Iederéén staat op de longlist. Maar als ULTRA de Pop Media Prijs 2012 wint, geeft de auteur het integrale geldbedrag aan 'n nog nader te bepalen jonge Nederlandse band, ULTRA in geest. Stemmen dus! Stemmen kan tot maandag 26 november 2012. Een stem voor ULTRA is een stem voor de muziek! (Het boek, dat is af. Maar de muziek, daar komt nooit een einde aan...)
june 24, 2012.
A couple of months ago my daughter begged me to buy her a little game for the iPhone, a very popular and addictive one, that she loved playing: Fruit Ninja. In the game, your Ninja task is to slice all sorts of fruits that come falling along the screen of your smart phone, with a swipe of your finger, which, you might have guessed, functions as your Ninja blade.
I am not much of a game player. Though I did play the occasional adventure game, had a lot of fun racing Mario Kart with the kids, and every now and then tried to steal my way through GTA, as far as digital games go, over the years I more or less stubbornly stuck with good old 'cold war classic' Tetris.
But having bought the digi-toy, in the odd lost moment, I launched the Fruit Ninja. And quickly came to understand what was so attractive about the little game, with its ludic mix of juicy fruits, zen and battle imagery. Addictive, indeed.
Still, it would hardly have been worth mentioning here, had not not at some point my Fruit Ninja playing unlocked a new one among the several types of blade that a player may use to splice the fruits. There's a firecracker blade, a shadow blade, an ice blade, a butterfly blade ... and, most remarkable of all, a piano blade. For me it was this blade that turned Fruit Ninja into a whole different kind of game: the piano blade suddenly made Fruit Ninja into a rather intriguing instrument.
When you use the piano blade while playing Fruit Ninja, each time you slice one of the fruits, you also hit a piano note. Now the range is quite limited, and I actually have not been able to find out precisely how notes are being assigned to (types of) fruits. Also, quite apparently, a number of (tonal) sequences have been built into it. But I quickly found myself playing the game in a totally different way. Instead of trying to get to the next high score, I started to play the game with my ears, trying to produce interesting sonic patterns.
It eventually led me to cook up a complete album, based on Fruit Ninja playing: Ninja Fruits. The album has 26 tracks. These are based upon the recorded sound of the playing, 26 times in succession within the period of about one hour and a half, of the game on my iPhone 4G. Each track corresponds to one of these 26 games played, that were all done in Arcade mode, and - of course - used the piano blade. The track order corresponds to the chronological order in which I played the 26 games. I then took each of the 26 recordings through several phases of editing, thus gradually converging them to what I considered to be their 'musical core'. None of the tracks therefore actually even remotely sounds like the game play that originally generated it. However, apart from 'Fruit Ninja', no other sound sources were used in their making.
Ninja Fruits can be streamed for free. It is also available as a high quality download at Bandcamp. Any money received will help to keep this SoundBlog going. Enjoy!
I also read - quite a while ago - Retromania, Simon Reynold's yesteryear's bulky book filled with reflections on current pop culture's addiction to its own past. The word 'addiction' accounts for the negative ring: 'addiction' of course is characterized by a near to ex-clusive focus on a single thing or substance, and a tendency to increase its dose. In this case: pop music from the past.
In its short history (which, we should be well aware, spans little more than six decades) pop music evolved in waves of revolutionary innovation that provided a number of successive generations with a 'surging-into-the-future feel', often bordering on euphoria. To get to that future, one only had to 'follow the music'. The wonder and excitement caused by the sounds of the psychedelic sixties and the post-punk late seventies shaped much of my life. I was far less sensitive for (and not at all involved in) what, pop music wise, happened in the 'hip-hop eighties' and the 'rave nineties', but I readily accept that these periods for many did come with a similar feel.
Throughout its many pages Retromania emanates a strong, almost desperate, nostalgia for precisely that feeling. What pop in these days and times is lacking, Reynold sighs, is a trend, a wave, able to bring on another of these 'here comes the future' feels. In this sense, pop music has come to a grinding halt. It no longer relentlessly pushes forward into the unknown. Instead, the best of today's pop is looking backwards, doing little but ruminating the many and varied achievements from its past. There's an awful lot of great and very entertaining pop being crafted, far more than at any other time; but it's music that lacks urgency and social relevance. All of it - intentionally - sounds like wonderful things we've heard a many times before.
This retro-phenomenon is very real, and - as Reynolds is well aware - it is not something typical only of pop music. The book though lacks a thorough deeper analysis and merely hints at the mechanisms that are lurking behind. The 'pop' that we are talking about is not only a musical, but also very much a socio-cultural phenomenon, inextricably linked to the development of post-second world war capitalist society. It would take at least another book of Retromania's size to develop this in a satisfactory manner, but surely it's more than just a funny coincidence that the golden age of pop revolutions just about starts with the rise of the Berlin wall, and more or less ends with its fall.
