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Tom's pretentious essay on machines and music


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Around the time Ultravisitor came out, an essay by Tom was posted on his warp page, some really pretentious philosophical banter about the role of machines in the creative process. I tried looking for this recently but it doesn't seem to be up on the warp site any more and I forget the title. Anyone remember what this was called, or have a copy or link?

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Some people would say, in looking at my career, that it betrays a confused musical standpoint; optimistically it is termed unpredictable, more derisively it is said to be self-cancelling, in that within the wide aesthetic range in the work, one part contradicts and undermines another, resulting in something akin to the mixing of all the different paints on the palette. This is an important point to realise: I take no refuge behind standpoints. This has manifested itself as part of my fundamental creative aspiration- to see across as opposed to seeing from.


At first, there needs to be the presence both of a view rooted in inherited opinion, effectively treated as transparent and assumed to be inherently correct, and a will to play with that view, to endlessly distort it and to ultimately be prepared to destroy it. A kind of simultaneous faith and critical ingenuity are required as, without the latter one is bound to a reverential repetition of received wisdom, and without the former ones sparks quickly die away once the entrenched standpoint is supposedly vanquished.


To make a lethal attack on, say a musical standpoint, that standpoint must first be loved, understood and accommodated before it can be assailed, and this problem is exemplified with much youth culture that seeks to destroy its perceived antithetical enemy simply by contradicting it. It is not enough to behead your enemy, they must first be invited in and made to feel welcome in order to be comprehensively destroyed i.e. they must be in some way incorporated.


This process should seem familiar as it is the time honoured way of dissipating polarised energy away from musical movements: by making them popular. What I am doing is turning this system on its head: instead of incorporating isolated views into mainstream equivalents, for the sake of destroying culture in the name of the corporation, I incorporate isolated views into my standpoint, indeed to the point of seemingly cancelling out a coherent view, for the sake of destroying culture in the name of the individual. In this sense I advocate completely respect-less exploitation of all forms available, as this is the only road that could possibly render an individual immune to being dissolved into mainstream castration, insofar as the music industry as it stands feeds most happily on artists with discrete viewpoints:identity-cults can only be effectively generated from one dimensional personalities. Personal identity must be entirely subjugated and rendered formless in order to have any sort of freedom in our era.


A common error is mistaking contradiction or negation of a consensus view for freedom; this leads to phenomena symbiotic with mainstream culture and equally poisonous i.e. movements who identify themselves exclusively with a cynical commentary on the mainstream. This is a dustbin for so called artists: diametrically opposed to the mainstream, they are still very much obliged to march to its tune, or of course its inversion. Being conscious of the fallacy in their claim of independence, the views always deliberately remain self-contained, and just as a surfeit of cultural control gives rise to overweight smug cretins, an almost total absence of it gives rise to the revolting snide dinginess of the eternally subjugated. The lesson is that no punks have yet been punk enough - rejecting and negating the mainstream just as quickly becomes subsumed in its own poisonous cliches, (thus often becoming eligible for mass production).


It is essential for any creator to want to negate and to reject, but this has to be coupled with a consummate understanding of the phenomena one seeks to reject. Otherwise, not understanding the language of negation, the object of the negating will misunderstands what is being shouted at it, and carries on regardless. I have learned to see inside every musicians head because, in order to prevent myself from being fully incorporated into any musical ghetto, I have to incorporate every musical ghetto into myself. I aspire to make music useless as a commodity i.e. a prop for the identities and personalities of the mindless; and if this is all that music constitutes in our era, then to maximise every conceivable parameter until it completely destroys itself.

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Guest Wall Bird

This is the one. Good luck:


Article from the March 2004 edition of Flux magazine


"Collaborating With Machines" by Tom Jenkinson aka Squarepusher.


The old preconceptions of machines (ie: drum machines, samplers, software) as inhibitive to "genuine" creativity/ "soulless" etc. are now quickly evaporating. The machine facilitates creativity, yes, but a specific kind of creativity that has undermined the idea of a composer who is master of and indifferent to his tools - the machine has begun to participate. Any die-hard instumentalists that still struggle to retain their notion of human sovereignty are exemplifying a peculiarly (western) human stupidity - resistance to the inevitable. What is also clear, though certainly undesirable by any retaining an anthropocentric view of composition is that

this process proceeds regardless of any ideal point of human-machine collaboration (ie one where the human retains any degree of importance.) One might say that music is imploding in preparation for a time when there is no longer any need for it.



