& the DeadBeat Goes On & On & On..
In the early to mid 1990s I was invited to contribute to a politically oriented music book to be published by a publisher I admire. I contributed this. Apparently the editor found it somehow objectionable because he took something like 2 paragraphs from it & inserted them as a text-box quote in another person's article. I objected to this & withdrew the contribution. Fortunately, it was shortly thereafter published, uncensored, in MUSICWORKS 63 (Fall, 1995).
& the DeadBeat Goes On & On & On..
- tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
From 1979 to 1981, some friends of mine & I collaborated on 4 manifestations of what we called "BUTN" (pronounced like "button", this is an acronym for Baltimore Underground Telephone (or "Telectropheremone") Network): "TESTES-3", "VD-RADIO", "(301)962-0210", & "AGENT-11". These were phone #s that could be called for a wide variety of interactive possibilities which were mainly intended to function as "mystery catalysts" or as stimulus encouraging the caller to have a less passive relationship to media.
Not wanting to tell the callers what to do, I usually just presented them with situations & observed their reactions - hoping for reactions that would break away from the norm in ways that would show astute understanding of the interaction - but I was almost always disappointed. One experiment, which I call "Accumulation", strikes me as being of particular relevance to the Pavlovian predictability of most people's behavioral conditioning.
In some places, when the phone is left off the hook without there being a connection to another phone, the phone company sends a slightly louder than usual repeating tone to the receiver. This, obviously, serves the purpose of attracting attention to the phone's status so that if the status is accidental it'll be corrected.
The chain is simple: The phone is left off the hook, usually unintentionally, &, after a certain period of time has lapsed, the "insistent" tones appear. Someone near the phone hears it, recognizes it as the signal that the phone is off, & responds by going to the phone & hanging it up. "Accumulation" was partially a test of whether people would recognize & rebel against this conditioned response when removed from its functional context.
The point of this wasn't to object to the practicality of the signal. What concerned me was simply recognizing that it represented a common form of behavioral conditioning that seems to go relatively unnoticed & that the implications of unnoticed conditioning are vast.
When the caller called the "phone station" (in this case (301)962-0210) they'd usually be connected to an answering machine. This machine's recording time was not voice-activated (i.e.: sound-activated) - its durational range was determined by a limited # of settings - perhaps with parameters between 30 seconds & 3 minutes. If the caller hung up sufficiently in advance of the machine's full cycle completion, the answering machine would, in effect, keep the 962-0210 phone off the hook until the cycle finished & the off-the-hook signal would be received & recorded.
"Accumulation" was originally started as my response to being completely sick of hearing so much of this same sound on our incoming messages tape. I'd hoped that people would, at least, be imaginative & active enough to fill up the available response time rather than just passively absorb our "entertainment" (which was usually not meant to be "entertaining") & then hang up. This type of passive response was the type of conditioned reaction to mass media that our service was meant to provide an alternative to.
Putting a piece of cardboard over the erase head of the answering machine's incoming side, I set up a crude sound-on-sound recording situation so that all messages received could be added both consecutive to & overtop of each other. The resultant "Accumulation" would have a gestalt created by the pattern of the dominating sound(s). This tape was then excerpted from to make the outgoing message.
As long as the callers' response was to hang up, the dominant sound would be the off-the-hook "irritainment". If callers were to realize that the degree of their negative response to this sound was largely the result of conditioning of functional irrelevance to this situation (i.e.: not indicating that the phone "should" be hung up) & were to rebel against the reflexiveness of their response to the stimulus by maintaining the connection they would be rewarded by future outgoing tapes having less of the sound that annoyed them. If callers were simply to maintain the connection long enough to get past the stimulus & record a message as response to it &/or ignoring it they would also be rewarded in the same way.
I was satisfied that I'd created a "poetically just" way of responding to the many, many hours of "irritainment" that the callers had provided me. Now it was their turn to reply. I decided to mirror back their replies by playing excerpts from the "Accumulation" tape for an unrelentingly long enough time to, hopefully, get the point across.
