Head Dress: Rose

by Bret Schneider

 

 

By common standards there is nothing special about Head Dress’ music. Nothing distinctive, nothing innovative, nothing expressive. It lacks maverick production, it lacks wild imagination, it lacks just about everything one is expected to look for in new music. His latest, Rose, is an exceptionally lackluster album. And it is exactly this ambivalence in style that is its allure. Head Dress’ music is radically neutral, and clarifies an important but overlooked sensibility of electronic music—a strain that is not just alienated in its symbolically machinic sound palette, but is alienated in its very approach to what it means to be a producer today. It shares a sensibility with Beckett’s stage directions for actors to speak monotonously without affect, as well as with the radical origins of minimalism’s reaction to avant-garde expressivity having become an affectation before minimalism itself became an affectation. If it were fashion, it would be normcore, and if it were comedy, it would be Norm MacDonald. The neutrality and affectless qualities of the music are a challenge to the truly average and normal bombastic claim that all new music contains something innovative or transcendent; it is exactly those qualities that are, however, truly forgettable. The selling points that cultural promoters continually peddle to listeners are undermined by an equally normalized but repressed habit of listening itself: that analytic listening constantly neutralizes both the bombast and the crippled values of romanticism. Head Dress' music lacks everything that is undesirable in so-called new music.

The music of Rose, like Head Dress’ other works, is difficult to articulate for this reason. It does not present a disjointed frenzy of rhythm, nor is it a series of works that focus on mere tonality, and it is certainly not a compromised combination of the two. It has minimalist sensibilities in its repetitive aspects, but does away with melodic development or complexity; the tonality implemented is detuned, but not in a kitschy, oddball way; the musings are miniatures, but are not sentimental or precious; the dynamics are flat without being pedantically grey. Rose can be listened to in the background as ambient music, but also up close and analytically, kind of like abstract paintings that, from a distance, appear perfectly executed and clean, but upon closer inspection contain cigarette butts and other detritus. What Rose conjures is a tonality that is vaguely rhythmic and is sequenced in the ways almost all modular synth music is, with modulated swells and ebbs. It seems to aim for the cold ambiguity that is one of the hallmarks of good, alienated electronic music. "Seven Sisters" is the most thorough of Rose’s little musings, an exploration of kosmiche patterning in the experimental vein of Conrad Schnitzler, eschewing melody and sentiment; yet, it is not intentionally industrial in the standard sense of the term or style. It is more introspective than the sort of commentaries on society that industrial music has become known for, and thus positions the problems of industrialized culture as a subjective condition. Rose makes genericness into a virtue, and it does so by threading the ever-dwindling needle, so to speak, of what is passable. It proceeds negatively, placing no positive value on music in a society that places the highest possible value on culture, yet cannot take culture seriously. The goal here seems to be to actively make no positive contribution to culture: to make something that isn’t something, and at the same time is not nothing. Rose sets the bar as low as possible, which actually draws acute attention to its important distinction from nothing. Head Dress thus clarifies an early 90s moment when alienated electronic artists with pseudonyms, bald heads, and a disgust towards performance prioritized ambivalence as a protest against the fake romanticism of rock music.  At this historical moment when electronic music itself has become affectation, it is a most welcome subtraction to culture.