Subcultures and Sonic Proliferation, Part 2 (A Work in Progress)

A Sonic Landscape of Epidemic Proportions

To start, some almost laughably obvious but nevertheless fundamental points about the impact of digital media on music consumption (and production): firstly, there is an enormous amount of digital music “out there” (here?) on the internet. Secondly, this music agglomerates, migrates, and proliferates in an apparently chaotic manner, at the moment really without any particularly effective gatekeeping economic or aesthetic “nodes” – not for the want of trying, but I’ll leave that for the moment. Thirdly, it is now almost ridiculously easy for anyone with a fairly new PC and some pirated or cheaply bought software to produce music all day and all night in their bedrooms, and to inject it immediately into the sea of digital audio. This has a kind of flattening effect as well, there is an unimaginable number of tracks, with no easy way of discriminating between them (As Sebastian points out below), or even of collecting them according to any kind of acquisitive logic (as music aficionados are used to doing with records and cds – more on that in a moment as well).

Once you venture away from the top 40 or even college or “community” radio playlist, it is difficult to determine a basis on which to choose any one artist or mp3 file over another, and this is particularly true in the case of genres where consumers have traditionally relied on “underground” (apologies for the naff term) networks (like the mid-1990s internet, about which early adopters are now nostalgic) to find new and noteworthy tracks from scenes aesthetically linked but geographically removed from their own – and this is why it is in traditionally underground subcultures that the flattening effect is felt most deeply.

By contrast, genres that are as much about individual stars and the visual (pop) or intensely localist scenes (hip hop) as they are about sound are unlikely to be confused about what to buy or download when they boot up KaZaa. And this is what has prompted the related discussions about packaging and about the politics of self-releasing CDs on the aus_emusic list, referred to in the previous post: not by coincidence, it is in electronic subcultures that the “problems” of mass production (i.e. production by the mass) are primary topics for debate.

What I want to do here is to explore two competing frameworks for “dealing with” this situation: firstly, the traditional subculture theory model, where proliferation of a particular genre’s sounds and structures is considered to be a diffusion and therefore dissolution into the “mainstream”, and secondly, the radically pragmatic and poetic model of viral warfare being propagated by Steve Goodman of Hyperdub (among others), whereby it is the subculture that contaminates the mainstream, rather than the other way around.

the following headings are placeholders for the moment – I’m typing as we speak, sweetie–but I freely admit this is hurting my brain…—>

Sonic Proliferation as Problem: The Rhetoric of Contamination and Containment

Sonic Proliferation as Viral Warfare: Strategies of Infection and Mutation

Mutant Subculture Theory