Sunday, May 31, 2015

Deze morgen was echt

On the Threshold of Beauty: Philips and the Origins of Electronic Music in the Netherlands, 1925–1965 by composer and head of Institute of Sonology Kees Tazelaar  "describes a period of musical history in which an entirely new world of electronic sounds and compositional attitudes was developed and explored, ranging from avant-garde extremes to the earliest experiments in electronic pop; from the music for the iconic Philips Pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair to electronic soundtracks for film.... looking at the pioneering work of Henk Badings, Jan Boerman, Ton Bruynèl, Tom Dissevelt, Gottfried Michael Koenig, Ton de Leeuw, Walter Maas, Dick Raaijmakers, Hermann Scherchen, Leopold Stokowski, Edgard Varèse and Roelof Vermeulen."

Contents Page and Foreword

Music Examples

Buy it

(via Bruce Sterling)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

maxed out

At Pitchfork, Meaghan Garvey connects PC Music and my digital maximalism essay "Maximal Nation" (also for Pitchfork) from several years back, under the rubric of what she calls "the Internet Hangover".

"The most fitting torch-bearers for the ideals of digital maximalism in 2015 are the members of PC Music... Masterminded by producer/conceptual svengali A. G. Cook, the crew makes music and visuals that are uncannily cheerful and shamelessly synthetic, a self-aware mash of faux-naive teen girl caricature and leering corporate brand-speak....  

"PC Music’s music is a means to an end, just one tier of the label’s half-performative, half-serious post-postmodern branding experiment....  Fully "getting" PC Music relies on the spectator’s awareness of the artists’ winking performance of Web 1.0 zeal in a Web 2.0 world: the post-ironically naive lyrics ("I don’t wanna be an MP3/ 320 kbps, you know that I feel kinda real") or the poker-faced, bizarro-world advertising spots. I initially read this as satire, though certainly not without an obvious tenderness for its source material (the business of pop, the art of branding), that would ultimately lead to some critical conclusions about consumerism, art, and identity in the digital age.... 

"But there’s something awkwardly dated about PC Music’s approach, too—an unwavering optimism in the chaotic, supersaturated digital realm, and a desire to immerse oneself even deeper within it, that I find hard to relate to in a way that I would not have a few years ago. PC Music’s approach amplifies and exaggerates the ideals put forth in "Maximal Nation," but our experience of the Internet has warped pretty drastically in those deceptively short four-ish years. These concepts felt sexy and vital in the early 2010s, but in 2015, "digital maximalism" isn’t so much a limitless frontier as our exhausting day-to-day reality. 

"Internet culture feels like it’s reached a critical mass: non-professional bloggers feel like a dying breed, privacy is nonexistent, our most essential social media platforms have grown tedious and rife with harassment, content is branded and SEO-optimized within an inch of its life. Everyone I know is "thinking about deleting Facebook." We use technology to help us stay away from technology. In short, a predominantly digital existence just doesn’t feel that fun anymore, at least not as fun as PC Music makes it out to be. I wish I could muster up A. G. Cook’s enthusiasm about life in the digital realm; instead, I’m listlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed in the dark, wondering why I even bother...."

 "Divisive" as PC Music has set out to be..  they subvert nothing, nor do they add anything to the discussion beyond noise. They merely reflect the flat, bright, incessant, corporatized banalities of the current age...  PC Music had the potential for insurrection, subversion, or at least some shred of insightful commentary on our dumb, addictive, overwhelming digital existence. But mostly, they remind me of ideals I believed in not so long ago that now just make me feel tired."

Garvey identifies 2015 as "the year of the Internet Hangover"....

Guess it hits everyone at different points, but looking back it feels like every year for the past seven or so felt like a year of encroaching burn-out, from both a personal perspective and what I was observing in those small corners of the blogosphere / social-media that I frequent.... a sense of increasingly frazzled brains struggling to process all the sound-image-text flowing ever more swiftly and inundatingly across our mindscreens.... people dropping out to rejoin "real life"

But somehow you get used to it, you persevere...

I was alive and alert for too long in the analogue-only world to be called a digital native... but I have been on the web since 1996, so that is nearly 20 years...  and in truth, probably every year has felt like an escalation... the number of emails you have to reply to, the copiousness of stuff to read out there,  the equally ever-expanding incitement to deposit discourse (first the website, which Joy painstakingly constructed and taught me how to use; then the blog;  then the blogs plural; then Facebook, Twitter, etc, not forgetting various message boards and forums I participated in intermittently, with varying degrees of intensity, UK Dance, Dissensus, ILM);  the ocean-of-sound becoming a tsunami with the sharity blogs, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Mixcloud, ad nauseam;  YouTube's invitation to get lost in elsewheres and elsewhens, live in the past...  The TV recaps, the forensic political coverage at election times... both equally exhaustive, equally exhausting....

