Transhumanism and Musical Evolution (A Music as a System Companion)

1983
80
Share:

This article is intended as a companion piece to W.’s most recent Music as a System article, and should be read as a supplementary exploration of concepts introduced therein. 

On the first installment of this Music as a System companion piece, I gave a (relatively) brief introduction to a subgenre of music talked about by one of our great leaders, W. in his initial article. However, the amen break was only a small part of his overall discussion, and his insights and ideas provoked within my own mind a plethora of speculations specifically regarding technology and the future of extreme music.

To connect technology and Drum & Bass shouldn’t be difficult even for those most musically illiterate. Electronic music wouldn’t exist without exactly that from which its name is derived. The reason I’ve chosen to highlight Drum and Bass (as opposed to house, or dubstep, or any other subgenre of electronica) is because it began as a sampled form of music, but became something virtually unplayable. The legendary Jojo Mayer did an excellent talk on this exact topic in a video which should be watched before we continue:

For those of you who didn’t watch the full video, Mayer provides a fascinating philosophical insight into his own musical journey within Drum and Bass and his subsequent reclaimation — or “stlylistical abstraction” — of the genre. He describes how electronic music became a new art form, a reflection of the desires of the current age: “Drum computers became a simplified abstraction of a real drummer. So in a way they created a new but genuine expression with a fake — which is kinda like what art is all about.” This is a beautiful way to describe the evolution of music (and of art in general), but is a perfect description of the emergence of electronic music.

He goes on to say that electronic music, in becoming its own art form, surpassed the capabilities of human performers (he is speaking specifically of D&B, and if you listened to the music on pt. 1 of this series, I think you could easily agree). It was at that point that he became obsessed with being able to play this new form of art; a task that initially appeared impossible:

“So in the process I became something like a musical John Henry, and because I was trying to replicate a machine that could . . . perform statistical density and accuracy that was just simply beyond my human capabilities. So in other words: to play this music is actually very difficult, and in the process of acquiring the idiosyncrasies of drum machine programming I constant got confronted with my human limitations. But, in the process, I managed to acquire enough technical understanding  — or maybe, even more important, stylistical abstraction — that I could create the illusion that I could play like a machine. So I actually also created a real expression with a fake — just the other way around this time.”

In his determination to recreate electronic music on live instruments, he (maybe accidentally) stumbled onto a new way of approaching music in the modern age — something Mayer describes as being “the distance between zero and one.” Once his “stylistical abstraction” had passed the stage of imitation into its own form, he realized that improvisation and playing in real-time was what separated his own brand of electronic music from that of a computer composition. A computer thinks, on the most basic level, in terms of 0 and 1 — binary. A human, in a live performance, knows no right or wrong, no black or white. Everything becomes reactionary and instinctual, and this, to Jojo, is that gap between the digits that a computer has never been able to realize (and he is careful to caveat this point with a “yet!”).

This is undoubtedly a fascinating perspective on the development of electronic music, and artists’ reactions to it. All forms of modern “western” music have been influenced directly by the electronic revolution of our generation; whether that influence manifests itself in an embrace of the new sounds or in a rejection of them matters not. The key philosophical point Mayer is making in this is that art is an expression of the people, and the digital age is manifesting itself in our music. From the first amplified instruments to the technological marvels of the current age, electronics have revolutionized music, from writing, to recording, to performance.

As modern science began to take shape, people as early as the 1920’s began to speculate on its implications on the future of humanity. This philosophical inquiry eventually manifested itself in a movement known as Transhumanism (or H+). Today, Transhumanism has been championed by many philosophers and scientists, and an organization entitled The World Transhumanist Association was founded by Nick Bostrom and David Pearce, but arguably the most influential person in the movement has been Google employee Ray Kurzweil.

The philosophy involved is not difficult to comprehend. To transhumanists, as technology improves, the next logical step in human evolution is to embrace technology into our very physical beings, effectively voiding all limits of our current bodies such as ugliness, sickness, accidental loss of tissue, and even (eventually) death itself. Modern medicine has already given us a glimpse of the potential of scientific advancement with prosthetic limbs, devices that allow the deaf to hear, assistive reproductive technology — the list goes on. Transhumanists view this medical and scientific advancement with open arms and minds, believing that for humanity to advance we must embrace this movement.

