Ethnoforgery and Outsider Afrofuturism


  • Trace Reddell University of Denver


Afrofuturism, ethnoforgery, outsider music, appropriation, technoculture


This essay detours from Afrofuturism proper into ethnological forgery and Outsider practices, foregrounding the issues of authenticity, authorship and identity which measure Afrofuturism’s ongoing relevance to technocultural conditions and the globally-scaled speculative imagination. The ethnological forgeries of the German rock group Can, the work of David Byrne and Brian Eno, and trumpeter Jon Hassell’s Fourth World volumes posit an “hybridity-at-the-origin” of Afrofuturism that deconstructs racial myths of identity and appropriation/exploitation. The self-reflective and critical nature of these projects foregrounds issues of origination through production strategies that combine ethnic instrumentation and techniques, voices sampled from radio and TV broadcast, and genre-mashing hybrids of rock and funk along with unconventional styles like ambient drone, minimalism, noise, free jazz, field recordings, and musique concrète. With original recordings and major statements of Afrofuturist theory in mind, I orchestrate a deliberately ill-fitting mixture of Slavoj Žižek’s critique of multiculturalism, Félix Guattari’s concept of “polyphonic subjectivity,” and Marcus Boon’s idea of shamanic “ethnopsychedelic montage” in order to argue for an Outsider Afrofuturism that works along the lines of an alternative modernity at the seam of subject identity and technocultural hybridization. In tune with the Fatherless sensibilities that first united black youth in Detroit (funk, techno) and the Bronx (hip-hop) with Germany’s post-WWII generation (Can’s krautrock, Kraftwerk’s electro), Outsider Afrofuturism opens up alternative routes toward understanding subjectivity and culture—through speculative sonic practices in particular—while maintaining social behaviors that reject multiculturalism’s artificial paternal origins, boundaries and lineages.

Author Biography

Trace Reddell, University of Denver

Trace Reddell is a writer, digital media artist and theorist exploring the interactions of sound and the cosmological imagination. Publications include articles in Leonardo Music Journal, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, the Contemporary Music Review, the Electronic Book Review, Cybersounds: Essays on Virtual Music Culture (Peter Lang Publishing, 2006), “Cyborg Ritual and Sentic Technology in the Vortex Concerts” in The Poetics of Space: Spatial Explorations in Art, Science, Music & Technology (Sonic Acts Press, Paradiso, 2010), and Sonic Science Fiction: Technicians of Space, Vol. 1 (University of Minnesota, forthcoming). Trace’s fiction has appeared in journals, Fiction International, Sniper Logic, American Goat, and Black Ice, and the anthologies, Midsummer Night’s Dreams (Rhinoceros), and Alter Egos 2 (Source Point Press). Trace's live cinema performances and video works have screened at over thirty international venues including galleries and new media festivals in New York, London, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, Sao Paolo, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Tehran. His and audio projects have appeared on the Web since 1999. Trace is Associate Professor of Digital Media Studies at the University of Denver, where he teaches in the interdisciplinary program in Emergent Digital Practices.