There’s a received wisdom that visual elements of music production (the artwork, light shows and fashion) are merely auxiliary. Music should be appreciated in an almost Platonic way: wrenched from context and understood in terms of sound only. After all, why should your listening be coloured by a dazzling light-show or a flashy press shot?
Indeed, there are some artists who have tried to negate this by ‘anonymising’ themselves: Zomby, Burial, Klaus are famous for it. There are degrees of consistency here, from the near-entire invisibility of Klaus to the pseudo-disguise of Zomby. With Zomby, the anonymity is the look. He is always half-hidden behind a coat or a mask, and dressed in the height of designer clothes. His press-shots both hide his identity and confirm it. Even the man who conceals himself nonetheless reveals himself as a self-concealer.
There are also musicians who use visual components as a way of making sound. IDM artists have been using spectrograms to encode secret messages for decades, and last year, Jasmine Guffond released an album of ‘sonified’ data from GPS signals and facial recognition software. Even Daphne Oram ruptured this audio-visual dualism with her famous ‘Oramics’ machine.
Then there is the visualisation of sound. A common cliche of modern music production is its visual bias. These days, producers use laptop screens to see how something sounds. As a consequence, we are alienated from sound. The language of production — soundscape, aural decor, furniture music, sonic sculpture — must always make recourse to the visual.
In the 20th century, many avant-garde composers attempted to liberate music from the conventions of visual representation. John Cage, György Ligeti, Krzysztof Penderecki, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis all wrote ‘graphic scores’ that attempted to disrupt the orthodoxy of classical notation. Staves, clefs and crochets were bent out of shape into psychedelic configurations. Beyond pitch and rhythm, this radical new notation captured all aspects of sound including timbre, space and emotion.
Finally, there is the strange but consistent flirtation of fascist imagery in techno and industrial music specifically. Throbbing Gristle were infamous for it — in trying to shock their audience out of their dogmatic slumbers, the group appropriated the ‘flash in the pan’ logo of the British Fascist Union and projected footage from Auschwitz at their live shows. More recently, revivals in gabber have made similar gestures, such as Gabber Eleganza’s fashy-looking flag-waving on stage. Their intention, I think, is meant to be understood as ironic. But the irony is lost when your audience comprises a demographic of white skinheads.
In this episode of Stray Landings FM, we speak to Robin Buckley and Alice Bettinger about all this and more.
Legacy Support // Akzidenz
Tele // Klaus
RIDE / SNARE / CLAPS / CHORD F 128 / LEAD 1 E 128 / KICK / KICK // rkss
Nix // GANX
Data.Matrix // Ryoji Ikeda