Artifacts, Artifictions, Artifutures 0.5
It’s not a physical landscape. It’s a term reserved for the new technologies. It’s a landscape in the future. It’s as though you used technology to take you off the ground and go like Alice through the looking glass.
John Cage, in reference to his 1939 Imagined Landscape .
In the last installment (see here, here and here) I argued that the increasing prominence and frequency of futuristic aesthetics and themes of empowerment-through-technology in EDM-based mainstream music videos, as well as the increasing predominance of EDM foundations in mainstream music over the past 3 years, helps promote general awareness of emerging-technology-grounded and NBIC-driven concepts, causes and potential-crises while simultaneously presenting a sexy and self-empowering vision of technology and the future to mainstream audiences. The only reason this is mentionable in the first place is the fact that these are mainstream artists and labels reaching very large audiences.
In this installment, I will be analyzing a number of music videos for tracks by “real EDM” artists, released by exclusively-EDM record labels, to show that these futuristic themes aren’t just a consequence of EDM’s adoption by mainstream music over the past few years, and that there is long history of futuristic aesthetics and gestalts in electronic music, as well as recurrent themes of self-empowerment through technology.
In this part I will discuss some of these recurrent themes, which can be seen to derive from a number of aspects shared by Virtual Art (any art created without the use of physical instruments), of which contemporary electronic music is an example because it is created using software. I argue that this will become the predominant means of art production — via software — for all artistic mediums, from auditory to visual to eventual olfactory, somatosensory and proprioceptual artistic mediums. The interface between artist and art will become progressively thinner and more transparent, culminating in a time where Brain-Computer-Interface technology can sense neural operation and translate this directly into an informational form to be played by physical systems (e.g. speakers) at first, but eventually into a form that can be read by given person’s own BCI instantiated phenomenologically via high-precision technological neuromodulation (of which deep brain stimulation is an early form).
In the second part of this installment I will be following this discussion up with a look at some music videos for EDM-tracks that embody and exemplify the themes, aesthetics and general gestalts under consideration here.
The music- videos accompanying many historical and contemporary examples of EDM tracks display consistently futuristic and technoprogressive thematics, aesthetics and plots, as well as positive, self-empowering and often primal-pleasure-appealing depictions of emerging and as-yet-conceptual technologies. Many also exemplify the recurrent theme of human-technology symbiosis, inter-constitution and co-deferent inter-determination. It is not just physical prosthesis – for in a way language is as much prosthetic technology as artificial arm. This definition of prosthesis doesn’t make a distinction between nonbiological systems for the restoration of statistically-normal function and nonbiological systems for the facilitation or instantiation of enhanced functions and/or categorically-new functional modalities. And nor should it. I argue that such a dichotomy is invalid because our functional modalities are always changing. This was true of biological evolution and it is true of mind and of cultural evolution as well. Other recurrent themes depicted in the video include technological autonomy and animacy and the facilitation of seemingly magical or otherwise-impossible feats, either via technology or else against a futuristic background.
These videos are not wrong for picking up on the self-empowering and potential-liberating inherencies of technology, nor their radically-transformative and ability-extending potentials. Indeed, as I argued in brief in the first installment of this series, electronic music exemplifies a general trend and methodology that will become standard for more and more artistic mediums, and to an increasingly large degree in each medium, as we move forward into the future. Contemporary EDM and electronic music is made using software – and this fundamental dissociation with physical instrumentation demonstrates the liberating potentials of what I have called virtuality – the realm of information, the ontics of semiotics, and the ability to readily create, modulate and modify a given informational object to an arbitrarily-precise degree. Not only do artists have the ability to modulate and modify a given sound-wave or sound-wave-ensemble with greater magnitude and precision, but they can do so to create end-result sound-waves that are either impossible with current physical instruments or else significantly harder to produce with physical instruments.