Maybe most fascinating (and elusive) is the changing role and functioning of (youth) subcultures, which have played such an essential and central role in the history of pop. In Peak Attention and the Colonization of Subcultures, an interesting analysis on his web site earlier this year, Venkatesh Rao observes that "the web is making traditional subcultures — historically illegible to governance mechanisms, and therefore hotbeds of subversion — increasingly visible and open to cheap, large-scale economic and political exploitation. [...] The subcultural web is [...] being made legible and governable under the harsh light of Facebook Like actions". The data mining powers of the social web molochs, Venkatesh predicts, make "all attention that lives within subcultures [...] vulnerable to external control. [... In] less than a decade or two [subcultures will] have become irrelevant. [...] The larger the subculture, the faster it will fall [...]". With their "Big Data crunching AI"-eyes, the current digital governors - Facebook (like patterns), Google (search patterns), Amazon (buy patterns) - will soon, he argues, be in a position "to detect and take control of subcultures before they even come into existence".
The successive 'innovative bursts' in pop music that we can look back upon, each are also deeply related to corresponding econo-technological
developments, that acted as their 'enablers'. Therefore it is no coincidence that the no longer 'revolutionariness' of pop music began
to set in at a time that the successive waves of technological advancements, that for several decennia had been pushing onward the means that
(pop) musicians could dispose of for the making, recording and distribution of their music, washed dead upon the shores of the virtually infinite
internet and the availability at little cost of near to unlimitedly powerful digital technologies, bringing the means for whatever audiovisual
creation and production imaginable, to anyone and to all.
It is maybe too little yet realised how profoundly the still exponentially inflating web world is obliterating our sense of a future by making (all of our present), and very more so, all of our past available at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger, in a manifold of distinct manifestations, in a library of Babel-ish sense. It makes that the 'past is no longer simply a means for explaining the present', but that 'history becomes a reservoir of possibility'. ( * ) (How can there be a future, if we no longer may nor can forget?)
There is of course also a more trivial side. Together with its protagonists and heroes, pop has grown … old. Today's pop music is far from being a music almost exclusively for the young. Pop has become a music with a canon, with a history, traditions. It's a music for all ages. Nowadays 'pop musician' is a profession that is taught in schools, and there are whole series of nice workshops for those who want to learn how to 'do it' the DIY way. :-)
An awful lot more could be said and should be analyzed. The role of the media, communication, record industry, the idea of the 'star' … In the end, all things said and done, it probably is an unavoidable matter of fact that the pop-as-we-knew-and-so-much-loved-it simply has reached a natural, historical, end.
I end my ULTRA (that obviously, however unintentional, does its part of contributing to the current wave of 'retromania') with a credo in the unbreakable force and power of music to endlessly renew itself; even, I should add, if at some point such renewal temporarily has come to a halt. Today we might witness the end of pop, but music is bound to make another leap, sooner or later, which cannot but be linked to a forthcoming dramatic, and painful for many, turn that our society's history will take, maybe rather sooner now then later. [cf. Attali, Bruits]
Meanwhile, with the ookoi, we continue to consider and develop our Future of Popp. Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues. But you know it don't come easy.
On April 24th the ookoi were in STEIM in Amsterdam, for one of their rare public appearances. This particular time it was on the occasion of one more final event in the past series of ULTRA related events. It was something of a footnote, organized because it would indeed have been too much of a shame to not jump at the occasion of Truus de Groot's April residency at STEIM to somehow mark the relation that Truus, and via her ULTRA, had with STEIM in the late 1970's.
The Amsterdam Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music is a fabulous institution, that, in the many years of its existence continued to steer its own, independent, course in the areas where the worlds of academic and non-academic music and performance meet and overlap. A course that maybe not always has been equally successful, but that at the very least always assiduously tried to stay ahead of developments, and define part of the future use and application of electronic instruments in music, in theatre, on stage.
In view of these facts and ambitions, together with also ULTRA's stress on 'altijd nieuw en altijd anders', in hindsight it is somewhat paradoxical that the ULTRA evening in STEIM became somewhat of a night at the museum.
Nijmegen based artist Bertin van Vliet had jumped at the opportunity to dive into STEIM's gear vault, and have a go at the Roland System 100M modular synthesizer. Truus de Groot complemented her own gear with STEIM's Putney VCS3 and Michel Waisvicz's crackle synthesizer.
Now obviously, the sort of instruments you use by themselves do not determine whether the music that is being made will be, say, typically eighties underground retro, or boldly pushing forward into hitherto little mined land. Also, the original idea for the evening had been that someone from STEIM, as an external actor, would be there to interfere with the playing, doing live electronic mashing, mixing and manipulation of the sounds produced by the analogue treasures from the vault. But that, unfortunately, did not happen.
It thus turned out but half the show we had originally intended.
But OK. It was cosy. It was fun.
One of the highlights, as far as the retro part is concerned, was a nice bare & sketchy rendition of Plus Instrument's classic 1980 track Sweet Bananas, by Liesbeth Esselink and Truus de Groot, a recording of which can be found on my 2012 lo-profile Audio Diary tumblr.
Also our short ookoi Plus Instruments set was pretty special. Historical, indeed. As well as deviously warped in the direction of a future popp, if only thanks to Fruit Ninja, which also in a such live setting proved to be a very useful instrument indeed...
Reason enough to make the April 24th retro/post Ultra evening at STEIM's recording of Fruit Ninja Plus Instruments this SoundBlog edition's podcast. With Peter Mertens on sub-bass, Truus de Groot on crackle synthesizer, and me myself, as your Fruit Ninja ninja...
[ previous: One big sweep, iii ]
tags: STEIM, ultra, popp, post-experimental, Fruit Ninja, retromania
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