28 April 2010

feeling and really feeling

I'm doing that fingersnap thing in acknowledgement of Simon Reynolds' hitherto-unknown MCing skills

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I think he's absolutely right to point out all those forerunners of what I'll (for the moment, reluctantly) call emotive dance music. And it is a little bonkers of Rouge's Foam to talk about the 'coldness of most jungle, garage and old dubstep'.

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But Simon knows, I'm sure, that it's not an imminent upsurge in Cure-style feet-planted, arm-swinging inna dance that Ikonika or Darkstar are on about. It's the good old trusty sublime. And aiming for it via the tearducts rather than delirious happiness is not only a long-established move (people were writing songs about it years ago), it can be the opposite of avant, and shamelessly commercial. And isn't it an equally long-established paradox that the coldest, iciest, most rigorously 'affectless' music can be all the more moving for having precisely an excess of those qualities? Haven't we all heard Kraftwerk by now?

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'Emotion, in the sense of stuff that comes from your life, does not honestly strike me as this music's strong suit.'

This is where it gets messy for me. First of all, 'stuff that comes from your life'... 'my son's DS'... A lot of the problem is right there. I have no time for the Reynolds-has-lost-it argument, it seems to mostly come from generational defensiveness in response to nothing crueller than faint praise, but the fact is, just as in much of hypnagogic pop, a particular set of references is being deployed in a lot of this New Music which, temps perdu style, will evoke in 18-30s an emotional response that it never could for Simon. Games console sonics, yacht rock from 80s films seen as a child: of course they have little emotional baggage for someone who didn't have them as a part of their childhood's fabric. This *is* stuff that comes from Ikonika's life: 'Abdel-Hamid says she grew up with games in one ear and garage in the other...' [link].

This works both ways though of course. Simon, Woebot et al are entirely within their rights to point out that this limits the music's address and isn't the most aggressively forward-thinking move. (I'm generalizing here, please don't swamp me with endless examples of how Demdike Stare or whoever has nothing to do with 80s films.)

Isn't there a sense in which the moment 'emotion' is deployed like this - ie as an element that can be quantified, and music judged according to the quantity found, and whether by Ikonika, Rouge's Foam, or Simon, actual discussion or debate effectively stops? It's almost a moment of aporia, an unresolvable tangle, except that I'm not sure it pays to keep tweaking and worrying at it... maybe it's more like a ne plus ultra. 'Emotion' is effectively working here as an assertion, one that need not be articulated and cannot be argued with. An attachment or engagement or understanding of the music that has become axiomatic. To put it another way, when someone says 'But it has so much emotion' of a record, they are implicitly saying 'I fucking love this... I get it. This is my thing.'

So discussion founders and the shouting begins: no-one wants to hear a bad word said about something they love, nor can they generally be argued out of it (at least not without fucking hating you for it afterwards).

It also stops because it doesn't tell us anything, it all but gives up on any kind of critical duty and defaults to basic fandom. It reminds me of when people say of, eg, Swells or Peel, 'He had so much passion'. But it's not the passion you actually valued! Passion's a fucking given. Try telling the average X Factor contestant or Camden toilet band they have no passion. Fundamentalists have passion. Passion alone neither redeems nor justifies anything. Any number of idiots like [...brief Google check...] Mark Beaumont can knock off a Swells-style rant which would register highly on some kind of notional Passionometer: intemperate, sweary, tick, tick, tick. But they're junk because they lack Swells' mastery of language, the inventiveness of his ranting. What people are almost invariably praising when they praise someone's passion, is their technique, their ability to deliver that passion.

NB This is not an anti-passion, kick-emotion-out-of-music argument. I'm strictly talking about how we talk about music.

08 April 2010

getting warmer



Another great post on It's Her Factory, this time reading Hot Chip's 'Over and Over' through Lee Edelman's idea of the sinthomosexual. Briefly, politics for Edelman assumes a reproductive norm, a future predicated on the child, to which homosexuality presents a troubling and unassimilable negation: an apparent dead end. The sinthomosexual is the figure he believes queers (not necessarily to be understood in a strict sense of biological desire) should embrace and work to become, in place of ongoing attempts to falsely assimilate with heteronormativity: marriage, adoption, etc. IHF focusses in particular on Edelman's identification of 'stupid enjoyment', 'repetitive insistence', 'senseless compulsion', and a joy in machinic (machinic because inhuman, inorganic) repetition as aspects of the sinthomosexual aesthetic. (More detail in the post of course, and there's also a superb reading of Edelman to be found at Poetix.)

There's one interesting flaw in IHF's argument for me, when she argues that 'Over and Over'
rejects the humanist preference for musical authenticity, be it in “warmth” of sound, the use of “real people” playing “real instruments,” and humanism’s general tendency to equate electronic sounds with alienation (indeed, the “live video” takes place in a digital editing environment, as the close of the video makes explicitly clear);
The warm/cool binary in discussion of music is at once indispensible and completely unstable. Most people, even if they refuse to grasp the concept of synaesthesia, let alone its spelling, will acknowledge this axis of differentiation. Mapping it onto the human/inhuman and the analogue/digital, it becomes ever shakier, more contingent, schematic, but still a useful code through which to discuss the emotional resonance of timbre.

In the case of 'Over and Over', I just don't hear this rejection of warmth, of live instruments, of the fallibility (because minutely off-grid or off-key) of the recorded human body. The synths sound 'warm' to me, especially the clotted honk of bass in the refrain. The tinkling chimes at the start, the overdubbed cowbell and handclaps, all a little off, if not wonky then knocked off the milli-second accurate maps of a ProTools or Logic grid. The organ in the section IHF calls A1 (third time round), and the (fuzzy, warm) guitar line which comes in at C; these are obviously live overdubs, not machine-cut, sequenced, processed loops.

It also occurs to me that the video's play with green-screen performance, digital sound, the 'real', could be read from the other direction. Is it alienating the pop consumer's warm and fuzzy response (see Devo) or effecting a very different kind of alienation, something like Brecht's foregrounding of staging, so that the CGI rendering of the pop body into a hyperreal avatar is demystified?

This is not to say that IHF's use of Edelman is wrong. I just wonder if forcing it through a cold (wave) electro framework doesn't distort the original song. Presumably a very similar argument could instead be made using disco - warm, wet, embodied, yet surely as sinthomosexual as any music ever made. Not only delirious with repetition, but the source of endless repetitions and reiterations in sampling.

Could you extend this to argue for arch-hetero James Brown as sinthomosexual? To what extent has contraception, as the enabler of non-productive sex, made sinthomosexuals - at least in the site of popular music - of us all?

07 April 2010