Macho Music for the Mensa Crowd

Music and men has always been an iffy combination. If it involves banging on things and making a lot of noise, well, that’s definitely male, on both counts, so being a drummer is okay. And if it involves plugging something in—that ultimate test which separates the men from, well, from the women—that’s good, so playing the guitar, lead or bass, is okay. Especially since holding your hand at cock level is involved.

But what if your tastes are a little more classical? What if you’re a little more intellectually-inclined? Fear no more! Electronic music is here!

To begin, like all good little boys, electronic composers are obsessed with how. Their program notes are paeans to process: “The harmonic matrix for this construction was established with a dominant to non-dominant ratio of 7:5 and intra-note relationships determined according to a chance-randomized method…”

And yet, it sounds like shit. But then they probably just forgot to consider the end product. Kinda like Oppenheimer and the gang at Los Alamos, so absorbed by the sweet technicalities of the process, it wasn’t until they exploded the thing that they thought ‘Gee, this could hurt a lot of people!’

And what about the why? Why did you write such a piece of shit? (And why oh why are you playing it in public?) Despite their claim to superior logic and rationality, men, macho men, are notoriously inept when it comes to reflective reasoning. ‘Why? Whaddya mean ‘why’?’ It’s not a question they’re used to, apparently. Their professors (and make no mistake, classical music is music’s ivory tower—you need a Ph.D. to get in—and electronic music is its engineering department) never asked them why they wrote a certain piece. And they never ask themselves. And as in all locker rooms, concert hall dressing rooms are filled with competitive claims about equipment and technique, not rationale. Certainly, reasons are nowhere to be found in program notes.

The notes do reveal, however, a certain attention to complexity. Failing that, to apparent complexity. They make what they do sound as complicated as possible. “Intra-not relationships determined according to a chance-randomized method”? Heads it’s major, tails it’s minor. So why bother telling us, I wonder, since communication is so obviously not your purpose. Ah. Because you don’t really want us to understand—you want us to applaud: ‘Look at me, I’m so clever, I understand something too difficult to explain’. Actually, what you’re saying is ‘Look at me, I have no communication skills whatsoever’.

People who think ‘complexity good, simplicity bad’ have obviously never heard of Bach’s Prelude I. Or the wheel.

Maybe the idea is that if you make it complicated enough, no one will be able to replicate it. So you’ll be the first and only to have composed such a piece. But what’s the big deal about being first? I have never understood that. In any context—first to land on the moon, first to discover insulin, first to cross the finish line, first to get on the bus. First to discover where that land mine was.

Truth is the first to do X is often merely the first to be recognized as doing X. Do you really think that Bannister was the first person to run a mile in under four minutes? Talk to the descendants of the guy who wasn’t on the cheetah’s lunch menu that day.

And what’s the big deal about being the only? Why the desire to be unique, singular, with no company, no community. Ah. The myth of the unconnected male. Hm. Can you spell ‘denial’? Good thing the first guy to write a piece for the piano didn’t worry about there being others who could do the same thing. (And good thing the second guy to write a piece for the piano didn’t let not being first stop him.) Different is not necessarily better. Ask any black living in Alabama.

It’s a quantity thing, really. Do you guys see that? But the first (quantity) is seldom the best (quality). For example, the first time I walked—well, I can tell you I’m much better at it now. I almost have it mastered. What is it with you guys and this obsession with number, with quantity, with size.

Consider the speakers. Have you seen the size of the speakers at an electronic music concert? They’re bigger than those commonly found in a single guy’s apartment. They’re even bigger than the deejay’s. Why so big? (I’ve heard that there’s a direct relationship between penis size and foot size. Or is it hand size. Whatever, I suggest that there’s an inverse relationship between penis size and speaker size.) And why so many? I’ve seen eight at one concert, spread out around the room.

I recall someone asking an electronic composer once why all electronic music was so loud, and he said something like ‘Do you mean apart from the obvious answer that all electronic composers want badly to fill empty spaces with lots of sound?’ Obvious? But okay, so it’s not just an obsession with size: the obsession with size is connected with the obsession to fill a space, to occupy. Could this be connected to the irritating habit men have of taking up, occupying, more space than they need—the way they lean on counters, sit in chairs, take over small countries— Ah. Now I understand, imagining what my dog would do to those eight speakers spread out around the room.

Then there are the machines. Have you ever looked at the liner notes of an electronic music recording? Fairlight CMI, Emulator, Moog 55, Arp 2600, DX7, Prophet V, Obxa, Simmons SDS V, SequencerMax, EMS Vocoder, Boss PRO SE 150, Korg DDM 110. And that’s just for one piece. (Writers don’t usually list the equipment they use.) (Microsoft Word.) But this is macho music. Real men play with machines. They tinker and twiddle and tune— What is it with men and machines? I mean, just look at their behaviour with the remote control.

Ah—that’s it. Remote control. Real men have control. And if they don’t, they take it. I’ve always wondered why electronic composers mix their pieces in public. I mean, why not get the perfect mix once and for all in the studio and then just press the ‘Play’ button in the concert hall? I understand that some adjustments need to be made to compensate for the unique acoustics of the hall, but these can be made during the soundcheck, can’t they? Yes, but then they can’t do the ‘See me control this sound, this console, this computer’ thing. Really, is anyone impressed anymore to see someone with their fingers all over a bunch of knobs, looking oh so serious?

Now of course all these huge speakers and fancy machines are expensive. The more expensive, the better. Another macho thing. Real men have money. Too bad they’re really bad at managing it. Could be part of that unconnected thing. They incur huge car payments and then, poor boys, can’t afford the child support payments. (See what happens when you turn your back on the simple things—like addition?)

And speaking about looking oh so serious, why is electronic music considered serious music? I mean, what’s serious about it? SOCAN classifies music as Serious and Non-Serious (serious music gets higher royalties), but unless there are words, how do you decide? If it’s played in concert halls, it’s serious, but if it’s played in sports arenas, it’s not? If the performers are wearing tuxedos, it’s serious, but if they’re wearing spandex, it’s not? If a piece lasts for a really long time, it’s serious? (A hundred bottles of beer on the wall…) If it uses more than three chords (or, alternatively, if it uses no chords at all), it’s serious? If it takes more than a day to write, it’s serious? (There goes most of Mozart.) Electric violins are serious, but electric guitars are not? (Because guitars come in red?)

Even if there are words, it’s hard to tell. I mean, consider the opera Orpheus and Eurydice, a piece of serious music. Basically the lyrics are ‘She’s gone, I miss her a lot, so I’m gonna get her back’. Sounds like your typical country and western ballad to me.

Electronic composers, discoursing at great length about how they created their very complicated pieces, fiddling with the faders on their expensive machines that feed into their huge and many speakers, and being oh so pretentiously serious about it all—it’s macho music for the mensa crowd.


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