Techno Music and Techno Fetishism

We've all met musicians with unhealthy technological fixations. But have you ever heard a kurrawong first thing in the morning? If not you're missing out, says Australian techno producer Andy Rantzen.

By Andy Rantzen

Pasty, soft-skinned Ramon (not his real name), as clumsy as a baby giraffe and unable to coordinate his limbs in any sporting context. But his parents kitted him out to the nines regardless with brand new top-of-the-line gear, whatever the season, whatever the game. I remember him being the only rugby player on the field with headgear, running up to some young bulldozer headed straight for the try line, flapping at him with both hands like a hysterical Tenessee Williams heroine, and being ploughed right into the soil and carried off on a stretcher.

Later he started writing electronic music. I remember a cover version of The Living Daylights, which he sang in spite of his speech defect. Being a big fan of the Shaggs, I wanted a copy and had half-formed ideas of sending it to Re/Search for their Incredibly Strange Music series, but of course it never happened, and his cover version is now a distant bizarre memory. His parents had kitted him out with a studio this time. Gee, there was a lot of gear there.

Once I was invited around to a young guy's house on the Sydney's well-to-do North Shore. There too, I witnessed a massive studio being put to no particular good use by a charming and friendly bunch of young men. They really knew their gear. Although I had been invited round on the basis of my musical reputation, by the end of the day they had me sussed as a no-hoper who didn't even know how to work Cubase.

You must know that fat comic book shop guy in The Simpsons, that dweeby know-it-all, appearing at Star Trek conventions and correcting everyone about the correct functioning of the Enterprise's warp drive system. More than any other character in the Simpsons, surely, that guy is an unmitigated figure of fun. There is no pathos or human warmth to someone in the grip of the delusion of technical expertise per se. Such characters exist to be ridiculed in social satire.

I was once DJing very badly in the cocktail bar of a club in Sydney, which is the only place they would have me, clumsy trainsmasher that I am, and I had to ask the previous guy how the mixer was set up – some pretty basic questions. He had a little beard and a chubby, just-weaned, mummy's-milk face. He showed me around the mixer with the dismissive air of someone who could really not be bothered with amateurs. Later on in the evening, I was playing a sound effect of birdsong. He sneered and passed some remark about what a terminally unfashionable thing I had just done.

In Sydney there is a bird called the kurrawong which has a such a brutally electronic sounding call that it is weird to think of it as bird song at all. The best I can do is to ask you to imagine six or seven independent, randomly pitched, highly acidic 303 notes spliced together at intervals of about a quarter of a second each, and ending in what sounds like an inarticulate question. It sounds so very eerie and complex. It is inspiring. Hardfloor would love it, without a doubt.

This guy has never been inspired by bird song. It's not that he would wake up to it and think, "Huh, birdsong – how uncool"; or, for that matter, that he would see a sunset and think, "Huh – how cliched". It's more that, perhaps, he is unaware of the non-social dimensions of such things – their essential strangeness and beauty. He can't tell us, in music, or in any other art form, anything we need to know. The business of music is full of such people.

I have spent several years in academia. All many of them really knew or cared about, apart from their specialist areas, was food, gambling and travel. How is it that so many people with very sharp minds can somehow remain so oddly superficial? What gives one such an unmistakeable impression of knowledge sunk so shallow? These people don't listen so easily. They annex, digest, memorise, counter, defend. They are full of opinions and specialised knowledge – or sometimes, just tendentious systems of specialised jargon, much of which has no obvious application anywhere.

I have a friend, a very successful musician, who rarely disagrees when he hears something about which he's unsure. He just goes, "hmm". Then there is a long silence. He never actually says 'no' if he can avoid it, but he can stay in a state of suspended judgement. That seems to me to be a musical skill.

There is music which is spacious. Not all the holes are filled in. There is a non-human, non-social element to some music that invites a cool and expansive view of reality. This is frequently true of music without lyrics. It's not that the human element is absent, that would be impossible, let alone undesirable; it's rather that there is more than just the social at play in a wedge of sound. There are melodies and rhythms, sounds in organised array, that come from humans, but are not themselves human. Very simple melodies and rhythms have a wider resonance – they remind us of the larger cosmos, beyond the human world. Cause and effect, little flutterings, long soaring drones... Music is nature in the dramatic apparel of tonality. Isn't it obvious, dancing for long hours to electronic dance music, that we are, among other things, electrical beings?

