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music as non-neutral // hyperpop as the sound of atomization

By beiser
    2021-02-12 08:08:09.048Z

    one of the holy prescripts of our age is that taste is beyond reproach, cannot be read into, is merely preference. this has mostly been good because it's kept us away from some of the dumber arguments and dick measuring contests of performative distain. but i also think we've lost something of an understanding of a "varied substance of the arts," as Dewey would call it.

    one place to start this investigation is in the simple fact that taxi drivers, as a class, tend to love pop music. very simple, indisputable fact of the world. I would like to suggest also that taxi drivers have a very stressful job, which involves long periods of situation awareness, causing a high degree of exhaustion. I would like you to believe these two facts are linked.

    the same arguement, again but from anecdote: there is some music that is not comprehensible when I'm in a state of high stress. Personally, in a state of sleep deprivation, I lose my ability to enjoy polyrhythms, screaming, most kinds of metal entirely, jazz as a totality. Longer musical phrases seem to recede in importance, and shorter, catchier tunes take more importance.

    I don't think this is unique to me, but I do think most people have a fairly consistent level of physical stress in their lives, and wouldn't notice if their tastes were influenced by such factors.

    One more angle, again uncontroversial until its implications are unpacked—people don't listen to music as a kind of general improver of life; they listen to it because it improves their life in specific dimensions or ways. While perhaps part of the experience is purely that of rhythms that massage the brain, I listen to Carly Rae Jepsen in particular because the music unlocks a specific kind of experience; that experience is, like a chicken unable to eat pecking at the ground, a kind of proxy for an experience I find inaccessible elsewhere in life. Gabe uses the word "nutrient" to describe these things.

    You see pop-crit along these terms often— "Oh, you listen to Drain Gang? I also have depression lol." There's an awareness that taste is related to need—I take a medication that alters my sodium levels, I begin craving pickles—but I don't think this thread is really pulled through to the end.

    Music is so closely related to identity because it's imbricated in the process of creating a lifestyle—the act of listening acts as an offset that enables actions. I listen to a bunch of 90s UK club hits, and it creates in me a set of possibilities that function together with my lifestyle—an hour a day in a tracelike state is possible within certain lifestyles and inspires certain actions, and unfortunately for a certain British cultural critic, it doesn't seem to deeply linked to taking radical worker's action.

    And it is imbricated—once I begin to adapt my life to the possibilities the music creates in me, or the needs it fills which I no longer seek elsewhere, I'm pulled towards a common state with others.

    all of this is a prologue to my much simpler belief. Hyperpop—the highly-compelling no-longer-quite-niche genre helmed by A.G. Cook and his merry band of savants, designed to optimize pop in a kind of maximalist-yet-nihilistic direction—in some cases acts as a superstimulant. More bluntly, it's often more than people can emotionally handle, or that it might just be bad for people. In other words—the popular description as "sugary" is a deeper similarity than might be expected.

    Notable—the degree to which hyperpop relies on totally synthetic production of sounds that would typically be sampled; I hypothesize that the kind of recognition and dismissal that happens with a tired sample is less possible when the arbitrarily is entirely removed. The removal of detail produces enduring surfaces.

    Hyperpop descends from Nightcore, the genre produced by 4chan, consisting of sped up pop songs; it is, in some sense, the first fully online genre. It was never a soundcloud genre—optimized for sociality, for creators; it was always a Youtube genre—the backdrop for anonymous souls, gaming for twelve hours. The question is, to what degree is it imbricated into that mode of living? This isn't a new question, cf Nick Hornby:

    What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person? People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands - literally thousands - of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.

    And so, the heading—in the 00s, much music encoded a kind of Wertherism, a kind of lovelorn panic in which it became fashionable even to wring your hands about your own miserable state, which is what makes High Fidelity such a miserably self-indulgent film for anyone above the age of 19. But today, it encodes the experience of watching anime for 7 hours, jacking off listlessly, waking up at noon in an empty room with a small window and drinking soylent.

    I don't mean to denigrate such a life. Many people live miserable lives. But I think hyperpop perhaps needs some sullying of its reputation, to make clearer the direction it leads, the lifestyle it affords.

