Thursday, 12 May 2011

Adaptive Physical Controllers - Part 3 - The Dance Music Ritual

The Dance Music Ritual

As the name suggests Dance music has a specified aim of producing movement in the audience and to create a sense of community amongst them “Your kinaesthetic sense is externalised by being transferred from your own body into the body of the crowd… The room ceases to be occupied by strangers, instead it is filled with the party folk all satisfying their need to be”(Jackson 2004 19). Slogans such as “Peace, Love, Unity and Respect” (PLUR ethos) exemplify the community ideas of dance music audiences and Turners idea of Spontaneous Communitas “the transient personal experience of togetherness” has been taken on by many dance music scholars to explain the feeling of community and connection that the audience may experience in a rave setting.

“If the ecstatic raver is indeed an anonymous body of textless flesh, one that has shed its identity, ideology and language, one that has either divested or radically altered its culturally inscribed body image, then the thematic boundaries that normally delineate our edges are destabilized and perhaps dissolved. Dancing amidst a crowd of ecstatic bodies, the raver is consumed not only by an immediate ‘experience’ of the phenomenal world, but also by his or her body’s subconscious knowledges of unity and alterity (not to mention genderless sexual specificity)—knowledges that are quite different from those of self- reflective thought. Lost in the reflexivity and natural transgressivity of the flesh, in its indeterminacy and interwovenness, the raver is a mute witness to the blurring of once clear demarcations between himself and the crowd, between herself and the rave.” - Landau in (St. John 2004 p.121)

In my past work I have looked at the use of rituals within music in both modern and tribal cultures, in modern society this is seen most clearly on the dancefloor of clubs, there is a tribal and ritual element to dancing together and the musical style that accompanies this “‘repetitive, minimalistic, seamless cyclings of sonic patterns accompanied by a relentless driving or metronomic rhythm” (Fatone 2001) which creates not only community between the dancers but often ecstatic experience. James Landau states “in the psychoanalytical view, ecstacy’s transgressive relationship to binary thought stems from the rave-assemblage propelling its participants into the Real, a cognitive space ‘beyond’ the ego and its organizational structures” (St. John 2004 ) This idea is supported by St John who states, “The party makes possible a kind of collective ego-loss, a sense of communal singularity - a sensation of at-one-ness - is potentiated”(St. John 2004). However often the performer cannot take part in this ecstatic experience due to their physical disconnection from the dancefloor and the movement of the dancers. Is it not strange that a musician can produce music that makes their audience dance but they must remain rooted in place behind their computer? Would it not be more beneficial for the performer to be able to join the dance and become part of the community they are creating music for? Would they not be more fully immersed in their own sonic landscapes if unshackled from the computer screen and became free to roam the space their sound occupies, interacting with the audience and using their whole body to feel their performance in the way the audience does?

One of the huge benefits of electronic instruments is that as they do not have an element which needs a microphone and as such they are not subject to feedback in the same way that a traditional musician would be, this simple fact has seemingly been overlooked in the majority of live performances and the traditional room setup of placing the performer in a position of separation from their audience is adopted, by creating wireless wearable controllers it is possible to move beyond this traditional staging setup. I would assert that the ritual and community aspect that dance music embraces would be furthered immeasurably by the breaking down of the audience/performer divide and creating a situation where no one is placed ‘on a pedestal’ but instead all are intertwined with each other. Within the Electronic Music Scene there are far fewer ‘superstar’ performers than in other musical genres and although some performers break into the mainstream and achieve wide spread acclaim many are much less willing to fulfill the traditional hero archetype. Indeed the community often quickly derides those who are seen to have ‘risen above their station’ or developed an overbearing ego. When talking about this the musician Shackleton says “in rock music you have a projection of the individual, and it’s almost like the extension of a performance art where you have an individual being / doing a very egotistical thing and in that context it’s wonderful… because of course that person is venting something and the crowd can enjoy that, in that context. But I think I’ve never really seen it like that, the artist isn’t so important.”(Brignoli 2011) “I don't need lots and lots of money, I don't need a lot of fame or this sort of thing, I just like doing what I'm doing. That's good for me.”(Keeling 2010) Even very well known DJ’s such as Paul Van Dyke are known for their grounded attitudes towards their work “He is so sincere and is one of the nicest people I've ever met. You don't expect someone that's so well known to be so humble." Jessica Sutta (2001). Some artists and groups take this idea even further, Scot Gresham-Lancaster in his article about ‘the Hub’ (an ‘interactive computer network music group’) states “The Intent to detach ego from the process of music making we inherited directly from Cage. To refine that impulse and make a living machine that both incorporates our participation and lets the breath of these new processes out into the moment”. (Gresham-Lancaster 1998)

If as St John states ‘electronic dance music would be a conduit for experimentation, transgression and liberation, with rave becoming the manifestation of counter-culture continuity”(St. John 2008 156) the this freedom should logically be extended to break down traditional audience performer divides. Onyx Ashanti describes this sensation of using a wireless controller whilst being amongst the audience “I "thought" I would do what I usually do, which was to stand in front of the DJ booth and "perform". Not the case, at all! Before I realized it, I had eased into the crowd and was dancing with a couple of very attractive women, BUT WAIT...I was still creating and playing as well!”(Ashanti 2011) We can see clearly from this quote the excitement of the performer in this situation, that he can interact with the audience whilst creating and feedback into his system the energy from the audience. Within this context it is clear that the gestures one must ascribe to their controller are those of dancing, the performer must be able to dance with the audience and use their gestures to both manipulate the music and interact with others. I believe it is this situation, facilitated by the movement of the performer away from the computer that will truly revolutionize the performance of dance music.

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