The Mecca of techno, Detroit.
Detroit: the Mecca of techno. hillaryfox/gettyimages.com

We are waiting for food in Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreno, a Salvadoran place in Mexicantown, Detriot. Across the table from me is Cornelius Harris, the manager of the influential and otherworldly techno group, Underground Resistance, as well as its record store and label, Submerge Recordings. The exact time: 11:16 a.m. The day: May 22, 2019.

Sponsored
Outdoor Performing Arts Festival featuring over 100 artists, food trucks, a beer garden and more!
Celebrate the return of the live arts in a safe, outdoor setting. Capitol Hill, Sep. 18-19.

I ordered huevos estrellados, and he ordered huevos salvadorenos. Two other tables in the restaurant are occupied. Ours is the only one conducting a conversation in English. I mention my profound admiration for one of the founding members of the Underground Resistance, Robert Hood, and describe his 1994 album, Minimal Nation, as one of the highest achievements in the still new history of processed music. The end of the 20th century saw in popular music the final spit between played music (made with musical instruments) and processed music (made with technologies that record or generate synthetic sounds).

"Do you know he is a preacher?" says Harris, clearly anticipating and then eating up my surprise.

"Hood is religious?" I say. "A believer? How can the most minimalist of the Detroit school be a devout Christian? What are you telling me, Harris?"

"Yeah, sometimes he requires that he deliver a sermon—you know, do Church—before a DJ set in a club," he says.

I honestly could not believe a word coming out of Harris's mouth. Our food arrived. We ate in silence for a moment.

If my disbelief puzzles you, please listen to Hood's track "Museum." It is minimalism in a state of perfection. No frills, no ornaments—everything is stripped down to just precise beats and pulses.

How could a mind that made music like this worship a God whose followers praise fecundity ("go forth and multiply") and whose old and new books are filled with overripe poetry. There seemed to be nothing in common with, say, a verse from Song of Solomon ("Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste"), and "Protein Valve 1."

After settling the bill, which was minuscule through my Seattle-inflated eyes, I returned to my room on the second floor of Jarhouse, a solar-powered Hamtramck house/community center run by the arts organization Power House Productions, and unknowingly plumped myself right next to the answer to the puzzle presented by Harris at the place where pupusas are sold.

It was contained in the pages of Philosophical Writings, by the 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, which I had taken along with me for this three-week stay at Jarhouse. (The place really has shelves filled with jars, which themselves are filled with rusting construction materials such nails, bolts, and screws). I had even read the relevant chapter early that morning, a few moments after the caller (or muezzin) concluded Fajr (the first, the sunrise) prayer for the predominantly Muslim (but still very Polish) neighborhood. I only know this because real things or experiences become in memory as transparent, as virtual, as ideas. This is how we visit the past, which is always nowhere else but in the present, the one point of being in and traveling through the transparencies of time.

Two experiences in the future of my reading parts of that Leibniz book in Jarhouse's bedroom on May 22, 2019 made Hood's holy minimalism apparent to me. One was reading the 29th essay in a book by the British/Canadian/American philosopher Catherine Wilson, Leibniz's Metaphysics: A Historical and Comparative Study. , a week after Washington State's first and evidently failed attempt at a lockdown in March. (Wilson not only has a superb style but an effortless command of the esoteric sources of Leibniz's primary concepts.) The next was a BBC Radio show that featured a 30-minute mix by none other than Robert Hood. It was dropped at the end of a month (November) that saw the pandemic surge like never before. I listened to the mix while walking home from my outside office, a pagan-like picnic shelter in a park that only 60 years ago was a garbage dump but now, as with all disaster Edens, has the appearance of an untouched nature-wild preserve, Genesse Park.

The mix's relentless minimalism connected with this key passage in Leibniz's "A Resume of Metaphysics":


4. There is, therefore, a cause for the prevalence of existence over non-existence; or, the necessary being is existence-creating.

5. But the cause which brings it about that something exists, or that possibility demands existence, also brings it about that everything possible has an urge to existence; for a reason for restricting this to certain possible things in the universe cannot be found.

6. So it can be said that everything possible demands existence inasmuch as it is founded on a necessary being which actually exists, and without which there is no way by which something possible may arrive at actuality.

7. But it does not follow from this that all possibles exist; though this would follow if all possibles were compossible.

8. But since some things are incompatible with others, it follows that certain possibles do not arrive at existence; again, some things are incompatible with others, not only with respect to the same time, but also universally, since future events are involved in present ones.

9. Meanwhile, from the conflict of all possibles demanding existence this at any rate follows, that there exists that series of things through which the greatest amount exists, or, the greatest of all possible series.

10. This series alone is determinate, as among lines the straight line is determinate, among angles the right angle, and among figures the most capacious, namely the circle or sphere. And just as we see liquids spontaneously collect in spherical drops, so in the nature of the universe the most capacious series exists.

Support The Stranger

Leading Leibnizian academics need to pay greater attention to the explanation of compossible in this brief text. It offers a solution to the logical/lawful split in the almost always unsatisfactory debate about the meaning and function of compossibility in the philosopher's system. A proper understanding of compossibility can be obtained, I believe, if it is detached from the question of whether or not it succeeds in challenging Spinoza's atheistic Necessitarianism and centers on a key Leibnizian concern: How can God make many things with the least amount of effort? And this is exactly what Wilson by examining a passage in Leibniz's "Dialogue between Theophile and Polidore":

After rejecting the naturalistic hypothesis that the soul of the world acts by necessity and creates its substance, Polidore proposes that creation is free because it involves a choice: "that way is chosen which produces the most by the simplest means". He explains this in terms of combinations. Suppose that A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are equally possible, but that A and B are incompatible with one another, as are B and D, D and G, G and C, C and F, and F and £. The upshot, he says, is that we can get fifteen groups of 2-combinations, or nine of 3-combinations, or one of 4, but none of 5. The maximal group is represented by the unique 4-world. In this dialogue, God plays the role of maximizer, despite the tantalizing quality of the suggestion that self-maximization might be a property of the universe...


Leibniz is famous for saying that we live in the best of all possible worlds. What he meant by this is that there are many possible worlds, but God chose the one that is the best because it has the most things in it possible (the state of perfection). His is a universe that has maximized possibilities. But how did the demands of so many possibilities become real? What explains God's visible and sensible fecundity? For Leibniz, it is this principle: "the greatest effect" must "be produced with the least expenditure." And this is where compossible comes in. The more concepts (or possibilities) on the virtual side of the real are compossible (or in agreement), then all the more will the virtual will participate with reality. God structured the largest number of minimal arrangements possible for maximal results. Or, put another way: He got more bang for His buck.

And so, this is how I came to understand and even appreciate the minimalism of Hood's BBC mix, and his consistent body of work, which began in the late 1980s (and includes brilliant sonic experiments such as Monobox), and the abundance implied by his faith in God. (Hood's God is "a beacon love" who is "against anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, and any form of hate and discrimination in this world.") I connected it with a metaphysical concept (how nature got more from less) in a book that a little over a year ago, May 22, 2019, was near an empty wine glass and an open suitcase below an open window with a view a Hamtramck street that had been ripped to dust and rubble by the Detroit Department of Transportation for future improvements and a porch occupied by an elderly Bangladeshi woman keeping an eye on two young boys on bikes with training wheels. Compossiblity is the key to the God and Hood.

Sponsored
Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.