"I can't go on. I'll go on"...

("Maximal Nation", incidentally, was far from a straightforward celebration of the digital existence; there's an undercurrent of ambivalence, perhaps more apparent when read in conjunction  with other things I published that year, from Retromania to this Wire essay).

In the piece, Garvey also steps sideways to consider Hipster Runoff and the untaggable sensibility of Carles:

 "... I don’t think HRO would have resonated as much, personally, if I hadn’t sensed something deeply sincere and weirdly intimate beneath all the layers of irony: the quiet existential shame that creeps in as a belief system to which you’d once earnestly ascribed (in this case, the "alternative," but also, the Internet as an inherently positive force) reveals itself to be flawed and ultimately hollow. I recognized it because I was starting to feel it too."

Carles on PC Music...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

NInetiestalgia pt 456 / the shifting 'center' of classic rock

Pitchfork mini-thinkpiece on millenial nostalgia for mid-late-90s  (and even early Oughts) by Paul de Revere

"Millennials are surely as nostalgic as any other preceding generation, yet Millennial nostalgia is seemingly more self-reflective, even, and critically thinking than restorative. What they share with previous generations—particularly with Generation X and its pioneering meta observations—is a willingness to reimagine eras in which they never lived. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy noticed it too. On 2002’s "Losing My Edge", Murphy—a Gen X’er—deadpans about "art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties."

"This assimilation of an era in which you never lived is what Douglas Coupland called "legislated nostalgia" or persuasion through the pop culture of preceding generations to "have memories [you] do not actually possess." Coupland, a seminal Gen-X culture critic, got this published in 1991. Indeed, Millennials and Gen X’ers are hardly the first to have nostalgia legislated onto them, then retool it. But their cultural critics have certainly mused the most about it.

"It’s the pace and frequency of the Nostalgia Cycle that’s changed noticeably with Millennials specifically, whose time frame of lived memories for which they’re nostalgic is perpetually shrinking. What Coupland called "ultra-short-term nostalgia" has been shot into Millennial overdrive. Writer-director Noah Baumbach exaggerated the concept in his 1995 dramedy Kicking and Screaming. "I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday," Baumbach muses dryly through the character Max. "I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur." Instant nostalgia. Pre-emptive nostalgia. They happen on social media now, almost literally. And for Millennials, it’s almost blasé. Similar to the crew in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, pop culture is increasingly at the lip of a black hole—in this case, a pop-culture quantum singularity—where the past, present, and future are all taking place simultaneously."

"If you’re low-key freaking right now, you’re not alone. The Future Shock of 1970 has become the Present Shock of 2013. It’s why—in the face of a major tour like Third Eye Blind and Dashboard Confessional, capitalizing on the ~feels~ and meta ultra-short-term nostalgia of young-professional twenty- and thirtysomething Millennials—it might seem somehow "too soon" to get nostalgic over late-'90s alt-rock or early ’00s emo. But it’s not. Nothing is ever too soon anymore."

"....  It’s a wonder '90s rock bands took even this long to start organizing nostalgia cruises. And that the so-called present Emo Revival—perhaps a byproduct of the genre’s next wave, perhaps a fleeting moment of Millennial nostalgia—got coined as a term only recently."

Can't speak for Millenials obviously - realised recently I'm not even proper Gen X, since demographically I was born in the very last year of the Baby Boom - but one thing I've personally noticed about 9tiestalgia is that the things that were backgrounds sounds  - that you might have disregarded or been on some level opposed to  -  have now started to have an appeal... beyond even the memory-tug they trigger, they (some of them, anyway) actually start to seem objectively good

In my case that would be a new appreciation for the works of The Offspring...  Weezer ....  Sublime ... Cake ... even (amazing / worrying myself) one or two things by No Doubt and NiN and Smashing Pumpkins

Mind you I always loved this SmgPnkns tune, as surely everyone did (which itself is a nostalgia song)

But with the late-alt and grunge-lite and pop-punk stuff (lots of one-offs here -  the theme from Peep Show by Harvey Danger, "Sex and Candy" etc) - the appeal is partly because these songs were ambiently around during a time which now seems golden for lots of other reasons (personal, political, and what was going on elsewhere in music as consuming passions - ie. rave, rap, postrock etc)

and partly because of their quality of Quintessential Nineties-ness

In that respect, The Offspring are perhaps the equivalent of Steve Miller Band ... a band that was journeyman, bread-and-butter, background-radio staple stuff at the time... but with time has an appeal precisely for their echt-Seventiesness

