Evolving Ears

As I was jamming to the new Shins’ album this morning, I reminisced about hearing certain albums for the first time.  When I was in high school and consuming as much music as possible, I remember picking up Slanted and Enchanted, Vampire on Titus, watching a Sebadoh song (off of Bakesale) on 120 Minutes and borrowing the first Velvet Underground album from a friend.  Why do I remember them so distinctly?  Because with each one, the first time I heard these albums they seemed incredibly weird, and actually kind of bad, to me.  S&E     had a tinniness to it that drove me away.  VoT was (it is still in many ways far from my favorite GBV).  Skull too seemed too scrappy, like a half a song.  I simply could not process the VU.  The relatively low fidelity, the viola, Nico.  It was another world. Why did the Shins bring this up in me? They seemed utterly underwhelming to me until I really *listened* to them.

Coming from a background of hip-hop, relatively well known thrash metal and…Rush, it took me quite some time to finally understand these records.  How did I acclimate?  Repeated listening?  Why did I listen to these things that didn’t sound good to me?  Because I’d read they were good?  They were so odd that I stayed intrigued?  I think in some ways tuning into the indie rock of that era was harder for me than picking up on jazz and experimental music, because at least with those I was able to place myself into a context where I had no preconceived notions of what they should sound like, whereas with indie rock, I was still expecting…rock.  And of course in some cases context is literally all you can bring to a music.  Not that that makes it good music, or that it is a good way to evaluate music.

Now there are some records where the listening evolution simply does not occur. Ear candy as it were. Frequently these are albums that lean heavily on pop structure and melody, though there are also types of music that at this point, seem to be “mine”- music that defined my interest for so long and so strongly I automatically gravitate towards it. Ear candy could include anything from the new Deerhoof to practically anything that drones (or whooshes).

I guess the bottom line is that you can like music for a variety of reasons, and hear it for a variety of ways. Any larger conclusion? Not yet.

The Line pt. 1: Possibilities

What follows is the first sketch of my proposed musical essay, currently titled The Line. Please feel free to disregard.

With the advent of nonlinear digital editing, we have entered into a world of near limitless possibilities. There is literally no limit to how a song can be composed, edited, layered or modified. Like John Cage talked about the possibilities of tape music, we are no longer bound by human limitations like performance, ability, amplification or endurance. Yet no one seems to be taking advantage of these tools in a truly revolutionary way. As with digital filmmaking, it seems that no-one has yet reached the point of creating a new kind of music.

Granted, pop music has been inextricably changed- hip hop and R&B use studio tools in a way never really conceived of, but call it de-evolution, call it tools that are too easy to use, call it what you will- no one is nearing the near real complexity and possibility things like ProTools have to offer. And many are actually reducing the complexity of an already simple genre through the simple fact that now almost anyone can write, produce and release a recording without knowing how to read or write music. I believe tis ability is ultimately a good thing in that it will get us away from the limitations of our own musical heritage, but I do believe that we may be squandering our potential.

A few examples of the new musics being made in a relatively mainstream venue: Timbaland, Cornelius . Having not heard much of Cornelius’ music, I can’t comment on it all, but even his song on the powerpuff girls soundtrack is incredibly inventive but also recognizable as a pop song.

Where are the modern composers using these tools to make masterpieces? Why are they only the stuff of pop musicians and underground electronics. Why, when the avant garde makes use of these tools are they almost always used to absolute reduction. Are the music schools teaching about the possibilities of composing without the living? It seems that most schools- if dealing with some kind of electronic music- are looking at pure computer based composition. Not recording.

A computer could give you an orchestra of thousands, and you could compose for it as such. You could produce a recording that lasted hours, if not years- and even distribute it on a format people could purchase! Acoustic modelling could put you in the space you desire, and potentially you could even reproduce the overtones and rich deep sounds such a large performance would produce.

You could create a music based on sub-microtonality. Hell you could create an entirely new music system. Say you wanted to created a composition of these “sub-microtones” you could create it at such a length and volume that the listener, if giving her undivided attention to the piece, would slowly decode the sound for what it really was. Chipping away at their own notions of western scales and hearing notes where previously there were drones. Like LaMonte Young except you don’t’ require someone to kill themselves performing it. This has to do a lot with the Theater of Eternal Music actually because a lot of Young’s concepts of drone had you “going inside” the music and slowly hearing the harmonic richness and diversity of the drone. A modeling program that allowed you to produce harmonics and overtones in your electronic music doesn’t seem so hard in todays world of computer generated acoustics.

You can consider authenticity and newness but they are ultimately irrelevant. Authenticity is a lie and newness can not be the ultimate goal of any music alone. I’ll discuss both of these things in another piece in regards to the legacy of modern music, “high culture”, pop culture and whether any of it really matters. As far as the consideration of “newness,” I posit that newness alone will ultimately fail unless it is something that the human heart can attach itself to in some way or another.

Sliding over a bit, the possibilities do not solely sit in composition. The internet now allows for access to just about any music (or sound) you can ever want to hear. A young musician now has the opportunity to be influenced by musical cultures that span the entire globe. Hopefully we will see the results of this truly global knowledge sharing soon.

One more consideration- with the advent of cd-quality audio compression, we should no longer be bound by the notion of an album as a single 40 minute piece and I long for a time when artists start releasing fully conceptualized multimedia projects on dvd or day long compositions on mp3. They could even produce their own players/visualization. Musicians must consider their work as art, and perhaps consider its visual and physical implications as well. Consider the Merzbox or Ovalprocess. These are steps in the right direction. However, we still have a long way to go. In the background I am doing my part. Someday I unleash its wrath upon the world!

Possible future considerations: music’s relation to humanity, how noise relates to that relation.

[Listening to: Song Seven – Yume Bitsu – The Golden Vessyl of Sound (11:50)]

The Line

I said I was going to use this blog, so starting today I’m going to be writing a series of sketches that will outline and with any luck eventually become an essay on music and culture. I should be able to finish my homework and get to it this evening some time. It will start off very fragmentary and basically be just ideas and thoughts as they come, but with time, I’d like to build on them and work it out into a cohesive whole. Let’s see what happens.

My New Look.