Friday, January 11, 2008

Machine Music in an Age of Sweat

The following is an extract from 'Machine Music in an Age of Sweat' an article by Fishtoe published in the Glasgow-based libertarian magazine Here & Now, no.16/17, 1996. In a way it is typical of some of the breathless writing from that time, when in the excitement of new intensities of noise and sweat the North West Passage seemed to have been found that would bypass all previous political and cultural efforts via the dancefloor. Also here is the dawning of the realization that maybe the moment was passing, or maybe the moment is always already passing... just as it is always already becoming for the next unjaded person coming along.

Techno is re-routed machinery. It is not metaphoric. It does not show us what could be achieved in the real world. It is a practical example of the seizure of the means of production, in this case weapons technology and found sounds; and the transformation of intended purposes through a technique of melting juxtaposi­tions. The reality produced by techno machines is radically different and the vistas of possibility opened up are far wider than that envisioned by those who advocate the seizure of state power, or workers' control. The shaping of mass behaviour through the generation of aural ambiences is of greater significance for free desiring production than anything dreamed of through imposed political directives.

Techno is hardness. It forbids the seepage of humanity into its impervious structure. It is pure grounding, without mediated spirits disguising its nature. It is without representation, there are no mirrors. Movement must always be away from it. It is an architecture, shaping the possible movements and consciousness of those who skate its grooves. Techno is a surface.

However a certain slackness has appeared at the centre of the techno project, a contentment that reduces it to less than shopping mall muzak (a form that at least fulfils its own function, causing distraction from itself and attracting attention to its visual perception). For music to be negative it was usually enough to rely on loudness and speed, flooding received behaviour with tempo­rary excitations which would override the reality principle. Any other formula must be considered affirmative in its relation to social production, only extremity is true. The Future Sound of London are most prominent in the unreserved positivity felt by techno-groups towards the technology used. This is compounded by a seepage of good vibes generally into ambient; New Age affirmations of spirituality strain upwards towards the light, severing all awareness of anal capital, such anti-materialisms are the essence of cringeful vulgarity.

That dance culture which is entirely celebratory in structure should reconstitute negativity is an unforeseen perversity that certainly has nothing to do with intent, or the political opinions of the people participating. In fact the dawning political conscious­ness of techno may be taken to be its formal capitulation into affirmative culture; in adopting political discourse it finds itself subject to the forces that generate it.

Amongst the harsh landscapes of junglist drums and bass, the wistful post-war drone of synths, the fragments of sound after the humans have left. Machined ambience, always melancholic, feels the absence of swarming human proliferation over its structures and can only connect to the dancing as those who are entirely alien to each other can, in a kind of mutual excited colonisation. Like all art ­forms it intuitively recognises its connection to a post-apocalypse; formalism is a process of exclusion and refinement - it denies the excess of the real world through clear lines, holding it back behind temporary artificial limits. The faculties of perception are tuned to engage more fully with the world as it floods back in and engulfs.

Language, the human presence does not belong in techno, only snatched, disembodied phrases which remind us that we are always in crowds, that our reality is always socially generated. Voices may swirl up from the depths of machine drums but they say nothing, their randomness is their effect. It is a music that does not participate in ideologies or representations but is a generating ground, literally a background. Human action occurs entirely in the foreground, across the surfaces which stretch out, against a backdrop of noise which determines movement in the simplest of base and superstructure models. Dancers connect into the archi­tectural ambience of pure function in an unmediated reality. This is an economy of sweat; what was once a demeaning sign labour, the mark of a limit to the possession of the means of production and thus the time to enjoy the products of that labour, is now a free currency spent in a relation of pleasure. So many signs are dissolved in the reversal, supersession and forgetting of mediated object/subject relations that it's possible to observe a fleeting body which in shorting sign-systems becomes a thing itself.

The weakness of techno lies in the adoption of a formulaic criteria for the reproduction of this intensity, attempting to hold on to it, and not continue to alter its boundaries. Extremity lapses into this year's melody. The wholesale embrace of technology, of spurious New Age spiritualisms, marks the loss of the thing for itself, and the return of producing for the ear. Its the re­penetration of the human in terms of quality, a rigid formulation of easily digested cliches, and the collapse back into the arena of art. What does not occur is the rigorous dispersal of the discoveries of techno, of the relations of aural ambient architecture and unmediated behaviour, into everyday life.

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