(They and similar other groups also bring to mind the last time MTV actually had music on...  and it was my routine during my early years in New York to take breaks from work not by going on the Internet as I do now, but switching on MTV)

This personal 90s-stalgia / alt-rock surprise-enjoyment (I'd draw the line at 4 Non Blondes and still find most Green Day a bit sickly-melodious) is partly a knock-on effect, though, of what's on the radio to listen to while in the car. It seems harder to find a classic rock station nowadays, in the old sense of 'classic rock' as mostly  60s and 70s rock....   60s you almost never come across and 70s is definitely becoming a diminished presence on the dial ... instead the demographic / generational center of oldies radio seems to have shifted to the late 80s and 90s...   clearly the radio programmers know what they are doing..... they must continually monitor the age-range of their listener market, what songs get the best response, what mix of eras / styles keeps people from switching to a different station the longest

Inevitably as the radio audience ages out, the nostalgia sweet spot drifts nearer the present - a station like Jack FM for instance seems to be playing less ZZ Top and Steve Miller Band... more Harvey Danger and Blind Melon (another one I always loved)

Things you don't surprisingly hear on Classic 90s Rock  Radio (at least in this city) and I wish you did - Alice In Chains

Things you don't surprisingly hear on Classic 90s Rock Radio hardly ever (at least in this city) and for this I'm glad  - Spin Doctors, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Live, Metallica


I wonder if I lived in the U.K. during the mid-late 90s and still today that I would be having similar effects of ambient-nostalgia re. Britpop and its afterbirth...   as heard on Radio 2 which is nothing like Radio 2 when I were a lad... the shifting center of M.O.R.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

nowhen pop with nowhere to go

Embling's Tiny Mix Tapes review of Shamir's Ratchet and its exquisite pastiche of "low-key electropop, glam house, dance rap, and indie power-balladry" 

"Shamir isn’t paying homage to any one era in particular; to me, he sounds as indebted to the turn of the Millennium as he is to the artists from whom the dance-punks and electroclashists were cribbing. Ratchet exhibits a temporal and generic dimensionality that is completely alien to me, as a person who spent the most formative years of his young adulthood without immediate access to portable devices that could feasibly contain the entire history of a given genre.
The closest analogue I can muster is the current season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, wherein young, inexperienced, yet fully-formed queens who’ve grown up not only with ball culture, but also with reality TV and Drag Race itself, keep besting their older, less polished, more narrowly-defined competitors.
"Maybe I should be thinking instead of Alexander, weeping at the prospect of having no lands left to conquer? In any case, Shamir, as a young artist, is proof to me of evolution as a reality, progress as an upward arc, and also of the existential terror I feel when I listen to Ratchet and my mind hears a historical vanishing point. When I hear Shamir’s nimble and cherubic vocals, I often hear a question hanging in air: where can we possibly go from here?
Please forgive me for saying this, but younger Millennials — there needs to be a more accurate term for the generation of those born in the post-broadband era — are in many ways like the final girl’s friend in The Human Centipede, meaning that they eat last and are fed only that which has already been twice digested. Maybe that sounds ungenerous, but think of the limitations of such limitless access: Shamir, who is a prodigy almost without peer, can’t make the music he wants without being reduced to echoes and aftershocks of every single (lesser) artist who entered this world before him."

[emphases added]

Friday, May 15, 2015

Deze morgen was

Tera de Marez Oyens interviewed - an extract:

BD:    Is it fun to work with electronics?

TdeMO:    It used to be enormous fun.  I worked in the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht.  I don’t know if you have heard of all the great work there.  This was a big, old-fashioned studio with walls full of apparatus, where you had to plug in and you had to turn knobs, and it was really a sport to work there!  You could discover things.  I must say, now that we all have computers and you need a technician to sit there and work on your piece, you tell him what you want and the fun is a little bit lost on me.  I liked the old-fashioned way better.

BD:    Should we take some of your older electronic music and make sure it’s played on “original (electronic) instruments”?

TdeMO:    Well, the fun is that you don’t have to have these instruments.  It’s on tape, so you don’t have to create it again.  It’s finished.

BD:    Do you view the electronic sounds that can be created as more colors on your palette?

