1.11.2009

Minimal as Prog Notes

Half-thoughts and improvisations:

1.  The minimal-as-prog idea has been rolling around in my head for a long time, and it really began a few years ago when I got a computer again and started to read the forums. The intense belief in long, seamless blends that is and was prominent on minimal forums gave me flashbacks to the way in which Sasha was valorized a decade ago.

2.  The advent of digital DJing technology frees up a lot of time a DJ would use to beat match, but this technology has not created a legion of people stepping beyond Walter Gibbons, Derrick May, Jeff Mills, etc. Where are the tension-building re-edits? The acapellas layered over drum tracks The quick inter-channel flipping? Most DJs seem to take advantage of this technology to either perform the seamless blends maligned above, or cut the records into indistinguishable bits and take all of the tension and contrast out of the night. If I were using Final Scratch or Ableton, I would try and sound like Derrick May if he grew six more arms!

3.  According to RF, anyone who does not go out regularly in Europe does not understand how ubiquitous minimal has become.

4.  The most tiresome aspect of being on online music production forums are the constant threads where young producers ask for advice on how to mimic their favorite producers. I have begun to see that happening more and more with minimal. When new producers start prioritizing aping others as opposed to developing their own sounds, the records, well, record the result. Reading those sorts of posts always frustrates me. There is a vast difference between wanting to learn how Villalobos made a certain sound vs. wanting to sound exactly like Villalobos.

4+. There is a weird resignation evident on these forums where anyone who still feels some sort of reverence towards the Modernist ideal of at least attempting to do something unique, if not new, responds to the more cynical "I want to sound like my favorite minimal producer NOW (and I will buy whatever it takes!)!" threads. Either they will try lecture the original poster about those ideals, and will end up coming off as some old hippie lecturing the "kids" on How It Used To Be, or they will cynically point the original poster in the wrong direction.

4++.  The idea of "the kids" is an important one when discussing hardcore past and present. I get the impression that the original disjunction between proper house and techno heads and ravers in the early 90s was partially based on age. Part of Reynolds' critique of the "defenders of the proper" seems to implicitly or explicitly call out these older DJs, producers and punters on their inability to recognize the innovation that was going on within the rave scene. But what happened in rave was that the "average punter" was seeking out the weird, the strange, the extreme. Given the recorded output of that period, it seems that to be the cool producer on your block, you had to to combine as many formerly un-combinable elements as possible. There was an inadvertent avant-garde-ism that was not weighed down by the legacy of European and American Art Theory. Given the evidence from production forums above, which, although I do not cite evidence, is voluminous and easily found, the intentions of the "young and 'avin it" are totally different. Because minimal, like progressive, is a scene that is independent from yet completely contingent on history, and especially the above-average knowledge of musical past on the part of the average club-goer, the "new blood" in the scene seems to end up killing it by refining out all of the references that the older producers put into their tracks. So on the one hand, you could say the kids are to blame by not knowing their history, but I disagree (though I think the rampant cynicism evident throughout the world of music is something to discuss!).

5.  Instead of blaming the kids, it may be more fruitful to examine the way a genre like minimal  is built. It is inbred, weak, but peculiar, whereas other genres, like straight-up bangin' NY house are strong, but somewhat banal. The strong genres have maybe a more typical life, vibrant when they start off, and slowly tailing off into repetition as they age. Other genres are more like mutants, with shorter and more unpredictable life cycles. They may seem resilient when they are kept in the house (ie amongst the connoisseurs who created them or who have a more direct interest in their survival), but once they go out, they are easily corrupted and die.  

5+.  Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough, but the above is not some bullshit "money/mainstream success/popularity kills unique things" sort of argument. It is not inevitable. The idea is more that genetic mutations within a species may be more vulnerable (and sometimes even more resilient) than more typical examples of a species.

6.  Another way of seeing it:  Tolstoy once famously said that all happy families are alike, and all unhappy ones different, and in its own way. The unhappy genres, born of dissatisfaction, of a desire to try something new, whatever, are safe inside their own dysfunctional family, but once they crossover into the wider world, they have three options: adapt, and lose their integrity, continue to suffer without ever really fitting in, remake the world entirely in their image, or die.  

Anyways, enough for now. Some of the above needs further development and revision, but not tonight!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

what examples of the "happy genres" would you name?

:-p said...

Good question. Popular house, electro- or prog- or otherwise, current forms of euro-dance, hi-NRG, etc. seem to not go through the pains of growth and change like the more "underground" variants. Looking through magazines, blog, message boards, etc., the discourse of deep and authentic versus fake does not seem to happen. There is no expectation that the music has to change drastically, has to have some sort of avant-garde attitude. For better or worse, the music stays mostly the same with sporadic updates in style but not necessarily content. The music is for pleasure and not discourse.