some thoughts on electronic music

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Winslow17's picture
Joined: December 29, 2010

Over on Facebook, of all places, there is an interesting discussion going on, on a page called "Art Fucks Back." It was launched a few weeks ago by Atom TM (aka Atom Heart, Uwe Schmidt, and many other stage names) and some others who are concerned (ie. perplexed and angry) about the seemingly widespread belief that "art should be free." This idea seems to underly many people's acceptance of music-file sharing on the Net, for instance.
Indeed, much of the discussion has centered on the music business and how musicians can, or cannot, make money right now. Atom TM has been quite vocal, here, and has posted some quite interesting comments specifically about electronic music, not just the music biz. Such as these, which showed up in part of a thread triggered by someone's post of a YouTube video showing Theodor Adorno talking about music and protest:

-- "when techno then was called techno, it just turned into another cacophony of the herd! i'm calling for a total reset of electronic music!!!"

-- "yes, let's start all over! it went so wrong during the 90s...OMG!"

How do we start, someone asks. Atom tm: "from noise :)," "or from a sine wave," "mathematics!,"

Someone asks, "which algorithm hasnt been already applied to some kind of electronic music?"

Atom tm: "the simple ones!" And then, this:

"i think the problem with nowadays electronic music is, that elements which in the beginning had to be carved out of electricity (first electronic drum sounds, and so on) soon became "standards" and "presets", some sort of "second level". those "presets" are all there...millions of them, which make it unnecessary to carve your own stuff out of electricity. the core principle of electronic music, which is the creation of sound, texture and structure out of analogue or digital technology, has has just turned into another "standard". i am astonished about how much, theoretically, we could do with nowadays sound design technology, as compared to what is actually done with it: "minimal" or "noodling patches" seem to be the limit of our imagination."

Admittedly, I am a big fan of this guy's music and schtick. But it occurred to me that working in AudioMulch means pretty much no presets - a blank slate - and while that means more challenge, in a way, it also means more opportunity.

The AFB page is here:

paradiddle's picture
Joined: June 24, 2009

It's funny. Personally I always start over when doing a piece in audiomulch. I always start with a basic sound such has an osc, noise or sample and build layers from there. Guess I start all over each time. hehehe

Anyway about the state of electronic music. I guess there's pure exploratory electronic music or genre based electronic music which I don't mind listening to it but it's not really interesting to do. Artists doing genre based music seem to focus on getting their mix sounding better , louder or catchier melodies as opposed to exploring new avenues soundwise without trying to fit in a certain mold. I would definitely get bored doing the same thing all the time. Not much creativity imo.

Anyway, I haven't heard everything out there and I'm sure there's a lot of undiscovered gems waiting to be heard.

Winslow17's picture
Joined: December 29, 2010

Me, too. I start from scratch all the time, and I rarely go back to old patches in AM.

Just FYI, here is an interview with Atom TM in which he talks at some length about electronic music - strange lighting, but interesting discussion:

paradiddle's picture
Joined: June 24, 2009

Thanks for the link. I don't necessarily share all his views but it's an interesting interview nonetheless.

Ross B.
Ross B.'s picture
Joined: April 11, 2009

That's pretty interesting stuff. I'm not on FB so I can't look at the original thread. I've discussed the idea of Presets a lot in relation to AudioMulch. I'm inclined to agree with Uwe when he talks about presets:

"those "presets" are all there...millions of them, which make it unnecessary to carve your own stuff out of electricity."

That's a big reason why I'm reluctant to ship AM with presets. Even though that's what many consumers have come to expect of music software. So in one way, it's kind-of commercial suicide to not do it. But we try to focus energy on example patches and educating people in how to make stuff themselves.

I agree that there's a second-order thing going on where people use presets like they use sound-samples of other music. That can be creative, or not.

Then he mentions:

"the core principle of electronic music""

Uwe's idea of a kind of electronic music (or mathematical) purism, of carving your own stuff out of electricity, is an extreme position. It's a position I'm pretty open to. But it's not the only one. For example, you could argue that it is very inward looking, medium-centric focus, and ignores cultural context, or that physical interaction might be more important than electrons, or that music is more about the experience of listening than the mental act of creation.

Personally I'm more interested in carving something out of the raw materials of the imagination, and how that is experienced by the listener. Electrons (or bits) are a means to an end.

