Posthuman Indie Landfill Music – The Sound of Cybernetic Logic

If you are a guitarist you can now buy a pedal that replicates a rhythm section thus erasing the need for a band. As the musical output from an electric guitar can be analysed as electrical output this in turn can be fed into the pedal. Then the pedal translates the electrical input back into musical note values, these note values will trigger an algorithm that generate harmonically related bass notes. Another algorithm will analyse the tempo from guitar input and then generate a random drum part from a pre-programmed databank of “realistic” patterns.

So how can we relate this back to the course readings? I am going to try use critique of cybernetics from Hayle’s “How We Became Posthuman” as a framework for analysing this monstrosity of lametech.

This is definitely an example of the cybernetic desire for information without bodies. The physical position of drummer and bassist within the band have been erased and reduced the feedback of set “desirable” information. The rhythmic information that guitarist require has been judged by the pedal designers to be minor variations on root notes from the bass guitar, a bass drum on the 1 and snare hit on beats 2 and 4 with quarter notes on the high hat. All of this information is given clearly, consistently and unvaryingly i.e. it does not change tempo.

This privileging of digital information over the analogue context of actually interacting and with other human musicians results in two things. First of all, it will appeal or result in guitarists who want the sound of a “band” but don’t want the hassle of the collaborative songwriting. Seemingly the kind of man who name a band after his own surname like the guitarist in the video. Approving comments below the video are also telling (my highlights added for emphasis):

johnnywebb1 year ago

Digitech, you onto a big winner here, I’ve seen 30 to 40 demos of this pedal on YouTube and everyone is saying (comments) they have one or they’re going to get one. Guitarists have always wanted bass & drums, that turned up, didn’t get too pissed or stoned, didn’t argue back and were happy to play the tune (and know it!) first time through. I’m buying one. The best thing about this unit is we’ll all be playing more, working on originals, learning scales, shredding etc. and getting better. I’m sure the next level of development will be just as awesome, cheers from Australia.”

Secondly, the rhythm parts that it produces are dire. I am not one to argue that there is no place digitally generated loops in music but in my opinion it should not try to replicate the sound of guitar/bass/drum/”band” music. Hayles argues that the cybernetic conception of information as free floating and disembodied is flawed. She argues that it is not possible to extract information from systems without the quality of that information changing. It is my belief that it is a similar flaw that makes these rhythm parts so objectionable. It is the constant friction of multiple musician’s interpretation of tempo that gives a band their “groove” and “feel”. By reducing the rhythm section to simple, bodyless information the pedal creates a hollow simulacrum of a band.

I would argue that some of the most vital things I have learnt from playing in bands is how to compromise, build consensus, try out other people’s ideas, revise your own according to other people’s preferences. All valuable skills that this pedal does not give you the chance to learn. Much in the same way that Bayne railed against the term TEL as value-laden and inherently conservative I would argue that marketing the pedal as “a band in a box” encourages a narrow minded conceptualisation of the social practice of being in a band. This would be much better sold as a practice tool rather than as a band replacement device.