TdeMO:    Yes, and magnificent colors, too.  With electronic sounds, you really can get anything you want.  I started all that because I hated electronic music!  I had heard it and found it so cold and inhuman, and it didn’t mean a thing to me.  Then I got a musical prize and I had to do something cultural with it.  So I thought, “Why not find out what I hate about this electronic music?”  So I went to a course of Gottfried Michael Koenig, and I was not longer than two weeks in this course and I was totally turned around.  I loved it and I saw the possibilities.  It’s really very fascinating to work with it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

narrative maximalism

What happens when the experimental becomes a settled tradition?   Struck by the parallels between music and fiction when reading this LA Times review by Lydia Millet:

[Danielewski's] "The Familiar" is clearly located within a lineage of formal innovation, yet in a sense it's less innovative (since most of these devices have been used before, though probably not all at the same time) than interdisciplinary. It features colored page corners like an old-fashioned reference volume, scads of typographic eccentricities, pages of photo-like illustration, collage, poetry, a pastiche of epigraphs from cultural sources both pop and high, and smatterings of foreign languages.

This is a novel that's both brashly contemporary and deeply traditional. The contemporary part is obvious, with a narrative consisting of multiple points of view from multiple cultures and genders, seeking to encompass the world of the video game maker, the world of the immigrant, the world of the grad student/mother, the world of the mystic. But "The Familiar" is also materially traditional, both for its bombast and its coup-like seizing of authority, in a continuum with, say, Proust, Joyce or Pynchon (though in some particulars less accessible than these authors). Like a big man bloviating at a party, it makes no apologies for its enormous requisition of readers' time and attention: Give yourself to me, its bulk demands. I am worth it.

Can't think of an example off the top of my head, but it feels like in fairly recent left-field music we have seen a lot of this sort of thing -  epic-scale agglomerations of once-upon-a-time bracing, now wearyingly familiar avant techniques and gestures....  with pile-it-on recombinant maximalism seeking to compensate for or conceal the fact that no single element therein is actually new.

(Well, it's going on in classical music, as discussed in this blogpost  I did a few years ago chez Bruce Sterling -  riffing on a piece about trends in recent composition by New York critic Justin Davidson)

(Probably equivalents in the visual arts too now I think of it... )

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Retromania Revival !

There's been something of a spate of pieces on retro in pop culture in recent weeks and months  - Lauren Cochrane's thing on "old school", the "does dance music have a problem with nostalgia" piece,  from earlier in the year this NPR one on "Pop's New Old Sound: Retro Without Rules", others I'm struggling to remember...  And now this one from Cuepoint / Medium by one DJ Louie XIV, titled "Pharrell, Bruno Mars and The Age of Pastiche Pop".

It's a decent effort, and  also has the decency to quote me (as indeed most of these pieces do, either from the book or approaching me direct for soundbites). 

Nonetheless, and ironically, it does have a little bit of the air of the retread about it, let's be honest. Recapitulating points in the book or in the articles I wrote around the book. 

But I suppose - and I'm repeating myself here too - this is where we are at: deadlock. The same conditions persist; the same critiques get run and rerun.  

One interesting thing alluded to in the DJ Louie XIV piece that was new to me was this keynote speech lecture given by Malcolm McLaren at the Handheld Learning Conference, not long before his death (his last public talk, in fact). Titled "Reflections on Learning", it riffs on what he calls Karaoke Culture - i.e the practices of recycling, reenactment, parody, fan-fiction, mash-up....   

Techniques, McLaren notes wryly and dryly, that are "all unencumbered by the messy process of creativity". 

Interesting that McLaren refloats the concept of authenticity as the opposite of all that recreativity cack:

"It's about discovering, I suppose, something that is real - that can only be achieved through a struggle - that adores, romanticizes, and  actually makes that 'messy process' a romantic and noble pursuit"  

McLaren explicitly connects Karaoke Culture's "everything is for sale" worldview with the attempts of Tony Blair to "rebrand" the U.K.   

Recreativity as the noncultural or anticultural superstructure to Third Way managerialism / finance capital 's substructure.  

Both equally vaporous. Simulacrum, through and through.