Of course, like every theory, transhumanism has its critics. Even the H+ website, www.humanityplus.org, mentions in its Transhumanist Declaration the potential for biotechnological advancement to be misused. As transhumanism is a movement stemming from science fiction ideas, we can look to science fiction to provide us with a viable reason to be wary of rushing into anything too quickly. Kurzweil himself has spoken on the dangers of nanotechnology.

However, complete transhumanism, no matter how close it may appear to some or how terrifying to others, is still a long way off in the human journey. This leaves me some room to speculate about technology, its impact on music, and the potential influence of biotechnology on human performance and ability.

Triggers have already been discussed in the post that sparked this whole discourse, but their importance cannot be understated here. Triggering drums has revolutionized heavy metal music (and recording any genre of music across the globe) in that it allows drummers to play with a speed and precision never before possible. As W. puts it:

“Some purists may scoff at the thought of using an electronic trigger to tune the sensitivity of your equipment, but the fact remains that drum triggers, particularly on bass drums, allows for the requisite speed that a demanding musical genre necessitates. Drum triggers allow musicians to push the envelope on speed and intensity.”

The strength of triggers is that they allow the drummer to play at near-inhuman velocities, and yet they retain (or they do when they’re done well; we all know the dangers of overtriggering) enough of human creativity and emotion so as to not become computer programming. A drummer performing in a live setting can use triggers to clear up sound and compress volume while retaining blistering speed and complexity. However, the difference between this use of technology and Jojo Mayer’s approach is that using triggers to clear up sound is simply manipulating electronics to make a drummer’s job easier. It has nothing to do with making a non-human genre of music into a new art form.

But if we apply Mayer’s insight into the distance between zero and one — the reverse engineering of technology — to the concepts of transhumanism, an interesting thought occurs. If the future of humanity is indeed to couple ourselves with electronics and biotechnology to complete the next step of human evolution, will that not allow us to truly explore this gap? To finally, completely bridge the disparity between binary and the infinite complexity of human consciousness? Coupling our existence with computers wouldn’t just allow people to reinterpret art, or to manipulate technology from the outside — it would actually merge our consciousnesses with that of electronic devices. Our brains would still be capable of improvisation, of interacting in real time with stimuli, but we would be able to experience it, quite literally, between zero and one. While Mayer speaks of this gap in metaphorical terms, a biotechnically engineered human’s very psyche would exist in, with, and around that gap, allowing access to the black and white precision of computer analysis whilst retaining the almost non-aristotelian reaction to external musical influence in a live situation.

The message of transhumanism isn’t limited to mental capacity, however. If we’re willing to entertain this thought experiment for intellectual ability, we must not forget that transhumanism also speaks of eradicating physical ills such as disease, sickness, age, and death. We can turn ourselves into superhumans, with strength exceeding anything we could imagine in our current, frail bodies. The merge of human and machine has already begun (though, like I mentioned, we are nowhere near a next step in human evolution), specifically with people like this man. There are many other examples of technology replacing limbs and restoring functionality to amputees. We haven’t yet reached the stage of combining our mental capacities, but with such technology already being implemented today, we’re well on our way.

Imagine coupling the technical precision of a machine with the mental complexity of a computer, all controlled by a living, interacting brain capable of living in the moment, of sometimes making deliberate illogical decisions, of taking risks, of accepting challenges. The musical capabilities of such a person would dwarf (to say the very least) the skills of even the most formidable musician alive today, or throughout all history. To attempt to speculate on what music would sound like if such a condition existed is a bit like trying to show a blind man what “red” is — except I’m the blind man.  We’ve experienced the advent of Harsh Wall Noise, an electronically developed music that is “music” only in the broadest definition of the term, and yet it has purpose and therefore is art (a point that I may go into more detail about at a later time). But can we really understand what this music is? I can listen to it, I can begin to pull out different sounds, and yet Harsh Wall Noise holds no depth of emotion for me. I feel personally disconnected from it, and rather than engaging with it, I pull back. If I had an H+ computerized brain, would I then be able to hear things at the same rate as the computer is able to produce them? Would Harsh Wall Noise suddenly change for me and become a “song”? Would the entire movement towards harsh noise be abandoned for something completely different; something we can’t even begin to comprehend? I feel that without a such a mental capacity, my speculations are just that: speculations.

