Monday, July 14, 2008

Supermodern Music

Review: Ratatat "LP3" - Nate Patrin @ Pitchfork

I'm not reviewing Ratatat's new album so much as I'm taking an element of Patrin's review and fleshing it out. Patrin spends much of his time discussing the acontextual nature of Ratatat's sound. It's an interesting point to make about contemporary music. Describing the sound as lacking content, Patrin argues that Ratatat could "sound like anything but no one discernable identity" and then immediately states "Ratatat's music is only really as empty as you make it." The argument is strange in the sense that it claims the listener/producer/marketer has as much a role in defining the sound as the band does. What I think Patrin is arguing is that Ratatat has hit on supermodern music.
The very idea of applying the framework of supermodernity to music hadn't occured to me before. Yet it works. Supermodernity is in it's nascent stages of definition. The term derives from contemporary architeture that creates space to move through rather that spaces to live in. It's archtecture ripped free of context which paradoxically allows for anyone to assign a meaning to it. Placing music in the realm of the supermodern thus means the sound of Ratatat is contextless making it applicable in a multitude of situations. It's not so much 'furniture music' as the early 20th century pianist Erik Satie strove for and found it's place in IDM electronica. Rather, it's music that can produce a meaning, but one that exist only in relation to other forms of information.
I love the idea and Ratatat's music is interesting to me in its own right. There is the potential for supermodern music that isn't even interesting. Even so, that contemporary music has reached a point where one can reasonably call it supermodern is extraordinary. It entails a whole new genre that can encompass nearly any style of music while remaining context-free. What's more, I doubt many people will realize it at first; even the music critics might miss it if the music comes in a radically different form. Yet Ratatat has done it. From the few tracks I've listened to the music stands on its own without falling into the trap of 'wallpaper music'. I think it's worth a listening, if not a purchase.