“This is Clint Eastwood Music. This is music with no name.” A look at music and the genre / labeling process.

Note: Taken Cronically Donut 'zine #9, November 1998. Written by Syed Syahrul Zarizi

Percussion music is revolution. Sound and rhythm have too long been submissive of nineteenth century music. Today we are fighting for their emancipation. Tomorrow with electronic music in our ears, we will hear freedom…. At the present stage of revolution, a healthy lawlessness is warranted. Experiment must necessarily be carried on by hitting anything – tin pans, rice bowls, iron pipes – anything we can lay our hands on. Not only hitting, but rubbing, smashing, making sound in every possible way… What we can’t do ourselves will be done by machine, which we will invent. ~ John Cage, 1939

pick of the week Music is at its most exiting when we don’t quite have a name for it yet. Once the press has come up with a label for the music, then anyone can do it. First, you have the Sex Pistols and the Clash, and then someone says ‘punk’ and before you know it you’ve got The Stranglers, Shame 69 and the Police. It’s the different between The Beatles and (Hey! There’s something called a ‘Liverpool sound’! ) Gerry and the Peacemakers.

Normally this pre-label period only lasted a moment. That is why we all want to claim that we saw special band at that one special gig – the one before the whole world discovered them. Because that was the moment before the press told us that this new music was called and what we were supposed to think about it. Over on one side we have all that ambience-with beat or techno-with-prettiness stuff. Intelligent techno? Electronic Listening Music? The names haven’t stuck, because they are inadequate to describe what’s going on. Then we’ve got all thin dance stuff that won’t fit neatly into any genre at all. That’s why it’s so good. It’s still free to borrow from anywhere, sound like anything and no one can deliberately set out to sound like it because no one can say exactly what is sounds like.

It might sound like Beth Gobbon’s voice, but then again it might sound like the wah-wah guitar in KarmaComa, the drone at the beginning of the Method Man track, the over-eager kick drum in Bug Powder dust, or the rhythmic sway of Ben Harper via The Dust Brother.

A song is anything that walk by itself ~ Bob Dylan

There’s always been music around that defies genre barriers, but normally that is called avant garde and it doesn’t sell. What is different today is that this stuff sells. Gets into the charts, even. So why now?

Art has always reflected the state of contemporary science and technology. The inpressionist fed off the discovery of photography; the futurist borrowed from the speed and violent of the automobile and the train; cubism took reality apart as quantum theory and special theory of relativity were taking classical physics apart; the atom bomb spawned the theater of the absurb. So where is science now?

Last year at the Santa Fe Institute – where cutting edge thinkers think about cutting edge, they held a congerence to discuss ‘The Limits of Scientific Knowledge.’ Is it possible for science to know (they asked) what it cannot know? Good question.

I know but I don’t know ~ Blondie

So what is it that we don’t know?

We don’t know the speed and mass of a particle (uncertainty principle). We don’t know how the universe works (Unifies Field theory). We don’t know what the weather will be like next week (Chaos theory). We don’t know how to make a killing on the stock market (Complexity theory).

It’s hardly surprising that, in an age when science finally admits it hasn’t got a handle on things after all, that people want to listen to music without label, music that doesn’t follow any clear rules, music or possibilities.

Freed from the rigid disciplines of what’s hip, you can float in the freedom of the cool. Let it take you wherever you want to go. This music have no agenda. But it probably sets the next one.

The Birth of Cool Phive, 1995


I remember reading sometime ago about an Indonesian writer that wrote a novel about nothing. That’s an idea. In the age where one can quickly be bored with usual repetition and daily protocols, experimentation is getting more and more advance and can get confusing. Surging forward with one style is a way to prevent oneself from being a part of the norm and million other creative writers.

I don’t know what was the outcome of the novel but I’m sure it was interesting. But what I don’t really understand was the writer’s writing process of such a novel. Was it the same with other millions writers out there? Or was it something else, that in the process in creating ‘nothing’ there is ‘something’ that was needed to make it works?

From what I understand, the ‘nothing’ must only be on the theme, because if it was applied to other aspect of writing the novel, ‘nothing’ will ever come out. It is hard to think and talk about nothing. Last night, as I was laying on bed, starring at the white ceiling, I will tried to think of nothing, but I doubt I can really do it for a long time. The most might be seconds, maybe less.

The writer must really have ‘nothing’ to say. Or does have something to say about ‘nothing’ what I am sure about is that I am not sure what he was writing about. What was his novel about?

“This is really disturbing.” I said to myself. “Is there’s such thing as nothing?”


I grew up on a healthy diet of the Beatles, Jamali Shadat, the Favorite group, Santana, Buddy Guy and many other great things. My gather has a great collection of LP’s and not so successful cartridges. They were pop bands, a go-go and blues.

When I was in my mid-teen, I discovered Hendrix. It was a pleasant surprise. Still shocked, I asked myself, was this blues, rock and roll or progressive rock? It was just as the first time I’ve listen to the Stranglers, Leftfield and Goldie. What the hell are these? What should I call it?

We sure do have many questions in out life. Every day, there are new questions that come to our mind. These questions need to be answered. And when there were no answered, we made it up ourselves.

There are also many uncertainties in our life. Many things we don’t understand and some of it we don’t have a clear explanation about it. There should be more explanation about it.

“Can someone explain it to me? Please, please we are begging you, just lie if you have to.”

This is how and why the labeling and name-calling begins. It was from the pure pressure and the need to secure the insecurity of the people that make other people to put words into our mouths and tell us what to do, listen to and how to live our life. We are the one that asked for it.

Many people realized this there are some questions that can’t be answered. Or there are more than a way to answer a question? Here where Dadaism come in and people that were bored with punk turn to no-wave or other avant-garde or alternative genre that even I don’t understand. They want to be alone, they want to be free. They don’t want to be tangled in any things that will poke the normal folks imagination or be label as the next in thing.

Neeli Cherkovski, a writer from the Beat generation said,

“In every artist I know there’s a yearning for anarchy. You are rushing toward anarchy because you want to be left alone; you want to be able to write and say what ever you want. At the same time, you are yearning for a sense of order.”

There are in many sense, a person can be free. A man live all his live on a wheel chair can feel free as a bird when he go to the park with his friends in weekends. A blind man feels free when he talks to someone.

Will we be free from the labeling and all the name-calling? I doubt because it is just human nature. But if you look inside yourself, you will realize that freedom is in ourselves and our mindset is sometime the real threat.


kakiwayangkakilima said...

very well put. but who wrote it eh? anyway, as someone who writes music reviews on a regular basis, making up boxes, convenient genre boxes, to put the "music" in when describing it to the people at large is crucial these days where people just wouldn't be interested in reading reviews that goes more than two short paragraphs. so there!

syed syahrul zarizi b syed abdullah said...

interesting thoughts, thanks alot!

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