Saturday, June 30, 2012

Electronic Dance Music

There is supposedly a 'controversy' over Deadmau5 saying that a 'live' show is pretty much
i just roll up with a laptop and a midi controller and “select” tracks n hit a spacebar
(That's taken from his blog, linked from this story in the LA Times.) He goes on to explain
you know what makes the EDM show the crazy amazing show that it is?  you guys do, the fans, the people who came to appreciate the music, the lights, all the other people who came, we just facilitate the means and the pretty lights and the draw of more awesome people like you by our studio productions. 
Let's have a little history of "electronic dance music", shall we? It is a kind of music developed for use in night clubs/dance clubs and a fundamental principle is a heavy, unvarying beat. To this end DJs ("disc jockeys") put together sets of tunes and synchronize them to a single beat. A sort of predecessor to this was the Donna Summer song "I Feel Love" from 1977.

As you can hear, apart from the voice, everything on the recording is electronic using synthesizers and drum machines, not acoustic instruments and musicians. This simplifies both production and consistency enormously. Plus, nobody has to put in any hours learning how to play an instrument. Or is that a plus? Electronica, or the replacement of acoustic instruments with electronic sequencing, continued to infiltrate the pop world. One group in the 1980s that was typical of this trend was the Eurhythmics. Here is one of their songs:

 Let's have a look at a Deadmau5 show:

OK, cool lights. It works, obviously. Everyone is having a good time and there is this mysterious figure up there, wearing the mouse head, mostly concealed behind some sort of console. Hitting the space bar on his laptop.

Now here's the funny thing: I decided to check if these tempi were as uniform as they seemed to be, so I opened up my music notation software (which also can play whatever I notate) and put in a bunch of measures of a simple bass drum beat in 4/4. The default tempo in the program is 120 beats per minute. So I just left it at that and went back to compare it with the songs. The Donna Summer tune is, oddly enough, 120 bpm. The Eurhythmics song is, oddly enough, 120 bpm. And the Deadmau5 song is, oddly enough, 120 bpm. I chose these songs, pretty much at random, before I checked the tempi.

It couldn't possibly be that everyone just uses the default tempo in their software, could it? Naaah, maybe the software defaults to 120 bpm because everyone uses that tempo just because it is the perfect tempo.

I have developed a bit of an allergy to all music that is thumping at me at 120 bpm, though. It's the musical equivalent to every commercial food product being loaded down with high-fructose corn syrup.

Crazy. Amazing.

Honestly, I can remember when music was in DIFFERENT tempos. Not all the same tempo. Some of those tempos were slow...


RG said...

This post is hilarious! Are there many others like this? I have been taking them "by default" as sombre scholarly stuff. I am going to have to go back and read them all again with an ear for this dry humour. Comedy -- another side to The Music Salon.

Bryan Townsend said...

Don't tell anyone, but I think most of my posts on pop music are meant to be amusing! Except for those on the Beatles, of course.

Here are a couple of posts you might have a look at for humor content: