Transformations in Club Music
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Transformations in Modern Dance
Club Music 

Observations of a Thinking Being

by Rich the Tweakmeister  


world.jpgLets 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?"

Sensuality and Sexuality

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.

Personally, I 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 me. 

 

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.

Certain melodies 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 does.

Technology and Transformations for Dance

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)..

Some 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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