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Philosophy

It All Sounds The Same

In the early 1990s, on a show called “A Stab In The Dark” that was a disastrous attempt to revive the TW3 format, the comedian David Baddiel demanding that audience members name random acid house tracks played over the studio PA. One embarrassed young man eventually helped Baddiel out by admitting that he couldn’t.

“It all sounds the same to me” is a dismissive and often reactionary comment. But it is also a judgement and an account of identity or rather of its lack. It renders something indifferent.

In a review of an album by the electronic music outfit Autechre on The Quietus website, reviewer Charlie Frame was faced with the opposite problem when they wrote:

It would now take a machine with a capacity and patience far exceeding that of any mortal being to keep track of their increasingly arcane song-titles alone, which are deliberately alienating in their anonymity, as though they’d been randomly selected from sections of a printer test page. I’d wager Autechre themselves have trouble differentiating between their ‘Chenc9-1Dub’s and their ‘Nth Dafusederb’s…

Whether Autechre or acid house, and whatever you call it, electronic music is clearly different from, say, Shostakovich. And the first and second Autechre tracks, and the two acid house tracks, will have differences when played one after the other. You cannot identify precisely which track is which compared to the other if you are just dropped into them midway through, you may not be able to find them afterwards, you certainly won’t be able to name them, but when faced with them you would be able to tell what is different about them, even if only that they do not occupy the same moment.

You can also tell what is different between two tracks by Autechre and two classic acid house ones. You don’t even need to know that they are Autechre or acid house. Each track is different from the other in the pair, and the differences between each track in each pair are different from the differences of the other pair. If not in their immediate sound then in their production or some other property. It’s the same with the music events that these tracks were and are played at. Each event in a series of events is different from the others, and each series of events also has different differences from the other series.

This is Deleuze’s “Difference and Repetition”. Differences, differences between series, differences of differences, and repetitions that make the differences. I have named the things that are different here, but if we remove the names the point stand. It is not removing the names that removes the identities. Rather it is recognizing that the identities are neither necessary nor sufficient to identify what is named here.

If you don’t believe me, just listen to Autechre on shuffle. 😉

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