electro class of '06
[Update (31 March 2010): This post, originally published in June of 2006, was "reset" to "draft" status on 29 March 2010 because of a spurious DMCA takedown notification. I am republishing it now, having removed what I believe to be the offending material: namely, a couple links to DJ mixes which may or may not contain infringements of copyrighted materials -- not that anyone made it clear to me what that might be. (Blogger's email was very vague, and the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse to which I was directed is suffering from such a heavy backlog that it may be weeks or days before I get a chance to see the actual DMCA complaint, which will likely still tell me little or nothing about what someone thinks constitutes infringement below.) I want to note that the mixes to which I linked have long been unavailable, and so the automated takedown notice I received is essentially saying that I am infringing copyright by directing people to a 404 error. Beyond that simple fact, however, I want to register some protest over the burden of proof falling on me: I did not make the mixes in question but am simply linking to them; moreover, it is a rather gray area to claim that a fragment of a track recontextualized in a mix -- and one with critical commentary guiding its aesthetic -- is an infringement of copyright. My belief is that this use -- on the part of the DJ, never mind a blogger like me simply linking to it -- is firmly protected by "fair use." I am sorry that Blogger/blogspot and the DMCA make it so easy for spurious takedowns to happen as opposed to facilitating the important re-accounting of the balance that copyright is supposed to strike. It's amazing to me that two defunct links to mixes, which may or may not infringe copyrights, are enough to remove and potentially delete a post with a great deal of other content in it. This vulnerability to bad law is one reason that I moved my blog from Blogger to a private server years ago. Incidentally, in case this post again becomes "reset," I have republished it, in full, here: http://wayneandwax.com/?p=3186]
harvard's sunlit serge
it's now been about a month since the electro class wound up. an ambitious, breakneck survey of the wide world of "electronic music" (broadly defined), it was a delight to teach once again, especially with students joining from as far as edinburgh and omaha. i won't be offering this particular course again, but the endeavor - and two years experience working through the materials - has deeply informed my perspective on "electronic music" and i look forward to digging into various areas, themes, and histories in new ways in other courses in future years.
i suppose the biggest thing i'll take from the experience is similar to what i hope most students come away with: an enriched sense of how these various genres and styles relate to each other, sonically and socio-culturally, and how we can hear histories of social movements and cultural politics in contemporary sonic structures (especially in the way they draw musical genealogies - often in a rather audible, immediate manner).
considering that we began with stockhausen and the beatles and proceeded to trace "experimental" and "popular" movements (and their interplay) in "electronic" music from the 50s to today, it seemed appropriate to end with a twin tutorial on oldschool analog synthesis and newschool max/msp from local versatile virtuoso, keith fullerton whitman (who, i should note, performs with matmos on the latest podcast from the dublab).
keith gave an excellent introduction to both systems of synthesis, including showing us his max setups for both kfw and hrvatski mode - the latter requiring that one could operate it well drunk, which is, to paraphrase keith, how breakcore is supposed to be played.
that there (decent but terse) wikipedia article on breakcore - see also, e.g., kid kameleon's xlr8r article - provides as good an opportunity as any to discuss the final project for the course, which required each student to create or make a substantial edit (or series of edits) to a wikipedia entry on some aspect of "electronic music" - defined as broadly as the course defined it (which is to say, broadly).
the guiding idea was to attempt to enrich as we engaged with public discourse on electronic music and to marshal our collective efforts toward something that might go further than term-papers that might not receive a second glance or final exams that definitely wouldn't receive a second glance. (not to mention to teach students how an increasingly ubiquitous research-tool - that is, wikipedia - actually works, and thus to discourage, among other things, the practice of citing it as an "authority," rather than as a particular expression of, or "consensus" around, an idea - which is, of course, how one should approach any text.)
my main concerns were: 1) that a wikipedia entry (or even series of entries/edits) might not quite be substantial enough for a final project; and 2) that the "neutral" POV standard of wikipedia might make it difficult for students to engage at the critical level that i would like them to, dealing not just with description and synthesis of information in their posts but also looking at how their subjects are enmeshed in certain discourses, etc., and to explore somewhat self-reflexively how their endeavors fit into the larger public conversation about electronic music. for concern #1, we adopted a slightly fuzzy "substance" standard - judged relatively across the class - to be sure that people were doing an adequate amount of independent research and original work. (it turned out to be rather helpful that one can track another wikipedian's contributions quite precisely.) for concern #2, we enforced an explicit policy of discussing the endeavor itself on our class blog and on the appropriate "talk" pages at wikipedia.
here are three standout contributions:
1) an entry on the orb's seminal adventures beyond the underworld
2) an entry on the ambient side of psytrance, aka psybient
3) and an impressively complete entry on video-musikers, hexstatic
finally, i'll to point people to a couple mixes that our edinburgh-based classmate put together. the first is an orientalist-tinged dubstep mix, the second a romp across various african popular genres. descriptions and tracklists follow..
"dubstep mix i did in ableton - LOTS of 'eastern' influence/appropriation present here!"
pinch and p dutty - war dub
pinch - qawwali VIP
tinariwen - amassakoul n tenere
i-wiz - habibi
digital mystikz - ancient memories (skream remix)
caspa - for the kids
distance - taipan
aphex twin - on
black ham - necron
toasty - angel
filastine - dreams from wounded mouth
mutamassik - high alert aala teta
amadou and mariam - toubala kono
"a mix of african tracks (from all over africa) for my dad's birthday - the end kind of lets it down but it's still very listenable ;) starts off with 20 minutes of soukous/ndombola etc style stuff then a bit more of a mixture"