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A PREHISTORY OF INDUSTRIAL MUSIC

All material copyright 1995 Brian Duguid.

Contents: * 0. Introduction * 1. Access to Information * 2. Shock Tactics * 3. Organisational Autonomy / Extra-Musical Elements * 4. Use of Synthesizers and Anti-Music i. Use of New Musical Technology ii. Anti-Music

. . . Industrial music was fundamentally a music of ideas. For all its musical power and innovation, the early industrial groups were much happier talking about non-musical issues than about musical ones, a direct result of the fact that few if any of them had any real musical background or knowledge. The Industrial Culture Handbook is packed with contributors' book lists; titles listed by Genesis P-Orridge include books by Aleister Crowley, William Burroughs, Philip Dick, Adolf Hitler, the Marquis de Sade and Tristan Tzara; SPK's Graeme Revell shows a more "intellectual" background with titles by Michel Foucault, Samuel Beckett, Jacques Attali and Pierre Proudhon. Of those who list records, Boyd Rice shows his obsession with 50s and 60s kitsch; Z'ev turns out to be a fan of Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan and Otis Redding; only Rhythm & Noise admit to any knowledge of the avant-garde music tradition, citing the likes of Todd Dockstader, Gordon Mumma, Michel Redolfi and Iannis Xenakis [2].

. . . Gristle's frontman, Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Megson) took the view that control of information was now the most important form of power.

. . . The literary counterculture, dating back through the Beatniks via Surrealism and mavericks such as Celine or de Sade is a major tradition that informed many of the industrial groups even if they weren't part of it. Experimental literature had peaked in the 60s, and the importance of the industrial groups' awareness of it was primarily their role as disseminators and popularisers. Obvious examples of this include Industrial Records' issue of a record of William Burroughs cut-ups, Nothing Here Now But The Recordings.

. . . It has been argued that industrial music wouldn't have happened if punk hadn't freed listener's expectations; after all, groups like Suicide toured with the Clash, and bands like the Slits, with their complete inability to play instruments "properly" were arguably as Dada as anything that deliberately proclaimed to be so. Personally, I think industrial music would have happened anyway. The explosion in what was basically amateur musique concr„te was the inevitable consequence of the collision between pent-up creativity and inexpensive outlets; and the subculture that was interested in "weird" music of various kinds predated punk and was already well established, if tiny. Certainly, the simultaneity of punk created an opportunity for "industrial" to be perceived as "popular" music, and thus reach a wider audience than might otherwise have occurred. Industrial music and punk shared for a couple of years a strong desire for negation, a strong desire to break (musical) rules and express disgust.

. . . The avant-garde musical tradition is fundamental to industrial music in terms of the techniques and type of music presented. Listening to almost any electronic or concr„te composer from the 50s, 60s or 70s alongside industrial music by Zoviet France, the Hafler Trio, P16D4, Cranioclast, Strafe F.R. or Nurse With Wound, is an interesting experience. Not only are the techniques (electronic synthesis and processing, tape manipulation) identical, but the abstract nature of the sounds employed is too.

. . . The industrial musicians, although in many cases aware of this avant-garde tradition, owe a more direct debt to the fringes of rock music, notably groups like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, who combined "serious" composers' fascination with new sounds with an interest in accessible rhythms.

. . . In Britain, perhaps the most important artist to have any real influence on industrial music was one whose aesthetic was quite opposed to it; Brian Eno. Eno's time as an art student had introduced him to avant-garde music by the likes of LaMonte Young and Philip Glass, and he happily applied these influences to rock music, first as a member of Roxy Music and then on his own. (The album No Pussyfooting, recorded with Robert Fripp, is basically a guitar-based reworking of Pauline Oliveros' electronic composition I of IV, for example). Most importantly to the budding industrial musicians, his concentration on the use of the studio, and his insistence that he was a "non-musician" inspired many who had no formal musical training to try it for themselves.

. . . None of the people involved in industrial music seems to have thought much in a theoretical way about their use of noise elements, which is in keeping with the groups' general ignorance of musical matters. Perhaps the most interesting study of the topic is Jacques Attali's Noise - The Political Economy of Music [6]. Attali wrote that: "Listening to music is listening to all noise, realising that its appropriation and control is a reflection of power, that it is essentially political ... The theorists of totalitarianism have all explained that it is necessary to ban subversive noise because it betokens demands for cultural autonomy, support for differences and marginality: a concern for maintaining tonalism, the primacy of melody, a distrust of new languages, codes or instruments, a refusal of the abnormal - these characteristics are common to all regimes of that nature". Attali's view gives the lie to those who think that music and politics don't mix; I agree with his view that what is political about music occurs at a more basic level than that of lyrics or presentation.

Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Jacques Attali (Manchester University Press, 1985)

. . . Clearly then, industrial music's attempts to smash received musical values and rules, to tear down conventional notions of taste and to seek pleasure in brutal ugliness, were part of an important tendency in modern music, a reaction against the political control that most music mirrored, both in its overall aesthetic and in its means of production. John Cage's understanding of the same ideas led him to seek to minimise his own control over the music he made; Brian Eno's control over his sound is much tighter, but he shows equal political radicalism in attempting to create a music that allows many different levels of attention for the listener, that presents a surface for the listener to investigate rather than a (party) line for the listener to follow. In free improv of the sorts pioneered by Evan Parker or AMM, the political message lies in how the group organises itself to create sound, rejecting one individual's programmatic vision in favour of sound that is spontaneous, cooperative, and above all, playful.

. . . As an aside, Throbbing Gristle may not be the first name that improv historians think of, but more than most rock bands, they relied heavily on an improvising approach. The recordings of their dozens of live performances are valued by fans for this very reason. According to T.G.'s Peter Christopherson: "Pieces were created more or less spontaneously, without any rehearsal or preparation other than Chris' privately made rhythm tracks and a general discussion about possible topics for a new lyric which Gen would use as inspiration for the lyric ... We had little idea of what was going to happen in any performance or recording session, and each of us contributed our share entirely on the basis of what was going on at that very moment." [9] Given the personalities present in T.G., you could be forgiven for thinking that Christopherson is idealising what actually happened, but it's clear that the level of improvisation in T.G. and other groups went far beyond what happens in song-fixated rock groups.

Sleeve notes to TGCD1 by Peter Christopherson (Mute Records, 1986).

. . . Simon Reynolds recognises the symptoms that ensure noise music often goes hand in hand with other extreme subject matter: "The subliminal message of most music is that the universe is essentially benign, that if there is sadness or tragedy, this is resolved at the level of some higher harmony. Noise troubles this world-view. This is why noise groups invariably deal with subject matter that is anti-humanist - extremes of abjection, obsession, trauma, atrocity, possession ..."

Despite his lucid attempt to describe noise's revolutionary potential, capable not of destroying any external enemy but of demolishing internal mental power structures, Reynolds acknowledges that theory and noise are at odds. Noise resents being asked to have meaning, it refuses simple explanations and it is at its best when it just exists; deep and meaningless.

Blissed Out, Simon Reynolds (Serpent's Tail, 1990).

. . . The concern of earlier avant-gardists was simply to search for freedom from the will-to-power that Jacques Attali sees in all composed music; the concern of industrial music was to find an adequate response to a post-collapse society, a society that had yet to understand quite how empty its core had become. With industrial music, the power set in motion by Russolo had finally begun to realise some of its true potential.

. . . Himself a notable figure in the history of noise music for other reasons. Young's Two Sounds (1960) was composed for amplified percussion and window panes; his Poem for Tables, Chairs and Benches (1960) used the sounds of furniture scraping across tthe floor.


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