What if the world didn't make music up

A thousand bars of solitude

Confusion, weariness and boredom. We pace the shelves in record stores on Mondays. Then the new albums appear. The hit parade will be updated on Tuesday. Then the managers wonder why nothing is the same as it used to be. The numbers aren't, and the stars are smaller now, too. We didn't buy anything again because we suspected for a long time that music is finding it harder and harder to be original. That nobody dares to break the rules anymore.

Recently, the record companies quietly agreed to give away the "Golden Record" for 150,000 instead of 250,000 sales.

Markus Popp, born 30 years ago in Darmstadt, has no record award. But the musician Markus Popp has a good reputation, which today can be more than all the gold in the pop business. This is because he is questioning music as it is in the store. As a result of regular events with beats and bass. As a finished product. "The album in the display cannot be changed," complains Markus Popp. "If that's supposed to be music, I'm looking for other music that doesn't want to be the result of itself."

"Maria am Ostbahnhof" is such a place where he can do and say that. A club whose ugliness makes idyllic, a new building on a bare East Berlin arterial road. But people come here. Out of curiosity, because they no longer feel like doing the usual and longing for the special. And Markus Popp shows what he invented. It's a screen full of characters, a colored terminal with circles and boxes. "Music," he explains, "is stored here in interfaces and software metaphors." The mouse drags samples into a field. We rearrange its sounds, just as we like it. Music as a game with pretty pictures.

He calls it "Oval.audio". Oval is one of his names, and because he's concerned about how pop music 2000 might sound and appear, he's got to do well with soundtracks. Popp has accompanied fashion shows for Comme Des Garçons, for Prada and for Issey Miyake. Has advertised for Armani in the cinema and set a "Dogma" film to music. He was a Microstoria, which is also the name of Markus Popp, and toured Japan and America with Mouse On Mars from Cologne. The mixer works that he makes when he remixes stars like Tortoise or Pizzicato Five are famous there. With this, too, Popp takes the finished product from the music. It dissolves with him, in the end only the white noise remains.

He called one of his sound drafts "living tone". Which reminds of Satie, of his "Musique d'ameublement", of ambient music and the muzak for elevators and shopping centers. Music has long been design, it fills the public space. Just nobody listens and nobody thinks about it.

In the "Sony Music Box" at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin there is also a copy of the "Oval.audio" box. The poor, perplexed children, says Popp, kept asking the one question: could real music be made with it? So with beat and with refrain and so. He smiles at that because he understands what the problem of people is. Music has its fixed form, it excludes the really new. And also the people who would like to create them themselves because it is basically easy.

That technologies become controllable and better and cheaper and that everyone can make music is the never-fulfilled utopia of pop music. Consumers would be producers. The magic word is interactivity. The author disappeared, as a genius and as a creator, and the West would still not go under. It would only be more beautiful, and music would have to flow like milk or honey.

"What was the idea behind it? What did you think? Those are such boring questions," says Markus Popp. "The process has the idea."

He will release "Ovalprocess", the album, in May. So a record after all, a product for the trade. No, a kind of sound bank, says Popp, with modem crunch, guitar cockroaches and organ surfaces that have only been found elsewhere. "Oval.audio" should initially be a series of records and ultimately as software for everyone to buy.

Oval: "I set myself limits within which I have to move. Standards are more important than experiments."

These technical standards determine pop music. Music is the software of the big corporations. That's why Sony bought CBS, and Matsushita owns Universal, the world's largest record company. It is clear that they now perceive the Internet as a threat, because MP3 has found its own standard. "Copy Kills Music", their battle cry, is nonsense: It doesn't kill the music, it just attacks the record as a medium and reminds us that media are not forever either.

Pop has to change from time to time. Only half of this has to do with Sturm und Drang. Because it's actually about leaving the saturated markets to the right and left and looking for new ones. Some invent their own standards for their music. And others use the usual means to break boundaries, but seldom enough does the music industry notice the oddities, tinkerers and dreamers it has.

Bill Mooney seems to be such a visionary. His company Tannis Roots oversees campaigns in America and produces the knick-knacks, the hats and shirts for posters of stars. Now he has asked the manufacturer Roland to send the new Groovebox MC-307 to the clever Unikums of pop music. To guys like Beck and Will Oldham, to groups like Pavement and Air. The Groovebox is a box with controls and buttons. A rhythm and sound machine that emerged from the legendary drum & bass computers of the techno scene: a band-in-a-box, the Deus ex machina, the chips dictate what means you have to program music to be able to.

And that has always been the attraction of electronic sound art. How do I disregard standards so that in the end the consoling insight remains: Man is the measure of all things. Air also makes a strange cuddle kitsch with the Groovebox. Pavement writes songs while Beck gathers the absurd. Will Oldham also sings to the thin beat of being alone. A thousand bars of solitude.

Music is always music. Only the means and media are always changing. Progress through technology. Even the power to redeem music from time passes with time. The record has had its century and only made possible pop, which is increasingly working on its abolition. Music becomes fleeting again in the network and on the screen. It becomes an idea that the human being still has to carry out, as it was before, quite earlier. "If the music no longer has to be a product, then the constraints of only apparently having to record new music are a thing of the past."

Says Oval, Markus Popp, we click the sound track into the window. It all sounds very different. We're surprised, entertained, and smarter than ever.

Oval: Ovalprocess (shape &

Function / Zomba).

Diverse: At Home With The

Groovebox (Grand Royal / Zomba).