Clearly there is limited creativity in selecting a preset. But if the music works, presumably the creativity is located elsewhere.

Winslow17's picture
Joined: December 29, 2010

You're not missing a great deal, Ross, in not seeing the full Facebook discussion. I cherry-picked a few of the more interesting comments from a page that actually contains lots of blather and links from individuals promoting their own creations, etc. And the comments I selected were, as you can tell, fairly extreme, quick, witty blips posted to make a point.

I will try to pass along some more tidbits if they seem interesting or relevant.

Al Magnifico
Al Magnifico's picture
Joined: June 24, 2009

Seems Mr. Schmidt is gettiong old and is not in touch any more with recent electronic music developments. Listen to this (for instance!) this is quite up to date elaborated sound design: and I could give him many more examples.

Some years ago I stumbled upon the Manifesto by Matthew Herbert: I think this is an interesting point. Especially point 6 lets me think, that a newly inserted contraption should have no default parameter settings as is it now but randomized parameters.

Winstontaneous's picture
Joined: October 25, 2011

I dunno. I'm not for or against presets. I see them as cultural artifacts like a poem, recipe, song, or painting...a window into someone's creative process. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I don't, often a preset will inspire a musical/sonic path I wouldn't have otherwise taken. Taking apart a patch by one of the greats--Tim Conrardy, Richard Devine, Simon Stockhausen, Howard Scarr, Harm Visser, Roland Kuit--usually teaches me more about a given synth than reading the manual for a few hours. I also find it hilarious when people complain about presets but crank out formulaic genre pieces by the boatload.

Once you go down the "preset purist" route, you should probably be writing your own programs in your own languages on your own self-built computers running on your own personal power grid, just to be sure you're working with virgin algorithms and untainted electrons ;-)

I love the "blank-slateness" of AudioMulch...I almost always patch from scratch, as I do with VAZ Modular, my favorite VST. More often then not I initialize devices in Reason, too, and use my own samples.

revo11's picture
Joined: March 7, 2011

I highly recommend the recent tape-op interview with squarepusher. For once they asked some really good, philosophically-challenging questions about electronic music (sequencing vs. musicianship, development vs. composition) and Tom gave some pretty thought provoking responses. I'm not even a huge squarepusher fan, but someone at his depth has thought about these things a lot.

jonah's picture
Joined: September 13, 2010

I point a finger more at sequencing than presets. :) Most stuff sounds so overworked, but I don't blame the tools. Although, it's funny that the major selling point of music software to the consumer is that it'll prevent you from failing in various ways (pitch, timing, interesing sounds, ease of use, hi-fi, etc.) and it's is probably the worst thing you can do for the actual quality of the music.

I wonder if some of it has to do with the anonymus criticism that the net fosters where people are afraid to be authentic for fear of getting attacked by strangers. It does seem like there is a real extreme where most people put out "noodles" or (uhhhgg) gear + preset demos or stuff that is safe and bland. It feels like we are in an ultra conservative era.  Playing live, mistakes and all is the only solution I can think of. Maybe then we could get music fan back rather than spectacle fans....

Winstontaneous's picture
Joined: October 25, 2011

@ Jonah - That's an interesting point about sequencing.

I play a wide variety of instruments: bass, piano/keys, guitar, synth, vox, percussion. I'd say my bass playing is pro-level, the others are works in progress...good enough to be a utility player in a band, or execute parts for things I write in a reasonable amount of takes.

When I actively started releasing stuff about a year and a half ago I did a bit of soul-searching and decided to put out things with mistakes, if they represented a soulful, honest performance. Especially with "real instruments" there's something about the feel of a complete take, even if they are little issues keeping it from being "perfect." That's not to say I don't or won't comp, sequence, or quantize...but that I view those as creative decisions to make on a case-by-case basis.

It's not like I'm signed or widely known outside my little circle of friends/collaborators, and what I'm saying only applies to stuff I release under my own name. For other peoples' projects, I'm totally open to their needs/expectations regarding "perfection." And I keep learning about pitch/time "correction" and other digital tricks as a way of continually improving my game.

I must say that buying/digging into AudioMulch has been a turning point for me, in terms of not feeling like I always need to see a waveform or have an entire performance sequenced/automated down to the last detail. It's opened me to quickly making decisions, committing them to an audiofile, and moving on.