Thursday, December 09, 2010


Malek Lopez (a friend and a spectacularly talented composer who can compose and produce in a variety of styles but who personally favors a kind of Aphex Twin type of crammed, fractured techo) linked to this clip on facebook, and I commented as follows:

Almost a science-fiction trope, like something out of Delany. The blind, black Mozart backed by two whitehaired old English scientists ministering to the Machine, coaxing somatodelic, booty-shaking funk out of silicon. Gotta be a book out there with the black history of electronic music, away from Stockhausen, Babbit and all the white avant-garde. Scratch Perry, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Afrika Bambataa, etc etc etc

"Somatodelic" -- a throwaway word I came up with. Analogous and complementary to "psychedelic." According to wikipedia, "The term psychedelic is derived from the Greek words ψυχή (psyche, "soul") and δηλοῦν (deloun, "to manifest"), translating to "mind-manifesting."" Visions manifesting in the mind. The mind's latent powers and contents making manifest.

Substitute "soma" (σώμα, "body") for "psyche" and get "somatodelic," meaning "body-manifesting. " Visions received by the body. Not visions. "Visions" too oculocentric. Touches, sensations, pokes, strokes. Not visual revelations, but tactile revelations. Maybe "tactile" is even wrong, because it seems to refer to something touched outside the body, like a page of braille. I'm thinking of sensations from a Beyond that emerge from within the body, the way dreams and visions come from a Beyond but emerge from within the mind. A sneeze emerges from within the body. So does an itch, a shiver and an orgasm. Sequences of organized sound revealing, provoking new motions from the body. Intrasomatic, intratactile(?) revelations.

Formal, written histories of "Electronic Music" usually trace it in connection with the goals of serialism, musique concrete, John Cage, etc which are linked not only by their connection to the academe and European art music, but also by their unanimous neglect (or even explicit rejection) of danceability as an artistic goal. None of these traditions valorize the ability of a piece to evoke (to put "danceability" in more respectable language) preverbal, ecstatic somatic response. A totally different, alternative, dark-side-of-the-moon history of electronic music could be written from a viewpoint where funk/danceability was the highest value and the focus of all researches. A History of Electronic Music written as a history of investigation of Preverbal Somatic Response.

Then Ill Primitivo, hiphop producer and another friend, introduced me to the term Afrofuturism, which, according to the facebook page he linked to, is

an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past. Examples of seminal afrofuturistic works include the novels of Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler; the canvases of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the photography of Renée Cox; as well as the extraterrestrial mythos of Parliament-Funkadelic and Sun Ra, and the recombinant sonic texts of DJ Spooky.

So. In response to the dry, academic Histories of Electronic Music, a playful, mythopoetic, mythologizing history of black American music, a populist, dance-centric, somatocentric, rhythm-centric musical tradition. A multifaceted, sprawling inquiry into somadelia. Swing. Rock, Reggae, Funk, Hiphop, rhythmic discoveries engendering novel somatic motion.

Stevie Wonder pursuing electronic timbres for their fleshy, buttshaking potential. The universe of electronic sound filtered through a sensibility tuned to dance, tuned to the body. Dance enshrined as the highest purpose of musical creation. Funk adept Bootsy Collins nodding in approval from behind sequin-studded glasses: "You can't cut that with a knife." Electronic timbres as inroads to the body, its verdant mysteries and sudden flowerings. As opposed to, say, Babbitt and Stockhausen's stuff, whose music inspired people to level words like "coldness" and associated epithets at synthesizers. People like Lee Perry, Stevie Wonder and Prince exploring the same sonic universe by a completely different light. Somatodelic. Turned out that musical synthesis wasn't a cold, mechanical process or field, only that it was being researched/tilled by people who liked the cold.

No comments: