Quote of the Week: Create (Fill in the Blank) Music

Over at his excellent createdigitalmusic.com website, the prolific Manhattan-based writer and musician Peter Kirn makes the following aside. He’s in the process of describing a forthcoming release by Alessandro Cortini that will include (no kidding) a fully functioning synthesizer, when he makes the (literally) parenthetical comment that he tried to go back in time

“… to tell myself I should include a less literal name for the site, but my past self didn’t believe me”

What he’s getting at is the extent to which the name of his website — and, by extension, that of any publication, online or off — may or may not define what’s covered in it editorially. The “digital” in the name “Create Digital Music” needn’t be taken literally. Only the most perversely post-human, Singularity-minded individuals would take issue with Kirn’s inclusion of analog synthesizers amid his general coverage; the rise of digital music-making has caused a new generation to seek out its analog precedents, and led to numerous digital software emulations of halcyon hardware. That is part of the story. Furthermore, there’s a long pre-Internet precedent for magazines’ purviews outpacing their logos. It’s unlikely that the editors at Rock & Folk, the French music magazine, think twice about covering hip-hop, or that Down Beat would restrict itself to jazz that has a down beat, or that readers of the New York Review of Books get confused when an article about the World Cup or the naming of a new Supreme Court justice appears untethered to any book in particular.

All of which said, I feel a certain camaraderie with Kirn. I wrote an overview of laptop music for the online publication newmusicbox.org in 2006 (“Serial Port: A Brief History of Laptop Music”), and very late in my final edit realized that I’d been considering Steve Roden as part of the scheme, alongside Fennesz, Ikue Mori, and other musicians — the problem being that Roden doesn’t employ a laptop. Aesthetically, given his fragile music that often draws from real-world and other found sounds, Roden sits alongside many of the musicians I was writing about, but technologically he’s in a different camp. (Fortunately I came to this realization before submitting the story to my editor.)

Technology and aesthetics each engender various types of practice, but they are not inherently mappable to each other in any specific one-to-one manner. Kirn has touched on this very subject himself previously, as I noted back in May of this year (disquiet.com), when he wrote, in part, “I realize I’m making an argument about musical practice based on technology, and that that argument isn’t entirely complete.”

In addition, I have thought on occasion not so much about the name of this site, Disquiet.com, which has aged OK since launching in late 1996, but with the subhead (“ambient/electronica”) and the tagline (“Reflections on ambient/electronic music & conversations with the people who make it”). The word “electronica” in particular seems to have long since fallen from any particular favor, but to my mind, that allows for it to take on new meaning; I like to think of it as being like “Americana,” the varied ephemera of a particular territory. Neither the subhead nor the tagline do full justice to the breadth of what I write about here, which more broadly might be described as “electronically mediated sound,” but even that phrase doesn’t quite do it. I have thought occasionally about adding the phrase “sound art” (or even just “sound”) to either the subhead or the tagline at Disquiet.com, but for now my sense remains that to do so would be — as Kirn might put it — to create a future me who would eventually be able to point out something else that didn’t age particularly well along the way.

5 thoughts on “Quote of the Week: Create (Fill in the Blank) Music

  1. I’m not sure that there’s any conflict here to begin with. Using an analog synth in music covered by CDM wouldn’t be any different than using a sampled bell with a Monome for instance, or a voice, or any other “analog” instrument that is then split and spliced and sequenced, likely using digital stuff to do so. All (or at least something like all) of which CDM has covered at different times. If I record my analog synth, or a ukulele, or a hand clap into Ableton and edit it to a song, I’m still Creating Digital Music, no? Secondly, the synth Cortini is distributing is, I believe, digital at heart. The Harvestman designed it and while his stuff uses knobs and switches like an analog, his stuff is digital. So… the world will not end.

  2. I found this particularly interesting as when I started Palm Sounds it was all about the “Palm OS” rather than mobile music in general.

    The name hasn’t really weathered that well, but in some ways it still relevant.

    I think that names sometimes grow with you as your content and focus develops and changes.

  3. Ha. I’m going to frame this.

    I do still like the name. And of course, technically a digital system is any system that includes discrete values, which means any music that’s notated is also digital. Or you could take “digital” extremely literally, and describe any music in which fingers were involved in creation.

  4. Hi, folks. Thanks for having weighed in. Always appreciated. I think the reason Peter’s initial comment especially struck me — beyond what I already wrote about here — is because it’s come up on the discussion boards on his site.

    There’s something emphatically Kurzweil-ian about a digital purity test for some musicians and, more broadly, technologists: that not working digitally is, at root, almost delaying this rapturous progress for society that lays ahead.

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