17 May 2012

if there is one real art form that truly can live in the miniscule moment of the tiny present and be free in that moment it has to be dance music

Homeland - Series 2 - out in the Autumn;
can't fucking wait!
Think you live in the moment? Well, you don't. But you should strive for it because it may well make you very happy indeed.

Another sunrise, another sunset, another tVC party at the Smack in the gloriously middle class bolthole of sunny Whitstable. ‘How much is you house worth? Fascinating!’
All the sunrises, sunsets and parties are all the same but at the same time they’re all different. Just like the leaves on a tree they’re still leaves whichever way you look at it. A pint is a pint is a pint.
Mines a Hurliman thank you!
The only difference, and it is of course the crucial, most important difference, is that this party really is happening now, in the present in the real life here and now.
It is really fine when I hear people reminisce about things ‘back in the day’; about that brilliant tune they heard that made them fall in love with the world or that ‘greatest party ever’ they experienced. That does not of course mean or justify they can come up to me while I’m DJing going;
 ‘Oh, can you play Faithless’ Insomnia’ or some such tune from not the time that is the present that is now but represents some time that is the past and has past.
‘I remember the time that I come in my pants/was so blissed out I fell in love with a glowstick/ met my abusive future boyfriend/crawled around on my hands and knees with my trousers round my ankles baying like a dog/closed my eyes and fell over’ or some such happy memory is always associated with the request of the tune. Now I don’t know if they want to recreate the feelings of the past or are hoping to relive the past or are they just living in the past? Who knows? I don’t. It is always, I can assure you, based on something that happened to them whilst they were living in the present of that time.
What I’m trying to do here is not sound pretentious or ‘up my arse’ (©IffyBoatrace) or unnecessarily trying to  over-complicating a difficult concept by philosophising or twisting the meaning or even, heaven forbid, to impose my own interpretation or meaning on what is probably a very innocent situation of some poor dancer wanting to hear an old tune that they used to love.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against that per se what I am trying to articulate here is that if there is one real art form that truely can live in the miniscule moment of the tiny present and be free in that moment it has to be dance music; particularly dance music that is made up on the fly by that DJ in that moment and with the notion that even he or her has never heard that particular combination of sounds ever before and nor have the dancers.
It is purely a celebration of living of life of the moment. Breathe that breath in, breathe that breath out, listen to the music, dance and look around you. Enjoy it. If there, in the moment you are now living in, is a particular tune that you have never heard of that makes you have a tiny little wee in your pants (equivalent epiphanies are also acceptable) because you are so excited to hear it in the moment then by all means ask the DJ what the track is called so that in ten years time you can hassle the DJ at your local club for some track that is ten years old that he has never heard of and as you ask him for it and see him roll his eyes as he thinks ‘oh here we go again some one asking for an old track from ‘back in the day’ you can quietly add on the end of your request that ‘hey, did you know that when I first heard this track down the Smack with tVC 10 years ago a little bit of wee came out because I was so excited to hear it?’
The idea of that is that if you live in the moment, and don’t they always tell you to do this but not how to, then this will somehow manifest into some deep or profound happiness that you can then carry around like a beacon the rest of your life bringing it out every now and again to blast your hot breath over it and polish it until a genie appears and tells you that the life you now live has some purpose.
It’s all BS of course because living in the moment is all about just that and not thinking about what a bitch your ex girlfriend is/was, or how you would like to win the lottery or bag that dream job or how you just know for certain that essay you just handed in is going to be pasted by that bum fluff academic at college or how your mother used to spit on a hanky and rub your face with her stinky spit and coo ‘that’s better’ or how the sound of helicopters puts you in a blind panic as it reminds you of that great scene in the TV show ‘Homeland’ where he is rescued from being kept in a hole in the ground for 7 years or, even, that you have no money in your pocket to buy another pint or get a cab home. I wonder if the Israeli version of ‘Homeland’ – Hatufim - is any better than the US version?
No, living in the moment is about NOT being aware any of this guff, or even your own made up or true guff that is being projected by your mind into the screen on the inside of your forehead. It’s not even about being aware of not being aware. It’s about not being happy or unhappy because you are not aware of the philosophical concept or notions of happiness or unhappiness when you live in the moment; you only exist; you are. Particularly whilst having sex. Psychologists at Harvard University found that people were happiest when having sex, exercising or in conversation, and least happy when working, resting or using a home computer. I find I’m happier, or rather I don’t find I’m happier because, ta da, I shouldn’t be aware of it, when I’m DJing or talking to a lovely chum who is saying interesting things to me.
All this was going through my mind as I stood outside the Smack sucking on a roll up waiting for my half hour turn on the decks. So, there I was thinking about something other than what I was actually doing and breaking all my own rules about living in the moment.
This team of Psychologists at Harvard University conclude that reminiscing, thinking ahead or daydreaming tends to make people more miserable, even when they are thinking about something pleasant.

