Re: Prix Ars Digital Musics results

Subject: Re: Prix Ars Digital Musics results
From: DC Mckinnon (
Date: Sun May 30 1999 - 09:05:40 EDT

On Sat, 29 May 1999, Alexandra Hettergott wrote:

> (2) The minority-majority (youth) problem : well, I do always have problems with
> excluding others, I confess, be it the majority... Why rhythm, dance etc. should be
> necessarily bad(er) or (euphemistically circumscribed) all too "redundant", and does
> the opposite suggestion implied really is true ? No redundancy ever in "orthodox" EA
> ? Yet given the absolute profound only ? Moreover, the 1999' results do yet not imply
> the future rigorous abandonment of all "the 'abstractions' of spectromorphological
> properties and potentialities" you mention, which does/will (and fortunately !) still
> have its platform.

I wasn't intending to imply that music which operates with a high level
of redundancy (as the term is used in information theory) such as dance
oriented music is bad - but I do feel the codes which govern such music to be
very much at odds with most EA and its generally lower level of musical
redundancy. High redundancy in music can be a point of departure for
musical adventures which don't slavishly adhere to the fetish for
repetition and the state of instant familiarity it makes possible (you've
already heard it once, it does what you expect it to, you know where you
are...) - the work of Panasonic (now Pansonic) is a fantastic example -
not to mention old school mimimalism...

> (3) The aesthetic problem : which is certainly the most difficult point in your
> statement ; applying this term to the musical past only certainly is incorrect in
> this respect ; our listening behavior and expectations did change a lot in the, let's
> say, last fifty years, and today the notion of aesthetics is more individual as
> ever... If aesthetics is (personal) "pleasure", just as a supposition, why not (also)
> the very pleasure of the youth who apparently likes moving to music (ever and again).
> Only no-purpose music is "real" music ?

Again I wasn't attempting to devalue the dance/electronica centred
present, or to suggest that it lacks an aesthetic, but rather to say that
I feel its aesthetic values to be diametrically opposed to those of EA.
Prix Ars jury member Kodwo Eshun rejects what he calls the 'trad sublime' and
its romantic notion of originating genius in favour of a musical aesthetic
centred on what he calls sonic fictions. Fictions built out of a process of
bricolage and assemblage, in which meaning emerges
through recontextualisation, and tied to a machinic consciousness
to which danceable rhythm pumps blood (perhaps this ought to be motoric
rather than machinic consciousness?). Music under the aegis of such an
aethetic can work only if it uses found objects (samples) in a relatively
untransformed state because the meaning of the music is literary or
filmic rather than 'absolutely' musical - meaning is contructed
through the cultural resonance of the samples used. On the one hand this
is akin to soundscape work (the soundscape as found object loaded with
cultural resonance) and the work of many EA composers whose musical
language is a less abstract one. But on the other hand the aesthetics of
'sonic fiction' is entirely opposed to the language of EA beacuse as soon as
one decides to get all acousmatic and start buggering about with the
spectromorphological potential of a sound then the cultural resonance of
that sound (its extrinsic value - if I remember Smalley's terminolgy
correctly) goes out the window - or at very least is abstracted and
obscured - at which point we start talking about referentiality.
Furthermore, EA is still largely a displine which is about the individual
as originating genius, working to create a gestalt in which the frisson
that gives a work its uniqueness is all about the discourse of the work
as a whole rather than the meta-discourse which emerges as found objects
rub against each other (frisson or frottage!?).

The codes of EA and sonic fiction are, it appears to me,
fundamentally opposed. Both have their own merits and offer their own
pleasures, and, despite Eshun's eagerness to reject it, both often are
about the trad sublime - trascendence - whether it be on the
dancefloor or in the diffusion space (the major difference being what
you're under the influence of?). But on the whole neither side seems
willing to explore the aesthetic of the other because to do necessarily
requires sacrificing (to a greater or lesser extent) the aesthetic values one
is familiar with. To me a real sonic fiction would be one which was all about
mutation rather than assemblage. Perhaps I'm positing a kind of musical
gene-mod operation - but if so I'm not into eugenics either - instead bring
on the outcasts who have created themselves!

I do think that a forum like Prix Ars is necessary and desireable but
it's just that in its hipper-than-thou way it remains so conservative.
And in the end isn't this what most revolutions are about?

Dugal McKinnon

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