Tuesday, 18 December 2012

10 Moments of 2012

Over at Dummy there's an article from me elaborating on ten significant musical moments from the last year (click here). Feat. Evian Christ, Die Antwoord, Arca, Philip Glass, Willis Earl Beal, Clams Casino, Fay, How to Dress Well and Mykki Blanco. Despite the title and some of the tweets, I wasn't intending that there would be anything definitive or superlative about these moments - if anything they're the sort of moments that might not have been covered in other, more conventional end-of-year lists.

Naturally it was a very cold time of year, and ripped off YouTube, fridge, crank, gun, fuck it none of y’all don’t rap and MYD (released later) felt like they embodied the spindly trees, the nip in the air and the exhalation of small clouds. Their hi-hats shivered periodically across a four-bar phrase, several months before less subtly employed ‘trap’ hi-hats became a cliché. It becomes easier to perceive the back and forth of Evian Christ’s wholly contrasting timbral and rhythmic units if you count along with the beat, 1 2 3 4, 2 2 3 4, 3 2 3 4, 4 2 3 4, you begin to see how well the tracks are put together, and how the mood shifts between the winding up of the rhythm and the gestural, rising and falling sadness of the harmonies.
Both solo sections, one by Yo-Landi and one by Ninja, offered fantastic schooling in rapping to a high-speed groove, the dexterity of their prickly accents making you forget to breathe. Yo-Landi’s high voice lilts over a trance rhythm as she narrows and flares her eyes for the camera. Later, after Yo-Landi removes a cockroach from a fry-up, Ninja begins to spit over a steadily accelerating beat. The effect is so exhilarating you wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.
If you’d have asked me back in 2009 what kind of music I hoped would be getting produced in 2012, I think I would have hoped for something pretty similar to Arca’s sound. I say this because his style is not unlike that of the psychedelic, so-called ‘wonky’ beat-makers that were beginning to flourish around that time, those who took J-Dilla’s sound and made it sloppier and stranger. Arca’s thing is stranger still, like a Caribbean Reef Octopus coming at you squirting LSD and occasionally rapping in a menacing way out of a small, beak-like orifice on its underside.
The opera was filled with fascinating and disturbing tableau – painstakingly slow trains, buses and spaceships, an enormous rising bed, a child judge presiding over a huge, grey courtroom, and an exchange of nuclear missiles complete with a control-room of frantic military personal and a striding Death-like figure in black. These last two images are what haunts E=mc2 and its opening of the door to nuclear power. But another, more basic nod to Einstein could be felt in the opera’s mind-boggling bending of time and space.
Dressed like an electric-rhythm-and-blues hipster dustman in South Dakota circa 1958, hidden behind those wayfarers, Beal threw himself a capella down the microphone clenched in his gloved fist, elbow jutting in the air, crouching down slowly, face and arms beginning to glisten with sweat.
Casino’s vocal elements melt completely into the mix, and are used for their envelopes, consonant sounds and overtone structures rather than anything as quaint as words or melodies. Likewise, instead of cymbals, Casino just uses a gentle, continuous and fading hissing sound to mark out the groove, and the faintest of metallic sounds, acoustically buried at the back of the mix. Then he lacquers the whole thing with a phaser or flange effect, thus putting it all behind class, or making it into the hull of some sleek vehicle of the future.
Every element is placed by hand, just so, and Fay either suspends you over the potential for grooves in a state of rhythmic tension or she drops you into them with relish. Amazingly, though the sound-world is coherently to hand, nothing is predictable.
If Rodriguez “isn’t as good as Dylan” as one reviewer suggested, how did he become so successful in South Africa? Were they all mistaken? Perhaps it is Dylan who is not as good as Rodriguez, and we are so aware of the cultural value projected onto Dylan, and his particular methods, that we find it difficult to see it.
[Tom Krell] was there, way above middle C, flinching as he looked upwards with his eyes closed, not only during the songs, but in an a capella encore that was both saturated with suspense and silently participated in by an audience now brimming with the utmost warmth and understanding.
Much attention has been paid to issues of gender and sexuality among the small crowd of new rappers to have emerged over the past couple of years (Azealia Banks, Lil B, A$AP Rocky, Le1f, Zebra Katz and Blanco) and very rightly so, but I haven’t seen much about quite how radical some of the sounds they’re spitting over are – which, indeed, is not an entirely differentiable matter. Not only does Blanco have the flow, energy and creativity (as well as the subtlety of delivery) to compete with the best, her beats and electronics come from a different planet.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Response to 'Solo for Mp3 Player'

Following my last essay 'Solo for Mp3 Player', I had an email from Bryan Sonderman of Ilinx Group (extra links at the bottom), in which he made a more positive and creative assessment of the possibilities of mp3 players than I did. I found his thoughts interesting and agreed. Here's what he had to say:

Given their ubiquity and user-friendliness, I think that playing playback interfaces not only unleashes the dormant interactivity of these tools (itunes, youtube, ipod, spotify, etc), but also challenges our cultural assumptions of who makes music and what music can sound like. Mp3 players have the playability common to all music instruments: musicians playing mp3 players have infinitely permutable variables at their disposal (volume, timeline progress, forward/back skip) in the same way a pianist has the variables of the black and white keys, tuning, pedals at their disposal. Rapidly skipping through a sequence of mp3s, or constantly adjusting the volume of an mp3, etc. doesn't sound like music because we haven't yet conceived of such playful gestures as musical. It is only a matter of time...

a few things about digital music making, pertinent to music production using mp3 players....

1) it's easy: ableton live (especially session view) resembles music video game interfaces like Guitar Hero and Poppin Music. It requires very little technical knowledge.Thus, many amateur musicians now translate their experience consuming video games to a context in which they produce music. I've enjoyed hearing many non-musicians create beautiful music after only a short time playing with ableton. Lil Ugly Mane's recent project, " Study of the hypothesized removable and/or expandable nature of human capability and limitations primarily regarding introductory experiences with new and exciting technologies by way of motivational incentive" , chronicles this trend, compiling 150 "first beats" submitted by fans. Treated as an instrument, the familiar interface of mp3 players would presumably make music production an even more popular practice. I get dreadfully bored by most professional music, and am very pleased by the increasing quantity of vital and original music I hear from amateurs. 

