Fragmentation of Music

Salon is running a story on the ‘success’ of electronic music, pointing out that it rules our advertising and movie soundtracks but has never shown up on the radio, despite the marketing hype of the mid-90s. So why was this?

Vontz discusses the common complaints: repetitive beats, lack of real artistry (after all using a computer to create music can’t be as aesthetically privleged as the violionist). Then he criticizes the American consumer who expects:

performances featuring vocalists and instruments that are recognizable and produce the kinds of sounds that they’ve spent decades listening to. They expect these sounds to be accompanied by the visual spectacle of singers, rappers and dancers on stage doing their damnedest to entertain and otherwise get them fired up. To people who have only experienced music this way the concept of the electronic music DJ and the dance experience must be utterly perplexing.

If you’re used to live music as entertainment – in the sense of watching performers make spectacles of themselves as they create music while you passively consume the sonic byproduct of their efforts – then enjoying electronic music requires a shift in aural expectations, synthesis, digestion and physical participation. While there are certain branches of electronic music, such as the intelligent dance music created by producers like Boards of Canada, that are made for listening rather than dancing, by and large electronic music is made to make people dance. And when you dance, the DJ takes you on a journey, but he or she is usually not the focus of your experience at a club or festival or wherever you hear the music. Dancing is.

This all fits into the point I made a few days ago in relation to the New York magazine story which projects a future of music similar to the publishing business: few superstars, mostly mid-listers toiling away to sell a few thousand copies.