As is commonly percieved, the relationship between a human operator and a machine is such that the machine is a tool, an instrument of the composers desires. Implicit in this, and generally unquestioned until recently, is the sovereignty of the composer. What is now becoming clear is that the composer is as much a tool as the tool itself, or even a tool for the machine to manifest its desires. I do not mean this in the sense that machines are in possesion of a mind capable of subtly directing human behaviour, but in the sense that the attributes of the machine are just as prominent an influence in the resulting artefact as the user is; through his work, a human operator brings as much about the machine to light as he does about himself. However, this is not to say that prior to electronic mechanisation, composers were free and unfettered in their creations. As a verbal langauge facilitates and constricts our thoughts, the musical tradition, language and the factors of its realisation(ie instrumentation, limits of physical ability) were just as active participants in the compositional process as the "composer" was.



Idealists who believed such constraints were simply obstacles in the composer's way have laboured to relieve us of them, only to reveal that music is in fact contingent on the very existence of these restrictions, and was never a pre-eminent "form". The "modern" composer, robbed of his constraints, finds himself in a wasteland of desolate freedom. The inconsequentiality of new classical music serves to illustrate this point.



However, for those who don't seek eternal freedom, help is at hand. Whatever may remain of the older constraints is of little consequence as music is now in the grip of a new restriction, the machine.



The machine can be a respite from the meaninglessness of musical freedom. Yet the old tendency to try to unfetter ourselves surfaces: instead of a collaboration, the machine is put at our service. Some of us still flatter ourselves with a certain sort of delusion whereby it is solely our conscious, rational thinking that directs our creations, and is manifest in them. Trying to force a machine to manifest a conscious purpose brings about a stifling and deadening process that only in our time could pass for "creativity". It imposes that the didactic "collaboration" with a machine is a strictly one-way energy channel, from the user to the machine. In this situation, the machine cannot constitute a genuine "oppositional factor" in a dialectical equation as it offers not the antithesis of the conscious human will but rather the negation of it. When being forced to "purpose", all the machine seems to be capable of is resistance. It is not that the machine is a lifeless vacuum that continually absorbs inspiration and ideas from its user, but that the user hinders the collaboration by assuming he is the progenitor of these things in the first place. It is in this trick of perspective, from the humble "it happened" to the questionable "I made it happen" to the disastrous "I can make it happen" that lies the labarynth of paradoxes that is our "modern" world.



The problematic relationship between humans and machines stems from the abject remnants of the modernist idea that we can control our fates, perfect ourselves and our surroundings, postpone or eventually eradicate death. (Anyone who is afraid of dying needs salvation, but not as they might say, from death, but in fact from life, and of course a retreat into dogma suits this purpose very well). This view holds that anything can ultimately be made a subject of our conscious will. However, bending something to our conscious will, whether that is a person, a machine, or a situation always manifests a compensatory and contradictory aspect. Something crops up which subverts our will. Yet it is never admitted that such subvertions are simply the corollary of our obsession with conscious direction of our surroundings and thus the idiocy continues. It is in this attitude of blind hectoring that the machine user-artist limits the possibility of transcendence. In this situation, it therefore makes little sense to the user to do anything with the machine other than to try to utterly dominate it, or risk being dictated to by a sterile lump of plastic. Unfortunately, working with any material in a violent and dictatorial way simply produces artefacts of human stupidity, not art. Inevitably, the violence commited by the artist returns

to its source. This is why many artists have gone insane, died young, or commited suicide. Although they are viewed as heroic, they are simply the people who have most consistently sensed the fundamentally ambiguous nature of all action and died fundamentally not from suicide or illness, but from despair.



