Aaron Harburg

Dub-step, chaos, and the limits of modernism.

Modernism is a tricky thing to define. I’m still working out a specific definition. Since it affects virtually every area of life it has various definitions for those areas. One thing that seems consistent is the idea that nature can be thoroughly understood and thus manipulated (for an excellent exploration of how when many people say Science!™ they mean engineering see the TOF spot). If you follow the trail of thought it goes like this: everything in nature can be explained, once we understand it we can manipulate it and then create a “perfect” society. This was and still is literally the thinking of not an insignificant number of people. There are many problems behind this thinking. The first and most obvious is that there are things we are encounter that we literally cannot fully understand. I’m not talking about miracles or other “phenomena”. I’m talking about basic stuff in nature. Limits to science. Like quantum mechanics and protein production in cells. Nevermind human behavior. 

The funny thing about all of this is that this sort of chaos has been present all along in mathematics. Ever heard of π or how about Φ. It seems to me that built into the very fabric of reality are things that we are incapable of getting insight into. Not simply because there are too many factors to contain in our minds at once, but that there may in fact be an infinite number. And as finite beings the best we can do is approximate with variables. So what may appear to us as chaos, on a level deeper than we can perceive, has an incredible order. Which is why value substitution can work. We can still calculate the area of a circle without fully understanding pi. 

What does this have to do with Dubstep? Dubstep is a relatively new genre of electronic music that uses extensive amounts of noise. I find it has a sort of scary feel to it. I must admit for whatever reason, despite my continued disdain for hard-core rock (occasionally referred to as “screamo”), I love this stuff. I think what is appealing about dubstep is the contrast between the noise, the steady slower beat and the often beautiful melodies mixed into it. 

I believe that pop art (of which music is central) reflects what is going in the broader culture. It is one of many displays of the zeitgeist. My suspicion is that our culture is coming to grips with chaos. It is trying to find beauty in the chaos. The interesting thing about the chaos in dubstep is that is all synthetic. The computer has been an integral element. Has all of the digital advancements in our lives provided greater order or has it created greater chaos? A central idea behind chaos theory is that seemingly insignificant elements end up taking substantial importance in the broader evolution as the system develops.