Monday, January 18, 2010

...the harmony in the dischord...

Subtitle: A minor key meditation on “Birth of the Uncool

The above link leads to an online article by Brian Eno which is sort of a toss-off (in my opinion) but well worth your time, as was mine, in reading more of the comments/reactions to the piece. As one of the contributors made mention of the fact that another's post was somewhat excessive (longer than the original article), I had to agree, in principle, that one's response should not be greater than its inception. (With the exception of religio-politico nonsense which requires the marshalling of ideas and facts to counterpose the points of faith-based statements.)

So, with that in mind, I present the following as a response to the responses:

Outside of the unfortunate resemblance to the UnCola, this seems to have engendered a lot of very well- informed and well-spoken remarks. This is what I consider the best of the web -- random contributions from all points of view, pro and cons, that bring keen insight to a piece.

What I found is my usual amazement that, when all opinions are compared and resolved, they actually seem to form the same mechanism of a metaphor. Mind you, I understand that it is all in my mind, but, nonetheless, it seems to follow exactly the models of two major league philosophers, and one groundbreaking composer, of the last century. They are, not to make any further mystery about it, Derrida, McLuhan and Schoenberg. And, as we are talking about music, the latter’s application is particularly startling.

I would call it Schoenberg’s Ultimate Symphony, really. Why? This appears to be everything that stemmed from his liberation of tonality in 1909: the unstructuring of everything associated with Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and the introduction of Chaos in the form of Atonality and 12-tone Serialism, were all auguries the arrival of the same messenger: The Internet.

When you stop to consider, as no few have here, what this development in human relations means (and it is nothing less than that; mere technological innovation? Puh-leeeze!) is that everything that can be digitalized can be made available to everyone at all times. Factor this with Zappa’s work ethic: “anything, at any time, for no reason”, more or less. Between jpgs, mp3s, and .wav/.mpg/.flv files, you can see or hear almost anything you want to, on a whim. We are talking magic here.

At the same time, this also eliminates Local Identity and the exclusiveness associated with discovering new, unheard sounds and scenes and events. The combination of Global and Local is used here as “Glocal” – a neologism which may or may not catch on, but is just as descriptive of the phenomena of something that is both nowhere and everywhere. (If Derrida was into using Marcuse, he’d’ve said “the negation of the negation” probably.) This simultaneity is straight out of McLuhan, even if his “Global Village” analogy, which has been often cited without proper interpretation, looks like it was made for just this purpose.

In this case, any segregation of interests or niches perceived are merely the result of our attempting to duplicate, in our minds/tastes/labeling modules (whatever) the same sort of discrete notation understood in terms of machine intelligence and design: things not applicable, or at least not previously available as standard variations of human thinking, such things as “identity”. If you follow, say, a couple of late 90’s trends that I recall, named “handbag” and “Baeleric” (both being some Euro-variant of late-stage Acid House, I believe) noted as different from one another by their BPM counts, you are not talking about “taste” as much as an ability to count, or take a pulse. These are less “lifestyle choices” (to use a popular socio-psychobabble phrase for what used to be “your thang” or “my bag” or that kind of earthy, pseudo-afro slang) than micro-preferences (just to nudge it further into the “processor-speak” of the day). The simple exercise of reversing the process, of taking these rivulets of data courses up the creek to their sources will eventually reach the gathering of waters where everything is “mainstream” now. (The prejorative terms, “overmixed” and “diluted” also fit the descript.)

This is where the concept of Atonality enters. When there is no tonal center, all things are equal: stress, pitch, timbre on each note can be increased or decreased without limit and without any relation to what had come before and what would come after. What structures remain exist under the same description as those of free-form improvisers: aleatory. At its core, all “must” then must be organized by the listener. This also is equally descriptive of social networking sites (the obvious development of earlier childhood “playdates” as well) and device-happy moderns, in that there is nothing in the original structure (which gets closer and closer to Derrida’s Deconstruction premise) which comes unselected, as part of the package. All options are up to the user. (How computerese!) Even the idea of “uncool” or “cool” itself. (All things ARE relative, but only when you’re Ego Prime.)

A side effect of this is, however, increased fragmentation and alienation among listeners, fans, users (whatever). The seeming contradiction here is: the more the sounds get driven into one indistinguishable mass of micro-preferences, the less need there is for like-minded groupings to create the old style “us vs. them” scenario. The only possible way to find or accumulate a gathering of people with these sort of specific turn-ons is via blogs or social networking sites. The concept of the new verb “friending” (and the associated conjugations: “I accepted a friend…” and “I friended” to the ultimate insult of “unfriending”—a/k/a: a “face-slap”) even shows how the distance of space requires a qualification (not “I made a new friend” or “I befriended” even, to “I lost a friend”) which comes from never actually being in the presence of that other. (Which is pure Derrida, again.) In other words, Facebook does not equal face-time.

These are the silences, the rests.

And what that leads to its maddest issue. What used to be a desire to distinguish one’s set from another’s by what is au courant is now more like what’s-plugged-into-the-current. It has been said here that fashion is what is repeated several years later, and that today’s VH1 oldie was last month’s big hit. Further, this was addressed by replacing the slag of “That was sooo last week” by “WHOA! Someone hasn’t been online since this afternoon…” This bespeaks a tempo racing beyond the capacity of human players, possibly even human ears.

That the time signature.

Finally, the comment “we are all cultural magpies” seems well-observed and pointed. We nest anywhere we can find a perch, owing no allegiance to anything but our nature, which is constantly shifting, regardless of the past, seeing as more little than a “fat tail” (to use Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s “The Black Swan” neologism) of experience in our comet-like trajectory. The ad copy that goes something like, “It isn’t important, where we’ve been, but only where we are going” re-enforces this attitude with a vengeance. This is how an example cited of a London DJ having nights of “dark ambient” sounds at some club or outlaw warehouse party can be so treasured. These exhibiters are our arbiters of “cool”, our curators of the gallery of sounds, and create the closest thing available to an “in crowd”.

And yes, under this title, it is possible for “uncool” to be “the new cool” even as the label “hipster” becomes unhip. Thus we arrive at the only unifying chant remaining to us: “ARE WE NOT HIP? WE ARE MET-A!”

And that’s the only key in this piece.

So just sit and listen to the harmony in the dischord.

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