Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Coming Home To See You

This is an extract from a larger work on Supertramp. "Coming Home To See You" is from Supertramp's second album, Indelibly Stamped (illustrated).

Interestingly enough, the nostalgic tones of other songs are absent on “Potter”, which naturally fits the direct and sexual and active qualities of the song, though this absence adds one final faint undercurrent of tension to the song, as we are left wondering whether the song is leading us somewhere new. The song serves to drive us back into the album after the break of the change in sides; but with the move to “Coming Home To See You”, this absence of nostalgia does not last long, though “Coming Home To See You” continues the somewhat sexy drive of the former song. “Coming Home To See You” possibly gains an initial edge of sexiness from its placement following “Potter” – the opening lyrics, which are not overtly sexual, take on a tinge of forbidden love (“But don’t breathe a word to your mean old dad/cause I’ll be coming back”). This is all the more so because of the focus on physical appearance in the lyrics (“You know you look very much like your mother”), and the suggestion that the lover is relatively attractive (“But you don’t look much like your sister/cause she’s all big and fat”).

However, there are signals right from the beginning that “Coming Home To See You” will be a different sort of song from “Potter”. It opens with something of a trademark for Rick Davies – a run up the keyboard to a point that almost reaches silliness as he reaches for the final high note, which is slightly and humorously delayed. He does a similar thing on “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Little By Little”. This is probably the first appearance of Davies’ self-deprecating humour, though there was a hint of it in the tremulousness of “Aubade”, and there is some hint of self-deprecation on “Forever”. It recurs frequently in his songs – from “You Started Laughing” to “Broken Hearted”, and becomes transmuted into an expression of becoming unhinged (of silly to the point of insanity) on “Asylum”.

“Coming Home To See You” also returns the album to the note of nostalgia found on earlier songs, both in terms of the warm slightly fuzzy production sound of the solo piano and vocals (the latter having a consequently slightly “lost” edge to its sound, as if the vocals are somehow displaced from a fixed physical place), and in terms of the musical sound of the piano, which is made to simulate a pianola. In the opening stanzas of the song, there is a quality to the production that makes it sound like the song is disconnected from a fixed reference point, and that it is being sung into space, without any hope of response, despite the nature of the lyrics. The song is set up from the start as a kind of elegy to lost times, as if Davies is sitting alone in a bar (perhaps in the lost dockside world conjured generally by the album, and given an epicentre by “Times Have Changed”; the sense of decay or effeteness is compounded by the pianola quality of the piano, conveying a sense of being unable to keep up with the times or with the pace of modern experience), looking to a more certain time where he can regain the past. This is compounded by the slightly unhinged edge to Davies’ opening vocals, which begin slightly rushed and slurred (as if he is tipsy at the piano), and with some odd phrasing (e.g. “na-a-achroil fact”).

Interestingly enough, this also sets up a faint trace of threat to the song, as if the narrator’s decision to return home is somewhat rashly alcohol-induced, compounded by the fact that the narrator seems to be rashly and aggressively trying to recapture past times. The sense of threat also underlies the imperative tone of the fourth stanza (“don’t wanna see you with your goddamn relations”). This is compounded by the fact that the opening two stanzas of the song delay the inevitable point of the address to the “you” of the title: the fact that the narrator is “coming home to see you”. In these opening stanzas, by singing about the addressee’s physical appearance (which in itself feels both inane and slightly creepy), the narrator is holding back on his real intentions, and so attempts to shore up the control of the situation. For us as listeners, this is accentuated by the fact that the lyrics are sung as one side of an implied telephone conversation (the lyrics end on the line “I’ll see you ciao”), so that the only access we have to the conversation is through the narrator’s words. The carelessness of the singing also works to subtly underscore the menace, as, like the avoidance of the issue at hand in the first two stanzas, the carelessness seems to be an attempt to veil the narrator’s general control of the situation. This also helps to continue the thread of menace found on a couple of Davies’ other songs on this album (“Your Poppa Don’t Mind”, “Remember” and “Potter”).

However, it can’t be said that this sense of threat generally characterises “Coming Home To See You”, as the slightly unhinged tone of the introductory singing, the plonking careless quality of the introductory piano playing, the slightly floating quality of the production of the opening stanzas, the silly edge to the lyrics, and the gleefulness of the instrumental close comprising the song’s second half, all contribute to a sense that the narrator is also somewhat throwaway in his forcefulness, and somewhat regardless of it. Furthermore, the threatening quality does not dominate through the rest of the song, and there is a series of countervailing forces created across the production and the differing musical styles of the song which keep it somehow unplanted in a particular emotional territory. As a result, in a kind of aesthetic game, the song seems to disengage within its internal emotional and lyrical logic, while at the same time paradoxically engaging the listener musically and rhythmically. The disengagement also helps to reinforce, and is partly realised by, the “on the move” feeling of the song, the “ing” in “Coming Home To See You”, as the song unfolds as a kind of, and is structured around the, extended metaphor for a train journey. What seems to happen is that, as the song haltingly becomes more abstract and more emotionally disengaged, so it becomes more physically engaging.

It is an interesting move, illustrative of a rock’n’roll manoeuvre whereby the mechanics of the song, and a careful manipulation of the way in which the listener engages with the song, is constructed to maximise the physical pleasure of the song. The song’s abstractness is not so much about a headspace, as is the focus of a song like “Travelled”, but more about a bodyspace, so that it more or less winds up our physical response to the song. The train metaphor is a convenient way of pacing this pleasure – it sets up an expectation, not just imaginatively, but physically, as it gears us up for increased rhythmic pleasure. The song more or less eschews a more conventional structure in favour of a construction based around the train metaphor, the image being of a steam locomotive starting up and leaving on a journey, so that each section seems to spill over a threshhold into the next, gaining momentum in each move, and also by each section at one level seeming to dissipate its connection with an imagined referenced world, moving into a physical space. It would be wrong to assert that this is necessarily a literal physical space, or that we are necessarily made to respond physically to the song; the space is a kind of hyper physical one, where we are filled with the potential or desire to move in response to the song, or where we are moved to respond physically in an imaginative sense as much as we might actually get up and gyrate to the song.

The very articulation of the song into three sections further heightens its pleasure, almost as if the song is three songs in one. This is not to say that it ranges operatically or symphonically across its stages, as with a song like The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, or even Supertramp’s own other songs like “Asylum” or “Fool’s Overture”. However, the song builds up its own rhythm through the interplay of these sections, which consequently adds to the enjoyment of each section in its own right through the contrast between each song; with the contrasts themselves also having an almost physically engaging rhythm.

As suggested above, the seeds of this process of gradual emotional disengagement and physical engagement are sown right from the start of the song. The opening verses are vocally and rhythmically methodical, and slightly overstated emotionally for their content. As noted earlier, the opening piano notes are somewhat silly, and the first verse:

“You know you look very much like your mother
And that’s a natural fact
But you couldn’t look much like your brother’s wife
Or anyone like that”

is as throwaway as the song gets: it doesn’t seem to amount to much content-wise, and is sung in a tipsy throwaway fashion. The piano playing is heavy and somewhat overstated, but this is for humorous, ironic effect, kind of underscoring the silliness and the overstated demands of the lyrics. Thus the start of the song, featuring Davies’ piano playing (or plonking), also draws attention to itself through its humorousness, and begins to draw us towards the almost physical pleasure of the song through the suspenseful rise up the scale and the physicality of the heavy-handed plonking.

Quickly laid over this is Davies’ somewhat rough blues-oriented voice, as it performs small feats of vocal manipulation around the first couple of stanzas. The quality of the voice, and its manipulation, also have an overt physicality to them, which tends to tip the focus of the song away from the content of the lyrics. In these stanzas, and in those to follow, Davies’ voice gains its first full workout on a Supertramp song, so that a large measure of the grain of it, its idiosyncrasies and the way it is wrapped around notes and sounds, are given prominence in these opening stanzas. It is not a pretty voice, but it is flexible, rich, and full of character; it is a voice that sounds somewhat old even at the age of 26 (the age at which Davies recorded this song). (By contrast, it seems that Davies’ voice actually gets lighter and therefore younger-sounding with age, as is evidenced by comparing this song with “Tenth Avenue Breakdown” off Slow Motion.) Such a voice is also, therefore, well suited to the blues, and its fractures and slips also perfectly suit a vision of dissolution and decay, and that is part of the pleasure of the voice, and incidentally, in terms of the song’s narrative content, of hearing it draw out the inevitable approach towards the narrator’s true intentions.

These opening stanzas also constitute a calling-in to the song by being more than just the opening of an (as noted before) implied phone conversation: the melody has a calling-in cadence to it, somewhat reminiscent of a station announcement about departing trains (a form of vocal utterance which is in itself disembodied), so that the melody is also drawing our attention to it and to Davies’ vocals. Even when Hodgson appears in the second stanza, both his guitar and his vocal are subordinated to Davies; they serve to support Davies and the song’s overall gradual disembodiment (by dissipating the menace of the narrator), rather than to clash with or counter Davies (as occurred for instance between Palmer and Hodgson in “Maybe I’m A Beggar” on Supertramp).

There are a couple of slight disjunctions involved here too, which compound the throwaway feel; the first being between the plodding rhythmic build up, and the lightweight throwaway quality of the lyrics and the nostalgic edge of the production. The second lies within the plodding rhythm and piano playing themselves: despite, or perhaps because of, their plodding nature, they are also somewhat throwaway, as they have a careless quality underscoring the emotional content of the lyrics. This disjunction serves to slightly unanchor the song, lessening the weight on the lyrics and giving it an abstract airy quality, and laying the ground for, and slightly shifting emphasis towards, the idea of the journey, rather than the intended (somewhat menacing) outcome of the lyrics. Furthermore, there is a clue in the opening stanzas that the bluster and menace of the narrator are not going to be sustained in, or supported by, the song overall – as noted before, the second stanza introduces the higher and somewhat wistful harmony of Hodgson, accompanied by guitar. This lightens the tone of the song, so that the humorous repetition of the rising piano scale closing this stanza seems to become more closely attuned to this lighter tone, than to the narrator’s intentions.

