"ERGO IS COOL" | 2009

I wrote the liner notes for "Multitude, Solitude," the 2009 album by the the electronic jazz group, ERGO. Available at Cunieform Records

Ergo is cool.

Drawing from the world of jazz, media theorist Marshall McLuhan explained that each media had tendencies toward being “hot” and “cool.” Hot media presented a dense flow of information, with light shining on the medium, such as books, newspapers, and films, with the photographic images shining on the movie screens. Cool media presented less information, with light shining through the screens, such as television and computers, each with pixelated images. Hot media extended information to us, cool media invited us into a world beyond the screen, which explains the seductiveness (and merger) of television and cyberspace.

Five decades after McLuhan’s hypothesis, we live in a mediated world flooded with information, At the end of 2008, there were 180 million websites with billions of web pages, 130 million blogs, 210 billion emails per day, 12 billion videos watched per month, hundreds of TV channels, and so on. And screens are growing larger and with increasing definition, such as LCD and plasma. In the desire to represent reality with ever greater detail, media have become the dominant form of “reality.” IPods and iTunes give people the sense solitude, of being isolated in their own reality, with their own music. Twitter and Facebook are less about social networking than multitudes of lonely people, lost in the big bang of an expanding media universe.

In age when all media and music are available on screens with light shining through, McLuhan’s hot-cool distinction is surely now harder to see. And, yet those are some of the very conditions intuited by Ergo.

We live in a world where the multitude are ever more informed, yet ever further from reality; they are ever more connected, ever less alone, yet ever more lonely, with ever less solitude. Against and within all these conditions, Ergo’s “Multitude, Solitude” represents the coolness of media and music. The songs have long, smooth single notes that are inviting and seductive in their suggestion of subjective solitude; there are spaces with a few sparse notes, containing gaps to be filled by our reflective capacities, not a temporal void to filled with text messages. When listening to Ergo, I sense music inviting me into a universe beyond the daily events, not in a silly mystical sense, but rather that very large universe that is home to our existence and ground for our humanity and understanding.

One might say that all ambient, atmospheric music achieves this effect, but that is mistaken. Ergo does something special that goes beyond mere minimalism. Ergo’s music often contains rising and falling patterns of simplicity and complexity, patterns that may be fractal, in the sense of melodic order within the (seemingly) random or chaotic notes. By combining the ancient with the modern, the trombone with synthesizer, the drum with computer, Ergo also embraces the roots of music, yet is not sentimental or claiming a faux authenticity. Ergo engages the past, yet enters the future.

"Multitude, Solitude" conveys a future of laconic existentialism, a world where the multitude may be mostly lost, but solitude and individuality can still be found in the voids of the universe, in the gaps in the information, in the nothingnesses between the notes.