Submission Soundtracking

Electronica as a scene has coagulated primarily as a media concern – in that the media itself needed to bolster it’s role as both a guidebook for ‘innovation’ and a touchstone for transmitting the codes of each particular scene. However, electronica’s distinction is that it sometimes exists as a catch-all for everything else that isn’t drawn into one of the other dedicated genre scenes within the electronic and dance music milieu, fluctuating in that what departs from electronica is often transmogrified into its own micro-scene (cf post rock, Berlin minimalism,…) whilst the core of electronica itself can never be pinned to any particular rules of thumb regarding sounds, instrumentation, structure, etc. However, the compressing and packaging of electronica as a scene easily rivals its constructed polar opposites for it’s sheer predictability and softened ‘subversion’. In fact, the hyperconformism exhibited by sects such as the ‘crasher kids’ in Nortern England is a damn site more fertile than the systematic, unconscious hyperconformism that electronica reveals. Certainly the scope for creating rupture and disharmony in the social fabric has dwindled to zero point in the electronica scene.

As a basic we know this: any scene that models itself on exclusivity and elitism, that distances itself from the overtly manifest patterns of a scene (sounds, clothes, sayings, listening habitats) is always replicating what it supposedly shuns at an incredible rate. The ‘crasher kids’ latch onto the obvious physical attributes of ‘fandom’ and twist them into a ridiculous agenda (deliberately ‘weekend’ styled shock hair-dos with gelled twists and sprayed on dyes, dayglo clothing and kiddy accesories) whilst the electronica scene sits smugly within the pages of magazines like Wire and Sleaze Nation – a know-all blueprint that encompasses every living, breathing aspect of life. Whilst the crasher kids extrapolate the predelictions of ‘living for the weekend’ electronica co-habits the cultural space previously taken by scenes such as the hippy movement – paving out a readiness for a complete shift in how total life is structured to complement the adjusting forms of capitalism. Whereas the hippy scene preclipsed the movement for self-management and a whole glut of commodities that marked out a taming of technology in the 60s and 70s, electronica sits proudly as the musical companion to the internet-fired distinction dissolve between work and leisure, to the embrace of stylistic genres such as ‘new grey’ and ‘aesthetic redundancy’, to the retreat to ‘loft living’ and an associated soundtrack of glitch compilations. Of course, electronica isn’t so foolish as to announce this agenda from the outset, and so it must first thrive as a musical formulation. But, as argued above, it cannot manifest itself as an obvious musical genre in the traditional methods. This, however, doesn’t mean that all the regular patterns are dispatched with with – whilst dedicated electronica magazines, labels, clubs and djs remain in a carefully controled minority, the musical scene flourished through traditional methods such as an ever extending hierarchy of knowledge (trying to keep ‘in the know’) and the ocassional surfacing of crucial vectors (tracks that represent a new ‘extreme’ in either method or delivery), Crucially, what is important about these methods is that they necessitate from the start an immersion in what is attempted across the whole: submission to the information society in its most oppressive form.

“Information war is total war….”

This statement has never been truer, and forms the central tenet of the construction of commodity society. Information provides the method and means to apparent stimulation and satisfaction. A desired image or lifestyle is constructed as a vast set of information vectors which can be attained through correct consumption of commodities and attitudes. Progress through cultural form is little more than the redirecting of some of these vectors, or the re-fusing of a partition of vectors from a redundant cultural form, with other (possibly redundant) vectors. The internet provides the tool to hone in on the intersection of these vectors, indeed the Boolean nature and SQL structuring of all search engines aligns itself to such principles. Satisfaction is always guaranteed, even if it means you have to cut through a digital rainforest of surplus crap. And, of course, partaking in the internet is a crucial vector in itself…

Thus the internet not only provides a means to facilitate cultural satisfaction, it provides cultural satisfaction in itself. That is, the vector of being ‘on line’ or ‘on the net’ or having your own autonomous zone, of being comfortable with techno-cultural forms such as MP3 or user groups, is in itself a desired image that goes someway towards formulating a larger desired indentity. The pursuit of identities through music has transplanted itself onto the net with a degree of ease, not least through the identity of the electronica fan. This consumer of diverse yet intense musical symbols is often secluded from associated vector types such as attached locations (gigs, parties, raves), attached modes of dress (think heavy metal) or attached modes of vocabulary, gesture and habit (think hip-hop). The electronica fan seeks obscure yet somehow approved music from the tiniest enclaves of the musical spectrum, and the internet facilitates such an activity.

Traditional information war argues that the control of disease is secondary to the control of the information about a disease. The electronica fan fetishes a kind of secluded autonomy and intimacy on the net – they imagine a kind of Gibson-esque informed renegade trait to their daily incursions to the Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) mailing list. This obliterates their somewhat shabby real-life character. The IDM list is the essential vector and tool within their desired identity. Here rumour is started and brands are stamped with approval and, eventually, disapproval. Careful planning and use of the IDM list can whip up electronica’s equivalent of a moral panic or flesh eating virus. Information war becomes real war here. Turmoil is preclipsed by strategic use of information. The map comes before the territory as potential releases are strategised through disparate and oblique information references. The people pushing the product hide behind the anonymous interface to pose as well-versed experts on electronica. Once the turmoil is initiated then the situation is regulated by further strategic use of information.

