Analogue and Digital (Part 2)

Cover: Analog Music 4 Digital PeopleIf one half of analogue and digital music is defined by the decision of a certain lineage of electronic music to turn its back on the technocracy inherent to digital production techniques, the other, made explicit in the title of the Monolog X release Analog Music 4 Digital People, has been its embrace of an aspect fundamental to the time in which we live: the demise of the physical medium. As such, analogue and digital music can be interpreted as a response to a new age in which the digital file format, the intangible product of a new setup that hacks away at the clout of the big labels and the cult of the collector in one fell swoop, reigns supreme. Only the artists and the communities they create are left standing, with little opportunity for industry to directly fill or commoditise the spaces in between. The landscape has been dramatically altered.

A direct consequence of this fact, and one that could not be fully realised until physical formats had been rendered all but obsolete by a far more ubiquitous medium, is that communities and niches that were once presencial and local, together with the scenes and fan bases that sprung up around club nights, record shops and those who frequented them, have become both virtual and global: on-line networks dispersed across the Internet in which innovations grounded in different countries and cultures are free to mix much more fluidly, unconstrained by geographical boundaries. To employ one of postmodernity’s most well-worn clichés, music has become decentred: analogue and digital is perhaps as much about artists in the United States and Sweden as it is about those from its birthplace in the British Isles.

As a movement, it brings together a series of decidedly low-key, polymorphous artists, releasing their work under different aliases and using personal websites and small-scale net labels to reach their public. Perhaps it is this lack of physical identity (or at the very least an interesting consequence of it) which means that the cult of personality that grew to be so pronounced around certain big names of a previous era now appears undesired, if not wholly irrelevant. The emphasis has returned to the music itself.

Herein we find what constitutes perhaps one of the greatest strengths of analogue and digital: no longer able to rely on crutches such as reputation and profile to guide their tastes, freed from the quality control of traditional record labels, listeners are challenged to make their own judgements about the music they hear. Releases no longer come pre-judged and privileged because they bear the name of a certain artist; innovation and creativity are to be sought out and discovered, not inherited or given. In this sense, analogue and digital can be viewed as a reinvention of a certain tradition in electronic music, actively seeking to abandon a structure that ultimately grew to stifle creativity and represent a paradigm in which it was easier to imitate than innovate. One cannot help but feel that part of the idea behind the enterprise was to create something of a clean slate on which to experiment and produce innovative music once again; similarly, perhaps it is not entirely unreasonable to suggest that the low profile, flimsy identities of certain artists may act as a clever safeguard to maintain this balance.

Yet the reliance on a digital community of listeners is not without its shortfalls, the most obvious being in the discovery of the music itself. While in theory, music released on the Internet is available to all, it is also true that the low-key nature of the enterprise renders it somewhat inaccessible to those who remain outside of its core community. In this respect, listeners left to discover the music by chance are perhaps more likely not to discover it at all, and it is questionable whether a more mature generation of listeners will have the time and energy to expend on joining a series of dots, which on more than one occasion would seem to actively resist such an endeavour.

One of the most obvious consequences of this is in terms of momentum: with such limited exposure, it can be challenging to build the momentum of such a project, raising the possibility that analogue and digital will struggle to grow beyond being more than just a niche. There is, it would seem, a tension between the scale of the scene that preceded analogue and digital, endowing it the means to achieve that vital symbiosis between impact and a large community of listeners, and the reticence of this new music to follow suit. It might be interesting to reflect then, whether this is an aspect that leaves the genre in danger of being forgotten before it has even been discovered.

This leads into a second and final point: the issue of longevity. While there is no doubting the excellence of many analogue and digital tracks in terms of their technical, aesthetic and compositional dimensions, for the large part they remain releases of short tracks, adept exercises in microcomposition that still fall short of the artistic maturity and strident vision offered by an album such as Drukqs. This point had already been noted part one of this article, however it is interesting to raise it again in a different context, posing the question as to whether there is something inherently ephemeral in digital technology, whether as a mode of expression it is capable of supporting the substantial and complex ideas that have been so essential to the development of our civilisation.

One might remark that perhaps analogue and digital musicians, or even the genre itself, have no pretentions of pursuing such lofty ambitions; yet in this respect, they undoubtedly sell themselves short. If ‘digital people’ and their faculties of comprehension are unable to appreciatethe substantial, this is not to say that our creative possibilities should be limited thus; in fact, quite the contrary.

Nonetheless, analogue and digital music presents us with a kind of creative tension: an attempt to redress the balance between the potential of the digital era and the empowerment it brings on the one hand, and its dominance in our lives, which threatens to reduce a substantial part of our consciousness, thoughts, feelings and the creative possibilities through which they are expressed, to strings of ones and zeros on the other. In this respect, it should be duly commended as a serious if occasionally carnivalesque attempt at engaging with this tension, retaining something of the warmth and substantiality of the physical world while embracing the dazzling possibilities offered by the brave new digital one we are in the process of forging.

 

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