Five months later, when I finally quit with the project, the "Accumulation" tape was extremely dense with the off-the-hook signal. I had many enemies by then but, as far as I could tell, no-one had figured out any more creative "solution" to the "problem" of the sounds that I fed back to them beyond trying to intimidate me into changing my ways thru insulting & threatening me. Maybe I was hoping for too much - after all, the whole thing was ridiculously oblique, & they were just people who phoned sporadically to find out what was "happening" (which most, if not all of them, never did). At any rate, the experiment did reinforce my opinion that very few people would be likely to deviate from conditioned response unless one were to explain that the response was indeed conditioned & to elucidate why the conditioning would be worth breaking.
This interest of mine with behavior modification & its social/political presence in organized sound & elsewhere has shaped much of my activity. Partially in an attempt to call attention to the importance of such concerns in my audio activities, I usually use the following vocabulary:
"usic": an obvious take-off from "music" in which the "m" is dropped to imply the root "to use" in order to emphasize "non-esthetic" aspects of sound. "usic - 1": another (more or less) obvious take-off - this time from "Music Minus One" recordings which are made to give practicing musicians a chance to fill in with players that they not otherwise have access to. "usic - 1" implies that the listener is the missing element which makes the "usic" more complete. "usic - /-1 ": the square root of negative 1 being an archetype of an imaginary #, this implies heightened expectations of the listener. "booed usic": yet another obvious take-off - "mood music" gets referred to here - the mood in question being the audience's mood to boo.
Alas, acceptance & understanding of new contexts comes slowly (if at all). Since most people tend to perceive me as an "artist" &/or a "criminal" (etc..), they tend to criticize my audio output as being "failed music". What most people fail to understand is that most of my audio (if not all) isn't intended to be "music" at all &, therefore, doesn't "fail" to be something it's not trying to be. One of my unpublished tapes is even named "Too Much Like Music" because it's a sampler of recordings that I've made that are too easily pigeon-holed as such.
The above criticism could, perhaps, be avoided if I wore a suit &/or a lab coat & presented myself as a "scientist" thru the accepted "science" outlets of schools & tv etc.. Instead, I present myself as a mad scientist at any place that might be willing to support my presentation without my having to have any degree more expensive than my Nuclear Brain Physics Surgery School one.
Much of my purpose has been to undermine what I perceive to be conditioning that interferes with a variety of ways that I think are interesting ways of using sound. Attacking the L(owest) C(ommon) D(enominator) as the "glue" of the greatest conformity is a possible starting point for forming a praxis of individualist anarchist audio use.
The "beat", especially the "steady beat", is the LCD & great dictator of pop music. The more regular & the louder the beat, the more the music serves the purpose of homogenizing & subjugating its audience. This beat is the mainstay of behavioral conditioning thru music.
"If it has a beat, you can dance to it" as the saying commonly has it - but why "can't" most people dance to "it" if it doesn't have a beat? - & why does a beat have to be contextualized in music in order for them to dance to it? Try going to a dance party sometime & making loud sounds disruptive of the steadiness of the "dance" beat. Depending on how "normal" the people are there, you might be thrown out or censured by the other partiers for being "obnoxious" & "trying to ruin their good time".
Maybe somebody'll feel compelled to raise the volume of the music to make you inaudible so you don't "fuck up their groove". Some people might even stop dancing because they can't adapt to a complicating signal. Try going to a non-dance party & dancing to the "beat of the refrigerator" or some other repetitive household noise & find out whether people think you're "weird".
At one party in the late 1970s, I danced near a "professional" dancer while a Stevie Wonder record played. Highly conscious of the beat, & not enjoying its simplicity, I danced in deliberate counter-rhythm to it. My "dancing partner" became furious, saying something like: "I don't know what you're dancing to, but I'm dancing to Stevie Wonder?!!" I found her inability to recognize that I was dancing precisely in relation to the music without subjugating my own preferred rhythm to it to be depressing.
