Techno legend Jeff Mills has a beautiful quote making the rounds on social media, responding to the question of audience. He’s still making music for them, he says – but doesn’t want to get pulled into simply giving them what he knows will work. Watch from about 8:30 for the video above, in its original context (a 2010 tugobot piece).
It resonates for me with the Milton Babbitt’s “Who Cares if You Listen?” (That’s a title Babbitt claimed he never used; this is a tale so familiar to contemporary music that it has its own Wikipedia entry, for those of you catching up at home.)
But what I love about Mills’ sentiment is not that it’s somehow anti-audience. It’s that it’s a challenge made by the artist to himself. It’s not that he loathes audiences, but that he wants to “think in the other direction … in order to be able to move further …” It’s about going somewhere, “to become more creative.”
“It’s for them … but I don’t want to know what they think; I don’t want to know what they like … I only want to be able to go as far as I can with this music before I stop.”
Of course, this appears to have a specific meaning to him. Ignore audiences at your own peril. This is a musician building on experience, on an intuitive ability to connect. This disconnection is a particular form of liberation replaced with a directed creative impulse. But it does give us room for reflection.
Apart from crowds throwing their hands up, we’re in a world of endless statistics (hello, Facebook Insights on Facebook Pages), of year-end round-ups and reader polls. But more than that, each of us is vulnerable to our own desire to please. And there’s not even anything wrong with that, until it stops us from moving.
So what I love about this quote is that Jeff Mills keeps returning to movement.
You can click Like on it, anyway.
And by the way, if you want to know Babbitt’s solution to avoiding popularism and entering the realm of experimentation? It was “voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media.”
Maybe that’s the best thing about this clash of ideas. Electronic music has become the most public and populist, back in the realm of the party. Then again, if you’re brave, maybe you can experiment in front of a crowd. Just ask Jeff Mills.
Jeff Mills talks about the Sleeper Wakes, influences, inspirations and the circle.
Performance at sala Razzmatazz in 18/03/2010; interview at Fabra i Coats arts center in 19/03/2010. Barcelona, Spain.
This is part of a series of interviews for the tugobot project.
+ info: http://www.tugobot.com
interview: Juliana Mori
images: Luis Ushirobira
audio: Rodrigo Carvalho
editing: Juliana Mori
Fabra i Coats