Saturday, March 15, 2008

The World Won't Listen

hey everyone

ok, time for another tirade against modern music (mostly), so if you are not interested (or just bored of this from me), skip it!!

it is increasingly the case that the content of music itself is no longer the priority, it is the format and "presentation" of it. i will qualify why "presentation" is in quote marks later. basically, when this format below was all of a sudden (just about) dispensed as obsolete, we sacrificed more than we bargained for.

the time and effort put in to creating a vinyl record mostly meant a good deal of careful planning and work before you went in to record something. sure, there were some bad albums made along the way, very bad in some instances. but you didn't take the decision to make or finance a long player lightly.

likewise, going to buy a new album was an event. you may have heard an advance single or two from the album up front, either on the radio or by buying the 7", but there was so much more to discover. the artwork of the album was usually something to behold, and listening to all the new stuff from the band or artist, trying to work out what would be the next single.

playing a new album was often a social event. you and your mates would get it, head back to someone or other's house (whoever had a record player, or as we called it "stag", in their bedroom), and you would listen to the whole thing from start to finish, in the order it was laid out by the band.

now? well, if you are patient, you go and buy the plastic CD, stick it in the car or load it to your ipod or chosen "media player", and skip about the tracks here and there, giving each song a small percentage of its duration to catch your attention. the musicians do not help much, either - in most cases an album seems dominated by a desire to either fill as much of a CD up as possible to make it appear "value for money", or concern themselves with making a bonus DVD to give away with it, or increasingly (and worryingly) see if they can't release the whole thing on some sort of "memory stick" or make it "download only" for the novelty value.

on that last note, there's a good chance that some of you have heard the album long before it even arrived on whatever piece of plastic amused the musician/s anyway; the dubious amount of "leaks on to the internet" means that most can hear the majority, if not all, of an album before any mock release date. and then they get to hear it out of sequence, or play bits and pieces of it, out of the order that was intended.

yes, all these new ways of listening to music are better quality wise in regards of an old slab of 12" of music, but does that make it a better experience? are we any better off listening to anything new in isolation, via headphones or in the car, as opposed to gathering around and hearing the crackling of the needle as it hits the groove?

we have made music a shiny, pristine and individual experience when, in most instances, it was never ever intended to be this way. music is meant to be about an artist performing something and the debate around whether it is any good or not; differences of opinion, whether or not it inspires passion, excitement, hatred, contempt or anything between that. these days you tend to just play something to yourself and then you either keep playing it or you just discard it. sure, you can have the odd conversation about it, but more often than not these are limited to the realms of interwebnet chat forums and the like.

back in an era of proper musicians, before my time, The Beatles gave up on live music because they could not recreate the sound of their records on stage, whereas The Who got frustrated by the fact that they could not quite capture their dynamic live sound in a studio. this debate or problem no longer exists with the digital era of production and creation - musicians these days don't have to work too hard to produce either sound, and as a consequence have got rather lazy indeed.

it's not just music that has suffered - look at Disney and other animated film makers. before each frame of a film had to be perfectly drawn and designed. now anyone with a computer can more or less make an animated feature, and they are not always good. go compare, for instance, the magnificent The Jungle Book with the recent Jungle Book 2 as way of illustration!

going back to the thrust of my argument, however, proof of the truth of what i am saying is in the alarming closure of modern music magazines. Smash Hits, the king of fun and entertaining pop stories and interviews, closed a couple of years ago. equally as disturbing is the rumour that will not go away - NME, the voice of new, alternative and interesting music, is on the verge of ending publication too.

the reasons for the end of these two (or at least possible in the case of one, and let us hope that it turns out to be not true) magazines are debatable to some, clear to me. they say its because people are getting the news off the internet in an immediate way that is just not possible with print. a fair point, but then again articles and interviews are timeless. no, for me, the problem lies within a desperate lack of any variety of bands or singers to write about, and those that we do have are for the most part too dull and unimaginative to give too much time or concern to.

it is rather telling that the nature of those music magazines which appear to be still going strong, and here i think of things like Q, Uncut and Mojo, is to look towards the past and concentrate on classic icons of rock and pop, giving little space of note to any new bands. and i do not blame them - why not look back to a time when artists would book a concorde so that they could play England and New York on the same day, or blow all their money on jets, yachts and trout farms when today's equivalents are the tiresome exploits of the likes of W(h)inehouse, Doherty and the Arctic Monkeys? in regards of the first two, the mind boggles as to how they got any sort of record deal (no it doesn't, they are cheap and create their own dull publicity), and as for the latter, well, if your claim to fame is that you released your stuff all over the internet to such an extent that you get Gordon Brown name checking you, you have got lucky doing something that anyone could do. the whole point of music is that only a certain type of person can and could do it.

and yes, the finger of hypocrisy can be pointed at me, for i am sat with CD's in abundance and of course an ipod. but what choice have we really given ourselves these days? sat in the car doing the "shuffle and skip" with hundreds of tracks on the ipod, i really do miss the time when one would make a tape for their car from their library of 7"'s and 12"'s, putting thought and effort in to it so you did not have to skip past songs by the dozen, you actually wanted to hear the whole thing.

well, enough of my ranting i guess. i hope for some of you this has mostly been a memorable trip back to the memories of when music mattered, and when buying and playing it actually meant something. for those of you of the plastic generation that never quite got to experience what i lament, i can only wish that you could have.

consider this article the next time you get a CD and the two most notable elements to it are that it is in some sort of fancy fold out box and the fact that the CD is just about full to the maximum running time. when the actual music on it is the third thing mentioned, you know the dark, dull days of music of which i speak.
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