Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Welcome To The Future

Welcome to the future. The future, as we know, will be televised. It will be about slogans, not facts. It will be about taking popular prejudices and using them as campaign platforms... until the campaign is over when they will all be destroyed as if they had never existed. It will be about standing for things you don't believe in because there are enough easily manipulated people who do. It will be about promising what you need to promise. And then denying you ever promised it at all. It will be about playing the game and winning the war. Of self interest. It will be about making it up as you go along. It will be about making extreme statements to divide people because better that than informed, moderate debate. The future is about numbers not being informed. Thinking is a failing in the future.

In the future we will take back control and have our country back. So we will inspire teenagers on buses to tell Pakistani ladies to get off the bus. We will embolden people to daub racist slogans on buildings and put racist messages through letter boxes and on car windshields. We will enable people to have the courage to tell their foreign doctor to "go home" even as their medical complaints are treated (and even though they were born in the same country as you anyway). The future is not about keeping everybody happy, safe and prosperous. Its about control. Its about ownership. Which side are you on in the future, suckah?

Welcome to the future.

This future is brought to you by corporate slush funds, institutionalized greed and venal self-serving hypocrites. 

PS Take Back Control. Make Our Country Great Again. Have A Nice Day.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Dawless Jamming

My blog today covers the topic "Dawless jamming" and arises from a Facebook discussion I was following in the "Dawless Jammin" Facebook group. The question was asked (theoretically, it said, and not as a debate!) what "dawless jamming" actually is. A very vigorous discussion arose from this as I expect it does at least once a month. I don't find this repetitive. I find it good and healthy. People should think about what they are doing and why and what they want to achieve. Indeed, I wish people did it more generally.

Of course, before delving too deeply into this discussion, and making my own comments here in my blog about it, it makes sense to get a few preliminaries out of the way. No one here, for example, is really saying that Daws (Digital Audio Workstations, things like Ableton Live, Reason, Cubase, Logic, Reaper, etc) shouldn't be used at all or that they are bad. No one is saying that one way of doing things is good and the other bad. Such questions aren't even in focus here. This discussion is about a certain way of making music and what counts as that way. But it doesn't bind anyone to follow what is decided because its for each electronic musician to decide what they are trying to do and how and why. That's as it should be. So this debate is not about looking down on anyone else who makes different choices. We can all respect each other however we make music and we don't need to have a sneering attitude. So put such ideas to one side.

So what is dawless jamming about? Well, at first glance, its about a number of electronic music-making devices being used in live performance to create a musical performance. But, of course, it can get a little more complicated than that. But I think this preliminary definition is useful because it points those thinking about it in a certain direction. It tells us that live jammers are probably using multiple devices, that they are wanting to use them together and that the aim is something greater than the sum of the parts. This makes me think immediately of someone like Klaus Schulze. 

Taking a look at the picture above from the 1970s gives us an early vision of dawless jamming. In the 1970s, when electronic music broke out into the popular music world for the first time, there were no computers. There was no midi, the protocol which would later allow electronic instruments to talk to each other digitally. Mostly there were also no presets for any of the instruments. The modulars of the time and many monosynths such as the Minimoog or the ARP 2600 or Arp Odyssey and most others besides had no way to save anything. There literally was only dawless jamming. And it was good. I listened to the album Moondawn by Klaus Schulze yesterday (quite by coincidence) and its truly some amazing pieces of music. It was dawlessly jammed in the parlance of today. It is essentially a set of live performances. So its people like Klaus Schulze and his compatriots in bands like Tangerine Dream and Cluster that invented this thing we now do today.

Of course, time and technology moves on. Presets were made viable by Dave Smith and others. Midi was invented by Dave Smith, then of Sequential Circuits, and Ikutaro Kakehashi of Roland. This changed the possibilities of dawless jamming. Computers came along and thats where things started to change a lot. With a computer you can essentially put the dawless jam inside the box. Inside your computer you could have and use way more synthesizers than you could fit on a stage or in a performing space. But, for some, what you lose there is more important than what it might be said you gain. For Klaus Schulze, and those like him, part of the point and the fun of what he was doing in those 1970s days was that you had these physical musical machines and you, somehow and always in the moment, coralled them into some musically satisfying whole. It wasn't back then about control of every detail. It couldn't have been because it wasn't possible. 

So what, now, do we think a dawless jam is? I don't really think its a matter of equipment. Its a matter of capturing the spirit of those 1970s artists and what they were doing. Its about live performance and not about sitting at a desk with precise control over every measurable factor of what you are doing. Its about instinct and not calculation. Its about creating a living thing and interacting with it and not merely reflectively moving pieces of a jigsaw puzzle until you have a picture. For some this will mean that any form of computer, which includes tablets and phones, is out of the picture. There are other recording devices, for example. For others it will be ok to have an iOS synth on an ipad as part of your setup. These are fine distinctions. For myself I find it most important of all that whatever you are using is controlled live by you in your performing situation. A person makes all the decisions and those decisions are then recorded and set in stone. A device like an Octatrack from Elektron is sometimes said to be a "daw in a box" and the metaphor is helpful in some ways. But I think we shouldn't push that metaphor too much. Its a great device and certainly blurs the lines between a musical instrument and a daw software. But whilst its still an autonomous electronic device that a user manipulates live then it still falls within that 1970s spirit of live jamming that I take as my guide.

