03 Construction 22 (JW) "Organ"
07:04 to 09:02 Voice/Laptop (AR)
09:03 to 09:31 Construction 23(JW)

00:00 to 00:03 Pause

00:00 to 00:50 Laptop improvisation (JW) Voice(AR). No title
00:51 to 02:04 Construction 34 (JW)
02:05 to 03:34 Voice/Laptop(AR)
03:35 to 03:58 Laptop improvisation (JW&AR)
extreme edit taken from 21.09.10 session.
03:59 to 04:19 Construction 24(JW)
function as a sound bridge to.......
04:20 to 06:06 Voice/Laptop(AR) "Horn-ed"
Laptop(JW) added/edited in later
06:07 to 08:30 Construction 16 (JW) “8thru(metasin)”

John & Alex sharing a happy
moment with a photographer
and by extension you the audience
Constructions 46 (track above)
is one of many sound files
composed specifically for live performance.
The sound file then undergoes some serious
use and abuse in a Max/MSP patch built
specifically for me by Tom Mudd


CPHON (2005)

This single composition, lasting slightly over its 20-minute pre-set constraint, comes up just short of Wall’s longest piece to date, ‘Fractuur’. Given its constructive process: the patient and precise piecing together of thousands of heavily worked minute samples, each one with the potential to exert a generative pull on the caring listener, demanding listening is our diet here. The reward: an intense engagement with a bizarre and various compositional soundfield whose restless agitation hallmarks this composer’s work.
You could take as your initial, unlikely guide into the piece the sustaining, dim, cricket-like pulsing that arises early, establishing a potential frontal focus to allow an array of other sound sources to poke out of inner sides and ceilings. As accomplice, its polar opposite: a breathy pipe-blow whose alternation with our cricket-pulse establishes both as the boundary markers within which the characteristically wide sonic field can emerge. Characteristic too is the attack-action of certain sound events: a globular throb whose full growth the end of the piece awaits, and again in opposition, crescendo sharpenings to electric glass motes. These, together with the odd polyp and lip-fizz, represent what remains an essentially minimalist terrain, one that tempts layers of impression to accumulate on whatever does arrive: could we, for example, hear that original cricket-pulse as bcoming something like a trace of our waiting time? Anticipation grows an attention’s slow gather, one made more urgent by the vicious action of a sudden slice, or by increasingly dense, upper pitch ticks and clickings.

At eight in, coming on the end of one of those crescendo sharpenings, we suddenly have the presence implied: no glass mote, but rather, unbelievably by juxtaposition, a piano, huge (it’ll prove over 6-minutes tall), that seems to be more testing its growpen’s limits out than actually being played. It alerts most for the sheer, brutal, but weirdly welcome, acoustic sound that it is amidst this sparse electronic outerzone we’ve been drawn by polite hijack into. Ludicrously, I feel I’m watching a dinosaur eating trees but then mirage-like, over time, its strong stridencies begin to suffer muffle, harsh swervings occur it into a glacial metallicism until finally it regresses to laboured, insistent, heavy stubs; the descent unstopped by occasional back-bells and electric-excites working as if to re-animate its initial tonal range and vibrancy.

You could hear the hilarious comic quacks that duck in late on as perverse representations of what now lasts for life here as, in the final section, an engineered phase shift intrudes a kind of 4-wheel boulder roll, whose banal, grubby, indifferent ‘progress’ inevitably absorbs all the minute variations that are this work’s living cells. Looking back, one might want to trace its beginnings in the corrosive viral action enacted on the piano, an action that has now morphed into this bizarre hybrid drone, biologic in action, geologic in rhythm, that signals destructive ends minutes before the composition’s final ping. A concluding dystopic mood then, but having become deeply implicated in the action of the composition’s process, we might now be able to say that it is a mood whose strength of intellectual pessimism is vitally matched by an optimism’s will to build amidst these sonic ruins. Which leaves us where we’d perhaps hope to be: necessarily and freshly agitated.

Rob Holloway
HYLIC (2003)

Gustave Flaubert is said to have been such a fastidious writer that he'd agonise for a week over the placement of a comma. This almost fanatical attention to detail is characteristic of the London-based composer John Wall. Hylic, Wall's sixth release, has been nearly two years in the making. It's a tripartite suite, of twenty minutes duration, and in material and form it's both a consolidation of, and a departure from, his earlier work. Hylic is derived from the word hylo – of or relating to matter.
At one time, much of Wall's often microscopic matter/material had been sampled judiciously from other people's recordings. Indeed, on his second CD, Alterstill,some of the samples were presented nakedly in their new environment, and only the integrity of his recontextualisations made them work on his behalf. But although he was, and to some extent remains, a sampling artist, the compound irony and political confrontationalism of plunderphonicists such as John Oswald and Negativland play almost no part in his work. To Wall, samples are just source material: things to work on rather than with. Over the years, his reliance on samples has steadily decreased, and those used in Hylic have been modified to such a degree they're all but unrecognisable.

Like Bernard Parmegiani, Wall constructs transformative electroacoustic soundscapes of remarkable individuality. His is a muscular, energetic music that seems to contradict itself by being perpetually on the verge of doubt and disintegration. Structural integrity is of paramount importance to him, but he makes no great play of it; nor of anything else, though there are many things in his music worth savouring. Even the most minimal of these soundscapes has, for example, an astonishing degree of inbuilt complexity, although it may consist of little more than the endlessly varied colouration, weight and placement of bumps and clicks, as in the opening minutes of Hylic Part I. This music is absolutely of its time, but Wall has few equals, and I'd be very surprised indeed if his work were to fall by the wayside.

Brian Marley

The opening track breeds characteristic active attention as the evolving electronic particles achieve form through carefully built relation. The precision focus into momentary morse code adds potential figural shape to the intrusive sound bass plunges and the act of listening is drawn into one of visualisation: barren post-apocalyptic vistas, screens blinking to the pulse of the military/industrial complex. These are already overdetermined, but certainly, as has been said before, the cinematic feel of this sound is unavoidable, bringing with it a further investment in tension as the minimal tones sit lying-to-attack the attention induced by the underlying drone.
An organicism intrudes massively from the beginning of the second track: achieved from a synth-generated pulse, left as it were to find its own way blind. Again, such figuration is encouraged, and added to by breath-like modulations, unsurprising given this CD's initial conception as opera. There is nothing restfully ambient in this focus however, for this is a heavily bruised sound, morphing by contortion. Working in opposition to it however, is the fiercely imposed minimalism of sharp, incisive tones already apparent in the first track to which it eventually succumbs, creating a sound field of increasingly chilling sparcity.

Given the over-arching minimalism of the first two tracks, the cymbals that crash open the final track generate a flooding richness of impact by juxtaposition, one that is strongly maintained as its ripplings are meticulously charted out in a manner reminiscent of the earlier 'Fractuur' CD. Carrying these is a shining, airy drone that gives a further indication of operatic context. The drone works to particularise a huge range of metallic timbres into active-listening play, with the later introduction of stone and crystalline textures. Voice is materialised in the gestural physicality of improv sax breathnotes that in turn morph into a signature fragment from Constructions II, to confirm these pieces' extension of that particular exploration.