2) it's information based: computers are tools for producing/consuming and circulating information. Digital music, in the form of midi, mp3, is the arrangement of sounds, AND the arrangement of 1s and 0s. The difference between the 1s and 0s that make up a midi tone and the 1s and 0s that make up a 3.5 min mp3 is only a matter of scale (Thank you for alluding to this issue!). Both should be viewed as equally valuable materials for making digital music. The act of playing mp3 players as instruments acknowledges mp3s as raw material for music production--it engages with the materiality of digital music in the way Pollock's paintings or Burroughs' text cutups engage with the materiality of their medium. But this will require a revolution of our attitude toward "originality". Because our mp3 players are loaded with music with which we are already familiar, we will have to remove the burden of originality from our mp3-based songs to make them seem musical. We will have to hear a Kesha track with constantly changing volume as something as musical as the source material. We will have to hear the PLAYFULNESS in tweaking variables like volume to hear it as music. Each jerky change must be heard as a playful gesture. 

3) it tends to be autistic : the boom of bedroom producers represents both the democratization of music production and its atomization. The personal screen, the abundance of tools which render other musicians unnecessary, weed: all of these things have led to the isolated producer superseding the band/ensemble. This has spurred a lot of variety and allowed us to hear music we otherwise wouldn't have, but it also compromises the musician's status as expert listener, and not just expert sound-maker. Playing music with other people exercises one's listening ability, and oftentimes pushes musicians in directions they did not predict....especially if the music is improvised. Practicing deep listening has a social impact, beyond music. It heightens the beauty of every sensation, and makes one more sensitive to how they interact with the world. 

This leads me to the utopian potential of playing mp3 players as instruments. Music software doesn't have to be an atomizing force. We should play computers with other people as often as we can, to prove to the luddites that technology has a place in vital IRL communities, and to prove to the technophiles that computing doesn't have to be a hyper-productive, individualist activity. I think this might be what goodiepal means by making music for artificial intelligence: integrating rational, binary technology with what is not rational and binary: playfulness, relations, mistakes, all those little bits of chaos that meat space presses us with every day. We are attracted to what is novel and unfamiliar, why would artificial intelligence be any different? 

I have made hours of music using iTunes and youtube as instruments (please reference the links in the postscript). The most exciting music has always been a collaboration: between a computer, myself, a fellow player and their computer. I would highly recommend an iTunes soundclash (two players playing itunes, constantly tweaking its variables, on top of and in response to one another). Now that is a prescription for coyote's medicine, a little bit of chaos to teach one how to live more resourcefully and creatively with what is available. And all you have to do is board a crowded train to see just how "available" mp3 players are. The sooner we engage with consumption media for its productive potential, the better. That is an indispensable attitude, a sort of hacking ethos, that resonates beyond music. 

Bryan Sonderman
Research and Development
Ilinx Group




Friday, 16 November 2012

Column: Solo for Mp3 Player

 Photograph by Craig Dennis

Done another essay for Dummy, this time on the pros and cons of personal mp3 players (click here to read). Forgot to add that many of these issues go back to the eighties with the Walkman, though I say this only because unless they make reifying assurances to the contrary, practically any online music piece is often misguidedly feared to be shouting "OMG THIS IS SO NEW PLZ RETWEET" between the lines - this one isn't.

Something that I had always known on a philosophical level suddenly became very obvious: an MP3 player is a musical instrument...

We don’t normally think of an MP3 player as being a musical instrument. We tend to almost think of it as the opposite, something that you use to listen to other people performing with instruments, with the listener being the subject and the instruments on the recording the object. But an MP3 player is interactive just like a musical instrument is – like an instrument, its operator has considerable control over the sounds the device produces, including how loud those sounds are. If you count a DJ as a musical performer and her/his equipment as a musical instrument (and you’d be pretty old-fashioned not to), then it’s only a short leap to see MP3 players in the same way. Using an MP3-player is not an entirely passive activity, and the recordings it performs are not heard entirely objectively. The key difference, of course, is that much of the time the performances given by an MP3-player-as-musical-instrument, together with its operator-as-musician, have an audience of only one...

The personal MP3 player with earphones is the Tea Party candidate of human music-making. “Total freedom for the individual! No one should make choices but me.” The reason we don’t see this as isolating and even antisocial is because we’ve come to believe, bit by bit since rise of the record industry, that the individually-owned, individually-experienced collection of music-playing commodities (records, CDs, MP3s, and the machines that play them) is the one true paradigm of musical experience, or at least its ideal form...

Not only does the sound of an MP3 have a slightly poorer quality, but all kinds of multisensory, flexible and interactive modes of music-making are beyond its programming, its modest bouquet of track selection, album artwork, shuffle and volume control. And yet, with the help of marketing departments and advertisers, we continue to regard MP3 players as the ultimate site of musical interaction, a prospective encyclopedia encompassing all there is and could ever be in music-making...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Column: Texas' Dance Underground

After a short hiatus while both Dummy and myself changed our circumstances, the column is back, this time looking at the underground dance scene flourishing in Texas (click here to read). There's some great music going on there and a few very high-quality releases that are free to download, so check it out.

With elements of ballroom culture, UK Funky and Latin American infusions, Adam Harper considers the rising influence of Texas’ vital underground dance music.


American underground pop dollars feel higher against their UK counterparts now than I can ever remember them being, especially when it comes to dance music. Even some of the greatest releases to have come from the UK scene in the past year – Kuedo’s ‘Severant’, Jam City’s ‘Classical Curves’, Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s ‘Black is Beautiful’ – have had a distinctly American flavour. Scratcha DVA, Cooly G, Actress, LV, Dusk + Blackdown and newcomer Evian Christ have been flying the flag for the UK impressively this year, but the sounds of juke/footwork, ballroom/vogue house, cloud rap, so-called ‘trap’, the NYC art/progressive network, seapunk (yep – listen to Coral Records before you snort derisively) as well as classic Chicago, Detroit and Miami seem to be setting the agenda right now.


Dubbel Dutch turns out to be the tip of a respectably sized iceberg. There are two whole labels producing music of a broadly similar stripe in Texas: #Feelings, based in Austin, and Freshmore, based 160 miles down the road in Houston. Though it only has three releases so far, #Feelings is one of Bandcamp’s many hidden gems. With effortless glamour and wicked camp, the label combines a stridently embodied theme of hard-dancing gay male subculture and desire with the surreal digital future faddishness of the twenty-first century.


For futurism with little compromise, the label’s strongest offering is undoubtedly the ‘More Than Friends’ EP by Lōtic, a DJ-producer formerly of Austin but now based in Berlin. Lōtic’s music is particularly exciting, its energy and immediacy improbably but undeniably of a piece with its startling imagination. What’s more, the EP is free. He specializes in cold and pared-down hi-fi textures, ringing with titanium and cybernetic flex, and wraps his inscrutable future house in ambient effects that reverberate for eons.


