Getting the Hands Dirty Leonardo Music Journal, 18, 2008

This paper sets-out to discuss an emerging practice in electronic music where the term ‘dirty’ has some coinage. The term dirty electronics is more than just a distinction of an aesthetic that is opposed to the ‘clean’. It is a metaphor for describing a trend in electronic music. It encompasses a notion of the post-digital, the self-made and DIY in contrast to the mass produced, and the re-invigoration of the role of the human body in the process of electronic music. Dirty electronics is also a relative concept. The earlier DIY instruments of David Tudor, for example, cannot in this context be considered ‘dirty’. Dirty electronics has to be a reaction to the vestiges of the digital world: the virtual, wireless, pseudo-modernist design, utilitarian and seemingly endless possibilities. The miniaturisation and mass production of computers, making them portable and affordable, has helped reposition electronic music as a practice that exists outside of the recording studio. This in turn has made musicians and composers re-question the social and performance aspects of electronic music. The process by which electronic music is made has been broadened. The very hi-tech nano-technology associated with the digital has enabled ‘machines’ to be lightweight and carried. Carrying those machines is the human. The body is moving again. Therefore, the idea of dirty electronics is very much an extension of and closely allied to the practice of live electronics, where shared experiences face-to-face, ritual, gesture, touch, social interaction and the exploration of human interface are paramount.

Since 2005, the author has been exploring the idea of Dirty Electronics through performance, writings and workshops. At NIME 06 Richards used the term dirty electronics is his performance Solo Performance for Indeterminate ‘Dirty Electronics’. Also the idea of dirty electronics is briefly touched upon in his article “32kg: performance systems for a post-digital age”, where the term is used to question the binary and corporate digital world. Richards has also run the Dirty Electronic Workshop which has taken place at Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung, Karlsruhe, Germany, The Bent Festival, Los Angeles, De Montfort University, Leicester; and forthcoming at Göteborg University, Sweden and various locations in Greece. The workshop takes a practical approach to the idea of dirty electronics and the construction of an instrument that epitomises this approach, the Pseudophone. Getting the Hands Dirty brings together Richards’ work in the area of Dirty Electronics and confronts head-on issues of performance in the ‘Age of Digital Reproduction’.