Analogue and Digital (Part 1)

Electronic music for the twenty-first century

Analord 1 RecordGiven the dominant role of digitally produced sounds in electronic music, it is refreshing to see certain musicians seeking to rediscover the potential of analogue equipment and continuing to push the boundaries of its soundscapes. Challenging the hegemony of the computer in our digital age, the richly textured and intricately crafted aesthetics of Analogue and Digital (a+d) music remind us that amidst our embrace of an often sterile and deterministic virtual world, we risk losing sight of the individuality and emotive qualities that remain firmly grounded in the physical. Perhaps it is the charm of instruments whose tiny individual variations mean that no two pieces of equipment sound quite alike, or in which fluctuations in operating temperature can cause their output to vary over time, that constitutes the significance of one half of the a+d experience, the a.

Records such as the Analord collection (2005) and those released on the Napalm Enema label are some of the best examples. Whilst the Analord records were widely criticized as a money-making scheme, a prank played on over-zealous fans, leaving the commercial aspects of the release to one side it is hard not to appreciate the Analord project as a labour of considerable love. The music is a celebration of the potential offered by analogue instruments and marks a return to a focus on aesthetics and composition which stands in direct opposition to the fetishism of technophilia. An end to privileging the technical aspect of electronic music played a fundamental role in the Analord project; it was achieved by music turning its back on the computer and temporarily relegating technicality in order to shift attention to other aspects such as aesthetics and composition. The resulting music may lack the frenetic energy and increasingly oversaturated technicality that defined the apogee of so-called IDM music, but it is this very minimalism that allows the tracks to stand out as substantial, ornately crafted, and emotionally engaging pieces of music.

Monologue X - Love my style EPAnalord was then, a key part in a major paradigm shift. Yet as the tenth record in the series—and perhaps tellingly the first to be released—showed, in spite of largely shunning technicality, the project was in fact a harbinger of things to come. The Tuss releases of 2007 show some signs of the reintroduction of the technical (e.g. Last Rushup 10), and subsequent releases on Napalm Enema Recordings have shown some signs that a+d music is reaching certain maturity. Consider Monolog X’s Love my style EP, for example: the bassline in X’s Edge, which at times seems to approach the dense timbres of the lower octaves of a grand piano, the prevalence of acid melodies, the tightly packed and dynamic percussion arrangements, all attest to the forging of a new type of electronic music in which the prevalence of analogue aesthetics is paramount. Likewise The Boss EP by Volxsound, notable on account of the creativity of the sounds used, the intricacy of the at times chaotic percussion arrangements, and the evocative and playful melodies. The release closes with the melancholic piano melody of the final track, Mygun acid whose presence brings to mind an album from an altogether different era in electronic music.

Volxsound - The Boss EPWhilst the development of the a+d sound arguably reaches a peak in The Boss EP, when viewed as a whole, the EP lacks the texture and depth of albums such as Drukqs: if the former forms a single plain of more or less consistent intensity,  the latter, full-length album is made up of a plurality of multi-textured and variegated spaces. Whilst Drukqs may have been naively criticized on account of having too much “filler” material, in their lust for technicality such criticisms miss the point: it is precisely the presence of such material that permits the album to work as a whole. Drukqs was notable in the efforts it made to transgress traditional boundaries of electronic music by turning to elements from twentieth century classical music, most notably Cage’s prepared piano and sounds from musique concrète. It was the forging of something new from these components—to say that Drukqs incorporated these elements into electronic music does not do justice to the concept behind the album—which allowed the overall composition to stand out as a monumental piece of music in its own right and one that reaches beyond the ephemera of the genre-orientated subculture from which it was born.

Some years on, certain a+d releases show the possibilities of the space opened up by Drukqs still glimmering in the distance, yet others serve to remind us that whilst the technical and aesthetic aspects may have reached their maturity, the compositional one, at least in terms of macro- or release-level composition—as opposed to micro- or track-level composition—has still to be fully developed. By combining the technical and aesthetic aspects of a+d with more fully developed macro-composition, there exists the potential to develop a substantial music that once again bursts free from the confines of the subculture from which it was born. Yet in a digital era in which intensity and emotion have triumphed over longevity and substantiality, it should be asked whether such aspirations would form an anachronistic anathema to the spirit of the time; or perhaps they would be hints at part of a larger paradigm shift that will come to define the twenty-first century.

 

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