Texas’s culture is often heavily influenced by its proximity to Mexico, south of the border, and dance music is no exception. Perhaps the most influential sound to have come out of Mexico in recent years is tribal guarachero (often abbreviated to ‘3ball’) which mixes goofy synths with traditional Latin American cumbia-like folk rhythms (a fascinating, subtle groove balanced partway between a duple and a triple rhythm).


Based in the Rio Grande Valley in the far south of Texas, Arms&Suites (Matthew Crossman) is yet more proof that Bandcamp artists don’t get the coverage they deserve.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Infinite Music Talk in NYC, 23rd October

I'll be speaking about Infinite Music in New York later this month, so if you're in the area come on down - announcement and blurbs below:


ADAM HARPER, INFINITE MUSIC: IMAGINING A 21ST CENTURY MUSICAL MODERNISM - followed by a conversation with Martin Scherzinger

Where: 20 Cooper Square, Room 471 [East 5th Street and Bowery]
When: Tuesday 23 October 2012, 6:30pm


Much as it has done across the arts, faith in modernism seems to have faltered in music. In this talk, ADAM HARPER attempts to sketch a way we could imagine the broadest and most subtle possibilities of musical change and invention, so as to create and understand new music in the present and the future while avoiding all constraints, hierarchies and divisions in its cultural production and even its ontology. His talk will draw from continental philosophy and information theory in seeing all possible ‘musical objects’ as spaces of possibility described by variables, whether they be pieces, instruments, styles, melodies or anything else. When it comes to listening, these become ‘images of music’ that both regulate and emancipate how we think of music. Harper will also discuss the philosophical, aesthetic and methodological consequences of this move.

ADAM HARPER is a music theorist, critic, and author of ‘Infinite Music: Imagining the Next Millennium of Human Music-Making’ (Zer0), as well as pamphlets on the future of music and underground pop music for the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts and Precinct respectively. He is a PhD candidate, tutor and teacher at the University of Oxford, writes regularly for The Wire and Dummy magazine (where he writes a biweekly column) and blogs at Rouge’s Foam. He has given talks and seminars at the Darmstadt Summer School of Music, spoken at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival and for the Guardian Music Weekly Podcast.

MARTIN SCHERZINGER is Associate Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. His research specializes in sound studies, musical culture, media and politics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with a particular interest in non-western music, the political hermeneutics of absolute music, cultures of musicology, philosophy, and music theory, in relation to political economy in an international frame.  Forthcoming book projects include ‘The Political Stakes of Musical Form’ and ‘African Genealogies of European and American Concert Music (1950-1980)’

Queries: ss162@nyu.edu

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Column: Music or Game?

Illustration by Joshua Armitage

Sorry for the delay (been relocating to Washington DC) but here's my latest column for Dummy (click here to read), entitled 'Music or Game?' about musical games and game-like music, especially recent releases.

Music is always interactive, even when we just listen to it... Music is always a game, an adventure of the mind and the body and the wider cultural values they connect to.


If underground music artists and fans are encountering games through Exo, underground games designers and fans, on the other side of the equation, have been making many more in-roads into music.


Much like traditional music, the game [Proteus] has no particular goal other than the appreciation and exploration of the space it sets up, but to someone like me, who of late has been experiencing music by listening to gigs, records, CDs and mp3s almost exclusively, this fresh type of musical encounter, requiring a little imagination as it also does, felt quite enlightening. Now I can say that one of my most intriguing musical experiences of the year has been chasing a frog up a mountain.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Book Launch: 'Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music' by Ferruccio Busoni

Having released my essay 'Heaven is Real: John Maus and the Truth of Pop' last summer, this year I've been working with Precinct on a new edition of the semi-forgotten progressive musical manifesto 'Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music', written in 1907 by Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni. This new edition includes an introduction by myself, a fresh and elegant new English translation by Pamela Johnston (an update of the choppy 1911 translation), and the epilogue - a short and deeply poetic text written to Busoni's wife - which is rarely included with the main text.

'Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music' is an astonishing essay - beautifully and imaginatively written, with historical colour and yet amazingly ahead of its time - which still has much to say. It was a major inspiration for Infinite Music. This Friday I'll be talking a little about the book at a launch in Bethnal Green. Details of the event and more blurb below, and below that, some quotes from the book.

Friday 21 September 2012


At X Marks the Bökship

Unit 3, 210 Cambridge Heath Rd

London E2 9NQ


Map: http://tiny.cc/xdk59


Little known in the English-speaking world, Ferruccio Busoni’s Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music (originally published in 1907) is a daringly progressive statement about the necessary freedom and future of music, its broad and prescient outlook all the more fascinating for its having arrived so early. Busoni was a composer, composition teacher and virtuoso concert pianist of early twentieth-century Europe, born Italian but working in Germany, and a highly respected figure in his time. The Sketch was written immediately prior to his mentoring of avant-garde composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Edgard Varèse, whose ground-breaking work came to define twentieth-century classical music. Yet Busoni’s writing is steeped in ornate, deeply poetic language, in nineteenth-century philosophy and Romanticism. As a bygone era metamorphoses into the new one that will stretch all the way to John Cage, he even brandishes news of the first keyboard-based electric sound synthesiser with enthralled delight.

This edition features a new translation into English by Pamela Johnston, a foreword by Adam Harper, and includes the rare and remarkable Epilogue, an abstract imagining of a ‘Realm of Music’. It has been prepared in the hope that Busoni’s passion for the eternally new freedoms of musical creativity might not only refresh the way we encounter twentieth century music, but might inspire twenty-first century musicians and listeners to rediscover the deepest questions in musical philosophy and resume the constant struggle for the music of the future.

For all enquiries please contact Wayne Daly: circulate@precinct.cc

Published by Precinct

September 2012

96pp, softcover, b&w / col cover

174.5 x 108 mm

ISBN 978-0-9569524-3-1

Retail price: £6 / €8 / $10


From the Foreword (by me):

Despite its ornate fin-de-siècle language, the extreme outpourings of a dying age, the ambition of Busoni’s essay extends beyond his already avant-garde milieu to  that of the generation after Schoenberg, glimpsing the radically expansive musical cosmos of Varèse, Cage and Stockhausen – one inhabited, perhaps, by countless generations of composers to come. Busoni’s New Aesthetic is both exquisitely, manneristically ‘of its time’ and way ahead of it. It’s like reading a Latin treatise on black holes written by Isaac Newton, or finding an ink sketch of a jet engine among the papers of the Wright Brothers.


