Interview met Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles

Part #2

Interview met Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles

28-09-2012 | 14.45

This Saturday Les Enfants Terribles invites DJ Sprinkles (Terre Thaemlitz) to De Verdieping to play a three hour deep house set during their hosting night at Imprint. We thought we keep it short and were planning to ask Terre three questions. But Terre was so kind to take the time to answer every question in detail. Something we seldom see nowadays. We decided to split the answer, so here's part two. The last question will follow tomorrow. Take your time for once and don't click back to your Facebook, 'cause this is interesting stuff.

Les Enfant Terribles: As in chemistry where every reaction is determined by it's context (heat, pressure etc) so it is often said that musical cultures are purely a reflection or expression determined by the contexts from which they came. On a broad global scale you can generally observe that when the new left ideology of the 60's & 70's gave way to the current neoliberal one, mainstream musical culture / industry surely changed with it. This should imply a relationship between ideologies (or peoples beliefs if you will) and musical cultures.
Would you agree with this? And do you believe that, on a global scale, mainstream musical culture is purely a reflection of our current zeitgeist or can mainstream musical culture also influence and change our zeitgeist? Looking at it on a more local scale, where music is often used to express traumas like discrimination of minorities, can the music that comes out of these minority musical cultures help change their situation or will it always be "stuck" as a reflection? In your answer could you perhaps elaborate on how these local musical cultures and our mainstream musical culture interact? And perhaps you have a few ideas on how musical culture will change the next decade when looking at how interconnected our society is becoming.
Terre Thaemlitz: Yes, I do believe music is inseparable from ideology. I think music and audio media are basically languages built of sound. Despite most people treating music as a pre-lingual universal, the fact that each of us only respond positively to certain genres (and more importantly, that we all have genres we totally hate, which should be an impossibility if music truly were universal) indicates that we are not just responding to sounds, but to their structuring. Music is structured even when employing the signs of improvisation. There is an immediately identifiable difference between, say, improvisational jazz and improvised Baroque keyboard embellishments. We respond to different genres not only in relation to sound, but in relation to our understanding of those practices’ relationships to class, ethnicity, wealth, gender, etc. And many times our understandings can be greatly misguided or twisted in prejudiced ways by musical mainstreams. So anyone who claims they can simply appreciate “sound as sound” is either a liar or a dupe. I’d say most are dupes.

When you bring up music on a global scale, and the spread of certain styles, we are simultaneously conjuring and concealing issues of cultural imperialism. For me, the fact that Western pop music dominates the planet signifies something brutal and grotesque: globalization. At the same time, to exclusively imbue pop music with all the power of White Male domination erases how, for example, the US “White” pop sound was heavily influenced by African Americans. Those African American musics were developed under the extremes of slavery and racial discrimination, which forced them to be something other than traditional African musics (complicating the notion of a purist “black music” in the US as well). And of course those non-US African musics, like musics in other continents, were influenced by exposure to different musical practices and instruments through trade routes, etc. Meanwhile, other countries are currently adapting Western pop music into their own things via exposure through trade routes, and so on... Because of all this, I cannot claim to know what pop music means on a global scale, in all of those various contexts. It certainly reflects more zeitgeists than our own. This is not to say pop musics from other countries are something to get excited about (Korean “K-Pop,” Japanese “J-Pop,” etc.). I prefer to remain generally suspect of all mainstream musics, since they seem to provide the soundtrack to so many economic and social abuses. I can’t imagine any culture’s “mainstream” being free of implication in such abuses.

About whether we are terminally “stuck,” I don’t think anyone could deny that the perspectives of those of us who actively and politically identify with our cultural alienations are also conditioned, educated, and infused with a lot of mainstream shit. This can be seen in the lack of imagination behind Lesbian and Gay “love marriages” (as opposed to marriages clearly rooted in political necessity, such as securing health insurance for one’s partner); or gender reassignments rooted in the desire to cure gender dysphoria by attempting to surgically align one’s body image with one of two acceptable gender variants under heteronormative patriarchies (two very culturally biased concepts of “man” or “woman”). The desire for acceptance saturates most every major minority movement, no matter how “deviant” it may be represented by mainstream culture. This clearly results in very complex, and often times hypocritical, relationships between the acts of internalizing and constructing media from an underclass. The example I brought up in “Ball’r (Madonna-Free Zone)” from Midtown 120 Blues was the tension between queers who saw Madonna’s “Vogue” as an unforgivable act of cultural imperialism, and those who saw it as a moment of long overdue mainstream recognition. The difference came down to where one culturally derived their sense of validation – from the mainstream, or from that which was deliberately other-than-mainstream (generally in traumatic resistance to that which oppresses). For me, praise from the mainstream is similar to a warm moment of approval from an abusive parent. It is a completely understandable, yet brutally twisted desire. It’s quite sad, actually. And I am therefore unable and unwilling to celebrate such cultural moments of “recognition.”

As for the future of music, we can all see the ways that globalization exploits a model of controlled diversity, mainly focusing on providing a variety of consumer choices. And like I said in the beginning, we choose within a generally small range of available possibilities. We are actually in an era where the constructed nature of this faux diversity is becoming more transparent – such as a single fast food restaurant serving items from two different restaurant chains, like KFC and Pizza Hut. Have you seen these places? There was a time when the Left believed that transparency was the key to dismantling the hegemonies of dominant cultures, but this strategy has been coopted by the Right. It seems that for most people it makes no difference that all 20 shops in a shopping mall, each with their own individual visual branding and identities, are owned by just one or two massive corporations. For sure, the transparency of buying Pizza Hut items at a KFC comes along with a meta-layer of obfuscation. We can now see the two chains are connected, but by whom, and exactly how, remains vague. That meta-layer of vagary is not just the future of music, but in relation to major labels, it’s absolutely the present.  

The same goes for films – like Disney owning Touchstone, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax Films, and on… Diversity in media is not about actual difference, but about a controlled level of white noise that leaves us with the sensation of consumer choice. Market researchers understand that as long as people have the appearance of free-will choices when shopping, that seems to be enough. It’s just like Devo sang in “Freedom of Choice.

In the world of minor labels, that Disney-esque corporate role is played by the distributors. They coordinate the physical manufacture, distribution, and sale of items by labels who sign a contract with them. Most people only see the dependency of small labels on distributorships as a bad thing when they go out of business – like when Germany’s EFA collapsed in 2003 and took dozens of labels down with them. But the dependencies are there, directing our choices. And those limited choices are enough for most people.

The same goes for online audio culture, where most people limit themselves to YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Soundcloud. The fact that I don’t have user ID’s or pages on any of those renders me invisible to a lot of people I meet these days. They really don’t know how to contact me, or find my online shop, despite the fact that they just need to type my name in a search engine to get a direct link to my website. People are that fucking lazy these days. They seem to want to have their interactions mediated by those other corporate websites. So that’s what I see the audio marketplace becoming – a billion choices almost completely restricted to a very few select platforms. And a key reality of this circumstance is the fact that the majority of people – even those active in fringe media – will not feel the restrictiveness of their end-user options.

End of Part #2

Text: Daan Akse & Kolja Verhage
Les Enfants Terribles