the Little Red Reviewer

Like anthologies? Techno music might be for you.

Posted on: March 12, 2016

I was an art minor in college. It took 32 credits for me to learn that while I am rather creative, I am not artistic. One of my art professors had us do a project where we created a self portrait shadow box using found items. Of what little I owned at the time, I sure wasn’t going to sacrifice any of it for some art project. And the things that I felt represented me either weren’t things, or weren’t easily available. On the day of the critique, I remember most of the shadow boxes included parts of the single serve cereal boxes you could get in the dorm cafeteria. Somehow Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks was supposed to represent all the anxiety a college freshman away from home from the first time experiences?


I do wonder though, if the art professors had a bet going to see how many students used stuff pilfered from the dorm cafeterias in these “found objects” projects.


I’ve been listening to a lot of techno music lately. It falls under different names – techno, EDM, dance remix, electronica. Yes, I know all those words technically mean something different, but in Venn Diagram land they all overlap somewhat. It’s the kind of music where someone has taken lots of bits and pieces of other songs and layered them on top of each other, and on top of a dance beat. it’s really fun to dance to. the beats per minute is usually pretty high, so it’s great music to run or work out to. If you have Sirius Radio in your car, I listen to channels 51 and 52 a lot. Hardwell, #ASOT, Tiesto’s Club, stuff like that.   Last week on channel 52, I heard a dance remix of the main theme from the movie Interstellar. Someone had taken Hans Zimmer’s music and put a dance beat behind it, and mixed it around a few other ways. It was so beautiful i nearly started crying. I only have access to this radio station while in the car, so I was nearly crying while driving too fast down the interstate.


If i knew now what I knew back when I was taking that annoying art class, I’d have turned in a dance remix instead of a shadow box. And probably received an F, because it was an art class, not a music appreciation class.


More on this at a different time, but i’m one of those weird people for whom sound often has a corresponding color.  When I listen to a song on the radio, the singer’s voice may have a certain color (not all singing voices have a color, but the ones that do have a consistent color). So the whole radio song is usually the same color. Still with me? But the techno music, because the melody changes all the time, it’s like the DJ (or mixer, or composer?) is layering all sorts of different colors, painting with different sounds. In the course of 5 minutes, I get to hear lots of different colors! wheee! It’s the sound of a colorful painting, but not in an overwhelming fashion. More like it’s a few colors at a time, and those colors slowly morph to other colors. Sort of.


Whoever has put the song together has chosen their bits and pieces of music and put them together in a very particular way, with one sample shifting into the next, which shifts into the next, and so on.  Like an orchestral overture, a particular melody might make multiple appearances.   Maybe the composer switches up tempo, or pitch, with a faster beat being following by a slower beat, and then a faster beat, or a short melody followed by a long melody, followed by another short one.  And the entire thing together? It is a shadow box of the whole song – a bunch of found objects that when put together represents whatever the composer/artist wanted to represent.  If you’ve ever been in the terminal tunnel at Detroit Metro Airport, a lot of the techno music I like sounds a lot like the shifting colors in that tunnel.


I’m not sure what to call the folks who make this kind of music. DJs? mixers? artist? composer? How about “editor”?  They are pulling together things that will work together, choosing an order of what should come after what, deciding how the end user should experience their creation.  It’s like they are editing an anthology of sound.  An anthology you can listen to in 8 minutes.
there you have it: how techno music is like fiction anthologies.  And if you read your anthologies cover to cover in the order shown in the TOC, techno music might be for you.

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22 Responses to "Like anthologies? Techno music might be for you."

You are on the right track. EDM and electronica (or techno) is similar except they are still different. I have taken into account that EDM is more dance-oriented and thus more like Pop but still set apart from it. By Pop I do not mean Popular music but a style of music.

While Electronica is more like a mixture of dance-oriented and concentrated listening. Sometimes due to all the samples within a song this can be quite complex.

And I don’t know I would be hesitant to call them composers since they technically did not create the music/lyrics originally, so they are actually mixers or music samplers.

“orchestral overture” that sounds about right when it comes to music. And fascinating when you listen to music you can picture colors. I myself can picture sceneries. Though this only vividly happens in alarmingly wonderful music like TK from Ling Tosite Sigure, Ling Tosite Sigure, Coldplay, or artists like Fleurie.


thanks for clarifying EDM vs electronica, because they are different, but I wasn’t able to articulate how. And yes, “pop” is more a style than anything else. I listen to a bit of pop, but mostly alternate rock and traditional rock music. I like a lot of 70s rock.