On a May 1st in the mid-1970s, I threw my "1st" party at my rented house in the main bar district of Baltimore. The date was chosen as an anarchist holiday. Since I didn't drink much alcohol at the time & didn't even think about it much, no booze was provided. The purpose of the party was just to bring people together to socialize. Since I knew very few people at the time, most of the "guests" who came were strangers from the neighborhood.
Novice that I was to "partying", I was soon initiated into learning what most people wanted from the situation. Since whatever sound I was playing was not what most of the "guests" apparently considered to be "party music", I was beleaguered by their informal spokesperson (who, I've been told, was to die a few years later by either being pushed into or rather unobservantly stepping into an elevator shaft at a party in NYC). He kept saying something like: "Oh, C'mon man, we wanna party! Play some party music like the Stones or something!" There was a period of perhaps as much as 4 or 5 years in Baltimore when almost every party of "hip" young people had to play the Rolling Stones' "Let it Bleed" at least once.
I seemed to comply with the request by playing the above-mentioned, but I'd intermittently turn the amp knob from the phono setting to the tape one & let a little bit of a 6 hour collection of versions of my "dadadadadadadadadadadadadad-adadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadada" play. The title of this piece being also the full score for it, the variety in this came mainly from whatever (mainly deliberately inane) inflections my friends & I managed to bring into the realizations. I've referred to this as being so easy to perform that it's "below the Lowest Common Denominator".
My main purpose in doing this was to resist what I perceived to be the banality of only being able to "dance" (i.e.: move creatively &/or self-consciously) & "party" (i.e.: socialize with friendly &/or relaxing intent) as response to an extremely narrow set of stimuli. My reasoning was something like: "If you want to dance, why not just dance? If you want to party, why not just party?" It was simple to me, "needing" the Stones to dance & party was like needing a reflex hammer banging you below the knee to move your lower leg.
Nonetheless, my philosophical orientation was definitely not shared (I guess I should've put a beat to it). Every time I switched from the Stones to my tape, the dancing stopped & the "partiers" looked disoriented. I certainly didn't make many new friends that night.
It's not so much that I dislike the beat as much as it is that I dislike the BEAT as the thing that most people demand in order to enjoy music or even recognize it as such. For me, the BEAT (or the D(ead) B(eat) as it shall henceforth be called) functions as the thing which unifies people enough to move together not only because it unites them around a commonality but also because in societies where it's dangerous to be an individual/non-conformist (perhaps all societies), it helps to hide their individuality in the camouflage of homogeneity. Have you ever heard military music without a (Dead)Beat?
I find this to be disturbing. In the early 1990s, around the time of the post-cops-beating-Rodney-King riots, I was living on the 5th floor of a warehouse in downtown Baltimore with side windows that overlooked a parkinglot. This lot was one of the main late night city party spots for young blacks. Across the parkinglot is a very popular open-24-hours video games arcade / sub shop. On the other side of the warehouse is a black strip club where people are patted down for weapons before being admitted. Gun fights, presumably between rival drug gangs (although I don't know really), are extremely common. As much as perhaps 200 rounds have been exchanged there in as little as 10 minutes.
Common status symbols amongst this crowd are new cars. Even more popular are cars with extremely expensive & extremely loud stereo systems. The loudest have speakers pointing upwards filling the entire trunks of cars with open hatchbacks. At their loudest, these stereos can be heard from half a mile away. The bass frequencies being very strong, the sound can vibrate windows enough to set off burglar alarms. These stereos never play anything but black music. I interpret this as racist.
The music played always has a DeadBeat, but during the King beating backlash the DB became even more simple, loud, & driving. This served as the body beat of angry rap. The message was simple: we're sick of this racist cop bullshit & we're ready to retaliate. Without this solidarity, it's doubtful that the cops would've even gotten their 2nd token conviction. The likelihood of a prosecutor or a judge risking their cushy careers by "betraying" their flunkies would've been too small in most circumstances other than riot-induced desperation.
