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Josephine Bosma on Fri, 25 Sep 1998 18:14:24 +0200 (MET DST)

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Howard Slater


1. The record industry is in the process of being outflanked by means of
the very practices that it has come to rely upon. Since the 60s its
continual efforts to create new needs has meant that it nurtured an ever
changing musical soundscape that is now mutating at such a pace that it
cannot keep pace long enough to harness these musical evolutions in the
direction of profit. 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
redefinition of these sounds. The profit-orientated shift to a CD market,
which allowed back catalogues to be resold, has thus 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 propels a dissatisfaction with what the industry can offer.

2. Advancements in technology have meant that all manner of equipment is
now available for reappropriation by whoever has the time to learn how to
misuse it. That there can no longer be any 'one sound' around which music
is organised means that everything is potential source material to a
practice that no longer calls itself music. Indeed, the former categories
that were allotted to different musics now only make sense as a means of
division; a consumer yardstick that limits stimulation. From the guitar we
have moved through sampling technology, turntables, analogue and digital
keyboards to an indiscernible melange that creates further possibilities
for interaction as well as enhanced and de-legitimated conditions of
reception. Such practices escape the institutional control of the industry
and the media, eluding the 'dominant repressive models' of an inherited
subjectivity: music reveals individual consciousness as socially situated.

3. Ever since 'music' got rid of the necessity for lyrics, the predominance
of an electronic music of texture, unrestricted tonality and rhythmic
paroxysm meant that it liberated those who heard it to listen intently to
unrecognisable rhythms and sounds. Occurring in the context of dance music
meant that such heightened listening was as sensual as it was cerebral and
because these sounds took people in uncharted  directions they became
situated as part of a collective desire that predisposed them to each
other, inspiring movements towards new forms of collectivity. The
liberation of the listener, through dance, led not only to this growing
sociality, the collective memory of tracks, but, with the music
foregrounding a repetition that placed message and resolution in abeyance,
it created conditions where desiring-energy was perpetuated and deployed in
the direction of discovery and self-creation.

4. 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 tales of
music scene has-beens and, rather than choose competition, exposure and the
'labour of success', they have decided to operate outside these monetary
and conceptual constraints and do their own thing. 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 a
rise in 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 but never
reach the parties. Attracted to a music that conforms to cash projections,
that reproduces the social imaginary, they can never hear the sound of
conflictual desire. Similarly the music press is increasingly losing its
mediating role between unknown composers and the major labels which makes
its  promotion of the 'new'  laughable. The 'new' is now passing-by
unnoticed and makes such attempts to hold onto what has been declared 'new'
the very indication that what we read is inflected by dispassionate
opportunism: marketing.

5. The Post-Media practice has been accelerated by the InterNet where
obsessions can run rife and where there is a noticeable desire for those
miniaturised activities that 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 have made these all 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 (*).
Mistaken as cutting-edge, the music promoted by the media often serves no
other purpose than the maintenance 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 enervated and cynical as the articles they read, and
taking their place in the aging process, they see in the next cycle of
mediated-music a lack of innovation and quality.

6. Innovation and quality? It is interesting to see how the media, which
sees itself operating in opposition to high-art, comes to work in consort
with this traditionalism, particularly through the way that it reinforces
reactionary notions of subjectivity. Foremost amongst these shared
techniques is the way that music, like art, is more or less always
portrayed as transcendental; 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 hierarchic 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 and heterogeneous
reception contexts that surround music invisible. Whatsmore, this has the
contingent effect of privileging the 'solitary' moment of production over
that of listening and dancing 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 from
music and in so doing colludes with the 'capitalisation' of subjectivity:
one space, one  time, one person just one step ahead of boredom.

7. 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. Listeners become part of an
autonomous, diffuse and non-institutional reception context. This quite
complex configuration means that 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 that stimulate a
practice of non-verbal thought.  If listening  is taken this seriously it
can only encourage patterns of connection and co-experience with an
immediately accessible group that shares not only an appreciation of the
sounds but a social-memory of them as contained within the record. Once
linked in this way the bonds of a new collectivity become instinctual.

8. And so, comprised of ephemeral organisations, post-media becomes a
practice of fiction that knows no bounds. It is a web-site, a zine, a
record label, a distribution network of unseen nodes... it is a
de-channeled, meta-categorical social practice of cultural creation made
entirely for and on its own terms! It is driven by enthusiasm, search and
connection towards a polyphonic subjectivity!  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, lack a sense of
music as a fuel that traverses disparate regions. Within this post-media
practice there is an intensified redefinition of such dualisms as
success/failure where respect and support is given to those who succeed in
creating, at personal cost, something that is illegitimate and dissensual.
In this way judgment of its value, whether it is 'good' or 'bad', is
rendered useless. But such scenes, operating intimately, cannot afford to
establish such divisions: listeners becomes producers. All scenes become
their own genre and operating in a dispersed geographic and psychic space
there is no sense of any one person or group being in control: it is a
practice of addition without accumulation, a group-effusion of singularity
that dispenses 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 one another. The
onset of the InterNet has put paid to this by extending our expectations of
communication, transposing a virtual space of music into an actuality of
intimacy and an ever present potential for subjective change.

Howard Slater

Title adapted from Felix Guattari's phrase 'post-media era'.
(*) Michel Foucault: Foucault Live, Semiotext(e) 1989, p393.

Biography: Howard Slater is the editor of Break/Flow and a contributor to
Autotoxicity, Datacide, Obsessive Eye and the Circuit 8 website

snail mail:
89 Vernon Road, London, E15 4DQ

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