Sometime in 2007 I came up with the term, “Organic Electronic Music” to describe music I was producing with bassist Nils Westdal in our project, Keston and Westdal. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only person to think of this combination of words, and in fact, a quick search reveals several artists, labels, and others using the phrase. Our use of the phrase was a reaction to our distaste for genre labeling. In hindsight it would have been sensible to define the meaning of the phrase there-and-then, instead of simply using it in a few descriptions for tracks and albums.
In any case I found myself thinking about this recently and decided that it wouldn’t hurt to define what I mean by the phrase and perhaps discover some new music that ACB readers feel fits into my definition. In my view any style of electronic music can be considered organic electronic music (OEM). Dub step, house, downtempo, experimental, or even minimal techno can be “organic” as long as the music meets one or more of a few simple criteria. Click the link to read my brief list of parameters.
1) OEM is often not strictly quantized to a rigid grid. Drum patterns usually swing or have hits that aren’t perfectly on the beat. A kit might have five or more separate snares each with a slightly different timbre and attack. Other layers like keyboards and bass are often left un-quantized or partially quantized.
2) The instrumentation is usually not made up entirely of looped phrases. Although samples often exhibit organic qualities, OEM might include full-length parts that are played on non-digital instruments, like electric bass, flute, piano, electric piano, ad infinitum.
3) Generally analog sounds are favored over samples. Sampling is still common in OEM, but hardware like analog synthesis, tactile drum machines, and electro-mechanical instruments go a long way to provide more expressive sounds. In addition, textural and atmospheric sounds and processing often enhance the work.
4) Dynamics are used extensively in OEM. If the dynamics are limited to adding in and dropping out layers then it is probably not OEM. There might be examples of crescendos and decrescendos along with forte and pianissimo sections. Velocity sensitivity is helpful but not required. For example a good synthesist can create dynamics by tweaking the filter, or envelope parameters while performing.
For me a piece might only have to meet one of these requirements and still be able to move me. There are many artists who produce work that arrives amidst these parameters. The intent is not to strictly limit or exclude music, but to bring attention to musicianship and expertise in the production process. Artists as diverse as Kieren Hedben (Fourtet), Boards of Canada, Chromeo, and Herbie Hancock (Head Hunters) all fit the bill. Please share with us artists that you feel are OEM producers. Here’s a Keston and Westdal track from our album One Day to Save All Life to set the mood.