Trash Music: A Thesis

-this essay is intended to be inflammatory

There has been a growing trend among electronic musicians and companies that is limiting some of the potentials for new ways of making sound, and ultimately for growth. This in part has consisted of a desperate need to create a visual sense that what many artists are doing still relates to analogue musical aesthetics — either through the layout of DAWs (“Reason” emulating a synth rack, etc.), or the obsessive need to create midi controllers — which either give the audience a visual rhythmic cue or actually emulate “real instruments” (keyboards, wind instruments, drums, etc). All of these techniques (and more) appear to be only there to give the audience, and in some cases, the musicians a comfort in knowing that what they are creating is still tied to archaic concepts in music, such as: skill and human interaction. What makes this a concern as a limiting factor in progress is that people are not  accepting the possibility that what they are actually doing is curating sounds and “music” from a nonorganic, digital, alienating, and/or “post-human” space of interaction.

If we continue to move away from this concept we will be denying the beauty of this post-organic music; or to say it another way, we have to be open to our complex relationships with machines. This is not to say that the individual (or collective) human isn’t crucial to the making of the music and art, but rather, that it’s a composition of assemblages. As Donna Haraway’s idea of the Chthulucene suggests we can be kin to all; that the “…entities in-assemblages—including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus.” are included. The gist, is that we are often limiting our human imaginations by folding back in time to recreate our works today.

There have been many attempts at moving towards this way of thinking, mainly through environments such as Max/MSP, but even these programs have become influenced by this limiting midi controller culture. For instance, instead of people writing patches that algorithmically create the music or improvising the codes live, we are instead left with people fooling around with smartphones and “leap motion.” Once again denying the potentially terrifying notion that people do not have to be the centre of attention in a presentation.

A point that seems very interesting when it comes to subverting these notions is the concept of Live Coding, and in particular Algorave. Artists such as, Kindohm and Yaxu create algorithmic music and dance music using stripped down text based languages that connect to the sound engine Super Collider. In performances, these artists isolate themselves behind their laptops and write and evaluate the code that will be curating and composing the sound that the audience hears. In this presentation the main point of interest is the projection of the code on the wall behind them, rather than visuals or other typical visual cues. This happening thus exposes the very nonorganic and digital structure behind the music that is presented. 

Another angle that can come across as disturbing is people’s obsession with “original” synth patches and samples. Instead, we ought to call for a complete trashing of the imposed hierarchy of sonic techniques in electronic music and support the  creation of more “trash music.” ‘Trash music’ in this sense would be a plunderphonic electronic style that would attempt to include the blending of overplayed, or trashy sounds and samples, into an assemblage of work. This would be an attempt to subvert our societies obsession with our outdated and overly held values in regards to originality in music. We instead ought to try and represent the horrific and embarrassing qualities in the 20th and 21st centuries sonic body. For example, we could blend smooth jazz with anime music, 808s, auto tune, the amen break, vibraphones, and Stockhausen.

There are many projects and scenes that come close to this concept such as, Oneohtrix Point Never (particularly the album,”Garden Of Delete”) and of course, the Vapour (vaporwave, hardvapour, future funk, etc.) movement, that has plagued the internet over the past few years. We ought to look to these albums and scenes as not so much a “meme” or a joke, but instead a call to arms against archaic concepts and categories like ‘quality’ or ‘creative purity’. These modes of thinking and presenting combined with a live coding practice/sensibility ought to help move us towards a “great unveiling” of deeper understandings and possibilities in both culture and electronics, particularly in regards to art and music.

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