Till the World Ends, Pop at the End of History - Sicker than the Remix

Cory Arcangel's recent observations regarding the 'eternal redevelopment' and 'recontexturalization' of Euro-Trance within the Pop careers of Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, reinforce some of my more general sentiments regarding cultural production in the current climate as well as my recent analysis of specific contemporary literary examples such as Reza Negarestani's theory-fiction Cyclonopedia ( Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves also springs to mind ). Essentially the mode of todays production is not to produce anything new, but rather to activate a post production praxis of re-mix, re-contexturalization, re-presentation and re-packaging - this could be regarded as rather capitalist in essence but this would be an unfairly politicized and negative reading.  There is not an alternative utopian option available, vampiric praxis and socio regurgitation are the tools of todays craft, to master these and 'create' an awesome collage is what must be explored by writers and artists. After my previous ramblings about the intrinsic mechanisms employed and re-deployed by Negarestani in Cyclonopedia, to re-mix and re-appropriate existing materials to conjure a new and thrilling sensation is not dissimilar to the re-mixing and re-producing of pop materials by Britney Spears and Lady Gaga that Cory Archangel writes of. For readers of Negarestani's and Mark Z Danielewski's re-workings the effect is discombobulating and frightening, for listeners of Britney Spears and Lady Gaga the effect is exciting, ultra high definition, exhilarating and vivid - but I'd argue that all four cultural contributions align with a praxis paradigm of post-production, re-mix, re-contexturalization, re-presentation and re-packaging. The effect, the panorama of sensation created is vastly different for each, but the mode of creations share more similarities and differences.

I will focus on the sonic aspects of this praxis phenomena first, there are more examples outside of pop, but initially I'll display the particular sounds Cory Archangel identifies, namely "Auto-Tune, heavily “side-chained” compression, and new waveform-editing software enabling thicker percussion sounds—that give the music a fresh feeling." in Britney Spears' single 'till the world ends':
      


Notice how 90% of the track is a warm up, the submerged bass heavy "whoa whoa whoa..." works along the same melody as the verse - "dj what you, what you, waiting for". Beat layering is the star here, amongst 'still D.R.E.' stabs and rushes of warm synth stabs the momentum builds for two minutes and thirty five seconds before the crescendo falls.... what we are treated to is a rather fetishized strata of 'treatments', a melody being re-worked and, upgraded and re-vamped multiple times until finally ripe for the devastating crescendo of the main chorus... the continual building of 'non-events' as Arcangel so rightly exclaims is essentially what the first 2:35 of this track are about. Here is Arcangel's text regarding one of Britney Spears previous singles "Hold it Against Me":


"LISTENING TO BRITNEY SPEARS’s recent single “Hold It Against Me”—which launched this past January at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—one can’t help but think that aspects of its production and structural composition betray the year of its release. The song is essentially one long crescendo, overlaid on a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format. The chorus builds in each iteration until finally it re-appears, accompanied by a beat, with only about thirty seconds left in a song a little shy of four minutes. The entire song is constructed around this moment, and the effect of the rhythm entering is exacerbated by the production techniques—synth washes, digital piano, and thirty-second-note drum rolls familiar from the legendary Roland TR-909 drum machine—that have been used to tease us repeatedly about the climax’s impending entrance by continually building to nonevents. Although it’s frustrating and maddening, this withholding of gratification, which the song presents over and over, is what ultimately keeps us listening. And these elaborate, endurance-taxing crescendos, as well as the technical means used to amplify their tension, are all in fact taken from a single vernacular, one that is hardly contemporary: 1990s Euro-trance."






O.K. so the promotional video for Spears' "Hold it Against Me" may well be the most hideous concoction of cultural book marks you see today ( cyberpunkXwedding dressXbondageXbleached and blinded squatting ninjas!?! ) - but the sonic mechanics of anticipation are similar. A slow, laboured re-vamping, a momentum built from technologically driven renewal and re-workings of the same musical theme. A fetish for the moment, build from pre-existing materials, must be the praxis for such works, finding the right remix, the right sound and the right moment to unleash the core of the material, like an avid film fan, who has seen Lynch's 'Blue Velvet' a hundred times before, still going to great lengths to ensure the next viewing is 'perfect', blue-ray high definition, 7.1 surround sound, the right seating, the right time - nothing is new here, but existing material can be re-presented 'better' then they were the first time you experienced them. What do you like? Trance? Hip-Hop? Let it be re-presented to you in a wider panorama than ever before.

This trend of re-invigorating and re-animating existing pop music materials is not unique to Britney Spears or the kings and queens of american pop music, this paradigm of praxis is being worked through/upon/in at 'bedroom' levels of modern cultural production - for example Witch House, essentially slows and relishes, re-frames and primes large chunks of culturally entrenched pop moments. Salvage Punk ( also see Evan Calder Williams ), Witch House and the implicit retrocentric praxis of modern pop phenomena like Britney Spears and Lady Gaga all stem from a genesis void of new and saturated with existing, loaded and potent cultural capital with which to play, worship and fetishize. DJ Screw's, slowed, screwed and chopped mixtapes are massive influences upon all three of the aforementioned modes ( Salvage Punk, Witch House, Modern Pop ). The chopped signature is evident in Witch House and Britney Spears 'skipping' vocal track on 'Till the World Ends', the slowing and reframing is even more obviously employed in Witch House and also the more video based and electronic offerings of Salvage Punk artists. DJ Screws, sizzurp drenched and stoned out ( I'm not dismissing these chemicals role in his works aesthetic ) re-workings and dragged out relishing of existing tracks has permeated so many producers praxis today - but perhaps his influence was not directly singular, but rather that the coincidence of being ahead of the curve and intoxicated meant his praxis' development arrived at a stage that would be inevitable for so many artists praxis years ahead of him to end up in?

Re-approaching Arcangels observations, the priming of a track for a moment, the 'frustrating and maddening' continual 'building to nonevents'. Is a key facet of Screw inspired Witch House tracks. Take the morbidly introspective and melancholic dirge of ✞▇ Ϯᴪ₥ʒ ɪʂ Џ₱ᴖ₱ ▇✞  on the Nate Dog tribute mix "Don't want to lose you: a tribute to Nate Dog:



Across so many genres the practice of making a moment, a crescendo, last forever is now a mode of creation, an impossible end in itself - like an addict chasing the horizion . No doubt there may be deeper political currents beneath this phenomena, I would suspect that an accelerating world, saturated with culture, data, coverage and tools means that artists of today are not dissimilar to a millionaire who has everything retreating into the garden to cherish the moments of quiet, volume and excess, variety and possibility to not replace memories and feelings, despite the sonic form of Salvage Punk, Witch House and Modern Pop only being afforded by technology, the accessibility only being afforded by technology the impetus behind so many creations is still more intrinsically human and emotional then ever. One can become so cynical but to see the buoyancy of humanistic tenderness and nostalgia is wonderful.


Take your time: