Soul of a Binary Machine: Introduction to Techno Music and Rave Culture


Session Title:

  • Soundscapes (Spacescapes)

Presentation Title:

  • Soul of a Binary Machine: Introduction to Techno Music and Rave Culture



  • Abstract

    Techno music is an aggressive, technology and future oriented genre of youth culture and popular music. The historical background of this musical form lies in the avant garde groups of 60’s and 70’s; especially Fluxus and Kraftwerk. From a philosophical point of view, techno can also be seen as a continuation to the modernist avant garde movements such as futurism, surrealism and dadaism of the early 20th century. Techno music is especially popular in Europe. What used to be pure underground five years ago has become evidently mainstream. The recent commercial success of artists like Sven Vaeth, Westbam, LFO, Orbital, The Orb and Aphex Twin has proved techno to be a fast growing youth movement. Pop journalists and music experts have claimed techno to be ‘rock of the 90’s’. Concerning this, its is not surprising that the massive party concepts of Mayday and Love Parade have been called “Woodstocks of the 90’s”. In my paper I will introduce and analyze the latest developments of techno music and aesthetics. During the recent years techno has divided into several sub-genres such as ambient, trance, hardcore and gabber. A clear turning point can be seen. At its current status quo, techno seems to be a cultural phenomenon with a fascinating mixture of experimental avant garde music and transnational pop culture.
    Techno music has been said to be “a soundtrack of the information age”. Juergen Laarmann, the editorin-chief of German Frontpage techno magazine, has also written that techno music is only a small part of a broader concept of techno culture. In this case, we have to ask what is techno culture? In Laarmann’s opinion all the computer based technologies from computer networks to video games and hypermedia programs represent techno culture.  Concerning this point of view, it is interesting to bring up a citation from Bill Nichols’ remarkable article “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems”: “The Computer is more than an object; it is also an icon and a metaphor that suggests new ways of thinking about ourselves and our environment, new ways of constructing images of what it means to be human and to live in a humanoid world. Cybernetic systems include an entire array of machines and apparatuses that exhibit computational power. Such systems contain a dynamic, even if limited, quotient of intelligence. Telephone networks, communication satellites, radar systems, programmable laser videodiscs, robots, biogenetical engineered cells, rocket guidance systems, videotex networks – all exhibit a capacity to process information and execute actions. They are all ‘cybernetic’ in that they are self-regulating mechanisms or systems within predefined limits and in relation to predefines tasks. Just as the camera has come to symbolize the entirety of the photographic and cinematic processes, the computer has come to symbolize the entire spectrum of networks, systems and devices that exemplify cybernetic of ‘automated but intelligent’ behavior”. [Screen 29 (1); Winter/1988] In my paper I will propose that techno music should be seen and analyzed as a musical and aesthetic manifestation of cybernetic systems and digital computer age. Therefore, techno shouldn’t be seen as only music but as a broader philosophy and way of life heavily linked to the developments of new media technology; especially  computer networks (especially Internet), video manipulation technology and virtual reality. Techno music has also created its own communicative and aesthetic code; such as cyberdelic art that was introduced in Chromapark and TechnoGraphica festivals in Berlin last spring. It could be called the musical Zeitgeist of 90’s. Techno has replaced the concept of ‘concert’ with a concept of ‘rave’. Ecstatic, gigantic rave spectacles aim to create an immersive total experience. By hypnotic sounds, colorful laser lights and staccato-like stroboscopes an immersive, interactive ‘cyberspace’ is created. This experience is often catalyzed by ravers with the empatogenic drug MDMA (better known by its nicknames ‘Ecstasy’, ‘E’ and ‘XTC’). Techno beat and non-stop dancing are the substantial particles of rave atmosphere. It is natural to relate techno music and rave culture to the history of shamanism. On a psychophysical level, rave experience also manifests the classical question of the relation between body and mind. In this context techno refers to the themes of a cyborgs (cybernetic organisms) and androgyne. These ideas are near what could be called a trans-humanist thought; an idea similar to Stelarc’s or Hans Moraveck’s visions of the technological future of mankind. Techno music and rave culture should also be seen as a manifestation of classical techno-utopian thought. Man/machine cult and computer romanticism bring it near the visionary landscape of cyberpunk novels with the fictional concepts of cyberspace, 3D information networks, virtual identities and artificial intelligence. Techno has been called “music in the age of  deconstruction”. The role of the DJ has changed from a passive “disc jockey” to an active “composer” and “programmer” of the intertextual material of techno sound. The key concept is sampling – a kind of a “cut and paste” method – that could be seen as a concrete example of postmodern cultural theory and postmod ern thinking. Techno music and rave culture can also be seen as examples of ‘spectacle of ego’ or a ‘schizophrene action of postmodern panic’.
    Theories by Paul Virilio, Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois Lyotard have become important when analyzing the philosophy and aesthetics of techno music and culture. Many of the key hypotheses presented by postmodern cultural theoreticians seem to fit well to the strategies of techno music. Concerning all this, techno music is a natural choice of music for a generation being born in the age of micro computers, video games and Terminator movies. It reflects to the needs, hopes and nauseas of the current youth. Therefore, techno is the music for ‘techno pagans’ (Timothy Leary), ‘zippies’ (= hi-tech hippies, Fraser Clark) and ‘Generation X’ (Douglas