Matthew Fuller on Wed, 10 Jun 1998 09:59:17 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Break/Flow - POST-MEDIA OPERATORS


1. The record industry is in the process of being outflanked by means of
the very processes that it has come to rely upon. Since the 60s its
continual efforts to create new needs has meant that it nurtured an ever
changing musical soundscape that is now mutating at such a pace that it
cannot keep track long enough to harness these musical evolutions in the
direction of profit. The fact that it doesn't achieve this harnessing has
the remarkable effect of making the 'new' last longer! A longevity that
comes from our always being able to place ourselves amidst a continual
redefinition of these sounds. Even in terms of format, the
profit-orientated shift to a CD market which may have meant that back
catalogues could be resold has also worked to deliver an on-line tap of
musical history at the same time that vinyl pressing has become cheaper.
These and other factors feed into the accelerating mutation that in turn
creates a dissatisfaction with what the industry can offer.

2. Advancements in technology have meant that all manner of equipment is
now available for reappropriation by whoever has the time to learn how to
use, redefine, misuse and rewire it. That there can no longer be any 'one
sound' around which music is organised means that everything is potential
source material to a practice that no longer calls itself music. Indeed,
the former categories that were allotted to different musics now only make
sense as a means of division, a consumer yardstick that limits stimulation.
>From the guitar we have moved through sampling technology, turntables,
tape, analogue and digital keyboards, from rock, disco, punk through
techno, drum n bass and trip-hop to an indiscernible melange that creates
further possibilities for interaction as well as enhanced and
de-legitimated conditions of reception. Both of these escape the
institutional control of the industry and the media and, in so far as they
'subvert the forms of the imaginary' by challenging what it is acceptable
to think, they forge the means to escape the 'dominant repressive models'
of an inherited subjectivity: music reveals individual consciousness as a
socio-ideological fact, as situated.

3. Ever since 'music' got rid of the necessity for lyrics, the predominance
of an electronic music of texture, unrestricted tonality, timbral density
and rhythmic paroxysm meant that it was liberating those who heard it to
listen more closely to the the rhythms and sounds they did not recognise.
Happening in the context of dance music meant that this process of
heightened listening was as sensual as it was cerebral and because these
sounds took people in unheard of directions they became situated as part of
a collective desire that predisposed them to each other, inspiring
movements towards new forms of collectivity: if Marx could regard the
proletariat as a concrete manifestation of theory, then perhaps
contemporary music can be seen as a gateway to to the new collectivity,
since it situates subjects within an emergent structure of listening which
offers experiential confirmation of a social configuration (1). The
liberation of the listener, through dance, led not only to this growing
sociality, the collective memory of tracks, but, with the music
foregrounding a repetition that placed message and resolution in abeyance,
it created conditions where desiring-energy was perpetuated and deployed in
the direction of discovery and self-creation.

4. As a consequence there are more people making music now than at any time
before and awareness of this amongst composers has led to an international
explosion of small label activity. These people have heard the tired tales
of music scene has-beens and rather than choose competition, exposure and
the 'labour of success' they have decided to operate outside these monetary
and conceptual constraints and do their own thing. Similar to and inspired
by the free-party scene, small-run pressings of records are passed around
through underground distribution networks at a level that eludes even the
most 'specialist' of record shops. In the slipstream of this there has been
the rise of an experimental attitude: no longer needing to conform to what
is expected and 'understood' means that there has been a renewed
appreciation for the idiosyncrasies of sound and the transgression of
perceptual habits these can inspire. Music becomes something other than a
distracted entertainment.

5. Meanwhile, A&R men scurry from club to gig to rave but never reach the
parties. Attracted to a music that makes sense and money, that reproduces
the social imaginary, they can never hear the sound of conflictual desire.
The surrogate A&R arm of the music press and style mags are increasingly
losing their role as mediators between unknown composers and the major
labels. This reliance between the two to pick-up on trends and promote the
'new' is becoming laughable when the 'new' is now passing-by unnoticed and
makes such attempts to hold onto what has been declared 'new' the very
indication that what we read is insincere, careerist crap: marketing
effects a dispassionate opportunism. Similarly, the way these magazines
always cover the same things is an indication of their fear of different
perspectives that threaten to show how the trends are fabricated in the
first place. The media motivates fascination with the mediocre and promotes
that which is already predisposed to repeating the same.

6. The Post-Media practice has been accelerated by the Internet where
obsessions can run rife and where there is this noticeable desire for those
driven and miniaturised activities that exist and thrive without giving a
thought to the increasingly 'calm perspectives' of a transparent media. The
media, like the record industry, has become a centralised zero. Where once
magazines and labels may have acted as a filter or a means of
dissemination, market forces have made these all converge on the
centre-ground: the public listens to what is made available... and what the
audience happens to listen to, since it was being offered, reinforces
certain tastes (2). Mistaken as cutting-edge, the music promoted by the
media often serves no other purpose than the maintenance of a profitable
illusion. Caught in this mystifying spiral listeners either attempt to
break-loose and do it for themselves or, having their senses dulled, become
bored and unable to orientate themselves within the media-trap of
publicity, marketing and failed promise. The latter become as enervated and
cynical as the articles they read, and taking their place in the aging
process, they see in the next cycle of mediated-music a lack of innovation
and quality.

