Transformations in Modern Dance
of a Thinking Being
by Rich the Tweakmeister
pretend, for a minute, OK?
You are really from the year 2025, a time when many of our
society's current problems are solved, where people
get along with each other better. You would first notice that there is so much fear
in the old world. And there is no where is it more evident than the place where
strangers are supposed to be able to meet and mingle. You would wonder why people
dance with eyes averted? Why do many need copious amounts of alcohol to connect?
And when they do, why is it often in a form that is dramatically sexual, yet practically
unconscious, and often devoid of even eye contact? The music is an obvious attempt
to bring out such sexuality. There is nothing veiled about this in the lyrics or
the dance groove. It might seem paradoxical to the person from the future that there
would be such sexual clamor amid such a historical context of fear of sexuality,
prompted by AIDS and HIV epidemics, the threat of violence by severely alienated
persons, and the weird appetite for viewing the world's most horrible realities
nightly on the 10 o'clock news. You would have to wonder, given the climate of mistrust
of a stranger, why people would want to try to meet at all, particularly given everything
in the way of really befriending another human being. Our future person might wonder:
"Why did they put up with it?"
Our culture tends
to equate the need to be connected with sexuality. This is so obvious, we are at
the risk of missing the point. The line between sensuality and sexuality is vague.
Its more of an academic question than one you can point to observing behaviors of
people. I think our society, to survive, needs to find ways to divide the two. Imagine,
a world where you are free to express yourself to strangers, even touch, without
it meaning something, There is hope, in new emergent forms of dance. Dancing as
a couple, though still very popular at mainstream honky-tonks and traditional clubs,
is rapidly losing its eminence at modern dance clubs, and at the hard core rave
and techno clubs its clearly something you just don't do. Anyone can dance, any
way they want. You no longer dance with someone; you dance alongside them, free
to move away if you want, without risking bruising anyone's feelings too much.
Emerging from these new rules
are new forms of expression. Watch the people dancing half-speed, with lots of slow
exotic arm-waving reminiscent of Egyptian dance. Its exotic, sensual, free form.
They are on to a different vibe than has ever ruled the clubs before. The vibe is
there, but, and most important, the music is not! We don't have a music that
accommodates where these dancers want to go. Today's dance music takes you to the
door, opens it for a brief second, than slams it shut. One gets a sense of the true
dancers wanting the music to take them farther down this strange exotic pathway,
but, it does not: its too caught up in the hype of sexuality and being out of your
mind. The body is no fool though; it knows it is time for something new, enjoying
the new freedoms of the floor. Another thing you might notice is how loud
it is in most clubs. The DJ's crank overworked amplifiers to the point where
communication is impossible. Why? So you can Feel the music. Does
that work? Well sort of... but read on, I have a different take.
Elements of a
new Dance Music: Helping the Vibe
Where Sound needs to go is the
question. The music needs timbres that are ethereal, yet with a danceable edge.
There are plenty of synth sounds that do this--one thinks of the slow morphing sounds
in the Wavestation. Its in a natural progression from where we are now, with stark
analog dynamic retro sounds leading the way, with a science fiction-like quality.
Today too, "grunge" and distortion are "hip", and some techno composers take it
to the extremes of obnoxiousness. On one of my recent programming projects, my client
had several kiks that sounded like an 808 through a blown boom box. Whether using
sounds like these become "mainstreamed" is still moot. No one ever thought the Low
Sine Hum of the 808 would ever resonate through millions of automobile cavities
when the instrument was produced. Now, the famous "rap kik" is as standard as strings
on most modules.
think the grunge emphasis is mere "reactivity" on the part of musicians in the endless
pursuit of defining one's "signature" sound. However, as this trashy, distorted,
garage sound becomes legacy, it too takes its place in the musical unconscious.
The point, i believe, if my crystal ball is correct, it to put grunge off-center
at reduced volume, and in service of a much greater ethereal sound. The one
thing that cannot die in music is Quality. While sound quality may occasionally
take a back seat, it always snaps back to eventually usurp any creative deviation
defined as 'noise". Like it or not Noiz-mongers, you may have well have declared
war on God. The musical unconscious is just like God is supposed to be, all loving
and ready to accept any sound into the freeplay of its aural universe. The very
place the "hip" dance musicians fear to tread is exactly where the next phase of
musical evolution will happen. Where is that? Ha! If I told you, you would not believe
On top of this
needs to be a slow, evolving melody. Exotic scales come into play. I am partial
to doing it in D. Try D, D#, F#, G, A, Bb, Db. Often in a different meter
than the groove. The melody may be in 5/4 over a 4/4 groove for example. with exotic
accents on the sonic periphery--lots of little chime-like things, like gamelans,
gongs and little bells, like stars against the backdrop of a very black night. This
makes the music multidimensional sounding. That's important, and here's why. Think
of dance as communication, music as its carrier. On a dance floor there is communication
going on on several different levels. You might want to think that different dimensions
of a piece of music affect different chakras, or modes of consciousness.
