Monday, December 17, 2012

drummage: further background reading

Interesting to read the Beinhorn / Carducci take on interdependent playing / multidimensional simultaneity alongside Britt Brown's fascinating essay in the Wire  2012 Rewind issue, which looks at the rise to dominance of the solo artist in underground music.

A bunch of factors have converged here. Economics: the smaller the recording unit and performing unit, the greater the chance of surviving financially in current adverse conditions. Digital technology: the availability of cheap facilitation software (digital audio workstations etc) that encourages an artist to play all the parts and that allow for defective or uninspired performances to be corrected or jazzed up using editing, tweaking, filtering, etc. And the internet:  while that comes into play more in terms of distribution (the artist-as-label phenomenon) it arguably fosters a non-interdependent mindset, so that it's literally do-it-yourself all the way through the process, as opposed to do-it-ourselves. 

 As Brown notes, "before the net achieved such absolute supremacy in contemporary society, music was still largely perceived as requiring some sort of interpersonal engagement to reach fruition."  What was once the exception -- something unusual, comment-worthy, e.g. Steve Tibbetts -- has now become increasingly predominant and taken for granted.  (The reason it was once unusual was because it required not just multi-instrumentalist skills but also a flair for production and engineering at a time when the technology was not particularly user-friendly). 

Obviously there are upsides to an individual having total control of all aspects of the creative process (including presentation and packaging). A singular vision can be realised with an obsessive perfectionism, then put out into the world without compromise. As Brown acknowledges, in certain kinds of music--dance and electronic--the solo artist has been the predominant mode for a long while.  At the same time it is true that things can happen in the group situation that don't happen solo, certain kinds of creative synergy or friction (those proverbial "musical differences" that must resolve or synthesise in some way; emotional and power dynamics). One of those things that is generated in the group context is "vibe", the focus of this drum circle.

* Of course not every "interpersonal" and "interdependent" musical situation generates this precious spark. Most bands won't get close. Increasingly, these days I suspect, it's not even a goal;  they're not aware it is absent. At the same time, the solo artist + machines can create something akin to vibe: a sort of heightened ersatz that at once surpasses and falls short of what can be done by live musicians together. Other producer-as-artists achieve vibe by a kind of vampiric siphoning. Effectively they groove with ghosts, commune with the absent presences of rhythmic others from remote times and places: vibes laid down in real-time, real-space sessions long ago,  then engraved into vinyl,  where they lay dormant until sampled and reactivated. Ace producers like Vibert or Dilla are seance masters, leaders of imaginary superbands recruited from the archive.  The proof of this dependency on the analogue past is that samplers rarely sample from sample-based music, or indeed from programmed music. Generally they turn to hand-played music, the richest deposits of which are to found in the Seventies, when the peaks of analogue recording and of small-band groove-oriented music coincided.