The record industry is in the process of being outflanked by means of the very processes that it has come to rely upon. Since the 60’s its continual efforts to create new needs has meant that it nurtured an everchanging musical soundscape that is now mutating at such a pace that it cannot keep track long enough to harness these musical evolutions in the direction of profit. That fact that it doesn’t achieve this harnessing has the remarkable effect of making the ‘new’ last longer! A longevity that comes from our always being able to place ourselves amidst a continual re-definition of these sounds. Even in terms of format, the profit-orientated shift to a CD market which may have meant that back-catalogues could be re-sold has also worked to deliver an on-line tap of musical history at the same time that vinyl pressing has become cheaper. These and other factors feed into the accelerating mutation that in turn creates a dissatisfaction with what the industry can offer.
Advancements in technology have meant that all manner of equipment is now available for re-appropriation by whoever has the time to learn how to use, re-define, misuse and re-wire it. That there can no longer be any “one sound” around which music is organised means that everything is potential material to a practice that no longer calls itself music. Indeed, the former categories that were alloted to different musics, now only make sense as a means of division, a consumer yardstick. From the guitar we have moved through sampling technology, turntables, tape, analogue and digital keyboards, from Rock, Disco, Punk through Techno, Jungle and Trip-Hop[ to an indiscernable melange that creates further possibilities for interaction as well as enhanced and de-legitimated conditions of reception. Both of these escape the institutional control of the industry and the media and in so doing, the means to escape the “dominant repressive models” of an inherited subjectivity have been forged.
Ever since ‘music’ got rid of the necessity for lyrics, the predominance of an electronic based music of texture, unrestricted tonality, timbral density, and rhythmic paroxysm, meant that it was liberating those who heard it to listen more closely to the rhythms and sounds they did not recognise. Happening in the context of dance music means that this process of heightened listening was essential as it was cerebral and because these sounds took people in un-heard of directions they became situated as part of a collective desire that pre-disposed them to each other, inspiring movements towards new forms of collectivity. The liberation of the listener, through dance, lead not only to a growing sociality, the collective memory of tracks, but to an increased confidence necessary for the continual perpetuation of these desires for discovery and self-creation.
As a consequence there are more people making music now than at any time before and awareness of this amongst composers has led to an international explosion of small label activity. These people have heard the tired tales of music scene has-beens and rather than choose competition, exposure and the labour of ‘success’ they have decided to operate outside these constraints and do their own thing. Similar to and inspired by the free-party scene, small-run pressings of records are passed around through underground distribution networks at a level that eludes even the most ‘specialist’ of record shops. In the slipstream of this there has been the rise of an experimental attitude: no longer needing to conform to what is expected and ‘understood’ means that there has been a renewed appreciation for the idiosyncrasies of sound and the transgression of perceptual habits these can inspire.
Meanwhile, A&R men scurry from club to gig to rave but never reach the parties. Attracted to the music that makes sense and money they can never hear desire. The surrogate A&R arm of the music press and style mags are increasingly losing their role as mediators between ‘unknown’ composers and the major labels. This reliance between the two to pick up on trends and promote the ‘new’ is becoming laughable when the ‘new’ is now passing-by unnoticed making such attempts to hold on to what has been declared ‘new’, the very indication that what we read is insincere, careerist crap. Similarly, the way these magazines always cover the same things is an indication of their fear of different perspectives that threaten to show how the trends are fabricated in the first place.
The Post-Media practice has been accelerated by the world-wide-web where obsessions run rife and where there is this noticeable desire for those driven and miniaturised activities that exist and thrive without giving a thought to the increasingly “calm perspectives” of a transparent media. The media, like the record industry, has become a centralised zero. Where once magazines and labels may have acted as a filter or a means of dissemination, market forces made all these converge on the centre-ground. The public listens to what is made available… and what the audience happens to listen to, since it was being offered, reinforces certain tastes (1). Mistaken as a cutting-edge the music promoted by the media often serves no other purpose than the maintanence of a profitable illusion. Caught in this mystifying spiral listeners either attempt to break-loose and do it for themselves or, having their senses dulled, become bored and unable to orientate themselves within the media-trap of publicity and failed promise. The latter become as dispassionate and cynical as the columns they read, and taking their place in the aging process they see in the next cicle of mediated-music a lack of innovation and quality.