(It’s worth noting here that this disjunction is found through much of Supertramp’s work, so that what might otherwise seem blustering or overblown on most albums has an ironic or undercut quality. For instance, the hard rocking “Bloody Well Right” has the light touch of Davies’ piano solo in its first third, which also returns in the fade-out; what might seem otherwise a somewhat threatening revenge song, “Another Man’s Woman”, drifts in and out of lighter piano moments; and possibly Supertramp’s most portentous song, “Crime of the Century”, is set to waltz time, almost as if the song is about a carnival. It’s only on Famous Last Words (with such appallingly overstated and ineffectual songs as “Don’t Leave Me Now” and “Waiting So Long”), and Brother Where You Bound, with the somewhat directionless title track, that the bluster gains its full head and is not substantially undercut by a smaller more quotidian tint).

The forward movement of the song, however, is not entirely a simple chiastic process of gradual emotional disengagement intertwining with gradual physical engagement. There is actually a kind of twin protracted pleasure of the song, so that there is not just a protraction of the physical pleasure, but of the narrative pleasure, one reinforcing the other for the extent of the song’s narrative content (its first and second sections). This double protraction somewhat resists a chiastic movement, as the middle section of the song is, in narrative terms, more urgent and direct. The clarion-quality of the singing in the first two stanzas (aided by the “beefing up” of the vocal elements through the addition of Hodgson) is replaced in the third and fourth stanzas by a tighter singing style focused more on the rhythm of the song. The production of the second stanza is also drier and closer to the speaker, especially with respect to the vocals, which are made to sound somewhat like they are sung over a telephone (as is suggested by the lyrics themselves). These qualities make the narrator seem like he is coming closer to the listener, almost as if he is leaning into the phone.

What happens structurally therefore is that the middle section builds a hump over which the song rises, and then rolls down, in the third section, to a more abstract less ideationally focused and emotionally engaged state. Nonetheless, the middle section, by being more rhythmic, seems to somehow slightly cut loose the content of the lyrics, so that despite their implied threat, they seem to be slightly ineffectual in impact. It’s almost as if, despite their direct address to the lover, the lover is being given an option of not necessarily having to care about the narrator’s intent. This paradoxical shift is underscored by the apparent increase in closeness of the narrator (figured by the production and the lyrical direct address): by being metaphorically closer, it feels that the song is moving closer into our physical space.

Furthermore, this paradoxical movement is in fact one way of manifesting and progressing the train metaphor: the second section, in its double intensification of physical engagement and narrative content, is emulating the preparation of the locomotive to move out of the station. In this section, the train is cast as preparing to move off, to disengage itself from a fixed location; but in doing so, it must exert extra force to initiate the movement, a kind of problematic and heightened engagement with its location in order to be free of it. This also heightens the tension of the song, giving our enjoyment of it a tinge of painful pleasure, or at least restrained or contained pleasure.

So, in this song, with the movement to the third and fourth stanzas, and the change in melody, rhythm and production style, there is a residual effect of feeling the impact of the preceding verses, accentuated by the way the last notes of the piano in the second stanza seem to hang in the air, and in the dreamy production space of that stanza. This also contributes to the unique pleasure of the change to the third stanza: the change is almost humorous by cutting off the languor of the previous stanzas, and moving to a more direct expression of the narrator’s intentions. There is also a kind of pleasure in the second section of having the different acoustic-oriented styles laid out for us, as if to show off how many different “roots” styles the band can master.

The pleasure of the second section is all the more marked both because it is so brief and ends so suddenly – two short skiffle-ish stanzas that up the rhythmic ante but stop abruptly at the final lyrical utterance of the song, this being appropriately enough “ciao” – and because it acts as an entrée into the even more frenetic third instrumental section. The gap between second and third sections is much shorter than that between the first and second, so that there is a touch of playfulness to the reduced length of the gap; and there is also a heightened excitement, in the sense that, for this time, the band can’t wait as long to move into the funkier rhythm. (The pleasure of this is not simply due to its one-off occurrence in the song; it is a pleasure arising from repeated listenings to the song, as through repeated listenings the listener knows and looks forward to the “pay-off” in the move to the heightened boogie of the third section.) The skiffle style also is inherently playful, compounded by its being somewhat anachronistic, both for the time in which the song is recorded, and within the song and album themselves, as at the time skiffle had a markedly British association as opposed to the U.S. blues-oriented styles of the rest of the song and album. It adds to the slightly loopy feel of the song, and further undercuts the menace of the lyrics.

The third section marks the final cutting loose of the song, losing lyrics and becoming entirely physically engaging through the foregrounding of rhythm, reflecting also the train’s increase to full speed. The way it does this in itself is somewhat complex, as it does not suddenly leap into a fully-fledged block of boogie, but unfolds into it, in a kind of sonic equivalent of a filmic panning out from a single image. If this were a movie, it is as if the camera were focused on the train wheels, then slowly panned back to reveal the whole train, and then the countryside in which it is travelling. So the third section begins with just acoustic guitar, heavily rhythmic, played tight and hard, mimicking more or less the locomotive rhythm, but nonetheless somewhat diminished in the mix, so that there is an element of distance between the listener and the instrument. The effect has the immediate purpose of allowing the gradual “panning back” to reveal other instruments, allowing space in which each of the gradually revealed instruments can appear; but it also has the result of drawing the listener in by holding back just enough on the force of the guitar to make the listener yearn for more. The gradual addition of the various instruments, particularly the percussion instruments (congas, tambourine then maracas), further manifests this, through the teasing out of the complexity of the rhythm: the listener is gradually hooked more and more into the rhythm of the song, driving him or her into the pay-off of the organ and harmonica solos, as each instrument builds on the previous. It is important to note here that the guitar itself is played rhythmically, with the end notes of each line played like they are short bursts on the train whistle; but the differing texture of the guitar, the otherwise non-rhythmic quality of its sound, obviously gives the rhythm a more sinewy feel, upon which the percussion instruments lend a kind of punctuation.

These percussion instruments also somewhat stand out in a Supertramp song, and the variety which they add to the song gives it a kind of liquidity and texture which redoubles its rhythmic pleasure. It is not just that they add rhythmic complexity: it is that the sound of them, in themselves, add a kind of sonic complexity and sense of musical playfulness that compounds the pleasure which the song is designed to bring. The effect here is not simply some abstract musical enjoyment, some pleasure at the cleverness of the music: it is a “real” physical pleasure, a pleasure in both the physicality of the sonic changes and their effect on the listener, and in the song’s bodily-affecting rhythms. The song works by slowly disengaging the head, and slowly engaging the body; but there is a paradox in this too, because it is only by having engaged the head, that the bodily effect works so thoroughly. And in saying this, too, the head is never totally “disengaged” from the song (as if it ever could be!), because there is always the residual effect of the first two parts of the song, the memory of them, and sense of pay-off or debt to those earlier parts that makes the last part of the song work so effectively. Moreover, the nature of the music – the cyclical nature of our listening of it, in that we can always re-play the record and the song itself – allows this pay-off to continually recur in our relationship to the song. It is a fundamental characteristic of rock music of this sort that the intellectual pleasure rests barely beneath the physical pleasure, and conversely, that the physical pleasure is a kind of eye-flicker of the thought that rests behind it.

The solos which then come in over the top of this rhythm gain in effect because of this build-up. Again, these solos do not work, in and of themselves, as displays of virtuoso talent, though certainly the flexibility and skill of the playing impress the casual listener and add to the pleasure of the work. They work more viscerally, in a physically kind-of-excruciating way: a physicality that wrings pleasure from itself. This is coded more-or-less specifically in the introduction of the first solo, that of the organ: Davies stutters the organ into life, echoing the way in which the preceding instruments have built on each other, but which also continues the sense of ever-so-slightly delayed pleasure. Even in this stuttering into life there is a kind of deferring and hence heightening of the pleasure: the first organ solo has a chunky and cheeky physical feel to it, and remains in the lower registers, so that it does not soar into life as we might otherwise expect from some of the more grandiose solos of the day. Naturally, the lower registers have a more physically-felt quality as well. The organ here plays to a physical response, not necessarily to a cerebral one. Furthermore, Davies’ keyboard style is perhaps the most rhythmic of any rock keyboard player of the time (he often notes that he started out as a drummer, and this rhythmic sensibility seems to flow over into his keyboard playing), picking at the edges of the beat as if he is drawing out the rhythm.

What might be construed as a more cerebral response is left to the first harmonica solo, which follows that of the organ: it plays a melody in higher registers than the organ, and so it seems to soar higher. But this contrast in itself brings a physical pleasure to the solo; and in any case, the height of the harmonica has its own kind of sharpness-on-the-ear physicality, a slight edge of pain to the pleasure that consequently heightens the pleasure. Again the harmonica is played relatively rhythmically as well, though there are pauses, gaps and “slides” in the playing that paradoxically emphasise the rhythm by working across it or omitting a beat: in a way we work to hear the beat that has been missed, or fill in the beat from the rhythm that is working underneath it. These lacunae again also add to the pleasure through that pleasure-in-pain quality, by missing out the rhythm that the harmonica is otherwise striving so hard to achieve.

There is also a sense of game-playing here, which shows that the cerebral is never too far from the physical. The game-playing is also obviously manifest in the back-and-forth between the organ and the harmonica, accentuated by the fact that Davies is soloing with himself, and not with another person. It adds a sense of the streetside busker impressing his audience by re-creating a full band by playing numerous instruments at the one time. This impressiveness is compounded by the fact that the rhythm behind Davies is played firmly but not overpoweringly: drumbeats are played with brushes and flicked rather than pounded, the maracas with their sustained (rather than punctuated) sound remain through the piece, and bass is somewhat bounced into the piece, rather than sustained on each note. The rhythm is also mixed into a thick firm block which cushions rather than dominates the song. There is a sense that the rhythm tracks are forward and present to us as listeners, with the solos reaching out from this closer to us.

However, the solos also seem to sheer off somewhere too, the harmonica having an edge of a deferred space, almost a note of regret, and the organ having a thick “over there” kind of feel. As a result, and also because the third section is, in effect, the moving off section of the song, it has a constant quality of drifting off, despite the physicality of this section. This paradoxical movement is compounded by the song’s disembodiment as a result of the solos taking over from Davies’ vocals. There is a very slightly unsettling note of Davies having been silenced in the third section, though there is a lyricality and personality to the solos which suggests that he has been absorbed in some way into them. But in a way, this personality is unsettled: the two instrumental “voices” (organ and harmonica) are competing with each other, in any case they literally lack a true voice, and metaphorically they do not make a point, because they end up drifting off in the fade-out.