And of course, this is all speculation. We’ve already seen a rejection of technology in music (and in some cases, in day-to-day life), and it’s very possibly that trend will continue until transhumanism is but a long-forgotten memory. I personally doubt that either trend will continue to an extreme; humans are much too middle ground for that. When discussing this article, W. had this to say on the subject: “It seems to me that if transhumanism completely engulfs the human experience, all art as we know it may fade away into something else completely. Will metal still exist? Would we even care?” I am very interested to see what the future holds for music and for art, regardless of the form that it takes. Let’s see what humans create; what the next generation’s new, but genuine, expression with a fake is.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

I need to send a huge “thank you” to the legendary W. for inspiring me to begin speculation on such a topic, and for providing invaluable feedback, suggestions, and ideas during the writing of this article. It could not have been accomplished without his help and contributions.

 

(image via)

  • Tyree

    Man, I’d love to see Jojo Mayer play in a grind/death metal band. His Moeller Technique is beyond incredible. Motherfucker could out blast any professional extreme metal drummer.

    Oh, and triggers are fine for kickdrums but to trigger everything else is fucking dumb. Play a electronic kit if you are going to do that shit. Just make sure the kickdrum triggers are not annoying as fuck too. Looking at you Krisiun.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=568iPuFmOII

    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      One of the worst produced albums ever.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        Sounds like 60% of the track is empty air.

      • Tyree

        It’s fucking agonizing.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Serious question: I’m looking for a kick drum sound for some new music but have hit a wall on mixing my existing samples into something new (a live drummer is not an option). Anyone have any suggestions and/or audio files they can share?

      • BLVKKBEVRD

        What are you currently using?

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Modified kick samples from a studio I once recorded at. They sound fine, but I need something better. Trying not to default to using DFH.

          • BLVKKBEVRD

            I was going to suggest that, used in the past. Run some filters if you need to

          • CyberneticOrganism

            I might have to in the end, I know it’s a great tool but everyone uses it.

          • BLVKKBEVRD

            Yep, everyone uses it for a reason. I can’t stand not having live drums though. Not for what I play.

            I do really want to buy an 808 tho

          • CyberneticOrganism

            I hear ya, I much prefer live drummers as well, but this does make recording new stuff about a thousand times simpler, especially since I’ll never play any of it live.

          • BLVKKBEVRD

            I’ll never play live either

      • Tyree

        Hmmm, I guess it depends. What kind of music are you playing?

    • Howard Dean

      Related: Holy fuck that sounds like garbage.

      Semi-related: I spent my morning traveling along the Canadian border for work. I listened to Sinmara’s Aphotic Womb again. As I predicted, that’s becoming my favorite album from last year. So good. I’m not even a drummer, but that album is like drum porn. The drums sound so damn good on that album. And the playing is fantastic. Rad.

      • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

        That album is a good example of being produced well, but still sounding human.

        • Howard Dean

          Totally. You can tell a dude is really beating the shit out of a drum kit. There are some really tasty fills, too. Guy is a beast.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            Yeah, killer album.

          • Tyree

            New Wormlust this year too!

          • Howard Dean

            Byah!

            I’m still waiting for my copy of Svartidaudi’s The Synthesis of Whore and Beast to get to me. Daemon Worship Productions and Terratur had lots of trouble and delays with the artwork and packaging, I guess. I preordered it months ago. Can’t wait to get the motherfucker!

          • Tyree

            Nice! Terratur fucking rules.

          • Nordling Rites Ov MMXIV

            Quite a few fellows have had trouble getting Synthesis… But it’s really killer.

          • Howard Dean

            Yeah, it’s been a wait. The American distribution is being handled by Daemon Worship, I believe, but there have been tons of delays related to the actual physical copies–they were supposedly ready to press and ship the CDs last spring(!), but because of delays with artwork or something, it just kept getting pushed back.

            I remember seeing the songs posted for streaming on a site somewhere. But honestly, I’d rather wait.

          • Nordling Rites Ov MMXIV

            The wait was too much for me. I can do weeks, I can pass a leak by, but a half-a-year delay and official access. I can’t pass. Pretty stoked for whatever they have coming next.

        • Tyree

          One of the many reasons why it was my favorite album from last year.

      • I’ve been kicking myself in the ass harder after each subsequent listen for only including it in my honorable mentions.

        • Howard Dean

          Me too. But I literally had the album for only like 3 days by the time I made my list. I couldn’t in good faith put it higher. If I were making my list today, well, it’d be pretty fucking high.

          • CT-12

            We need to have a redo of our lists in February, guarantee almost everybody’s would change

        • Stockhausen

          Pics or it didn’t happen.

    • It feels like I’ve got an ear infection.

    • Max

      Although it’s completely incongruous in relation to the rest of the kit’s sound, for some reason I never minded the kick sound on this. I know I’m in the minority. I just really liked how perverse it was. It’s my opinion that death metal kick drum sounds have almost always been a little too “sharp” sounding; this seemed to be taking that tendency to its logical conclusion. And the way it just plays rapid fire through almost the entire album, regardless of what tempo or rhythm the rest of the drums were playing…it’s kinda funny. There is almost no single-kick pattern work at all.

      As for triggering the rest of the kit: Attempting it with toms is futile in my experience (for fast music, anyway). I’ve just never been able to achieve accurate firing for toms.

      I think there is some merit to triggering snare. It’s relatively easy to get accurate firing, you can more easily come up with a snare sound you really like; and even if you don’t use the triggered sound in the mix, it has other uses – like making it the sidechain input for a gate effect on the real snare drum track.

    • CT-12

      I’m not a fan of bass drum triggers, but I fucking loathe snare triggers. Also, Jojo is a fucking beast.

  • BLVKKBEVRD

    Cool article, glock, despite being about a genre I don’t care much for. It features much science and big fancy words.

    • Guacamole Jim

      Thanks pirate! I tried to connect the D&B this time with extreme music, but the concept was so large that the philosophical stuff took over the strictly musical portions.

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain
    • Tyree

      Lots of Anal Cunt this week. I’m fine with this.

      • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

        Seth was the true prophet.

        • Tyree

          Any one that can shoot up while getting a blowjob on stage is for sure a true prophet.

          • what?

            GL

          • Tyree

            Do a google image search. NSFW

          • I will have to look this up when I get home from work.

            ND

          • SPOILER: It’s gross.

          • Guacamole Jim

            Can confirm. Cannot be unseen.

          • Tyree

            I beg to differ.

            Don’t listen to Joe it’s glorious and beautiful.

          • KJM

            o_O

          • Scrimm

            The guys that used to play across the hall from us were like that. Dirty old ass punk rockers. Walked by their room once while they were playing with the door open and the guitarist/singer was buttass naked and some nasty tramp was under his guitar giving him a beejer.

          • Tyree

            Hahaha! WOW!

          • Scrimm

            Yeah, coulda done without that one. Can’t tell you how many times that dude passed out naked with the door wide open. They were our friends but some nasty bastards. Unfortunately now we’re in that same room they used to have. I’m afraid to touch anything. HAHAHA I just remembered I have a flyer for one of their shows with the dude passed out on it.

  • JWG

    Way unrelated note, but I wanted to demonstrate the power of TovH comments on my Twitter “Promoted” posts.

    It’s probably not what you’re hoping the effect would be…

    • No, that’s pretty much exactly what I wanted to happen.

    • One of my old college classmates bought her mom tickets to Taylor Swift’s current tour and posted the video of the gift giving. Her mom burst into tears.

      Wat.

      • My mother, sister, and wife are going next September. IN SEPTEMBER. 9 MONTHS AWAY. All they can do is talk about it. Over and over and over and over.

        #doublewat

        GL

        • Kill your family, die in obscvrity.

        • Tyree

          “Talking is Gay.”

          Seth Putnam

          • KJM

            “You Talk About Music, You’re Gay”

          • Tyree

            GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY, GUILLLLLLLLTTTYYYY!

        • KJM

          OTOH, Mom has said that if I don’t take her to see Ghost on their next tour, she’ll kill me and make it look like an accident. My mom is the best.

      • JWG

        I don’t think I could attend even I were gifted tickets.

        I’d stick out like such a sore thumb among a sea of preteen girls that security would be watching me like hawks.

        • This is a distinct possibility I had not yet considered.

          • JWG

            There’s solidarity in numbers, but I just don’t think I could convince a dozen or so metalheads to go to a T-Swift show with me.

          • I’ll go with you, partner. We just need 10 more or so.

          • KJM

            There are no drugs strong enough.

  • Stockhausen

    I’m still working through really digesting this article, but I must say already that this is awesome. Fantastic work, chip dip.

    • Guacamole Jim

      Aww, thanks Mr. Dead Composer!

    • DDubya.

      Glock Jim is a magician with his tongue.

  • JWG

    Related. Way back when I hadn’t yet grown out of radio and alternative rock this was one of my favourite albums:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_Machines

    • Guacamole Jim

      Our Lady Peace >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

      I love that band. Stellar album, too.

      • JWG

        Raine Maida’s voice is seriously an acquired taste, but once it clicks it clicks thoroughly.

  • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

    I AM ROBOT…