Dawless jammers, I take it, don't want to be looking at screens. They don't want to perform using a mouse which is a lousy performance tool anyway. They want to preserve "performance" as a part of the way they make music. I'm reminded here of Depeche Mode, once a much more studio orientated band, who, when making Songs of Faith and Devotion in the early 1990s, had Alan Wilder use live drums just so that they could try and get some dynamics of a performance into their studio music. Its a similar idea here in dawless jamming. Dawless jammers want to feel part of a live moment, a performance event. They don't want it to be distant and at a remove. They want the music based in live decisions and not thought out choices over a cup of coffee. In some ways this is counter-intuitive for they are, after all, using machines, things which follow algorithms and programs and do, always, only what they are told. And very regularly so. But human beings aren't machines and, for some, preserving this element in the making of electronic music is vital too. That's why some people don't even sync up their devices even now in this midi world. 

So what is dawless jamming again? Its using autonomous electronic devices in concert, controlled by a human being in live performance, to create pieces of music. Its keeping the locus of control in a human being. Its recording something that was live in at least two senses. Its not wanting things to be under the control of a machine but to be in control of machines. And so, to that extent, its resisting some of the very technology that we might want to use because it puts things too much under the control of machines. Dawless jamming, in spirit at least, will always be about what human beings do with subservient machines and not about how much machines can do for us. There are some things that dawless jammers DON'T want to do because dawless jamming, as a form of electronic music, is human music.

PS I recommend you listen to Moondawn if you can. Its a lesson to every dawless jammer out there!

Monday, 20 June 2016

Are You Going To Be One Of Them?

The ultimate demonstration of the fact that there is no god of any kind is the fact that you and I exist. For what all-powerful super being, with knowledge of all things past, present and future, and limited only by the workings of their eternally infinite mind (which is to say not limited at all) would create the human being? I am a human being and I am daily reminded of my fallibility, stupidity, frailty and complete inability to do anything but wallow in the absurdity of an existence in which many of us will quite happily do down our neighbours, friends and even family for even the smallest perceived advantage on our part. I ask you what self-respecting deity would create that being and I reply to my own desperate question by saying "None". No deity would, if there ever was one. Therefore, no god exists.

You may wonder why this blog today starts off with theological musings and I must reply that this is because this blog is written as I emerge from an early "after sleep". An "after sleep" is the term I use for that period after your main sleep when you wake up too early, say 6 AM, but after which, happily, you fall back to sleep again. You then exist in a sort of half awake, half asleep kind of state in which various thoughts run through your mind quite lucidly. The most prominent thought in my most recent after sleep was the opening paragraph of this blog. This was closely followed by a very erotic dream the details of which I will not burden you with at this time. 

Instead I'll return to the theological musings. Now I've already infallibly demonstrated that there is no god and we humans are the proof of this fact. So then it comes as something of a surprise to me that so many people alive today would insist, to the point of shoving their gun in our faces, that there is a god. And its not even always the same one. Several million Yahoos in the United States of Americaland, each of them god-fearing individuals who laud the existence of someone whose son they somewhat ironically call the "prince of peace", believe in the Christian god. But they are simultaneously utterly convinced that the best response to armed crime and the threat of some stranger entering your home is to arm yourself with a military grade machine gun called the AR-15. This is despite the fact that, so I read, no domestically held firearm has been responsible for ending a mass shooting event (defined as an event where more than 4 people are killed not including the original assailant) in the last 30 years. In those 30 years there have been literally thousands of such events and tens of thousands of deaths. If you read the pronouncements of the NRA, which I read is a very politically powerful pro-gun organization that buys off elected representatives, you might find this apparent statistic strange because in their literature all you will find is the single idea that if you want to stop yourself being shot along with several of your friends you should have a gun yourself. But many in the NRA also believe in god and he doesn't exist as I've shown. So why should we believe them on this either?

But let's be fair. Its not only (mostly) white folks who think its still the 18th century that we should criticize. In other places there are, for example, violent muslims full of hatred for the West and what they see as its infidel ways that we should criticize. They chop people's heads off and fight wars in places we (if we aren't Americans) only see on a map. Some of them come over to Europe, the birthplace of civilization, and try to commit terrorist atrocities against us. This, of course, means, at least in the minds of some, that anyone of vaguely Arab complexion is as equally as guilty for such crimes as they are. For a man claiming jihad or shouting "Ali Akbar" who tries to kill other people is merely a representative of every Arab-looking person or a cypher for Islam in general. If a muslim kills some people it is because Islam itself calls for the death of every white person who likes apple pie in the world. And, no, I know what you are thinking. This is not the same as saying that if a white man kills someone then, somehow, all white men are the same or equally responsible even though it seems true that two thirds of mass shootings in America are committed by white men. (The only two UK-based mass shootings I can think of, in Hungerford and Dunblane, were also committed by white men.) No. This rule only works for muslims. As we all should know now if a muslim kills someone its because of his bitter and twisted Islamic creed. If a black person kills someone its because black people are base human beings with deadly and criminal urges. If a white person kills someone its because he is, sadly, mentally ill.

This narrative was followed perfectly to the letter here in the UK in this last few days. An MP called Jo Cox was stabbed and shot to death in the street (it is alleged) by an extreme right wing man called Thomas Mair. Cox was an MP who was interested in bringing diverse peoples together if the history about her that is coming to light now in the wake of her tragic death is anything to go by. Mair was very much associated with a quasi-fascist right wing group of bully boys who get their jollies from intimidation of peaceful muslims and others. Their creed appears to be "Get rid of everyone not like me or with whom I do not identify".  Mair's apparent allegiances were demonstrated when a picture of the alleged murderer at a demo came to light and when he gave his name at his first court hearing as "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain". 

