As any of the three of you who read my reviews will know. I am a big fan of the use of descriptive imagery when I am writing about music. I have often thought that this is something that lends itself to electronic music particularly well. I have always found that most traditional rock music, say, tends to inhibit this sort of approach – the use of lyrics seem to lock a piece of music into a distinct mode of ideas that I find difficult to look beyond; there is less room for alien and unrelated concepts to associate with a piece of work if the songwriter has explicitly written a load of words about banging someone. And they always do.
In a medium where the human voice is most often used as another instrument to add texture to the sound as a whole, rather than as a delivery device for ideas of greater or lesser complexity, we tend to rely more heavily on what we bring with us to the music. In this, along with classical music – or jazz, perhaps – I’ve always suspected there is more in common with how we perceive art than simply how we listen to House or Techno. For most people art is a highly subjective experience. When viewing renaissance art, for example, there are very few people who have the benefit of the sort of classical education which would have, at one time, imparted the knowledge to fully understand the concepts the artists were attempting to transmit. As a result, we bring what we know to our understanding; crumbs of objectivity and a lot of our own experiences inform our viewing. In a sense, the key to that particular door is hanging in the tangled web of our own knowledge.
Yes, I’m over thinking all of this. And I’m aware that most classical music is usually about something, be it Mozart’s Requiems, Stravinsky’s overt story telling or any opera you have ever heard. And much of House and Techno is, essentially, not meant to be any more complex than providing us with something to dance to. At least, the greater part of it is.
So what informs my understanding of electronic music? Part of me is still in thrall to the early conceits of Detroit Techno where man and machine collide to create a forward thinking musical form laced with science-fiction motifs and imagery. Arguably this line of musical philosophy reached its peaked a while ago in the Atlantis-meets-Afrofuturism of Drexciya, and in ‘Deep Space’ the 1997 album by Model 500. There is something about the idea of sound – of frequency – as an echo of the very earliest moments of creation that has always captivated me, this echo from the depths of space that seems to reverberate through the album – still perhaps Juan Atkin’s finest work.
But there is another side as well. I’ve always found my listening of electronic music, and Techno in particular, to be very heavily influenced by environment. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the mountains, and one of my earliest memories of Techno was listening to Kao-tic Harmony by Derrick May whilst wandering around on a moon-lit, mist softened night. For all its urban roots, for all it’s reliance on instruments made from circuitry, Techno has always felt a sort of extension of the natural world, not in a lame Gaian earth-mother way, but in the same sense that an artist like Caspar David Friedrich manages to convey the grandeur and majesty of what he saw around him, capturing the play of light beneath the storm, or wisps of cloud around distant mountains.
Techno, stripped of the overt politics of lyrical explanation, must be more primal, more reliant on older, more subconscious but no less sophisticated emotions to make sense to us. It is understanding informed by experience, just as it is abstraction informed by structure. This is how I relate to it.
Well, that and dancin’.