Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Moby's Music for Our New Flat Earth

by Gregg Chadwick

Thomas L. Friedman's new book, "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century'', argues that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the first in a series of important events that have ushered in the 21st Century. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing dissolution of the Soviet hold on Eastern Europe allowed us to see the world, maybe for the first time, as one whole fabric.

April 1, 2005
photo by Gregg Chadwick

"It was a result of events and forces that all came together during the 1990's and converged right around the year 2000 ...The first event was 11/9. That's right -- not 9/11, but 11/9. Nov. 9, 1989, is the day the Berlin Wall came down, which was critically important because it allowed us to think of the world as a single space.’ The Berlin Wall was not only a symbol of keeping people inside Germany; it was a way of preventing a kind of global view of our future,' the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen said. And the wall went down just as the windows went up -- the breakthrough Microsoft Windows 3.0 operating system, which helped to flatten the playing field even more by creating a global computer interface, shipped six months after the wall fell. 
The second key date was 8/9. Aug. 9, 1995, is the day Netscape went public, which did two important things. First, it brought the Internet alive by giving us the browser to display images and data stored on Web sites. Second, the Netscape stock offering triggered the dot-com boom, which triggered the dot-com bubble, which triggered the massive overinvestment of billions of dollars in fiber-optic telecommunications cable. That overinvestment, by companies like Global Crossing, resulted in the willy-nilly creation of a global undersea-underground fiber network, which in turn drove down the cost of transmitting voices, data and images to practically zero, which in turn accidentally made Boston, Bangalore and Beijing next-door neighbors overnight. In sum, what the Netscape revolution did was bring people-to-people connectivity to a whole new level. Suddenly more people could connect with more other people from more different places in more different ways than ever before."
-Thomas L. Friedman, "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century''

It is the last sentence that I think will prove to be the most prescient for artists around the globe. More people are connecting with more people from more different places in more different artistic ways than ever before. In the past, new art was engendered as differing artistic cultures slid along each other like massive geological plates. In our age, music and art can be created in real time over a vast "flat" landscape. Global distinctions are breaking down. Artists are using the machines of business and industry to stay ahead of some sort of global homogenization. Instead artists like Moby are connecting and creating with a vast and potentially powerful community.

I thought of the collapse of the wall again when I read Kelefa Sanneh's failed attempt in the New York Times to use Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History" as a bludgeon to beat Moby's new album "Hotel" into the ground.

Moby's music is built using techniques that are global. Musicians can gather in their respective studios and plug in across the globe to create one new piece of music. The opportunities are open and endless and just being touched on.

Kelefa bemoans this influx of technology into the art world :"Mr. Fukuyama, in his famous obituary, might have written (but didn't quite, of course) that "boredom at the end of music will serve to get music started once again." That's an appealing idea, but it's also appealing to know, listening to "Hotel," that it won't be necessary. The end of music seems to have ended itself."

Of course this is a willful misreading of both Fukuyama and Moby. "The End of History" is not an obituary but instead a birth announcement - a philosophical examination of political good news:

"Liberal democracy remains the only coherent political aspiration that spans different regions and cultures around the globe. In addition, liberal principles in economics – the “free market” – have spread, and have succeeded in producing unprecedented levels of material prosperity, both in industrially developed countries and in countries that had been, at the close of World War II, part of the impoverished Third World. A liberal revolution in economic thinking has sometimes preceded, sometimes followed, the move toward political freedom around the globe."
-Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History"

Moby in a recent interview with Jaan Uhelszki in SOMA magazine describes walking down a hotel corridor past rows of closed and forbidding doorways but with the understanding that behind these doors people "are doing the most intimate things...bathing, sleeping, crying, having sex, laughing, starting relationships and ending relationships."

Friedman in "The World is Flat" describes the fall of the Berlin Wall as opening the closed doors of Eastern Europe and goes on to show how the world's new digital railway has opened the doors of India and China. Moby's global concerns and global audience indicate that he is in the forefront of a new worldwide artistic community. The beauty that Moby strives for and finds in his music speaks to the denizens of our new flat earth.

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