Many newspapers in the UK found this tragic and horrifying event quite embarrassing since we here in the UK are currently nearing the end of a period of self-flagellation that has been a campaign to decide if we will choose to remain within or leave the European Union. A number of papers are owned by individuals whose interests are not best served by a pan-European body who, frankly, they have no influence over and so, of course, they are against. The alleged murderer Thomas Mair is also against it and its alleged he was so motivated against it that he killed someone who was, more prominently than most, in favour of remaining. However, many papers did not print Mair's apparent views on the subject straightaway. Indeed, if Mair had not been determined to make sure no one was in any doubt where he stood at his first court appearance maybe they never would have. So for these papers Mair was a "crazed loner" or a person with a "history of mental health problems". This may or may not be true. What we can be sure of is that if a muslim immigrant had shot and stabbed Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, prominent leave campaigners, then all we would be hearing about now is the evil that stalks our land, its dangerous violence and the foreigners who wish to storm Britain and submit us all to Sharia Law. Luckily, however, the alleged killer was white and so he is just one more mentally vulnerable human being. And its not as if his racist mates want us all to submit to their ideas of how the UK should be, is it? Oh, wait..

Most of the above is served to you today with a heavy layer of sarcasm but there is a serious point behind it or, to be more accurate, probably several serious points. Even the things I have mentioned above are but a small if persuasive sample showing that human beings are very fucked up. The referendum campaign I mentioned above has brought to the surface in the UK the harsh reality of a very ugly scene and I suspect my American readers would recognize it from their own country too. David Cameron, the Prime Minister here, turned over a stone when he decided to have the referendum, which he didn't need to do and which was a matter of self-motivated political expediency on his own part, and now all of us in the UK are finding out what vermin crawl about underneath that stone, usually in the dark and unseen but now exposed for all to see. Part of this ugliness is that racism is as real as ever it was. Part of this ugliness is that some people are more than happy to blame foreigners for anything and see no good in them whatsoever. Part of this ugliness is that people cling to notions of identity forged in their own fevered minds rather than the realities of the world. Jo Cox, now tragically murdered, gave a speech in which she said that what unites us is much more than what divides us and, if you read this blog regularly, you'll know its been a constant theme of mine too. But its not something that everyone wants to believe. There are people, people prepared to use violence and political power to support their beliefs, who want to divide, who want to concentrate on differences and not similarities. They are more than happy to sow hate, provoke trouble and inject as much poison into public life as they can. They think it is in their interests to do so.

It is often the dream of idealists and the utopia of forward-thinkers that the ideal world would be one of both peace and harmony. "The lion will lie down with the lamb" is one poetic expression of this belief indicating that the supposed prey in that scenario need have nothing to fear from the predator. And yet all around us our world is full of prey and predators. You will know from previous blogs that I do not buy into the idea that human beings are basically good. I buy into the idea that they are inconsistent and opportunistic and that not even they can always say why they did something. There is no rhyme or reason. It might also be argued that I'm hardly the best person to talk about the good of humanity since in the past I've written some pretty nihilistic things. I take these charges on the chin, as I must. But its not the end of the story. For when I see a drowning child on yet another boat crossing the Mediterranean Sea or some brown people hunched in the back of yet another truck what I see is desperate human beings not crazed killers or agents of a violent creed. And my instinct is to help people in need rather than to tag and label them first and then retroactively decide if they are worthy of my help or sympathy. 

Now I appreciate that not everyone is like me in that respect but I think they should be. The mentality that asks whose apparent side someone is on before declaring they are worthy of help or, in many cases, even of life itself, is what I regard as an inhuman one. And I would very much like to promote what I regard as a human one, humanity at its best. Jo Cox's alleged killer was affiliated with a group called Britain First. But I want to say fuck Britain first: human beings first. If lines on a map are reason to discriminate against people then those lines have outlasted their usefulness and deserve to go. Yet another plank of many utopias is that people are all regarded equally. Peace and harmony cannot exist unless people are equal, can they? Yet since so many seem not to want either peace or harmony I suggest this can only be because they see some selfish advantage in their opposites. And this is what we together as people must always fight against, the vested interests, those who would put selfish gain over common good. The common good is called the common good because it is always meant to be common and never reserved for someone regarded as privileged or special. Countries, power bases, economic blocks can all be ways to lock in vested interests. We must fight against them all and work for a radical equality in which everyone is always equal and none of these things are ways to privilege some over others, marking some as worthy of certain things and others not. 

Some have argued that Britain's European debate is about this. Some claim to "want their country back" much as, over the ocean, some claim to want to "make their country great again". These narratives are separatist narratives, narratives that regard some as special and some as not. They want to privilege and create insiders and outsiders. I reject them. When I look at the map of the world I see the countries artificially marked on top of the land masses but even more than that I see that everyone is just in the same place: Earth. The world's problems today are not defined by lines on maps, borders and which passport you hold. People won't stop starving or drowning or fighting or believing in various gods just because you pulled up your drawbridge, built a wall around yourself and said "I'm alright Jack". Its all still going to be right there exactly where it is now. People are still going to see bright lights and go towards them if where they are is plunged in darkness. It is in the nature of the human being to try and survive. What kind of person would you be if you blamed people for that? Of course, some will say that its a finite world. Not everyone can win so its better if I do than if someone else does instead of me. I view this mentality as incredibly small. There is more than enough in this world for everyone - if it was organized properly at a level above that of countries (even if by agreement of countries). But it will never be solved if we are around 200 competitors all fighting over the same things. We'll just kill each other interminably. Forever.

In the end my argument here is simple: we need to be the best people we can be rather than succumb to being the worst people we can be, egged on by those with their own agendas of personal enrichment. This won't be easy because being selfish and nasty is incredibly easy. There will always be those who say "Look after number one and to hell with the rest". 