The New Aesthetic also seems to address the prevalent turn-of-the-century despair about the decline of a tradition of great (classical) music – a despair that, in the twenty-first century, is not only alive and well but has spread to many other music-making traditions too. He is very keen to stress that musical composition is not an old and dying art whose greatest successes – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven – lie in the past, never again to be surpassed. Busoni’s radical response to this zeitgeist is to cast music as a child that is only just beginning to find its feet, even if it has been doing so for hundreds of years. Proportionally, then, he projects his hopes into a musical golden age that extends for several millennia at least, with the best yet to come.


‘Eternal harmony’ seems to be Busoni’s only absolute, one whose transcendent, possibly natural laws govern the development of music despite the interfering, artificial laws of human hands. It’s also ‘an encyclopaedic work’, a sum total, perhaps, of the best of all the infinite and infinitesimal combinations that wait to be achieved in the great music of tomorrow, and a ‘sun’, the centre of musical enlightenment, its first and final fact. We see a dazzling glimpse of this eternal harmony in the extraordinary Epilogue to the New Aesthetic, ‘The Realm of Music’, never published in English alongside the original text until now. In it, a universe overflowing with intensive, heterogeneous musical complexity on the grandest possible scale is paradoxically unified, univocal, eternal and harmonious. It is both sublime chaos and cosmic order simultaneously.

From the Main Text:

Musical art is like a child that has learned to walk, but still has to be led. It is a virgin art that has not yet experienced life or suffered. It has no sense of how to array itself, no awareness of its advantages, its unawakened capacities. At the same time, it is a wunderkind that is already able to create beautiful things and bring joy to many, and on account of this, it is generally assumed to be fully formed. Music as an art, our so-called Western music, is barely four hundred years old. It is in a state of development – perhaps even at the very first stage of an infinitely long development – and yet still we talk about ‘classics and ‘hallowed traditions’!

We have formulated rules, defined principles, laid down laws – laws conceived for an adult, but applied to a child that does not yet know the meaning of responsibility. Young as this child is, it already possesses one radiant quality that distinguishes it from its older sisters. The law-makers are reluctant to recognise this wonderful attribute, as it overturns all their rules. This child – it floats on air! Its feet do not touch the ground. It knows no law of gravitation. It is practically incorporeal. Its material is transparent. It is sonorous air. It is almost Nature itself. It is free.


Beethoven, the romantic revolutionary, was filled with such a yearning for freedom that he managed one small step on the path taking music back to its higher nature – one small step in terms of the overall task, but a giant leap in his own personal journey. He did not quite reach the absolute in music, but in certain moments he divined it.


Movement and repose, major and minor, high and low, in their standard meanings, flesh out the inventory – these are auxiliaries which can be deployed to good effect on a broad canvas, but which by themselves can no more pass for music than a wax figure can for a monument. And what, ultimately, could this representation of a trivial event on earth, a report on a troublesome neighbour – whether they’re next door, or across the border – have in common with the music that courses through the cosmos?


For the law-makers, the signs themselves are already the most important thing, and their importance is growing all the time – the new art of music is derived from the old signs, which now stand for musical art itself.


A clown who by some trick produces sounds when he is touched would be a fake musical person.


The creative artist must never blindly accept an established law or rule. Instead, from the outset, they must regard their own work as an exception and find and formulate a rule that corresponds to their own individual case – and then, after they’ve applied it once, destroy it, to avoid lapsing into repetition with their next work. The creative artist has to make up the rules – not follow them. The moment someone follows readymade rules, they cease to be creative.

The more independent a work is from tradition the more readily we recognise in it a measure of creative power. But a simple side-stepping of the rules can never pass for creativity, and still less produce it.


We have divided the octave into twelve equidistant degrees – because we had to come up with something – and constructed our instruments in such a way that we cannot get around them (or above or below them). Our ears have become so attuned to keyboard instruments, in particular, that we can no longer hear anything else – we’re incapable of hearing except through this impure medium. Yet Nature created an infinite gradation – infinite! Who would now know it?


Fortunately, while working on this essay I got news from the United States of an invention that appears to offer a simple solution to this problem. Dr Thaddeus Cahill has constructed an apparatus that makes it possible to convert an electric current into a fixed and mathematically exact number of vibrations: as the pitch depends on the number of vibrations, and the apparatus may be set to any desired number, the infinite gradation of the octave may be accomplished by simply moving a lever.


If Nirvana is the realm ‘beyond Good and Evil’, then we have, here, one path that will lead us to it. To its threshhold. To the barrier that separates men from eternity – or opens up to admit that which was once temporal. On the other side of that threshhold sounds music. Not the strains of the ‘musical art’. Perhaps we have to leave earth to find that music. But the barrier will only open to the traveller who has freed himself from earthly shackles.

From the Epilogue, 'The Realm of Music'

Come, follow me into the realm of music. Here is the barrier that separates the earthly from the eternal. Have you undone the shackles and thrown them away? Then come. It is not like it was before, when we went to a strange country and soon learned to know everything there, so that nothing surprised us anymore. Here there is no end to the astonishment, and yet from the beginning we feel at home.

You still hear nothing because everything sounds. But before long you begin to pick things out. Listen, every star has its rhythm and every world its beat. And on each of the stars and each of the worlds, the heart of every single living being is beating in its own way. And all the beats are in accord with each other – pulsing separately, but as a whole.


And now sound opens up to you! Its voices are innumerable; compared to them the murmur of the harp is a rumble, the blare of a thousand trombones mere chirping. Everything – all melodies heard before or never heard – resound completely and simultaneously, carrying you, hanging over you, skimming lightly past you – speaking of love and passion, of spring and of winter, of melancholy and of exuberance, they are themselves the souls of millions of beings in millions of epochs. Focus in on one of them and you will see how it is connected to all the others, how it is combined with all the rhythms, coloured by all kinds of sounds, accompanied by all harmonies, down to unfathomable depths and up to the vaulted roof of the heavens.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Column: 'Bandcamp and the Music Industry of Tomorrow'

Illustration by Joshua Armitage

My latest column for Dummy is up, on the potential pros and cons of Bandcamp (click here), together with some of my musical findings on the site and a sketch of an even more communal version.

In the same way that the unique compositional possibilities of recording technology itself were only widely accessible and explored in the last quarter of the twentieth century... it may be decades before the uniqueness of tomorrow’s online music-making landscape is really found and put to use.

