Monday, 15 June 2015

Elektronische Existenz: Art imitating Life

"We wait. We are bored. No, don’t protest, we are bored to death, there’s no denying it. Good. A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste. Come, let’s get to work! In an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness." - Vladimir, Waiting for Godot.

 Good music doesn't exist. Bad music doesn't exist. You think they do exist though, right? And you think I do too. So what do I mean by making these statements? I mean that in matters of taste there can be no final arbiter and there can be no authoritative voice that speaks for all. No, in matters of taste everyone can be king (or queen). Maybe you do not like the fact and you try to resist it in practice - even though we all know that this is true. We wish there was a binding judgment of quality or innate worth to things. But there isn't. Questions of value can be agreed with more or less. Or not at all. And music falls squarely into the area of "things of value".

This is an issue that I have needed to wrestle with as I make my own music. I don't know about you, but as one who creates music semi-permanently the question of what it is worth always comes up. Another disguise this question wears is what we might call the art/crap distinction. Imagine a continuum. At one end everything is art. At the other, its useless crap. Somewhere along that line we place the music we hear or make. But the continuum is imaginary and it doesn't really exist. It's just a judgment others are free to completely ignore. It disappears like so many imaginary friends.

You will know, if you have read previous blogs I've written about music, that the philosophy of music is something I take very seriously. Maybe I even take it too seriously. I think that to make worthwhile music it needs to be based on a good idea. I think that it needs to have something behind it to express. It needs to be substance not surface. I think that if you do things this way it can even make your music into art. I don't think that this applies to all music though or that music, to be music, is mandated to follow the philosophy I set out. I am happy to live with the fact that music is made for lots of disparate reasons and for no reason at all. I cannot determinate why or how someone else makes their own music. Occasionally, if I hear something I dislike or despise, I may regret that fact. But the payoff is that people cannot tell me how to make mine or what reasons can motivate me to do so. As deals go, I can think of worse ones.

But what of the music I make? What is there to say about it? The first thing to say, in the context I have started this blog off in, is that it is not for everyone. Indeed, no music is for everyone. The consequence of having tastes at all is that not everyone will like the same thing. There are, at best, lesser and greater circles of people interested in any given music. Mine, I imagine, is quite a small circle. That's ok. I don't conceive of my music as throwaway (for reasons that will become clear below) or mass market. In general, I would hate to be popular. I want what I have called in the past "active listeners", people who are engaged in the music I make and what it is about. I want listeners who feel themselves emotionally entangled by the music I make. If you don't "get it" that is ok. It wasn't for you.

But there are further aspects to the music I make that need to be explored. There are a number of characteristics to it that are not immediately obvious and require thought - even for me, the one who made it! For example, my music is not obvious. By "obvious" I mean that I am trying not to fall into populist patterns. I'm not trying to do what is expected, pleasant or nice. Dissonance consequently plays a part in what I do and that is off-putting. This is a direct reflection of my own character. As a person, I am very wary of others. I would admit that I have a certain spiky personality and people have to persevere and probably overcome lots of irritating things about me if they want to pursue or forge any kind of friendship. Its the same here with my music. I'm not going to make it completely easy to like it. You must struggle with it and see, if you will, the beauty inside. This echoes my belief that music is not candy floss. It should be something with the power to effect change in you.

And so what is my music in this context? Before I would have said that it was me, a clear and definitive personal statement and autobiographical text in musical form. But I think that summary needs some work. There really is no "me" to find. I am an inconsistent stream of events, thoughts, intentions and attitudes and in my music what I create is a series of snapshots of that stream. And there is never a whole "me" to express anyway. What I give birth to musically is an expression of my own musical imperfection, tied to me and my earth-bound, limited ways of being in many ways. It is an individual thing and one reason we value personal creativity is because, in a real sense, no one else could do what we do. So, in that sense, the music I make is my own imperfect shots at making some kind of musical meaning.

Let's put it another way. Things are always changing, from one moment to the next. But what point or purpose is there in the fact that change just happens anyway, ironically unchanging? None. It just is. The action of time is just ceaseless, constant, meaningless change. You can't escape from this. All you can do is wait for it to end. And in the waiting you experience the ceaseless, constant, meaningless change over and over again. But you can never grasp it for there is nothing to grasp. As with a real stream, the stream of experience just evades all attempts to capture it. All you can hope to capture is a memory, a feeling. A timeline, then, is not a real timeline. Its a fiction made from any number of contingent snapshots forced to tell a story, whatever the story is that you want to tell. In one set of musical pieces I wanted to try and capture an attempt at my life story seen through my own melancholic eyes. And so I called it "Elektronische Existenz" (electronic existence). This went on to become the name for the whole project of what I do.

