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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Rise of Audience-less Music

    Among other oft noted impacts, the advent of digital technology has given rise to an enormous and growing class of popular music:   Music without an audience.  In the past, the anticipation of an audience was often times the sole reason for music being created.  To give but one example, Mozart's job was to write background music for various religious services and aristocratic social events.  Like, Mozart would get a letter saying, "The Duke wants you to write some music for his ball next month: Do it."
     Moving forward to the early period of the 20th century in the United States, music was very much a social activity- whether played in the parlor on a player piano, a "Juke Joint" in the rural south or a Fourth of July Parade in the mid-west, the modernization of society in no way tampered with the fundamentally social nature of Music.
   Change was introduced into the equation by advances in technology.   Recorded and Broadcast Music created the possibility of non-social Music, i.e. music with an audience of one- a person and a machine (record player or radio.)  However, the creation of music playing machines did not fundamentally destroy the artist/audience relationship, it merely reduced the average size at the same time it increased the overall size of the audience.
   No, Record Players and Radio didn't create Audience-less Music, it created bigger, more attenuated audiences. The fact was is that not every Joe could create a Record, let alone get it heard, and the same thing went for Music that was played on the radio.
   However, more recent technological changes have given rise of a historic first, music that is created that is completely without audience.  This is now possible because recording costs have dropped to the cost of a single portable computer, and distribution costs have dropped to the cost of a high speed internet connection. All those who can afford those two things can create music, but that does not guarantee that the resulting music will have any audience, whatsoever.
   In fact, the defining characteristic of this era in popular music is exactly that phenomenon: Music without Audience.  It has resulted from the combination of technological progress and the complex of ideas understood as "Romanticism" as it relates to the process of artistic creation (i.e. the lonely, misunderstood, tormented poet,  the beat generation outcast, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, etc.)
  The utter failure of contemporary Musicians to understand the essentially social nature of Music- is their downfall.  The Idea that an unknown Musician can arise from obscurity and ascend to the heights of the music industry is as old as the music industry itself, if not older.
     Everywhere that Idea is bound up with the romantic myth of artistic production and the reality of the every changing modern Music Industry- it is a timeless, epic struggle that links  Beethoven to the Beatles, Miles Davis to Moby and Devo to the Dum Dum Girls.
     Audiences can and do respond to Music which plays upon that Idea, but they don't care about Music the way Artists care about Music.  A Romantic Poet of the 19th century might have been fascinated by the idea of playing his lute in the woods, but it would be pretty tough to carry a harpsichord up a mountain, and he sure as hell couldn't bang out an EP on GarageBand in three weeks.
       The fundamental mistake of would-be professional musicians is that they assume the existence of an Audience, when in fact, there is no Audience, none whatsoever, for someone posting recordings on the internet.  At some point in the last five years, a higher percentage of non professional musicians have recorded and distributed music to the public then at any time in the past hundred years, probably by a factor of 50 or 100.
        Meanwhile, overall Audience increase mirrors the steady but small growth of the overall population, since Music is now available to everyone, always.  Thus, Audience-less Music is inevitable.   Surely it is appropriate for an artist to ask whether an audience exists for his or her music before making recordings available to the general public?  Publishing audience-less music to the public is sad.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Badlands LP: Reviews

Bao Le Hu, Orlando Weekly       


       Indeed, Hungtai deftly invokes all the requisite touchstones like echoes, hiss and distortion. Despite this blurred palette, there's a sharp distillation to the vision behind Dirty Beaches' new 
album, Badlands.
     A vibrant, colorful language, ranging from enigmatic film scores ("Black Nylon," "Hotel") to rock & roll kitsch (rockabilly, surf and oldies) percolates through the vintage lo-fi haze. Key to the album's vitality is the raw conviction of Hungtai's voice. Whether it's his tenderly arabesque crooning on the crestfallen "True Blue" or the rockabilly histrionics of primal surf drones like "Horses" and "Sweet 17," he brings a human heat to the 
restless vagueness.
     Most importantly, Hungtai's vocals and critical instrumental hooks aren't nearly as buried in the mix as is the output of many of his peers. In fact, repeated listens reveal a considerable degree of care in sonic proportioning, separating the punctuation from the patina. This judiciousness is epitomized by "A Hundred Highways," a song made exceptional by the ribs of damaged guitar noise, Hungtai's romantic purring and the signature bass line from Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him."
    But when you boil things all the way down to the bone like Dirty Beaches does, the risk is that there may not be much skeleton to show. The razor-thin margin of error of this starkly minimalist approach is what makes Badlands all the more miraculous. And instead of simply being stylishly dissociative, the album's austerity quivers with pulse, spirit and scuffed mystique.


   Read Bao Le-Huu, This Little Underground column in the Orlando Weekly.  Oh and, local journalists- this is how you do it, in case you were wondering.

