Bodenstandig 2000, who performed this week at Deitch, bring terrific entertainment value to the greater but potentially somewhat boring cause of open-source, command-line principles. Combining acapella singing, furious real time keyboard playing, spastic, ironic Prodigy-style dance moves and a razor sharp ear for the nuances of various hard-pumping electronic dance genres (if only to proudly translate them into 8-bit, that is, lo fi, "chiptunes"), the duo repeatedly bowled over the audience Wednesday night. Their simultaneous video-projection of a defiantly non-graphic sequencer interface reminds you that the music you're hearing is a steady stream of numbers.

Dedication to old gear and pure hacking vis a vis current proprietary software systems in some ways recalls the rock purists of yore who insisted that only black Delta blues musicians had integrity vis a vis British cover bands, or that 3-chord garage bands always had the edge over prog rock & fusion [was it really necessary to throw out the baby of Canterbury and electric Miles with the bilge of Kansas and Spyro Gyra?]. This kind of essentialism has Occam's razor logic on its side but can also grow stuffy and cult-like. Bodenstandig aren't stuffy, they're funny as hell, but their website(s) are defiantly retro with all-black screens, a simulated UNIX interface, and occasional hectoring about nerdy things like the "right" way to resize images.

Their music and live show present the clearest, most hilarious, most persuasive argument for the absolutist position, but there are other positions. Instead of braving the minefield of newer musicmaking software with all its copyright limitations, commercial agendas, hidden manipulations of the artist, and potential for quickly dating cheesiness, they hold the line for older, more clearly articulated concepts of integrity. This means either no change, or that music must backtrack and take the road not taken, into a parallel universe where there is no Microsoft, no Apple, and all musicians know code.

In defense of commercial software, the communities that develop around a particular bit of gear or program (e.g., Emagic, Native Instruments) apply open-source tenets in the form of forums and message boards where the software developers get ideas and criticisms from users, and then modify products in the next version. This isn't just corporations faking the Linux model; the rethinking process is ongoing and happens at internet speed. Ultimately chores of creation and fabrication are apportioned to the people who do each best, as opposed to demanding that every creator be both artist and scientist. Also, much of the music that Bodenstandig so adeptly imitates (especially jungle) originated in a commercial software environment, often through undiscovered uses or misuse of products by musicians. Truly original, innately 8-bit music would probably take years to assimilate and would not necessarily please crowds.

UPDATE: One point of clarification: by "commercial software environment" I also mean to include the software in so-called hardware synths and samplers. For further discussion and clarification, please see the comments and later posts.

- tom moody 2-26-2005 8:09 pm

I don't know about jungle originating in commercial software environs... It was my understanding that the form developed in trackers similar to the ones that bodenstandig uses, on the amiga. I know that the breakcore sound is mostly due to the tracker interface as well.
which software were you thinking was the one that spawned jungle?
-jonathan brodsky
- jonbro 2-26-2005 11:55 pm

Rob Playford initially used a shareware sequencer called Superconductor (running on an Atari) along with an Akai S-950 sampler and DAT, around the time of 2 Bad Mice's "Waremouse." By 1993 he'd switched to C-Lab's Notator, a commercial product. (C-Lab eventually became Emagic, maker of the popular sequencer Logic.) The real breakthrough for jungle came not so much with tracking, or sequencing, as abuse of (commercial) samplers. From The Mix (1996): "[Metalheadz'] 'Terminator' tore through the scene [in '93] with a vengeance ... its manipulation of timestretching from a sampling utility into a revolutionary new sound effect (by pushing the circuitry way beyond its parameters) made 'Terminator' not just a big tune, but a seminal one for the emerging and, by this time, identifiable new scene."
- tom moody 2-27-2005 4:11 am

Went to the show Thursday at Deitch night. It was great for reasons I don't think the performers understood or really cared about.

Tom, for my money they are near-enough to cultists that they kind of ghetto-ize themselves.

My appreciation of the show came from the 'live' performance that included the movements of the performer as lit by the giant changing digital screen, accompanied by the sounds. Why the crowd was glued to the floor I have no idea, I'm a geezer and I wanted to dance like a frikkin' livewire.

I also greatly enjoyed the giant digital music video with the anime-style girls, and the giant Mario sequences. My enjoyment of the Mario sequences was barely lit by nostalgia; they were a lot of fun as moving images accompanied by crazy music. My enjoyment of the anime girl music video comes in spite of my overwhelming fatigue with anime. I think that the weakness of the old systems was turned into a great strength; the limited digitization made for fun, glittering images.

But it appears to me that the performers didn't see this as an art piece at all. They saw it as they spoke of it, a 'demo.' In other words, "Look at the great stuff we can do with this hacked stuff."

One of the gents I spoke with called himself a programmer, but said he didn't really understand programming and all he did was hack these cards. I mentioned Macromedia Director to him because it would be a faster, better way of making the same kind of show, and his response made it clear that he was well aware of that software although he didn't know how to use it, and that it didn't really matter.

Keep in mind I'm not talking about making a slicker, glitzier show, which would be a step down for these guys. Part of the strength of the show for me was its old-school digital quirkiness. But I must stress that you don't need to wrap your mind around old-school platforms to get identical effects.

For these guys at this point, it's exclusively about hacking these old systems. Since all we can experience as outsiders to this very small circle of platform hackers is the output itself, and since hacking these systems is limited because the systems are disappearing and only a very few people can hack them, I hope at some point they and others begin to go beyond the platforms and set off generations of these digital shows, heavily influenced by the work of these pioneers. I want the medium to be more accessible and I want to see this kind of show take off.

- Bill Gusky (guest) 2-27-2005 10:21 pm

- johan (guest) 3-09-2005 10:42 pm