It is a movement that takes the gradual emotional disengagement of the song in a slightly skew direction. Though the song gets rhythmically more excited and engaged in the third section, a current of personality persists and revives through this section; and though the general tide of the song is towards rhythmic engagement, this nonetheless fades out, somewhat precipitately, as just as it reaches the fade out the song is climbing to a renewed high point of excitement with the harmonica and the organ. Furthermore, with the song having been all along, in a sense, about drifting off, the actual drifting off of the song is somewhat dissatisfying, particularly owing to its precipitateness. Due to our cyclical listening of the album, it therefore remains an ongoing frustration that this instrumental section (and one of Supertramp’s most engaging) should forever be foreshortened.

In a way, though it is frustrating and probably too early, this drifting off is providing a kind of prelude to “Times Have Changed”, a kind of giving way to, or in the face of, the earnestness of this latter song. The move to “Times Have Changed” seems to mark a changing of the guard on the album, from increasing physical pleasure (through both “Potter” and “Coming Home To See You”) and increasing abstraction, to songs which are more clearly “about” something. “Coming Home To See You”, more than any of the other songs on the album, is constructed around a musical metaphor, that of the train journey; it is from the start, therefore, structurally more abstract than any of the other songs. In that structure, it doesn’t follow any of the normal song patterns which all of the other songs follow to a large degree (even “Aries”, with its extended instrumental sections, follows a roughly conventional, if extended, verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, with each verse and chorus having the same melody and rhythmic structure), with its structure being more or less tied to the image of the train journey.

In their voice, too, both “Potter” and “Coming Home To See You” are more abstract than “Times Have Changed”, or at least project imaginary characters more than they project emotions expressed by the singers: they both take on a distinct voice that sit apart from the singers, whereas the voice of “Times Have Changed” is self-reflective and easily co-existant with the singer. Even in a song like “Rosie Had Everything Planned”, which projects an imaginary scenario, the voice could be that of Hodgson looking on at the woman of the title. Moreover, “Coming Home To See You” has a kind of narrative to its lyrics, an internal conversational logic, that separates it from the succeeding song, and from songs like “Travelled” and “Forever”, which comprise a series of more-or-less real-world observations, rather than having a distinct narrative direction internal to the song. This results in “Coming Home To See You” having a twin intertwined logic: that of the phone conversation, and that of the train journey. In so doing, this intertwining twists the song even further away from the real world to which other songs at least attempt to refer.

In noting this, it is apparent that this is a rather odd characteristic of “Coming Home To See You”, as paradoxically the song, in its real world existence, actually becomes more “physical” in its presence, through its increasingly rhythmic and physically pleasure-centred nature. This compounds the unhinged or unanchored quality with which we are left at the end of the song (in its drifting fade-out): while having become more physically “concrete”, it has also otherwise accreted a greater imaginary and metaphorical presence than other songs, and not only this, but a presence founded on two more-or-less parallel imaginary threads. This unanchored quality becomes structural in terms of the medium (somewhat like a faltering but persistent heartbeat): the imaginary and metaphorical presence dissipates through the third section, overtaken by the song’s sheer physical pleasure, though this presence pulsates in a kind of subterranean way through the personality of the solos; and then revives again when we re-play the album. As a result, the song’s very presence in our listening does not seem to ultimately fix on an Aboutness (about a character or a story) or be founded on a message (as with a song like “Travelled”); it seems to keep twisting off from any reference points either within or outside the song. Ultimately, even the metaphor around which it is partially constructed, the train journey, does not seem to be what the song wants to get to. It is important to note that this is a dynamic process: there is never a point where we can say that the song ever does totally remove itself from the train metaphor or from the internal narrative; or a point where the song totally gives over to pure physical pleasure. The song gains its energy from this constant movement to or from its reference points. In a sense, the song is both driving towards a point of pure physical pleasure, and yet at the same time a point of pure abstraction.

Indelibly Stamped and all Supertramp's works available from www.amazon.com

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dance Little Lady Dance

From 1994

I’m reading Stockhausen’s notes on the works, and I’m wondering at this descriptive project of Stockhausen’s, this listing, this projected matrix of ideas that is then re-cast back onto sound. Somehow this is upheld as a liberation into ideas, and allows a consequent transformation of sound. Yet I don’t know where this transformation is, and the casting of some idea of “transformation” onto what happens sonically is arbitrary and slippery in its monumentalism. What is Stockhausen really about? Can I hope to get there? Where is this transformation? Have I missed it? Does my loss somehow lessen my appreciation?

What if “Dance Little Lady Dance” were the highpoint of Western art in the 20th Century? How do we know anything is a great work of art? What if something small and lost in the fray is actually a major work? What conditions would need to be met, or what would it need to do, for “Dance Little Lady Dance” to be considered great? Why do I advance the idea that something small and lost like this, something that isn’t even considered worth a listen even when we do pay attention to it, is worth a listen anyway?

What I want to do in this essay is to sneak into that small space that lets me enjoy “Dance Little Lady Dance” despite its age, its context, its hipness (or lack of it), its low “production values”. I want to see if even this song, which is about as extreme as we can get in looking at notions of value in recorded sound, can help us understand how technological sound arises in our listening, how technological sound has repositioned music and listening, and how music has been lost in the context of technological sound. I want to find some sort of kindly analysis of music in sound under a ruling technological order.

It would be easy, for instance, to begin from a position of the cutting edge, and explore notions of what sound is and how it shapes certain ideas. The cutting edge in itself packages a whole set of values and ideas that are amenable to using sound to break open our attitude to “post music”. Yet I suspect that by listening to the cutting edge we will actually miss, or be distracted from, the very thing which makes our listening anew under the order of technological sound. In a sense, by listening to the cutting edge, and coming up with some matrix for sound as a result, we won’t get anywhere revealing with technological sound. We’ll just get a series of axioms that predict our listening, rather than finding a way for us to be in our listening. I can asseverate the truth or otherwise of sound under this order, but I may never simply be there with it.

By listening to “Dance Little Lady Dance”, I want to duck out of distinct and big categories. I want to continually return to some sort of modal empirical method, of returning to my own feelings and how these may sit with a position in recorded musics. To be explicit, I find no automatic reason for attributing any sort of value to any particular (kind of) music, and therefore, why “Dance Little Lady Dance” should not be accorded as much weight or attention as any other. I’m not interested in finding an endpoint to this argument, however, by replacing the (masculinist hegemonist) canon prevalent in popular music with one populated by trash (though I think such an exercise would have numerous interesting erosive and redistributive advantages).

I’m not even trying, ultimately, to make a point about the “size” of this song, its artistic position or its lyric stature (though its cultural “size” and its ephemerality are of prime concerns in this essay). Instead of measuring this song, I want to pick out those points that spring up when listening, I want to listen to those voices that are aroused even before, but also during and after, the song makes its way through the speakers.

As I’ve already implied above, the first voices I lay credit to are those that say that this song is not worth listening to. If I “listen” longer (though these voices are as much generated by me as part of a continuum on which my ear happens to fall), then I hear that the production of this song is very “flat” (and “cheap”). There’s very little sense of a “space”, particularly either some sort of originary space in which the music may have been ideally performed (i.e. the studio or other recording place) or an imaginary alternative world in which the music is moved into (e.g. a cavernous cathedral, a dry plain, an empty basement, etc). In fact, there’s very little sense of space (between instruments, within our speakers) in the recording as well. It sounds like it must have been recorded in five minutes, with virtually no post-production. The backing band sounds like a sequenced sample, if it wasn’t for the fact that we know these things weren’t available in 1976. Thus, a song so buried in the production milieu of the time, so buried in the machine, that not even the live production of music sounds “real” or live, that the only alive thing is Tina Charles’ voice.

This is, no doubt, part of the reason why that first voice (that of dismissing the song) gains credence. Yet surely this song’s similarity to sequenced musics, particularly as it has arisen in a (virtually) pre-digital era, should give it some status. Techno, for instance, employs very similar techniques of “de-localising” sound and sonic architectures, so that chunks of sound become modalities in a palette of sound. That palette, as the term suggests, leads sound to have a much more two-dimensional character, and fudges the relationship between listener, speakers, and the productive process. For all intents and purposes, the only reality in techno is the artificially generated one midway or around the speakers, in which the listener happens to fall.

In particular, this song has a similarity to ambient techno which, along with the drug states which often accompany its (techno’s) playing, partly predicates on some notion (traceable to Stockhausen and other modernist programmes) of transformation and liberation into another existence through technological purity and rarefaction. Perhaps, then (if we were to use the lyrics of the song as a gloss) “Dance Little Lady Dance” moves into some sort of transformative position reflecting that of the little lady (through romance and dancing).

My point here, however, is not so much to claim some equality for “Dance Little Lady Dance” with the predominant recorded art music of our time, but to tease out the difficulty for us of taking as read the inherent value of the assertedly worthy, in this case, that of techno, the predominant recorded art music of our time. Simply: to say ambient techno is implicitly worthy because of its transformative agenda becomes a problem when we line up other musics (of reputedly lesser value) which, without setting out to do so, achieve the same ends. This would even occur with other musics that aren’t devalued: “Carolyn’s Fingers” by Cocteau Twins[1], for instance (which, though produced in a way which focuses on the production process, the relationship with the listener, and the nature of recorded sound, nevertheless results in having a “net ambient effect” in which the listener can become buried), or It’ll End In Tears by This Mortal Coil (an album much closer to “Dance Little Lady Dance” than many people would care to admit).

Perhaps the reason that this becomes a bigger problem for art musics of our time is that the asseveration of transformation in the operation of music such as ambient techno becomes doubly redundant, both because its claim to special status is eroded by comparison with other music, but also because it really goes without saying in recorded sound. Recorded sound will always be, in a very simple way, transformative, because of its inherently physical and enveloping nature (i.e. our listening environment will tend to be re-shaped by recorded sound). Even whether representationalism or theatrical projection is pushed into the sound before, during, and after its production and reproduction (and these are separate issues to the transformationalism of music such as ambient techno), there remains the nature of sound to re-cast our listening environment (obviously in a way that no other art form can do, except, perhaps, literature, by extension from the enveloping modality of reading).

My concern here, however, is not to show how ambient techno tackles any special extra considerations of transformation. I believe that ambient musics set up their own circular problems in this regard which, for my ears, tend to remain unresolved. (In fact, by becoming a more written medium, particularly in terms of writing on and across our listening space, I imagine this circularity will be exacerbated.) What I am interested in is where this leaves us with a song such as “Dance Little Lady Dance”. Given that its transformational aspect can be taken as read, the distinctions held out against this song become less tenable. Given, moreover, that the transformative musics against which it can be compared employ similar notions of repetition and derivation as are articulated through the recording of the backing band of this song, there seems to be more to this song than meets the ears.

For instance, the song also has a somewhat (but not markedly) peculiar place in the production context of the time. At a time when sound/studio production was becoming an industrial entity of its own, when the studio was becoming embedded as an industrial machine with which to present recorded sound, when recording technology as a result was becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex, this small unsophisticated unoriginal song reached the top of the charts.

This has implications for our listening now in that recording of popular music is in a similar position, except that the full weight of the machine itself is right through the production of music now, rather than heightened at one end. There is no recorded music these days that is not exceptionally highly produced and unproblematically so. The highly produced is the norm, even in terms of small songs potentially equivalent to 1976’s “Dance Little Lady Dance”, such as Ace of Base’s “The Sign” (which, for instance, in its marrying of light ragga rhythm with a Swedish ABBA-pop sensibility, has the same kind of small kooky idiosyncrasy of “Dance Little Lady Dance”). As we can, however, hear in a song like “The Sign”, the capacity for the kind of leakage available through a small and insignificant work like “Dance Little Lady Dance”, even despite the latter’s “unspatial” recording style, is actually reduced with a more written medium, such that the relationships within the work as a projected whole (as a series of written discourses related through digital technology to each other even before they leave the hard disc) become predisposed onto our listening before the relationship exists in real time and as-lived-with by us in our living rooms (or wherever the speakers happen to be). This is not to say that we can’t make what we will of what we hear, but that the conditions (but not necessarily the possibilities) for doing this are more (at least at this stage) restricted. Under digital, on the input side, even with artists who are directly and self-consciously aiming to burrow into the implications of the digital forms, the small, the lapse, are hardly seen (or heard) as possibilities. With the written matrix of digital, these things are overlooked (or perhaps not even able to be overlooked, so that the possibility for leakage is severely limited), while paradoxically the monumental paradigms and programmes of modernism are able to gear themselves up again. It’s quite strange that the aleatory forms explored under late modernism are both quite natural under digital (through digitalised random generation), and yet also, in the main, actually excluded.

What I’d like to pursue further, therefore, is how our experience of recorded sound (working from our listening position) occurs regardless of this monumentalism (even though it may or not be present in or around a work. For our listening of “Dance Little Lady Dance”, much of this lies in the relationship which Tina Charles’ voice has with the listener, and with the relationship established between her voice and the backing band in that formulation. Listening as we now are in a digital world where decay is so strongly resisted, Charles’ voice sounds to us doubly so close on the technological (and hence aesthetic) form, close to the point between physical location (as placed in the recording studio and on the physical tape), and yet is also being buried in an overcoded subcultural matrix (i.e. sounding tacky, cheap, ephemeral, sounding like a piece of girly fluff). These two tendencies are twinned in there, so that there’s a point of suspended animation between the two. This kind of constant mediation and interaction is highlighted in other more self-conscious works, such as “Slogun” by SPK[2], where the point of physical location and presence is crossed such that the medium’s fragility and inherent weaknesses are exposed and factored into the aesthetics and the listening. (I would argue that this is present in all recorded sound, but its phasing in our listening is suppressed by other recorded forms and works, including and especially digitally recorded and produced works.) There’s no escape for the sound of SPK out of the analogue bind, in a similar way to Tina Charles, whose voice almost distorts in the medium despite itself. The potential breakage of her voice is as much a threat (albeit muted) of breakage of the medium, so that the medium itself becomes close on our ears. In a sense, there’s a kind of inverse breakage with the backing band as well, in its extreme overcodedness: the backing band (in its repetitiveness, both in a sonic mechanistic way and in the performative norm under which the industry has placed them), as well as its recording, resist any attempt to take on the full range allowed by the recording medium, so that its very low fidelity causes a sort of internal collapse or implosion for the medium, especially when laid behind the careless overcoded girly abandon of Charles’ voice.

In this way, the medium begins to arise as a physical and metaphorically arisen entity predetermined and preexistent with our own experience of it, so that the experience occurs as much across as within the speakers, and across our shared experience outside the speakers and regardless of the production process. (At a different level, this is analogous to the way adolescent girls make of pop stars what they will, despite the supposed repressive manipulations of the industry[3]). The cliché of this form, therefore, is a kind of planned or inbuilt redundancy which mediates a kind of rhythmic cultural movement (in this I don’t mean a capital M Movement) across the medium and across a range of communities of interest.

This is allied to the way repetition and cliché became opened up by the arrival of house and rap music (for the latter, particularly in its mid-period of the late 80s). Repetition became some sort of recuperative process, but not in the way that might be immediately apparent (i.e. recuperative of earlier musics in a straight borrowing sense), and not recuperative in the sense of trying to return music to some utopian performative norm (much of the music on which this is based already arises from a living as-performed context by real people in real communities). The recuperation here is one of constant momentum and cycling, not necessarily of renewal but of re-living through living on. The idea of cliché, in fact, becomes redundant when the entire oeuvre is recursive and derivative. Instead, the repeated becomes a means of progressing sound, animating life, maintaining networks and relationship, and this across a community of interest and a community of sound mediated through a range of networks, including radio, dance parties, record stores, and so on. (A case in point is the repeated sampling of James Brown’s “unh”, which, through its excessive repetition, had less to do with cliché and more to do with shared exchange of an artistic moment.) It’s no coincidence, then, that house tended to sample works from the genre of “Dance Little Lady Dance”, in a sense revivifying that pulse of broad aesthetic/cultural rhythm. As much as any other performance event, this kind of aesthetic rhythm becomes articulated as a shared cultural practice and modality.
©Timothy James Horton 1994

[1] From Cocteau Twins’ 1988 album Blue Bell Knoll, available at http://www.amazon.com/; "Carolyn's Fingers" available at iTunes Store
[2] “Slogun” appears on SPK’s 1983 album Auto-Da-Fé, available at http://www.amazon.com/
[3] As studied by someone like Sheryl Garratt in “Teenage Dreams”, in Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin’s On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, Routledge, London, 1990, available at http://www.amazon.com/
"Dance Little Lady Dance", "The Sign" available at iTunes Store
It'll End In Tears available at http://www.amazon.com/

I Eat Cannibals

From 1994

Why listen to Toto Coelo?

Toto Coelo appears to be a group of 5 girls that had two hits in Australia, “I Eat Cannibals (Part One)” (which I bought at the time) and “Dracula’s Tango (Sucker For Your Love)” in 1983. My re-acquaintance with this group occurred when last I saw a 3-person drag show in inner city Sydney with one of the performances choreographed to the second of these two songs. Moved as I was, I bought their album (Man o’ War) when I next happened to be browsing through the old vinyl in the back aisles of Gould’s Book Shop in Newtown. In writing this essay I want to focus on “I Eat Cannibals (Part One)”, though I also have the rest of the songs on that album in my ears, particularly “Dracula’s Tango (Sucker For Your Love)” and “Hey Rajah”.

In listening to Toto Coelo, I’m posed with a problem. I’m meant to read this work in a particular way, hear it in a particular way, dismiss it in a particular way. Yet I love “I Eat Cannibals (Part One)”. Rather than work backwards from this position, starting from a place that inherently has little to do with our actual listening, I want to start at a place, perhaps (for the object of this essay) to one side of (and at times between) the speakers cast up at ear level. I want to alternate between forgetting and problematising the pre-judgement that defines this sort of song as not worth the time of listening to it. And rather than coming to a point of making some sort of cheap academic justification for liking trash, I want to find out why this song can stir me (who’s been through the academic process, who knows the rules and understands the game) and make me find some sort of aesthetic, cultural and sonic resonance for it, rather than a simple sub-cultural niche for it.

There’s nothing about the music (as text, as some sort of cultural form) per se of this song that should necessarily make us be particularly interested in this song as art. It doesn’t seem to me (a musical illiterate) particularly inventive as a musical form. The melody is not striking (except as a hook), the rhythm is not in itself very complex (in context of the time, it figures in a particular way, but I may return to that later), the lyrics are scarcely “deep” (though again, they’re points in a larger mosaic which figure significantly). It’s a slightly unusual variation on the pop song form, in that it ends with a lyrical extension and variation on the verse/chorus content of the rest of the song, but this in itself is not strikingly unusual.

It’s from this point that I want to start pondering the issue of what is music these days, whether in fact we listen to music, how recording has changed our listening, and how there is, at one level, very little difference between the kind of listening involved in any (recorded) electronic music and any other recorded music. Wanting to draw a long bow, I want to show that Toto Coelo, for instance, are direct inheritors of Stockhausen’s initiatives. Not only this, but that they also contribute significantly to the playing out of recording and electronic sound art since Stockhausen, and to the critical question of where technology and music are post recorded sound.

Let’s add up the incongruities. For a start, there’s something very peculiar about this ensemble of 5 women (if we can believe it’s 5 women - I’ll discuss this below) singing the peculiarly terse extended metaphor of “I Eat Cannibals” (which in fact, as “performed” in the recorded song, gets abbreviated to “I Eat Cannibal”). (Is this in fact a metaphor? What does this line do, as realised in a pop song, when it seems to be more, or something slightly different to, a metaphor? After all, the line is not strictly analogous to an act that these girls would be referring to, though there may be some direct referentiality in it.) These 5 women, as they are represented (visually, through their own singing styles, and through the production of their voices) as being a tackily artificially suburban recreated version of some notion of the cutting edge of the New Wave (after all, their hair stylist is credited on the back of the album).

