Tag Archive: Electronic

  1. Ecstasy Zoo

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    We were supposed to arrive at Randall’s Island in New York City for a final day of electronic music that never came. Throughout Sunday, engineers prepared to disassemble stages on which some of the world’s leading electronic artists should have been playing. Instead of identifying Armin van Buuren and Avicii, my ears detected machinists and forklift operators.

    A collection of tablets believed to be ecstasy (known as MDMA), which might have otherwise fit into an empty pack of gum, brought about the deaths of two young adults, hospitalized several others and prematurely ended Electric Zoo. Tens of thousands of fans streaming to Labor Day’s electronic rave woke up to the unfortunate news on their Twitter feeds. Despite electronic music’s automated and computerized nature, human emotion surged profusely in the aftermath.

    Our crew of five congregated in the small rented apartment in Queens which we had used as a home base for the weekend’s event. Leading up to it, I was looking forward to expanding my musical horizons. I had done the background reading on the artists, and listened to the albums as well as the viewpoints of other fans. In a dimly lit and muggy room, sympathy, frustration and bewilderment fluctuated within us for several cycles until we finally arrived at lethargy. For many, the concert represented a significant chunk of summer wages put towards accommodation, transportation and food. The atmosphere resembled that which follows a destructive flood.

    As a neophyte to the electronic concert scene, I took refuge in the expertise of my fellow concert chums. My friend James, a student music artist with an electronic-heavy repertoire often hired at Yale events, sagged on the futon. “People are looking to heighten their experience and find creative ways to get substances through security,” he explained to me. The lyrical lingo describing the use of ecstasy in popular culture misleads concertgoers about the destructive capacity of the drug. With softened synonyms such as “Molly” or “disco biscuit,” it grants the possibility of a more invigorating musical experience. It is not uncommon to find a subversive chapter of dealers who roam concert venues offering questionable hallucinogens to attendees caught in the moment. Dr. Danielle Ompad, an epidemiologist at NYU, stressed to me that users often have no clue what they are ingesting: “It is not always clear that the pill that was purchased is always MDMA.”

    Leading into the weekend, I had fully expected to see substances, and pockets of individuals who used them — to deny this would be to deny the reality of an electronic concert. But I thought there was safety in numbers. No concert that attracts over 100,000 visitors could ever be canceled. That version of affairs lay outside my realm of possibilities.

    Just prior to Electric Zoo’s cancellation, a concert in Boston hosting a techno band saw three reported overdoses from ecstasy, with one resulting in death. College campuses aren’t insulated from the growing prevalence of the drug either. As one acquaintance told me at the dining hall: “Let’s just say that Toad’s isn’t the only thing popping on a Wednesday night.” The illicit nature of ecstasy inhibits an accurate estimate of usage on campuses, but according to the Justice Department’s website, nearly 10 percent of incoming freshmen will have tried ecstasy at least once before even having stepped foot at their respective colleges.

    The decision by the New York Mayor’s Office to cancel the final day of Electric Zoo highlighted the inextricable link between illicit substances and electronic music for me. The logic now flows: If there is an electronic concert, then there will be ecstasy. Vice versa, there cannot be an electronic concert without users of ecstasy. This is almost an inherent fact, not a personal belief.

    The strong response to Electric Zoo will repel moderates like me who fluctuate between music styles. Prior to my descent upon New York, I was really excited to broaden my musical knowledge and investigate emerging artists. Instead, the events have cognitively distorted my attraction to electronic music and made the genre less accessible. Sunday’s twist will nurture the intimidating image I have of rave culture and harm what was once a growing attraction to the scene. It will take some time before I feel comfortable venturing off to an electronic music fest or fully investing in EDM artists. It is not a rational reaction, but the reinforced stigma of raves remains looming in the back of my head.

  2. A Consideration of Electronic Composition

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    Musicians in a conventional band constantly run into the issue that most guitar riffs and chord changes and keyboard figures have already been worn down to cliché by their predecessors. Likewise, there are only so many sounds an instrument can make. You can run your guitar through an infinite series of pedals and stomp boxes, but the spectrum of possible sounds a guitar amp can produce is limited. So the tools you have to work with — the sounds you can make and the patterns in which you can arrange them — introduce some intrinsic constraint. The result is that bands are forced to think outside the box, putting things together in new ways and toying with all the possible textures they can produce. For decades, that’s all pop composition was: coming up with new ways to use old tools.

    But today, that’s not always the case. The infinite variety of electronic “instruments,” blips and bleeps and dubstep drops that sound like robot dinosaurs having sex, has obliterated the limitations that necessitated compositional and instrumental innovation, innovation that caused music to evolve as it has. Instead, modern electronic music has moved towards multilayered, linear forms that distinguish themselves through the addition and subtraction of electronic components, often sourced from trusted components distributors.

    The line between instrument and computer continues to get blurrier. A week ago, I went to a show by Emancipator, an artist billed as instrumental electronica. Yet there was a grand total of one instrument onstage, a violin that I could barely hear over the wall of sound Emancipator was producing on his control panel.

    With such infinite possibilities afforded by contraptions like this, generating workable but still fresh components for a song is incredibly easy. A few keystrokes create a new bass line, and a click pairs it with a synthesizer. In any context, one can choose from a limitless selection of sounds that, made to meet certain parameters, will fit together beautifully. The sounds themselves are often less nuanced than the elements in a traditional song — loops can be as simple as a few repeated words or a rhythmic pattern of noise. It’s less vital that components be complementary or inventive; they just need to be compatible and numerous.

    It’s not surprising, then, that songcraft in electronic music abandons some tenets of traditional songwriting. Working within the constraints of a traditional band, the whole of a song needs to exceed the sum of its parts — a subtle guitar harmony, or interplay between a bassist and a drummer, can be the difference between achievement and redundancy. The Strokes are masters of this. Listen to “Is This It?” and you’ll hear what I mean: each instrument, simple on its own, is part of a larger, exquisite puzzle. An artist like Flying Lotus can just add new layers of sound in trying to make a song fresh. A melody that might have been stale on guitar comes back to life on a tripped-out synthesizer; an uninspired loop can be hidden under cascades of sound.

    Layering similarly redefines the shape of a song. Again, The Strokes are masters of form composition — the restrained, tense verse of “Under Cover of Darkness” lights the fuse into an explosive chorus, even though both sections use the exact same instrumentation. Each segment of a song has its own texture, the individual components shape that texture and each texture leads into the next.

    In contrast, the structure of an electronic song is often defined by loops and layers. Songs like this proceed in a more linear fashion, swelling gradually and then returning, without the sharp delineations or tonal variation. The endless options available mean that a song can evolve slowly out of one texture, whether it’s a heavy hip-hop groove or airy trance, and rather than a soundscape shaped and changed by instruments, new layers are added that submit to the established tone. There aren’t sections so much as variations on a theme. With no need to keep a listener engaged through composition, electronic songs can wander around for a while without really going anywhere.

    This isn’t to say that the layered construction of electronic music lacks intrigue, but it can become complacent and formulaic. When throwing together components can make music like building Legos, the need to adapt isn’t as pressing.

    Some truly amazing results can come from the marriage of new sounds and old principles. I doubt I will surprise anyone by offering Radiohead’s “Kid A” as an example of this, but that’s because it’s just plain true. By exploring a new palette of sounds while retaining their respect for the dynamics of traditional songwriting, they made something stunning. That balance is what electronic music sometimes lacks when it skews towards ingredients over recipe — but there’s no reason that it can’t evolve as pop has. It just has to learn that more is not always better.

  3. Q&A with Kurt Schneider

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    Calhoun sophomore Kurt Schneider taught himself piano in eleventh grade, now he’s winning songwriting competitions. Read on to find out what he’s been doing in the meantime.

    Scene&Heard: Can you talk about your music career?

    Kurt: I had a late start compared with most people; I didn’t know how to read music or play until I was a junior in high school. I started teaching myself piano in eleventh grade and now I’m a pretty decent piano player. Completely self-taught, never taken a lesson.

    S&H: When did you begin writing?

    K: During senior year, I wrote a couple spoof songs with a friend. Over the summer, I began writing and recording music, and towards the end of the summer, I produced my first song called “Roses on the Floor.” It was a pop song and would be really cheesy if I listened to it now, but it had a fair melody.

    S&H: So then was writing music just a logical next step after teaching yourself to read?

    K: Sometimes if you have an urge to do something, you just have to do it. Sometimes you just have to create something.

    S&H: And now you’re one of July’s winners of the Song of the Year online contest in the electronic category. What was the experience like for you?

    K: I just searched on the internet for song contests, but I chose this one because the top songs chosen each month are sent out to record labels and producers and radio stations. So there are immediate results.

    S&H: Have you gotten any airtime or positive feedback?

    K: Well considering I just won a week ago — but if I did get anything, I’d be shocked. I have no expectations.

    S&H: Have you always been into electronic?

    K: Well, the reason why that song [“Taken”] isn’t on my CD is because it’s not like anything else I’ve written.

    S&H: Then what is your style?

    K: Pop rock, folk and a lot of musical theater nowadays.

    S&H: Have you recorded at all at Yale?

    K: I’ve tried to get into the Morse recording studio, but I got a letter back saying that only Morsels are allowed. But, I mean, what’s the point of having that if students aren’t allowed to use it? I sometimes go to a music lab on Orange and Elm — that’s where I recorded my entire demo.

    S&H: Moving away from your music for a bit, do you think there is an interest amongst students in live music on campus?

    K: Definitely. I know of some underground live music groups.

    S&H: You sing for the a capella group Out of the Blue. Do you think that at Yale a capella takes the place of a known live music scene?

    K: No. I mean people go to a capella because their friends are in a capella.

    S&H: Have you performed live?

    K: I’ve done nursing homes.

    Download and listen to Kurt’s award-winning song, “Taken