A scene comes to mind from the first series of the X-Files, when Mulder plays off his persistence and psycho-technical endeavour against the shadow character Deep Throat. Of course, Deep Throat remained a mystery and a maverick in equal measures until his theatrical execution at the climax of the first season – he reappears now only as bizarre dream sequence material and taunting morph projects from the shape changing alien assasins. Deep Throat was always held in esteem by Mulder, though the audience were invited private glimpses at a darker side that suggested allegiances beyond those working to piece togther ‘the truth’. Deep Throat revelled in these shady half-bonds, preferring to confuse as much as possible (also confusing the audience by hinting at unrevealed plot lines and boosting the continuity versus improbability axis of the whole program), and run tests on his accquaintances such that he could learn what they thought through both how they tackled a test and how they pre-conceived the solution and purpose of something that was overtly ambiguous. The nature of Deep Throat’s game was not only in their undoing, but in the realisation that a whole possible set of solutions (= non-solutions) were attainable from any given start point and routine of procedures. Mulder pitted himself against Deep Throat’s cunning when chasing as suspected alien craft and EBE in an episode that suggested alien technologies were attracted to the lights and noises of modern conflict like moths to a lightbulb. A corollary of this – if i remember correctly – was the diagnosis of Gulf War Syndrome as a disease stimulated through contact with alien life forms (well, no-one else is providing an explanation of GWS). Mulder was on the tail of something being transported, but couldn’t be sure if this something was actually a decoy to hide a real something, or a decoy to hide an actual, physical nothing (only something in that a belief in something is propogated). Mulder was sent a photograph from Deep Throat that supposedly showed that something was happening, and Deep Throat knew that Mulder would oblingingly dissect the photograph into a digital ultimatum. Of course, Mulder set to work and found, through his exact process of scanning-magnifying-cropping-enhancing-rotating-flipping-knocking out noise a clue to suggest that the photograph was either doctored in set-up or doctored in a post-photographic digital operation. But Mulder knew that Deep Throat would expect him to examine the photograph in the infinite domain, and so Mulder formulated the theory that Deep Throat would sabotage the simulcrum at some microscopic level. Thus finding a doctored glitch in the photograph no longer suggested ‘fake’ but suggested ‘truth’ in that the glitch was diagnosed to be found and the desired result of ‘fake’ would be acheived… meaning a disprove of any transported alien craft. The glitch in the picture now meant ‘truth’ for Mulder, because, he calculated, the glitch occured at such a sub-level of analysis that it could only be a direct assault on his own desire to seek the truth. Of course, Deep Throat could have known that Mulder knew that Deep Throat would expect him to find the flaw, and so the process of delineating ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’ becomes completely blurred and indecipherable – just how Deep Throat likes it.

‘Shapes’ emerged as a digital simulcrum pressed onto three pieces of heavyweight vinyl, designed to look and feel like a Skam project, and sound like the work of Skam artists Bola. What the release of Shapes highlighted though was the inter-linking between electronica as a musical form and electronica as part of a soundtrack to modern (submissive) living – a pattern of events flowed through that used information centred habits and information centred techniques. Documentation on the release proved non-existant beyond six shapes on each centre label. A closer inspection showed the shapes to be crudely pixellated wherever a curve or diagonal occured – suggesting a leaning towards the ‘low-fi meets inevitable’ take on electronics favoured by labels like Skam. The vinyl offered no clues – the thick Czech pressing and polybag favoured by most small labels, and used on Skam’s Mask series. Word emerged quickly that the product was ultra-limited, and that it’s limited availability and anonymity made it ‘definite’ Skam product. Those lucky enough to chance a listening quickly concurred that the artist must be Bola (and so the label must be Skam) – or – indeed – even the other way round such that the pre-figured suggestion of Skam leads one to think that the artist must be Bola. It was a clever ploy, exploiting the virus inflicted on all those left desirous after failing to claim copies of Skam’s ultra-limited Mask series. The mode of operation and circulation mimicked this Mask series, while sounds immediately suggested themselves to be Bola… melodies interweaved and fighting with growing and growling dystopian tech, stunted loops and machine vocal shunts that mock the warmth that occasionally enevelopes the listener, beats and signatures that glitched and repeated (of course, Bola love to use that 7/8 signature). It was like Deep Throat’s photographic simulcrum, a product to initially cause confusion, and then foster this confusion in the melee that ensued when diehard truth seekers began to look for the flaw in the project – using the medium of the net and systems like IDM to spread the virus of confusion / fascination. And of course the flaw in the project (if it exists) can always be said to be part of the project – perhaps even its reason for existence. Confusion fascinates and fascination sells records, but pressing only a few hundred when the sales demand is at least 10 times that creates more confusion. And confusion fascinates…