One might say that the western tradition simultaneously holds

anthropocentric views and yet makes scientific discoveries that continually point out that we are the center of nothing at all. (In that sense, we are all schizoid - we are all irreperably split, it is simply a matter of how you deal with it.) The use of machines has completed the abolition of anthopocentricity in a radical manner - that we are no longer even the centers of ourselves. Creativity does not seem to be an exclusively human activity anymore, but that begs the question, was it ever? Our actions may not come from our "thinking centre" that we hold dear, but rather from opaque rivers full of uncanny riches that we may have been lucky (or unlucky) enough to fall into, and strong enough to keep afloat in. (This river is only opaque in relation to the relentless "clarity" of our scientific orthodoxy.) It is clear when someone's actions come from here, all else is pattern, habit and self deception. It is only our habitual obssesion with knowledge and control that keeps us from this river, and maybe, for now, it is for the best.



It might be said that we can be possesed by ideas, inspiration, but

ultimately they escape our control and our impulse to retain them. To attempt to possess anything always brings about problems, particularly these high minded conceits, and is a poignant reaction to our dread of death, the ultimate negation of posession. We try to hide behind ideas of usefulness, the future, success, but all takes us further from the one thing we do posess - this moment.



In an era saturated with "activity" and devoid of prospects of personal transcendance, death becomes more and more imposing - no action, no transcendence, just dimensionless intangible void. This leads artists (people who admit their fear) to try to encode themselves into their work, so that the work can act as an ambassador, and ultimately as a concrete (ie: not organic) substitute for the self, and thereby escape the problem of bodily death. We hide behind our work to reveal an immortalized self. Our "creative process" is thus an attempt to simultaneously hide, and invite discovery. But as the emphasis (and significance in the creative process) slowly shifts from the human to the machine, artefacts that are more the product of machines than of human beings are put forth as immortalized ambassadors of the self. Like it or not, we are coming to be represented by machines. Thus we conclude that artists, predominantly musicians, are the first people to tacitly admit their deference to machines. Yet this is revealed in other ways elsewhere in society. We are losing our reticence to relinquish control or mediation of many aspects of everyday life lives to machines. Yet not only do we feel inferior to machines, but we are jealous of them, and thus the machine becomes the ultimate social currency: who owns the latest sports car/computer/trainers/software. It is not simply the implication of monetary superfluity that makes ownership of these things significant, it is deeper than that. It is because we have come to believe in machines, perhaps more profoundly than we believe in ourselves. Their perverse lack of self-knowledge renders them eminently more capable of transcendence. We are significant only in conjunction with machines; anyone who is technologically illiterate is becoming the modern day equivalent of a village idiot or a heretic, by way of a corresponding lack of intelligence or faith. It is actually advantageous to have simply the appearance of a musician, because the tasks of the music making can be delegated to what is eminently more trustworthy: the machine. The last attempt to retain human sovereignty over machines is to don them as a fashion accessory, symptomatic of a moronic cultural environment saturated with sloganeering and "attitude", synonomous with the commodity oriented marketing strategies that underpin it, empty as the thinking behind it.

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Guest cult fiction

It's sometimes hard to believe this is the same guy that released a fairly MOR robofunk album with sexual innuendo about serial devices and stuff last year...

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oh sweet yeah that's the one, thanks wall bird. i had a feeling the previous article was not it, but i am still delighted at its pretension. the two work well back to back. the man seems to have some real identity issues..

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  • 3 weeks later...

it's a great essay, imo. one of the most insightful things i've ever read about music.


the attributes of the machine are just as prominent an influence in the resulting artefact as the user is; through his work, a human operator brings as much about the machine to light as he does about himself.


absolutely true. if you've ever tried to switch from say, software to hardware, you'll find out just how much your equipment influences your output. i moved from fl studio to ableton live, and suddenly found myself composing in entirely different genres.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I mean cmon... he's the guy who wrote those lyrics:



