As I said last time there will be a new record next year, which I teased about, called The Solid State Siren. As the title implies it will be a 100% electronic production. After spending 3 years focusing completely on “acoustic” instruments, ie. writing for an orchestra, I wanted to do something of a 180. This is not as easy as it sounds.
I am not by nature an “electronica” kind of guy. As you know, I do not like much of the music that is created by computers and synthesizers these days simply because it is so mechanical and shallow. Part of my distaste is because I am frightened that such music accurately reflects the state of the world or rather the state of people in the world.
So my first attempts at writing after Detroit sounded very much like the stuff I have always written—just done with MORE SYNTHS! Oy. This is suspiciously like what happened when I started working on Detroit. Different bread; same sandwich. Worse than boring.
Remember when electronic music was new?
Of course you don’t. Me neither. But I can say that back in the day, electronic sounds were ELECTRONIC. The sound effects you’d hear in all those sci-fi films were crazy. You still don’t hear anything like ’em because they took an age to create. I watched a couple of ‘serious’ composers working on electronic pieces and they got it. They weren’t trying to do a ‘Switched On Bach’. Rather they were trying to create stuff that was idiomatic for electronic devices. They wanted to make music that could only be done with their new toys. In short, they mostly created a bunch of unlistenable crap. But that’s the fate of all pioneers.
I was always impressed by Devo when I was a kid. They played shows near me when I was a kid before they were famous and I liked it a great deal because it was clear that they were embracing the technology but also laughing at it at the same time. People don’t realise how political they were. Like Zappa, they were great commentators on the damage that we were doing to ourselves. It was a great joke, but I submit it was also pretty great music. They used the tools to make their point, but they never gave in to the siren like all those 80’s bands.
Since the advent of sampling and loops and all that, ‘electronic’ kind of translates into ‘time saving appliance’. As I’ve written before, most of the stuff I hear is either about making collages or repetition. Pre-fab has a place in music, in so much as that’s how much of society works these days. And repetition in a world of computers also makes sense. (I want to reiterate that there are some things I’ve heard by people like Amon Tobin that are absolutely brilliant so I don’t want to act like a snob about this. I’m pretty sure most of the EDM people are finding it harder and harder to make interesting noises as time goes by.)
But what I have wanted to do is get back to how I felt listening to really cool electronic music from my childhood. (I still wonder for hours how they made some of the sounds on ‘Dr. Who’.) There were emotions that one could get to with the machines that you could never get to any other way. The trick is this: musical instruments are like horses. They try to run you as much as you try to run them.
When you play a guitar or a piano, one naturally falls into certain ‘riffs’ which are innate to the instrument. Over time, it gets harder and harder to play anything really original because more and more one tends to fall back on those familiarities that sound ‘natural’. That’s the siren. Great players find a way to come up with something new. The rest of us, just play the same pleasant clichés and get lost. Machines are even more controlling. It’s very hard to resist all the wonderful things one can do now with a computer just by pressing one button. It’s the very ‘glamour of evil’ as they used to say in church. 😀
So… How to make music that sounds and expresses something new with tools that are so damned devilish?