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Is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Getting Electronically Mindful?

Or is it just biding its time before it catches up with grunge?

The just-announced 2013 nominees for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are an especially technologically-oriented bunch. It’s a generation increasingly marked by the ever-rising influence of technology at a practical, day-to-day level in popular music.

The 2012 inductees were certainly tech-oriented in their own right; the 17 inductees last year included three production legends (Tom Dowd, Glyn Johns, Cosimo Matassa) as well as sample-innovators the Beastie Boys.

The widespread electronic nature of this year’s list, however, goes far beyond last year’s showing. The Hall of Fame announced the nominees yesterday morning, October 4, and with this cohort the technological is as much an aesthetic matter as it is one of technique. Of course, these are just the nominees, not the inductees. Quickie rules cheat sheet: “To be eligible for nomination, an individual artist or band must have released its first single or album at least 25 years prior to the year of nomination.” In a couple years Nirvana, whose Bleach was released in 1989, will be eligible, and the ensuing grunge years will provide plenty of rockist comfort for the Hall of Fame. For balance, industrial act Nine Inch Nails, whose Pretty Hate Machine was released in 1989, will be eligible the same year. Brian Eno, it’s worth noting, is not yet a Hall of Fame inductee, despite his production of such major-league inductees as Talking Heads and U2.

This year the nominees include the following: Two early rap stalwarts, N.W.A and Public Enemy, are sure to draw attention to their production teams, notably Dr. Dre and the Bomb Squad. Donna Summer is nominated; her collaborations with producer Giorgio Moroder are major milestones in pop music’s adoption of a purely electronic instrumental foundation (the disco single “I Feel Love” from her 1977 album, I Remember Yesterday, is widely considered a watershed moment in this transition). The ensemble Chic, although quite grounded in r&b virtuosity, was very much a studio endeavor for co-founder Bernard Edwards; the group’s tight, mechanized recordings — brittle hand claps, lockstep tempos — set a template for the more willfully synthetic dance music to come.

And then there’s the prog-rock vote: it centers on Rush, but should consider as early prototypes the adventurous early hevay metal band Deep Purple, whose sound was deeply shaped by Jon Lord’s organ, and the art-rock outfit Procol Harum.

Even the Meters deserve some consideration from this perspective, given the extent to which the rhythm ensemble’s modern reputation owes much to the frequent sampling of their back catalog.

In fact, of the 15 nominees announced today, just six are difficult to situate as electronic fellow travelers: the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Albert King, the Marvelletes, and Randy Newman.

Again, these are the nominees. The actual inductees will be announced soon, once voting has been tallied. Between five and seven of the nominees are expected to be inducted, and they will share the limelight with additional figures in the form of the Ahmet Ertegun Award (for non-performers), a batch of “early influences,” and the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Award for Musical Excellence” (which along with the Ertegun award is generally where producers get the nod). It’s quite possible that the inductees will be selected primarily from the gang of six listed above who have little in the way of a technological sensibility.

Read the annotated list of nominees at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s website, rockhall.com/pressroom.

And consider voting for those you consider most worthy. This is the first year that the Hall of Fame is factoring in a “fans’ ballot”: rockhall.com/get-involved.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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