The question is, are you going to be one of them?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Mob Rule

This blog is not going to be very much fun to read. To be honest with you I'm pretty depressed and downbeat. For a change this is not simply a matter of my own circumstances but rather a reflection of what I see in the world. Its dull, grey and rainy outside as I write. When I woke up, about an hour ago, the dull ache I know so well was there somewhere inside my brain. Sometimes, in the past, this has meant that I am to be psychologically and emotionally fragile for the day. But today I think its more to do with a sense of frustration with society at large that I have been feeling quite intently for weeks now.

There are numerous world events affecting me at the moment. These are, let's be blunt, political things and they are vexing. One is the sight of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe where they imagine better lives and chances of survival await them. Many don't make it because the journey leads to their death. A few months ago there was a picture of a dead boy, maybe only 3 or 4 years old, washed up on some beach somewhere. The media seized on this and wailed and gnashed their teeth. "How can a little boy die this way?" they asked. "Isn't it sad?" they said. Then they moved on to the next thing. These people never seem to ask what could be so bad that the boy's parents, and those like them, would risk their very existence to try and get from where they are to where they want to be. Its just as if people are magicked up from nowhere and have no past lives or context for their actions. People don't think it through or look deeper. These people are just there.

Meanwhile, in the UK, and in related news, we are having a referendum to decide whether we wish to remain part of the EU or not. There are sharp and polemical fault lines in the debate where the vast majority of the written press, historically a factor in political debates in the UK, are in favour of leaving the EU. Virtually all of this press is owned by right wing people (most of whom seem to live abroad) who, let's be honest, viscerally hate the EU because it is something over which they have no control. Newspaper owners are used to being the ones with leverage rather than the ones who have to do what someone else tells them. Every day we have increasingly ridiculous scare stories to the effect that the UK is full of foreign criminals,  our borders (which it is claimed we don't control) are like open gates to whoever wants to come here and we will all be Muslims ruled by Sharia Law in a decade if we do not leave the EU. Throw into the mix the fact that we can blame the EU for wanting all our money and the Leavers have quite a strong mix of selfish concerns to use as a propaganda battering ram. After all, if you can claim that your opponent is letting in all the swarthy foreigners to steal your country AND is also wanting you to pay for it you might think you have a good case. 

This debate about "Brexit" as it is popularly called here is notable, however, probably for one main thing: the complete lack of understanding of the issues by almost everyone concerned with it, for or against. Nearly every "fact" pertinent to this debate is questioned (and questionable) and it is way beyond the ordinary person to even get a handle on the issues involved in being involved in a block of at least 27 nations who exist to deal with their existence in the world across national borders. One side says we shall be overrun by foreign hordes whilst the other says if you vote to leave then we will all be destitute in a decade. Its a debate to see who can scare people the most and so push them to mark their cross in the appropriate box come June 23rd which is polling day. All in all, this is a thoroughly depressing spectacle and a demonstration that, quite frankly, this debate is beyond regular people. Its too complex, too big and too important to be decided by the mass of people who are simply not equipped to examine the issues properly or thoroughly enough.

When this thought occurred to me the other day a light suddenly came on in my mind and it was fundamentally at odds with what our Western civilization has come to believe and stand for. This civilization believes that democracy, one person one vote, is the highest expression of political polity that there could be. It is a cornerstone of all such societies that all adults should be able to vote and this is based on the beliefs that everyone is equal and so should have an equal voice. No qualification is required to be this way. Simply be an adult and be alive and you can register and vote. In some places, though not I think in the UK, criminals in prison can even vote, their criminality is not thought to trump the fact that they are human adults just like all the rest. This belief in democracy, in one person one vote, is very deeply engrained. But what happens to this ideal when the mass of the population are uninformed or willing grazers of nefarious interests? Can the belief in one person one vote then be a tool for bad?

I'm starting to think that democracy is just ideological bullshit. For a start, I don't believe that everybody is equal and I certainly don't think that every viewpoint is equal. What's more, I don't think anybody else does either. I don't think that you reading this now does. Not, at least, if you think about it. Of course, we all think that some views and people can be better than others and, complicating matters, we don't agree on which are better and which are worse. This all raises serious issues and not least when the history of the human race (and, granted, people in general don't often tend to see the bigger picture because they are so wrapped up in themselves) shows that we as a species have been moving together more and more as history moves on. Our history is a history of moving to live together, creating huge cities of millions of people in the process. But when you are going to live cheek by jowl with lots of other people problems are going to arise. Police departments to administer our laws and bring people to justice are relatively new developments in the grand scheme of things. Before about 200 years ago there was no such thing as the police in any nation. This became necessary as a consequence of the coagulation of people in the same places.

And what about these nations themselves? Well, they haven't really been around that long either. Go back a measly 2000 years and the map of the world is unrecognizable. Countries, as we know them now, don't exist and won't for centuries. And yet, here and now, we can have political campaigns by people claiming to "want their country back" or "make their country great again". These people don't seem to realize that the countries concerned are mere historical particularities. Nothing is or was ever set in stone about them. The ideas of these countries are figments of various people's fevered imaginations, ideals they wish to espouse or promote for reasons both good and bad. This leads to what I often call a "pulling up the drawbridge" mentality and I can see it in both American and British political debate. Within this mentality your ideas of your country are literally a castle in your mind and your opponents are those who threaten to invade it. So what do you do? You pull up the drawbridge and deny access to all those you don't like. This might be by building walls or withdrawing from political and economic unions. The thought is the same. I stand back and stare. What does it matter what country you come from? A while ago none of these countries existed. America, hilariously, is actually a country that was basically stolen at gunpoint by the white people who came from Europe. Some of their descendants now claim to want "their" country back! The lack of self-awareness or broader historical awareness is staggering. I ask simply "Does it say anything important about anyone what piece of land they were birthed on?"