This signature fragment is, as it were, the sonic form of that most difficult of existential pivots, Beckett's 'I can't go on, I'll go on', and provides the core of the minimalism that rules these three pieces. This is the ground that the fragments and the relations built between them have been allowed to work their extension from, and at times it makes for difficult listening. Given the work's constructive process, the minute piecing together of sampled fragments, the kind of sonic reductiveness often apparent here is risky, raising as it does the spectre of that process becoming victorious over the products it is achieving. What saves them from this fate ultimately is the trained attention of this composer's ear, that continues to promote the differentiation of a wide array of sonic occurrences, which however minituristic, signal necessary innovations in a field increasingly occupied by legions of Powerbook soundalikes.
Rob Holloway

Construction I
Construction II
taut serenatic
Construction III
Construction IV

The highly-anticipated culmination of ideas sketched out in his previous two releases. Entirely, thoroughly, and unequivocally fulling the promise forged by avant-garde music in the latter half off this centuary, "constructions" marks the seamless convergence of disciplined composition, sampling methodology, live improvisation, electrocoustics and serendipity. Working with fragments (samples) of Xenakis, Kagel, Nono, Ikeda, Penderecki,Evan Parker, Helmutt Lachenmann and many more, merged with live fragments of double bass, percussion, clarinet, cello and trumpet, Wall weaves an unprecedented fabric of sound that effectively lays bare the essence of recomposition previously only hinted at by the likes of Oval, John Oswald, Albert Ayler, Nurse With Wound, Pierre Henry, Stockhausen (from "Gersang der Juenglinge" through "hymnen"),and even Stock, Hausen and Walkman.

John Wall invites comparison with David Shea as a composer who works by sampling direct from other musical sources, however, whereas Shea makes a point if dramatising the cultural associations of his samples into collaged cinematic narratives, Wall takes a compleatly opposite turn, using digital technology to homogenise sonic textures from many sources into a coherent aesthetic. the result is a stunningly complex mix. There is no way that this could ever be scored for live performance,instead, its a culmination of all the performances he has incorporated, call it "Ur-Performance." ...... A summary of where we have been and a blueprint for where we are headed.
Kenneth Goldsmith

Fractuur is the third album by London based composer John Wall. The album brings together four pieces Wall has been working on almost constantly during the last two years since Alterstill's release, a crucial period for Wall, in terms of both process and aesthetics.

Any of the obvious descriptions any writer might care to attach to Wall's music somehow fall wide of the mark. Yes, in the past he has built music exclusively out of manipulated samples and on Fractuur too, the vast majority of the music is composed of sampled fragments of other's recorded works. Does that make Wall a sampler composer? David Toop has pointed out that lumping Wall together with other sampler composers, say, David Shea, or Negativland or Christian Marclay, is about as helpful as associating David Bowie with John Coltrane on the grounds that they both play saxophone. So how about Musique Concrete? Well again, Wall's music is made up essentially of found sound, but it has little in common - either formally or sonically - with any music to which the (generally misplaced) suffix concrete has been added. As for "collagist": to the most casual of listeners, Fractuur and its predecessors reveal both an absolute seriousness and a certain disinterest in mainstream culture which is at odds with any of the Pop Art sensibilities with which collage, however unfairly, has become associated.

If one had to choose a single word for Wall's music it would have to be "meticulous". There is no doubt that John Wall's music really does bear the unmistakable hallmark of constant reworking and revision.

The great methodological leap forward for Wall since the release of Alterstill has been the conversion to hard disk recording and editing. Wall's methods have always been painstaking. Paul Schutze's Alterstill sleeve notes describe him combing "through hundreds of recordings, meticulously extracting a vocabulary of fragments from which to work". But hard disk composition has allowed Wall far more scope for this attention to detail, and, for that matter, a far wider palette of sound processing methods. It's also allowed him to layer concurrent sound with an often astounding density. Again, this has always been there - the Wire's Tony Herrington has pointed out that Wall's compositions are episodic, linear, but all the drama occurs in the horizontal, non-linear pile-up of sound files." But with Fractuur it's this aspect of the music which immediately grabs the listener.

The period during which Fractuur has come together has also seen Wall begin to work more widely with other musicians; alongside captured fragments from over thirty musicians and composers, Fractuur features the playing of violinist Peter Sheppard, double bassist John Edwards, bass clarinettist Jorg Widman, cellists David Fitzgerald and Phillip Sheppard, and clarinettist Guy Cowley. Wall has worked with these musicians - particularly with Edwards and Peter Sheppard - in much the same way that he would with samples, recording their improvisations and then extensively editing them. What is remarkable is that he is able to integrate these recordings so completely with the sampled work.

None of this should give the impression that Wall's music is overwrought. Out of such exacting, precise working methods he produces music of an often breathtaking spontaneity. There are passages throughout Fractuur which give the impression of being somehow improvised, if it were possible for several large chamber ensembles, a couple of jazz groups, and the odd electronics manipulator to jam with some kind of clarity or direction!

It's this sense of spontaneity which adds to Wall's standing as one of the most original composers working in the last decade of the twentieth century, and Fractuur his most essential work to date.
Simon Hopkins

In the late 1920's, Max Ernst re-defined the nature of collage with two "graphic novels" - Femme 100 Tetes and Une Semaine de Bonte, ou Les Sept Elements Capitaux. These books were made entirely from parts of old engravings and by using the memories and associations which attach to such "classical" source material he was able to produce, by vivid collision of reference and convention, and end product which
is well beyond the sum of it's parts......

Wall's music shares with Ernst's books a complete transcendence of its scavenger origins, as well as an acute instinct for the "weighting" of association and recollection induced by the elements of familiarity in the component parts. His method is more plastic than that employed by Ernst's pictures and his tools allow more subtle manipulation of the fragmemts he uses, but there are fundermental similarities which make the work analogous. Wall's pieces are unconcerned with their own construction and he in no way engages in debate musical or otherwise, as to the cultural baggage the process may carry. His pieces always have a total (and quite formal) musical idendity which belies their construction and the violence done to other work in order to give them form........

Ironically, in Alterstill the author is most manifest at the precise point where the "authors" are effectively extinguished.

John Wall's compositions manage to assert the persona ofthe author over the machinery of both theory and of process, and that alone sets them apart from the work which is lost in the contemplation and process of its own birth and the mechanisms of its own meaning.

Paul Shutze


If there's a possibility that your
interest in my music extends to wishing
to purchase (CD format only) then go to :--



JohnWall and Alex Rodgers

interviewed by Richard Pinnell for the WIRE 2011

May 2006: John Wall is standing at the side of the stage at London’s ICA. He's hunched behind a mixing desk that sends a recording of his electronic composition to an impressive, specially configured sound system. He has been here before, almost a decade earlier, in similar circumstances, but the task now is no less daunting. The sizeable audience is impressed by what they hear: carefully constructed, precisely crafted assemblages made up of hundreds of tiny samples. But Wall leaves that night frustrated and disenchanted, certain only of the conviction that something has to change about the way he works.

