Vinyl Meltdown (Version)

MuzakBIT grey 69a

Music represents at once the immediate manifestation of impulse and the locus of its taming (Adorno; 288)

We don’t sell music; we sell programming

The dissolution of the Muzak brand in 2013 brought to an end a history that stretched back over 70 years, with the brand first appearing in 1934. Although synonymous with influencing the behaviour of consumers, Muzak spent much of its formative years manipulating workers on the factory floor with vinyl transcription records.

Muzak recorded thousands of 12″ and 16″ discs, building up a large library of material. In the 1930s artists’ songs were usually recorded at Muzak studios in a single take and cut straight to a lacquer master ready for duplication. In 1934, one of the first Muzak releases to be recorded featured the ‘National Fascist Militia Band’, a touring Italian brass band. During this session over 25 songs and marches were recorded, including ‘March on Rome’ ( Anthem of the young Fascists ), and ‘To Arms’, ( Fascist Anthem ). It is unclear whether this recording of the ‘Pan American Brass band’ (as the band was later aliased for release) influenced the direction that Muzak was to take, but what is clear is that around this time Muzak saw in the disciplining function of music commercial opportunities that they argued would assist companies and factories in increasing worker productivity. [Read more →]

Vinyl Meltdown: Side B

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Part 1 in Datacide 13 set out the dialectical character of noise, arguing that distribution media can be used to amplify a disciplining or intensifying function, and that for those attempting to create spaces of possibility media becomes an important site of struggle. Here, part 2 looks closer at the move from tangible to intangible sound objects, and the tension between engagement and pacification.

The strange loop
In 1999 it was rumoured that more turntables were sold than guitars (Collins; 2003). True or not, the turntable was by this point an acknowledged performance tool and for decades had been an important part of sound system culture. 1999 was also the year that Napster launched as a crude software tool that allowed peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing of digital copies of MP3s. MP3 compressed audio files making it possible to move them around electronic networks easily. MP3 compression was a standard developed by and for the culture industry, and together with the transmission potential of the internet and advances in digital audio recording, it appeared to enable a ‘democratisation’ of the means for distribution. The possibilities for the distribution of audio were emphasised by those interested in self-organising at the time. As Douglas Kellner and Steven Best pointed out in an essay written in the late 90s: [Read more →]

Vinyl Meltdown

In the first of two parts, the dialectic of noise as both pacifier and intensifier is set against the ongoing transition from vinyl to digital sound carriers.

‘music represents at once the immediate manifestation of impulse and the locus of its taming’ (Adorno; 288)

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Vinyl as a format for distributing cutting-edge noise is continuing to decline. Trying to find more than a handful of releases to review for this issue of Datacide made this clear. Preference has always been given at Datacide to reviewing physical sound-carriers, and in particular vinyl, as it offers the best possible reproduction of sound. Noise reveals itself throughout history as having the ability to pacify or stimulate listeners, and therefore the production and distribution medium of noise can be viewed as a site of struggle. How should the move from vinyl to intangible sound carriers be viewed in terms of the potential for intensification?
[Read more →]

Tortugan tower blocks? Pirate signals from the margins


1. Talented performers belong to the industry long before it displays them

On 16 June 2010 after sixteen years of unlicensed transmission the UK broadcasting regulator OfCom announced that Rinse FM was to be awarded a community radio FM licence. The announcement was enthusiastically reported in the UK press (Rinse FM finally gets the recognition it deserves: Guardian Newspaper UK: 18062010), and received a surprisingly positive response from contributors to the dubstep.co.uk forum.

Rinse’s press release regarding the announcement is low on concrete details but replete with a selection of quotes from gushing music industry ‘supporters’ such as Fergal Sharkey (Director of UK Music) who feels that Rinse has been ‘nurturing the next generation of inner city talent on which our industry and nation is so dependent’, and Guy Moot (President of EMI) who agrees that Rinse ‘feeds into the wider music industry bringing and generating more income’. Rinse echoes these industry comments in its own statement pointing out that they ‘provide a […] grass-roots gateway into broadcast radio and the wider music industry’, while at the same time attempting to reassure its listeners that it will remain in ‘stark contrast to the homogenous radio landscape’. What Rinse either fails to realise or refuses to accept is that it is already part of a homogenised landscape. Rinse’s press release and the accompanying supporting statements demonstrate this, but more interestingly, the texts clearly display the dependence the Culture Industry has on unregulated zones of creativity, and the continued willingness of those involved to capitulate. [Read more →]

Teknival and the emancipatory potential of technology

This text is based on a talk given at the One-shot Art Festival in Berlin, October 2007 as part of an evening organised by Datacide that explored the theme: noise, politics, autonomy and recuperation.

The purpose of this text is to historify the Teknival/Free-Party scene as belonging to a history which views technology as having emancipatory potential. This history extends back to the 1930s when Walter Benjamin along with Bertolt Brecht produced a penetrating analysis of the potential offered by, the then emerging, technics to provide the tools to change the conditions of cultural production and eventually offer a renewed social configuration. Their legacy has been developed beyond the Teknival scene in various directions and is currently being discussed in Open Source Culture with some parallels to Teknival. There are different layers to this history and it is clear that the Teknival scene did not by any means offer the most advanced analysis of the emancipatory potential offered by technology. Looking at the theories of technology that have emerged, both positive and negative, and placing Teknival among such histories we are able to see some of its shortcomings and begin to discuss future strategies. As in the 90s Capital is consistently recuperating any ruptures that appear to open enough space to begin to redefine the social and technical landscape. Unlike Heidegger’s pathetic suggestion that only a God can save us now, it seems much more likely that a critical theory of technology is going to be of more use if we are to agree that ‘what human beings are and will become is decided in the shape of our tools’ (Feenberg: 2002:3).
[Read more →]