Did you happen upon that ‘drummers are actually really clever’ meme that’s been doing the rounds of late? Apparently, playing in time is a form of problem solving, indicating a modicum of intelligence. Am I the only person that feels this is the scientific equivalent of a headline confirmation of earth’s non-flatness?
Excruciating axioms aside, I’ve been reflecting this week on what problem solving means in a time of enormous, cheap computing power.
I know that statement will age faster than Mark Hamill but stay with me, if you can operate in non-real time, cloud resources mean you’re unlikely to run out of cpu cycles or memory addresses any time soon.
Musical composition is an activity where you get to both find and solve problems and it can also happen in non-real time (in the computing sense). Prior to modernism, the virtues of composing ‘away from the piano’ were widely promoted, it’s easy to imagine your favorite composer of yore adding the odd note to the score between coffees to create the meisterwerk.
As I’ve previously claimed on these pages, for music, the methods are not important, the results must speak for themselves.
Still, I’m getting a real kick from trying to solve the following problem: How much music can I create in the moment with a discreet synth, drum and dsp set up? Am not interested in samples or deterministic sequences, so my computer is relegated to elevated tape machine / mixer status.
Apart from upping my fun quotient there are tangible benefits to this approach.
First up, integration. Having to perform the track in its entirety means the process has a definitive beginning, middle and end. There’s no twiddling the virtual buttons to an infinite degree; I have an idea, I play with the idea, then I perform / record the idea. All of this happens in given time frames; if I have 30 minutes to record, that’s what I have, it’ll either get captured or it won’t.
Secondly, having been on a massive Arthur Baker bender this past fortnight, I’ve been reminded of the power of the electronic music of my youth, much of which was made under pretty constrained technological conditions. The temptation to try and copy this music, even (especially?) subconsciously would surface far easier if my ‘tabula rasa’ were a blank sequencer screen rather than some cheap synths and funky old drum set.
I don’t believe that I’m alone in this. The computing omnipotence referred to earlier has given us plenty of rope with which to hang our notions of musical originality.
I’m finding that doing less computer is leading to more me in the music. Whether or not this is, objectively, a ‘good thing’, I shall leave to your discernment..
Happiness. Don’t like the term much. It’s one of the big five that are ripe for imbuing with maudlin sentimentality for nefarious purposes (love, art, war and sport, please add/swap as required).
Without prior agreement of the meaning of happiness, there’s a slew of crass messages awaiting you via the gogglebox, internets and on posters. Advertising largely functions by telling you that you’re somehow incomplete without product or service X and I don’t think I’m breaking any confidences in letting that particular cat out of the bag (or telling you something you don’t already know).
In short, you’re not happy enough and what can be done about it?
There’s a plethora of solutions, pick your poison. Happiness is now utterly medicalised, so yeah, we got pills for that.
The classics have still got plenty of life left in them; booze, holidays and retail therapy all cause happiness, right?
Although, to our credit, we seem to be wising up to the temporary nature of the joy that any of the aforementioned will bring. There’s a realisation that perhaps happiness is something that happens despite these things rather than because of them. It’s deeper than buying a jeep; it’s a state of being.
And into this yawning chasm of marketing opportunity the self improvement hawkers have jumped with gusto. Which doesn’t leave you much to claim as a happy inner space all-of-your-very-own.
It’s worse than you thought however, because there’s now actual medical science that indicates that all we need to be happy is a ‘positive’ outlook.
I don’t know about you but I find those list of three positive comments posted by friends and acquaintances on Facebook really lighten my load!
There is a darkly comic element to my feed currently; between stories of Brandis wanting to spy on his subjects and daily horrors conducted in the name of border protection, there’ll be lists of positivity so cringe worthy in their lack of introspection that it has almost seen me running from the platform for ever.
Perhaps that is the true spirit of the age; rampant fear-mongering and parochial gratitude. Rapid oscillation between these two poles should keep us out of trouble, there’ll be scant brain space left for getting stuff done. Or for thinking big ideas as to how things could actually be different or even better.
Horribly modern those big ideas and look where they got us. Two world wars and some great shots of decaying Soviet iconography.
No, much better to work on that which can be changed. Your brain. By reciting positive mantra.
In the spirit of willing participation, I offer the following:
Today I am grateful for:
1) The strange outmoded belief I have in the human ability to change, both micro and macro. That’s positivity bordering on faith.
2) The family and friends I have who accompany during the ups and endure the downs caused predominantly by point one above.
3) Death. Making this game finite really ups the ante for us all.
Perhaps this list making business is harder than I thought..
Have some videos instead:
To the victor the spoils, as true for culture as it is for war. Making enduring art isn’t enough, one has to be able to commandeer the writing of history to be said to have conquered. Witness the boomer tropes that refuse to lie down and take their place in the cannon; these living gods have their nostalgic presence continually reified by the culture industry in an orgy of self-congratulation, lapped up by the generation that actually has the money to consume it..
This would irk more than it does if it wasn’t so blatant and the end were not already in sight. I can only imagine the lachrymose hyperbole that will accompany the demise of these icons. And fair enough for a die-hard fan, or even contemporaries mourning the passage of time and their own youths. But I suspect, that rather like the passing of Diana Spencer, there will be an expectation of visible mass-grief from the media machine that feasts on such spectacles. How tiresome.
Rather more insidious is a phenomenon that appears to be on the rise – that of digital culture believing its own myth.
I’m a digital adherent. Longtime Linux user, occasional hacker etc; one who generally enjoys frolicking in the open source wilderness. I like the flexibility, recall-ability and power of these tools. I no longer believe that they represent a new frontier in human collaboration nor, in their current organisation, are they likely to usurp the mainstream. Would that even be desirable or do these tools best exercise their power from the margins? Jaron Lanier effectively debunked the utopian premise of Free Software some years ago in ‘You Are Not a Gadget’ but since then, a new ideal has crept into digitalia.
That is, the notion that digital culture is now so omnipresent that its objet d’art no longer require resonant aesthetic content. The narrative is the tools and the tools are (in line with Moore’s law) becoming more powerful; this alone will spirit us the new. A profound misinterpretation of the medium being the message as digital ephemera doesn’t change in a linear fashion along with the power of the tools. I’m sure you can think of a few tracks that are decades old but still sound like music of the future, the tools were but a part of their creation, the vision endures.
Great swathes of international funding are now devoted to ‘new digital art’ at the intersection of ‘art and science’ for ‘practice based research’ that ‘explores the workings of our perception’ and even ‘intersects with broader culture’.
Serious digital culture has always lived at the intersection of art and science, it doesn’t require intervention.
As a piece of fine or performance art, I’ll defend your right to stick sensors into meat or plant products and sonify the results as you cook / feed them WonderGro (respectively) until the cows come home. If I can enjoy the process, bonus. If I can enjoy the outcome, I’ll want to see / hear more. Which really is the point; how does the diversion of scant arts funding into art that requires explanation in order to function help build sustainable practice and/or new audiences?
Some hand holding via workshops, essays, liner notes etc can be both useful and engaging but if the artwork doesn’t cut it, it should be allowed to die a natural death.
No matter how much explaining takes place after the fact, I may not have the faculties to discern bad science. But I got a radar for suspect art and so do many punters.