Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The End of Music

I read John Horgan's book "The End of Science" recently - a compelling (if faintly depressing) investigation into contemporary science and the avenues left to explore after all the major breakthroughs in understanding the universe and its (known) inhabitants have been acheived. John Horgan argues that scientists' roles now are to fill in the gaps leftover from the big theories of yesteryear - physics now finding itself theorising about untestable hypotheses; after the discovery of DNA, biology is left with speculating about how life started on Earth and filling in the gaps of the evolutionary process; neuroscience finds itself trying to explain consciousness thus moving science into the realm of total subjectivity. Black holes, time travel, superstring theory all belong in the world of "ironic" science - ideas that cannot be tested that don't exist outside of mathematically-based theory.

So is science essentially over? The author certainly seems to think so.

Could we then postulate that a similar thing has happened to music through the years? Whilst it would take some time to go through all the styles (and bearing in mind that a lot of styles are not overly concerned with breaking new ground) if we broke it down to four main contenders - orchestral, jazz, rock and electronic - I get the feeling that there is little new ground to break that hasn't already been broken.

Orchestral music over the last hundred years has moved from more traditional diatonic approaches through to Debussy's whole-tone scales, Schoenberg's serialism and microtonalism (admittedly an Eastern import itself). If the increased use of dissonance and new ways of cutting up the octave weren't enough, the avant-garde's use of silence, minimalism, prepared instruments, tape loops and electronic sound added new colours to the pallette. After these innovations it seems that modern orchestral music now seeks to appropriate elements from "lower" culture in a desperate post-modernist attempt at seeming relevant outside a dwindling niche audience.

Jazz seems to have had its century - from the early Dixieland bands, they substituted chords, went modal, went "out" to the point where improvisation no longer needed to adhere to a key, to a rhythm - to a certain degree it no longer even adhered to the playing of the other band members in its free-est sense. Once chaos had become the peak of expression, jazz returned to deference and cool. There was nowhere else to go apart from dilution.

Were Sonic Youth the last rock band to actually break new ground? Even then, the punky vibes were secondhand and the odd-tuned guitar drones were nabbed from Glenn Branca. Maybe Radiohead if I were to be generous, but then it seemed that the parts that seemed interesting were more to do with the electronic elements than the sulky, proggy stylings. Most guitar music of today harks back to 60s mod, 70s punk and 80s new wave, with a little hark back to folk, blues and country if you feel worried that those other sounds have a threatening modernity to them.

Which brings us to the most recent of the four. Kraftwerk led to Afrika Bambata and hip hop and electro, which had inspired the emergence of techno and house by the mid 80s and within a few years we had trance and hard house on one side and the re-emergence of sped-up breakbeats in hardcore and then jungle by the early 90s. Techno and house were re-invigorated by minimalism and glitch via Basic Channel et al, hip hop led by J Dilla returned to unquantized beats (a precursor to such "fresh" sounds as "wonky") and incorporating more tech sounds thanks toTimbaland, jungle mutated into the no-holds-barred invention of drum and bass and then a combination of heavily swung beats, booming bass and a return to divas and mc's led to UK garage and 2 step.

After that, it seemed that pretty much all electronic dance music pretty much regurgitated itself - grime took the mc and gun culture from hip hop, lost the funk and gave it a darker, harder spin (not unlike the trajectory of post-99 drum and bass); dubstep took the jungle bass, techno minimalism, quacking dnb basslines and somehow turned raves into monotonous, metal gigs; bassline ripped speed garage in a hard house style and electrohouse seemed to just rewrite the same song forever. The non-dancey stuff isn't much better - has anything particularly new happened in noise, ambient or drone in....oooh... the last 20 years or so? The aha! moments that triggered the accelerated evolution of this period were created from a combination of new technologies (e.g. drum machines, synths and samplers) and frenzied experimentation with them (e.g. "impossible" drum parts, cut-up breaks, resampling). Now that we can distort, pitch-shift, timestretch, flip, reverse, rinse and repeat have we not got to the point where essentially it's all been done?