Unlike a conventional record label, Bandcamp wield no creative input or influence over their artists at all – anything that you care to put in a sound-file and post up there (albeit within the bounds of legality), can go on the site and find its audience... of course, this is not the Utopian dream it might initially appear to be.

There’s something quite empowering about finding interesting music in this purer, more open way, without the middleman of a review, an article, a press release or a bit of blog coverage. In fact, you could say it allows the old systems and paraphenalias of music journalism to give way to a more immediate and more democratic communion with the music, a music criticism that arises from sharing and discussion, and that builds its own values rather than perpetuates those of a whole music-industrial and music-journalistic hierarchy. Radically, the Bandcamp format allows music to operate even further away from pre-conceived and industry-pushed notions of what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in music than ever before.

This need to be a bit discerning brings me to a something lots of people have been wary about when it comes to searching for and encountering music this way: what you might call ‘Internet Panic’...

I reckon it’s a real possibility that over the next five years, the most significant underground releases (‘albums of the year’, if you have to put it that way), will be released on Bandcamp... Given how much power, control and share of the revenue artists have on Bandcamp compared with the conventional system, this is a bit of an exciting prospect...

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Blue Liquid Mix (for Rose Quartz)

I did a mix for the Rose Quartz blog (click here), with a hi-tech / future feel and featuring several artists you might not have heard of but who are worth a listen. I actually put my back into this mix - it's got wavs and crossfades and EQ and everything and even a tiny bit of beat-mixing in it. Here's my blurb and tracklisting, Soundcloud with download below it:

The Blue Liquid Mix explores a recent hi-tech / future feel, but one that goes beyond vaporwave and dystopian pop art. The tracks here are bizarre, beguiling and sometimes disturbing, and yet they’re also remarkably subtle, detailed, and beautiful in genuinely alien ways that might hardly seem to make sense at first.

It’s so named because many of the artists on the mix have some connection to the idea of water, be it in their name (‘I AM WATER’, ‘Lōtic’ – whose name means ‘inhabiting or situated in rapidly moving fresh water’), the title of tracks they’ve done on the mix (‘Aquilateral’) or elsewhere, or their record label’s ocean imagery (Indigo Bunting, on Coral Records). More broadly, it’s part of this corner of web culture’s recent interest in elemental matter and its formal properties, in the science of flow, fluidity and freshness – the stuff of life, but not the old, gnarled Nature of yesterday. This blue liquid courses through the elegant engineering of tomorrow’s ecosystems, where organics merge seamlessly with strange new machines: a water-based but future biology.

The mix is divided into three parts – two outer parts mostly in a dance or dance-like mode and an inner section, focused on downtempo beats, that steadily increases in speed and crystalline complexity. Two sound collages by Diamond Black Hearted Boy bridge the inner section changes. Shout out to the labels Fluorescent Records, Sewage Tapes, Aural Sects, UNO NYC, Coral Records, Zoology Records, Mishka NYC, AMDiscs, Nightcore Records and #Feelings. To Tiny Mix Tapes, to the Tumblrs of Coolmemoryz and Ghoststream, and of course to Rose Quartz.

00:00 - I AM WATER: ‘DREAMB0Y’ (from DREAMB0Y - http://auralsects.bandcamp.com/album/dreamb0y)
4:11 - Lōtic: 'Rendez-vous' (from More than Friends EP - http://feelingseverywhere.bandcamp.com/album/more-than-friends-ep)
7:17 - Nguzunguzu: 'Drop Cage' (from Warm Pulse EP)
10:09 - Karmelloz: 'Kirstin's Song' (from ArchaiC - http://sewagetapes.bandcamp.com/album/archaic)
12:21 - Arca: 'Meditation' (from Stretch 2)
14:40 - Diamond Black Hearted Boy: 'Playstation Monk™' (from SoundCloud - http://soundcloud.com/diamondblackheartedboy)

16:00 - BLK SMK: 'Goodnight Everyone' (from Nuggets to Dunk EP - http://flurex.org/album/nuggets-2-dunk-ep)
18:10 - 私はやせすぎだったら: 'Palace' (from 私はやせすぎだったら - http://sewagetapes.bandcamp.com/album/--2)
20:05 - a i r s p o r t s: 'Dont Need U' (from a i r s p o r t s - http://sewagetapes.bandcamp.com/album/a-i-r-s-p-o-r-t-s , http://www.amdiscs.com/releases/airsports-amdd107/ ©2012 AMDISCS & a i r s p o r t s)
22:21 - O L D M O M S: 'SWAMP LIFE' (from MELT JAMS EP - http://oldmoms.bandcamp.com/)
24:43 - Glass Eyes: 'Makes New Life' (from Approval - http://zoologyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/approval)
26:52 - The-Drum: '/BZE' (from Sense Net EP - http://mishkanyc.bandcamp.com/album/sense-net-ep)
30:19 - Diamond Black Hearted Boy: 'e², (Formulation of the Female Species)' (from SoundCloud - http://soundcloud.com/diamondblackheartedboy)

31:14 - Shisa and Choongum: 'Hearts (GH Remix)' (from Hearts - http://shisa.bandcamp.com/album/hearts , http://www.amdiscs.com/releases/shisa-choongum-hearts-2012-amdd109/ ©2012 AMDISCS & Shisa & Choongum)
35:43 - Indigo Bunting: 'Fhlostan Paradise' (from #Seapunk Volume 1 - http://coralrecords.bandcamp.com/album/seapunk-volume-1-limited-edition-cd-r-splash001)
38:50 - HONEYCOMA: 'Disconnect' (from HONEYCOMA - http://nightcorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/honeycoma)
42:13 - Khan Kurra: 'Aquilateral' (from World View EP - http://flurex.org/album/world-view-ep)
45:49 - Pepsi7up: 'Over the Rainbow 1' (from Soundcloud - http://soundcloud.com/pepsi7up)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Column: 'Isn't it Ironic?'

Latest column for Dummy is on this notion of irony in indie / underground pop, what it might and might not mean, also featuring a coda on irony in the recent orchestral performance of William Basinski's Disintegration Loops at the South Bank - (click here to read):

What is an ironic moustache?

Distance suggests more of a continuum of difference between two things than ‘irony’ does, the latter often suggesting a stark superposition of opposites. Rather than being infinitely ‘sincere’ or infinitely ‘insincere’, we float and shift somewhere between the two, negotiating, understanding, accommodating and travelling these distances as a sort of cultural journey, an experimental shift of the self into new territories.

