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Modulations (2000) - Peter Shapiro

Related: electronic music - 2000 - Peter Shapiro

Modulations DVD (1998) - Iara Lee [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Modulations (book) (2000) - Peter Shapiro [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Includes contributions from David Toop, Peter Shapiro, Kodwo Eshun, ... and interviews with Arthur Baker, Derrick May and Holger Czukay.

Modulations: A History of Electronic Music

In 1998, a documentary feature film was released by a small production company in New York that quickly became the most essential viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in dance music and the culture that has grown up around it. Modulations, directed by Lara Lee of Caipirinha Productions was, and is superb. No film, documentary or otherwise has managed to capture the spirit of dance music so successfully. And certainly, no film has explored the genesis of dance music and how it is fundamentally a child of our technological times. So, how does the book rate in comparison?

The theme of the film, the effect electronic music has had on popular culture is explored in the book through a series of essays. Editor Peter Shapiro, (freelance journalist with Spin and Wire amongst others) has a huge input in this book. He was also 'the film's encyclopedia' according to Lee, so in many ways this is his chance to shine.

An excellent team of writers such as Simon Reynolds and Kodwo Eshun (who were interviewed in the film) get to grips with themes and genres: Musique Concrete, Krautrock, Disco, Post Punk, House, Hip Hop, Techno, Jungle, Ambient, Downtempo and finish up with an essay on technology with a subheading 'Analog Fetishes and Digital Futures.' As if that didn't have us all terribly excited, there are numerous sidebars on the likes of Afro Futurism, Gabba and Dub. There are also many transcribed interviews from the film, the most interesting of which are with Can (Krautrockers), Teo Macero (Miles Davis's producer) and Alvin Toffler (futurist writer who had a big influence on Juan Atkins). If anyone got left out of this, they're probably pretty upset.

The book's thread is formed around the idea that the avant garde has trickled down (or trickled up), influencing dance music and popular culture. Sometimes they can take themselves a little too seriously, but generally their idealism and humour are convincing. Their strength, however, lies in their ancillary exploration of how technological and electronic advances facilitated much dance music production. As Irmin Schmidt of Can commented in the transcribed interview: 'in actuality, the most inventive way to use a synthesizer is to misuse it. That's what we've done. That's what a lot of techno musicians do now. The French call it deconstruction.' The weakness of the book seems to be that it should have been published two years ago. Some of the essays that attempt to bring the music up to date on a contemporary level such as Kodwo Eshun's 'The Reinvention of House' fall short simply because they seem to have been written quite a while ago. Certainly this book was a long time in gestation. But it's not the worst complaint, particularly because the focus is on what the music has already achieved and how it has already been revolutionary in so many aspects. It also leaves the future open to suggestions. While parts of the book such as the panels might leave you feeling slightly unfulfilled, overall the book is not weakened by its comprehensiveness and a distinct love and understanding of the subject in hand emanates. Dance music may be all grown up but it's still a lot of fun. --Kate Butler for http://www.overloadmedia.co.uk/

1998 DVD

Ambitious and mostly successful overview of the roots and branches in the modern electronic music scene. The film covers quite a bit in just over an hour. The use of "sound bite"-length artist interviews seems to irk some reviewers; I think they are failing to savor the irony that this is just the cinematic equivalent of "sampling", after all. As in any similar collection of interviews, artist comments range from the banal to the revelatory, but the director gets credit for not allowing any concept to become too redundant. This film edges out the very similar documentary "Better Living Through Circuitry", by thankfully not inserting so many tiresome, epileptic seizure-inducing scenes of people "raving". Highly recommended for genre fans. -- D.Hartley for Amazon.com

2000 book

  • Modulations: A History of Electronic Music: Throbbing Words on Sound - Iara Lee [Amazon.com]
    In this expansive history of electronic music, Shapiro (The Rough Guide to Drum `n' Bass) chronicles the creative moment of generating sound through sampling, mixing, and manipulation. Written by musicians and aficionados, the articles assembled here form a fascinating account of innovators from John Cage to Miles Davis, thoroughly exploring this sprawling genre and its musical offshoots. Densely packed and meticulously detailed, the book makes some startling geographic and stylistic leaps in an effort to trace the comprehensive history of electronic music. Through interviews, vivid pictures, and crisp commentary, it illustrates how electronic music is now at work in the majority of today's musical styles. This work, a tie-in to Iara Lee's 1998 film of the same name, explores in greater detail some of the same ground covered in J.M. Kelly's The Rough Guide to Techno Music (2000). An essential tool for anyone interested in this music, whether mildly or deeply. -- Caroline Dadas

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