B: MT, hello!
MT: Hi there, Beats. What’s on your mind?
B: I’m tired.
B: Because I feel like I’ve been overused in music. I’m like, everywhere these days.
MT: It’s kinda true. Certainly you’re in every pop song. And of course the EDM, boom-boom-boom-boom thing…Craziness.
B: Exactly! It’s just getting to be too much. I mean, I can only be in so many places at once.
MT: How you do think popular music got to this point? Shall we begin by blaming disco?
B: [laughs] No, it’s more complicated than that. You forget how rhizomatic music history is.
MT: Okay, so let me take a different route: Should we blame drummers and their drums?
B: No, because they have always been playing beats. I think the problem, MT, is machines.
MT: Like drum machines and digital drum software and such?
B: Exactly! Technology set beats free, but in a crazy way.
MT: Well said, but back up for a second. What don’t you like about electronic beats as opposed to human-acoustic ones?
B: Technology-made beats are too easy, too widely available, and too much of a shortcut for creating musical action.
MT: What’s wrong with all that? Sounds to me like making music more accessible.
B: A lot is wrong with it. First of all, anyone can make a beat now—anyone can drag and drop a loop and get a beat going. Also, the music that’s built upon this is just…
MT: Go ahead, say it.
B: . . . Banal. Can I say that?
MT: You just did.
B: Right. The music is banal because not a lot happens in it. It’s like, because everyone is a producer now, everyone thinks they’re a beat expert without knowing the limitations of the beat mindset.
MT: Did you just speak in italics?
MT: So what do you mean, Beats, by the “beat mindset”?
B: The beat mindset is the erroneous belief that adding a beat will solve all of your musical problems. Not only will it not do that, but just by having this mindset you’ll also paint yourself into a musical corner, so to speak.
MT: The way disco did with its boom-boom-boom-boom?
B: The way disco did, exactly.
MT: But disco did solve a problem which was how to tightly synchronize a lot of people on a dance floor.
B: Sure, but listen to what it did to music and look what it spawned!
MT: Right, though some of what it spawned was and is very cool-sounding. But on the whole I agree with what you’re saying: disco did seem to regiment music in a spectacular fashion. Then again, the serialists and minimalists were guilty of that too in their own ways. And yes, we have seen a lot of trickle-down from disco. Are you saying though, that disco spawned the rise of the machines?
B: Well, it showed our capacity to be regimented by musical machines or a machine aesthetic.
MT: But come on, all those electronic dance music styles that exploded in the wake of disco’s boom boom boom boom are surely a good thing?
B: Umm. I can’t say. All I know is that technology set beats free and now we’re hearing the results of that and as I said, I’m tired. But enough about me. What’s new with you?
MT: Not much. In a way, I’ve been way under the radar because of all the attention you’ve been getting over the past few decades.
B: That must be nice.
MT: It is. I get to pick my musical projects and I can work myself into music in a much less boom boom boom boom way.
B: You don’t have to keep saying boom-boom-boom-boom. I know what you’re talking about.
MT: Sorry. Anyway, my point is that you feel my presence more than you hear me. I’ve actually been hanging out in ambient/contemporary classical music a lot lately. You know, the weird stuff that gets used in TV ads.
B: Sounds like a relaxing way to make a living.
MT: What’s cool about it is that musicians working in these styles aren’t really allowed to use beats! Imagine that!
B: They’re not allowed?! That sounds dull.
MT: It’s dull, but if they used beats it would ruin the contemplative and serious mood. So they’ve had to figure out other ways to make me come alive.
B: Such as?
MT: Such as slowly evolving sounds, counterpoint, or sometimes arhythmic stuff–which, if you ask me, should be banned. That kind of thing. For the most part it’s interesting because I get to affect listeners without hammering them over the head, as it were—you know, with the boom-boom…
MT: It’s just so fun though. So-much-fun.
B: But seriously, as you were talking it occurred to me how polarized music has become. On the one side we have me, Beats, being stretched over all these popular musics. And on the other wide we have you, Musical Time, working in all these subtle ways, mostly in non-popular styles.
MT: Is this polarization a problem?
B: I just don’t know why it has to be an either-or situation.
MT: Beats, you and I are just reflections of what listeners think they want. We can be as subtle or as obvious as they make us. We’re rhythmic marionettes, our strings pulled by our humans…
B: …or by our machines. What musical lives we have!
MT: Yes, indeed.