Let me be clear here. Everyone alive has a cultural and social background and we are creatures that are formed and developed by such things. I don't want to belittle that because many of us find it important and we can't really do any other since we seem made that way. But we should not confuse this with a belief that, in abstraction, what country you were born in is remotely important. Countries are mere time-conditioned entities that come and go on a constantly moving timescale. The same democratic belief which informs us that everyone is equal and so deserves an equal vote also tells us, if we apply it honestly, that an American is worth no more than a Jordanian and a Russian is worth no more than a Chilean. We are all just people. Donald Trump would not agree here. He tweets with the hashtag #AmericaFirst on his tweets. So presumably he sees the world as a contest between competing nations. Maybe he thinks that Americans are inherently worth more as people. I don't know. In the UK those in the Leave camp seem to be made up of a large proportion of people who think that the problems of people from other countries are something they can and should ignore. Such "other" people certainly should not be allowed to share in what's "ours". This issue of nationality is thought to say something fundamental about a person as a person. But does it? Does a line on a map indicate who matters and who doesn't?

There is much pressure in the modern world to conform and to buy into the narrative. I don't know what it must be like to be Arab-looking in America or the UK today but I imagine it can't be good. The narrative is increasingly pushed that such people are "our" enemies and are a danger. "They" want to kill us. "They" want to take over. Media organisations are quick to hijack such discussions, discussions which are only ever powered by soundbites that coalesce into a sort of narrative of "things that are understood". This narrative is more often than not highly questionable if not full of outright untruths. But it doesn't matter now. Its common knowledge. The people in general, even if they don't fully believe it or overly think about it, are used to hearing it and habit is, more often than not, enough to convince people of things. (Just one reason I don't watch or listen to regular news or read newspapers.) This is why various news organisations just plough on and on with the same thing. Say things often enough and people come to believe them. Or, at least, some will. And maybe that will be enough. In UK context this means that people regularly overestimate how many EU people are in the UK or how much of "our" money it is taking. They are told that hordes invade us daily. The truth is always rather less than it has been painted. But conventions are created and conforming to them becomes expected. It becomes harder and harder to stand out against the crowd even as it becomes more and more necessary to do so. 

The question I ask myself is if these hordes fed half truths, lies and propaganda by those who want to influence others in their favour should get to dictate the circumstances of my life. This problem is not a new one and was, incidentally, considered in the formation of the USA. The problem is known as "the tyranny of the majority". The issue is that if a side can get enough people to agree with it then it wins. This is based on the idea, of course, that we are all equal. Numbers will out. But is this right or fair? All true democrats would say yes. But I'm starting to think no. It is not liberty if you must go along with any hair-brained, nonsensical or downright wretched idea just because any number of people you may well be right to consider selfish or degenerate fools think differently. This is the tyranny of the majority. Another word for it, in modern media context, is the "zombiocracy". There was a film a while back called "Idiocracy" that expresses pretty much the same thought. And we live in a world today where people with various nefarious intents use their wealth and influence to convince people to support certain ideas which are quite plainly detrimental to people at large. These people use democracy to their advantage. Because democracy is simply a numbers game they seek to buy off or otherwise persuade as many as possible to their side of the argument. Right and wrong, pure morality, has nothing at all to do with this and its important to note that. Democracy is not moral nor must it lead unerringly to moral choices. Its just a way of deciding things based on certain assumptions. America is a supposedly democratic nation and yet it seems to kill more people, at home and abroad, legally and illegally, than anybody else.

I increasingly come to think of society as a trap. Its certainly a game that some people play. In America tens of thousands of people are shot with guns every year. There isn't a month without a mass shooting (defined as 4 people or more shot to death by an assailant). No other developed country kills as many of its own citizens with guns as the USA does. And yet its people are seemingly happy to let this carry on. If you are an American who does not want to live in a society which is basically a large gun store and shooting gallery all combined in one its too bad. Democracy decrees you're "shit outta luck" to use the words of Dirty Harry. Too many Americans, and too many powerful ones, are of the opinion guns should be relatively freely available in a world in which, for any sane mind, the more guns there are, the more people will be shot by them. The tyranny of the majority kills. When you see the arguments of gun advocates in the USA it chills the bones. I openly wonder how people can both think this way and get so attached to an instrument of death. But they do and they are and their views are thought by the democratic process to be equal to and just as valid as yours. Let's examine one.

It is said by gun advocates that even if guns were restricted the bad guys would still get hold of them anyway. The inference is then that there is no point to their restriction as it would make no difference. Is this a valid point of view? I don't think so. Firstly, even if it were true, so what? People can get hold of drugs anyway but most of them are still banned. Their availability to bad people does not stop their restriction on other grounds and the spending of millions of dollars to restrict their dispersal. Women can get back street abortions but it doesn't stop many gun-toting people trying to ban them legally. Second, even if bad people could still get hold of weapons is that any reason to make the whole process much easier and legal? No, it isn't. Bad people will always break laws if they choose to but we don't have laws based on what bad people might do regardless. We have laws based on what we think is right and safe for society. There is clear evidence from around the world that gun restrictions limit deaths and not just from people killing each other but from people killing themselves. Guns are a major instrument of suicide as well. Less guns, less deaths. So for people to say, as an ex-friend I had to block kept saying yesterday, that this "is not about guns" is quite simply false. It is about guns because where there aren't any no one gets shot. In both Australia and the UK, both places where guns are highly restricted, there hasn't been a significant domestic mass shooting for over 20 years. A reminder here: there is at least one in America EVERY MONTH. So what, as an American, do you do if you don't want to live in that kind of society? Its seems to me there's not a whole lot you can do and certainly not quickly. Democracy is a numbers game. And that's all it is. If the gun-toting folk outnumber you tough luck.