Clifford Geertz and the Disintegration of Social Science

BOOK REVIEW
The Interpretation of Cultures
by Clifford Geertz
p. 1977
Basic Books

      When I'm reading some complex bit of social science theory, I have to remind myself that no matter what discipline, ANY social science didn't exist 200 years ago- they are recent inventions.  It also pays to consider that 99% of the material for ANY social science has been rendered irrelevant by developments that have occurred since the late 1960s.  Specifically, the introduction of ideas outside of the "positivist" "social science as hard science" school of thought- larger known as "relativism."
     The idea that social sciences were an analogue of natural sciences foundered on the rocks of the complexity of human interaction, and attempts to revise various social sciences have in turn been dashed against the entrenched interests of the older generation of social science mandarins.   It's a bit of a sticky wicket, I suppose, but in day-to-day existence it means that you can't count on ANY of the social sciences for ANY insight into human behavior.
      It's a sad state of affairs, and I analogize the state of social sciences to the state of the music industry: Rendered largely irrelevant by updates in technology, and not sure what to do about it AND free falling into oblivion in the mean time.
       One of the revolutionariness in the shift away from positivism into an arena of "relativism" was Clifford Geertz.  Geertz was a trailblazer in the social science of Anthropology, introducing sophisticated ideas about human interaction that had been developed by European philosophers like Wittgenstein, sociologists like Max Scheler and linguists like Saussure into the contemporary american discipline of Anthropology.
      Writing mostly in obscure specialty journals until his Interpretation of Cultures was published 1977, Interpretation of Cultures was itself a collection of the articles he had written up that point, interspersed with bridging chapters.  I think it's fair to say that the implications of Geertz's arguments vis a vis anthropological theory are still being addressed in the realm of professional scholarship, but I don't think he's really been absorbed into the "general reading public" in the way that he should be.
        Unfortunately, Interpretation of Cultures is far from being a good book in and of its own right, and in a sense it contains a symbolic relevance that mirrors Geertz's own discussion about the role of symbols in religion. (now a "sub-field" of Anthropology called "Symbolic Anthropology.")  I actually ended up skipping his 100 page discussion of the idea of ideology and it's relationship to the newly emerging nations of the 3d world in the 1960s- but his "thick description" trailblazer "Notes from A Balinese Cock Fight" and his chapters describing the role of symbols in religion seem as fresh today as they were then.
        Interpretation of Cultures also contains a spirited anti-relativist tirade against his own predecessors: Ruth Benedicts "Patterns of Cultures" comes in for harsh criticism for being too mushy-mushy about describing the relationships between cultures as well as her description of cultures themselves.  Geertz champions the deep, fully descriptive essay at the expense of making universal judgement about the whole of human kind based on observations of one culture.
     Maybe this is why these ideas haven't really penetrated into the genpop: They don't provide any facile or easy answers about explaining human behavior, just suggestions on a method for making observations about phrasing the questions.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Here Is A SXSW Event Worth Mentioning

NOISEY.COM LAUNCH PARTY

BUN B
ARIEL PINKS HAUNTED GRAFFITI
DIRTY BEACHES
JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD
OBERHOFER
@ THE KISS AND FLY
AUSTIN TEXAS
FRIDAY MARCH 18th 2011.

  Shazam, people.  Shazam.

Dirty Beaches: Royal Flush Mix Tape

JAMZ. (PITCHFORK)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

How To Kill A Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics

BOOK REVIEW
How To Kill A Dragon:
Aspects of Indo-European Poetics
by Calvert Watkins
Oxford University Press
p.  1995

    The "indo-european" language family covers just about all of Europe, North and South America, South and South West Asia and Australia.  English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Greek, Latin, Farsi, Hindi and all of the Baltic's, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.  The language from which all these languages came is unknown, but scholars call it "Proto Indo European."  The Indo European language family has received more attention from philologists and linguists over the last century then the rest of the world's language families combined.
    One of the more interesting issues surrounding Proto Indo European is the extent to which we can reconstruct the shared culture of Proto Indo European people through language as manifested in religious ritual, myth and poetry.  How To Kill A Dragon is an attempt to work back to the primal Indo European myth- the HERO SLAYING THE DRAGON.  The first portion of the book is devoted entirely to setting up the idea of a shared Indo European poetic vocabulary.  Watkins looks at the use of alliteration, oppositions and "merisms" (the use of two individual terms to compromise a larger whole- like "men and cattle" to refer to the sum of earthly possessions.)
   Unfortunately, I couldn't follow of all of it because I CANT READ THE GREEK ALPHABET but the analysis that included languages written in a Latin script was convincing.  The Indo-Europeans had a common vocabulary of ritual and myth that is simply impossible to ignore.  The argument goes into the folder of "we are all one human race."
   The second portion, concerning the formulation of the foundational Indo-European myth "HERO SLAYS SERPENT" is again- very convincing.  Watkins then moves the clock forward and shows the way that this poetic language manifests itself in Homeric Epic Poetry, Scandinavian Epic Poetry  and the Rig and Artha Veda.  Perhaps the most interesting and novel portion of his argument is the analysis of the Hittite version of the myth, which Watkins straight forwardly claims is the direct inspiration for the Greek versions.  In fact, it in his analysis of little known Hittite tablets where Watkins really, really shines.  If I were to follow up on one aspect of this book (which, after all, was published in 1995) it would be what else scholars have learned about the relationship between Hittite ritual and Greek myth.

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