Last Saturday I skipped an excellent gathering (an Oracle Gathering) in order to study Kant’s Transcendental Deduction. Some friends of mine had gone to the gathering for the downtempo music, the breakbeats, and of course the dancing. A week earlier we had all gone to a large party like this at the Seattle Science Center, Kinetic III.
Bluetech is a downtempo “psybient” producer from Portland who spun at Oracle this weekend. The kind of music Bluetech produces is often categorized as “intelligent dance music” or IDM, and is usually without a beat. (Though for parties I imagine he spins dubby tech-house, minimal house and music of that nature.) While reading the Deduction I listened to several of his early albums. Starting with Prima Materia, Elementary Particles, and Sines and Singularities, the atmospheric content of each creates what sound like enormous soundscapes that could only be experienced over the period of each album in its entirety. Like the mathematical concepts Bluetech invokes, they take time to understand and appreciate.
Perhaps the best way to describe what Bluetech produces is to make a distinction between moods and acute sensations. Most music today – “pop music” in particular – is interested in created acute sensations such as happiness, anger, surprise, etc. These sensations (pop sensations!) are more specific, triggered usually by specific changes in rhythm, lyrics, tempos, and other audible events. Moods on the other hand are characterized by a relatively long-lasting affective state. They are less specific and less likely to be triggered by separable stimuli.
Mood psychologist Robert Thayer distinguishes two dimensions of mood: energy level and tension level. Generally speaking, one can combine energetic or tired moods with tense or calm moods. The most pleasant mood to be in, Thayer says, is the energetic-calm. And the sorts of moods psybient music is interested in are these energetic calms which have induce lasting affective states.
Having been to a significant number of live DJ performances and parties, I tend to prefer the entire set, or the entire album, for the experience – as opposed to sequestering each three minute piece of music and having it marketed to me as an autonomous, interchangeable part. (At parties, however, socializing to and from rooms is a different experience altogether.) In this sense, great electronic DJs and producers have much in common with the great masters of baroque and classical music styles. Because it is the kind of music that cannot be sampled easily – without significantly diminishing the appreciation of it – their music must be something listeners are prepared to be affected by over a greater period of time.