7. Innovation and quality? It is interesting to see how the media, which
ostensibly sees itself operating in opposition to high-art, comes to work
in consort with this traditionalism, and in particular, through the way
that it reinforces reactionary notions of subjectivity. Foremost amongst
these shared techniques is the way that music, like art, is more or less
always portrayed as transcendental; as isolated from the social conditions
that produce, celebrate and receive it. This individualistic means of
relating to music is accentuated by the reliance on 'genius': the elevation
of certain individuals and the furthering of hierarchic devices in the
supposedly 'free-space' of popular music. This accent on the unique can
result in subduing the activities of others and in a denial of
inter-relatedness that adds up to making the practice and heterogenous
reception contexts that surround music invisible. Whatsmore, this has the
contingent effect of privileging the 'solitary' moment of production over
that of listening, dancing and organising which always imply the presence
of others. In this way the contagious effects of music that can be
conducted through sound are made tame. The media inhibits, or even worse,
removes desire from music and in so doing colludes with the
'capitalisation' of subjectivity: one space, one  time, one person just one
step ahead of boredom and resignation.

8. This musical contagion has been gradually enhanced by the new conditions
of reception and no small part of this post-media practice has been
stimulated by the growing sense that listening is not a subordinate
activity but a process of making-meaning. From headphones to speakers, the
bedroom to the party, alone, yet always connected and dialoguing, listeners
become part of an autonomous, diffuse and non-institutional reception
context. This quite complex configuration means that rather than the 'new'
and the 'unheard-of'  being consumed voraciously in a frenzy of consumption
they are turned into consoles that produce energy; impulsional exchanges
that stimulate a practice of extra-verbal thought. The constant movement
this engenders can be placed in stark contrast to the way that mediatised
music can often be a means of falling back upon what is already known; a
collapsing onto the preordained terrain of the 'self'. But if listening is
taken seriously and not maintained as a second-rate activity it can only
encourage patterns of connection and co-experience with an immediately
accessible group that shares not only an appreciation of the sounds but a
social-memory of them as contained within the record. Once linked in this
way the bonds of a new collectivity becomes almost an unconscious reflex.

9. And so post-media becomes a practice that knows no bounds or discipline.
It is a web-site, a zine, a flyer, a limited run record label,  a pirate
station, a poster, a video circulated through the post, the telling of
stories and news round a pub table, a distribution network of unseen nodes,
ephemeral organisations, a promulgation of fiction... it is a de-channeled
meta-categorical social practice of cultural creation made entirely for and
on its own terms! It is driven by desire, enthusiasm, search and connection
towards a polyphonic subjectivity! At times anything is possible. Rational
modes of discourse like journalism and writing faeces which act to
stabilise and make things remain still long enough for them to become
systemised have very little sense that the music they write about is a fuel
that traverses disparate regions, bringing into collision elements from
each. Within this post-media practice there is an intensified redefinition
of such dualisms as individual/collective and success/failure. In relation
to the latter, it can often be that in such a post-media space respect and
support is given to those who succeed in creating, at personal cost,
something that is illegitimate and dissensual. In this way judgment of its
value, whether it is 'good' or 'bad', is rendered useless. But such scenes,
operating intimately cannot afford to establish divisions: listeners
becomes producers, composers, dancers, writers. All scenes are their own
genre and operating in a dispersed geographic and psychic space there is no
sense of any one person, group or scene being in control: it is a practice
of addition without accumulation, a group-effusion of singularity that
dispenses with individualism. In the past one of the main drawbacks has
been that such affirmative practices have felt the need to be delimited as
regions where protagonists should be made visible to one another. The onset
of the InterNet has put paid to this by extending our expectations of
communication, transposing a virtual space of music into an actuality of
intimacy (libidinal musics)  and an ever present potential for subjective
change. In the words of Felix Guattari: it is no longer the end that
matters but the milieu, the process becoming processual... One does not
want to enter into a pre-established program. One tries to live the field
of the possible (3).

Title adapted from Felix Guattari's phrase 'post-media era'.
(1) John Mowitt: Music In The Era Of Electronic Reproducibility Cambridge
UP. (2) Michel Foucault: Foucault Live, Semiotext(e) 1989, p393. (3) Felix
Guattari: Guattari Reader (ed G.Genosko) Blackwell 1996, p136.

Flint Michigan/Howard Slater/Eddie Miller @ Break/Flow, 89 Vernon Road,
London, E15 4DQ
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