April 24, 2006

Fragments

ďMy heart in time.Ē

Thatís the phrase Iíve been saying over and over in my head recently. Itís sort of a calming mantra as one looks over the engulfing terrain of dance music. Possibly more than any other popular genre, people who love dance music are notoriously picky, finely tuning their desires to a specific sub-genre, where only a certain set of sounds, textures, production values, and emotions will satisfy what they are looking for.

But it is the alternate meaning of the above phrase, the one that reminds me of the journey to find this perfect alignment, which has been comforting me lately. For if you look at it on the surface, keeping up with dance music sounds like a nightmare-ish job no one should force upon themselves. With hundreds of new pieces of vinyl out every week, and three decades of potent disco, house, and techno music hidden inside a deluge of 12 inches behind us, there is rarely a time where you can pause to catch your breath, or for your wallet to recuperate from taking a chance on mail-ordering a Finnish double album of minimal electro. And if you thought file-sharing would provide some relief to sorting things outóthink again. Users can share hundreds of pieces of ripped vinyl in the same directory, with no notification as to what genre it is or what year it came out. Not to mention the number of possibly killer singles that Iíve never seen physically or digitally (Reverso 68ís ďPiece TogetherĒ single comes to mind).

To actually illustrate how ridiculous things get, letís take a trip to one of Brooklynís most notorious vinyl/thrift shops, The Thing. You walk downstairs and are greeted with many, many tall shelves of discarded vinyl that are nearly unapproachable due to the amount of crates and boxes on the floor.

You turn to the left and can barely walk down the aisle, because the crates are stacked so high.

And then you end up turning to the right because the quasi-organization looks initially soothing, even if the sheer volume induces a sigh or two.

So why would one want to become a fan of dance music? Who has the energy and the time to sift through the millions of disco and house records found at places like The Thing, hoping to find those few nuggets that could mean so much to them? To me, although dance music is notorious for changing on a micro level at a maximum pace, the key is patience, letting time pass, and understanding how much more you will be able to hear in the next few years (or even decades!) at a relatively slow, but constant pace.When I was in college one of my music teachers told me, in regards to creating music, that every note is a tiny dripping of emotion, a little fragment of yourself that may or may not be sharply defined. Therefore, the idea behind creation is that you have to constantly pour out a torrent of notes, textures, or sounds in order to find the pieces of inspiration among the litter. Itís not too drastic a shift to make the same comparison to trying to find the music that you love.Now of course wheat-from-chaff sorting occurs in every musical genre, but dance musicís functional nature enforces this notion to a personal and artistic level. Dance music works for you, it works for DJs to create an uninterrupted flow of disparate musical pieces that nevertheless work together as one. Thatís why being a good DJ can be so damn hard: you have to think at an individual track level as well as in terms of the overall mix. Itís like crafting a perfect mixtape in real-time.But with greater ambition can come greater rewards, and to me there is so much rewarding artistry in being able to orchestrate a DJ mix, to create a study in composite sonority. There is also something humbling in finding people who produce music that can gives up part of its notoriety in order to become a small, sometimes anonymous part of something bigger (itís no wonder why DJs often have bigger egos than producers.) What brings things full circle is that despite the hyper-individuality of a DJ mix/set, in the end he or she is nothing without the community of producers. Both groups are riding on the communal exchanges of influences, the diverse emotional smears, and the reactions each provoke out of each other. So when I question myself on why I bother going to intimidating places like The Thing, endlessly listening to one minute web-clips of vinyl, or searching thoroughly for information on record label X, scene Y, style Z, I rationalize myself by saying:ďI collect feelings, I travel to find pieces, fragments of desire, pain, love; feelings that ignite me and open me, open myself up to new experiences. Iím trying to build a bibliographic control of my life and identity, and combing through rubbles of vinyl, and sorting though a flood of emotions is one way I can help achieve that.Ē

[Michael F. Gill]


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