Reading List: Machineries of Joy

Subtitled “I Have Seen the Future and It Is Squiggly”, and available for you to read online here. This is rather fun; a self-consciously “outsider” take on “a form of music created at the end of the 20th century by Northern Europeans”, which scrupulously locates said music’s characteristics in the local environment and culture:

The geography and climate in Northern Europe (see Fig. 2) has historically necessitated the development of unusual personal mental stamina and perseverance — qualities evolved no doubt in order to survive the harsh months in the isolated villages and hamlets in that region. The long and dark winters favored a people who could look inward for months at a time and not go crazy. It would also favor intense social cooperation — rules and sets of elaborate prescribed behaviors — all designed to maintain the delicate social balance during those long difficult months. In addition, the inhabitants became accustomed to a monotonous diet and sporadic social contact. Naturally, all of this led to the evolution of a rather extreme but focused frame of mind.

Rather brilliantly, this is kept up right to the very last line of the piece, and even then all that is allowed is that it may be taken as “semiserious”, so that you’re forced to consider which bits of it you do take seriously. The actual argument of the piece is that a subgenre of electronic music labelled “blip hop” is “meant to be perceived as humorous and ironic”, and that its “imitation of machine processes and languages” are meant not to be taken at face value. To this end, three supposed characteristics of blip hop are offered: attraction to non-natural sounds, preponderance of “herky-jerky” rhythms, and an attraction to “structures and effects only possible through the use of the computer”.

Encountering this as an sf reader, it reads like nothing so much as a send-up of an introduction to the sort of territory-defining anthology so beloved in the genre: think of the Kessel/Kelly slipstream, post-cyberpunk and “secret history of sf” books, plus the two volumes of Interfictions and the VanderMeer steampunk and new weird books. So it’s somehow not a huge surprise to discover that it appeared first as the liner notes to “The Only Blip Hop Record You Will Ever Need, Vol 1“; both album and text being orchestrated by David Byrne, about whom I really know very little other than that he was in Talking Heads. Although blip hop exists in the urban dictionary, most of the google hits for the term feed back to the album in one way or another (complete with the sorts of reviews that those sorts of sf anthologies tend to receive, debating what exactly blip hop is and why it’s not what the work under review says it is), so I’m left none the wiser as to whether it’s something Byrne created out of whole cloth, or simply promoted. And I’m not actually unhappy about that.

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