For more than a decade previouly, Wall had built a name for himself as one of the most exciting experimental composers working with the new digital technology. Over seven albums, from 1993’s Fear Of Gravity to 2005’s Cphon, he worked alone in his home studio welding together increasingly smaller and more complex samples and sound fragments to build compositions that became steadily shorter as they took increasingly longer to create. Beginning with his early albums with samples culled from his CD collection, through to the later works that used sounds specifically recorded for him by improvising musician friends, Wall’s compositions were received with acclaim, drawing critical parallels with the likes of Lachenmann, Parmegiani and even Xenakis. His approach to composition became increasingly detailed, and it took him more than two years to complete the 20 minute Cphon. The journey towards concluding that CD had been long, arduous and all-encompassing. At one point, when he thought he had finished the piece, he played it to a friend, who after listening attentively, told him that while most of it sounded incredible, one small section felt weaker than the rest. This set him back again as he returned to his computer and closed the studio door behind him for a further six months. Wall’s reputation as an uncompromising perfectionist impressed some and frustrated others, but after Cphon’s release and his experience on stage at the ICA the following year later, he was desperate to find a new, less torturous way to work. Talking with him recently at his North London home studio, he still sounds annoyed about the position he found himself in: “It stems from that concert at the ICA, which of course wasn’t really a concert, I was just playing something back in a sterile situation. I had the realisation there and then that I was just so utterly bored listening to my own material in that environment. I knew I had to change something, I knew that for sure. At that point I just knew it couldn’t go on that way.”

A chance meeting with laptop musician Lee Gamble at a backroom gig at London’s Red Rose Club set Wall thinking that maybe improvisation could be the way to go: a possible means of loosening the shackles that had bound him creatively for so long. Several years later, after a string of live concerts in his new role, Wall has reappeared with a new CD on the Entr’acte label, Work 2006–2011, a collaborative composition born out of work with one of his regular improvising partners, the poet and artist Alex Rodgers. Typically for Wall, though, the journey to this point hasn’t been an easy one, and the new album isn’t a straight recording of improvisation. “I didn’t have any real ideas at the start,” he says, “I just floundered around for a while, trying to find new ways of coming up with stuff. It wasn’t that I immediately thought about going into improvisation, I just knew I had to come up with some way of working that wasn’t the same selfconscious hard grind. So when I met Lee, and we got on, and began working together, initially not with any great sense of organisation, it felt great. But it wasn’t just the music; it got me out of my studio, which was important. The social element made a real difference. I needed that extra something outside of me, meeting people, getting out there, doing something different. Eventually we thought, ‘Well, we might as well organise a concert, an improvised concert’, and things just went from there. My original idea was to use this scenario to create ‘material’ that I could then go on to use in a potential composition. This hasn’t fully realised itself yet the way I intended it to, but this new improvisation experience has lead to how I have worked on the new CD with Alex.”

Wall has been selective over his improvising collaborators, but one significant meeting was with bassist John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders, two of the musicians Wall had asked to generate sounds for his earlier compositions, raw material he would shape and sculpt into something completely new. They played a couple of trio concerts in 2009. “I was so surprised that it worked as easy as it did. It really seemed natural. I could keep up with them, and didn’t overwhelm them, two things that I had been worried about. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, having known them so long, and having sampled the fuck out of them for so many years!”

Inspired by these successes, Wall pushed on, performing at a string of concerts that saw him gradually find his voice in an improvised setting. He discovered the open source software lloopp and its various derivations, using it to bend and shape prepared samples in live situations. Keen for more honesty about his role as a computer based musician, he began to work more with purely digital sounds. The treated instruments of his earlier compositional works were still there somewhere, but twisted and mangled to the degree that all their original acoustic presence was lost. Lacking the technological knowhow with software like SuperCollider, though, and unwilling to learn now that he had entered his sixties, Wall has taken to giving sounds to more savvy friends to “mess up a bit”, in a way reflecting his earlier use of sounds created by friends, and also conjuring images of the master painter having colours mixed for him, canvases stretched, brushes prepared.

Despite the focus on improvisation, Wall still found himself spending hours in his studio, pulling these raw materials into minutely constructed sections ready for use in the live context. “I’ve never actually abandoned all sense of composition,” he explains. “I would make these little sections, mini-compositions if you like, samples, or rather composites of many samples, maybe up to a couple of minutes long, quite complex, but put together under the condition that they would be used in an improvisational environment, changed in certain ways, manipulated in the live situation.” While the live improvisations have not yet produced complete compositions that Wall feels able to share with the wider world, the task of preparing sounds has generated material, and a lot of it, with some of it finding its way in some form onto Work 2006–2011.

For Wall, the move into improvisation has been vital. It has blown away the cobwebs formed from years of lonely studio frustrations and reawakened his creative energies. Ever the contrarian, Wall has turned to improvisation just as so many improvisors are increasingly adopting compositional strategies, but it is clear that his heart will always remain in the studio, where he can retain complete control. “The next thing for me will probably see me returning to composition again, maybe alongside the improvisation. This new CD with Alex is basically a composition that I have put together, and it has made me realise that this is what I do best. In many respects I’ve also discovered that I don’t want to listen again to what I’ve done in an improvisation. It’s just something that exists in one time and space, and has a certain validity in that context, but outside of that space I’d rather just let it lie there and move on.

“I guess with the improvisation I am trying to create something that has a compositional value, but on the hoof, if you like. I’m not just throwing sounds around. It is certainly different, though. For instance, I did some gigs at the Foundry and I really enjoyed doing them, but they were all about there and then. There’s this sense of the social context, how the night was, how I enjoyed being with the people there. Then there’s the volume – you just don’t get it like that back at home. So everything that really made that occasion, everything that existed in that space, is lost when you try and listen back later. It’s a weird situation, because I enjoy improvising a lot, but when I hear what I did later, all I hear are the flaws, the bad decisions, the naff sounds here and there. I hear just the failures, and while failure is fine it needs to stay in that room. This whole situation is quite against the nature of my personality, which naturally tries to impose some sort of control over everything I’m working on, but with the improvisation I can arrive at a point where I don’t know what the hell is happening. But I’ve found I quite like being in that position.”

The loss of control, and the need to accept failure as a possibility, are elements that would not have been found in John Wall’s music of a decade ago. His tolerance of these necessities has not been as difficult as might be imagined, though, and Wall just shrugs his shoulders at the changes he has gone through. “Part of it this lies with the fact that I just care less these days. Now, I don’t mean this to be misunderstood, but it’s about losing the ‘preciousness’ of it all. To be very clear: I still approach the sounds, the samples, and how I make them the same, I still want them to be just right, but when we look at the world, all the things that are going on out there right now… You know, I’m known for being a bit of a pessimist, but you’ve got to ask yourself where the world is going, and then you have to ask where do you place yourself in all of this mess? This is something that Alex and I constantly talk about – what is a valid form of cultural activity in this situation? So this sense of not caring as much when you consider the work against the bigger picture is something that has grown in me over recent years, and yet at the same time I constantly contradict myself in that I’ve spent a lot of time on this new CD. I’ve considered it in minute detail, and parts that others wouldn’t think important I’ve spent hours and hours on. So maybe we are back to the old John Wall really.”