Furthermore, we don’t even know if it’s 5 women, whether it’s these 5 women (i.e. the 5 women in the video and on the album cover), where they were recorded, whether they were recorded together, whether in fact it’s only one woman multitracked and electronically treated. The women’s voices are all treated in a way that refuses to place them geographically. In fact, despite the mixing and multitracking of the voices, the very process is resisting any conventional sense of the ensemble in the work. There are some choral similarities, but no choir really sounds like this, where there are too many jumps between song styles, song modes, and sonic “locations”.

These women are also singing about things and in a particular way which is not particularly typical (though it’s more common now) for the western white woman in pop songs. Yet these desires are articulated in an exceptionally false and artificial way. There’s no “truth” pointed to in these words. There’s no referent. As the strangely twisted title metaphor conveys, the world which the lyrics points to belongs nowhere in actuality. This in itself is strangely arch and fetishistic. Pop song lyrics, sung by girlies, that not only don’t match up with girlie aspirations, and don’t match up with any sense of a “real” referent.

Already, built into the work, comes a sense of its lack of authenticity. Already the sense of the real is being eroded. What happens to the performed event in this? Is there a referent of live performance, of musical ensemble production (as opposed to recording production)?

The recording itself captures and highlights certain performative elements of the voice (certain husky tones, grunts that regularly punctuate the work). As a result, there is a privileging of vocalisations that are not normally admissible in the formal performed world of live music. In a sense, there’s an attempt to render strange, or to fetishise, something (the voice) which in a single abstracted performance has the potential (and in this case actually did and does) to become extremely familiar in all its modulations and exigencies.

Added to this is the odd location for much of the instruments and chorus in a large, cold, artificial-sounding space, which can’t be specifically oriented. At the time, this space was in fact reserved for less lighthearted and “girlie” music, such as that of Joy Division, Public Image Limited, XTC, Killing Joke, U2 and so on.

As a result, there’s no sense of the referent, rather, a sense of enjoyment of the technology itself. It’s hard to place a Band in this, or any performed event. Who is playing these strangely mechanical drums (I wouldn’t know, just from listening, and particularly in the context of the technology of the time, whether these drums were programmed, or looped, or actually played discursively across time and placed on multitrack tape accordingly)? Where do the tiger-like roars fit? What position in the “space” do the girlies fall into?

Through this sense of the artificial, it’s very hard to start making a distinction between (recorded) electronic music and any other sort of recorded music. Aside from the fact that it’s all mediated electronically, the point with this sort of production is that there’s no such thing as a real event or performance to which any of this can point. Not even the real time playing of any instrument - even the real time vocalisations - can be identified as authentic, because we can’t match them up with anything within or without the recording that could possibly ground them or date them or contextualise them as a physical event. However, we can contextualise them not only within the world of the recording, but also within the world of our own listening. Here we very much start to hear something which is not to do with the merits or otherwise of this synthetic sound over another supposedly real world sound. All of these sounds are unreal in the sense that, as we hear them, they are not physically what they appear to refer to. There is no real ensemble of women’s voices here from these speakers. But there still is a real sound, which has in it the reference to real women’s voices, but which is yet entirely different. This is an electronic sound, with its own physical properties as bestowed by components, electronic signal, physical environment of the reproducing mechanics.

In this context, then, where there is no real time position for any of the originary musical and sonic sources in our own listening, where does music end up? There of course can be no music in this environment when no instruments are making music with us at our listening time. There can be no music when vocalists are not merging their own voices with our physical environment, and when they cannot shape their voices with and as a result of their presence with us. Our concept of music as a live lively thing cannot hold under the weight of technology apparently pinning sound down to a time and a place (which of course in itself is a nonsense, if not simply for the fact that none of the things that are in the technology in terms of sound are there at the same time as each other).

We could say that this creates a “new music” of sound, and certainly in some performative or behavioural ways we could cast recorded popular music in this way. Its position in our living space, and its way of interacting with us, is very similar to the way live music interacts (albeit in different contexts), not to mention the “music of sound” best exemplified by someone like Brian Eno. Yet to look at (or more properly, to listen to) what this “new music” is in physicality with us in those situations, it’s hard to see how we can start positing a new music. There is no way we can extract any performative element from within the music, there is no performance apart from that of the electronics (which in itself is highly significant, but which I argue is not musical in the live performed sense). We can say that there is performance in the reference articulated in such music, but that performance is back in the process, it’s not with us now, and in fact never really was (except as discrete events sliced into the technology). What remains is lively, and live, but live as a technological event injected with electronics and lived-with by us listeners.
Taken from this perspective, (recorded) electronic music becomes just one of the packets placed into this technological performative event. The packet brings with it a certain set of preconditions and listening modulations, yet the listening conditions and position themselves do not significantly change. What Toto Coelo seem to do is to bring this event back into our own listening grasp. They seem to resist the notion that there is some sort of purification or purer artistic state possible through the abstracted world of electronic sounds. This world in itself is ours (as listeners) as lived with. The notion of the cutting edge, which is so strongly asserted in the music of someone such as Stockhausen, seems to be relegated to fairly overambitious rhetoric when faced with the reality that, in the end, technology takes us no further than our own listening.
©Timothy James Horton 1994

Man O'War substantially repackaged as I Eat Cannibals & Other Tasty Trax with all original and some additional tracks, available at www.amazon.com
"I Eat Cannibals (Part 1)", "Dracula's Tango (Sucker For Your Love)", "Hey Rajah" available at iTunes Store