The DeadBeat, with its overwhelming loudness, could effectively manipulate people's heartbeats & give them adrenalin rushes. Everyone not resistant to the propaganda would be more likely to act in unison since their bodies would already be on the same wavelength. Unfortunately, the resultant mob "mentality" is reduced to an intellectual level parallel to the simple-mindedness of the beat. The communal concept of the struggle gets reduced to purely "black & white" terms. In the King situation, it was all too easy for blacks to be unified around hate of all whites - rather than just white racists & their ilk.
The more simple-minded the target becomes, the larger the mob that can be formed against it. Besides, it's much easier to attack whatever blacks, or whites, or asians, or jews, or men, or women are handy than it is to really take on the well-funded, well-armed, & well-organized cops.
Power-hungry & greedy crowd manipulators are all too familiar with such obvious crowd psychology to not exploit it. White supremacists have rock & black nationalists have rap - both have the ever-present DeadBeat & maximum volume. Whoever can outshout (or outbrutalize) the other "wins". Even the cops have this in common with their enemies - the propaganda's different but the way of injecting it into the subconscious is the same. Rumor has it that the feds played extremely loud rock music at the Koresh Waco compound to try to demoralize them (I guess it was all just a battle of the bands) before they just went ahead & blew them up (shades of Move, eh?) - all to save the children of course.
Imagine musical propaganda aimed at the masses without the DeadBeat. Would it work? I don't think so. Music aimed at stimulating subtle cerebral processes instead of just giving an adrenalin rush to backbrain survival reflexes only appeals to intellectuals.
Unify the herd, give them an adrenalin rush, & push them in the direction you want them to go (& hope it doesn't backfire). An almost perfect way for capitalism to suck its suckers dry 'til they're recharged again & ready to come back for more (at least once a week - unless they have credit cards).
In May of 1994, I was in the English beach resort town Brighton with a group called Klauhuette Bangzeit 2000 to give a performance. This group, the brainchild of Gordon Monahan, Laura Kikauka, & Gordon W. Zealot, limits its repertoire to 3 "classics" of "exotica": "Caravan", "Taboo", & "Quiet Village". These songs are played repeatedly in 12 to 14 hour marathon concerts - partially inspired by Erik Satie's "Vexations" (a short piano piece with instructions to perform it something like 840 times back-to-back).
Our show was scheduled to be at a seaside club called the "Zap" as a part of an arts festival. When we arrived, we discovered that there was no publicity other than a plug in a festival brochure. Nowhere near the club were there any announcements - no posters, nothing. When we asked one of the owners of the club about this he said something like: "How can I promote a band that only plays 3 songs for 12 hours & calls it Irritainment?" Good question.
During "dinner theatre" hours the club justifies its grant money by sometimes having performance art & related cultural events. At night, it rakes in the money by being a dance club. Around this time, the draw was "techno" music. Some of the KBZ crowd decided to go to the club at night to advertise our event with short spectacles. The 1st night, the dj wouldn't stop the music even for 2 minutes for us to use the stage sound system because he didn't want to lose any momentum. We contented ourselves with walking around & talking with people while we attracted attention by setting our hands, relatively flame-proof clothes, & bread hats on fire.
Remarking to club personnel that the music was astonishingly tedious, we were assured that each night at the club was very different. Predictably enough, upon returning the next 2 nights we found each night to be "undifferentiable". The crowds were drab & uninspired dancers. In fact, each night seemed to only feature one long song - potentially interesting but deathly dull to me in this instance. A part of the "Bangzeit Challenge" is to put as much variety as the players can imagine into the many versions of the 3 songs. It seems that the "Techno Challenge" is to take variety out. We decided that KBZ 2000 wouldn't appeal to this crowd not because it was too limited but because we play 2 songs too many!
Organized Sound will organize its receptive &/or unsuspecting listeners into an analogy of its own form. An individualist anarchist might prefer a form of consensually coexisting diversity. A dictator, like christianity or islam, will only want one way, all the time.
& the DeadBeat Goes On & On & On..
[but, then again, maybe I'm just complaining about how unpopular I am, eh?]
tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
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