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PRESET AUTHENTICITY

 

Dietmar Elflein

Independent Researcher and Producer

Berlin

 

1.    INTRODUCTION


In the following paper I will for certain reasons compare recent German or Berlin hip hop with the untranslatable “volkstümlicher Schlager,” which I would like to call folksy pop2 - two at first sight quite different genres of popular music. I will concentrate on how both genres deal with concepts of authenticity and try to explain some reasons for the importance of the use of what I would like to call “presets sounds” for artists in both genres. What I’m talking about here today is not so much a presentation of results, but rather the beginning of a process of work. My narration is basically based on the consumption of buyable and downloadable media, that means listening to records and tracks, viewing videos, DVDs and films and reading magazines, books and discussions in internet forums. My main thesis is that artists of both genres use those “preset sounds” to validate constructions of authenticity, which they need in order to be accepted as artists of integrity by their audience.

2.     SOME REMARKS ON THE TITLE OF THIS PAPER


First: I use “preset” as a metaphor for a family of electronically made or synthesized sounds, that match or meet at least one of the following criteria:
1.    bad imitational sounds. These are sounds that expose their imitational character of natural sounds
2.    obvious synthetic sounds with a dull character. These are sounds that you can identify immediately as cheap synthesizer presets, like the ones you have heard a thousand times before when you turned on the radio or listened to a commercial on TV, or the default sounds you get when you turn on a synthesizer or better yet a portable keyboard in a music store.
 
Secondly: I think of “authenticity” always as an artificial construction that is ascribed to somebody for particular reasons and because of particular acts. It can be an offering an artist makes to an audience, expectations an audience has of an artist or an event, or both. I will to some extent use Allan Moore’s tripartite typology of authenticity, developed in his article “Authenticity as Authentication,” (Moore 2002) because I find it useful to explain some phenomena.

Moore speaks of
1.    “authenticity of expression…arises when an originator (composer, performer) succeeds in conveying the impression that his/her utterance is one of integrity, that it represents an attempt to communicate in an unmediated form with an audience.“ (Moore 2002, p.214)
2.    “authenticity of execution…this arises when the performer succeeds in conveying the impression of accurately representing the ideas of another, embedded within a tradition of performance.” (Moore 2002, p.218)
3.    “authenticity of experience, which occurs when a performance succeeds in conveying the impression to a listener that the listener’s experience of life is being validated, that the music is ‘telling it like it is’ for them.” (Moore 2002, p.220)
The purpose of authenticity is always to represent someone as real, true or sincere. If we look at the history of the term “authenticity” we see that, according to Charles Taylor in his book „The Malaise Of Modernity“ (Taylor 1991), the concept of authenticity developed in Europe during the late 18th century. It meant that humans have an intuitive sense of right or wrong – independent of the Christian God. From this concept developed the romantic idea of a human being as a unique individual. If I am not true to myself, not authentic, I miss the sense of life, I miss what I could be as a human being. So I am the creator of myself, I am the artist of myself. The artist became the paradigmatic human being, he or she is the model of what we want and need to be. So, according to Taylor, to be authentic means to be human and that means to resemble an artist. I don’t follow Taylor in the universalist approach of his argumentation, but I think he shows some reasons why it is still considered to be so important to construct yourself as “authentic” in Europe.

3.     TWO MUSICAL GENRES


German hip hop and folksy pop share their date of birth in the 1980s as national genres of popular music. Hip hop emerged in both German states (FRG and GDR) in consequence of the showing of US hip hop films like “Wild Style” and “Beat Street”.3 The latter was also released in the GDR because Harry Belafonte produced the movie. This caused a break-dance hype with TV presence in the FRG.  Shortly thereafter, hip hop became a youth movement concentrated around youth centres in various towns and cities with nationwide meetings - the so-called “jams.”4

The artists in both genres depend on being authentic to be accepted and successful. In the case of hip hop this is because of the importance of the concept of “keeping it real” or short “street”, whereas an authentication always has to be earned by succeeding in the competitive character that is the key feature of hip hops artistic disciplines. But you also have to make people believe that you know “real life” in terms of hustling, gambling, drug dealing and so on to be accepted by the audience as a part of hip hop.