appeal to different levels of consciousness. When we dance along a certain dimension,
we share that consciousness-space with the people sharing the vibe. What could be
more fun! Gee, I'm just giving you all my secrets. Why? I want this music to
happen! The kick drum needs to remain heavy and forefront. The groove with the
bass will continue to have heavy tread. We need a deep footstep to keep the dancers
centered. The snare may have substitutions and may drop out or lighten up, becoming
more implied. So, let a new multi-dimensional groove. evolve. Sound weird? Yes it
Technology and Transformations
When I started this article in
1996 I already knew the answer, yet it has taken 4 years to put words on it.
Technology wise, the future of
dance music lies in one word--surround. Most clubs today have
mono sound systems, and large scale surround systems do not yet exist. Even
if they did, the music doesn't so the point is, as they say, moot. But Dance
music has always followed music technology. Think back to Disco in the early
70's. Its was the 1st synthesizers creating the modern dancey over commercialized
trend. Today its vocoders and analog filters and loop compression doing it. I'm
already hearing software plugins in the latest music. The ultimate plugin, should
be obvious, and it isn't here yet, is the surround plugin. When i say surround you
have to think beyond the surround you know--not Dolby pro-logic or THX or any of
that pap, not an emulation of a church or a concert hall, but a freely definable
XY grid upon which you can place elements of a MIX.
Now stretch your imagination
a bit for me, OK? Imagine being able to focus sound to different parts of
the dance floor. Lets keep it simple. You want to hang by the congas,
they are over on the left. Want to coast through the melody, well stay close
to center. The drums in the back. Except for the kik, which while omnipresent,
is most intense dead center. 3 dimensional space with a different vibe in
every corner. You can drift from sonic world to sonic world. People
dancing near the rhythmic elements will become them. Those dancing with the
melodic elements will become those. Now imagine the interplay among all these
dancing beings. Its cool, its fun, anyone can play. Producers will develop
mathematically known aural 'hotspots" on the dance floor--sort of where the energy
focuses itself. Dancers will hear a different mix depending on where they
choose to dance. And yes, there will be cause in some tunes for everyone to
want to be in the center. This will lead to interesting dynamics among dancers
and dramatically increase the fun, given that people cooperate and don't start shoving
(which if done civilly, could be fun too)..
of us may think that this might not be "cool". One has to consider coolness
in its various disguises, and that coolness is a disguise in itself--for energy.
Anything that goes as cool is a shading, a color of energy. Surround by itself
is not the end of it. The beat still has to be alive, the tune "catchy", the
vibe "cause for excitement". But when this dimension is added, magic happens
on the floor. It is like magnifying the energy in the music and squaring it.
Now, as a philosopher, lets end with a question. What happens when you magnify
the excitement on a dance floor and logarithmically increase its power? I
will only say that with such power, it will become evident that excessive volume
will no longer be needed. The DJ of tomorrow will strive for the perfect balance
that enhances energy.
The dance: To
tell you the secret now, the future involves new forms of touch--fingertips, palms,--in
particular, in musical forms that can be heard and responded to simultaneously on
different levels. It is sensual, not sexual, in the sense that our beings begin
to recapture the awareness that the alienation of the world has masked. As sensuality
departs from sexuality, the fear of the stranger is reduced, and replaced by a more
natural openness. Add the power of surround to the mix, and the doorway opens.
Dance music, if my crystal ball is accurate, is destined to be socially subversive.
It may be one of the few ways to really connect without sex. This future dance ain't
no jitterbug, lap dance, 2-step or line dance It: is a dance that opens our eyes
to the mystery of each other.
It is like entering a different
world. Lets face it; at the root of it all, life is very mysterious. That's
why through history dances were often tied to religions as a form of prayer. It
is a celebration that in the face of the day-to day enormity of life's struggle,
we are all here and we are all OK. The whole purpose is to fulfill the need our
ancestors in prehistory knew well. Dancing is fun in that there is a feeling of
connection to the people one dances with. You share a vibe. Look at all the primitive
orgiastic rites. These were not about sex, but about getting the group spirit going.
Western culture has lost this fundamental, magical way for persons to connect.
As the totally encapsulating dance music of the future materializes we will more
and more realize that Music and movement provide a synergy and a spiritual form
of communication--in the most fun of ways. When the whole tribe does it, no
one is alienated. We stop producing angry crazy people. You cannot keep consciousness
in an unaware state forever. Within the hype of modern dance music, having some
rootedness in disco of all things, there is the potential to subvert the isolateness
of the social reality and generate a a cure for many social ills. Its fun and functional!
Its time to return is almost here. My job is to help it along.
There. i have solved the world's
problems in one essay. Not bad for a Tweakhead, eh?
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History of TweakHeadz Lab
Gear at TweakHeadz Lab
Philosophy and Music
Gifts for Musicians
Metaphor and Your Song
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Basic Music Theory
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Vocalists at Tweak's Lab
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The Newbie Guide
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Why we Think Today's Musc Stinks
Transformation in Dance Music
We Used to Make Money on MP3.com
About TweakHeadz Lab
Tweak's SEARCH Engines
History of Home Recording