And yet we musical poststructuralists, we postmodernists and pragmatists of musical thought, know that there is a problem with a project built on meaning. And, indeed, with "meaning" itself. We consider the absurdity that life is both terrifying and wondrous, often in the same moment. And that is absurd. I have meditated on this fact of life long and hard in relation to my own self-expression. I've come to the view that I make an absurd music that is "out of harmony" and "devoid of purpose". It is a waiting and a passing of time just as life really is. This music, which is often deeply meaningful to me and takes on new meanings as I begin to listen to it over and over, ultimately ends up being useless and partakes in the ultimate meaninglessness of existence. In some pieces I think this is quite explicit. Some of it tries to bring this dark world to life, to make it present. So my music comes from nowhere in my imagination or arises in the randomness of what I did at a certain place and time - and goes back to it. It can be random, insensible or deliberately unheimlich (eerie, sinister). It is an experience of the aesthetics of (my) life.

This year I have evolved to a new form of music and, if anything, become more prolific. I have settled into a longer format of around 15 minutes per track based, initially at least, in German influences from the so-called Berlin School and also the more esoteric edge of Kosmische Musik. This wasn't deliberate. I just found that what I was doing fitted into that when I heard some of it. This longer format really takes the form of cycles, all slightly different and yet all the same. The same pattern over and over again. This is life. The point is to endure, to live that life and experience the whole journey. This is not because there is an end. There isn't. For the next cycle then begins… The point is to experience yourself as a being-through-time, a being who lives through the experience of this music. I have a friend who also seems to make longer tracks. I appreciate his music, which is itself highly individual, because it is a different journey. The experience is king.

We can compare John Cage's 4 minutes 33 seconds here. This is, in the common mind, silence. But it was never silence for Cage. It was 4 minutes and 33 seconds of experienced sound, the sounds of the environment, the sounds of life. I share with Cage this focus on sound and experience and the interplay thereof. I share with Cage the idea that you should listen to life and hear it as music. At the end nothing is resolved. Everything is just the same as at the start. But you have experienced. And in that you have experienced change and taken part in the flux and the becoming of life itself. So when you listen to one of my tracks this is what you are doing: listening to a snapshot of life, listening to another's experience. If you listen enough and to a selection of tracks you may start to pick out the distinctive sounds and emotions that are woven together there. There is an identifiable kind of song I do because we all fall into habits no matter how hard we try not to. But better to fall into your own habits than copy others. That is inauthentic. To truly fulfill your musical purpose, for me, is to fully presence yourself and add what is uniquely you to the world of sound and experience.

You may find it strange but the music I make is not the music I want to make. Its the music I can't help making. The music I want to make is always out of my grasp. And that is a reflection of life. For the life you live is never the life you want to live. Its always the life you can't help living. The life you want is always out of your grasp. So this music/art/life imitation thing seems to be going on. Indeed, how could the music or the art not be an outgrowth of the life, full of all the values, interests and moods that the life contains? Here a philosophical conclusion informs both my life and my music. Just as the only meaningful choice in life is whether to keep breathing or to stop, so in music the only meaningful choice is whether to make music that authentically expresses you or not. This is a life or death question. And the authenticity comes in living that out to the full. You must own the choice you make every time you make a sound.

And that is why, when you listen to music by me, you get the random, the chaos, the instinctual. This is because I have a distrust of the deliberate, the reasoned, the "purposeful". These things have lying mouths and promise what they cannot deliver. I have a sense that life is fleeting and without purpose and so I live in the shadow of the tomorrow that will never arrive and, consequently, need to find meaning in the circumstances of here and now. And yet the attempt to presence meaning here and now is ultimately not enough. All my music ends up being is sound marks that, in themselves, mean nothing. This is one reason why I write so few melodies. You, as listener, are challenged to find your own melody within the music or accept that there is nothing there. However, in the end, no matter how many works populate my Bandcamp, no matter how good or bad the music is subjectively judged to be, it amounts to a shout from the void into the void. My music accomplished nothing. But whilst I lived it was good to shout. Indeed, how could I not?

So what I provide you, the listener, is musical fantasies. And this, in itself, is instructive. For for a fantasy to be fully experienced is to enter it's world and partake of it fully. One cannot experience a story fully unless one reads the story and enters the world for a while. And so it is here too. You are cordially invited to listen to one man's experiences of, and reflections on, life. What is served up is a series of pieces that serve as my atonement for the sin of having been born. It may turn out to be that they do not mean much within themselves. But, should you listen for long enough, maybe they triangulate with something in your own experience and become part of something that I could never have imagined. That, after all, is what art is. Is has no inherent value but it can come to have some if you allow yourself the time to see something in it. But not to worry if it does not. There are many other examples left to try so long as human beings yet walk the Earth. I can but hope that my own Elektronische Existenz spoke to your own existenz in some way.

Should this tempt you to want to hear some of my work you can hear it here at Elektronische Existenz which is my Bandcamp site. Thoughtful listening!

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