3.1.    FOLKSY POP

Folksy pop seems to have been the invention of Hans R Beierlein, the West German media manager, music publisher and former manager of German pop-star Udo Jürgens. Beierlein developed a concept for a highly successful TV format and invented TV shows like “lustige Musikanten”  (“merry musicians”) and “Grand Prix der Volksmusik” (“grand prix of folk music”). On a musical level his invention was to mix an already existing genre of mostly alpine-based folklore with international or national pop to such an extent that only foggy notions of folk music remain to be heard in the final product. The mentioned TV shows were also successful in the former GDR in the areas of the country that could receive West German TV signals.

(Please turn to slide 2 of the slideshow to listen to a 90 second Megamix made by myself out of a 3CD Set released by Universal Germany this summer with the title “Magic Moments of Folkmusic.” Concomitantly you will see some pictures of the featured artists taken from their websites. If you don’t use the slideshow, listen to the first audioexample and look at the pictures in appendix 1.)

If one listens to recent folksy pop – for instance a 3CD set released by Universal Germany this summer with the title “Magic Moments of Folkmusic.”5 - one hears examples of a highly artifical genre of popmusic with only a faint relationship to folk music. There is a virtual “traditional” clothing style in the pictures, and in the music there are traces of polka, waltz and traditional singing styles. The accordion is used as an exclamation mark – “I am the traditional instrument.” To return to the pictures, it is obvious that you have to be in a good mood to be an artist, no other mood seems to be allowed. Therefore in the folksy pop genre everything is so obviously artificial that the performers have to strive to delete the letters “-sy” from the word “folksy” to become “real” artists. I would call this an effort to authenticate themselves as folk within a musical genre which needs to convey the impression to be an authentic representation of an idealised country life.

Folksy pop is basically presented on TV with a lot of prime time shows with live audiences on several TV channels.6 Except for – sometimes – the singing, these shows are all playback shows. In terms of authenticity the sense of this shows is to celebrate a virtual past that promotes the “good old times” of intact families and is located within a peaceful rural life. This notion is in a way embedded within the tradition of performance - Moore’s category of authenticity of execution. The concept of the representation of the idea of another in German folksy pop is the idea of rural family music, of folk music and the artists try to become a kind of on stage ambassadors of their desired surrounding. All the artificial styling of the musicians and TV shows can be seen as elements of such a representation mixed with an authenticity of experience – the song texts try to tell the audience how it is to be “affirmatively alienated.” To quote Georg Seeßlen, a German film and media critic, on the TV decoration of folksy pop shows,

„echt ist dabei nichts, es soll nicht einmal echt wirken. Es ist das Zeug, das wir uns gerade noch leisten können…”
(there is nothing real, there is nothing which is supposed to be real. It’s the crap, that we all can just afford.)(Seeßlen 1993, p.23)

The music and the shows tell the audience how it is and how it should be. Richard Middleton’s concept of the construction of authenticity is also useful here. He argues that this conceptualisation builds a refuge of meaning within the bourgeois romantic critique of industrial society. And yet, within this manoeuvre, there do hide real processes. But an authenticity of expression mentioned above is the key to the genre. The artists have to prove their integrity to their audience they have to construct themselves as folk artists in the described way of virtual family music etc., to be accepted.

Regarding sound, one could think that the commonly used imitational preset sounds imply a difficulty to gain the desired authenticity, because of their offensive artificial sound aesthetic. But as I tried to show, the whole genre depends on its artificiality.

The sounds mentioned were created for the first time as a part of an economic rationalisation in everyday studio work, that by and by made themselves independent from the pure economic motivation. Everyone recognizes the playback, everyone recognizes the imitational character, but it sounds like the portable keyboard that we can all afford for family music. It is a form of audience participation in the artistic process and it is another argument to show the audience that we – the artists – are like them, that this is not high art, we are as average as you are, this is the authentic part of mass culture. Or like Fornäs put it in his characterisation of meta-authenticity:

„A seemingly artificial text may also be an authentic expression of true life experiences in an artificial society.“ (Fornäs 1995, p.275)

Therefore the preset sounds are part of the constructed forms of authenticity. They validate the desired authenticity.


3.2.    GERMAN “GANGSTA” HIP HOP


Like I said before, hip hop artists need authenticity because of the importance of the concept of “realness” or “street.” You have to make people believe that you know real life in terms of hustling, gambling, drug dealing and so on to be accepted by the audience as a part of hip hop. If you don’t, you will be dissed e.g. as a bagpacker or a student, that is to say someone who is spending a lot of his life indoors. In Moore’s typology the authentication of German hip hop artists is therefore based on an authenticity of expression – the artists have to prove their integrity - mixed with an authenticity of experience – we’re all the same, we tell it like it is -  and finally, traces of authenticity of execution, in which german hip hop relates itself to genre archetypes like commonly known US-American hip hop styles and/or stars. They represent Tupac7, or they represent miami bass culture8, etc. But claiming authenticity in hip hop is something that has to be earned by succeeding in the competitive character that is the key feature of hip hop’s artistic disciplines. So if you think of folksy pop as an authentic representation of an idealised country life, hip hop is representing the authentic urban jungle - looked through the eyes of provincial audiences.

(Please turn to the next slide (Nr.9) of the slideshow to listen to a 90 second mix of recent German “gangsta” hip hop made by myself.  Concomitantly you will see some pictures of the featured artists taken from their websites. If you don’t use the slideshow, listen to the second audioexample and look at the pictures in appendix 2.)

In German “gangsta” hip hop9 we hear – like in folksy pop - besides the rapper basically synthesized sounds, almost no samples and no scratching. The DJ seems to disappear from hip hop productions. Instead we have the producer or beat programmer, whereby the so-called beat includes everything you hear besides the rapper. At the moment this kind of music is highly successful and almost all of its protagonists are from Berlin.10

To talk about the role of preset sounds in German gangsta hip hop, I first have to turn to the rappers and explain some observations I made. In recent German hip hop the importance of the rapper increases, the concept of “battling” is emphasized. Battling means to “diss” – which means to disrespect your competitors. Battling is the opposite of storytelling. It’s the rhyming skills that count in German hip hop, not the story that you tell. In order to transform these originally improvisational skills to recorded tracks – something that obviously can only be claimed – one possibility is to call a track “freestyle” or better yet “exclusive freestyle” or something relating to freestyle, like a number of bars for instance “40 bars,” the opening track of the recent King Kool Savas album and part of the hip hop mix you’ve just heard. Another possibility is to create a virtual jam session like the Hamburg based rapper Samy Deluxe did on his self-titled 2001 hit album11, where a track called “Session” featured 3 other rappers and ended with the 4 rappers saying that they don’t want to rap anymore, they have to get back to the streets and therefore the track has to stop.

A third possibility is to stress the fact of being very fast in the creative process, to state a form of writing that’s almost like freestyling. A lot of the rap texts and a lot of statements in interviews emphasize the importance of being very fast in the creative process. I would like to cite three statements, the first two out of interviews made for the DVD “Rapcity Berlin” (Scholz, Regel, v.Gumpert (ed.).2005), the third one out of a rap text by German hip hop veteran Toni-l, from his comeback track “der Zug rollt / the train is rolling”, which was also part of the hip hop mix you’ve heard before. The interview statements are from the already mentioned King Kool Savas, someone who tries to present himself as the godfather of the recent scene, and from some youngsters who call themselves “optik army,” whereby “optik” is the name of the record label owned by Kool Savas.

KoolSavas: „Sachen, die mich beeindruckt haben, waren natürlich Kurupt so, weißt du. Jemand, der komplett besoffen im Studio ist und sich komplett Kante gibt, aber in dem Moment, wo er schreiben muß, auch wirklich 15 Minuten dann fokussiert ist - das ist auch was ich immer versuche auch anderen Leuten auch klarzumachen. Die sehen mich - ich komm ins Studio -  und denken ich bin voll am durchdrehen, voll auf Chaotik oder so, aber ich bin dann auch in dem Moment, wo ich Musik mache, oder wo ich schreibe oder so, bin ich dann auch wirklich 30 Minuten höchstkonzentriert. Ich sammel den ganzen Tag, unbewußt natürlich, Sachen, weißt du, Gedanken, ich fahr rum, ich seh irgendwelchen Kram im Fernsehen und im Studio halt dann wird das halt rausgelassen, das ist Professionalität.“
(Things that impressed me have been rappers like kurupt, someone who is completly drunk in the studio and gets totaly pissed but in the moment, in which he has to write he is totally focused for 15 minutes. That is what I like to explain to other folks. They see me, I come into the studio and they think I go beserk - total chaos – but in the moment I make music , or write a text I am fully concentrated for 30 minutes. During the whole day I collect things, unconsciously of course, you know, thoughts, I drive around, I see something on TV and then in the studio everything flows out, that is professional.)
(Scholz, Regel, v.Gumpert (ed.).2005)