The ability to create without constraint (i.e. if it’s an information-product then we aren’t constrained by the use of physical resources or dependency on materials-processing and system-configuration/component-integration) means that our only limiting factor is available or objective-optimal memory and computation. The ability to readily duplicate an information-product with negligible resource-expenditure (e.g. it doesn’t cost much, in terms of memory or computation, to create and transmit an electronic file) means that any resources expended in the creation (whether computationally or manually by a human programmer) or maintenance (e.g. storage) of the information-product is amortized over the course of all the instances in which it is doubled – that is, it’s cost, or the amount of resources expended, in comparison to the net product is cut in half every time it’s doubled).
Is it coincidence that these de-scarcitizing and constraint-eschewing properties inherent in information-products are paralleled and reflected so perfectly, in thematic, aesthetic and gestalt, by electronic-music videos? Or could such potentials be felt by our raw intuitions, seen in the ways in which technology empowers people, expands their choices, frees possibilities and works once-wonders on a daily basis, and simply amplified through the cultural magnifying-glass of art? After all, if one looks back throughout the history of electronic music one can see many early pioneers and antecedents of electronic music, we can see individuals and movements that acknowledge these de-scarcitizing, possibility-actualizing and self-empowering potentials in various ways. This very virtue of virtuality could be seen, exemplified in embryonic form, in early forms of electronic music as long as 100+ years ago — for instance in the works and manifestos of Italian Futurism, an early 20th century art movement, which embraced (among other artistic sub-genres) Noise Music, an early20th century embodiment of electronic music
It’s not as though EDM came out of nowhere after all (claims to constraintless creation aside); the technological synthesis of sound can be seen as a natural continuation of the trends set out by the creation and development of recording equipment in the early to mid-20th century, and harkened by the explosion of popularity the electric guitar and synthesizers saw in the 1960s. In an interview with Jim Morrison given in 1969 essentially predicts the predominance of electronic music we are seeing today, saying that “I guess in four or five years the new generation’s music will have a synthesis of those two elements [blues and folk] and some third thing, maybe it will be entirely, um, it might rely heavily on electronics, tapes… I can kind of envision one person with a lot of machines, tapes, electronic setups singing or speaking using machines.”
I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the use of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard. Photoelectric, film and mechanical mediums for the synthetic production of music will be explored.
John Cage, The Future of Music: Credo, 1937 .
When did these underlying potentialities inherent in virtual or informational-mediation really start to become obvious, or at least detectable in nascent or fledging form?
The de-scarcitizing effects of virtually-mediated art (a class that includes such early embodiments and antecedents of electronic music) seems only to have become obvious on a level beyond intuition when the ability to artificially synthesize sound brought with it a greatly increased ability to directly modulate and modify such sound.
This marked the beginning of the trend that distinguishes this class as categorically different than physically-mediated art. After all, playing an instrument can be considered modulating it just as operating a turn table can, so what constitutes the effective difference? Namely the greatly increased increased range and precision (that is, the precision with which the artist can modulate a given sound or create a given sound to his liking, which corresponds to the degree-of-accuracy between his mental ideal and what he can produce physicality) of modulation made possible by the technologies and techniques that allows us to artificially-synthesize sound in the first place.
Sound-waves can be modulated (i.e. controlled or affected in real-time) or modified (i.e. recorded, controlled or affected in iterations or gradually, and then replayed without modulation in real-time) with greater precision (e.g. ability to modulate a waveform within smaller intervals of time or with a smaller standard-deviation/tolerance-interval/margin-of-error). The magnitude of such changes (e.g. the range of frequencies a given waveform can be made to conform to, or the range of pitches a given waveform can be made to embody, through such methods) is also greater than the potential magnitude available via the modulation of playing a physical instrument. What’s more, fundamentally new categories of sound can be produced as well, whereas in non-virtually-mediated-music such fundamentally new categories of sound would require a whole new physical instrument — if they can be reproduced by physical instrumentation at all.
The earliest synthesizers harkened the future of all art mediums; artificially-created, modulated and modified sound via the user-interface of knobs, dials and keys is one small step away from music produced solely through software – and one giant leap beyond the watered-down and matter-bound paradigm of music and artistic-media in general that preceded it.
 Kostelanetz, Richard. 1986. “John Cage and Richard Kostelanetz: A Conversation about Radio”. The Musical Quarterly.72 (2): 216–227.
 Cage, John. 1939. “Future of Music; Credo”.