the last stage of a send up of a gut feeling doubtful touch down to one

two forty fortran crowbars shouting in tkie cellar

but no maybe it's too much to wear yes considering the fear inside the ride

starting to die baby i don't want to cry anymore

yet anyway we escape quicker than mechanical deaths rejuvenated

for transparent transport subjected to interpolated states

sadly gated you weight against all sidechains fighting the

crush of silence of the right hand mantle cranium alleged even delayed

uranium burning fabric off our backs right till we can no longer

see plus plus the fact that no rights left meaning we're less than apparent

at a rate of complex numbers transpiring to retire rats racing

time stranded in a stretch predicted yet unfounded in polynomial

calculations set to have misled the walking dead yet on awakening

we may reflect death as a tool to give credibility

to reflectivity falling in slow motion cos we're pushed at the last step

axis discrepancy indicates hexagons beyond control anomaly

mutilation colony reflects no triangular energy

components one and two tubular reality systems in question

multiply senseless consent of inspection prior to combustion eternal

conduction experiments once supposed disfigured immortal beings

wander like stoked navigators pretend multi functioning externals

yes we brackets the menu sitting like forks point at the blue

corpse overlord splitting opportunities broken like back doors

ask why i don't reply while shoulders overlooked but retain guises

suitable for generating consent fooled we're none the wiser

baud rate increased as metallic apparitions manifest through

a thousand yard stares look sideways into infinite parallel ports

headlong into one another escaping velocity becomes a matter of time

compression thresholds as yet another tectonic secret unfolds

third degree burns hover one moment above a faraday cage

exploding in slow motion components rated electrolytic

capacity suffocated in ozone waveforms communicate a paralysed process

submerged calculus offers transient traces of illusion

axis discrepancy indicates hexagons beyond control anomaly

mutilation colony reflects no triangular energy

asynchronous matter avoided by a diagram invisibility

subtle methods symmetry uncovered a diagonal telemetry

catastrophes deep frozen remaining moments horizontal like a

stone endless slowing down till actions turn sidelong

still inverts to regressions lessons unlearnt inertia presides

over burnt modernist strides looking glass to stones thrown

fractions later, swan songs colliding unpopular finding incubated

micro command shells acoustic arguments no longer specified

yes this time freedom transpires wide open deserts yet access

denied sinking in like rotten requests from perished minds

affirmations become distant light sources pinpointing curved fragments

mysterious elements time stretched incubators illuminate strange tangents

electrocution integrated into life on stretcher beds conceived

by airborne sickness surrounded cold avenues of silence

getting to grips preparation for long falls staircases previously

seen only by the dead seem to persist in times of denied states

yet returning to errors like fools locking doors random disintegration

occurs as we await falling forwards forever

axis discrepancy indicates hexagons beyond control anomaly

mutilation colony reflects no triangular energy

asynchronous matter avoided by a diagram invisibility

subtle methods symmetry uncovered a diagonal telemetry



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Guest Wall Bird

Does anyone want to take a stab at what Tom's getting at in the 'F-Train' lyrics posted above? It's pretty dense stuff; most of which is beyond my vocabulary.


If not the whole thing, what about just the chorus(?):


axis discrepancy indicates hexagons beyond control anomaly

mutilation colony reflects no triangular energy

asynchronous matter avoided by a diagram invisibility

subtle methods symmetry uncovered a diagonal telemetry

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The lyrics to these pieces (My Red Hot Car and DYKS) are simply devices through which to involve a human voice in composition; the lyrics are completely crass on purpose so that attention is not deflected away from sound texture to questions of semantics. One could suggest using "do dee do" type vocal sounds' date=' but I hate the sound of people singing "do dee do". It makes me want to throw the record player out of the window.


It would be misleading to tell you these lyrics because they have no intentional meaning. It could be argued that the author is not the sole progenitor of meaning in a text and that a recipient is just as priveledged in terms of deciding the meaning of a text. To which I would reply that post structuralism itself only makes any sense if your attention is sufficiently diverted by an atmosphere incorporating >547 ppm "Gitane" smoke -if this was the case when you asked the question, you will now presumably be more concerned by the onset of various respiratory ailments and hence not be reading this increasingly unfunny answer.[/quote']

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Guest Rambo

I agree with most stuff he says (which is the main thing) but someone should explain to him in an amazingly convoluted way, the merits of getting your point across as simply as possible.

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I agree with most stuff he says (which is the main thing) but someone should explain to him in an amazingly convoluted way, the merits of getting your point across as simply as possible.



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