2008: The Analogue Synthesizer as a Folk Instrument of Humanist Resistance

Eight years have now passed since the dawn of a new millenium...and without a doubt every year the world feels Wierder. The Internet and communications technology have brought with them an unprecedented degree of abstraction that has slowly and steadily begun to sap the fresh blood of the world. The forces of abstraction are radically affecting the ways in which humans relate to each other and the ways in which they express through music how it feels to walk around in this Wierd world.

It's getting harder and harder to know which is the more lonely machine--the computer or the person using it. Always in isolation, both from others and even from the machine itself. The term 'interactive' is a misnomer. After the ubiquitous *click*, something happens somewhere, but we don't really participate. We click, wait, and eventually are served some bit of sound or imagery. Computers store, save, play back, and conveniently sync up to global networks of distribution and merchandising while simultaneously preserving an image of history: the sound of the past. They do not require any portion of the medium to convey their signal. They traffic in pure mimetic imaging--a mode of operation for which the human being may or may not be required. Needless to say, the way this technology works to distribute music on the internet has entirely dematerialized most musical objects (i.e., records and CDs), creating a situation that has all but foreclosed upon the ability of independently produced music and its creators to survive, express, and communicate. In addition, technological forces of abstraction have affected and altered the very methods of making music.

Analogue machines have been overwhelmingly replaced by the computer as the dominant generator of contemporary sounds. Uncritical complicity with the new paradigm threatens to make obsolete that essentially human aspect of the musical endeavor--the craft. After all, it is during the struggle for mastery of the material word that some of the most significant moments of discovery and achievement take place. The drive to preserve humanness isn't a reactionary response to the modern world--it is, rather, an acknowledgment of 4 billion years of evolution. We are creatures made of matter. Our experiences reside in our brains as chemical compounds. The human experience has been tailored by and for the material. A few decades and a handful of inventions can't circumvent this reality. And who would hope they might?

As time marches on, the movement of the free market economy demands that technology continuously change to keep pace, and be repackaged in a 'new' way. Its proponents falsely refer to this as 'evolution', but it is actually a drifting away from interaction between the human bodies of performers and their audience. 'Evolution' in the market's terms dishonestly implies a movement toward something better. This 'evolution', this struggle for perfection, speed and ease, unfailingly entails an 'emptying out' of the human presence in musical expression. Embodying more than ever our simulant era, the virtual has obscured the visceral relationship a musician has with the instrument, the material, and the process of creation.

The late 1970s gave rise to a number of affordable, buildable analogue signal generating devices/ synthesizers which gave the user basic building blocks of sound. The amorphous flow of current coming from a wall socket is shaped, contoured, enveloped, and spun into a manifold matrix of tones, overtones, microtones, noises, modulations, rings, and pulses making the process itself apparent to the listener. The musician is directly in touch with this electric current, manipulating and interacting with this most elemental organic force. The frailty of these machines, the near-impossibility of ever creating the same sound twice, and the risk that at any moment everything may come undone reflects the inherent humanity that pilots them. An irony becomes apparent: that the very electric current which powers the abstracting technologies of our day also has the potential to defy abstraction. This potential is most elegantly realized with the analogue synthesizer.

As opposed to the mediated 'virtual' relationship presented by the computer, the analogue synthesizer reintroduces the musician's direct one-to-one relationship with the tensile and acoustic properties of their instrument (the guitar's strings, the drummer's stretched skins, the torqued curves and lengths of the trumpet). It has its own physics and properties. With the basic source elements of sound assembly, it possesses a physical symmetry that allows one to touch and to direct it as if it were a vehicle. To add on and take away from, to process externally and to improvise, to affirm the continuing need for humanness, for the actual body and mind to continue existing in the world.

Below the surface of our seemingly post-everything present, a new form of resistance to the abstraction of human life and music has been building. In the past five years through small pockets of activity in the US and Europe, the analogue synthesizer has come to function as a kind of folk instrument of humanist resistance to a virtual 'soft synth' world of 'click and drag' dematerialized abstraction. The 'Wierd Compilation Volume II : Analogue Electronic Music 2008' is a gathering together of 30 of the artists who have produced songs in the past year using analogue synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines.

As time marches forward, the visceral world of actual bodies, actual time and actual space is collapsing into images of itself as we sit alone in the dark gazing into the static glowing boxes that are more and more slowly becoming our 'lives.' Soon what we see when we turn to look out the 'real' window will truly become Very Rare. Its colder out there every year, and here is a soundtrack for being alive now...for walking alone outside the window...in this cold Wierd world.

Very Rare,
Wierd Records, Brooklyn, January 2008