I've been quite depressed recently by the number of people, old people set in their ways, grumpy at the "foreigners" who they think are changing "their" country, who have been coming out of the woodwork. "Freedom" from Europe is regarded by these people as "independence" from various phantoms they have conjured up. I see it at merely ignorant selfishness. It is clear that many of these people cannot discuss the subjects relevant to the discussion. They have been fed with their propaganda from their outlets of choice and have become firmly convinced of their unchallengable views. It remains possible that the Leave camp may even win the referendum and the UK's drawbridge would be pulled up. No one has remotely a clue what this would mean going forward but many don't seem to care. Much more important to them is a largely figurative opportunity to assert themselves no matter how ignorantly or unedifyingly. The chance to raise a rampant middle digit to some amorphous enemy seems compelling to them. And I think it stinks. Of course, I don't really have another way forward. The truth of Churchill's assertion that democracy is the "least worst" form of government is well borne in on me. It is just one more absurdity of life, one more dead end.  Democracy is not a good thing. Its a least bad thing. Its a corrupt thing, an abused thing, a means to bad ends. Our only comfort is that it is not something worse. It is the terror of brute minds manipulated by those with the power and finance to do so. In a very real sense it is mob rule. And mobs can always be led, at least for a while, by charismatic speakers.

Sound familiar?

PS I don't know what the answer is. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

Musical Annoyances

This blog may turn out to be a series of grumbles and, if so, you may not find it as thoughtful or interesting as some other blogs I've done. Of course, it depends if you think bloggers should be entertaining their readers as to if you think that matters much. Me? I'm just writing things in public and providing a link on my Twitter to it. If you come here to read its for you to justify why. It didn't take up any of my time for you to do that. You made your own choices.

So today's subject is music and, by extension, culture and particularly how these things operate. Basically, I think its fair to say that they operate in ways that annoy me. This might not necessarily be a matter to concern anyone else but, as is usual with my blogs, I imagine that if something piques my interest then maybe people in a wider sense might want to consider the issues that I see arising. 

The first annoyance concerns things around commercial music. There was a fairly prominent release recently in the nerdy electronic music market by a duo feted by various people. They released their product digitally in various file formats and bit rates. And each had a different price. This annoyed me. I asked myself whether, hearing a digital file playing music, I'd know what file format and bit rate it was just from listening. The answer is no I wouldn't and neither would you (yes, even you self-deceptive audiophiles wouldn't either). Now let's remember at this point that it costs no more to produce an MP3 than it does to produce a WAV, a FLAC or even an OGG. So the production cost argument doesn't wash. "Ahh, but its a quality issue" I hear you cry. Really? Can you objectively demonstrate that this file format has a "better quality" than another? And if "quality" is the reason for the price difference then what is the quality comparison to a physical product like a CD, tape or vinyl? My point here is this is all arbitrary and inconsistent. Basically, people are charging whatever they like. I'll just leave this point by noting that on Bandcamp, which seems to me to be the best music buying and listening portal out there, you pay the price asked and can then CHOOSE your file format. Ostensibly they all cost the same. Certainly, there is zero justification in my mind for price differentiations between them. 

I read an interview in the last 24 hours with the duo mentioned above about their music-making processes and their recently released album. One thing I noticed is that they seem to be going against prevailing trends in what they do. In the electronic music world now for about 5 years there has been an increasing return to hardware for making music. The endless flow of new machines and instruments has swelled greatly in that time and there are now more desktop modules, keyboard synths and modules of various other kinds than there has ever been. Its easy for a relatively small sum like $500-$600 to build a setup of electronic machines that would make perfectly acceptable electronic (and even analog) music. And many people do do this as the many You Tube videos I watch weekly would attest. The software synth revolution that came in with the 21st century when software such as Ableton Live, Propellerheads Reason and much of the Native Instruments catalog of instruments came to be has been turning recently. No one would want to watch a video in which someone tweaks his mouse anyway. But a table full of boxes with flashing lights connected up to a mixer? That's a different matter. So that's why it struck me with a bit of a blow that Autechre, for that is the duo I'm talking about, claimed not to have bought any new musical hardware for at least 5 years. Everything they do is in code, software, Max/MSP specifically. Now I'm not a computer person or a coder and never have been. So what that even is baffles me. I just found it interesting that they use that exclusively now. They want control at the atomic level it seems and they feel only code gives them this. They literally build what they need.

Of course, you may or may not like Autechre. I don't really think it matters anyway when thinking about how they do what they do or even why they do it. But this raises another issue that's been annoying me recently: music magazines. Now I'll freely admit that I don't read music magazines, either the consumer kind or the ones addressed to those who make music which seem like thinly disguised advertorials for various companies and their equipment. But I have seen them and briefly browsed. My moan here is about commercialism I guess. For why do these magazines exist? They exist to plug and flog stuff. They aren't charitable organisations there to assist people. Those who sell music and musical equipment want these things to exist so they can promote their wares. Fair enough, right? Well, no, not really. Not to me. "Marketing" is one of those things which really gets my back up and especially when its some "review" written by someone who thinks he (its usually he) is a writer when all he does is give his opinion about something and quite often without much background or insight to do so. 

Now one question that comes to my mind here is why is this opinion worth reading? An opinion is something everybody has. Opinions, furthermore, are as many and various as there are people to have them. So why is this person who has got a gig at a magazine writing his down worth reading and taking seriously? My answer its that its ego. There are people who think that reading a certain magazine means something. There are certain people who canonize the opinions of certain other people as if their opinion is more than an opinion. I see them sometimes on Twitter saying they have read this magazine or that magazine. "And?", I think to myself, rolling my eyes. But I just find this inane, truly inane. There is, at any one time, more music in existence than anyone could ever listen to in 100 lifetimes. So are you really going to let Joe Blow in Trendy Music Magazine decide for you what's good and what's bad? Are you going to let some music equipment magazine tell you what piece of equipment is good or bad?