It seems to me that music in its current state can only provide diminishing returns given the amount of music available and the history involved. How many more combinations of notes can there possibly be that have not been used endlessly before? How much of what we considered imagination were lucky mistakes with technology or using it in ways that had not been tried before? What is the limit to imagination - isn't everything we imagine something that is already in our mind or a combination of sounds we already know?

Are there going to be any further innovations in technology that might allow us to create unheard sounds? It seems again that most of the major discoveries are done if we can manipulate audio at the sample level - we can now even improve on a virtuoso performance. Once we have covered the extremes, is there anywhere else to go but creating hybrids and filling in the few gaps left?

Is this the end of music?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Myth of Fascist Drift

The current MP's expenses scandal seems to have brought yet another "crisis of confidence" in the main political parties according to Fleet Street (even though Peter Oborne pointed this out two years previously). As noted in the Guardian yesterday, voters wishing to punish the guilty have various choices open to them - voting for their opponents which means potentially electing candidates that don't reflect your concerns, calling for deselection which could involve the MP staying on as an independent, or withholding the vote altogether and thus allowing fringe parties to benefit.

Every time these crises occur, there is always the scare story that the BNP will benefit from voter apathy on the ironic basis that fascists are more likely to exercise their democratic rights. In the 2005 election, it did increase its vote - from 47,129 to 192,850 votes. Whilst this is a four-fold increase, it represents a tiny fraction of the total votes cast. Even in the Barking & Dagenham area, where the party scored their biggest triumph, they only polled 16.89% of the vote.

Various MP's have stated that ignoring the voices of labour supporters in deprived areas may lead to increased support for far-right parties. In the areas where BNP support is highest we can see various factors at play - extreme deprivation, struggle for public resources and an influx of different cultures that may not integrate with each other vying for their share. Rather than address the root causes of the problem (which would obviously involve budgeting for more social housing, creating employment opportunities, etc), the fear of working class voters turning towards racist parties as a protest against being passed over by mainstream politics is used as a warning by the main parties to continue voting for the main parties. It's never mentioned that other parties may also benefit from dissatisfaction with the narrow focus of the homogenous centre-right.

Historically, it's always been the working class that lived in the areas where new immigrants flocked to, and as such have generally been the first to live alongside and integrate with them. If we look at the majority of white, working class culture in the last 40 or so years -from rock steady and the early skinheads to rave onwards - its clear that the influence of new cultures were originally adopted by those living in that environment and filtered out to the suburbs much later.

The idea that there is a latent racism just waiting to rear its head in times of hardship is a myth - people either are or aren't, and I'd say that people either stay the former or move to the latter as new cultures are experienced and become part of the local "in group". In terms of representation, how multicultural are the middle-classes of the suburbs exactly anyway?

People competing for scarce resources are more likely to perceive unfairness, disenfranchisement and in desperate times are more likely to believe those resources should be prioritized for existing inhabitants. If the main thrust of political debate involves appealing to the voters in Middle England swing constituencies, grievances outside of that scope are unlikely to be heard and so people will feel disconnected from the democratic process. It doesn't necessarily follow that they will switch to the BNP though. They've just become the latest "savages" that fall to barbarism without their enlightened leaders to steal their goods and then teach them their superior morality.

Remind me again who's the biggest threat to race relations in this country - embittered east end bigots or those playing with fireworks in the Middle East?

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Angel of Birth

"There is testimony that he attended women, followed their pregnancies, treated them with new types of drugs and preparations, that he talked of artificial insemination in human beings, and that he continued working with animals, proclaiming that he was capable of getting cows to produce male twins."

"In the testimonies we collected we came across women who were treated by him, he appeared to be some sort of rural medic who went from house to house. He attended women who had varicose veins and gave them a potion which he carried in a bottle, or tablets which he brought with him. Sometimes he carried out dental work, and everyone remembers he used to take blood."

These are the children of Candido Godoi in Brazil, where the probability of giving birth to twins is around 1 in 5, or 16 times more than the 1 in 80 chance found in the general population. So who was this cell-splitting, fertility guru and what's his secret?

Take a closer look at the picture - awful lot of blonde hair and blue eyes donchathink? And why would he be so interested in getting women to spawn twins? Does sound eerily familiar this Boy From Brazil doesn't he?

