Electronic music is the most exciting and revolutionary thing that happened to music in the last 500 years. Plain and simple. Beyond genres and styles, its very own nature has meant —and still means— a radical reformulation of how we think of music, how we make music and, ultimately, what music is. But why?
In the “Why Electronic Music is so f**king great” series we’ll see… well, why electronic music is so f**king great through some of the music paradigm shifts it has meant during its first 100 years.
Electronic music is cold and soulless
And that’s OK (part 1)
When you are an electronic music producer, you become used to get a wide variety of bulls**t. From the usual, kind of naïve “You are not a ‘real’ musician, right? I mean, is the computer that does everything, isn’t it?” — Yeah, sure, I just push the magic button and everything gets done: ta-da! — to the far more exasperating “Oh, electronic music … So you’re a DJ, right?”
Of all the nonsense you got to heard, there is this one assertion that I found particularly annoying: “I don’t like electronic music because it’s cold and soulless.”
“Cold.” “Soulless.” Well, of course it is! Electronic music was never meant to be “warm.” It was not supposed to have a soul. Actually, that was its main point. At least, originally.
Electronic music was born as an alternative path for modern music. Not an evolution, but a rupture. It was not part of a tradition. It had no precedents and it was not linked to anything beyond a few connections with the post-Darmstadt European contemporary music scene of the 1950’s.
As explained in a previous post, electronic music was born out of a very specific technological context. It didn’t respond to a popular claim; people were not asking for it. Actually, they didn’t even know that such thing could exist. It was an invention made by technological agents, like engineers and scientists, and avantgarde artists. Although their intention was to make ‘music,’ as conceived in a traditional way, this music had to be conceptually brand new. Just like the machines they were using and their sounds.
This is quite obvious when you take a look to vintage electronic music titles. Most of them are descriptive of the sound itself: “Etude aux chemins de fer” (Pierre Schaeffer, 1948); “Reverberation” (Vladimir Ussachevsky, 1952), “Low Speed” (Otto Luening, 1952). Others refer to a fantasy projection of the music: “Imaginary Landscape No.1” (John Cage, 1939); “Poème Électronique” (Edgar Varèse, 1958); “Gesang der Junglinge” (Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1956); “Silver Apples of The Moon” (Morton Subotnik, 1967). None of the song titles talk about human feelings or emotions. There is no drama.
Self-referentialism and image abstraction are also common in classical and contemporary music — from the “Concert for Violin and Piano” kind of thing to the “Quatuor pour La Fin du Temps”-like poetic licenses. But unlike classical and contemporary music, electronic music trascended its elite origins into pop culture. And that’s where the coldness began.
Pop music’s imaginary was mostly based on feelings and hormonal ruckus. Its main lyrical core is the typical boy-meets-girl and all its possible variations: boy-breaks up-with-girl, girl-cheats-on-boy, boy-kills-girl, etc. Until THEM.