I could have told them that.


A man who is aware cannot move in the past, because it is no more. A man who is aware cannot move in the future, because it is not yet. A man who is aware lives in the present, herenow. Here is his only space, and now is his only time. And because he is only herenow, time as such disappears. Eternity is born, timelessness is born.


9 May 2012

The adamantine surety - the morning session pt 1

Do you go straight to bed after a great night out? Well don't. Follow the chill out crew down to the beach and have a pint with them in the sunshine. Look at a cloud.

Ooh I do like a good old morning session after a party. There’s nothing like a good bout of bubbling low anti-melodrama and some infantilising sentimentality to go with some decent chilled deep house. Timeless sentimental, yet surprisingly muscular, gems much maligned by those too embarrassed to admit it makes them cry.  Don’t you agree? Admittedly neither understatement nor brevity has ever been the Modus operandi of the post party louche but a collectively cultivated distaste of the violent absurdities of human conflict and an appreciation of ecstatic social engagement does engender a somewhat excessive admiration of the joy of social union, sunshine on a beach, fizzy alcoholic drinking and some simperingly close exchanges of intimacies or indeed the simple appreciation of each other’s oneness that elicits poignantly elliptical moments that some observers would negatively label with a lack of understanding, even with distain and simply compare, the behaviour, rightly, to a pride of lions lazily basking on the Serengeti; after having killed and eaten a zebra. Do not think that this nostalgically feted gathering is somewhat soft around the edges.

It is here, in best David Attenborough voice, on that cultivated stage where the subtle appreciation of the darker decisions regarding survival in a thoughtless world exists that the troubling themes of tragedy, pathos and redemption spring through the rays of healing heat and through the fug of ecstasis clarity.

This conjures a sweeping, tear-jerking epic in which broad strokes and grand gestures speak volumes, substituting the visual verbosity and musical overstatement from the previous hours into a more reflective though provoking, even philosophical, dissection of life, love and universe; just like earlier in fact but a bit more slowly now; the human voice taking precedence over the beat of the kick drum; the blanket and tea over the whistle and the dance floor; the freedom to roll and lay your head on someone’s warm arm and look at the clouds with impunity from the experience of queuing 10 deep at the bar.

The pre party, the party then, perhaps, the after party, could be cast as rungs, with the after, after party bit, where we all head down to the beach, could be seen as the pinnacle of party culture.

This part of the day sounds the limits of imaginable love.

The adamantine surety and utter aptness of every chiseled exchange. The deeply nuanced vocabulary, surprising and delightful to the ear; of beauty and goodness. Camus wrote that the world is ugly and cruel, but it is only by adding to that ugliness and cruelty that we sin most gravely. The beach affirms belief in the tender pricelessness of the here and now. It does not add to the cruelty and ugliness of our times; it warns us now how much we have to lose. Beauty and goodness are here aplenty and we should think about them. While we can.

1 May 2012

What is the relationship between laptop performers and the audience?

During laptop performances, the standard visual codes disappear into the micro-movements of the performer's hand and wrist motions, leaving the mainstream audience's expectations unfulfilled.

"Grain, Sequence, System": Three Levels of Reception in the Performance of Laptop Music


The increasing use of laptop computers in the performance of electronic music has resurrected time-worn issues for both musicians and audiences. Liberated by the use of the laptop as a musical instrument, musicians have blurred the boundaries separating studio and stage, as well as the corresponding authorial and performance modes of work. On the other hand, audiences experience the laptop's use as a musical instrument as a violation of the codes of musical performance. This is not a new issue for electronic music: the lack of visual stimuli while performing on technological "instruments" has plagued electronic music for over 40 years with little progress in providing solutions.

This blog discusses issues of performance from the point of view of how electronic music is received rather than how it is presented. Drawing on concepts found in "reception theory," I will examine three levels of reception inherent in the performance of laptop music as used in the performance of contemporary electronic music. These three levels are: the grain of laptop performance, the sequence of historical linkages, and the system of super-culture and its effect of the reception apparatus of the public.

Grain: Laptop Performance

Spectacle is the guarantor of presence and authenticity, whereas laptop performance represents artifice and absence, the alienation and deferment of presence.

After approximately forty years of electronic music, the issues surrounding how audiences receive the performance of electronic music have yet to be resolved. Electronic music is best appreciated when an audience is engaged in a contemplative mode of "active reception." The problem arises when an audience receives music in a mode of "distracted reception." "Distracted reception" mode is created by constant immersion in pop media, and sets expectations that the musician will produce meaning through spectacle—and this atrophies the audience's ability to produce meaning for him or herself.

Historically, the unfamiliar codes used in electronic music performance have prevented audiences from attributing "presence" and "authenticity" to the performer. Seen more as a technician than a musician, the performer of electronic music hovers over a nest of cables, knobs and blinking lights; electronic circuits filling the space with sound via an "artificial" process.

Today, most live electronic music is performed on laptop computers in the traditional proscenium setting of concert halls, theaters, and galleries. This context invokes the standard performer-audience polarity, which places the performer in the role of a cultural authority. During laptop performances, the standard visual codes disappear into the micro-movements of the performer's hand and wrist motions, leaving the mainstream audience's expectations unfulfilled.

In traditional musical performances, the score has an obvious origin that is revealed to an audience by the act of a musician interpreting it. The musician recalls the score from his or her memory and performs the piece with emotional expression, giving the illusion of spontaneous composition. In laptop performance, the origin of the score is never revealed; the performer does not serve as a conduit for it, and does nothing to convince the audience that a score exists. Music performed on a laptop is lacking in one element: its unique existence at the place where it happened to be created. Laptop music adopts the quality of having been broadcast from an absent space-time rather than a displaced one. In other words, a score most likely does not exist and the sounds themselves are unable to reveal a recognizable source. The laptop musician broadcasts sounds from a virtual non-place; the performance feigns the effect of presence and authenticity where none really exists. The cultural artifact produced by the laptop musician is then misread as "counterfeit," leaving the audience unable to attach value to the experience.

The laptop performer, perhaps unknowingly, has appropriated the practice of acousmatic music and transplanted its issues.

Sequence: Genre Interrupted

Laptop music has a historical precursor to its presentation format: "acousmatic music." In the practice of acousmatic music, there are specific codes used to organize its presentation with which the audience produces meaning. In this style of presentation, the composer usually sits in the audience, operates a mixing board, tape player and/or laptop computer and "performs" the composition by playing back his or her recorded composition. The audience typically sits facing the loudspeakers on stage and receives the work as a sonic narrative that is piloted by the composer. The academic music community has engaged in this presentation of music without a need for "the social rituals prompted by the interaction of stage performer(s) and audience."i)

Over the past forty years, little has changed with regard to the public's reception of electronic music. As audiences become increasingly enculturated by pop media, the media's "network of aura" (i.e., the combined effect of music video, film, TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc.) consistently fulfills the public's expectations, thereby conventionalizing the codes of cultural consumption. The process of enculturation, the purpose of which is to maximize profits by creating brand-loyal customers, gradually erodes the ability to construct meaning in art. By privileging certain codes of musical performance and fulfilling a conventionalized set of expectations, audiences consume music as a commodity and less as an artform.

The appropriation of electronic music by dance music culture has reduced the signifiers its borrowed from 20th century music to self-referential icons. Without bringing forward their original contexts, the transformed signifiers have difficulty yielding new significance. Additionally, the iconic nature of these signifiers and their newly attached meanings erodes the need to bring the original contexts forward. The result is that electronic music (i.e., Electronica) remains bracketed, leaving the receiver adrift in arbitrary meanings and multiple layers of misreadings.

