Sweet Nothing — Musical Logics of Intensity
The Diplo remix of Calvin Harris’s “Sweet Nothing” exemplifies a musical logic of intensity by which noise–or, “nothing”–is used to intensify/amplify/augment signal into something even more powerful than its original form or articulation. “Nothing” sweetens listeners’ musical and affective pleasure.
First let’s listen to the Harris original. I’ve marked out the three soars with comments in the soundcloud stream.
Here’s the Diplo & Grandtheft remix.
The remix takes a maximalist EDM-pop track and gives it a minimalist trapstep treatment, which is Diplo’s “thing” nowadays (early/mid 2013). The accompaniment is cut and replaced with some trap-style percussion (very rapidly repeating hi-hat 808s). (Notably, in the original the ends of the soars are punctuated with percussive effects that are similar to the fast, high-density hi-hat 808s characteristic of trap/trapstep. Perhaps there’s some significance in the fact that the peaks of Harris’s soars are the “norm” in trapstep–trapstep takes the climax of EDM-pop soars and uses that as a baseline, in a way?) Other than Florence’s vocals, pretty much the only thing Diplo keeps from Harris’s original is the actual soaring synths; these come in at about 0:40 in the soundcolud mix. The treble synths are there, but they’re muted–just enough to remind listeners of Harris’s soar, but not enough to become the primary voice in the track; in Diplo’s mix, that’s the trap percussion.
Diplo takes Harris’s soar, extends it by four measures, and turns it into a pause-drop. Diplo eviscerates and hollows the soar out, but that makes it all the more powerful. He intensifies the original soar (which is, as I have argued many times on this blog, itself a technique of rhythmic and/or timbral intensification), pushing past its breaking point into, well, what sounds like “nothing” (i.e., the hollowness of the pause-drop). Harris’s soar was already as sonically (especially rhythmically) maxed out as it could get; the only way to squeeze more out of it was to cross the threshold into noise and/or silence. The original was fully maxed out, so it had to be made into nothing. I say “had to” because the means of musical-political production demand ever-more-intense musical pleasure, on the one hand, and surplus value, on the other. The remix had to “sweeten” the musical pleasure of the original, and because Harris’s mix already hit the “sweet spot” of sonic maximization, the only way Diplo could further sweeten that sweet spot is to pass over into “nothing,” into a dubby-pause-drop.
This remix is just one example of how neoliberalism co-opts dub: the formerly critical/oppositional practice of fragmentation & dropping out is now a way to further intensify the already pretty-optimal.
I’m not entirely sure where I’ll go with this–it seems like a clear and easy-to explain example of the type of noise-farming I’ve been talking about with respect to neoliberal modes of musical and economic production. So maybe someday this will appear as an example in some published work.
hadn’t seen this remix yet… it’s really very good, and your analysis seems spot on (the “necessity” of crossing over into noise/nothing/silence as a source of intensity). And I’m increasingly convinced by your the social accumulation theory of neoliberalism (can I call it something like that?) that you’re building. It’s changing how I read neoliberal politics of punishment, honestly, in a piece that I’m working on about death penalty “abolition.”
my thought though, on listening to the diplo remix, is that I cannot hear this track without putting it entirely in a DJ context. (I really miss DJing, I realize, more and more). I’m thinking about a movement in political theory scholarship that focused on “print culture” and the relationship that material conditions had on (especially 17th century) thought. This track requires a very specific ‘dance culture’ to do its work, I think. Diplo, in his early-mid 2013 mode, is now entirely a festival DJ…. its cochella, not basement clubs… and crossing the threshold here assumes, I think, not a packed room of sweaty dancers who are moving in a kind of intense silence, but a veritable sea of screaming (mostly) white doods in a tent in the middle of the desert. SCREAMING.
that is, I’m listening to this remix thinking about how I would mix it, and what I would mix it with, and I’m actually at a loss, because I don’t know how to spin for a crowd like that. but clearly, diplo+grandtheft do.
that is, does the “nothing” drop maximize *through* the crowd? and a particular kind of crowd at that?
Hi AD–Thanks for your comment! I’m really glad you find this stuff useful. Honestly I”m just trying to thematize what the music is doing, and use the way songs are organized to help theorize how society is organized. I’d love to hear more about how you understand the neoliberal politics of punishment.
It’s interesting that you call what I”m developing a “social accumulation theory”–mainly because I had never thought of it in terms of accumulation myself, but I totally see that now that you mention it. The idea of accumulation–specifically, stockpiling–is definitely in the (Jacques) Attali stuff I’m working from. But it would be helpful for me to understand how you get/read “social accumulation” in what I’m doing with music & neoliberalism…
And your point about context is right on, IMHO. For a few reasons: (1) crowds. deleuzian control society is all about crowds; biopolitics is all about populations. so there’s this nice intersection btw neoliberal theory here and the historical context of EDM (which, as you note, is increasingly consumed in this festival context); (2) white d00ds screaming: YES. it’s all about crossing thresholds; just as screaming crosses sonic thresholds (see my post on britney & will.i.am for that argument), the scream-dancing is a way to physiologically, corporeally ‘scream’–cross/transgress personal/subjectivity boundaries…basically, it’s a way to experience risk in a way that can be immediately capitalized on (as pleasure).
that last question–does the nothing maximize through the crowd–is really interesting. i read you as asking: has the sonic passed over into the affectively viral? so we hear it as silence, but it is experienced/perceived as an affective, rather than sonic, transmission? the crowd is the medium for that affective transmission, while sound waves/electric signal were the medium for the sonic transmission? [wow, thanks for pushing me on this!! super productive :)]
Also: (1) doing a panel on something like this would be awesome; and (2) someday when we all have tenure (ha!) we should start a theory DJ crew.
nice conversation here thanks Robin.
– Herman Swan
Calvin Harris is one of the most popular in terms of entertainment. Lots of people love him because of his one of a kind performance. I’m an avid fan of Calvin Harris, I really want to attend his latest concert but due of my hectic schedule, I didn’t make it but hopefully next time.