Celebrity noise…

Noise has always flirted with celebrity status, though – you must understand – not necessarily through its own endeavours. The onset of electronica has pushed the somewhat randomised noise scene (previously holding ground in diverse places such as industrial and avant-jazz enclaves) into a commodified whole. In the earlier scenes noise existed as a kind of barrier on the envelope, always open to further pushing. Thus, as music agressively, vivdly and publicly fills out every possible sphere of what might be considered saleable product, the concepts of cultural endpoints begin to be glimpsed. And if they become semi-transparent in the public mind (‘what if….’) – a kind of mirage of imagined sounds – then sure enough they will soon emerge as commercial product. For a brief period the barriers of noise were pushed with distinct aims and methods, each scene creating their own masterpieces for their own reasons using their own techniques and methodologies. That results might have sounded the same never seemed to matter. Electronica’s embrace of ‘everything excluded’ has meant that the various schools of noise have been gathered under one roof, and that (like the glitch) noise labels and noise artists quickly acquire ‘celebrity’ status in electronica’s sense of the word (an electronica celebrity exists in that it is a piece of knowledge that one should know, to the point that when everyone knows about it then one should really know about something else…). At the sadder end of the market magazines like Sleaze Nation run a monthly ‘my favourite noise’ page.

A couple of years ago the necessity to be wise to the noise milieu catapulted Merzbow into the public sphere. Merzbow, who was and remains a complex phenomena (reaction to his celebrity status resulted in a re-issued 72 box set CD), became a name to quote wherever possible, an ‘interpretive collection’ appeared and – finally – an uncuttable track ‘appeared’ on FatCat (thus the track didn’t appear as physical product – a substitute one was used – but the fact that an original, uncuttable track existed became an important piece of knowledge for those wishing to be wise to the noise milieu). If we were to give the music business some intelligence then, regarding Merzbow, circumstance can begin to partially dissolve: even though he was promoted as noise per se, his noise was perhaps the terminus of the cumulative effects of desires and drifts in techno, hardcore, drum and bass, and drill and bass… an intense roar of pure energy.

The latest celebrity emerged from the cult label Mego, with Hecker inhabiting the spaces within the wires. But Hecker seems to put circumstance back on the map, an event that appeals to the warped world of Mego, who now, by virtue of a media hungry for a new extreme phenomena, can promote Hecker as the first pop star for the 21st century. So before talk can begin about the sound of Hecker, there is this wider process at work, throwing open possibilities for double-agency, counter-strategy and play. And Mego seem well capable of eleiminating the rule book (for openers, the only marking on the Hecker ‘remix’ CD itself is a reverse printed Compact Disc logo that immediately ensures you put the disk in upside down and get the frustrated sequence of shuffles and silence of the read head failing to connect with a familiar media, a sound that is actually ‘reproduced’ itself as the second track – Francisco Lopez’ 10 minutes of worrying near silence that implants in the mind the thought that this damned Mego product is melting down your CD players – you put your hand in your pocket half expecting to find a tactile mess of barely warm mercury).

Like Merzbow, Hecker’s sound is specific. It isn’t just noise. Hecker hasn’t done much press and doesn’t line his work with notes on process, desire, etc. His main release appeared on Mego last year – IT ISO 161975 (Mego 14) – prompting the following accolades: “a digital translation of a hi-jacked technical standards document – a huge written work passing from point to point momentarily divested of its textual information content, snatched up and presented as a mish-mash of encryption, compression, packeting…”. If Hecker plugs directly into the sound of information as it exponentially increases in density and complexity across the communications network, then Hecker’s work is uncannily the sound of now. So Hecker becoming a celebrity is perhaps as incircumstantial as Merzbow’s brief flirtation with fame… whereas Merzbow was hopefully connected to past markets through pure sound (or noise), Hecker becomes tied up with past markets through lived experiences and cultural phenomena. But such possibility of re-triggering memories is accessioned on the darkside… whereas celebrated music-meets-comm artists like Oval fetished the micro sounds of program windows opening and closing as a warped soothing ambience, Hecker lets rip with the full force of web frustration (the hardware can’t keep up /finacially/ with the communications capabilities) and the arid boredom experienced by the thousands of us forced to work in call centres (in the vain hope we can afford better hardware to keep up with communications capabilities). For now Hecker is on our side in the battle against electronica – his sounds cut straight through to the frustrations brought on by information society

In the meantime perhaps another remix album could be suggested. Hecker infecting pop’s ocassional love affair with telecommunications – ‘Down, down, down’ looped to the infinite accompanied by frantic internet redial tones, ‘Return to Sender’ cut through with Hecker’s blipped overloads, a frantic revamp of Daniel Miller’s revamped ‘Long distance information get me Memphis Tennessee…’, and finally an unadultered loop of the pop-song-turned-advertising-classic ‘I get a b.b.b.b.busy line’.

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