Whichever John Wall was at work on the new album with Alex Rodgers, it certainly sounds like a significant departure from his previous releases. Wall’s sounds are more fluid, and thoroughly digital, still full of tiny detail and leaping contrasts between loud and quiet, but now they have a real menace to them, a snarling, barbed wire edge that leaves the listener feeling assaulted. For those that heard the earlier albums but have not been able to keep up with Wall’s more recent improvisational explorations, it will come as a bit of a shock. My suggestion that improvising has directly influenced his sound is one he acknowledges, but guardedly, since things didn’t go quite the way he planned. “In theory, going into improvisation was a means to generate, in a more fluid and unrestricted way, sound material for future compositions. I had wanted to achieve something like the way I had seen and heard good improvisors arrive at certain sonic spaces which I couldn’t do in the studio, but it doesn’t seemed to have worked out that way. Most of my live improvisations, when and if they worked, worked because of the time and place they were created in, the volume and quality of the sound system and the immediate environment, all coupled with my personal head space at the time…

“This new CD must be considered as a complete composition that has obviously has been influenced by my last five years of improvising, but my original intention was turned on its head and I ended up composing short, complex sound files, generated entirely in the studio, specifically to play in live situations, intended to be heavily manipulated, layered, etcetera… These sound files are the ones that have found their way on to the CD. They have then been edited and composed and woven around and onto Alex's solo recordings and some of our studio improvisations together. Working at the improvisations just generated sound material. Ultimately that thing called composition rears its ugly head when you try to corral all of this material together. Sequences of sounds have to make sense together, otherwise you just get a ‘sound sample library CD’, disconnected bits that carry no emotional, aesthetic, structural or conceptual weight. Just more shit filling up time and space.”

I pushing Wall further, trying to pinpoint what drives his decision making processes, how he decides which sounds make the cut, where he draws the cursor across the screen. His response is predictably difficult. “How long is a piece of string? Intuition plays a big part, combined with many hours spent working with the material.” Clearly he knows his material very well. Many of the sounds that appear on the new album have been with him for many years, but have followed him on his journey, often becoming completely altered along the way, but he has a clear idea of their provenance. Sitting with him in his studio, he will repeatedly reach for the mouse and illustrate his thoughts by picking out a particular part of a composition on the screen, showing how it came to be, how it was manipulated.

Even as the music has become a little looser and free flowing, he can still pin down its origins. The one compositional decision making process he seems to be able to articulate clearly is knowing when it is time to stop. “When two contradictory emotions hit equilibrium. When I’m sick to death of hearing it and I’m unable to find any fault in it. As for what it is that make me choose that particular moment to stop working on the piece? Well, again, how long is that piece of string?”

Wall has also made it clear that he has no interest in disguising the sound of his computer, and the departure from any recognisable instrumental sounds for this new project is another marked change in his working methods. “Well, if I am going to deal with this machine, this computer, then I want to get to the essence of what this thing is all about. I am producing data sounds with a computer: they may have begun life as something else, but that is what they are now, and I don’t want to pretend otherwise. Regardless of whether it is successful or not, that is not the issue; it’s to do with the honesty of the engagement. I’m convinced that there are possibilities within computer music to make meaningful work.”

However, while assured of the possibilities of the computer as a music making instrument, Wall is wary of the idea that new technology automatically generates interesting music: “New digital sounds generated by new software or a computer programming language does not automatically imply, just because they may be new to our ears, for a few days at least, that they might be good or relevant or lasting or whatever. All sounds will inevitably become ‘old’ sounds. So what other qualities would these sounds need to have to be able to say something to us now and in the future? If we assume that the post-oil, medieval future that faces us will feature some sort of digital playback system – sarcasm intended – and also assuming that most people who listen to or create this type of music do give a fuck about whether their efforts last, well, then we are back with that old chestnut: structure and composition, how one sound follows another with its its own structural logic. If that isn’t there then, as I said before, it’s just a sound sample library CD useful for giving your dance tracks a bit of edge.”

Now in his sixties, John Wall is increasingly and angrily pessimistic about the world around him, and his frustration and contempt for so much of the human race’s condition can be heard in Work 2006–2011. But he has also found a perfect working companion in Alex Rodgers. The poet’s contributions are acerbic, partly surreal spoken word parts that are delivered in a gruff, raw voice tinged with a sense of Beckettian hopelessness wrapped in an Essex accent. A self-confessed bitter and angry commentator, Rodgers isn’t really at home making CDs. “I’ve never really wanted to have much to do with that fucking nonsense,” he says.

A friend of Wall’s for more than 20 years, Rodgers is something of the archetypal outsider artist. At art college in the post-punk years of the early 1980s, he has remained active ever since as a visual artist and poet, but has remained vehemently antagonistic to the mainstream art world ever since, a trait he shares with Wall and a key driving force behind both their personal and creative relationship. In his twenties he messed about in groups around the vibrant Essex scene, but his love of words, inherited from his parents, always led him to return to writing his anarchic, fractured form of poetry alongside any musical or visual art. He tells me that while he has little to show for his efforts – no books, no exhibition catalogues, no CD releases prior to this one – he has never stopped working hard. “I used to spend hours carving something into the tiniest of stones, I’d do that a lot, but then just throw it away straight after. I also spent years writing an infinite number of ‘wraths’ on the walls of toilets, so maybe only men could ever see them, but I put a lot of work into it. They were just lines of stuff I’d written, maybe poetry then, and I named them wraths after a line from a brilliant AR Ammons poem that went something like, ‘The townsfolk returned to their small wraths of ease’. I really like that hard working creative sensibility, but I just can’t stand all the fucking fannying about with the morons that run all of the art world. I’ve done a lot of stuff, but I’ve avoided all of that. I’ve been working hard for many years, but few people knew it. John knows it, so maybe that’s why we can work together.”

Now a resident of Cornwall, where he lives with his partner, Rodgers splits his time between bringing up his daughter and working by day building stage sets for business conferences and (if he’s lucky) theatre groups. His outward persona of the middle aged labourer with a chip on his shoulder hides a sharp, intelligent mind. On Work 2006–2011, Rodgers’s words come across as disjointed and sometimes unconnected, like some kind of aural automatic writing, but he is at pains to make it clear he is not just burbling random words in a stream of consciousness manner. “I could claim to be really high-minded about it, and on one level the meaning of my words is really important. The words you hear on the CD are all carefully written and selected from a lot of work. It’s like that Paul Klee quote, ‘taking a line for a walk’: I start off early in the morning, after a lot of coffee, and there’s an idea, a particular seed if you like, and I just take it with me during the day to see where it goes. There are usually two things in my head, that initial seed and then the urge to play about with it, see what happens. I like the idea of being illusory, which is something John also does very well in a kind of abstract way, that idea of playing the fool with something actually really important. Much of what you hear on the CD was recorded on a really cheap MP3 recorder in hotel rooms while away with work and often pretty ill, coughing and spluttering and stuff, but the words aren’t just randomly thrown out there.”