What did Joe Blow do to earn your trust in a such a way? And why are you letting him stop you from simply discovering things for yourself? This latter option, by the way, is very easy. Go to Bandcamp. Type your term of choice in the search box. Up will pop ten pages of albums you've never heard before. Now that is discovery. And, crucially for me, it removes the slimy layer of knowledge from the process from people who think they know what is "good" or "cool" or "best" in contemporary music when all they actually know is what they got sent this week and their opinion of it. I'd like to speak up for innocence in music discovery, the kind where you have no idea of who this is you are listening to or what they do. The music then speaks to you directly and innocently. Knowledge, as Adam and Eve knew well, only spoils things. Yes, I do think much today is spoiled by the fact that we know too much (without actually knowing anything at all). Yes, I am arguing that knowing less is to experience more.  Yes, I am arguing that a lot of our knowledge is fake and based more on ego, custom and convention. You read these magazines and you see the same old "truths" hawked around as common knowledge. "Fuck off" I think to myself. Get yourself a mind. The most important opinion about any piece of music is your opinion that you came to for yourself. And, lazy bones, no one else can come to that opinion for you. So do the hard yards and stop relying on other people. Don't read music magazines. You will be better for it. (And if you're now thinking "But then how will I know what to listen to?" you've just exactly demonstrated the attitude I want to change!)

I downloaded Syro by Aphex Twin yesterday. This Grammy-winning album is from 2014 and was much masturbated over in my Twitter timeline back then. Pitchfork (who are the devil, make no mistake) regarded it as their 4th best album of 2014. By the way, how does one decide what a "best" album is? Surely what they actually mean is "this is something we liked 4th best"? Their opinion, after all, is not a matter of objective fact. Its just an opinion. Like mine. Or yours. Even if all the music mags in all the world pooled their "best of" lists and did a mandatory worldwide poll of opinions it still wouldn't be objective fact that Syro by Aphex Twin was the "4th best album of 2014". It would just be intersubjective agreement. Democracy does not provide facts. Rather, it just provides a bigger opinion. And opinions can't tell you that any piece of music is objectively better than another. Such talk is crazy talk. Aphex Twin is another artist with a nerdy fanboy fanbase. Is Syro good? I find it to be totally crappy elevator music. Isn't Aphex Twin meant to be cutting edge? This crap was so bad I deleted it again. There are a million nobodies making 10 minute videos on their IPads on You Tube who make things more appealing to me. And yet somehow, thanks to marketing and something indescribable, Aphex Twin is feted as some kind of monkey genius. 

The only moral here is "So what?". No one is mandated to go with the flow or accept anyone else's musical judgments. I positively encourage you not to. Find your own way. Like what you want to like. Be active in finding your own way. Make your own soundtrack. The only valid opinion is your own.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Mentality I Just Don't Understand

I've been agitated recently and in more ways than one. You may have noticed this if you follow my tweets which often give a clue as to what is currently animating me. But now it seems to me like several different thoughts actually turn out to be related. 

First of all, being from the UK, there is the current debate over if the UK should leave the EU or not. Like a number of notable cultural commentators on this (random picks: writer Irvine Welsh and comedian Frankie Boyle) I take the view that this is not necessary about those in charge of both the EU or the UK. These people are clearly equally as bad and equally as unpalatable. This is like asking yourself if you want a bad person from another country in charge or a bad person from your own country. Of course, you'd rather have a good person. But good people don't seem to go into politics and they certainly don't rise to the top. Yes, I'm a cynic but with good reason to be cynical.

I have steered clear of the public farago around this event with its stage-managed addresses and bullshit arguments. We have the spectre of leading government politicians, who are routinely impoverishing people and taking sides with the "haves" as opposed to the "have nots", people who think nothing of claiming thousands on their own expense accounts but will snatch a few pounds from the disabled that they need to survive in something that can barely be described as comfort, suddenly saying they are on your side and that the "elites" (a useful bogey term for whoever the bad guys are meant to be this week) are on the other side. You don't want to be siding with the elites now do you? By the way, these now apparent men of the people were all very well and privately educated and are all millionaires. But, hey, they still care about the little guy, they say. Sweet.

As many people have observed, the EU debate in the UK has been a lot of shouting about increasingly ridiculous and unsupportable claims and very little facts or genuine information. I doubt you could find 10 good British people who could even explain what is at stake. The OUT people don't seem to have any clue as to what they would do if and when they were out. They just know they don't want some foreigner making the decisions. The IN people don't necessarily even believe we should be in but they think they might be richer if we were. Compromises abound.

Yesterday, like many in Europe, I woke up to the news of Muhammad Ali's death. Ali was a star when I was but a boy. I was only born at the end of the 1960s and, until yesterday, was blissfully unaware that at the time I was being born Ali was actually banned from boxing altogether because he had refused to be drafted in the Vietnam War. I learned about this only yesterday as I delved into his life story and found out that Ali wasn't just a prodigious boxer with a knack for amusing witticisms but a man with beliefs who was prepared to act upon them to his own personal cost. The best years of his career taken from him by his refusal to be drafted, he spent time making speeches and became a civil rights figure. I saw many gushing tributes to Ali yesterday but not many of them pointed out that Ali was three things that some of these gushing tributers don't normally seem to be too fond of. Because let's tell it straight: Ali was BLACK. Ali was a MUSLIM. Ali was against war. As a number of black and Muslim tributes to Ali pointed out yesterday, don't let them sell you anything else.