Yet at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, two of the ‘Disintegration Loops’ had been transferred from the digital recording of the disintegrating tape to an orchestra. Now the London Contemporary Orchestra was playing these short phrases over and over again, and reducing them bit by bit until there was no-one playing any more. Yet there was a bizarre irony at work here too. You might suppose that the orchestral context was simply a means of performing the music in a live context, and that furthermore this highbrow context brought it to an apotheosis under the auspices of traditional, great Art (tsk). But what this orchestration did was disintegrate the composition still further, even as its scoring for orchestra would appear to render it a permanent fixture in the museum of Great Art Music...

Monday, 20 August 2012

Post-genre? A Reply to Postwutchyalike

The Hipster Runoff Genre Shirt
Earlier this week there were a couple of replies to my essay 'Whatever Happened to Genre?' on the Postwutchyalike blog. Postwutchyalike is run by a number of anonymous contributors and has been a brilliant and prolific place to discover new tracks recently, so I recommend following if you're not doing so already. Although they were both largely resistant to the essay's attempt to rehabilitate genre and shared many of the same concerns about it, the double posting was apparently unplanned. The first, 'Editorial: Post-Genre Pt. 1' is by an anonymous author I'll call PWYL1, click here to read it, and the second, 'Editorial: Post-Genre Pt. 2' is by Laurent Fintoni (click here to read Part 2). This response to Postwutchyalike will hopefully be an opportunity to clarify my position where it might not have come across clearly enough in the original article. To do this, I'll get a bit more precise and philosophical, so I hope you can excuse the slightly drier tone - probably quite different from discussing it all over drinks in this 'real life' they speak of...

Firstly, the article was hoping not to be a straightforward defence of genre as it has traditionally been understood. Its argument was that a return to using genre identifications ('genrefications') should only be possible and allowable if we appreciate that they are fluid, temporary and relative constructions of patterns rather than boxes aiming to exhaustively define some musical reality. That was a pretty big proviso. The hope was that a detailed and specific recognition of even loose and small-scale patterns of commonality in music-making could be (and increasingly is) possible without boxes and straightjackets, without running the risk of outright falsehood or oppressive taxonomy. I was aiming to move beyond that notion of genre and into a relativistic one that didn't claim to be exhaustive, universalising and compulsory but that was, and only to a certain extent, capable of addressing and representing the commonalities between musicians, especially when they're new and unusual. And to do this is not to presuppose or seek to explain or reveal the intent of the musician.

This brings me to a two-part working assumption that I seemed to notice underlying both posts: that musicians and their intentions should and do define the terms of genrefication, and (alongside this) that much of the time they choose not to. Hence why genrefication should be resisted. I won't declare this assumption to be invalid or valid, but I do want to highlight it as an assumption about how the proper ways that we talk about music should develop. I would argue that the intentions of musicians, along with the broader virtue of authenticity implicitly prioritised in both posts, are just as much single, particular constructions as any genrefication might be. I know these things are important but don't think I hold them to be as universally real and desirable as Postwutchyalike does - even if they appear to be completely indisputable as ways of handling musical culture, they are ideas and constructions like anything else. My hope was that if we understand genres to be the constructions that they are, we can talk about them in a relatively helpful way while relatively limiting their proscriptive and taxonomic effects.
Something else I noticed in both posts was that some genrefication boxes were acceptable to PWYL while others weren't. Both posts were generally against putting music in boxes, and thus they criticised genrefications like 'wonky', 'glitch-hop', 'aquacrunk', 'trip hop' and 'ghettotech'. And yet broader, older boxes - 'hip hop', 'techno', 'house', 'RnB' - were given a pass, largely because they were wider supercategories that the musicians themselves identified with. To me it's typical and totally OK to believe that some genrefications are preferable to or more convincing than others, but what worried me slightly about these two lists was that the acceptable genrefications all appeared prior to the mid-nineties, and all the criticised ones had appeared since then. Now it's not that you should either believe in any genrefications or you should believe in none of them, but it's almost as if the overall (and at times, seemingly comprehensive) resistance to genrefication expressed in both posts (e.g. PWYL1's 'genre names are actually a bit silly, pointless and ultimately unhelpful') is not a resistance to all genrefication per se, but rather a rationale for freezing the development of certain genrefications as a certain fixed landscape or hierarchy of acceptable categories as they were c. 1995-2000, with much of the differences and subcategorisations that were suggested after that time being considered erroneous or confining in their excessive particularity, and thus rejected.

I do not believe that some genrefications are inherently acceptable, while others are not. I believe, and I hope I was able to express the gist of this in the original essay, that all boxes are acceptable and none are, at the same time (again, they're all constructions). This is not a contradiction, but the broadest possible recognition of different possibilities and different forms - it was the position I was ultimately obliged to take on musical innovation in Infinite Music. If there are no absolutely correct or incorrect genrefications but merely more persuasive or less persuasive patterns and signifiers, then we shouldn't fear genrefication as much as we do. Laurent says that there's 'nothing new under the sun', which would echo the idea that there should only really be one big box for everything since there are no differences or novelties. The inverse of this idea would be that 'we can never step into the same river twice', which would suppose that we need an infinite number of boxes, or that difference is so constant and infinitesimal that boxing anything as the same as anything else is ultimately futile. The two sayings are really two sides of the same philosophical coin, two ends of a continuum, but they both equally suggest that boxing anything up is a mug's game. I believe this. But it doesn't mean that we can't potentially agree with each other, temporarily, somewhere along the continuum, on particular abstracted constructions like 'that's a new shirt' (i.e. 'that's a new genre') or 'that's the same river we walked past yesterday' (i.e. 'that's just the same genre'). Both and neither are absolutely right. In one instance, from one viewpoint, any thing can be said to be (in) the same (genre category) as any given other thing, while in another instance, from another viewpoint, any thing can be said to be (in) a different (genre category) as any given other thing. These things are relative. The same applies to any given genre, particularly because they are such abstract concepts.

I don't think that PWYL1 quite appreciated that I was moving beyond a clumsy realist-taxonomist model of genrefication and into this fluid, relative and non-realist conception of genre and genrefication that I outline in the original essay and above. PWYL1's post featured many of the standard criticisms of genre, backed up by protests that it's not what the musicians intend or want (I never said that genrefication was there to define, explain or condescend to a musician, or that it was exhaustive or necessary in each and every case, those were PWYL1's assumptions, and I'd actually written much in attempting to counteract those assumptions in the second half of the piece). But PWYL1 did observe about genre that 'the names [musicians] are given by others are irrelevant', and that '[genre names] can mean different things to different people', which clearly shows an appreciation of the fluidity and relativism at hand here. I completely agree with both these statements, and such observations, which I think most people are aware of, are precisely why genre is not the straitjacket we fear.

This is not why genrefication is wrong and harmful, but why it's relatively safe. And I think that this awareness of genre is either taking hold today, or is at least on the horizon, thanks to the Internet and the changed conceptual landscape of the twenty-first century. I think that the fact that so many genrefications in this period have appeared initially as 'jokes', as a relatively distanced identification-as-play, reflects this changed understanding, and moreover that their subsequent usage undermines the idea that these 'jokes' are obviously, entirely and universally insincere expressions. Besides, it's old news that musicians (and even their work too) can't truly be pinned down to genre, really old news, and it's even more manifestly true with twenty-first-century speed and technology. I'd hope that in the twenty-first century practically every music fan - surely - understands these things deep down, though I might be wrong. With this proviso safely tucked under our belts, we should be able to piece together some flexible understanding of new commonalities, every now and again.
One concern that both posts highlighted was that a new genrefication implies a separation from its wider historical continuity or context (PWYL1 mentions fragmentation, isolation and broken connections). This is a fair concern, obviously. This is probably why at one point Laurent substitutes the term 'genre' (implying a separation) with 'facets' (many 'facets' of hip hop). Elsewhere, he asserts that something (this 'trap' construction) 'isn't a genre' but 'a style of hip hop production'. Surely these 'facets' and 'style[s] of hip hop production' are just the same sorts of constructed groupings of commonalities that the genrefications I describe are, even if the change in terminology appears to sanitise them and remove them from such a process? Again, it's all relative. If you accept the 'nothing new under the sun' / 'you can never step into the same river' relativist continuum, then surely nothing can be truly separated from its historical continuity or context, and yet, at the same time, nothing can be truly reduced to continuity with or sameness as something else (e.g. a genre), because there is always a further level of difference right up to the infinitesimal.

This is where the notion of subcategories and supercategories comes in. These are ways of reflecting this duplicity of genre-sameness and genre-difference, allowing things to be different and the same simultaneously. So, for example, the facet of 'west coast gangsta rap' is a subcategory (subgenrefication) of hip hop, and hip hop is its supercategory (supergenrefication). And like the new fluidity of genrefication I've already described, I hope that the modern music fan appreciates that there is a rich and complex interconnection of potential subpatterns and superpatterns to be found in the world of music-making past and present. Because people listen so widely nowadays, especially to music of the past, I don't think a genrefication necessarily supposes a denial of context or of any superpatterns from which they might come, at least I would hope it doesn't.

No-one could be more into continuities and supercategories than me - I spend a lot of time in Infinite Music describing how music-making is one big bucket ('music space') of infinite possibilities, all continuous with each other and never truly subject to conceptual division. But as I said, I also appreciate that we can never step into the same river twice (again, not a contradiction, just the notion that infinite differentiation can apply). It's a two-way continuum (sameness one way, difference the other). So I was a little concerned to see PWYL arguing mostly for the sameness of supercategories (it's all just hip hop, it's all just techno, etc) and against subcategories, because to do so runs a certain risk of denying any due representation of difference. And I would argue that the representation of difference and novelty is a key part of the job of the music critic, even if they must simultaneously avoid the complete erasure of historical context - we must move both ways along the continuum (and sideways too). (Perhaps Laurent can do this perfectly well with his 'facets', in which case, our difference is opinion is merely semantic).

I'm not saying that PWYL1 or Laurent don't appreciate any internal differences within categories such as hip hop, or even within their 'facets', that's clearly not the case. But hopefully an imperfect analogy can illustrate why we shouldn't be too keen to prefer absorbing differences into apparently unified supercategories. The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and various other islands. These areas are subcategories of the United Kingdom. Now you could say, 'wherever you're from, it's just one big United Kingdom at the end of the day', 'it's all just the UK'. But of course, these internal differences are very important to many of these areas' populations. The danger is that the appearance of unity masks the fact that England is and has historically been the dominant force in the UK. It's where the capital is, it has invaded and absorbed many of the other territories, and 'Englishness' tends to overwhelmingly dominate the world's perception of 'Britishness', all of which those 'it's all just the UK' pleas conceal. Non-English people are more likely to resist the 'it's all just the UK' mantra, and sometimes quite passionately. Fortunately, the difference of the non-English cultures in the UK has been relatively well-represented (and I mean this word in its sense of 'portrayed' as well as 'voting'), with their own flags, cultures, and recently their own national assemblies. But it can go further, with the idea of Scotland separating from the 'Union' entirely gaining ground north of the border. And again, it's all relative. There are sub-differences - the different counties and post-codes of Scotland, England, Wales, etc. And there are super-differences - 'it's all just Europe', 'it's all just the West', 'it's all just the World', 'it's all just the Solar System'. All of which makes you wonder why some people are so particular about the UK and its borders and what's inside them or kept out, as if it were the only natural political-geographical category that could ever really apply.
Now in this analogy, the UK border is one of these acceptable genrefications, like hip hop or house or techno, and clearly there isn't the same degree of cultural oppression with these categories. But my concern about this recent spurning of new genrefications in favour of twenty and thirty-year-old genrefications appears is that the latter can appear to shift the music's centre of mass back in time slightly (a 'drag effect'). Just as if you ask an American to imagine a British person and they'll think of Englishman Alan Rickman, when someone says some music is nothing other than hip hop, I imagine they sound like Grandmaster Flash, and when someone says some music is nothing other than house, I imagine they sound like, I dunno, Frankie Knuckles. That's not to say I don't appreciate that it probably will sound different to those guys, but it is an influence - whereas if you said 'deep house' or 'UK funky', I would appreciate something more specific and differentiated. In Infinite Music I call this particular, constructed perception an 'image of music', as distinct from the full musical possibilities that could apply.

This aversion to new terminology is making it difficult to point out and represent new differences and novelties, and is thus one of the causes and effects of retromania and any similar stagnation of musical creativity. (I'd hoped to have voiced this concern in the original essay). It is holding us back from perceiving new images of music that can better reflect what is happening and what could happen. Laurent is completely right to call for a 'balance'  between 'the past and its drag effect, the history of where modern music comes from... and the new, the future and its clean slate on which anything can be written and proclaimed to be a new genre'. This would be a state of workable equilibrium between sameness / oldness and difference / newness. Laurent will be pleased to hear that I devote a whole section of Infinite Music to precisely this idea (I have a whole section on the socio-cultural importance of 'the recurring specifics of style' too). I call it 'synthesis' and suggest that it might be the most productive and popular way of making new music. But it is only one of three categories of new-music-making I describe. The others, 'alien styles' and 'alien genres', are perceived to have a radical discontinuity relative to old and familiar forms of music and to what music itself is, respectively. It's important to keep the option of such radical alternatives ('I am NOT the same, I am different') on the table.

Honestly, and I think we can all agree here, it doesn't matter what you call it, as long as you are faithful to the music and the sameness or difference it brings with it. We'll disagree about how best to do this - with music criticism, with historicism, without much input at all - but it would be the best way to keep the music alive.

P.S. I was as sorry as usual to see the virulent denial of the genrefication or category of 'wonky' in the PWYL posts, and its originality. It was never just about putting the beat somewhere else, it was about synths too, and so much more. People constantly forget that Martin Clark coined it as a 'theme - not a genre' and what was so fascinating about it was that it was a new kind of pattern-recognition that cut across the old, established hierarchy of genres. It turned electronic dance music on its side. It was an avant-garde thing that had a whole raft of characteristics. I still think that whole moment was one of the most interesting things to have happened to underground pop in the last decade. Slowly, it seemed to shed some of its parts - purple, and the other producers closer to dubstep - until it only seemed applicable to a strand of fascinating and psychedelic beat-making that went beyond Dilla and beyond Flying Lotus, a strand which is alive, well, populous, and happy to call itself 'wonky' on Web 2.0 genre-tags but dare not speak its name in pop music discourse. But that original avant-garde moment has practically sunken without a trace, with droves of producers now going back in time to traditional house and techno as if the whole thing were just an embarrassing phase, best forgotten. The genrefication was taken away and then the music was taken away, and the difference and the novelty along with it. All hail the traditional genrefications.

Remember this? Yes? Then say 50 hail Derricks.

P.P.S. Both PWYL1 and Laurent make convincing arguments against this term 'trap' that's been kicking around lately, especially regarding its 'quite unsavoury' 'social connotations'. I completely agree with the reasoning here, but all I can say is that loads of producers out there on SoundCloud and Bandcamp consider themselves to be making trap music, historically and culturally accurate or not, and have created some sort of a stylistic template (genre or not) under that title characterised by deep, long kicks, often quite bizarre and dramatic mid-range features, and of course those ticking clockwork hi-hats (TR-808 being the drum machine samples of choice). You'll often find those Trap-a-holics type samples in there too, 'real trap shit' etc (you can see how they arrived at the name, even if it wasn't supposed to be signifying music at first). The history of music is full of bizarre, historically and socio-culturally dubious misunderstandings and mistranslations. When is a genre not a genre?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

I'll be on the US East Coast for 6 months from October

Hi, just thought I'd let people know that from October 1st 2012 until April 1st 2013, I'll be doing research in the US on lo-fi culture and will be based in Washington DC, just in case anyone has any recommendations or uses for me while I'm in the general area. I'll aim to keep normal activities going as usual (writing for Wire, Dummy and others) as far as possible.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Column: 'Whatever Happened to Genre?'

I've started a column I'll be writing every two weeks for Dummy with a short essay entitled 'Whatever Happened to Genre?' (click here to read):
Over the past decade, slowly but surely, it has become deeply unfashionable to talk of new genres in underground pop music...
The growing reluctance to differentiate the musical landscape of the 00s by describing new genres meant that few people challenged the ones that already existed, and as a result the term ‘dubstep’ came to represent a bizarrely swollen category. Many people decry contemporary genres for being absurdly small, too small to really take seriously (note the proliferation of the term ‘microgenres’), but dubstep, by being ‘too big’, shows that in other places the reverse scenario can be perceived...
Something changed in the 00s that made the traditional modes of genrefication, and maybe the notion genrefication itself, untenable...
If all these sounds had genre names that were used regularly enough, would we be so quick to conclude that nothing much of any significance is going on in underground pop, that nothing was unifying it and giving it substance? Perhaps not...
Genre is a democratic music-making project that many hands (musicians and listeners) build and change dynamically. It also plays an important part of the way the language of music discourse evolves and better represents its specific elements...
I'll be posting news of the column entries on this blog and Twitter shortly after they go up. I'm looking forward to using it to peer into some of the issues of the day.

Friday, 13 July 2012

'The Virtual Plaza': Two Kinds of Art-Pop Critique (Audio and Mixtapes too)

I have a new two-part big-'un article (click here for part one and here for part two) for Dummy on some recent, rather anti-techno-capitalist and potentially accelerationist pop-art tendencies in underground music:

"Global capitalism is nearly there. At the end of the world there will only be liquid advertisement and gaseous desire. Sublimated from our bodies, our untethered senses will endlessly ride escalators through pristine artificial environments, more and less than human, drugged-up and drugged down, catalysed, consuming and consumed by a relentlessly rich economy of sensory information, valued by the pixel. The Virtual Plaza welcomes you, and you will welcome it too.

This is the world broadcast in brutal high-definition by a new faction within underground art-pop that’s exploring the technological and commercial frontiers of 21st-century hyper-capitalism’s grimmest artistic sensibilities. Wearing manic caffeine grins or concealed enigmatically behind corporate muscle and mirror-shades (or both), musicians such as Fatima Al Qadiri, James Ferraro, Gatekeeper, INTERNET CLUB, New Dreams Ltd. and many more are performing the next step in techno-capitalism’s disturbing and disturbingly logical sequence. They let flow the music that lubricates Capital, open the door to a monstrously alienating sublime, twist dystopia into utopia and vice versa, and dare you not to like it."

Part One looks at 'vaporwave', a successor to hypnagogic pop and Oneohtrix Point Never that adopts (near-) contemporary sounds and imagery from corporate promotionals and has less of the lo-fi. Part Two discusses a more violent 'distroid' aesthetic in music by Fatima Al Qadiri, BODYGUARD, Gatekeeper and others. Accelerationism and the work of Nick Land are mentioned along the way.

To get a sense of what these sounds are I put together an hour-long mix for each part to stream or download, see embedded below (see tracklistings on the original article or by clicking through to SoundCloud) :

And of course, I did the spoken word audio with musical examples, for your listening convenience:

Artwork by New Dreams Ltd.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Musical Radicalism Beyond the Sonic? (Talk at the 'Sonic Radicalism' Symposium, University of East London, 23rd May 2012)