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pump Up The Volume

Part of the movement of sound production from the 60s to the 90s was a movement to a more dense use of soundspaces, so that by the early 90s there was a component of dance music where each track was "playing" soundspaces, rather than sounds or representations of instruments (e.g. Messiah’s “Temple of Dreams” or Felix’s “Don’t You Want Me”). This movement was of course made available, and mediated, and arguably "caused", by the increasing facility of sound production made possible through the development of technology and increased computerisation. By the early 90s, it was no struggle to posit a sound in the production that came ready-made with a complete sonic environment that in an earlier era might have taken many hours or days to generate in the studio.Of course, this move was gradual, and predicated on a whole series of strategies employed by producers and engineers to represent sound on a recording. There are many examples of this, and this is by no means the earliest, but a key early example is Ken Scott's recording of Bowie's Hunky Dory: the opening piano note of "Changes" wraps up a whole world of emotions, simply in the one note, before any other elements are introduced into the mix or any other notes are played. Furthermore, the dislocated spaces of early 90s dance music are well founded in non-dance productions, as far back as the mid 60s: George Martin and Geoff Emerick were already setting up alienating spaces in a track like "Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite", where the brittle crispness of the track, the reverb with its own peculiar quality, and the choice of instruments, set up a sonic image not just of another time, but of another slightly skewed world that does not sit squarely with our own. By the 80s, producers are well experienced at setting sonic elements against each other for an ulterior effect: Launay's production of "I Send A Message" has the rhythm of the track not only created through the instruments themselves, but through the sonic displacements caused in the productions of these instruments. Most notable in this is the infectious bounce of the keyboards and guitars in the opening bars, where one sound seems to bounce off another, as a kind of sonic echo of the other.So it is by the time of "Pump Up The Volume"[1] that producers are constructing highly complex soundspaces built up from many disparate elements. It is not just that the soundspaces are complex in terms of the instruments or sounds used; it is that the soundspaces are given a multidimensionality where the sonic elements have not only musical effects (such as to build up rhythm), but also emotional effects constructed on various cultural dimensions. "Pump Up The Volume", as an early piece of sampled and electronic dance music, provides a strong example of the sophistication of this multidimensionality.The sonic rhythm of "Pump Up The Volume" starts in a similar fashion to "I Send A Message" - three separate sounds working (metaphorically) contrapuntally, the bottle-sounding synth plonking in distinct positions in the space, with the hi-hats bouncing off this, and the brushed-drum bouncing almost into any position in the soundspace. The synth and the hi-hats are actually systematically and carefully positioned - the synth is positioned in three clear spaces, mid, and fairly far right and left, with the right and left appearances somewhat muted. The sound of the synth itself, and this tripartite positioning, gives it a fine, precise quality, almost like it is tickling the ears as it falls into the various spaces. There is a distinct physicality to this sound, like a sonic ping pong ball, and an aural sensuousness in the way it teases the ears by dropping onto the speakers in each position. The sound has a kind of sudden round completeness that quickly goes, so that it has a kind of mysterious, attractive and cute wonder to it: a sweet almost pretty sound that is like a sonic fairy, darting in and out of the listening space. Yet the sound is also somewhat cool and slightly distant, making it almost ethereal.By comparison, the hi-hats and brushed drum are relatively dissipated sounds, though their dissipation is tightly contained: there is a sense that they are cut short, as if they are part of something that would otherwise be larger. This interestingly enough draws a superficial connection with the bottle synth, as it carries on the somewhat mysterious quality of the latter sounds. However, the dissipation of the hi-hats also pulls away from the bottle synth, as if there is a kind of dragging of the thread of the track away; this is compounded by the way the other brushed drum, with a slightly different tone, smacks into the right speaker and then across from left to right. A rhythm is created, not just in the timing of the two types of sounds, but by the way the hi-hats seem to flick up off the bottle synths, and the brushed drum then starts to seem like it is flying around the soundspace, like the bottle synths are drops of water that leave splashes in the form of the hi-hats and brushed drum.Yet the phantasmic quality of the bottle synth, its sensuousness, the way it drops on the ears, and the interplay with the hi-hats and brushed drum, makes it seem like these sounds are actually falling randomly in the space, fracturing the listening and resisting a settled consistent soundspace. This sets up four seconds of tension where the listener is working out exactly what is to come, where the rhythm will settle, and what kind of musical form will result.Within this four seconds, therefore, a musical space and a soundspace is created that is already given a number of dimensions. There is the interplay of the qualities of the different sounds; the rhythmic "bounce" and contrasting disfigurement that occurs by the way the sounds fall into the space and across each other; the purely physical and pseudo-physical positioning of the sounds in the speakers (right, left, central, moving across these positions); and the physical quality of the sounds themselves as they fall on the speakers and the ears. There is a kind of putative physical space, from the positioning of the sounds and the qualities of the sounds; intersecting with which there is a putative musical form, created by the purely musical rhythm, and the metaphorical rhythm of the interplay of the sounds, as if this musical space is a kind of second dimension on top of or intersecting with the lateral dimension of the soundspace. Note that even in this, it is not entirely adequate to depict the lateral dimension of the soundspace as one dimension, as the qualities of the sounds themselves give a kind of imaginary height and depth to the soundspace - the bottle synths and the brushed drum sound both higher and closer than the hi-hats. In another production (and as we shall see, later on in this production), added strength could be added to such a dimensionality by the way in which the sounds are shaped with post-production techniques, such as echo and EQ - echo could be used to retreat a sound "back" in the soundspace, and EQ could be used to also heighten or lower a sound.However, the primary determinant of dimensionality in "Pump Up The Volume" is the quality of each sound, and their interplay, as here in the first four seconds. This becomes more obvious when the track's musical rhythm becomes clear at 0:04, when the kick drum appears, then vocals, then scratching, then piano, maracas and the more formless treated vocalic sounds that appear in left and right speakers. The kick drum immediately (but temporarily) cuts the dislocation short: it is a neutral central sound that brings conventional rhythmic order to the soundspace. But it has an automatic and disregarding quality, as if it too is expressing some kind of alienated position. For our purposes here, this quality serves to further the track's dimensionality: as if the drum is a kind of featureless sun in the middle of the orbit of the other sounds, or a deadspot itself separate from the other sounds. The first vocal, of Wolfman Jack or a simulacrum, adds another dimension (or perhaps another two or three dimensions) to the soundspace. This dimension could be conceived of as a fourth temporal dimension (though there is already a natural and inherent temporal dimension in any musical work, as part of the revelation of a musical work in the way it plays itself across time), in that the vocal is realising a kind of remembered space. It is important to note that this dimension is more complex and more inherently structural than appearances of spoken or quoted or sampled vocals from other earlier recordings, such as the train announcements in Supertramp's "Rudy" or the spoken ruminations on dying in Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky". This is primarily because the sampled vocals are played musically in the space, so they gain a structural position within the song from the outset. So their position in the space automatically complicates it: they are not inherently "of" the space, because they originate from elsewhere than the system on which the rest of the music is being created. They carry the codings and environment of the recording or space in which they originally appeared. By appearing in this new space, their appearance gives the total space a more explicitly abstract nature, so that the space is (if it ever was) even less about a real performative space (like a club or even the studio), or a projected real space, but about a "mind" or “aesthetic” space. As noted, by this time there has already been an extensive history of "head" spaces in popular music, from the unsettlement of "Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite" to the complete alternative universe of Tangerine Dream's "Phaedra", and the host of dreamy spaces of dub reggae. However, though the "head" space established by the use of sampled vocals has some similarities with these headspaces (most simply because, to sample the vocals, some treatment of the vocals has to occur, so that they sound somewhat bodiless), the mindspace of sampled vocals in this and other tracks of the time has the effect of deepening the spatial dimensions of the track by setting up, as another dimension, the dimension of the recorded space itself in its completeness. What I mean by this is that the elements within the mix are metaphorically placed on a continuum of recorded spaces, so that the sampled vocals take up a position of being in an "over there" of recorded space of their own. As listeners, we are more less hearing across a dimension of various recording spaces. There is the recorded space of the "instruments" themselves, then there are the various recording spaces of the different sampled vocals as well (from Wolfman Jack to Eric B. to the wailing middle Eastern-sounding female). It is tempting to describe this as a continuum of remembered spaces, and this is certainly one of the overtones of this use of sampling. But the "remembered" quality of the spaces is as much to do with the EQing of the samples to dampen extraneous sounds, and to posit them as "remembered" actually limits the way they work in our listening.Similarly, it is tempting to describe the continuum on which these spaces are placed as a historical continuum, and again, that is partially true, and part of the overall effect of the use of the spaces: it is as if we are listening to a snapshot of the history of recording, and we are at one end of this historical continuum. This partially explains the "depth" of this dimension of the soundspace. But again, this is not the full "picture" of this dimension. The dimension works by a depth of "recordedness", so that it is as if our position in relation to the recording is less one of spatial position, but of a textual position. "Textuality" is a convenient term for this position, and somewhat captures the sense of the position as a non-real one related to an artefact, but it does not quite capture the sense that our listening is as much conditioned by a whole host of recorded spaces, and spaces represented in a recorded production, as it is by real instruments playing in the air. A visual image of this dimension might be a landscape comprising a series of different recorded or broadcast environments retreating from us to the horizon.A comparison with Paul Hardcastle's "19" may make this a little clearer, in terms of how this latter song represents voices. "19" has a series of vocals represented in a number of different ways, including the relatively unmarked vocal of the female "backing" singers. In a sense, the backing singers are of a recorded space of our time, or current with us; it is not that the space represents anything physically congruous with our own listening space, but that the space sounds "now", both due to the style in which it is recorded, and due to the clarity and depth of the sound (which in itself makes this as “now” as the “nowness” of the whole style and currency of the song itself). Receding a little further from this is the vocal of the narrator[2], which is produced in two ways. The first is where the voice is narrating statistics, and sounds ever so slightly "thin" or cushioned, but still sounds somewhat present, perhaps like he is narrating over FM radio; the second where he is presenting a news report and sounds like he is narrating over AM radio, representing the historical past of the war, as well as the historical past of recorded sound. However, there is a quality to both these recorded spaces which does not recede the sound from us further than our listening present, because even the AM radio space sounds like it could be a current representation of a past recording style. It is important to note, though, that the spaces of this voice are slightly ambiguous, and this adds to the sense of recession of the spaces, while also resisting it: it takes a little listening to work out whether these spaces are re-created ones, not past sampled ones, partly because both are slightly treated (and even then, one is never entirely sure whether the spaces are re-created or sampled). The ambiguity is enhanced by the fact that the voice itself sounds like it is of the Vietnam War era - it is a style of voice from that time, and may well be of a reporter or announcer well-known from that period (and the "news reports" complicate this, as they appear to verify the voice as one from that period).Finally, even further from the AM radio voice, and clearly a voice from the past and from another recorded space, is the voice of the soldier: "I wasn't really sure what was goin on". The sense of recession is not just in the quality of the voice, but in the tone of "extraction" to the soundspace of the voice - it sounds like this is an extract from a larger utterance from the soldier, as the start and end of the vocal sound slightly rounded off. There are other voices and sounds from roughly the same space – the opening crowd noises, the scream at 1:29, and the gun fire at about 3:03.

“19” does not fully explore the kind of dimensionality found in “Pump Up The Volume” (partly because “19”’s focus in the use of the various voices is on a moral exploration), but it illustrates how the various voices, in a relatively pragmatic way, are made to step back from us towards other contexts, and to step back from the foundational soundspace of the synthetic instruments, so that our own relationship to the soundspace deepens, or perhaps, our awareness becomes spread out away from the foundational soundspace. “Pump Up The Volume” takes this further by not having these “found” spaces step away from a central core: instead, we are posited as participants in a much larger (multi)dimensionality – our involvement in the space seems to be part of something larger, beyond our full comprehension. The image of the kickdrum as a sun at the centre of a solar system is illustrative here: if the space is a solar system, then it and its various elements are moving away from and around us, like a solar system: each element in the space seems to be circling away from us, and circling away from each other, so that we as listeners end up being just one element in this solar system. Unlike a conventional recording, we are not so much projected into a space (as might be the case with the foundational space of “19”), but posited as having a position in the space equivalent to the other elements. Under this regime, the space is completely neutralised and abstracted, so that it is not representing a physical space, but an abstract presence, an abstract re-reality, in which we are located as one of the elements. We are basically in a new world of understood spaces, known spaces, spaces with which we are familiar and are familiarised, remembered spaces, internally experienced spaces, “felt” spaces, not (just) physically experienced or heard ones. As a result, our memory, our understanding, our context of the various musical elements, are as much participants in the space as the elements themselves. It is as if we are almost regardless in this space, casual listeners or participants in some other world or activity to which we don’t fully belong, or of which we don’t fully understand, and which have their own rules which we are not privy to. In a way, the “rememberedness” or quotedness of the voice of Wolfman Jack doesn’t just have this quality because we remember it (which in fact we may not): it has this quality because there is a sense that it is also someone else’s remembered voice, as if there is another plane of memory with which we just lightly intersect. This of course partly has to do with the fact that there is a kind of cultural memory here: we may have heard Wolfman Jack in other contexts, and so he represents a quoted, textual, broadcast element in our broader sonic understanding. As a radio voice, he is predominantly (in our awareness) disembodied, predominantly broadcast, and therefore predominantly a recorded artefact. But there is also the fact that, by being broadcast, he is part of a wider experience to which we don’t have personal access (the experience of the millions of others who have heard him); and, moreover, he has been broadcast over such a long period of time, and used in all sorts of different cultural contexts, that we also don’t have personal access to all the experiences of these manifestations either. This is all the more so because Wolfman Jack is sampled as saying “this has got to be the greatest record of the year”, as if somehow, from this other history, from this other experience, he is casting a judgement on something in our space. So our experience of Wolfman Jack here is like an intersection with all these other manifestations, all these other experiences and memories of him. To compare with “19”, this quality is back-of-mind in the use of Peter Thomas; but the various treatments of his voice, as noted, give a stepped-back quality to these manifestations, so it as if the various manifestations are stepping back away from us towards Vietnam itself (but also towards a moral comment on that war). In “Pump Up The Volume”, however, there is no similar stepped-back quality: Wolfman Jack is both already “stepped-back” (speaking to us from “another” time), but also present in all sorts of other realities and memories, as reported to us in the sampling of him here[3].

Which makes it all the more complex when the sounds in “Pump Up The Volume” are made to physically bear upon us – the sound in the speakers (rather than the sounds as remembered entities) is just one dimension of our relationship to the sounds and the space(s). This helps to explain the effect of the bottle synth, for instance, which has a delightful physical presence on our ears, but also seems to be coming to us from somewhere else: it is a kind of intersection with us of another world, or of another experience, or of another experience of this sound. So, too, the apparent randomness of the synth and the hi-hats operates so that these instruments are like particles flying around in space, which seem to fall around us and occasionally onto us. In this framework, we are just another celestial body which is subject to the effect of these sounds; but in a sense, these sounds cannot have the effect that they do without us being equal participants in the space, part of the fabric that constitutes the space.