Now the question is should we forgive someone like presidential nominee, Donald Trump, when he tweets about how Ali was a great champion and a great man? This is the same Trump who, a year before this tweet, had called out President Obama for talking about great Muslim sports stars. He seemingly thought there were none. Trump has had a lot to say about Muslims in the last year and most of it can be summed up as "Go away!" Is Trump aware that Ali was a proud Muslim, one who, so I read, regarded Islam as a faith of peace? What does Trump think about that? What do all these anti-Islam people in America who think Muhammad Ali (an arab name) was "a great man" think about that? What do they think about the Ali who said he refused to fight the Vietcong because they had never called him nigger (implicitly, unlike the many white men he regarded the war as being fought for)? What do the muslim haters and the black haters think about the Ali who refused to be defined by other people and who seemingly ignore the fact he was proudly black and proudly Muslim? I saw one Fox Sports reporter yesterday who actually tried to completely gloss over the fact that Ali was these things. But how can you do that when Ali himself did not? It seems to me that if whitewashing is anything then this is exactly what it is. Ali was not some generic human being. He, like everyone else, was a set of very specific things. And you can't ignore or brush over those things without attempting to erase or deny them. These are POLITICAL moves. I don't know if Ali ever spoke about the Black Lives Matter campaign but even a brief study of his life shows that he certainly believed it and he was far from ignorant or uninvolved in racial and religious matters. So if you discriminate against blacks and think Muslims are heathen killers trying to destroy your way of life do you get to call Muhammad Ali a "great man"? 

There are other things I could talk about here but I don't what this blog to get too long or complicated. Save it to say that it all seems to come back to something that I tried to compose as a tweet a day or two ago. This is to do with the mentality of some people that I just don't get. There seems to be an idea abroad with some people that the only people you have common cause with are what we might term "people like you". This can be defined in many ways and its not always obvious. Feminists have this mentality just as much as do rabid racists, for example. In the UK's EU debate we see this attitude manifested in that some people genuinely seem to think that only people who were born on the same piece of land as you are, in this sense, "like you". We shouldn't be ruled over by people from over there because we are from over here. Is it only me that finds this kind of thinking completely absurd? Does everything come down to a factor which, let's face it, none of us could ever have influenced anyway? No one decides where they get born but on this basis it is decided that my interests and Jean's from France or Jörg's from Germany or Michal's from Poland are different? This is baloney.

Those who think this way seem to have a very warped sense of reality for as I look out I can see very many people just like me in a political sense even whilst being different socially and culturally. But all too many people get these things mixed up. Yes, people from different places have different cultural traditions and different social understandings. But politically they might have exactly the same needs and politically they might be very much the same as each other. In fact, the differences politically may be more between themselves and the elites above them than between each other. Lines on a map do not stop people have common interests or aligned needs. Far from it. They don't even need to be from Europe. All the nasty foreigners (as some would see it) who are grabbing on to anything that floats and trying to reach our Promised Land have political needs the same as the rest of us who, through no fault of our own, were already born here. They need stability and security so that they can have a means to survive. Should anyone begrudge them trying to achieve it? The ultimate answer may not be that everyone lives in the same space. Indeed, it certainly won't be. But while the lights are on and fires burn to cook food in one place do not look down on those who have none of these things and head towards those who do. It was through no credit of our's who have that we are where we are. No god decided to bless us and curse the suspicious foreigner.

And so for this and other reasons I find the "pull up the drawbridge" mentality confusing. It all comes back to this "people like us" mentality and this is always the heart of most political issues. Our identity is focused too narrowly whether what we care about is the rights of women, a particular race, an ethnic grouping, a religious body or anything else. The focus always seems to be on the differences and not the similarities. These differences divide and determine who is to be heard and privileged and who is to be ignored and who deserves nothing.

So allow me to be radical enough to say that this is all bullshit. Its the differences that kill us, start wars, empower enmity and generally add to the shitty pile of miseries that we have to endure in life. Like the American philosopher, Richard Rorty, I see human betterment as a matter of every human being, not a few. I see the direction of human travel to be in forever WIDENING the category "people like us" so that whoever is in trouble or has a problem is a matter for us, so that everyone ends up being "like us". I see that if one person is in trouble then that is a problem for all of us. I say that no one should go to bed perfectly peaceful while anyone else cannot. I say that my good is bound up with everyone else's good. And theirs is with mine. I say imagine what it would be like if everyone actually believed this. I say that human beings need to get beyond tribalism, need to get beyond thinking that the good of me or those like me is at the expense of the them or those like them. So, sorry Mr Trump, the future is not in walls to keep all the good stuff for ourselves and to keep out the filthy foreigners. The truth is that building worthwhile lives everywhere for people so that lines on a map become irrelevant, so that life in not a lottery of where you were born or who you know, is what we should do. And, sorry UK people who want to leave the EU, the future is not in thinking that where your birth certificate says you were born says anything genuinely important about you or your politics. We are all citizens of the world. We are all cast adrift on the same planetary lifeboat.

So, sorry, I don't understand the mentality that says differences count and similarities, the most profound similarities of all, we are all human, don't matter. I say what are you thinking if you think this? I say that life does not have to be cast as a battle or a competition for resources. I say think differently, change your mind, wake up. I say that the fact we are different is one of the things that makes us who we are but it is NOT a reason to draw lines. I say that we can be different within an understanding that recognizes we are all basically the same. I say that we need to stop being lazy and simplistic.

Is anybody listening?

PS Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, is a useful guide here. In Star Trek the world has no countries and, incidentally, no money. Both innovations would solve a lot of Earth's current problems and be for our common good, common meaning everyone and not just the next privileged group. If we are to advance, Roddenberry seems to sense, we must end the tribalism and come together as one. People in many walks of life need to hear this message and take it to their hearts.