As the title suggests, Work 2006–2011 was pulled together from elements collected over a five-year period, but the duo had never set out to make a CD. Somewhere along the line, their experiments together suggested something to Wall, but it was the interest, attitude and encouragement of Entr’acte label boss Allon Kaye that provided the inspiration to put the disc together. Rodgers took some convincing, but Wall has always thrived on the input of others, and the injection of both Rodgers’s recorded voice and his contribution to the way Wall works in the studio were very welcome. “I’ve always asked people to listen to the music for me as I compose it,” Wall acknowledges. “One reason for asking someone’s opinion is for them to expose the weaknesses in the work and to reinforce your own criticism of it. This validation of your doubts is all that is needed to get on with the removing, reworking of the offending parts and finish the work. Alex played an even greater role but his input worked in a similar way.”

Perhaps only the trust he felt in an old friend made Rodgers’s first venture into published work possible, but while Wall undertook all of the compositional work, Rodgers didn’t just sit back. “John does whatever he feels he needs to do with the stuff, but he knows how far he can go, and I do say no at times. The ‘sense’ of things is what matters, and if he changes the sense of my words then I stop him.” Rodgers didn’t veto very much, though, and his presence and influence has in fact helped unstick the glue that has held John Wall’s output in abeyance for so long. The likelihood of the floodgates now opening is somewhat slight, but this one might keep us going for the next three or four years.


Will China Save Global Capitalism?

By Sander

What Crisis?

The current crisis is more than a mere cyclical occurrence in the process of capital accumulation, it's the result of the obsolescence of the very basis of the capitalist mode of production, the value-form*. It is the value-form which forces capitalists to continue to use abstract labour time** to measure wealth, while the creation of real wealth has become less dependent on the amount of labour time used than on general knowledge and its application in production. This prediction of Marx (in the Grundrisse) is fully realised today. It is in this developing contradiction that he saw the historical limit of capital. It has become absurd for humanity to base decisions on what to produce, how, how much, where and for whom, on the law of value. This absurdity manifests itself in the simultaneity of generalised overproduction and extreme poverty, in the increasing incapacity of capital to exploit the labour power at its disposition, causing an accelerating expulsion of workers from production, while money seeks a false security in financial bubbles.

It manifests itself in efforts to impose an artificial scarcity of goods that would otherwise be abundant and of no value (such as digital goods). It manifests itself in the inability of capital to stop the destruction of the environment, although it knows that the resulting disasters are becoming ever more threatening. It manifests itself in its inability to overcome its own crisis. It manifests itself ever more clearly, but the capitalists, and others who view the world through their own window, do not see it. They cannot see it. Capital is subjected to the law of value like an animal is subjected to its own nature. It cannot solve a problem whose solution calls for its abolition. It therefore can do nothing against its crisis except fight its symptoms, blow hot and cold, alternate stimulus measures and austerity measures and delay the inevitable descent. That these efforts could produce recoveries, we never doubted. Moreover, irrespective of the measures taken, the capitalist economy always follows a cyclical course, even when the general trend is towards deepening crisis. It is hardly necessary to argue that this is the case today. The crisis is worsening and recovery has a hard time hiding it.

The Metamorphosis of Value

The accumulation of capital is going through cycles in which value morphs from money into commodities and from commodities back into money: M - C - M'. Money, M (abstract value), is the starting point. It buys commodities, C, the means of production whose value is transmitted in the commodities resulting from their productive use. These new commodities are sold which transforms the value again into money, M'. The only reason why the initial money, M, was transformed into C, is that M' is greater than M. The transformation is profitable.

Marxist analysis reveals that the source of profit is surplus value, the difference between the value of the living labour power that the capitalist buys (which, like for all commodities, is equal to the quantity of abstract labour necessary to reproduce it) and the value it creates for him (the quantity of abstract labour performed). The higher the productivity, the less labour time is needed to produce the equivalent of wages, thus the greater the part of the workday that produces surplus value. But this surplus value can never arise from more than a part of the workday. The technological development which increases productivity also decreases the value of living labour in production relative to that of past labour (technology, equipment, infrastructure). Of this living labour, surplus value is only a part and it therefore must decline with it. Since profit = surplus value, this is a problem, especially in a world that operates more and more on automated processes. Productivity does not save capitalism, on the contrary, it ripens and further accentuates its contradictions. The more it increases and the more these increases become widespread, the more the value of what is produced declines relative to the value of the capital invested in production.

It creates another problem in the next phase of the cycle of value, the transformation of commodities back into money, C - M'. This does not happen automatically. The increase of productivity slows the production of value, but accelerates the production of use values. Unproductive consumption can always be expanded, but productive consumption remains limited to the use values needed for production. These do not increase because the ability to produce them increases. The essential market consists of the demand for capital goods and consumer goods necessary for the reproduction of labour power. It's their expansion that makes the expansion of value in the next cycle possible. It's this market that, over time, is incapable of following the acceleration in productivity. The general overproduction of technology (visit cities like Detroit if you need proof) and especially of labour power (nearly 2 billions of unemployed) testify to it.

No Value Without a Hoard

When these bottlenecks reappeared in the 1970s, after ‘the thirty glorious years' made possible by the war and the expansion of the global market under the aegis of the dollar, the general tendency was to inflate, to support demand, to stimulate M - C. The law of value punished this cheating with accelerating inflation.

Attempts to get it under control on the back of the working class faced intense resistance. The growth of fictitious capital*** in the circulation of commodities devalued money and thus encouraged it to leave circulation. It discouraged M - C, productive investment, because inflation made the real value of future prices unpredictable, and encouraged speculative investment. M preferred to stay M, instead of transforming itself into commodities. But it couldn't.

Capitalism cannot survive without a 'treasure'; money must be able to be withdrawn from circulation without losing its value to be re-injected at the right time. But money, abstract value, is not stable. Its power lies in its ability to transform itself into other commodities. Therefore the value of the monetary hoard remains dependent on real valorisation, on value creation, which can only happen in the phase C , in production. Otherwise, it becomes paper or less. Inflation signals that this valorisation decreases relative to the money in circulation. If hoarded money is dragged down by the loss of value of money in circulation, panic ensues. Accumulation loses its purpose. Money desperately seeks refuge in gold or old paintings and tries to protect itself with exorbitant interest rates that are strangling the already crippled production ... it's one of the possible paths to breakdown.

Value is an objective abstraction, that is, a social construction that has taken on the appearance of being objective, to be an intrinsic feature of things. It is not. In the end, it is a belief system that collapses when money cannot be hoarded.

The restructuring of capital that began in the 1980s brought inflation under control, boosted the rate of surplus value and thus the rate of profit, and restored confidence in hoarding. In other texts we have analysed in greater detail how this was done.i Amongst other things, we pointed to the crucial role played by globalisation: the global integration of production chains and markets, deregulation and globalisation of financial capital, the emergence of post-Fordist production in advanced countries and the massive displacement of Fordist industry to low-wage countries.

China to the Rescue

China was by far the country most transformed the most by this restructuring. In a few decades, it has changed from a failed attempt at autarkic state capitalism into the second largest economy in the world and the largest industrial producer. In 1990 it produced 3 percent of the world's industrial output, 20 years later 19.8 percent, overtaking the US who has held that position for 110 years.ii China's dramatic expansion has benefited the advanced capitals in several ways: its cheap products were the main reason why inflation remained low, the combination of its low wages and modern technology brought huge profits to Western and Japanese investors, and the realistic threat to move production to China helped to curb wages in the advanced countries. On the expansion of the world market, its impact has also been crucial: less by the opening of its domestic market (which is certainly large and growing, but limited by the extreme poverty of the majority of its population) than by its indirect and paradoxical effect on the market of its customers. Because its expansion was driven by external trade, and because the state kept the lid on Chinese wages and thus on the consumption of the working class, since their low level is its main competitive weapon, each year China obtained a growing trade surplus. As in other countries before it (especially Japan), whose industrial development depended on the US market, China used these profits to accumulate a hoard consisting of dollars, public debt and US securities.

By hoarding these dollars, China withdraws them from circulation, and thereby keeps the dollar stronger than it otherwise would be. That's the main reason why China does this: to defend its competitive position on the market towards which its industry is essentially oriented. For the same reason it buys American public debt, thus giving the Fed the means to stimulate demand by lowering interest rates. China's strategy, whether it likes it or not, is based on its confidence in the US dollar as the guardian of value.

By selling commodities under the value they would have if they would be produced locally, and by accepting a payment that is largely hoarded instead of demanding an immediate equivalent, China, and other countries in a similar position, not only directly stimulate the purchasing power of their export markets, but also do so indirectly by facilitating an inflation of their assets. American capital led the dance. With its interest rates approaching zero (which wouldn't have been possible without the demand of China and Japan for its debt) its tax giveaways, its deregulation, privatisation, the commodification of services and finances, it inflated the demand for its real estate and securities and thus their price. The trust in the capacity to hoard value was fully restored. In 2004 the economist Stephen Roach estimated that 80 percent of the net-savings of the world flowed to the US. A growing part of the global profits were siphoned away from general circulation into the American hoard. After the crisis erupted, the ‘neoliberal' policies which had stimulated this arrangement came under heavy fire, since the crisis had revealed its speculative essence. But what was the alternative from a capitalist point of view? The measures that should have been taken according to the capitalist left, more productive investment, if necessary directly by the state, and higher wages to stimulate demand, surely would have meant that the threats of overproduction and accelerating inflation would have returned much sooner.

The ‘neoliberal' arrangement at least had the advantage of holding back these threats for a while. It counteracted the tendential overproduction, by giving money other destinations than productive investment. It counteracted inflation by sucking money out of general circulation. And it made the rich even richer - especially the traders in money and everything that can be easily monetised. ‘The real profits are not made by producing,' said a Wall Street man, ‘they're made by buying and selling.' Or even by doing nothing, since the prices of shares and real estate rose every day. It became quite rational to go into debt, since the rise of ‘values' more than compensated for the low interest obligations - if you had money. If you didn't it was still expensive to run up debt; but for the rich, it paid for itself and then some. No surprise then that the illusion took hold that capital can accumulate in the form M - M', without having to pass through that annoying phase C.

But in reality, it is only in this phase that value is created, that the value invested in means of production C and labour power V transforms into C+V+S (surplus-value), that abstract labour is added to the value of capital. Thanks to the inclusion of China and other low wage countries and thanks to the relative decline of wages in the advanced countries, the creation of value grew, but not at the dizzying speed of the hoard.

The value of the hoard is not an objective fact but an article of faith. To defend the faith in its hoard is the primary objective of the capitalist state. That is the faith for which the crusades of our days are waged: to project power; to reassure the shareholders.

The False Promise of Austerity

When the crisis pierced the bubble and showed that the apparent enrichment was to a large extent due to the insertion of fictitious value in the cycle of value, the capacity to hold value once again became doubtful. It took an historically unprecedented acceleration of spending, and thus of debt-creation, on the part of the strongest countries to support the financial institutions, to avoid a collapse of faith in the private hoard. Faith in the state is what saved them. But, to confront the consequences of the growth of fictitious capital, much more fictitious capital was created. And it continued. With its ‘quantitative easing' policy the Fed continued to support the prices of public debt and mortgages by buying them for hundreds of billions from the banks with money it created out of thin air.

Recently, the EU (European Union) created hundreds of billions of euros to save its most indebted member-states from bankruptcy. Even the countries where draconian austerity measures are imposed didn't stop creating more debt. They can't function without it; at the very least they need to refinance their old debts. None of them has a budget without a large deficit. More often than not, their deficit is increasing, only at a slower pace than earlier. So public debt keeps swelling, while austerity undermines the expansion of the market and the creation of new purchasing power and therefore also the receipts of the state so that more debt must be created ... in this way, the crisis of confidence in the capacity of private capital to hoard value is transformed into a crisis of confidence in the state as guardian of value. This crisis already severely affects the weakest competitors and is moving towards the centre of the system.

Those trillions of new debts are commodities, which must compete with all other commodities to find buyers. Their growing supply demands a growing portion of the purchasing power, so less remains for other commodities; this increases the saturation of markets, which discourages productive investment and thus the creation of new value.

Austerity serves to improve the brand image of the country, to inspire trust in its future ability to pay its debts. The growth of public debt means that the competition between them for capital is intensifying on the basis of that trust. The larger the supply of debt of the ‘save havens' like the US, the more countries whose debts are more risky are forced to try to improve their ability to pay with austerity measures to remain competitive in the debt market and avoid becoming the victim of a flight of capital.

So the goal of austerity is to convince the capital markets that it is profitable to buy its public debt, that its capacity to hoard value remains intact. But this strategy remains based on the illusion that M can become M' without an expansion of value in the C phase. It bets that the economy can pay for exponentially growing debts without a corresponding growth of production. It's a short-term strategy: the savings create space to pay the creditors but they don't stimulate the creation of new value. On the contrary, they reduce it and thereby reduce the future capacity to re-pay debts.

In the sphere of production, the emphasis is on cost reduction as well: savings are made on employment, wages, materials and unproductive costs. Especially the first two have made the recovery possible. In this recovery, however, the lost jobs have not come back: more is now being produced by fewer workers than before. This reflects an increase in the rate of exploitation (S/V), but also an increase in the organic composition of capital (C/V). This was not a result of a boom in technological investment. A reduction of V (labour power) was already technically feasible earlier but it took the excuse of the crisis to impose it. This trend further diminishes the demand for consumer goods on the part of the working class, thereby sharpening the problem of the realisation of value; and it diminishes living labour in relation to past labour in production, thereby sharpening the problem of the creation of value.

For capital, there is just one way to defend itself against the devalorisation that the law of value demands: make the working class pay for the crisis. But the unprecedented wave of strikes in China and other Asian countries last year, the massive revolt this spring in Arab countries, the strong resistance against austerity by the proletariat in Greece and other European countries, show that this will become increasingly difficult - and risky too. States are constrained by their fear that a point will be reached where social control escapes them. Already, young proletarians who occupy the plazas of Spain are beginning to wonder whether another world is possible than the world of value.

But for capital, there is no alternative. None of the scenarios that its apologists invent offer an escape from the iron cage in which the law of value imprisons it. In other texts, we analysed why ‘green technology' will not save it, and why information technology, monopolisation and artificial shortages will not save it.iii Then there is the hope placed on China. China seems rich and in dire need of just about everything: the perfect market to revitalise the global economy.

The Limits of the Chinese Locomotive

Will China save capital from drowning? To a large extent, it already has done so during the last quarter of a century, as we saw earlier. But evidently, its beneficial effect for global capital has not prevented capital from descending into its worst crisis since the 1930s. So to get it out of this crisis, this beneficial effect would have to increase. But the opposite is happening. Both as a source of surplus value, and as a market, China's beneficial effect is diminishing: the former because of the rising value of labour power, the latter because of its own growing indebtedness and inflation.

The Rise in the Value of Labour Power

China's beneficial effect was primarily based on its abundant supply of dirt cheap labour power, well disciplined with the help of Confucius and Stalin. It's weakening because the development of China has changed its society and this is pushing the value of labour power higher.

The majority of the workers who make all these cheap products that keep inflation down in the West are migrants (that is the case for 80 percent of the miners, 70 percent of the construction workers, 68 percent of the industrial workers and 60 percent of service employees). They are between 150 and 200 million strong and they came from the vast interior of the country, in a huge but well orchestrated exodus, aimed at providing the necessary labour power for the ‘global assembly line.' The first generation of migrants consisted of peasants and other villagers who never knew anything else but a world of poverty. The value of labour power is determined by its cost of reproduction, but they differ from one society to another. In the interior of China, as in India, where the society has been characterised by general poverty for many generations, the consumer goods that are socially considered necessary for the reproduction of labour power are minimal. That's what makes the value of its labour power so low for capital.

The way in which Chinese capital has managed the labour force clearly shows that its aim was to prevent this from changing. For this, it used the ‘Hukou' registration system that ties the worker to the place he/she comes from. That means that the migrant worker has no right to benefits such as health insurance, except ‘at home' (where they often don't exist), no right even to stay when he/she becomes unemployed. There is a strong resemblance to the ‘homeland' system under South Africa's Apartheid regime, and with the treatment of undocumented workers everywhere. The Hukou system is designed to meet several objectives: the artificial determination of the value of labour power on the industrialised coast by the conditions of the hinterland; the creation of division within the working class; to make workers vulnerable to intimidation; and prevent the migration from the interior becoming an avalanche.

The sons and daughters of the first generation are still considered ‘migrants' under the Hukou system, but they live in a different world than their parents and have few links with their place of origin. They are urbanised young people who live in an environment that is much more technologically developed, complex and rich. An environment that is also transformed by the extravagant consumption of all those newly rich they see around them.iv The emergence of an industrialised society implies a change in the value of its labour power: the consumer goods seen as necessary for its reproduction inevitably expand. The young generation no longer accepts the Hukou system and the conditions that stem from it.v Because of its pressure, this system was already decomposing and the strike wave of last summer may have delivered it a fatal blow. Wages were already rising considerably in the industrialised coastal regions, even for migrants (between 2003 and 2009 by almost 80 percent). And it has continued: in the last two years wages in the coastal regions rose by 50 percent.

There are already capitals that are leaving these regions to set up shop where wages are still lower, as in Vietnam or Bangladesh, or in China's interior. But there too, the changes in living conditions resulting from industrialisation are pushing wages higher. Furthermore, the growing combativity of the Chinese proletariat has had an impact on the consciousness of workers in the region. In Vietnam and Bangladesh, the number and intensity of workers' struggles has shot upwards in 2010. Today, borders are less and less capable of preventing such contagion. News travels fast outside of the controlled media, as the events in the Maghreb have shown. In Vietnam, wages are rising as fast as in China. In Bangladesh, the minimum wage was increased by 85 percent last year. In China's interior wages are still considerably lower than in the coastal provinces, but they are rising at a faster

So it appears that capital's capacity to combine modern technology with ever-lower wages, which sustained its rate of profit for at least two decades, has reached its limit. It's true that there are still places on earth where the value of labour power is lower (in particular in India) but there, other factors, such as the lack of infrastructure (roads, ports, power, etc.) poses severe limits. So the hope that the cheap labour power of China and similar countries will revitalise global capital is not based on perceivable trends in the real economy. It's true that this could change if Chinese capital were to succeed in pushing the price of its labour power far under its value, but for the moment conditions are not in its favor.

The Stimulus Policy Created a Bubble

The vertiginous growth of its exports in the past decade made it possible for China to reduce the share of wages in the GNP dramatically, while conceding a rise of wages at the same time. The expansion of the pie was large enough to accommodate a growth of the purchasing power of workers even though wages became a smaller part of the pie. Today, that's no longer the case.

The Chinese economy, as it is structured around its export sector, obviously suffered huge losses when its markets shrank after the crisis burst open. The state, concerned about the social consequences of a slowdown of the economy, reacted with an ambitious stimulus programme. Only the US spent more. But while the US created money to back up its treasury, American assets, China did so in the first place to stimulate investment. State-run banks unleashed a lending spree which led to a construction boom of unprecedented proportions. Spending on fixed-asset investment is now equal to nearly 70 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. It is a ratio that no other large nation has approached in modern times (in the US, the figure has hovered around 20 percent for decades). But did this exponential growth of credit lead to a corresponding growth of value? Apparently not: more and more debts are no longer paid off. The money that was created in their name is fictitious, yet it circulates. Debt, speculation and inflation, are forcing China to end, or at least sharply reduce, its stimulus policy. The hopes of those who see in China a market that will continuously expand will be rudely disappointed.

China's stimulus measures have helped significantly to soften the crisis of advanced capitalism. When China buys, day after day, billions of dollars, it gives the Fed the flexibility to create money at a faster pace. China does it to curb the devaluation of the dollar vis-à-vis its own money, the Renminbi (RMB), also known as Yuan, in order to protect its competitive position on the American market. More precisely: many companies in the coastal provinces which produce for the external market already operate with a razor-thin profit-rate. Their contracts are in dollars but they pay their suppliers in RMB. A sharp devaluation of the dollar would be a fatal blow to them.

So it's not surprising that China used its stimulus program to reduce its dependence on Fordist production, by trying to become a producer at the cutting edge, where profits are less derived from the low value of labour power than from technological rent (i.e., a market advantage). The efforts it has made towards this goal, such as the modernisation of its infrastructure, were beneficial for the exports of the advanced countries, especially for Germany, the leading producer of modern technology. Its exports to China have increased by 40 percent since 2009. From a country with antique trains, China became an importer of HSTs (high speed trains). But now it is becoming an exporter of HSTs. That changes the game. The privileged sectors are becoming crowded. China becomes an exporter of green technology, while its factories vomit poison into the air as if there were no tomorrow.

A Cursed Treasure

At first sight, it seems so simple. China has huge needs and huge financial reserves. Just do the math and everyone benefits. But it is only simple if you think money and value are the same. If China decides to become a cutting edge producer in all areas, using its financial reserves to buy the best technology in all sectors, it would be for a time - before this ends in gigantic overproduction - a huge market of the last resort for the rest of the world. But it can't.

These financial reserves are debts and money of other countries, especially the US. To what degree does this money represent real value or only fictitious capital? Its partially fictitious character remains hidden in the hoard, as long as the faith in it remains intact, but it would appear clearly as soon as China attempted to bring the amount of dollars needed to realise that plan into circulation. By taking huge reserves of dollars out of the sterility of its coffers where they can do no harm, to throw them into the global economy, China would achieve the opposite of what it wants: a sharp devaluation of the dollar which would destroy the profit rate of its export industry and would devalue its own financial reserves, with a worldwide acceleration of inflation to boot. And if it were to use its hoard not for massive investments but to finance a general rise of purchasing power, the consequences would be equally catastrophic: the price of labour power, which remains its main competitive weapon, would shoot up, inflation and speculative investment, which already have reached alarming levels because of the accelerated monetary creation, would become unstoppable. It's as if there was a curse on China's hoard: these trillions of dollars will keep their value only as long as they remain untouched.

The Fear of a Human Avalanche

There is another reason why China cannot make this 'easy sum'. It could, for example, raise its agricultural sector to a point where it would be as productive as that of the US. Technically, nothing stands in its way. But instead of doing this, China is prospecting Africa and Brazil to buy land to start modern capitalist farms there, far away from home. Because doing this at home would mean the expulsion of hundreds of millions who would flee to the cities. That is the social nightmare that the ruling class wants to avoid at all costs. The same is true in many other sectors. China can't be reduced to an industrial zone in the south and subsistence farming in the interior. The majority of companies, employing a majority of the working class of the country, are capitals of a low organic composition (C/V); that is, employing lots of workers but at low productivity. They have survived, thanks to the low value of V, labour power (reinforced still by Maoist rule, when the value of labour power meant enough to survive just until tomorrow, the ‘iron bowl' and nothing more), and thanks to the fact that China's internal market is only partially opened to outside competition. But also thanks to loans from the banks, that is to say, from the state.

During the last three decades, the state has stopped supporting many thousands of those companies. This not only in order to cut expenses but also to feed - not too much, not too little - the stream of labour power needed by the rapidly expanding Fordist industry in the south. But there are still millions of them. To support them was the main goal of China's stimulus program. This has not prevented thousands of them from going under, but it kept alive many others. It did so by giving them orders (infrastructure projects, of which a principal goal is to be able to move large numbers of migrants to and from the industrial zones) and especially by giving them loans of which it is clear that a large part will never be repaid.

According to the IMF, China's rate of debt/GDP is 22 percent, a lot lower than that of the US or the EU. But this figure does not include the debts of the thousands of investment companies formed by local governments that invested in infrastructure projects but also in the survival of companies that, from the point of view of value, no longer have a reason to exist. These investment companies are, like all capitalist entities, engaged in a ferocious competitive battle between them to attract capital.

According to the calculations of the economist Victor Shih of Northwestern University, their debts amounted to 11.4 trillion RMB (1,7 trillion dollars) by the end of 2009, or 35 percent of China's GDP. Taking into account the open credit lines already assigned to them, they would rise by another 12.7 trillion RMB by the end of this year, to a total of 3.7 trillion dollars. Already 28 percent of these loans are ‘non-performing'. A recent report by the investment bank UBS predicted that the local government investment companies would generate $460 billion in loan defaults over the next few years. ‘Most of the government entities that borrow can't even make the interest payments on the loans', Shih recently said to The New York Times . When these debts are included, China's rate of debt/GNP was 75 percent at the end of 2009 and would be 97 percent by the end of 2011, higher than that of the US today (94 percent).vii So the hope resting on the assumption that China can play the role of locomotive because it doesn't have to carry excessive debts which force the other large economies to austerity policies, seems unjustified.

Like elsewhere, in China the state desperately tries to compensate for the lack of creation and realisation of value by accumulating debts and we can see that its capacity to do so is eroding. Its efforts have led to excessive indebtedness, an inflation-rate (officially still below 6 percent, in reality at least double that) that threatens its capacity to monetise value, and speculative bubbles, especially in real estate.viii

For these reasons, China has decided to end its stimulus program. Since last fall, the state has ordered the banks to drastically tighten their loans, and has begun to consolidate - i.e liquidate - thousands of local investment companies. Its economy is beginning to cool. At the same time, the pressure for higher (or less low) wages continues. Workers in transportation, services and white-collar jobs who did not get the raises that the industrial workers obtained, claim it's their turn now.

Some China-watchers think that the anti-inflation measures that China is taking now are too little and too late to get inflation under control; and that a climate of ‘stagflation' would make it very difficult for the state to maintain its grip on society. It's not up to us to predict whether China will make a ‘hard' or ‘soft landing'.ix But in both cases, the high hopes invested in its market will land hard.

China will continue to grow, but less than before. Like elsewhere, this growth will create fewer jobs than it will destroy. Out of fear of social convulsions, China tries to limit this tendency, but this is becoming increasingly difficult. In China, like elsewhere, the great worry of the ruling class is: how will we manage all this superfluous variable capital. Not just the migrants and other refugees from rural poverty, but also the millions of graduates for whom there is no more place in the economy.x

We see the same thing elsewhere. Everywhere, the nightmare of capitalism becomes, what will we do with all those people? Where can we stockpile them, how can we keep them quiet? How to separate the superfluous from those we need? How to prevent them from engaging in revolt? How to make them disappear?

For the moment, capital is focusing on reducing their cost. It is well aware of the impossibility of creating new debt to replace the old non-performing ones endlessly, or, in other words, of the impossibility of continuing to hide, with fictitious capital, that the capital in the hoard is (to a growing extent) fictitious. So by reducing its costs, it seeks to create the financial space to defend the confidence in the capacity of its debts to hold value. In the past three years, trillions of dollars, euros, yens and RMBs have been created to support the private hoard undermined by bad debts, and trillions more to impede a deflationary spiral towards depression. Never has so much money been created in so much time. This has put a brake on the deflationary pressure without however eliminating it. It remains a bubble economy. Capital, M, continues to skip the phase C to get to M' and by doing so, it undermines M'. All the money creation, the tax breaks and other presents to the possessors of capital can hide this only for a limited time.

So the pendulum swings from stimulation to austerity. China is ending its stimulus program, the US has ended its ‘quantitative easing' policy and in Congress, the emphasis is on cutting expenses, the EU's willingness to bailout its most debt-ridden members seems to have reached a limit and everywhere central banks are taking measures to restrict loans, to defend their hoard.

At the same time, the proletariat, the population that has only its labour power to sell in order to survive, neither in China nor elsewhere is in the mood to sacrifice itself and is discovering new ways to fight, to communicate, to resist.

A collision is inevitable.


A scene of devastation in the Shejaiya district of Gaza City after days of shelling by the murderous military state that is Israel.

" This is not about destroying Hamas; this is about destroying every Palestinian in Gaza, destroying our lives, crushing our dignity and morale. Let it be known to (Israel) that the more they kill and destroy, the stronger we become. We have nothing left to lose. Now I would rather die with my family under the rubble of our house than have a humiliating truce. No justice, no peace"

Sarah Ali, a Palestinian woman from Jabalya refugee camp
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