While Electronica uses many of the spectacularized presentation codes of rock music, their use has accelerated a conventionalized set of codes used to fulfill audience expectations and sustain demand for it products. Consequently, these audiences misread laptop-oriented sub-cultures such as "microsound" and "glitch" because they are unable to work through oppositions to their expectations. In order for electronic music to return to artistic growth, there needs to be a shift towards recuperating historical contexts, building awareness of audience expectations and developing non-distracted modes of reception.

System: Satellites of Super-Culture

Upon examining how cultural codes and mechanisms operate in the system of consumer capitalism, it is clear that sub-cultures orbit parasitically around pop media or super-culture in order to exist. Super-culture supplies all the necessary systems of economics, advertising, presentation, etc. that allow a sub-culture to produce demand for its products in a competitive market. Once a sub-culture feeds off the systems of super-culture, they encounter similar political-economic problems. As an example: when money is exchanged for electronic music performed on a laptop, the audience has the expectation that they will receive a demonstration of musical skills they do not own. The more skill (hence authority) the performer can demonstrate, the more value is received by the audience. However, it is difficult for an audience to perceive the value of a performance where the artist could simply be playing back soundfiles on a device more suited to an office cubicle than a stage. Consequently, the standard codes of musical performance are violated: the laptop is doing the work, no skill is required or demonstrated, and the artist could just as easily be any one of the audience faking a performance. This violation is fatal to the audience attempting to overcome opposition to their expectations and reduces the value of the exchange.

The interruption of electronic music from its historical lineage has displaced the precursors to laptop music performance. As a result, electronic music culture has become bracketed, synchronic; its signifiers set adrift and assigned meaning on an arbitrary basis. The system of super-culture has severed, assimilated and recast electronica's artifacts; providing ease of consumption and easily fills expectations, thereby driving a demand for its product. Its use-value remains primarily social, desire-based, and orbits super-culture/pop-media in parasitic orbit.


"What the absence of visual identification makes anonymous, unifies and prompts a more attentive listening." ii)

With the vast network of control that super-culture exerts over the various culture industries, it is no fault of the audience that it is unable to recuperate the lost modes of active reception. While the rotational beacon of pop media transmits its message of disposable consumption, other forces are required to recuperate lost modes of reception. When the default mode becomes one of attention deficit, it becomes too much to work past the obstacles to aesthetic appreciation. Laptop music is a result of rhizomatic growth, the advance of technology that liberates the user and changes the way they organize their work. This change has caused audiences to become confused as to what they are consuming; authorial identity is displaced, and the process by which music is performed remains mystified. If computers are simply the repositories of intellectual property, then musical composition and its performance are now also located in this virtual space. The composer transfers his or her mental work into the computer, and it is brought to life by interacting with it through the interface of a software application. The paradigm may have changed slightly for the transmission of electronic music, but audiences need to reprogram their cultural apparatus for active reception in order to recuperate their ability to participate in the production of meaning. It is in this way that audiences can better appreciate the masterful works that will form diachronic linkages for future musicians and audiences. Electronic music can then resume its growth as an artform instead of being relegated to the dustbins of pop media history.

Kim Cascone


i) Darrren Copeland, "Cruising For A Fixing - in this 'Art of Fixed Sounds'", http://www.interlog.com/~darcope/cruising.html, as of February 2002.

ii) Francis Dhomont, "Acousmatic, what is it?", http://www.electrocd.com/notice.e/9607-0002.html, as of February 2002.

Kim Cascone is formally trained in electronic music at the Berklee College of Music and the New School in New York City. He has worked on David Lynch's Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart as Assistant Music Editor as well as as Sound Designer and Composer for Thomas Dolby's company Headspace. Founder of Silent Records (1986) and a co-founder of the microsound list. Cascone has released over 25 albums of electronic music on Silent, Sub Rosa, Mille Plateaux, Anechoic and 12k. His past work experience also include performances/lectures at the Podewil (Germany), Musée d'Art Moderne (Luxembourg), Tate Modern (London), Leeds Film Festival (UK) as well as contributing articles in Computer Music Journal (MIT Press), Artbyte Magazine, SoundCultures and Parachute Journal.

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