callan \ blog

 |  high tension, high anxiety

where to start with this?

I pity people who universally dislike, or refuse to listen to or attempt to understand, electronic music. In my experience, there's a lot of folks who equate it with shoe shopping or brostep or mindless shoot-'em-ups or, I dunno, the Weather Channel or QVC. They prefer a human at the center or things, or more organic instrumentation, or in the worst cases refuse to acknowledge the degree to which the average pop song - dancebeat-driven or otherwise - is a piece of electronic music. The minute anything synthesized hits their eardrums, they bemoan the computerization of it, the unfeeling of it, the robotic unpersonable coldness of it.

As a synthesist myself, I'm not unbiased in this conversation, but I'd argue that electronic music is deeply human; in many cases, more human and more rich and dense with feeling than a good amount of other genres. Done right, it's expressive and thoughtful and emotional in ways that are deliberate and specifically crafted. With certain samples, patches, voices, and motifs, it can channel memories and stories, both real & personal and external & fictional. With finesse, it can evoke the most celebratory and melancholy moments of a life, or the most triumphant or revelatory or maudlin scenes of a film.

The number and variety of synthesizers invented to date - both physical and virtual, plus musical programming languages like PureData and Chuck - is staggering. I wonder if there is another instrument with as many iterations and repackagings and rethinkings as the synthesizer. Many synths are samplers, too - they serve as collections of manipulable samples of recordings of "real" instruments - and so it's even harder to think of a class of instruments that's nearly as boundlessly open to reinterpretation and imagination.

This is a stupidly highfalutin intro leading up to the main point of this post, which is that since I saw him perform on Monday night, Oneohtrix Point Never has been on the mind lately. In particular, Garden of Delete, his most recent release; more particuarly still, the track "Mutant Standard," which is an eight-minute exercise in synthetic emotional rollercoastering that veers around rabidly from gentle ambient clearings to almost silly arcade game motifs to cheesily triumphant stadium trance to nerve-wracking paranoid techno. Maybe I'm just a crazy person, but I feel like it encapsulates the attention-fractured push-me-pull-you careering overwhelmingness of multitracked 21st century life.

I've been having a tough time staying on top of all of my work, personal, and in-between obligations and assignments lately, and I'd attribute that to the following:

...just for a start. "Mutant Standard" is, to me, this wild rendering of the feelings that seep from the festering heap of all that,
/plus the flicker of lights and torn-away logged-off silence that thankfully articulate themselves here and there (a weekend getaway to the Cape for friends' birthdays; a night of chocolate martinis),
/plus hours spent slogging through one's own technical knowledge and what's on the web in a failed attempt to rescue a malfunctioning smartphone,
/plus dreaming of a job where VR equipment could make its way into the collection development budget,
/plus slipping and falling on a restaurant floor,
/plus tumbling through night air on a neighborhood park swing,
/plus a glitching display atop a city bus,
/plus the rambling vagrant on the subway,
/plus the cruel irony in alternating warnings of the end of late-night public transit with Uber ads,
/plus not sleeping and early-morning interface nightmares of browsers with infinite tabs open,
/plus summer-sunlit memories of doing stupid stuff in the woods during middle school,
/plus opaque algorithms that contine to churn cilantro apple juice beer butter with the human-slop of a distorting, inconsistent world used as inputs.

This song feels like an ode to the long now and the short forever. Everything at once. Somebody's ideal future marching on. A convergence that's all-encompassing and impossible to stave off. The world inside and out changes and grows, less and less recognizable as it goes, just like you and me and all of us little mutants, I guess. I leave whatever this is with a quote from Jaron Lanier's Who Owns the Future? - a book not without its flaws, mind you:

"Once the ground rules of life are changed, you no longer have the ability to understand what you might have forgotten from a previous incarnation. No adult really knows what was lost in the process of growing up, because the adult brain cannot quite realize the mentality in which childhood memories are fully meaningful. With that level of change comes a kind of partial death. The transition from childhood to adulthood is a natural example, but technological change has put successive generations of adults through similarly intense artificial disruptions."

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Hey Cal, why is there no comments section? Comments sections have a tendency to devolve into nasty little spaces, teeming with spam & ad hominem attacks. I also have a fondness for the 1.0 Web (props to Neocities, powerer of this site). If you'd like to share your thoughts, find me on Twitter or fire off an email. Thanks!