This framework therefore explains more generally the use of sampling in this track. When the title line (a sample of Rakim from Eric B and Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul”) is sampled, it seems to come to us from somewhere else, while playing musically in the space; it is not just a sample in itself, played for musical effect; it has a textual function, quoted from another text with which we may or not be familiar. Like the Wolfman Jack quote (which sounds “broadcast”), it comes with its own medium’s baggage: Rakim here sounds like a recorded voice, because the sample is made to include the vinyl surface noise which comes with the recording. But in this quoting, and the inclusion of the surface noise, it also has a textural function, by adding to the various sonic characteristics of the piece. It seems to come fully formed from somewhere else; but its musical position in the piece (as the title line, repeated rhythmically) also fully locates it in the song as well, so again, it is as if two worlds are intersecting here in the musicality of the track. (There is a tangential effect too as a result of the use of this sample: because it does have this quality of seeming to come from another experience, there also remains a question in the back of our minds as to whether this really is Rakim, even when we fully know that it is: this lack of certainty is a kind of aura that sits around or behind the sample, rather than coded explicitly in it, so that our own experience of the sample continues to carry with it this sense of another possible experience or existence separate to us.)

It would appear to be no accident that Eric B and Rakim are sampled here, because their output at this time, as a result of their unique style of sampling, scratching and production, has a dreamy, “spacey” feel to it, a feel of drifting-off spaces and sounds calling in from afar. M.A.R.R.S. appear to be drawing on this characteristic in both sampling Rakim, as well as building up the soundspace of “Pump Up The Volume”. This becomes more evident in the next set of vocalic samples, from 0:16 to 0:27, which seem to be voices set in deep space, coming to us through a technological medium. The sampling here creates both an odd deferred headspace feel to the samples; but even more striking is that, though the samples kind of sound like they are broadcast to us over some sort of deep space transmission, there is also a quality to their sound that makes the broadcast character not quite on our minds as we listen to them. We don’t quite get the front-of-mind sense that we are being broadcast some message through deep space, partly because the quality of the sounds has this headspace feel: there is more a sense that these sounds are glancing at us from afar, from some other existence, as if we are passing a spaceship and as we come closer we telepathically become more familiar with the sounds occurring within that spaceship. Obviously, this is strongly conveyed through the Doppler-effect quality to the two different samples: the one at 0:16 has a bullet-like attack and slow decay to it, and the one at 0:21 (what has always sounded to me like “pipe down”) has a slow electronic attack and seems to have a slight spitting quality to its decay (this is because there is a metallic instrument or sound beaten under the vocal on each of its utterances: this could be a tambourine, though it is unclear; this sound is separate from the distinct tambourine placed left and right in the space). Added to this, each sound is located specifically in left and right speakers respectively, so that they retain a sense of peripheral glancing impermanence.

This glancing impermanence is also a result of the fact that, chronologically, each of these sounds is “triggered” by a resonant piano note in the left speaker, which creates a small but complex sonic couplet. Within each couplet, there is firstly a mental image of an entity flying close alongside and then faster away forward from us (the piano), and another entity consequently flying slightly further away towards us (the vocalic element). There is also a back-of-mind ballistic image, as suggested above, where the vocalic element is a delayed ballistic response to the pulling of the trigger of the piano note. In this regard, the second sample, having a duple structure (in my analogy, “pipe” and “down”), seems to have a ricochet. There is also a musical rhythmic function here, where the piano and the vocalic element seem to be a kind of stretched beat, the piano initiating it, and the vocalic element completing it. But furthermore, the piano itself, in its resonant musical quality, when set against these samples, has a kind of springy arrival into the space. Its acoustic musicality seems to land in from another location, even though it is not produced so as to be placed in a soundspace markedly separated from us; the springiness of the piano itself suggests a kind of autonomous movement of the piano into our path. Its resonance also has a fullness that seems to come from another fully realised place, coding it as coming perhaps from some kind of putative acoustic performative world. This fullness also gives it an organic presence in the mix that seems to make it stand equally against the other electronic sounds: the spring from piano to sample seems to mark some kind of sonic challenge between the two sounds.

Furthermore, the sampled sounds have been treated so that, as my interpretation of the second sample indicates, it is impossible to decipher what these samples are “saying”, or whether they are “saying” anything at all, or indeed, whether they are vocal samples at all. The treatment also gives these samples a metallic quality (the “tambourine” under the second sample compounds this quality) which both removes them from any real-world spatial representation, from any “live” representation, and from any congruence with our own space.
All these qualities and relationships therefore add to the disfiguring quality of the samples and the space, and consequently, to the sense that these sounds are part of a logic separate to our own involvement in the space. They remain forever locked away from us, fellow travellers in the space that we encounter briefly before disappearing.

Similarly, the James Brown “brothers and sisters” sample that begins at 0:29 has some sense of appearing from somewhere unknown, slightly ahead (it is placed horizontally centre and vertically slightly higher than centre in the space). The sample here, because of the scattered echo on it, and the slightly flattened fidelity of the sound (possibly because of the EQing and the need to limit its spatial range), also has a kind of broadcast quality to it. But it also, because of the nature of the vocal, coupled with these other qualities, has a kind of “calling” quality to it, as if it is calling to us from afar; or, alternatively, and just as heard in the space, a kind of calling to someone else in the space (after all, it is a sample of a voice raised in supplication to others), as if we have, in passing, come across a rally. The sample has a tantalising quality too, because it always, due to its spatial location, remains just ahead whenever it is repeated: this compounds the sense of it being always somewhere else from us.

At this point in the track, there is a complex series of interweavings of sound, constructed so that it is as if we have entered a space with high traffic activity, with the various elements in the mix running at some speed across each other, but never meeting. I won’t address every one of these elements, but they are not confined to vocal samples, though there are plenty of these. At 0:29, just a fraction ahead of James Brown, a high pitched repetitive electronic sound appears right and plays a sequence under (or over) Brown, then repeats this left, then right, then left again. This sound has a cool, large but spread-away reverb on it, and seems to get louder as each sequence progresses, but never quite hits us so to speak – it never seems to quite hit the speaker or quite worm its way into our ears, though its pitch has a sharpness that seems to threaten shrillness. Again, as a result, the sound seems to be travelling near or towards us, but never with us, and never in our own space, though it seems to hold the prospect that our two spaces will intersect.

From 0:32, two separate vocal samples appear that are commenced from scratches: at 0:32, “you’re gonna get yours”, and at 0:36, “pump that bass”. Both of them are placed centre in the space (along with James Brown and Rakim), which would seem to be a fairly conventional location for vocal elements. But it is unusual for separate voices to all be placed virtually identically centre in the space, with the same size. Being samples, each of these voices carries with it some of the characteristics of their own recording spaces, as well as the vinyl surface noise, so that there is a stacking up of voices here. However, the stacking up does not amount to something new or bigger: by stacking up these series of voices (and attendant soundspaces), it seems something keeps being held away from us, because we never quite seem to get to the central or unique soundspace in the midst of this. Moreover, because of the multiplicity of voices, and the fact that their words are only sampled extracts, we never quite seem to get to the message that any of them is conveying; nor do we ever quite seem to get to the world to which they belong. They all seem to be calling or singing or rapping across our space, or across our path. Again, there is a quality here that all these voices are someone’s else’s memory, or perhaps even in someone else’s hearing (we may not, after all, know who these voices are or from what recording they come, yet they have appeared fully-formed in our hearing in their own packeted soundspace), and we have just happened across them; so again, as a result, we become just one of the many entities in the textual space created around us.

Stepping back for a moment, there are two musical elements in the mix which have been introduced slightly earlier that add to the complexity of this passage. At 0:12, the bass has appeared, though its presence is not fully felt until perhaps 0:18. The bass is not produced in any remarkable way – it sounds like a bass, and is placed central and slightly low in the space (a conventional position for the bass). It does have a distinctness which may be slightly surprising, but given the prominence of the bass in 80s music, again, this is not necessarily unconventional. However, the conventionality of the bass here is what complicates the space. It is on the one hand a distinct musical element, so that it is not removed from us in the same way that the samples or the synths are. It has a conventional musical presence, and if it is removed, this is, in one way, just a function of its projected space. However, in its conventional function within a projected recorded space, the bass often works in a non-declarative sense; that is, it works viscerally, so that we sense its rhythm, rather than necessarily distinctly hear it. It is a felt presence, rather than primarily (in perceptual terms) a heard one. In this track, the bass is also given this presence, so that it has a throb in the woofer that spreads through the lower areas of the space. By working simultaneously as a heard and a felt presence in this space, the bass also seems to move away from us. Firstly, as a distinct heard presence, there is a vocalic quality to the bass (perhaps heightened in our perception by the fact that sampled vocal elements in the mix have an instrumental quality), so that it both seems to be something more than it otherwise isn’t (a voice rather than an instrument), and therefore more present in the space than it would normally be (and more present than the actual vocalic elements, the sampled voices); and also somewhere else than it otherwise is (that is, it seems to have an existential logic, a logic of voiceness and humanness, that sits somewhere slightly outside its otherwise normal musical logic and the musical logic of the track). Secondly, as a felt presence, it seems to be coming to us from somewhere else, from the depths, intersecting with us in the speakers and in the soles of our feet. The net result is that this alloyed presence of the bass makes it seem like it is brought to us from somewhere else, that it may be sampled[4] and from another soundspace, even though we cannot be sure of this; and therefore it, too, is another entity that has made some kind of glancing contact with us, reflecting back at us off the other entities in the space, especially the explicitly vocalic elements. There’s an odd sense of self-satisfaction that comes with this: it is as if the bass can declare its bassness, while also fully realising a personality in the space that can stand alongside the other elements in which personality would normally reside; it is as if the bass player or the bass itself wears a smile as they play their part in the space.