    • 8 replies
    1. crispy
        2021-02-12 08:40:14.273Z

        some really fantastic stuff here.

        two things that jumped out at me:

        the act of listening acts as an offset that enables actions

        I think this simple fact, and the fact that it remains true if you replace the word "listen (to music)" with "wear (clothes)", "talk (about a subject)", etc. is something that is acknowledged at every local instance. "We're just talking about 'Elite Overproduction', it doesn't make us a certain type of person." But it does, an one of the reasons is another simple connection that's often misconstrued people bottom-out at basic emotions like "repulsion" or "boredom" on everything but the things they choose to consider having a dimensional attitude for, and this cognitive resource investment becomes the foundation for their personality. I see your description of taxi drivers as showing how resource constraints can teach us things about the behaviors of the constrained and the things they like.

        much music encoded a kind of Wertherism, a kind of lovelorn panic in which it became fashionable even to wring your hands about your own miserable state

        I have been discussing the notion that this "lovelorn panic" is, for those in their 20's, a universal epistemological reference point. Even those who see it as merely the bad musical equivalent of Romantic Comedy flicks, seem to base much of their impression of the world in embracing an ennui that allows them to escape anything that looks like this panic, which I view as one of the causes of the "listless lifestyle" you describe. One thing I think it creates underneath the skin of everybody who was effected by it, was a very specific view of meaning as painfully intense motivation. "Meaning makes you want things, makes you want things even more strongly than any sexual desire you could ever want and in that way it is purifying." Much of the media that gave this impression was people describing their inability to find such meaning, but the impression is there all the same. I think this has reinforced a kind of "ultra Plato's cave" where people keep digging into their lives for something that could finally mean something the way their expecting it to, consistently finding nothing of the sort. I also believe this laid the tinder for the radical emotional intensity of lockdown, which was always going to be painful but has reached surprising heights in my view. Even if the listless lifestyle remains the daily reality, dedicating to one given COVID conflict, e.g. vaccine distribution, simultaneously justifies the user's listlessness while allowing them to tune everything out and hear that one chord ring true in their minds.

        I agree there's a lot to unearth about how taste effects behavior, this is a nice place to start.

        1. In reply tobeiser:
            2021-02-12 16:41:58.756Z2021-02-12 16:52:32.548Z

            The taxi driver stuff is really interesting. I think I'd noticed that relationship between cognitive load and musical preferences on some level but not enough to articulate. This theory would have city cabbies as bigger pop fans than suburban cabbies, yeah? I've noticed stuff like jazz is good if you're high energy and trying to simmer down but ostensibly here, they want something that keeps them energized.

            I've always thought the nutrient vs flavor dichotomy Gabe implicitly leans on to be a good one, but I'd throw in a third category for optics/image. There's the food's flavor, how good it is for you, and how well it's been played ("can you Instagram it?").

            @beiser have you heard any glitchcore? Seems linked aesthetically

            There's also a great Nydracu bit on the history of pica pop I should dig up... think I archived a copy before all that stuff went down


            1. In reply tobeiser:
                2021-02-12 16:42:54.885Z2021-02-12 17:54:53.965Z

                Oh I'm gonna recategorize this as Pure Aurality btw. Pedantry but gotta set precedents or people'll get confused.

                1. B
                  In reply tobeiser:
                    2021-02-12 21:49:16.171Z

                    what is the distinction though

                    i do worry if we're starting with too many categories, a dangerous game.

                    1. In reply tobeiser:
                        2021-02-12 22:08:33.205Z

                        "metal machine music" is for computer/computation stuff but I agree with you that we'll probably end-up just pushing out most of these categories...I don't even know if it's really worth having categories but maybe that's too radical.

                        1. In reply tobeiser:
                            2021-02-12 22:17:22.528Z

                            Categories are good actually I wrote a whole book about this it's called the Color Purple

                            1. B
                              In reply tobeiser:
                                2021-02-17 00:09:40.161Z

                                @suspendedreason Can we make more explicit what Gabe's distinction is? I had never heard him talk about flavor, and I sorta thought that the point of talking about nutrients is that the quality of the experience is determined by what makes up the meal. Is "flavor" limited to what you might call "pure flavors"—aromatics, things that have a smell that's identical to a taste?

                                1. In reply tobeiser:
                                    2021-02-17 00:24:38.529Z

                                    @beiser yes! (I moved your comment to top-level to give non-nesting a try)

                                    I'm not totally sure what Gabe's distinction is, formally, because I think it's more an implicit model that he uses. In my contact/conversations with him, he seemed to like food metaphors for cultural consumption, and would take about protein/vitamins vs carbs and sugars. I think I take this to be somewhat akin to a surface/substance critique, or a cosmetics/health distinction. Things that max-out flavor over health are "sugary" in this frame.

                                    On the one hand it seems fair to call this a separation between immediate pleasure and more long-term, values-laden oughts: pro-social responsibilities.

                                    Short blogpost from last week that's maybe related: