LISTENING TO ITSELF:
PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE "INDUSTRIAL" SOUND
I want to
turn now to my second main line of argument. How do the semiotics
of production music help construct a normative masculine self
in the business world? Remember the "effect of masculinity"
that ECHO's multimedia savvy helped me to produce at
the beginning of this article? The track I used, "Market
Report," though labeled "orchestral corporate"
by its publisher, Bruton, would be instantly recognized in the
Network Music system of musical objects as "Industrial."
Industrial is a broad category within production music; about
all one can really count on is that if a track is labeled "industrial,"
it will give the effect of a symphonic orchestration with prominent
brass and string lines (whether real or synthesized). Butand
this is the kind of syntactic incoherence typical in a system
of commodity-objectsthere is a sense that the same term,
"industrial," refers to a more specific musical construction
of subjectivity, especially when it is linked with words like
"bold," and "power." To put it more poetically
than its creators perhaps might, "bold" industrial
is the sound of the male corporate self looking at itself
in an acoustic mirror of commodified, stereotyped musical
topoi. Lets look over his shoulder, and try to
see what he sees; Ill defer once more to the inimitable
Network Music announcer and a powerful descriptive demonstration
of the "industrial"
sound from the company's website.
four absolutely characteristic Network music themes of the "bold
industrial" type. I think you will agree that there is
a coherent phenomenology of the "bold industrial"
sound. It is based on motoric, 4/4 rhythmic ostinatos, usually
given to the strings, often with an explicit rock backbeat.
Over this driving background soars a very particular type of
melodic line, usually carried by horns, trumpets, and/or massed
strings. It features wide-ranging, mostly diatonic intervals
and a particular intonational mannerism, in which a flurry of
shorter notes leads to a strong downbeat accent, a dramatic
leap or run up or down, and the deliberate prolongation for
several beats of the agogically-accented pitch. (Call it the
Jones paradigm.) The last piece of the pattern is the
most distinctive: the straight 4/4 accompaniment is invariably
activated by a distinctive, driving pattern of offbeat accents,
often the simple hemiola
3 + 3 + 2, but also more complex patterns like (3 + 3 + 3) +
(3 + 2 +2).
of distinguishing marks" or "brand" is quite
reliably associated with a narrow range of idealized corporate
attitudes and behavior. Network Music's descriptions of these
"bold industrial" tracks evoke alternatively an anthropomorphized
corporate self ("todays aggressive corporation")
or the way ones own self is to be experienced within the
corporation ("the quest to achieve ones personal
goals")both associated with what is almost a parody
of the instrumental rational mindset of advanced capitalism
(energetic, aggressive, bold, ambitious, dynamic, persistent,
correlation is strong: all the tracks have that distinctive
combination of expansive diatonic melody, relentless motor rhythm,
and (especially) stabbing offbeat accents, as in Symbols
(CD 112/9, 1992). The pattern has been remarkably stable
over the entire history of Network Music, from the relatively
low-rent production of Industrial Revolution (CD 6/5,
1980) to the full-blown effect of Strength of Character
(CD 191/3, 1998). One can even discern a transformational syntax
in operation: to convert todays aggressive corporation
into tomorrows aggressive hi-tech corporation,
simply clear out the bass register, and move the ostinato string
accompaniment up high, where it can pulsate in a mildly-dissonant
mimesis of cyberspace. (Information
Highway, CD 129/4, 1996). But leave that bass drum hemiola
inhow else can we achieve our personal goals? .
BALLAD OF THE CORPORATE COWBOY
interesting that abstract instrumental music scored for large
orchestra helps men construct and then present a normatively
"masterful" masculine persona to their colleagues
in the corporate world. Historical musicology might well take
note as it seeks to understand the cultural function of its
own canon of "powerful, impressive, dynamic" orchestral
themes. But I want to dig a little deeper. What are the precise
cultural antecedents and referents of this masculine persona?
Can music help us get inside the corporate male ego-ideal?
need to establish the cultural referents of the musical style.
Network claims to have largely invented the industrial soundbut
surely they didnt invent it out of whole cloth. Listening
to track after track of "bold industrial" (there are
over 300 in the library), I found myself with a nagging sense
that I had heard that loping hemiola gait before. And thenit
hit me. Let me formally present my candidate for musical antecedent
of industrial: The score for the 1960 Hollywood Western The
Magnificent Seven has a big leaping diatonic tune and
driving rhythmic accompaniment. Most
importantly, Elmer Bernsteins shameless Copland pastiche
features what is perhaps the most famously galloping hemiola
pattern in all film music. As the music map at the left shows,
Coplands musical vocabulary has a venerable pedigree;
his thundering and virile representations of the frontier stand
on the musical shoulders of such mens men as Strauss,
Wagner, and Beethoven. And John Williams, in his turn, has through
even more shameless pastiche of Bernstein, Korngold, Copland,
Strauss, and Wagner disseminated this particularly American
take on European orchestral masculinity deep into the collective
musical unconsciousness. His myriad of award-winning film scores,
Olympic fanfares, and nightly news themes ring a seemingly endless
series of changes that we can now recognize as the "bold
industrial" sound of the American Western.
of industrial appear to have solved the problem of how to represent
American corporate masculinity in music by using what T.S. Eliot
would have called an "objective correlative": the
musical image of the cowboy, as transmitted through the soundtracks
of innumerable Westerns. When todays business male looks
into the musical mirror, he is, evidently, supposed to feel
himself, if only subliminally, on a horsea lineal descendent
of the gunslinging heroes of the Old West.