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.