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House culture in relation to art history

INTRO

In the first year at Minerva we went on an excursion to Berlin in the beginning of september 2011. It was a very interesting trip because our teachers knew the city very well, and we visited galleries and places that required knowledge of the city of Berlin. We wouldn't have seen those places without them. We went to the Akademie der Künste because there was an exhibition about John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and a video installation from Merce Cunningham called "six perfomances, six films". It was held there because it was the 100th birthyear of John Cage. Later in the story I will go deeper into the relation between John Cage and Berlin. There were concerts being held at the akademie. It was a true celebration of the composer and artist John Cage. At that point I didn't know anything about him.  I had to look this all up again because at that time I didnt't find it very interesting. The display of the work was very German, in language but also in style. But there was a video playing which showed a work by Iannis Xenakis "Polytope de Cluny" which caught my attention. I had an immediate reaction to the work. I was looking at a registration of the first houseparty that was being thrown in a church in France.

 

 

When I came home and started researching what I had seen at the art academy and I was struck by all the connections I could make in the relationship between art and music. I have an obsessive interest in house and techno music. I have visited many houseparties and listen to a lot of techno and house. During the time I went to art school I researched a lot and wrote papers about the connection between art and music. It has become a central theme in my work.

In 2013 I went to an lecture called "Van Kraftwerk tot Armin van Buuren" given by a guy named Leo Blokhuis. He knows a lot about pop music, and that's an understatement. At some point during the lecture I thought "This guy has it all wrong, this is not the story about house music". What he was doing, was telling it from the perspective of pop music and popculture. In his story David Bowie took a very important role, but David Bowie to me has no actual significance to house culture at all. The lecture was attended by a lot of people that, in my judgement, had never been to a houseparty at all ( read old grey bearded men). I was afraid, and still am, that the story of house music will end up being told the wrong way. Also I'm dellusional enough to think that I can tell the story about the origins about house better than Leo Blokhuis. House music has more in common with classical music then it has with pop music. The roots of house music can only be explained from a art historical perspective in my believe. It also has to be viewed from the various (technological) developments that have happened in society.

What I have noticed over the years is that if there's a business that is reluctant to change it is the music business. It is the most conservative bunch of people that you can think of. It made the "revolution" that house music could have been to a commercial vehicle that it is today called EDM. Throughout the history of music this has always been the case. Music conforms to commercialism and the soul gets ripped out. So if I am talking about house music it is not the commercial kind, but the music that is played in clubs and will never be aired on the radio.

This piece of writing is the outcome of my ongoing research about the connection between music and art. I have choosen to update the article from time to time, preferably every week, and adress every possible angle there is to the subject. The story will not be chronological but a reaction on the topic that has been dealt with before. The mission is to write a story that is entertaining to read and factual correct, but from a personal point of view. I will make jumps between subjects that are very logical to me, but might not be to the reader at first glance. When I'm done I hope it's a broader perspective on the relationship between visual art, sound and space/architecture.

 

Techno and house

The beginning of house music

The house explosion occurred in Ibiza in 1987 and was called the "summer of love". House music came from America to Europe and became extremely popular. In that year I was still a young boy, and had just bought my second EP, and was called "Big fun" by inner city. It was as I later found out produced buy Kevin Saunderson. It was the first house record to enter the top 40 in Holland.

House music was played in clubs in Chicago in a place called the "Warehouse". It was an old abandoned warehouse that was used as a club. In that place dj's like Frankie Knuckles mixed various styles of music,disco, new wave and krautrock. This blend resulted in the music style called house and techno. The club was a place was frequented by gay afro-american people. This was in a time were there still was a lot of discrimination.

House music and techno don't have the structure of a pop song. It follows the structure of classical music, with a more fluid flow of sounds, in which there is not a lot of vocals. Most important in the music is the bass, which is an constant hypnotic pulse. With only the bass as a consistant, there is a lot of freedom for other sounds to put in the music. Also the simplicity of this makes it easy for every one to become a musician, with the help of a computer and synthesizer.

Every style of house music knows it's origin from three styles, which are house, techno and electro. These came out of a mix of styles that were played in clubs in Chicago. The most important club in this city was "the Warehouse", which was on old warehouse, and house music was named after this building. Location is still very important in experiencing the music, and is not very suited to be listened on the radio as an individual track. The music is mixed by a dj.

