• Mumtaz Afreen

Resisting Audio-Surveillance: How Arca's "@@@@@" Defies The Bondage of Being

Updated: Mar 10



It’s hard to find meaningful music these days and even harder to immerse yourself in it. Arca, however, has released a 62 minute long reprieve from the drudgery of the capitalist music industry in the form of her newest single “@@@@@”.


After dropping "@@@@@" in late February this year, Arca explains in a press release:

“@@@@@ is a transmission broadcasted into this world from a speculative fictional universe, in which the fundamentally analogue format of FM pirate radio remains one of few means to escape authoritarian surveillance powered by a hostage sentience gestated by a post-singularity AI. The host of the show, known as DIVA EXPERIMENTAL lives across multiple bodies in space in virtue of her persecution — in order to kill her, one would first have to find all of her bodies. The bodies that host her carry fetishes for paralinguistics, breaking the fourth wall and nurturing a mutant faith in love in the face of fear.”




Arca offers us chaos and serenity in slippages of sound, narrating her persecution by and resistance to surveillance in an expansive array of audiovisual components. The visual aesthetics of Arca’s cyborg self-rendering position her splayed on top of a half sunken car. Her cyborg form in the midst of an apocalyptic landscape compliments the ever-changing soundscapes of “@@@@@”. Through her persona as DIVA EXPERIMENTAL, Arca is beckoning the audience to engage themselves in the work of de-training themselves from algorithmic listening and make an honest effort to engage in her work. In creating layers through meaning, Arca purposefully deploys multiple music technologies to explore her journey as a Venezuelan trans woman who is constantly moving in a dystopian capitalist matrix. This single, if anything, conveys continuity and discontinuity in movement.


Most notably, Arca extensively uses production technology to alter her vocals into slivered hums or beguiling whispers breaking through a sea of synthesisers and distorted bass. The shards of her voice wade against the current of the synthesiser sea, showcasing a somewhat human aspect to an otherwise completely mechanised sonic environment. DIVA's voice might not always translate legibly through layers of warped production, but it is ever present and resounding in the harmonic wholeness of her ballad-like cacophony. By altering her vocals, Arca manipulates production technology as a vessel to convey her vulnerability and strength as a non-binary trans woman; an identity directly affected by technology itself.


Upon listening, the layers of processing, filtering, and restructuring of "@@@@@" all create an impression of erratic gestation. Arca accompanies this impression by juxtaposing her corporeal representation bound to the car against the projected representation of her in black fetish wear then white lingerie. In her black fetish wear, Arca is seen to be signing the cross and pats her crotch on a loop, subverting the colonial/religious/patriarchal gaze which has so acutely shaped her art-making processes.


Arca also visually displays technology as physically shackling her while the colour scheme in the background alternates from daytime to nighttime, marking the passage of time as irrelevant in her sonic journey. DIVA's chains can be interpreted as corporeal manifestations of her being bound by surveillance, across numerous temporalities. As the song progresses, it becomes clear that Arca is not just bound to the assemblage of the car, but is being physically modified by it as well – noting the laser cutting into her crotch area. The foregrounded bodily modification symbolises how music as an art form is constantly mutating and transgressing itself in a spur of fluidity and motion. Literally splicing into Arca, the laser dutifully reminds us that much like the artist, music is always-already in a state of transition. As the body is always in motion, so are the soundscapes which surround and mould the body. This modification brings to mind Arca’s words regarding her previous work emphasising the importance of corporeal flux, regarding how “the way we love will be fluid and liberated and uncompromising, rejecting every single convention of the here and now” in sound and vision (Fallon).


As the body is always in motion, so are the soundscapes which surround and mould the body

Arca explores her movement in precarity through the volatile, guttural, soothing harmonies she produces, even offering different ways of interpreting her single. As “all bodies can be thought of contagious or mired in contagions... infecting other bodies with sensation, vibration, irregularity, chaos,” Arca thus evokes “the language of infection and transmission” through her deconstructivist production (Puar 46). Her processed vocals travel in their irregularity and chaos, transported by technology through numerous spatial geographies.


In the diasporic migration from Latin American rhythm into the pounding bass of Western Europe, Arca’s sonic manipulation moulds soundscapes of violence and serenity by re-appropriating patchworks of distorted synths and severed percussion, which are dispersed as ‘quantums’ throughout “@@@@@”. The swarthy transitions thereby invite the audience to explore the assemblage that Arca offers as part of her journey to establish her presence as a body without bounds. Therefore, the purposeful disregard for borders and even genitals as she chants “shake that pussy bitch/i don’t care what genitals you were born with” in the quantum "Psychosexual", implies a greater question of what it means to not only exist but what it means to move/not move as a person in a constant state of precarity.


Her persona DIVA EXPERIMENTAL is presented as being openly castrated/reconstructed in a particularly precarious position. In “@@@@@,” DIVA is exposed completely and shackled while a laser beam is dissecting her genitals. She is in the process of transformation, in process of transitioning, and in the process of transmuting. Through her visual exposure in apocalypse, DIVA fundamentally questions: “what does it mean to be a global pop star?” or conversely, “what does it mean to be a pop star within the global capitalist matrix?”


The audiovisual elements of “@@@@@” allow Arca to re-appropriate instruments such as the organ and gender confirmation surgery through her FM radio person as DIVA EXPERIMENTAL, signalling that she is simultaneously part of and oppressed by the assemblage of technology. As many musicians are embracing the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence, Arca is actively questioning the underlying motive of the algorithm. Even the very structure of “@@@@@” intrinsically defies algorithmic processing due to its sheer length and varying soundscape. It almost feels like she knows that people who are active in listening and care about listening will forward to the ‘quantums’ they like at their own accord, but also offers “@@@@@” as a constitutive work in itself.


In the final minutes of "@@@@@", as DIVA traverses through the quantum titled “Travesti” into “Heavensent”, one can feel her immense glory of ascension after a long, heavy journey through the disjointment which precarity brings. Here, Arca finds respite in a world that structurally binds her and she offers that moment of respite to us as well.


Works Cited:

  • Puar Jasbir, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.