The second instrumental element I wish to highlight here is the scattered synthetic “brushed-drum” sound that first appears at 0:02, but whose presence is not particularly felt until 0:27. This sound takes up a similar role to that of the bass, for its presence is partly felt, and partly distinctly musical. Its felt presence is not the same as the bass’s, however, because it is the nature of bass frequencies to be more felt than heard; however, the way this brushed-drum is mixed in the space, alongside other higher frequence sounds, particularly in the introduction, means that it seems to flit in the space, rather than stand out in it. In the introduction, because there are so many elements entering and scattering through the space, the brushed-drum seems to belong to other sounds, or fly out from them. Its tentative and temporary nature in the introduction, as well as the way it flies from speaker to speaker, also seem to bury it perceptually, so it just seems to be written into our hearing as “introduction”, as part of setting up the piece, rather than as featured in it. However, its construction in the piece from 0:27 takes on the track’s broader logic, as it takes on distinctness as a scattering element in the piece, a piece of flying debris in our listening path. Moreover, its sound sits somewhat against the other elements in the mix, as it is quite “present” in the mix, forward and on the speaker, almost touching our ears with the distinctness of its contained dissipated sound. However, this also seems to bring it more forward than it logically can be: it has the quality of having entered our ears, an internal (but not necessarily in-the-mind) felt presence. This is exacerbated by its scattering from speaker to speaker, and the fact that it always seems to end abruptly or too early, so that it never seems to sit still long enough to be anchored in our hearing. Again, this combination of the heard and the felt makes this sound, though musical, seem to be brought in onto us, while at the same time part of our listening space.

This broader logic of the track is conveyed structurally across its length as well. Two sampled spaces or passages are used to cut in across the track’s path, at 1:46, 2:41, and the third immediately after the second at 2:59. The passages function in a number of ways in the track, some of which I will not explore in depth here. One of these ways is an aesthetic which runs parallel (and which is ultimately subservient) to the aesthetic of the intersection of referred spaces, that is, an aesthetic of bricollage. Much has been written about this elsewhere, but for the purposes of my argument, it is important to note that this bricollage sets up a consciousness of the media which construct the piece. In effect, this pushes the piece away from us, and away from a realistic representation of a space (whatever that space may be, and however performative), so that it remains always just beyond us as an experienced space. By being conscious of the piece’s source media, we are made conscious that we are more or less at the end point of the various recording processes represented: we are the (listening) players in a whole galaxy of recording processes and recorded spaces. Moreover, there is a sense that the sampled passages are made to stand like openings or crevasses or landings in the space, to which each of the smaller samples have been leading. Each of the smaller samples, as noted, are like glimpses into another world; the sampled passages are like landing points in these worlds, where we touch down for a few seconds. This is all the more so because these passages are rubbed up hard against the rest of the track: for instance, the first passage appears to have no elements from the preceding 1:46: it is a fully realised eight seconds from another track (albeit edited and scratched from 1:51), carrying with it the vinyl surface noise. In fact, the scratching and surface noise act to dislocate the passage somewhat, so that we are not made to sit in it: they draw attention to the medium and the recording process, pulling us out of the passage, and pulling us out of any clear trajectory into a unitary projected space. This lack of unitariness is also contained in the fact that the sample is a recording comprising mainly acoustic and electric instruments (various percussion instruments, and a voice), not electronic ones, so that the space suddenly shifts a level in projection – it is no longer comprised largely of explicitly artificial electronic sounds, but of reproduced “human” sounds. Also in this example, the rhythm has a heavy drag to it, and contrasts with the track’s general rhythm, so that it seems to weigh the track down somewhat, creating the contradictory effect in the listener of not quite being able to settle into the rhythm – the listener has to shift gears in the attempt to do so. This lack of settlement is also conveyed in the return to the Rakim sample following this passage: though the irruptions of these passages seem to operate in one way like landing points in the worlds represented by the smaller samples, they are also made to not quite connect with the smaller samples, so that the Rakim sample in this example seems to be slightly regardless of the foregoing passage, in turn cutting across the passage. The Rakim sample could be made to seal or cap off the passage, but it doesn’t: instead, it seems to operate independently of it, and almost independently of the track as a whole, despite the fact that it has been operating like a chorus through the track. This is all the more so because, in the repetition of the “dance”, there is a kind of curbed surface noise around it, which distinctly starts and stops on each repetition, operating like a buffer against the rest of the track, and even against the “pump up the volume”.

It would be wrong to overstate the disjunction afforded here by either the sample passage, or the subsequent Rakim sample, for the track continues to work rhythmically and musically through these passages. Part of what the track is doing is maximising its rhythmic pleasure, so that the listener, as a dancer, is not locked into a single monolithic rhythm. The irruptions work as a kind of pressure valve in the rhythm, hooking the dancer further into the rhythm, and then allowing some form of reprieve (in the Rakim sample), and then providing an easier return to a smoother rhythm with a return to the electronic sounds from 1:59. However, this rhythmic effect cannot be achieved without the sense that the various sounds and spaces represent intersections with larger existences, so that there is a rhythm in the interplay between them, and in the movement from one to the other.

In fact, by the second and third sample passages, there is a kind of normalisation of the passages in the overall trajectory of the track: the tambourine that has been consistently keeping rhythm in the track (except for the first sample passage) continues under the second passage, along with what seems to be an electronic hi-hat and kick drum (though the kick drum changes quality under the passage, and may well be part of the samples used in this passage), and consequently the fundamental rhythm does not change. Some of the elements in this passage are also given similar positions in the space to those which immediately preceded them: so the “brushed hi-hat” sound that has been placed reasonably far left and right is replaced by the steel drums in the same position (the steel drums also in their staccato metallic quality seem to substitute for the scratches which have appeared at 2:26, 2:28 and 2:31), and the iconic bass of the track is replaced by a bass synth centre in the space (though the synth is slightly higher spatially and tonally). However, this normalisation also has an odd shifting quality within it: it is as if we have opened a door into a new space that is still somehow the same space as before, with a whole new cast of characters that somehow know how to fit into place immediately we open the door. There is a kind of organic energy in this space, because some of the new elements seem also to be held away from us, all the while that they fit in with the overall rhythmic architecture: so the steel drums for instance, though they maintain the consistent rhythm of the piece, and though they even take over the spatial position of elements we already know, and though this position is actually quite close to the speaker, there is also a sense that they are somehow not right where they are supposed to be – they seem to be somewhere else even while they are here with us. This is carried through to the third sample passage, where toms immediately replace the position of the steel drums; this in itself seems to keep the security of this position at bay; but the wrapped-up quality of the sound of the toms, allied with their position (which being so far right and left seems to be almost under the ear), seem to make the sound of each beat disappear before we can really grasp it. In a sense, the second and third passages are at one level brought forward to us as more readily graspable within the logic of the song; but then their various elements seem to be playing to us from somewhere else, from another performative context, so that we don’t seem to have access to the full context or logic for their performance. This shift within the normalisation is also manifest through the way these sample passages are presented to us. Unlike the first sample passage, it appears the second and third are much more thoroughly assembled from different elements: it does not seem that a single piece of music has been sampled (as appears to be the case with the first passage). So with the second passage, the vocal sample seems to have nothing to do with the steel drums; and the various other percussive elements not only don’t seem to have anything to do with the vocal and the steel drums, but also may or may not be sampled themselves (e.g. the bass synth). Similarly in the third passage, where the middle eastern vocal, the drums, the vocal chant and the closing indefinable screech in the left speaker seem to be totally disconnected. So while we have a passage that is carefully musically constructed to be rhythmically affecting, its elements all seem to stand at some distance from us in an imaginative and spatial sense. If we have “landed” in these passages, then perhaps now these various elements are like faces or tableaux in a crowd which appear for a time alongside us then disappear.

This brings us to a larger question which remains from all of this, a question which relates to this track’s position within Western recorded popular music from this period on. Why does this track, and dance music in general, take to sampling, and more generally take to a sense of intersecting spaces, so extensively? A large part of the explanation lies in the fact that the dance space (as opposed to the more familiar listening space of a domestic room) liberates us from having to imagine a place for us in which we are listening to the song: as dancers we are already physically liberated into the dance – by dancing, we are physically realised anew in a new space, and are fully physical in the space. The space does not need, therefore, to be an imaginative re-creation of a physical space. What a track like “Pump Up The Volume” seems to do is re-create imaginary worlds in which our intensively physical experience can re-create itself: we are released into these new worlds on the dance floor. This obviously has a connection with the drug states which are induced in the dancing environment, but a track like “Pump Up The Volume” shows that positing a putative drug space (for instance, the spaces of dub reggae, or the dance music spaces influenced by this genre as found in Usura’s “Open Your Mind”) is not the only way to re-create the space in which we find ourselves. “Pump Up The Volume” represents an engaged way of re-creating the space: as noted, the various sonic elements take up position in respect to us so that they become, for us, like brief intersections with other experiences or memories; as a result, we are constantly put in the position of having to renew our relationship with these elements. However, “Pump Up The Volume” takes this further by rhythmically playing these intersections through the space and along our experience of the track: not merely in a chronological sense (one intersection follows or responds to another, as with the piano/sample couplet), but in a synchronic sense with us as participants in the space. In effect, under this regime, we are one of the rhythmic elements of the space, so that our response to the space, to its elements, and to the rhythm, forms part of the rhythm of the space. In crude terms, the playing of these elements heighten our desire to keep dancing, to find new ways to physically engage with the rhythm. For this reason, the smacking of the sampled passages in the space across the other elements is like a challenge to us as participants in the space: we are made to stand and fall by how we can respond to these elements, and thereby take part in the space. It is the intersection of spaces taken to an extreme: we are asked to physically re-engage in our own (dance) space by physically engaging with the new abstract “world” glanced at us in the form of the sampled passage.
[1] The edit of this track studied in this essay is the version found on Pump Up The Volume: Classic Club Sounds From The Late 80s and Early 90s, Universal Music TV, 2001.
[2] Peter Thomas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Thomas_%28television_narrator%29)
[3] An easy way to appreciate this differentiation – between a “stepped-back” sense of sampled sounds, vs a multiplicity of intersecting experienced sampled sounds - is by listening to two different works by the same artist. A good example of where this occurs is in two Cabaret Voltaire albums – 1980’s The Voice of America (stepped-back sounds), and 1985’s The Covenant, The Sword and the Arm of the Lord (multiplicity of intersecting experienced sounds).
[4] If the bass were sampled, this would only complicate our perception of it further, because its salience in the space gives it a distinct musical presence, sampled or not; so that, though sampled, it would appear to us primarily as musical and recorded (a here-and-now presence, rather than a referred one); and then, on reflection, or on further understanding, with us realising it was sampled, it would then take on a deferred (quoted) quality.