Broken When It’s Brand New

So there’s this thing about stuff failing, or at least not quite working. It’s affected academics, especially since Bruno Latour’s Aramis: Or the Love of Technology, and in music of course you’ve got the whole glitch movement (and truthfully, I’m stuck on the edges of it, preferring the more polished versions like Telefon Tel Aviv and Prefuse 73 to Squarepusher and Autechre, though I suspect they’ll grow on me). And then there’s just, well, any digital technology you can imagine.

A couple days ago, coming home from that very drink mentioned in my last post, Carrie and I picked up an Airport Express. We already have an Airport Extreme network at home for DSL, and both thought it would be cool and convenient to stream music from ITunes to the nice, tasty stereo speakers on the other side of our “great room” (which is so big that it’s both office and living room). Well, of course Airport is famous for being a plug and play technology, which means that I follow all the idiot-proof directions and menus and then get a blinking yellow light from our new Airport Express. Call Apple support, and pretty quickly exhaust the tech’s knowledge (to his credit, he goes to ask for help rather than bullshitting me as other techs sometimes do). We reboot, reinstall, reconfigure a few times. Finally after a little over a half hour of talking with him and being on hold while he checks with someone, he gives up and say to call back tomorrow when someone with more specialist knowledge can help me. Can’t blame the guy, he really tried. So I hang up, look over at the Airport Express and the cruel bastard now has a GREEN LIGHT. I go to ITunes and the missing output menu is now there so I can send music to my speakers. The bastard worked, but only after torturing me and this guy for awhile.

So tonight I’m using it while Carrie gets ready for the party we’re going to (more young academics, more stories). And just once, I hear it choke. The music’s streaming fine one minute and then, it chokes off. That’s how I’d describe the sound. FFFFWWWWOOOOOOOP! Then PFFWWWWOOOOO back into it. It’s like a split second, no big thing. But there is it, it’s a glitch. And after all this, I kind of like it, I kind of want it to happen again. Preferably *almost* in time with the music. But of course Mr Express will not oblige me.

Reminds me of a moment when I was packing up the studio to move to Canada and deciding what to keep and what to lose. There was an old Digitech PDS 2550 (I know that’s the wrong number — it’s a BIG YELLOW PROGRAMMABLE distortion pedal from the 1980s, that I used a lot in the late 1980s and early 1990s) which has just stopped working right. It’s intermittent. Sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, likes to cut in and out, abruptly change settings, etc. One of those things I’d been meaning to get rid of for some time. Well, this time I looked at it differently. I wanted to bring it along and use it (to record, admittedly, not to gig) BECAUSE it was broken. In a world of increasing audio precision (which is not to say fidelity) in the analog and digital realms, here’s that element of spontaneity, randomness and eventfulness staring me in the face, in the form of a scratched up, broken, worthless yellow distortion pedal.

Is it the glitch-hop/IDM/glitch-rock in my ears, my own interest in abject media, or just another excuse to keep some old crap around? I have no idea, but I’m waiting for my home music network to exhibit its shortness of breath again.

One reply on “Broken When It’s Brand New”

  1. keep the pedal! As Brian Eno says, \’honour thy error as a hidden intention.\’ In fact, Eno has apparently been using old pedals for years to break up the tonal sheen of his digital synths, as well as never changing the strings on his electric guitar etc…
    I\’ve found these sorts of pedals most effective for making \’nice\’ mixes nasty, in an interesting way (now that distortion is just so passe).

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