Maximal Objects in Drone Music,
Dub Techno, and Noise
Microsound is minimal in terms of the duration and volume of its materials and, in the work of artists like Richard Chartier, also because of the scant amount of activity in the pieces. Other microsound works are downright busy, calling to mind images of quiet little machines that chug along with mechanical precision. And yet little in the way of material transformation occurs even in the most eventful microsound works. Microsound is minimal, in other words, because it effects no particularly great change on its environment or itself.
Here and in chapter 3, I discuss the treatment of sound in electronic music as an object, but the means by which microsound and maximal music set about this task couldn’t possibly be more different. Microsound aspires to a reductive absence of meaning, as if atomizing sound can divest it of its residual signification. After their meaning has been removed, grains in microsound exist as mute objects. The works profiled in this chapter, by comparison, have not given up on the belief that music can signify but have rather abandoned faith that signification occurs through intelligible units of a musical language. In drones, dub techno, and noise, the use of stasis and noise runs counter to habitual expectations for how elements of musical syntax interact with one another. These elements last too long and are too loud, and they disrupt the sense that music functions as a language by calling attention to physical aspects that music usually asks us to ignore. The liminal qualities of this music—the stresses it places on the body and the attention span—all wrest music out of a reasoned, ordered plane and thrust it back into the world of objects and raw materials.