Opera Salvage

How a music micro-trend heralds an emerging, internet-enabled, aesthetic movement.

Evan Calder Williams talks of salvagepunk — “a return to the repressed idiosyncrasy of outmoded things”.

By (sic) opposition to postmodern pastiche, in which any sign can be juxtaposed with any other in a friction-free space, salvagepunk retains the specificity of cultural objects, even as it bolts them together into new assemblages. That’s precisely because salvagepunk is dealing with objects rather than signs
— Mark Fisher: Desecration Row, in The Wire 319, page 46

The Wire magazine, ear to the grounds of crit-think and artistic practice both, has astutely flagged salvagepunk as informing a breaking musical microtrend.

We predict that salvagepunk will break out of this music context, to become a key aesthetic for a new stage of post-postmodernism. The affordances of the internet will enable this to happen. That the first works informed by salvagepunk are musical is, we conject, due to music’s status as the popular art form access to the historical corpus of which has been most transformed by the internet. Other media, particularly time-based, will follow.

Here’s our thinking.

Kenny Goldsmith wrote of nude media — digitised content stripped of context. But: a denuded copy of a familiar song gives itself away by the patina of experience we individually and collectively attach to its content; still evokes time and place; is loaded with signs, a wingful of eyes.

For nude media to become amenable to salvage, there’s a harsher stripping-bare to be undertaken than that of which Goldsmith writes, subsequent to which salvage operations proper can begin — the calcination and burning off of, or turning-aside-from all signification, to locate the object as object, song as sound, form not even form, but shape.

Time can serve that function — the glories of the forgotten whitelabel in the dusty crate at Dalston Oxfam testify to that; but cultural Time is driven by the fidget wheels of Progress. There’s a gradient to cultural Time; the suck towards that compressive depth into which most of everything made, sinks, lost to salvage deep under the midden-heap of consumer culture disjecta.

The internet not only flattens that gradient, thus making findable nude media from everywhen; but often presents such already de-signified and in gorgeously ambiguous contextual conjunction.

If postmodernist aesthetics led to “everything the second time around, without the innocence“, salvagepunk perhaps points to the field of possibilities opened up to those who avail themselves of internet-mediated access to “everything around, still, forever, without the memories“. Not an overloaded gluing-together of the familiar, but a reconsideration of the utility for assemblages of everything — of a kind which can only be possible when everything is always to hand.

So, all that aside, what does salvagepunky music sound like? Contemporary works incorporating elements of Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red are cited amongst Wire‘s examples. But to our ears, cosmic disco god Daniele Baldelli’s 80s mixtapes are the exemplars of the salvagepunk aesthetic — mixing the cool and uncool, the obscure and the overfamiliar, into a free-floating sound-world of disco delight. Hunt those tapes down down online (not too hard a task), lean back and enjoy the sounds of Opera Salvage.

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4 Responses to Opera Salvage

  1. ps

    We’re aware that our usage of the term ‘salvagepunk’ differs somewhat from that of both Calder and Fisher (and in our reading, they also differ from each other).

    We’re very interested to see where, where, how and indeed IF, the meaning of this powerful new word settles…

  2. ECW says:

    Thanks for the reference. I’d definitely like to think further of relations between salvage (which is primarily a metaphor and figure drawn from material waste, indeed, from objects, not signs) and music, without simply falling back into the logic of “sampling.”

    Regarding the acid bath of denuding, and reconsideration of what remains after something becomes waste, here’s a more specific post on this aspect of salvagepunk:


    The book (Combined and Uneven Apocalypse) will be out this winter/early spring, with a long chapter on salvagepunk.


    • Hi Evan, nice to hear from you. Hope the disclaimer above regarding out appropriation and distortion of your term is sufficient! Thanks for the link, hadn’t read that post. Very interested to see the book when it comes out. If you have time and inclination, would you be up for a short email interview around the launch?

  3. ECW says:


    of course I’d be willing to do an interview. Book should be out around start of March, so go ahead and email me then.


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