I get sceneries sometimes when dozing off to orchestral music, classical stuff, early 20th century orchestral music. I like rock, pop, and techno because it isn’t as overwhelming as the orchestral music. Sometimes I do want to be overwhelmed by the musical experience! just not while driving. 😉

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Ha, Ha. Yeah. I can see how being overwhelmed could be bad while driving. And huh, I did not know I might be into music that tends to overwhelm. Thanks for that insight. Great post!


just cuz i get overwhelmed by something doesn’t mean other people will. i’m kinda weird!

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Ah, the dangers of differing cultural expectations!
I was reading through that a little puzzled, thinking “but why techno music specifically? surely all music is an anthology of contrasting melodies, rhythms, harmonies and timbres?”
It was only as I was getting to the end that it dawned on me – in the sense that I just hadn’t thought about it that way until then – that you were probably comparing it to a different oeuvre of music than I was. And that most other pop music largely IS short and without much internal variation. From that perspective…

I don’t know much about ‘techno’ and related electronicas myself, but my impression would have been the opposite. I think of these things as the less-confrontational, pop music application of Minimalism: deriving surface variety from underlyingly simple and repetitive elements. As I understand it, like Minimalism it tends to emphasis rhythmic elements, and it borrows the Minimalist techniques of sampling and looping, and sometimes of phasing.

Do you have similar reactions to/opinions of Minimalism that you do of/to techno?
For instance, an orchestral piece by Reich:


lol, yes, I should have given more background. I grew up listening to rock music, and still listen to a lot of rock, alternative rock, emo, and pop music.

I like that you brought up minimalism, there is a lot of minimalism in a lot of the emo and pop I listen to – it’s how much can you get out of limited options of beats and chords? So much rock music follows the same exact chord progressions, so it’s amazing to me how much variety the musicians can get out of that. It’s neat to see minimalism cross over into techno and other music too.


I listened to the Reich peice, it sounded like a forest or a jungle waking up. It sounded like the joy of nature without human intervention (those are both compliments, by the way). Thank you for linking to this, I’ve never heard anything like this!

I liked the interaction between the faster pace of the higher pitched sounds and the slower longer tones of the lower pitched sounds. Ultimately though, the piece was too repetitive for me. I guess i need a melody that goes somewhere? So much exposure to chord progressions, that now I crave something like that.


Yeah, Reich’s most famous works are pretty uncompromising – that’s actually one of the less repetitive pieces. The idea behind this sort of minimalism is that it takes a long time to get into, but then becomes magnetic. It arose during the fifties and sixties often with quite a countercultural association, and a lot of people have said that it works best if you’re on some sort of drugs.

Glass tends to have a bit more melody than Reich, and Adams tends to have more melody than Glass. You may also be interested in a movement called ‘Holy Minimalism’, which takes minimalist ideas but makes more use of traditional melody and harmony, often with a mediaeval flavour and religious motivation. People like Arvo Part, Gorecki, and Taverner. But this is getting a bit far from techno, since holy minimalism doesn’t use sampling, and tends to be quiet and reflective.
Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”:
Or for something more overwhelming, the third movement of Adams’ “Grand Pianola Music”:
(Adams apparently wrote this as a joke/parody, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it…)


yay, more things for me to listen to! 😀

The Arvo Part was just ok. I’m really liking Adams’ Grand Pianola Music. it’s playful but has a lot of musical depth, I like the interaction between the piano and the strings, there’s also some choir thing happening that gives it this gorgeous unearthly feeling. the 6 minute mark is like flying through clouds, speed ever increasing. I can see how something like this could be presented as a parody, it laughs a bit at postmodern music.

are you familar with the rock band Muse? (not even sure i should be calling them rock. standard 4/4 beat, lots of guitars, so i guess, rock?) I often feel like they are making jokes about modern rock music because of they include so many non-rock elements in their music – orchestral harmonies, heavy and complex arpeggios, yet still within the framework of repetitive pop rock music.


I’m aware of the concept of Muse. Now they ARE deeply in debt to Glass, to the extent that some of their songs seem to just be Glass compositions with lyrics added… if you saw the trailers for the film adaptation of Watchmen a few years back, you may have noticed that the trailer actually sewed together a Glass piece and a Muse song, presumably on the principle that people wouldn’t notice the difference (which they largely didn’t – you can spot the join if you’re listening for it, but if you don’t know they’re separate pieces it sounds pretty much all like bits of one thing).

