Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I grow tired of the sounds in the modern world.

Due to the ground breaking work of King Tubby, Lee Scratch Perry, and other Dub pioneers, by the mid 80's we grew enamored with a variety of musical movements emerging from this marriage of technological possibilities and a evolving mix of esthetics. Great music was breaking out all over the world. From Cairo to Capetown, Kyoto to Karachi, using digital tape decks, hard drives, sequencers, and basic originality, the global dance floor was emerging. We were all benefitting from this wellspring of new flavors washing back and forth, inspiring and informing.

So what has changed

As in any other modern discipline, music has succumb to the sirens call of technology. I am in no way a purist/luddite, but it comes to me that the machines we use have become so difficult in their complexity, that we suffer from their ubiquity. With the democratization of music production and distribution, there is a huge potential upside. Any genius can record a masterpiece in their Cleveland Closet, and instantly distribute it worldwide. But how rare is that brilliant voice, and how vast is the dross pumped out like bilge, not just from closets in Cleveland, but board rooms from London to LA.


That a piece of software can replicate any sound or rhythm is of immense use. A person, with a great deal of skill, knowledge, and just a few affordable ingredients, can make a full orchestra appear out of the ether. My issue is with the operative "Skill and Knowledge" factor. Complexly useful tools may produce very exact results, which is great, however the amount of knowledge, and developed skill are far harder to come by then what is suggested by the sales figures for our modern range of midi triggers, pro tool packages, and programmable drum units. The majority of musicians are part timers, whacking away with their chosen axe in idiot glee and reckless abandon to varying results. In my considerable experience (I have the hearing loss to prove it), the majority of groups are poorly put together, unoriginal, and under rehearsed. So consider what this recent musical army of one explosion has unleashed upon us all.


My friend Eric has a vintage Oberheim Synth that he would drag out to play with us at the old Odeon Bar. It is a cantankerous machine, that in lesser hands would still produce sound, but Eric, being an amazingly skilled piano player, as well as a seasoned producer/recording engineer, would milk that machine for every drop of value it's designer crafted into it .

 That meeting of both technical and musical skills that elevated Eric's use, over mine for example, highlights the basic problem. Lee Perry, Suba, and the boys in Air all have a depth to their skill sets as musicians and technologist. Just because you can talk the talk doesn't mean you can walk the walk.


Unfortunately the flood gates are open wide, and if there is a buck to be made, bad culture will be promoted. One can make the same argument for the electric guitar (and I do), but just the guitar alone wont annoy more than those neighbors within the range of your amplification. Plus the guitar is a simple enough tool, and extremely visceral, that it welcomes individualization of utility in ways that knob twirling, fader shifting have not yet achieved.


All this mediocrity, on either or both ends of the tech savvy/music ability graph has created a rising tide of Sneaker Pimp sound a-likes and bedroom youtube divas. They are clogging the cultural highways and byways, like so much sonic cholesterol. I am praying for a massive musical coronary to kill the bloated beast.


In the mean time I find myself ranging far and wide looking for music not using a drum machine or canned sounds. Groups that are an aggregate of talent, rather than the vehicle of a single vision. Anything new, old, or new again that is music of flesh and blood, rather than the singular rationality of machine capitalism.


Thats all for now.



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