Thursday, July 11, 2013

Adam Curtis on stuck pop / me on "emotional compression"

In making this most recent show I’ve begun to actually think about music politically. The thing that fascinates me most is just how stuck music has become. And I love music, I know a lot about pop music, but it is now completely reworking the past, almost archaeologically”--Adam Curtis, talking to FACT  about his collaboration with Massive Attack

I know everyone loves Savages but if you listen to Savages, they are archeologists! They are like those people in pith helmets who used to dig up the bones of Tutankhamun. Savages have gone back to the early 1980s and unearthed a concert of Siouxsie Sioux or The Slits and literally replicated it note for note, tone for tone, emotion for emotion. It’s like some strange curatorial adventure. They’re not new. It’s good to go back into the past and take something and reinterpret it and use it to push into the future but they’re not doing that – they’re like robots.”

From which he concludes, worriedly and worryingly:

Pop music might not be the radical thing we think it is. It might be very good and very exciting and I can dance to it and mope to it, but actually it just keeps on reworking the past. If you continually go back into the past then by definition you can never ever imagine a world that has not existed before. I think true radicalism…comes from the idea of saying this is a world that has never existed before, come with me to it....   Music may actually be dying at the very moment it is everywhere. There comes a moment in any culture where something becomes so ubiquitous and part of everything that it loses its identity. It will remain here to be useful but it won’t take us anywhere or tell us any stories. It won’t die in the sense of not being here but in the sense of not having a meaning beyond itself. It will just be entertainment."

A lot of interesting things in this interview - similarity of punk and Thatcherism as promotion of absolute individualism, and this bit on emotionalism as trap, or as FACT phrase it, "the modern demotion of music as means to simply titillate– a kind of emotional masturbation".

Curtis: “I love emotions, I’m a very emotional person, but how limiting is it to live in a world where your relationship with music is just emotional? It’s appropriate at certain times like when you go dancing or you’re lonely and home late at night, but the idea of being emotional in everything might actually be trapping us into a very limited view of what we are as human beings. The focus on our own emotions comes from the central ideology of our time: individual freedom. But what this ideology really says is that what you feel and what you think is everything. Well, actually, human beings can be far more than that. In other circumstances you can lose yourself in something grander, whether it’s for an idea or for love, when you surrender yourself to someone else. These things actually liberate yourself from your feelings and it may be that this idea that your emotions, which this modern music is encouraging to reinforce, might actually be part of the problem because it’s trapping you just with yourself and if you’re trapped within yourself you can’t lose yourself in something grander. It’s not only limiting – it stops the world changing, because it’s only when we are together that we’re powerful.”

This relates to a thought I had listening to songs on the radio full of emotion-melody blasts and those chorus-uplift rushes that Dan Barrow calls the Soar. The songs are meant to be super-emotive, but it's all too hyper-real to feel. It struck me that as well as compression in the audio sense (the loudness wars, brickwall limiting -- the flattening out of volume dynamics, so that it's at max impact all the way through, no dips in the levels) there was something you could "emotional compression".  The emotion levels aren't allowed to fluctuate; the verse is like the chorus in terms of intensity. But it's also on the micro-level of every single line, every single word sung. The melisma. All the extra tremulous twinges you can work with a voice using AutoTune and other FX. It's like every syllable has been injected with emotional collagen.


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