On the topic of Glass and techno, incidentally, apparently, a few years ago Glass got a pop musician called Beck to curate a new release of pop music remixes of Glass; apparently this covers such genres as “techno”, “ambient”, “chillwave” and “dancefloor.” I wouldn’t know, as not only have I not heard it, I don’t even know what those words mean. And apparently the album is also available as an interactive app, whatever that means…


Can I just jump in? Minimalism is the best. Steve Reich is one of the more influential composers of the 20th century – Music for 18 Musicians is a good starter, but my favorite may be Eight Lines. I have a ton of his stuff. One of his, “Electric Counterpoint,” was remixed by Orb as “Little Fluffy Clouds.”
John Adams is is more like maximilized minimalism – his most famous is Short Ride in a Fast Machine, but does everything from opera (Nixon in China) to orchestra (The Dharma at Big Sur) and a bunch of stuff in between. Parenthetically, I will see him conduct the Seattle Symphony this week. Very exciting.
I don’t like Glass as much, but Terry Riley is another similar composer. Start with In C.

Ok, squeeing finished. I’m not much into EDM per se, but listen to and write a lot of deep house. That’s kind of the jazzier, more soulful end of electronica.


I saw “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” on youtube, but didn’t have a chance to listen to it. Looks like I know what I’m listening to this weekend!

I need to just buy a lot of these tracks so I can put them on my mp3 player and listen to them in the car. (yes, I know I can just youtube it from my phone in the car, but I have no idea how to do that)


Just quietly I think if you had presented a sound and colour box in an attempt to describe your experience of synaesthesia, I think you would have aced it.


I wish i had. I wish at 19 I’d had the ability to express myself.


Sometimes I think we keep exploring those areas that bothered us until we master what we want. You wanted to be more expressive and just needed to find the right medium. You have obviously found several, since one is writing. If we had all the answers at 19, the rest of our lives might be pretty boring. Great post! Thanks for sharing 🙂


I found your post fascinating. I also get non-audio sensations from music. For me it’s more like types of colours, or colour schemes. For example, The Unutterable by The Fall and Heaven Or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins both evoke in me a sense of winter, of primary colours, I suspect because of the clear and strong variations and contrasts in the notes and sounds. I thought this was just me. I also find what you say about remixing ouevres interesting because I use programming to generate texts for editing into new narratives. There is a definite feel to voices emerging in the editing process. When things don’t work, the phrases jar; when they do, characters sound unified, and they play off each other conversationally. I can’t speak for DJs or remixers, but I imagine their task being similarly about pulling colours together that go together. I wonder if they have a sort of audio imagination cum taxonomy? I wonder how they know which bits and pieces will shift well into the next bits and pieces?


Things being unified and playing off each other conversationally, I know exactly what you mean! and getting a sense of a particular time or season, and/or particular colors and color schemes, yes, yes, i know that dance!

It’s so cool that you get primary colors. I tend to get opposite colors – something will be blue/orange, recently I was thrilled to find an audiobook narrator who sounded scarlet/emerald because red/green is rare for me.

we need to start hanging out with some DJs/mixers, and see what their language is. 😀


Back in art school in the late Sixties I had a similar assignment, and shopped the hardware, army surplus and an home decorating place. I made a string sphere (you know, string on a balloon, then remove balloon) placed inside a reflective box with the items suspended inside the sphere: a key, a shoelace, a rabbit’s foot (they were sold as good luck charms then), a sliver of soap, a flashlight bulb, and a couple of other things. The sphere could be wound with a handle on top of the box and then would slowly spin until unwound, then spin back the other way, until after a minute or two it would stop. Got an “A”.

Music: I’ll take Mozart, Mahler and the like, thanks.


damn, i wish i’d thought of a string sphere.

do you like any Stravinsky or Wagner?


Some Stravinsky, particularly Rite of Spring, yes. Wagner just the overtures. I’m not an opera fan.


I don’t see colours when I listen to music but most of the music I like and listen to over and over again have strong memories attached. Useless fact right there! But very helpful if you’re in a quiz and a ‘guess the year’ comes up with a whole bunch of items and songs!
Lynn 😀


[…] people describe anthologies as a journey.  I’ve been known to compare them to techno music. But  today, I’d like you to think about anthologies as restaurants – the stories are […]


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