Re: Techno, ahem, Electronic music

J de Lyser (
Wed, 1 Jan 1997 16:34:25 +0100

Steve Witham wrote:

>To me, the perfect irony is when you express both sides of something--
>get enjoyment out of both sides--in this case the perverse joy of silly
>technology as well as the, well, the perversity of it--without having to
>make exaggerated raised eyebrows or smirks. Being either "pro" or "anti"
>would be boring.

Ok, Kraftwerk may have been somewhat in the middle, allthough i still think
they were leaning towards the Anti-side... (computerworld). But there are
many more examples of electronic bands that were more obviously against:
Nucleus computer age, Fad gadget's back to nature etc etc, todays techno or
electronic music has lost the anti technology meme, and there are many
examples of pro, some also expressing it in ironic forms, but with the
admiration dripping from it.

>From: J de Lyser <>:
>>[...] i think Max meant here that the character of that music didn't
>>change until the mid to late 70's. (i always keep 1978 as a personal
>>guideline) where it was being produced electronically before, it still had
>>much in common with more 'traditional' music. I'm not saying it was less
>>exerimental or less innovating, it just became 'different', less 'emotional'
>>(or maybe more, depending on your point of view ;-) ), and more 'technical'
>>in sound.

>This is very different from the way I've seen it. The early electronic
>guys (up to the early '70's) were doing weird stuff, avant garde, exploring
>what they thought were the frontiers of sound and musical structure. Sure,
>at the same time there were people incorporating electronics into more
>traditional and popular music, but electronics still had a raw, new sound,
>a sound of pure possibility. In some ways it seemed more organic than
>"natural" sound. Same for the equipment and methods--an ad hock collection
>of unreliable machines connected by a spaghetti of patch cords seems to
>have more natural anarchy in it than a midi rig.

If you're talking purely about the 'sound', i agree with you. That WAS new,
as the instruments were new. New and revolutionary ways of generating sounds
were born with those machines becoming affordable, but even the experimental
music of those days had much in common with the accoustic experimental music
of the same period. The way i see it, musical innovation (note: not the
'sound' innovation) came in the mid to late seventies with electronic dance
music and again in the mid eighties with house music (again taking some of
what was left of 'traditional' music out.) Also note that the definition of
an innovative music style is, if it's picked up and followed. Many people
have done similar things before certain dates, but the time wasn't right

>Somehow it all seemed to fall apart around 1978--just when sampled keyboards
>and FM synthesis came out, making the old analog methods obsolete. Musicians
>didn't want to explore ur-sound or frontier sound, they wanted to push
>buttons to make sounds they already knew about, whether "acoustic" (bank A)
>or "electronic" (bank B--for instance my keyboard has a sound called

I don't know about this one, there's an underground in every music style,
they come up with the new sounds, that the mainstream copies. It was like
that before 1978, and after 1978, and it will probably always be like that.
Note that in underground techno, analogue machines are mostly prefered (as
they were cheap once, they domitated the early house and techno sound, so
now everybody wants that sound), and since 5 years there is a new market for
new analogue synths.

>But techno seemed, to me, to adopt the "electronic" sound as a fetish,
>affectation, attitude or nostalgia thing.

If this was the case, then what is negative about that ? Techno is very
nostalgic, but has innovative elements (far less melodic for one), it's just
that you won't hear much of that truly innovative music in the mainstream.
It usually takes between 4-6 years for elements of that innovation to be
picked up by the mainstream.

> And, it all seems 120 beats per
>minute, 4/4, one or two chords to me, no matter how much filter "eer-
>err-oor-oop" and strange sampled vocals are going on.

you've coined it exactly, (allthough there is more to it) but this exactly,
is what people are looking for in house and techno. Minimalism, the contrast
between a completely 'cold' machine generated atmosphere, with just one
little minimal human or 'emotional' element left, on which they focus
completely. Instead of the electronic music from before the mid eighties,
which was still made from a 'human controlling the machine' point of view,
techno is being made more and more from a 'machine and human working
together' point of view. Techno is concentrated on the 'strenght' of one
particular sound or 'groove', no other sounds are added, that diminish that
'strength' or effect of that one sound or groove, whereas more traditional
music was all about harmony and complexity. Complexity in techno is added
very by very subtly adding sounds that work together or encourage the one
thing that 'works' in the particular track.

>I'm being too hard of course, but my point is that the best early
>electronics weren't about technology but about raw sound and its
>intersection with acoustic and musical perception. I find music with a
>techno attitude to be like 50's retro: tailfins, chrome, neon, The Jetsons
>and such. It holds technology at a distance instead of being *in* it.

please explain why.

I don't agree with techno being a 'retro' movement, but if it is, then:
What's so bad about looking back to a time when space exploration reached it
peak ? When new technology amazed everybody ? Most people involved in techno
music, are ofcourse no scientists pushing the boundries of technology. But
most of them have more machines than furniture to put them on, not just
musical instruments. Techno musicians are the perfect example of the 'home
factory', the machines being more an extension of their 'humanity' than most
other people in other professions. Instead of just using one machine, they
use multiple machines to provide their income.

Just to give you an example of my companies 'home factory':
I have a home studio in my living room, where the tracks are mastered, i run
my record labels from my living room, using fax/phone, and email, to
communicate with my pressing plants and distributors, artists, and other
record labels i deal with. The graphical design is done on my PC, also in my
living room. Publicity is handled by my computer and zerox copier. Records
in stock are stored in my kitchen, living room and bedroom. New records from
my 'competition', i get sent, as i also run a promotional magazine and
website. Additional income is being made from DJ performances, for which i
currently still have to leave my 'shell', but even that could change with
ISDN lines.

A new club 'cyber theatre' is opening here in brussels, (focussed on
technology) and i'll be DJing there saturdays. One of the first things i'll
be doing when i get my ISDN line, is linking with the club, and occasionally
performing from my homestudio.

This is just me, but i'd say that more than 1/3rd of the people involved in
techno, live like this. A lot of the other people i know, doing techno
profesionally or semi-professionally, are software developers, maintain
servers, or are at least in some way involved in other aspects of technology
other than musical.

So tell me again, how many other professions, are this involved *in*
technology? ? People who just like the music, come to these clubs, are
confronted with seeing technology on many levels. And usually, many want to
imitate it, in order to participate/ contribute to this music or maybe even
'life style', which is getting easier as the technology is getting cheaper.
Techno is the music of the hackers, the young software developers, the
computer graphics artists. Maybe not in the US yet, but it's growing there
as well, techno in europe is mainstream, big bussiness, and hype. It's the
music for the future in all aspects, if some new musical style developes and
takes over, it will come from techno.

>Obviously this is mostly an autobiographical piece about the plasticity
>of my mind in different decades. But still, current techno is not so much
>technological as "technological" with quotes around it, a reification of
>certain ideas of what technology sounds like. In that sense earlier
>electronic music was more enthusiastically, honestly, unabashedly
>or unselfconsciously, technological (in the tool-making sense). Now I
>have insulted a whole genre that I know next to nothing about.

I was just about to ask what music you based your views on techno on...

Max M wrote:

>I were talking about music with more of a mainstream impact. The first
>synths where build around 1900 but shure didn't have much of an impact on
>popular culture.

Another thing about techno is the anonimity of the 'bands' or 'producers',
(also supporting the idea that the human element is fading) driving the
mainstream record industry to despair. Allthough no bands are really known,
the style in general is having tremendous impact on the mainstream.

J. de Lyser