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nettime: Ambient, Techno, Internet--Harald Fricke

The Techno-Club of Lascaux
Ambient, Techno, Internet 
Harald Fricke

It is no longer feasible to speak of electronic Pop culture without
expressing doubts. Since the Love Parade with its 750,000 dance fans
and accompanying ravers was turned from a Berlin Club-Event into a
public show of hands a few weeks ago, a word like Techno has come to
sound more empty, dreary and false. Things are no different with the
Internet: here too, the paths of a few pleasure-loving pioneers of
communication have rapidly been trampled to death. Internet and Love
Parade are somehow modern and at the same time out-dated. So the
former hardcore fractions from the Net and the dance floor have to
look on sadly as a uniform rising mass takes the ball out of their
hands. Yet these two prime movers in the physical and the
technological are not only connected by their bowing down to the
Zeitgeist. In fact, Love Parade and Internet met for the first time
last year. A concert by the British DJ-formation The Orb took place in
the Waldbuehne, as a chill-out programme after the dance march on the
Kudamm; it was conceived as an accompaniment to Charlie Chaplin's
*Goldrush* and could be called up in parallel on the World Wide Web.
The interesting thing about this experiment in digital crossover,
which failed anyway due to the poor quality of transmission, was not
the synchronization of party and media, but - quite the opposite - the
slow drifting apart of all energies in the relaxed open-air
atmosphere, the dissolution of hightech and nature into Ambient. But
Ambient is really a ghastly word, too. One thinks of kitsch, is
reminded of the therapy sessions of miserable psychiatric patients, or
feels oneself at the mercy of a lazy idleness. It is like a
continuation of the hippie ideology using the means of the computer,
whilst at least Techno promises carnival and extravagance. When a
corresponding sound space was installed at the *documenta VII*, one
was obliged to sit behind a gauze curtain on a chair reminiscent of
the gynaecologist's, and then all sorts of abstract hissing sounds
were transmitted through a dozen loudspeakers. So Ambient is still
seen as 
 musical furniture , as a hybrid construct of technical progress and
 liberation philosophy below the 
level of the primal scream, as a false investment of instrumental
reason - life tends to be worse between walls which give off sound. In
his introduction to *Music for Airports*, Brian Eno already aroused
suspicion by writing about the concept of  Ambience : >>Ambience is
defined as atmosphere or surrounding influence: as a timbre. I aim to
produce original pieces of music with it, pieces which clearly, if not
exclusively, function at certain times and in certain situations .
Ambient should be capable of uniting various levels of attention
during listening, without placing any particular one in the
foreground: Ambient should be interesting but equally possible to
ignore.<< That is inconsistent, not only with all concepts of Rock as a
religion and as transcendent, but also with music's claim to lay open
social contexts. Instead, this 
 Ocean of Sound , an image used by the composer David Toop, flows on
 quite indifferently. In art, 
one would probably refer to the autonomy of the decorative or to lived
ornamentation, which - in examples of work by the Pre-Raphaelites or
Franz von Stuck - was already viewed as a decline at the
fin-de-siecle. But strangely enough, the history of Techno and Ambient
begins at the height of the modern age, in Eric Satie's *ameublement*
and his serial pieces, in Antheil's machine music or in Edgar Varese's
sound fragments. The more complex recording and transmitting systems
such as the radio or the Turing machine become, the more closely
artistic examination of the apparatus embraces its object. As early as
the twenties, the Theremin in silent movies conducted by the feedback
of sound waves was used as a musical accompaniment to science fiction;
later Karl-Heinz Stockhausen worked on his early requiems using the
ring modulator, a machine which produced hollow, echoing effects
before the invention of the synthesizer, and the most famous classical
record from the sixties was made by computer - *Switch on Bach*.The
idea is still to capture a more diversified reality outside of the ear
which can be perceived through music: in the fifties, full of
enthusiasm, the French author and jazz trumpeter Boris Vian fantasized
in his novel *Froth on the Daydream *about a piano cocktail which
would mix drinks on the basis of melodies. This was closely followed
by similar Utopian episodes in stories by Thomas Pynchon, J. G.
Ballard or Philip K. Dick. In *The Crying of Lot 49* (1966), Pynchon
sees the future as the victory parade of electronically generated
popular music, Ballard's *Vermillion Sands *(1971) is set in a
landscape of singing plants, and in 1972, Philip K. Dick dreams in *We
can build you *of a Hammerstein Mood Organ by means of which the
concurrence of certain tones could convey the listener to nirvana.
Today Brian Eno still refers to his musical method as >>permitting
sounds the effect of smells<<, and in the magazine *New Scientist *of
28th November 1992, sound even becomes the primal image in the caves
of Lascaux: >>At a conference in Cairns, Australia, a scientist member
of the American Rock Art Research Association claimed that prehistoric
cave-painting sites were chosen by the artists for their reverberant
acoustic character. Steven Waller speculated that each painting site
reveals a correspondence between the animals depicted on the walls and
the nature of any sound activating the echoes in that space. In caves
such as Lascaux, where large animals were painted, the echoes are
overwhelmingly loud, whereas in sites where felines adorn the walls,
the decibel level of the reverberations is very low.<<Suddenly even
Esquivel's Space Age Pop of the fifties and Eno's endless tape loop of
Country & Western music for a NASA documentary film are only a mental
leap apart. Despite its definition as an awareness of the interaction
between perception and environment, Ambient has so impressed itself
into technically reconstructable forms that the difference between
Platonic harmony of the spheres, Bach's well-tempered piano or the
