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Re: [microsound] (ot) (Slightly) Politics + electronic Music

On 7/1/02 at 5:29 PM, kyle jones <kyle@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> Hi folks, I just got done listening to a discussion on
> political music on my local community radio station.  Quite
> frankly I was extremely disappointed as to the contents of the
> discussion, namely that the only surprise was a mention of
> Stevie Wonder, and that the usual suspects, like Woody Guthrie,
> and Bob Dylan abounded (lyrical political music).

So what disappointed you? Hopefully they played stuff like Woody's "1913
Massacre," which I find haunting. How else but through lyrics could
there be a popular memory of collective struggle that was so brutally
put down? These sacrifices by ordinary workers brought all of us the 8
hour day a mere 100 years ago.

Which brings up the subject of propaganda. The easy definition of
"political music" is propaganda for a set of beliefs or an agenda. Some
obvious examples are WW2 ditties like "Der Furher's Face" and "Praise
the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." After you move beyond obviously
political lyrics, what constitutes political music gets increasingly

The success or failure of musical propaganda rests on its musicality and
also, I believe on a community of discourse, which enables lyrics to
maintain a strong political focus without having to spell everything

On the first point (musicality), one could imagine Alan Greenspan's
speeches set to music. The political content is undeniable, but it's not
clear whether they'd make great lyrics, or whether the musical
accompaniment might buckle under their weight.

In 1984, Tackhead, I believe, did a fantastic piece, "No Sellout" which
featured Malcolm X's voice speaking those words from his speech. But if
you couldn't recognize Malcolm's voice (that is, weren't playing to the
converted), what the heck did "There will be no sell out" mean exactly
from a political standpoint?

On the second point (social discourse), something I've cited in the past
bears repeating. David Katz's biography of Lee Perry does a fantastic
jobs of detailing the political culture of 60's Kingston dance halls.
The constant "social discourse" by the MCs of the day's burning topics:
the rude boy problem, persecution of Rastafarians, the Seaga gangs, etc. 

Dancehall culture created an audience of shared understanding for more
poetic, though no less political, artists such as Bob Marley and Burning
Spear. Their more indirect, and potentially more universal, lyrics
ultimately rest on the many ways the people of Kingston "spoke" of their
daily life.

When you move into the abstract realms of instrumental music, it's not
clear what the political content is. Instrumental music certainly
doesn't function as propaganda, and in this era, when activists want to
relax, they're as likely to chill with the hits of the day as pick up
their instruments. After all, they swim in this culture too, and are
entitled to enjoy it as much as any of us.

> I have been
> arguing of late that the desktop musician is the closest thing
> to true democracy in music.  I posit that anyone with a small
> amount of money can create, record, distribute and promote from
> the very same box for far cheaper than doing things in a
> non-digital way, with better results.  I know this claim
> doesn't take into account the people who can't afford even used
> desktops, electricity or net connections, but still it is far
> closer than someone with a guitar who is limited by playing
> ability and all of the equipment needed to make a "commercial"
> success (ie at least a couple of mics and recording equipment).

Part of what you're arguing here is that the general "desktop purpose"
computer is capable of executing all the basic productive functions
required to record, manufacture and distribute musical reproductions in
this day and age. By definition, the desktop composer can do it more
cheaply, if only because the guitarist needs all that computer
functionality, PLUS his guitar.

Less trivially, consider both the Internet and promotion.

The desktop computer doesn't do all this alone. It's connection to the
vast communicative power of the Internet is fundamental to your
observation. So we might speculate on the total cost of the Internet as
a subsidy to desktop computation.

Ultimately, our tax dollars went into producing the Internet and it's
current capability. In that light, I think it's worth meditating on what
less politically vulnerable State support for the Arts might do for this

You didn't say much about how a commputer does promotion for a desktop
musician, but I'd guess it involves a web site and perhaps emailing
discussion lists to get folks to visit. I think this is a big factor in
your idea of "democracy."

The difficulty I have with it is that at that level, it simply doesn't
reach that many people. IT doesn't reach a level of promotion anywhere
near any commercial musical effort.

One can talk about the "viral" properties of the Internet, but consider
that a guy drumming on a spackle bucket during rush hour in the Grand
Central Subway stop probably reaches more ears that the entire audience
for "post-digital" music.

> accessible to the common person.  I find that the progressive
> political community has a kind of luddite approach to
> technology and digital music and I think a discussion like this
> could enlighten and give at least me, a case to take to my
> political peers.

I'd be curious to hear some examples from you. My understanding is that
many progressive groups were slow to adopt computer technology, perhaps
due to a lack of technical expertise (probably no greater than the
average) and a lack of money.

But international email and computer conferencing has revolutionized
(pardon the pun) the ability to diseminate and organize political
information/activity. IGC networks, in California, I think, was the
early leader in this area.

>  I would also like some explicit examples of
> non-lyrical political electronic music,

My opinion is that music needs lyrics to be political. Otherwise, it's
not clear what the political statement is.

> conservative, or right wing politics are not my forte, I would
> still be interested in examples of those as well and not
> exclude them from the discussion.

The Aryan nation in the US was very quick to adopt computers and the
Internet as organizing tools...