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?

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