The New Fringe

To cite one of the central concepts of the Void Sigil aesthetic, humanity is currently poised to enter the next stage of its ability to transmit and process information; a post-cultural state of human existence. As much as it is tempting to attribute this model to technological "progress," it is actually also the impetus for that same technology, and is rooted in the same purely human impulse. Human consciousness has finally crossed the threshold between being only a mechanism for survival of the human body and functioning as its own distinct entity which seeks its own survival, replication, and actualization. This new model of communication takes place between individuals purely between one consciousness and and another, and thus replaces the former model of cultural dissemination of information (which was still firmly rooted in physical proximity). In many cases, at times the new and old modes of communication even directly conflict each other. This delineates a certain point beyond which one must fully adopt the new model of processing that which was once "culture" on an individual, totemic level, and cast off the vestigial need to share in it as a participant, at the risk of irrelevance and of the impossibility of personal actualization as a conscious being. When both biological and cultural boundaries are meaningless regarding the propagation and enrichment of the species, active assignment of meaning to all information created, acted upon, or passed on to others by an individual is necessary; passive reception and transmission of innate meaning is a cancer which will only stagnate and destroy thought and potential.

This impending shift of modes of communication brings a new role to music (and calls many aspects of what we now call music into question, given that most music thus far created and recorded is so deeply rooted in existing cultural paradigms) and the larger world of recorded sound. The combination of increasingly accessible technologies for both creators and listeners of recorded sound and the already ongoing shift in value and focus of western civilization from the communal to the individual have opened up a new frontier of possibility regarding totemic sound devoid of cultural meaning or symbolism, intended for an individualistic listening environment. This could potentially be the precursor of the very definition of the word music becoming inverted; in a world where the communicative aspect of sound is emotional and atmospheric, and a completely personal intellectual meaning must be applied to a piece of intentionally organized audio for it to have any value, then "music" itself describes a sonic composition devoid of language, tonal systems and scales, and utilizing a purely organic interpretation of timing and rhythm that negate all but the most biological of tempos and time signatures.

This state, of course, free or both structure and limitation, was the origin of the current definition of music as well, with the first musical compositions and performances being for ceremonial purposes and naturally tending towards elements that would most closely unite the participants in a shared culture and impart upon them a subconscious intensification of the ritual which accompanied the music. As cultures became increasingly interested in expressing more complicated ideas artistically, and as new music began to be created more often for secular purposes, music began to explore a linear territory running between the extremes of music created to be experienced automatically, often through a physical process such as dance or meditation, and music created to be experienced with some degree of interpretation by the conscious mind, with more highly codified systems of melody and harmony able to dictate culturally-assigned symbols of nuanced emotion, as well as a deeper focus on articulate lyrical content. This is not to say that what I describe here as music aimed at physicality is more "primitive" or devoid of complex meaning in its own right; rather, the context of the interaction between the composer or performer and the listeners dictated a focus on different aspects of the music. For instance, the same elaborate drumbeat with a rapid tempo could signal only a sense of urgency in the context of a familiar ritual, whereas the rhythmic nuances and complex time signatures might be the aspects being analyzed by a seated audience in a formal concert hall. A musician or composer, consciously or not, creates music not only for a specific audience, but for a specific context, and for an extended period of western history, this context shifted from a more physical focus towards an intellectual one. The common musical vernacular, however, remained firmly connected to the physical element of dance, and eventually much of the popular music of the 20th century began to gravitate again towards a more physical focus, with jazz- and rock-based music emphasizing a sense of sometimes ecstatic movement which approached even the earliest ritual uses of music in context and in aspects of its composition.

The ability to record and play back sound, beginning with the first phonograph in 1877, drastically altered the spectrum of contextual possibilities in which music could be experienced. It added a second dimension between all of the environments is which music and sound could be physically created, and those environments in which it could now be heard: in a place of worship, a concert hall, or a tavern, but now also in spaces separate from the musicians, or even alone. With that severing of the umbilicus between musician and listener, the potential for totemic sound was born. Now, not only was a performer free to create music which would have been impractical or even impossible to replicate outside the context where it was recorded, but a listener could hypothetically experience a composition completely free of any contextual information at all, assigning to it only the physical, emotional, and intellectual meaning that they chose.

The categorization and classification of music is always a fool's errand, but in order to illustrate the spectrum of sonic experience I have described, here is a very rough approximation of how a sampling of musical and sonic styles would be represented, relative to their intended context from physical to mental and communal to solitary.

By the end of the 20th century, the logical extreme of the concept of solitary consumption of sound had been reached. Not only had music been almost completely transformed in many cases from a fluid cultural unifier to a form of subcultural currency (already reduced, in a certain way, to a personal signifier, albeit one that functioned only through the pointed adoption and rejection of well-established cultural systems of context and symbolism, and therefor one that remains useless in terms of the new model of communication), but now it was possible to see large aggregations of people each listening only to whatever emanated from their own headphones or ear-buds, completely occluded from their shared sonic environment. On a sociological level, it is interesting to see the disconnect in situations like this between the established (if still recent and evolving) protocol between how music is meant to be experienced and the protocol between how humans are expected to interact in public spaces, but on a philosophical level, it can be seen as an indication of what will, by its very nature, become an even more extreme shift towards the communication of art being transmuted into personal totems and stripped of their previously shared cultural meanings.

Even with a large percentage of the consumption of music now taking place in contexts more solitary than physical, the music actually being played is overwhelmingly still the music of the communal side of the spectrum. Acoustic and electrified acoustic instruments (or digital equivalents of these instruments), generally designed for performance more than for recording purposes, still comprise the backbone of most music, while those forms that do employ more recording-oriented sounds, such as the more abstract synthetic tones and percussion and the more elaborate studio-generated effects, still borrow heavily from styles of recordings designed to be subsequently played in dance clubs and discotheques. And the more avant-garde and experimental forms of music which have been designed specifically to escape the confining structures of live performance have often followed a pattern of academia and intellectualism, leaving the lower right-hand quadrant of the previous graph, the hypothetical realm of subconscious music free from the traditions and limitations of live performance, largely unexplored. When first considered, in light of the roles which culture and shared symbolism have occupied thus far in the human experience, this seems logical. A ritual music for individuals has never developed, and never could have as long as rituals and ceremonial significance themselves fell under the auspice of a shared culture. But as the need for those shared systems diminishes and is replaced by personal systems of perception, communication, and aesthetics, a personal equivalent to ritual becomes an important marker for a specific intellectual or emotional signifier. This new frontier, indicated by the orange arrow on the above graphic, is the territory that the Void Sigil project explores.