Optik Army: „Wir ham jetzt gerade wirklich exakt innerhalb von 10 oder 15 Minuten Texte geschrieben. Der Beat ist von Spontan, Amar ist da, Caput ist da, Spontan ist da, ich bin da, Ercan und wir machen jetzt einen dicken Track und das ist nichts.“


(We have written texts in really exactly just 10 to 15 minutes, the beat is by Spotan, Amar is here, Caput is here, spontan is here and I am here - Ercan – and now we record a fat track and this is nothing.)
(Scholz, Regel, v.Gumpert (ed.).2005)

Toni L.:  „Explosives, ihr kriegt es, DJ spielt es
    unsere tracks entstehen über nacht wie pieces
    unaufhaltsam unberechenbar wie ein Vulkan
    schießt jeder track als lava durch jede blutbahn.“
    (Explosives, you got them, the dj is playing them,
    our tracks emerge overnight like graffitti pieces,
    irresistible unpredictable like a volcano
    every track shoots through the bloodstream like lava)
    (Toni L, Der Zug rollt, 360° Records. 2005)

Therefore to be fast means to be authentic. You are working like you should work as an hip hop artist. All through the day you collect impressions of what you call real life and then in 15 Minutes it bursts out of your mind. It is not reflected, not intellectualized, it just is, it is your authentic expression, it conforms the selfcreation of the individual as an artist according to Charles Taylor. It is even better if you can rap very fast, because then, besides the technical skills, you’ll have to create more text in a quantitative way. And on the other hand only if you pretend to work that fast, will you have enough time to pretend to be present on the streets.

The musical equivalent to the freestyling rapper has been the DJ and his livemixing and scratching - a new track emerging out of pieces of existing tracks of music. Nowadays the DJ has been replaced by the so-called producer, the one who programs the beats and sounds. For a producer there is no equivalent technical skill like scratching to prove authenticity. He has to prove his authenticity in another way. Besides, many rappers start to program their own beats too. One possibility is to copy the attitude of the rappers – to work fast. In the following interview statement taken from the website www.mzee.com12 Berlin based rapper “Mr.Long” stresses the importance of working with a fast working producer:

MZEE.com: „Die komplette Platte wurde von DJ Reckless produziert... zufrieden mit seinen Bass Beats?“
Mr.Long: „Wenn nicht, wäre er auch nicht der Produzent des Albums. Er ist der beste Produzent der Welt in seinem Gebiet, unübertrieben. ...Ich verrate nicht in wie wenig Tagen wir das Album fertig gemacht haben.“
(MZEE.com: „the entire record has been produced by DJ Reckless ...are you satisfied with his bass beats?“
Mr.Long: „if not he wouldn’t have been the producer of the album. He is the world’s best producer in his genre, unexaggerated....I don’t reveal in as few days we completed the album.“)
(Mzee.com (editorial office). 2005)




Therefore if you try to copy the attitude of the rappers – to work fast - there will be no time to care about the sounds, you’ll have to take the first that come. On the other hand, if you use the kind of sounds that I call presets, you pretend to work fast and therefore to be authentic and that is why preset sounds validate the notion of authenticity in German hip hop.

Of course there are also other reasons for using that kind of synthesizer sounds. I would like to mention three of them.

1.    Nowadays you have to think about a proper sounding ringtone while you produce your beats. That is easier with synthesized sounds.
2.    Especially German “gangsta” hip hop relates to a certain subgenres of hip hop like electro and miami bass. In these subgenres synthesizer sounds are more common than in other subgenres
3.    Generally German hip hop relates to US-american genre archetypes, that is to certain US-american hip hop producers and their signature sounds, that also become more and more synthesized.

Out of these three other reasons to use preset sounds, there is only one – the ringtone argument – that does not deal with different contructions of authenticity. The other two arguments describe also possibilities of how sounds validate the authenticity of the producer.

4.    CONCLUSION


I tried to make some remarks of how preset sounds could validate the constructions of authenticity in folksy pop and German “gangsta” hip hop.