chance programmes of Aphex Twin's sequencer lies only in the decisions
to switch on and off. It is not the context which determines
expression, but the feasibility. Thus Brian Eno, of all people, is an
enemy of the interactive, because >>it only offers the user formulas
rather than free spaces. CD-ROM and Internet have nothing to do with
creativity, they only permit the public to participate in a system
already installed<<. If one now looks at the artistic application of
technology on homepages or discussion forums in the Internet, one
finds a practice which, as in music, does not extend the state of the
art. The medium is a fascinating toy, but its forms have nothing to
say about the handling of content. It boils down to a confusing
diversity of set communication phrases which, concealed under
corresponding search terms or in theme groups, cannot even be easily
differentiated from advertising. For example, press information from
Ruhrgas1 is as arbitrarily stored under the  Future of Net Culture ,
as debates on 
 Right-Wing Nets , West Bam's personal short version of the history of
 Techno or a circular from the 
representative for cultural affairs in Sachsen-Anhalt calling for more
innovation in the intercourse between East and West, a target in
relation to which culture, above all, still has much to achieve. The
rest is service referring to the up-to-date gallery programme, the
illustrations are of very poor quality, and well-conceived projects
for and on the Net are not revealed - the art is always  under
construction , without finish. Only Pit Schultz and Geert Lovink are
represented with a general criticism of the Net, and can be reached
through servers which float freely through the concept lists. Probably
the underground does not want to betray to the mainstream its
specialized knowledge of the Utopian potential of art. The
counter-design to the digitalisation of social spheres goes on in
secret   This opportunity also exists in the Internet: just as *Spex
*or *Purple Prose* work as a mixture between fan magazine and the
setting up of political groups, in the Net it is also possible for
people to cut themselves off in a way reminiscent of sects. Meanwhile,
you find out the address from the corresponding  special interest 
journal. By the way, in actual fact one only meets up with well-known
media artists from the seventies: Valie Export presented the
exhibition *Glass Papers* in 1990 in the Vienna EA-Generali
Foundation, and Silvia Eiblmayr wrote in the catalogue, which is
available on the WWW: >>The art of Valie Export exists under the
auspices of that change in paradigm which characterizes a break with
the projects and the Utopias of the moderns. The attacks of the young,
rebellious avant-garde are aimed at the elitist art concept of the
post-war period, at the modern myth of the aesthetic masterpiece. This
was a myth necessarily propagated all the more, the more it was
threatened by industrial and medial mass culture, incapable of
questioning its own conditions and interdependencies within a
bourgeois, patriarchal ideology of art.<< However, the work itself is
not illustrated. The developments there have been in communication
strategies after the offerings of the seventies have been very modest.
At that time, the unification of information and knowledge reservoirs
was seen as a Utopia from which it would be possible to filter a
social body. The US American critic of science, Alvin Toffler,
summarized this movement in his book *Future Shock* (1970), using the
term  collaborating Utopias : >>Whilst Utopia A places the focus on
materialist, success-oriented values, Utopia B could work on the basis
of sensual, hedonist principles: the main interest of C was in
aesthetic values, in the case of D it is individuality, whilst E is
devoted to the collective and so on. Ultimately, a flood of books,
dramas, films and television programmes can emerge from this
cooperation, ranging between art, research into the future and social
science, and so enlightening a broad public with regard to the costs
and the advantages of the various Utopian proposals.<< Toffler's aim is
 intentional communities . Those in Detroit who first tinkered with
Techno, or John Perry Barlow, as Internet philosopher, had the same
aim. But now the Love Parade organizers have to attend to waste
disposal in the Tiergarten and meanwhile the Ex Grateful-Dead text
writer Barlow, with his *Electronic Frontier Foundation*, is
concerning himself with legal questions within the Net. In the users,
he no longer sees a community of Data-Dandies strolling over the
information slopes, but a continuation of the Wild West community:
>>For this we need no laws, but a shared ethos. And as chance would
have it, I come from Wyoming, where such an ethos still exists<< (taz,
19.6.1995). The fact that the two media have come together may be part
of their failure. Increasingly, Techno parties are giving themselves
the artistic touch, projecting - above the dance floor - video clips
from *Derrick* along with the endlessly repetitive computer animation
of artificial canals along which one is carried as if through a
whirlpool. The Spiegel also recently reported on such events. As a
counter- move, exhibition curators often charter DJs for their
openings, be it as a Techno-Club in Vienna and Weimar, or as their own
concept, as with the Copenhagen *Now Here* show. There the intention
is to give a brief demonstration of how art can reapproach life
through Techno. The result is depressing: DJs who once studied art now
hang canvases in front of their sound mixers and project Super 8 films
onto them. They might just as well have invited Happening drummers.
When the public in Copenhagen was drunk enough, they went down into
the cellar to dance. Here they were at least safe from so much
contrived art - after all, the DJs on the B-level of the Louisiana
Museum were true pros.

[Translation: Lucinda Rennison]

*1 Ruhrgas Aktiengesellschaft is a major German gas industry company.
(Tr. note)*

Abdruck mit freundlicher Genehmigung durch das Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien
Berlin und den Autor. Der Text erschien zuerst Anfang Oktober 1996 im
"Be Magazin", Berlin. Alle Rechte vorbehalten - kein Nachdruck und
keine elektronische Weiterverbreitung ohne vorherige schriftliche
Genehmigung des Verlages.

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