God, I'm so tired of having no money. My DAT just went down and I can't afford to pay for the repairs. It's my own damn fault, I used a bit of gaff tape for a label several years ago because I couldn't find any of those sticky TDK label thingies, and after years of going sludgy it finally came off in the eject mechanism, forcing it out of alignment. The spin dial's gone of my Kurzweil k2500 – literally spun off – and I stuck it back on with Blu-tac, but now the spinner's stuck at some deeper software level, I don't know, and I'm having to enter precise numbers when finding sample points. It's like a game of twenty questions: "Is the sample start point at 5000? No, too soon. OK, then, is it at 50000? No, too long". I don't want to put it in repair, not only because I can't afford it, but also because it is my studio – the sequencer, sampler, synthesizer and effects unit all in one. There is no studio without it. I've got a rock bottom wage in a full-time job, a child to support 50/50 with my ex-wife, and, every two weeks, stupid Sydney rent to pay. Record company advances are only for rock bands or the purveyors of glossy pop cheese in Australia. You practically have to plead through tears to get an advance of Aust $500 for a techno release here (by techno, I mean instrumental electronic music for the dancefloor, by the way). And the record company is mad if they give it to you, because you'll be lucky to shift 400 CDs or 100 pieces of vinyl (pressed in Europe and re-imported — no decent pressing plants here). Techno doesn't sell in Australia, and never did. I struggle to keep my studio running on a minimum of hardware – less than most rock bands. Drexiya sound like they're using even less gear than I do. Talent will out.

Can you pick music made by people who aren't desperate? What does it sound like? It sounds like jazz-funk.

I didn't choose to write techno because of all the gizmos, geschenkers and doobyvackers. I hate mucking about with technology. It's an imposition on my time. I have about one hour a night to write music. No way am I going to waste my time getting into gear for its own sake. I want something very, very cheap, easy to learn, and I want to be writing tracks within a few minutes with it. Who are these people on the techno lists endlessly comparing notes about the latest technology? What are they doing with their money? Why are they pretending to be artists? Get them out of our faces!

Time is short and the enemy is the computer desktop metaphor. Little drones at our machines, little techno-sweatshop workers: that is the corporate vision of the future of technology workers, musicians among them. We have about 50 years, perhaps to inspire the general public with the idea that robots can dance, that machines can be funky, can be funny, can move beautifully, can even be their own masters. We are racing against the dull doiminator metaphors that confine our imaginations and our computers. We don't have time to fanny around playing one-upmanship like that fat comic guy in The Simpsons.

Why choose to write high technology music, if I hate learning new technology? Well, it's nice not to have to talk to any more floppy haired narcissistic guitar strumming singer-songwriters, stoned passive-aggressive bass players or goonish drug addled drummers; not to need a big space or a big budget, or a know-all engineer. It's nice to be able to do it all for less than a secondhand car. Here is one of the last true opportunities we have to be creative and independent, from the start to the finish of the creative process, and to still move the crowd.

When you take your precious CD burn or acetate or whatever down to the only club in your town worth talking about, the only one that plays the music you and your friends have made, the only one that provides an alternative to the pompous uber-club soap opera boom-boom that farts its way around the world from palm to greased palm in a glad-handing orgy of cocaine and the braying of honky egos, and the DJ plays your tune for that motley collection of freaks who inhabit the dancefloor on a Monday or Thursday night, you must give them all your terror and joy, everything that leaps from inside your skin, everything that matters to you. When they play your music, it should feel like a balm on your soul. If this is how you feel, you deserve to write techno, and techno deserves you. The future deserves you, and may, if all goes well, embody your vision. And thank you.

Techno music, machine-made electronic high-velocity dance music, because it is the machine dancing, the intellect in rhythm, is the sole music we have right now that unifies the mind and the body in the place beyond human thought. Being instrumental and mechanical, non-human, it doesn't easily accommodate the empty ego posturing we become accustomed to hearing from other styles. It reaches so deep, way beyond the social world. It contacts the level of pure electricity. You have to write this music from the tips of your toes, the alternative is not worth contemplating.
Fletcher Munson posted 23 September 2011 (21:49:29)
A thousand times yes, Mr. R. Well said.
Jamie Baker posted 1 March 2007 (22:47:32)
A very intresting read, as a young techno dj/producer i found it quite inspiring, if anyone knows how i can contact this guy please email me
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