Sara Thornton argues that authenticity is inherent in a musical form at the point at which that form is essential to a particular subculture. She therefore sees authentication of discs for dancing as dependent on the development of new kinds of events and environments that recast recorded entertainment as something uniquely its own, rather than a poor substitute for a real musical event. I agree with her and I think that her argument describes also some of the phenomena I presented here. But I think it’s the performers and/or the listeners that authenticate themselves and each other in hip hop and folksy pop. Also I tried to show that authenticity is not directly opposed to artificiality since authenticity is, after all, necessarily a construction we place upon what we believe.

I see some similar developments in other musical genres like the Baile Funk of Rio de Janeiro, the so-called electro clash music and UK grime music. Unlike the examples I presented here, it seems to me that there is a punk-like notion of self-empowerment in using these kinds of sounds in addition to referring to a history of electronic popular music.

I would like to close with a final observation that I find interesting, because there is an opposite notion of dealing with sounds in the German ragga / dancehall reggae scene. In spite of the possibilities for the German protagonists to proceed in a similar manner to hip hop  – think of the image and sound aesthetic of the Jamaican ragga and dancehall scene – they focus on high-end sounding productions, real sounding instruments and conscious lyrics. Maybe the difference is the character of the desired authenticity. German ragga and dancehall protagonists prefer in my opinion an authenticity of execution, they represent ideas of a mythical, maybe also Rastafarian Jamaica, as a counterpoint to the authentication of the German gangsta rap scene with which they share great parts of their audience.

References

Fornäs, J. 1995. Cultural Theory and Late Modernity (London)
Middleton, R. 1990. Studying Popular Music (Buckingham)
Moore, A. 2002. Authenticity as Authentication. In: Popular Music 21/2 pp. 209-223 (Cambridge)
Mzee.com (editorial office). 2005. Mr.Long & Frauenarzt im Interview – “Porno Party 2”. http://mzee.com/newscenter/show.php?artikel=126759
Scholz, Regel, v.Gumpert (ed.).2005. Rap City Berlin (DVD) (Berlin)
Seeßlen, G. 1993. Volkstümlichkeit (Greiz)
Slobin, M. 1993. Subcultural Sounds (Hanover, London)
Taylor, C.  1991. The Malaise of Modernity (Concord)
Thornton, S. 1995. Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital (Cambridge)
Toop, D. 1991. 'Rap Attack 2 - African Rap to Global Hip Hop'. London
Toynbee, J. 2002. Mainstreaming, from hegemonic centre to gobal networks. In:
Hesmondhalgh/Negus (ed.), Popular Music Studies pp.149-164 (London)

Discography:

Bushido, “Nie ein Rapper”. Carlo Cokxxx Nutten 2. Universal 2005
Die Edlseer, “Ha-le-lu-jah”, Sternstunden der Volksmusik. Universal. 2005
Fler, “NDW 2005”. Neue Deutsche Welle. Aggro Berlin. 2005
Hansi Hinterseer, “Kitzbühel im Tirolerland. Sternstunden der Volksmusik. Universal. 2005
King Kool Savas, “40 Bars”. Die John Bello Story. Optik Rec. 2005
KIZ, “Hurensohn”. Das RapDeutschlandKettensägenMassaker. Royal Buncker. 2005
Toni L. “Der Zug rollt”. 360* Rec. 2005
Marianne und Michael, “Küss mich doch mal wieder” , Sternstunden der Volksmusik. Universal. 2005
Mühlenhof Musikanten, “Wir sind die Supermädchen von der Waterkant”. Sternstunden der Volksmusik. Universal. 2005
Samy Deluxe, „Session“.Samy Deluxe. EMI. 2001
Sido, “Mein Block”. Maske. Aggro Berlin. 2004
Ursprung Buam, “Der Geigenspieler aus dem Zillertal”. Sternstunden der Volksmusik. Universal. 2005

Appendix 1

Pictures of folksy pop artists:

Image                       

Marianne und Michael                

Image 

Die Edlseer

 Image                         
Hansi Hinterseer (on the left)            

Image 

Mühlenhof Musikanten

   Image  
Ursprung Buam                    

Image 

Stefan Mross (without alphorn)

Appendix 2

Pictures of German hip hop artists


Image  
Fler                        

Image 

Bushido

Image      
King Kool Savas                    

Image 

Sido (= super intelligent drug victim)

    Image

KIZ (= artists in jail)                

Image 

Toni L