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OPINION: IDM: The Jazz Of Our Generation?

November 10, 2008 by  

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OPINION: IDM: The Jazz Of Our Generation?

OPINION: IDM: The Jazz Of Our Generation?

Jazz used to be cool. Not just a word to drop in conversations to boost your intellectual rating. No, people actually used to listen to it. Like, all the time. Having delved a bit into the jazz scene recently (and I mean a bit), I realized jazz can be split into two main categories: melodic and masturbatory.

What defines melodic jazz is that it still gives a slight nod of the head to musical theory, time signatures, all the foundations music is built upon. Masturbatory does whatever it wants, whenever it wants.

The thought struck me when I was watching a saxophonist and a pianist jamming together. I say jamming, they were playing at the same time. Maybe I was too much of a philistine to appreciate the combination of the notes themselves, but I soon realized there was definitely a bond between the two musicians. One would climb an atonal scale and the other one would do something vaguely similar shortly after.

Then it struck me. This sounds like an IDM drum beat. But with notes.

IDM stands for Intelligent Dance Music, a term coined in 1993 by Allan Parry for his IDM mailing list. The meaning has warped and altered since though. You might think dubbing a subgenre ‘intelligent’ sounds elitist. Well… Yes it does.

Nowadays, IDM implies messy/complicated drum beats. 4/4 time signatures peppered with pitch changing snares, triplets, syncopation and above all, no repetition. Such emphasis on the percussion shakes the melody from the ground up. The lack of repetition the two jazz players were indulging in drew tonnes of parallels with the above traits.

If you’ve read much of the Beats (Kerouac & co.), you’d know they praised jazz as a wonderful form of music that kept your attention solely on the present moment. IDM achieves this to some extent, as the drums are so unpredictable that every next beat is a surprise.

The Beats also praised jazz because it was improvised. IDM is not, cannot be, improvised because it is made with software, each beat is programmed in. While IDM drums might not be improvised, they still keep a large part of attention in the present (if you’re actually listening to it). However, because drums are toneless, IDM beats don’t carry the atonal quality that puts so many people off hard jazz.

So, is IDM the new jazz? Well, it’s about as elitist and you sound intellectual when you say you like it (once again, the clue’s in the name!). The only difference (apart from the improvisation factor, which no one really cares about nowadays because no one plays the trumpet enough to empathise) is the actual melodies that go with IDM.

They can be very cool, thought-provoking, catchy. Fortunately, they don’t dare rival the drums in sheer unpredictability, and sometimes the crazy beats can even amplify the quality of the other instruments and their melodies.

Because the drums lack melodic value, and they serve to beef up the actual melodies, IDM, while slightly elitist, is still a hell of a lot more enjoyable than hard jazz.

– Adam Stone






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