Sunday, April 25, 2021

P.R.E.M. versus the C-word

Dale Cornish, not content with inventing the genre of "thug ambient", has coined another nifty name. In a recent tweet he announced: 

"Yesterday, in an interview for A Thing, I invented the term Press Release Experimental Music, whereby the promo blurb is 374 times more interesting than the bland music it's hyping up. "recorded in a cave in Belarus using rare AKG microphones" = sounds bloody boring though m8888"

Now, I know what you're thinking. 

You're thinking, "Dale, mate - it's been named. It's called Conceptronica."

And I admit, that was the first thing that popped into my head. 

But upon consideration, I decided they're not the same thing. 

They overlap, but Press Release Experimental Music is a purely pejorative term.

Whereas Conceptronica is actually value-neutral (no, honestly it is -  many assume it's a brickbat,  others a big-up, but it's neither). 

Under the umbrella of Conceptronica, you would indeed find a swathe of stuff where the press release was way better than the actual music.

But you would also find a swathe of stuff where the press release and the music were just as good as each other and mutually enhancing. 

And you would find yet another swathe of stuff where the press release was turgid and pretentious such that the music would be much better off without that framing - and in that sense is 347 times better than said press release.

And - we're not done yet - there is another subcategory (and in truth this probably was something the C-word had in its sights, as a target) and that is the swathe of stuff where the press release (interesting in its own right) and the music (also interesting, "stands up by itself") are both fine and dandy, but there doesn't seem to be any actual relationship between the themes, critiques etc asserted in the framing bumf and the actual sonic events that comprise the work. 


Apropos of this, recently I came across a bit of Mark Fisher writing that prefigures the conceptualization of conceptronica, although not actually being about music, per se. 

"What's interesting - and this has a direct bearing on some of the disputes about abstraction and the [hardcore continuum]to which I will return in a post that's been germinating ever since the UEL event - is the way in which Burial's music conducted affects and images so powerfully, so lucidly, without the mediation of the (facialised, biographical) individual or its self-understandings. (How different is Burial's abstract art - so painterly, so precise in the images it produced - to so much of what appears in galleries, with its overthought, overconscious, nulanguage meta-rationales, while 'the work' induces no ideas, no affects, at all.)"

K-punk here is slagging off art-art, not art-tekno -  visual art, gallery art. 

I am curious what Mark would have thought of the Conceptronica phenomenon - he seemed both amenable to That Kind of Thing (e.g. wrote about Ultra-Red I seem to recall, Mille Plateaux agit-proptronica) but on the other would have been reflexively suspicious of the self-curatorial turn in modern music I'd have thought (given his swipes at e.g. S. Youth etc). 

Recently also realized that the seed of conceptronica, which I've used on and off as a term since 2006,  can be traced right back to Energy Flash and the chapter called "Fuck Dance, Let's Art", in whose opening section the idea of the museum as space of non-vibe is aspersed: 

By the end of 1995, a new zone of music-making had emerged out of the ruins of ‘electronic listening music’: a sort of post-rave omni-genre wherein techno’s purity was ‘contaminated’ by an influx of ideas from jungle, trip hop, all over. Not particularly danceable, yet too restlessly rhythmic and texturally startling to be ambient chill-out, this music might be dubbed art-tekno, since the only appropriate listener response is a sort of fascinated contemplation. Imagine a museum dedicated not to the past but the future, where you marvel at the bizarre audio-sculptures, let your ears wander through the sound-installations, and boggle at the noise contraptions as they go about their pointless, captivating tasks.

One of the earliest events dedicated to this new omni-genre, the Electronic Lounge, was actually situated in the bar at an art gallery, London’s ICA....

But here it's cast as art-for-art's sake experimentation, music without social energy behind it or a social function... whereas conceptronica is very much purposed with a polemical or even didactic point, is in some cases an activist attempt to reconnect experimental music and Society. 


mrcus said...

Was electronic lounge run by akin Fernandez from irdial? A strange and unique figure who is a bitcoin guru nowdays


can't remember

Tall Guy said...

Surely room for Jeff Mills in here? For me personally the huge disconnect there is between the stated high concepts and the physical reality of his DJing, which at its peak in the mid 90s was startlingly physical, punishing, and intense, and owed more to his hip-hop background than anything else.


yeah it's very visceral and almost head-emptying in its impact, his deejaying

could also be his industrial / EBM background heh heh - Final Cut etc

people don't like to talk about the industrial input into techno - and not just into European techno, but all over, in the UK, in the US. what a lot of people were into, immediately before they got into techno / house