House music

House music finds it origin in a mix of disco, philly soul, new wave and kraftwerk. They also played speeches by Malcolm X through the music.  Mixing these various styles was a new experience to people visiting the club. Later dj's started making their own versions of disco, called house music. To create a consistant bass they used synthesizers and drum computers, which were from Roland (TR-909,TR303,TR606). They also used samples, in which they take a piece of music, an instrumental bit, or a vocal, and put it into their own music. The samples were taken out of context to create a whole new piece of music. House music uses a lot of disco and jazz samples, where the pian plays an important role. It stays quite close to it's disco roots, but there is a lot of creative freedom in the productions. Early examples of house dj's and producers are Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson, Lil Louis and Farley "jackmaster" Funk.

Techno

Techno finds its origin in the city of Detroit. This style of music is strongly influenced by Kraftwerk. The music was embraced by the city of Detroit. It was played on readio stations and elevators, it was part of every day life, which was not the case in Europe. Techno is more abstract, minimalistic and industrial then house. Bass is very important, and samples are used more abtract. It also contains samples of machines and other industrial sounds. repetition of these sounds is very important in a track. Synthesizers and drum computers also play an important role as it does in house music. (Detroit) techno music has an adaptable use of various styles. It can be very funky, but also very minimalistic, and on the other hand very abstract. The production of the music has always changed, but there is a certain bandwith in which you can call it techno. Experimenting with sounds and exploring the limits of music, and combining different styles lies at the heart of techno. Key figures for the sound of Detroit Techno are Carl Craig, Robert Hood, Jeff Mills and Kevin Saunderson.

Electro

Electro uses the break from Kraftwerk, and not the bass. Africa Bambaata is the best example of this. In the beginning it was instrumental, but people started rapping on the music, and it evolved in to what is now Hip Hop. The music was very policital, and maybe still is. It was used to express the bad situation in which the afro-american society was at that point in time, which was the late 70ties. House and techno had an emancipatory aspect too, in which afro-american men and women, also the gay community had a place to be themselfes and be proud of that. Electro had a more revolutionairy aspect, and really wanted to change American society even if it meant the use of violence. The Black Panthers were a group that was almost an army, and were an example for a lot of afro-american musicians where the most obvious is Public Enemy.

Also very important was the use of the dj decks. Record players were used as instruments, and this created the term turntablism. It is very much asociated with grafiti art and break dancing. DJ's use scratching and various other tricks to show their skill level. There were dj-competitions, to measure the skill level of dj's. Early artists from this time are Afrika Bambaataa, Mantronix and Egyptian lover.

houseparty

House music as I said was named after the building the early parties were organised in. The building in which the party is being held is very important. Every big club , like Berghain now in Berlin, is in an former industrial building. Old factories have a lot of character, and  a party in such a building can have a alienating aspect which plays an important role. The music and the location play the role of creating an experience that you never had before. House music never does it well on the radio. It has to be experienced in a building.

Where did it all start

To understand the house movement I have to go back in time. The concepts behind house music started actually with the artistic movement called futurism. Futurism started during the turn of the century in 1900. Innovation and new ways of making and showing art, music and theatre where important for the movement. The big chance came from a group called kraftwerk. The music of Kraftwerk is the bridge between the art world and the realm of music. The music of Kraftwerk comes from a musical movement called krautrock. Even then the music was so strange, people had never heard stuff like that before. The only place it was recieved well was Detroit. They embraced it. There were a couple of kids that played around with the music and techno was born. I will dig a little deeper in the music style krautrock.

Krautrock

Krautrock is a name for a music style originally from Germany. It is music that comes that from experimenting with sound. it originated in Germany when Germany was recovering from the war. The youth from Germany were rebelling against the old structures from their roots but also not embracing the American culture. The musicians were influenced by contemperary classical music, folk music and space/the future. These elements also are the key elements that build techno.

A group called Phallus Dei, did musicla performances in which the voice was used as an instrument. The music they made had no clear structure. They still used traditional instruments like drums and guitars. Percussion and drums were a very important part of the performances. The people who made the music were part of a very broad movement that created a new breed of artists that became very important later in time. The fil I watched about Phallus Dei was directed by Wim Wenders, and Werner Herzog en Fassbinder play a cameo in this film. The group was also very politcial, and some of the memebers radicalized and formed the Bader Meinhoff-group.

