Thursday, March 18, 2010

I noticed a curious equivocation in the press release for Contact, Love, Want, Have

"While on the face of it the album seems to traverse a number of retro-futurist styles, including dubstep, UK funky and garage, 80s synth pop and computer game soundtracks, it remains totally contemporary, coherent and focused, making the idea of restraining [Ikonika] to a single genre irrelevant"

That sleight of rhetoric struck me as emblematic for the music of Now (not just the nuum-not-nuum/nu-IDM/nuum-IDM sector, but electronic dance music as a whole, and possibly most left-field music--but that would be too big a topic to address at the present).

"On the face of it"--what does that mean in this context? This being music, it must refer to "the sound-surface as it directly presents itself to the listener's ears." So the first half of the sentence is saying "well audio-wise it's, you know, recombinant bizniz yeah?" But there's this immediate pivot to the assertion that, in some way that we can't quite pinpoint or articulate but nonetheless insist on, it's groundbreaking, pushing the envelope,etc.

You get this kind of slippage in reviews of dance music all the time (which often consist in greater part of intricate breakdowns of the dance-historical sources and components that the track or artist's style or sub-sub-subgenre assembles itself out of). Nobody ever really gets around to explaining how something can be retro-futurist/recombinant and yet contemporary/original at the same time (the closest anyone's got would be various writings by Rouge's Foam -- perhaps he could have a go with Ikonika?).

The equivocation in the press release does actually capture precisely the equivocal reaction I have listening to the album and most other things in its genre-not-genre, which combines being impressed ("well this is relentlessly intelligent, well-made, etc") with nagging reservations about the fact that you are never actually smacked in the face with the feeling "this is utterly new," "never heard anything like this before" and so forth.

A common aesthetic strategy that pervades the glutted/clotted era (and that extends beyond dance music for sure) is the artist who avoids having one influence by having lots of influences--so that there's no single lineage you can be gen(r)ealogically traced back to and placed within, no specific forebear that puts you in shadow. Now you could call that being multifaceted/open-minded/poly-whatever; certainly fusion can lead to the forging of new compounds. Too often though, it just means that the artist in question is diversely derivative.

What I get off even the most inventive and energised nuum-not-nuum stuff is a sense of these potent musical intellects struggling to find exit routes to a beyond, to terra incognita. Hence the peculiar quality of hyperactive evasiveness to things like Untold: the music shuttles back and forth within a kind of grid-space of influences and sources, never settling into genre-icity, yet remaining a long way short of being limitless (there are areas that are off limits to it).

The word that springs to mind for this restless sensation--for this Moment in music--is hyperstasis.

Perhaps if there wasn't such a lot of hype about its output, the sensation of vague dissatisfaction induced by it wouldn't be so pronounced.