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Towards a Postdigital Sensibility: How to get Moved by too Much Music

by Rasmus Fleischer (2015). Culture Unbound 7:255-269.


The article explores the affective consequences of the new mode of instant access to enormous levels of musical recordings in digital format. It is suggested that this “musical superabundance” might weaken the individual’s ability to be affected by music in everyday life, while at the same time leading to a renewed interest in collective experience, in ways which are not limited to established notions of musical “liveness”. According to a theory of affect influenced by Spinoza, what is at stake is the capacity of the body to be affected by music. The article proposes that a renegotiated relationship between collective and individual modes of experiencing music can be conceptualized with help of Spinoza’s distinction between two kinds of affections: actions and passions. After scrutinizing the interface of hardware like Apple’s Ipod and online services like Spotify, the article proceeds by discussing three musical practices which can all be understood as responses to the superabundance of musical recordings: (1) the ascetic practice of “No Music Day”; (2) the revival of cassette culture; (3) the “bass materialism” associated with the music known as dubstep. While none of these approaches provide any solution to the problem of abundance, they can still be understood as attempts to cultivate a “postdigital sensibility”. The article tries to conceptualize the postdigital in a way that transcends the narrower notion of “post-digital aesthetics” that has recently been gaining popularity. Finally, it is argued that such a sensibility has a political significance in its potential to subvert the contemporary processes of commodification.

Abundance; affect; digitization; interface; liveness; media; materiality; music.