Innovation and quality? It is interesting to see how the media, which ostensibly sees itself as operating in opposition to “high-art”, comes to work in consort with this traditionalism, and in particular through the way that it reinforces reactionary notions of subjectivity. Formost among these shared techniques is the way that music, like art, is more or less always portrayed as trancendental, as isolated from the social conditions that produce, celebrate and receive it. This individualistic means of relating to music is accentuated by the reliance on ‘genius’: the elevation of certain individuals and the furthering of hierachic devices in the supposedly ‘free-space’ of popular music. This accent on the ‘unique’ can result in subduing the activities of others and in a denial of inter-relatedness that adds up to making the practice that surrounds music invisible. Whatsmore, this has the contingent effect of privileging the ‘solitary’ moment of production over that of listening, dancing and organising which always imply the presence of others. In this way the contagious effects of music that can be conducted through sound are made tame. The media inhibits, or even worse, removes desire and in so doing colludes with the capitalisation of subjectivity… One space, one time, one person just one step ahead of boredom and resignation.
This musical contagion has been gradually enhanced by the new conditions of reception and no small part of this Post-Media practice has been stimulated by the growing sense that listening is not a subordinate activity but a process of making meaning. From headphones to speakers, the bedroom to the party, alone yet always connected and dialoguing, listeners become part of an autonomous, diffuse and non-institutional reception context. This quite complex configuration means than rather than the ‘new’ and the ‘unheard-of’ being consumed voraciously in a frenzy of consumption they are turned into consoles that produce energy, impulsional exchanges, and stimulate a practice of non-conceptional thought. The constant movement this engenders can be placed in stark contrast to the way that mediatised-music can often be a means of falling back upon what is already known, a collapsing onto the pre-ordained terrain of the self. But if listening is taken seriously and not maintained as a second-rate activity it can only encourage patterns of connection and come-experience with an immediately accessible group that shares not onlyan appreciation of the sounds but to some degree the social-memory of them as contained within the record. Once linked in this way the bonds of a ‘new collectivity’ become almost an unconscious reflex. Not cool but supercool.
And so post-media becomes a practice that knows no bounds or discipline. It is a web-site, a zine, a limited-run-record-label, a pirate station, a flyer, a poster, a video circulated throught the post, the telling of stories and news around a pub table, a distribution network of unseen nodes, ephemeral organisations, a promulgation of fiction… It is a de-channeled, meta-categorical social practice of cultural creation, made entirely for and on its own terms! It is driven by desire, enthusiasm, search and connection towards a polyphonic subjectivity! At times anything is possible. Rational modes of discourse like journalism and writing theses which act to stabilise and make things remain still long enough for them to become systemised have very little sense that the music they write about is a fuel that traverses disparate regions, bringing into collision elements from each. Within this Post-Media practice there is an intensified re-definition of the old dualisms of producer/consumer, subject/collective, success/failure. In relation to the latter it can often be that in such a post-media space respect and support is given to those who succeed in creating, at personal cost, something that is illegitimate and dissensual. In this way judgement of its value, whether it’s good or bad, is rendered null and void. But such scenes, operating intimately cannot afford to establish divisions: listeners become producers, composers, dancers, writers. Everyone is involved. All scenes are their own genre, and operating in a dispersed geographic and sidekick space there is no sense of any one person, group or scene being in control: it is a practice of addition without accumulation, a group-effusion of singularity dispensing with individualism. In the past one of the main drawbacks has been that such affirmative practices have felt the need to be delimited as regions where protagonists should be made visible to each other. The onset of the Web has put paid to this by extending our expectations of communication, transposing a virtual space of music into an actuality of intimacy (libidinal musics) and an ever present potential for subjective change. In the words of Guattari.. It is no longer the end that matters but the ‘milieu’, the process becoming processual… One does not want to enter into a pre-established program. One tries to live the field of the possible… (2).
Title adapted from Felix Guattari’s phrase “Post-Media Era”
(1) Michel Foucault.. Foucault Live, Semiotext(e) 1989. page 393.
(2) Felix Guattari.. Guattari Reader, Ed. G.Gesonko, Blackwell 1996. page 136
Howard Slater/Eddie Miller/Flint Michigan
@ BREAK/FLOW (28.02.97)
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