what's it for? listening and trying not to think

most music is in some way functional. it serves a purpose, whether it's to make you dance, enhance your hipster cred, send you into religious or psychedelic ecstacy or make you cry like a baby. to do this it usually requires rhythm and/or melody. a lot of people like words too.

for a long time i've been listening to things that have none of those ingredients. when i was about 17 i borrowed this record from the hospital radio station where i volunteered (yeah, i know).
i'm not sure what attracted me to it. maybe i thought it was going to be like jean michel jarre. it wasn't. it was a compilation of early 60s 'classical' electronic music.

it was nothing like music, or at least what i understood to be music.

and one of my first thoughts was 'what's this for?' i suppose i was feeling the same kind of thing audiences did in the early 20th century when things started to get weird in music. 'what do i do with this? where's my way in? have i got anything i can throw at the conductor?' in fact, about a year later i did get something similar when my mate's brother threw us a copy of schoenberg's 'pierrot lunaire', he told us that it was 'the hard stuff''and to stop listening to captain beefheart.
by this time i probably knew every last bleep, whirr and whoosh on my electronic music album. i'd now been allowed to keep this as careful examination of the hospital radio station logs revealed that shockingly, no-one had ever played it. there certainly hadn't been any requests for it.

i thought about coercing one of the patients into requesting ilhan mimaroglu's 'le tombeau d'edgar poe', but realised this was not in my best interests. if i wanted to hang on to the album.

it's constructed entirely from a recording of a bloke reading a poem and starts around 3.30 on that clip. it probably took a long time to make, with splices, scissors and loops and filters and all that. that bit interested me and was probably my way in to it - working out the how rather than the why. but there was a kind of sensual pleasure too, though it wasn't music that provoked a quantifiable emotional reaction, maybe i just like funny noises. but i'd grown to kind of love it.

on the other hand 'pierrot lunaire' made me almost sick. this was written by arnold schoenberg, who upset a lot of people by coming up with serialism, he upset me too. without any semblance of key structure and not much in the way of a groove, this seemed like an interminable sucession of equally unpleasant dissonances. i wasn't ready for arnie, and i didn't know what he was for.

i know what he was for now, i suppose. he just came up with a different musical system from the prevailing one. but each time this happens (which it seemed to do for a fair old while), it demands, and sometimes offers, different things for the listener. the danger is that talking about the, um, 'avant-garde' is that it becomes something that's done either in technical terms or intellectual wankery or just fluff. and music is more about the sensual, the physical, than any other art form.

this partly because it's hard to talk about those things. i'm currently listening to an improvised duet by marcus shmickler and thomas lehn, made with electronics. it's a
bit like this but less noisy.

i could talk about it in terms of what kit they're using and probably come up with some attempt at a colourful description of the music eg 'sounds like a malfunctioning shortwave radio stuck inside a spindryer' or whatever. but there's something else going on, and it's that sensual thing. a pleasure in abstract sound, an attempt to make some sense of it, however vague or ephemeral - to go with the flow, man. intellectualising it just robs me of any pleasure i might get from it. so best not to.

there's some electronica that concerns itself with going straight for the brain in a very direct way. stuff with pure sine waves etc. i had a hearing test recently that sounded quite like a ryoji ikeda album i have. i suppose it's that kind of thing that's led our crumbling, pleasure-thirsty society to the brink with digital drugs.

anyone who knows anything about this kind of thing will know that report is at best, stupid. it'd be fanciful to think this might lead to gangs of shifty hooded teenagers queuing outside rough trade to score the latest sachiko m album, but you never know.

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