On Electronic Music

Originally posted on my other blog, Pyra Draculea Sound.

It seems to have disappeared now, even off the internet. Oh sure, I have a copy somewhere in a box of old Discorders, my half-assed portfolio of published writings. But my plan to just cut and paste it is now screwed.

What am I on about here? A review I wrote almost a decade ago about a show I saw at the Vancouver Cultural Centre with Phh!K and Particle Burn.

It matters to me because I think that Particle Burn set was the first time I was consciously aware of the effect electronic-based music has on me, the way I feel those synthesized pulses in different parts of my body. It varies by pitch, by waveform type, by volume, by timbre, by panning.

What I experienced that night was something of a sonic massage. Certain sounds hit me in certain spots – higher pitches were more pointed and drilled less far, maybe as far in as my sinuses. Bass waves pressed my whole body and tended to vibrate the back of my skull and my spine where it pressed the seat back. Mids could be all over, some more in my scalp, some more in my shoulders, some in my hips or arms. Somewhere I might even have my original notes from that show, who knows.

I’ve gotten more adept at pinpointing this sort of thing since, noticing some pitches buzz my teeth in an unpleasant manner, some sounds I hear more in my forehead, some more in my gut. I’ve also noticed that for the most part it’s something I feel more from synth-based music than traditional instruments, save maybe piano. Hence I think somehow purer waveforms have a stronger effect than something with a great amount of overtones, but I’m not completely certain. I do know if I go to your typical rock show I will still enjoy it, but not feel it on as much of a visceral level as I will at an electronic music event.

If a melody has a descending interval, I feel a sinking. Dissonance interests me more than consonance because as the notes rub against each other they seem to effervesce somehow. There is a shimmer that sounds and feels more interesting.

I suppose it’s a kind of synesthesia, although maybe not since sound is pressure waves after all.

I recall chatting with Michaela Galloway of Hinterland and the Hope Slide and she was saying she finds some people resonate better with a particular kind of wave, and sometimes the people who are better with say, square waves, maybe don’t blend as well with another waveform’s people. I haven’t figured out a specific waveform I jive best with, but it seems in general any of the purer oscillator ones work nicely. [Even though I usually blend oscillators and noise to get more complicated waves…]

And I recall something LaVey wrote about certain people will always be, say, flautists and never saxophone players and he could often tell them apart on sight.

Synths just plain speak to me more than guitars do. I can tune into them much more readily and get lulled into an altered state of consciousness, not really a trance, but getting there. It’s its own form of meditation for me. The closest comparison I can think of in the realm of traditional orchestration would be that I can feel ethnic drumming performances almost on the same level.

I’ve made it work for me when I mix, having learned that the best thing I can do when I think I have the mix right is to move away from the board and see if I can feel it correctly. To this end I will move a bit back in the control room and sit on the floor with the mix cranked. And I never wear sneakers now, always thin-soled shoes to see if the subs come up through my feet the right way. Do the highs hit me in the front of my face? Do the mids press into my shoulders and my jaw? Does the bass move through me? Are there a variety of pressure points or did I bunch the panning too much? Volume often is the determiner of whether I feel things in front or more to my back, but there seems to be more variation here. And whether it’s pleasant or harsh, a push or a poke seems to correlate to a certain extent with how it’s EQ’d.

Doesn’t work as well with rock or punk, there I have to think more than feel. [Except for the EQ and panning, those seem to work regardless of genre and originating instrument.]

I’ve also gotten used to being able to extrapolate somewhat from listening on headphones so that when I am creating music on my laptop I can know whether it will feel the way I want it to feel.

I don’t go to clubs as much as I should, but I noticed at Sanctuary at Club 23 West for the Landscape Body Machine show in November [talk about your prime examples of great electronic music] that I was drawn to stand two feet in front of the monster PA system that’s as tall as I am and dance, feeling the wave of the phrasing and the bass moving through me. Standing up on the mezzanine at the same club for the iVardensphere show at the end of January the effect was a little lessened, probably because I was not in a direct line with the sound anymore, even though I could hear it loud and clear and still found I quite enjoyed it. I was in and out of that state, probably on account of being there as the promotions rep my brain was locked a little bit into “work mode” and that might matter as much as distance from the PA.

Getting right up in front for Skinny Puppy in November I could feel the synths quite well, for some reason the song “Ugli” especially sticks out in my mind as having caught me in the wave. And most recently on February 20th I situated myself about 6 feet from the stage in the Candahar at Hello World’s most recent show and noticed myself gelling into the wall of synthetic sound and sculptured noise that Tom Anselmi, Laure-Elaine Cote, Phil Western and Jamey Koch were creating. I noticed myself moving to the pulse and wave without even thinking of it, and eventually there were a few people dancing and I was convinced to get on my feet and join them.

This show was easily the best thing I’ve heard/felt since that Particle Burn show. I’ll get my ass kicked for saying that, and I’m not saying there haven’t been other shows that were maybe more kick ass in the traditional sense of what a rock show is supposed to be like.

I’ve never really heard anything else from Particle Burn and the internet left me no trail either. All I know is it was three guys sitting with laptops, blasting through the Cultch’s PA. Once I thought I found a bio somewhere from someone who listed the band in their credits, but when I read the page Google linked to it wasn’t really there and those words apparently only appeared in links pointing to the page.

In a way maybe that’s fitting for something as ephemeral as a concert experience. You can never relive it, it’s probably just as well that you can’t pin it down in any other way either.

[Which isn’t to say I can’t wait to hear the actual Hello World record as soon as it’s done, just that a record is a whole other experience than the live creation of the sound. A record is the snapshot, not the actual vista.]