"Authenticity" -  and I've been saying this for years on the other blog - is a concept that "we" are all too educated and self-conscious to have any truck with...  I remember being embarrassed by the concept and repelled by the word (authentick - yuck!) in all its earnest dourness back in the 1980s.... But it is nonetheless an indispensable concept.... a concept, that far from being on its last legs, is going to have a comeback. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

the semiotics of old school

Nice piece from Lauren Cochrane at The Guardian  - with a few quotes from me - exploring the slippery and increasingly multivalent concept of "old school"  a/k/a "old skool" as it figures in music and fashion, referring to different lost golden ages and bygone moments of virgin emergence - early hip hop, hardcore rave, and so forth.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

the perils of retro-pastiche, part 234

Or, "it's a thin line between love and theft"

"... The songwriting credits for Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk have been expanded. It is now attributed to 11 different writers. The new credits have been given to the writers of the Gap Band’s Oops Up Side Your Head: group members Ronnie Wilson, Charles Wilson and Robert Wilson, plus producers Rudolph Taylor and Lonnie Simmons. They join the six writers already credited: Ronson, singer Bruno Mars, producers Jeff Bhasker and Philip Lawrence, plus Nicholas Williams (Trinidad James) and Devon Gallaspy, who received credits for the use of a sample of Trinidad James’s All Gold Everything." (The Guardian
11 writers! A sort of coalition of "inspiration"
"The credits followed a claim by the publisher Minder Music, reports Billboard. The claim, rather than being sent to Ronson’s label or publisher, was filed with YouTube’s content management system in February. The Oops writers are believed to be taking a 17% share of the song."

I thought the Marvin Gaye estate was trying it on big-time re. "Blurred Lines" - different melody, you can't copyright a vibe -  but can't help feeling  "good for the Gap boys" since Ronson's whole career is recycling-based, Bruno really doesn't need the money (and is also a serial recycler and retro-nuevo "renovator"), and the Gap Band deserve more.... everything, really.   Love, respect, collective-memory-share, and $$$$. If not inventors, they were prime exponents of the Downstroke Snare-Thwack. Started many, many a party. And had a great look. 

Earlier thoughts on "Uptown Funk"

Friday, May 1, 2015

Deze morgen was

(via Archaic Inventions - more information on this 1957 seven inch single here )

more Henk tomorrowness

this was tomorrow (the beer of the future)

(via Jody Beth Rosen)

post-identity pop

"If you own all the music ever recorded in the entire history of the world, then who are you?" asks Nick Hornby, in a short essay at Billboard from last month that is ostensibly about what would the sequel to High Fidelity be - but really about the stubborn resurgence / persistence of record shops and solid-form music commodities (including vinyl) and what that says about how people engage with music.

"One of the great benefits of digital consumption is that it is democratic: In cyberspace, there's nobody to judge you [i.e. no snobby sneery record store assistants a la High Fidelity] .  And yet part of the point of culture is that it allows us to demonstrate our tastes publicly -- it helps us find our tribe... The arts are the most elaborate and most precise social network ever invented, but if it's going to work properly, you have to get out of the house sometimes and show who you are and what you love. You have to go to shows and galleries and bookstores, you have to ask for what you want out loud. And this expression of taste must involve an impulse that, at its heart, is anti-democratic: Somewhere you have to believe that what you like is better than what all those other losers like. So maybe we need those record-store guys; maybe the reason so many of them are still around is that, without them, the whole system grinds to a halt. If you own all the music ever recorded in the entire history of the world, then who are you?"

What Hornby is touching on here is the breakdown of the role music used to have in identity formation...

This could be individual / solipsistic, or it could be tribal (us versus them), but it was reliant on the either/or distinction  - the good/bad, urgent/trivial distinction.  It was divisive - creating a gulf between  me / not-me, us / not-us

But with the glut of options, the overabundance of choices - with decisions carrying no weight financially or existentially - - first fanaticism goes, then any kind of intense cathexis. Ultimately you're processing things too fast to feel them. 

As to the "anti-democratic" impulse in public displays of taste and allegiance...  One of my never-attempted projects, during the tail-end of the Poptimism Wars, was to see if I could come up with a defence of the idea of cultural snobbery. 

This mortal dread of being a snob, of making a critical utterance that could be deemed as snobbish, was leading, as far as I could see, to a paralysis of judgement altogether. People (I mean critics mainly, but some critic-minded civilians) got caught up in this bizarre competition to find things to not-dismiss, not-demean. It's still going on, a sort of frantic note of "what are we missing? what are we failing to cover?".  It became a kind of inverted Bourdieu-an cultural capital, this ostentatious display of non-elitism.  But there was an idealistic element, for sure, a "wanting to be good".  

The energy behind this ever-more-inclusive overcompensation for the supposed slights of rockism seemed... nothing really to do with music - with taste or passsion, or how any real-world individual engages with music. It had a quality of impersonal conscientiousness, an aspiration to virtue that felt faintly bureaucratic, done on behalf of some Big Other.  Like a policy that had been formulated by some public body for best practice.