Zodiac arts club

In Berlin the centrum of experimental music was called the Zodiac free arts lab.Hans Joachim Roedelius was the man behind the club. This was a place that was inspired by an exhibition of John Cage in the art academy of Berlin in 1967. There were 45 taperecorders on display, that all together made a lot of noise. I have not found any documentation of this exhibition, but this was the starting point for the Zodiac arts club. The Zodiac arts club was a stage for experimental live music. The room was filled with all kinds of instruments, amplifiers and speakers, where people were able to use the instruments to jam with each other.
The bands Tangerine dream and Kluster originated from this club. The bands used tone generators, keyboards and synthesizers.  Enthousiasm and attitude were more important than musicality The music developed and became less experimental. Bands were signed by lables such as Virgin records.  Tangerine dream became vey sucessfull in England. 

 

Kraftwerk

Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter went to the Robert Schumann Academy in Dusseldorf. They are classicly trained musicians. The first band of Florian was called "The organization". The music had little structure and had japanese influences. They are being taught on Stockhausen, who is a pioneer in the development of electronic music. Stockhausen uses pure electronic elements. They also are being taught about Schaeffer who usues cassettes with sounds of trains to make music with. Very soon they formed the band Kraftwerk. Florian came from a wealthy family. He had the money to buy one of the first synthesizers in 1969. This was a Moog, and was a very space filling machine. In the beginning they are experimenting a lot with the equipment in their studio. They are developing new instruments with their experiments. With inventing new instruments they create a new sound. The studio that this was all being done was the kling klang studio in Dusseldorf.  

Kraftwerk was already completely different from other krautrock bands, because they had a few original things. They didn't deny there German origin. They are 100% themselves. When a german band is totally it self it has an alienating effect. The music is very structured and percussion plays a very important part in this. The music is also very minimal and conceptual, and that gives a very clear sound. They also use irony in their presentation on stage and in their music. De band name was German and their subject matter was very German, like the song "Autobahn". In the music video and during their performance a Volkswagen beetle drives on the Autobahn. It is an ironic song about the autobahn, and deals with the past in a very weird way. There is no judgement in the clip. It is presented very objectively and leaves the interpretation to the viewer.

To have the full Kraftwerk experience you have to see them live. There are four men standing behind a desk wearing a tight spandex suit. They don't move t thier music. Later in the evening they start wiggling a little bit. The audience is also standing there watching them, and people don't dance. They are not the band that sweeps their public to go out of their mind. They stopped producing music when house and hiphop started using samples of their musci.

Transition to techno

Kraftwerk was an inspiration to a lot of bands. In the UK they inspired bands like Joy division, Depeche mode and Human League which became known as new wave music. The music of Kraftwerk was played a lot in Detroit. The music sounded weird by the whole world but not to a few kids in Detroit. The started using Kraftwerk in their dj-sets. When synthesizers became more affordable they started producing their own music which has become known as techno. Techno has become the music style in which there are a lot of the original ideas still standing when people started making krautrock. The build up of a techno track or mix cannot be compared with a pop song, but has it's roots in classical music like krautrock. The percussion and drums are the most important part of the music like in krautrock.  

 

John Cage 1912-1992

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp sent in a urinal to be displayed in an art show in America. The object was refused, but the object revolutionized the way we think about art. With this act Duchamp questioned the idea of what art exactly is. In Duchamps belief everything had the potential of being art, even a urinal which he did not even make himself. Even today the art world battles with the idea of everything being able to be art. John Cage was actually friends with Duchamp. They played chess together What Duchamp did for art John Cage, I think, did for music. He changed the way we think about music and the potential it can have. What did he actually change?

The krautrock movement found his inspiration in John Cage. John Cage had an exposition in a Berlin art academy. The exhibition got the German people inspired and the Zodiac arts club was created.  He wrote a lot about his music, and was present in the media. His work was very conceptual. Change and experimentation plays a big part in his work. He also tries to let his own taste become a part of the work. His ego is interesting to him. He also believed that it was enhancing his creativity. Important is the fact that Cage was a zen budhist. He fights against the ambition of the ego. A work has to come out of yourself without any outside pressure. He created work in which chance plays a big part in his work. What is ugly? and how can I get around that. He wanted to become aware of this sensation. Why do I find this ugly? And can I learn to like something that sounds ugly. It is very powerfull when this happens.

Chance plays a very important role in his work. A good exmaple is this is his tape recoder piece. The radios have a set frequency, and plays whatever comes from thatfreqeuency. This changes all the time, depending on what place you are doing this. The frequency is determined before hand but time is also. There is a framework in which the result is never the same. He also used coinflips to make important choices. In everything that he does he tries to emulate nature as it is. He doesn't want to create enhancements o order. He also found it important to invent new instruments.

 

The ideas of John Cage can also be found in the ideas of futurism.