This article suggests that Dr. Josef Mengele, Auschwitz's infamous Angel of Death, was continuing his plan to repopulate the Hitler Youth for some time after it was fashionable, starting with his first appearance in the town in 1963. In the two years before the end of the Second World War, he had picked out all of the available twins as they arrived at the camp and performed some cruel but seemingly pointless experiments on them (which you can read about here you sick fucks). Working under the name Rudolph Weiss (german for white, naturally) he worked as a travelling medic (lucky he didn't confuse his nomadic alias with a gypsy and gas himself).

However, after searching through google and finding the exact same story copied more or less word for word from the press release on most of the hits, an alternative, non-nazi, yet luckily just as titillating explanation has been found - the abundance of arytwins is down to a recessive gene passed down through the town's denizens being inbreeders extraordinaire -

" The high number of Aryan twins, meanwhile, probably has more to do with the town’s German ancestry than with any genetic manipulation on Mengele’s part. “I don’t think Mengele would have the knowledge, not to mention the means, to engender the rise in twin births in this community,” Matte says. “It’s noteworthy that twin births occurred there in almost every time period, even in the 1990s, so what kind of long-lasting manipulation could he have perpetrated?"

So much for the master race. So how come even after looking at the photos and seeing that the youngest twins look about 3, yet would be almost 30 if they were born in 1979 when Mengele encountered his final solution, did no-one but historynet and me mention this?

Is the level of fact-checking so poor in today's journalism that once the magic word "NAZI" was introduced that nobody even bothered looking for an alternative explanation, the "hang-on-a-minute..." feeling that something wasn't quite right here? It's lazy journalism and having missed out on the added inbreeding angle that the UK press was so appalled by (yet found so very, very newsworthy) during the Fritzl case they must be kicking themselves. If the UK press were an Old Testament book, they'd be Doucheronomy.

More on the world of churnalism here if you're interested.

Oh, found out the Microsoft Wingdings/NYC "accidental" anti-semitic faux pas at just to keep the nazi theme going for a bit of potential ad money. Not quite sure what all the fuss was about really...

Edit: Hmmm, seems like it became a smiley sticking its tongue out since I stuck the wingdingthing up. Some sort of Microsoft revisionism going on perhaps...

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Bedlam Revisited

"In the 18th century people used to go to Bedlam to stare at the lunatics. For a penny one could peer into their cells, view the freaks of the "show of Bethlehem" and laugh at their antics, generally of a sexual nature or violent fights. Entry was free on the first Tuesday of the month. Visitors were permitted to bring long sticks with which to poke and enrage the inmates. In 1814 alone, there were 96,000 such visits."

The use of the mentally ill for entertainment purposes has fallen out of favour in recent years due in part to competitive self-righteousness amongst the "caring" ranks in their empathy Olympics ("loves kittens, hates frightfulness"), improvements in psychiatric drug treatments, and razor-wire and other security measures to keep "us" from "them" (or "them" from "them", or "them" from "those" if the psychoses manifest in singing teapot form).

This seems a shame because the anecdotes that stem from this can be inspired. A friend of mine who's recently been diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, recounted how he believed that he was the subject of a reality tv show and how he "won" by guessing correctly what the audience had requested him do that week. He told how a map of Iraq on the wall seemed to metamorphose into his dad having anal sex with his object of desire at that time - not exactly something that inspires sweet dreams.

Increased drinking and isolation then led him to consider himself some sort of ubermensch or "Alpha" (the ranks all seemed to follow greek letters with some sort of class-based correllation) and this ultimately led to an ill-fated arson attempt on his flat (put out due to sudden pangs of consideration for his neighbours) and finding himself sectioned for the next three months, not before ringing 118 118 to explain the situation to the bewildered operative that told him he should maybe ring the fire brigade instead.

Whilst inside, he made friends with a fellow sufferer who believed he was God, and as my acquaintance was in his "Digital Jesus" phase at the time, they got on like a house on fire. There was a war in alterna-heaven over "divinity issues" though and they soon parted company. He's now recovering and writing to Richard Dawkins with his briefer efforts at disproving God, and has lost his paranoid fear of all politicians by now just considering them all to be in the positions they're in through possessing higher intellects and better leadership skills than the rest of the populace. I'm not convinced by this cure to be honest...

Now the thing is he actually volunteers this information to more or less anyone that so much as asks "so, what have you been up to lately?", often to people that he's just met up with. None of this "just between you and me doc" coyness - say it loud, he's mad and he's proud.

In comparison, the twatter-chatter of the drearily sane cannot compete. The motivations of most people for status, affirmation, sex, knowledge, company, or anything to distract them from the mundanity of their meat-machine existence are all too blindingly obvious and bear no great surprises. Indeed I often wonder whether the inanity of their prescence is what triggered this move to more exciting neural pastures rather than having to listen to their work colleague's weekly retelling of how drunk she got that weekend.

Having recently spotted another schizophrenic I knew chatting to galactic cops in pursuit of illegal space aliens living in a nearby apartment complex, I couldn't help but get the feeling that maybe he had actually made better life choices than myself - he has this vivid fantasy, and I have to listen to pretty much the same tales of pets and children and desperate attempts to fill quiet moments with forced conversation.

The scouser in the park that seemed to be making political speeches to invisible crowds and trying on people's hats without any concern for their permission, the man trying to start a fight with a bus-stop, the woman who stored 20p's in her cho-cha until she'd grin and release her jackpot - are these people not actually hypersane when set against the control group?

Whatever is going on in their heads, I'm convinced it's considerably more involved than the cavalcade of shit-drizzle that passes for entertainment these days.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Smash Sumthin'

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" (attributed to Albert Einstein)

Heralded as a "great success" by the organisers, Smash EDO, the world of international capitalism and their chums the arms trade seemed to be "business as usual" at start of work after the Mayday jaunt in Brighton.

As can be seen, the police adopted their usual "softly softly" approach in their rather fetching Altern-8 outfits, whilst some of the more "pro-active" protestors protested about the amount of force the rozzers used trying to stop them terrifying children quietly munching on Happy Meals in Maccy-D's. We were told by megaphoned, bicycle guy that MacDonalds invests in EDO/ITT and are thus very bad people which makes it ok to attack them (instead of say KFC or Burger King who have shares in shetland ponies and kittens).

A team of beach anarchists later staged a rooftop protest at the cafe on Palace Pier, presumably because it's owned by "the man" (not the adversary of the Black Panthers, the other man) and showed him they didn't give a Bel Biv Devoe for his bourgeios ways by spraying paint on the totalitarian coffee house and getting arrested. Smash the state indeed, right on bredrin.

Up on Ditchling Road, some shenanigans were had as a pink, de-motorised car (very eco-warrior), presumably to be used as a battering ram was let loose, almost knocking over several revellers as it hurtled down the street before crashing into a wall. A big shouting match between angry, grey-haired man ("you could'ave fuckin' killed a kid, you fuckin' wanker"), and unsurprisingly posh anarchist who seemed at a bit of a loss to explain the ingratitude of the very proles he had come to liberate from the machinations of the evil corporations. With some hint of irony, Sony recording artists Rage Against the Machine soundtracked the sorry misunderstanding. The car was pulled back up the hill before the pacifists again lost control and crashed into a car that was parked round the corner. It is still unconfirmed whether the car was a mechanism of oppression or just a common or garden planet-killer.

As the day went on, the police indulged in formation dancing with a clearly appreciative german porn star

Six vans and a phalanx of police blocked off the offices of RBS on Preston Park, which the protestors mostly ignored so that they could drink beer on the swings. Realising they were now the other side of town to the Evil Merchants of Death, some wondered whether it might be better to continue northward and declare war on Burgess Hill. This was seen as a good idea by everyone that had been there.

I spoke to an older gent in the park who appeared bemused by the festivities and said it reminded him of the old ruckuses between the mods and rockers in years gone by, but lacking sartorial niceties and with less sense of purpose.

As mentioned in the Indymedia comments section -

"A very inspiring day, and a bloody nose to the forces of oppression!"

Indeed. I'll leave you with a picture of some horses in legwarmers