Sunday, 12 August 2012

Music History Lesson for the Digital Age 1.0 (recycled post from elsewhere)

Fresh thoughts fermented from the blackened pool of rotting ideas and information that live in my brain.

This is going to seem ramble-y but I swear it goes somewhere so just bear with me. 
So I was talking to a ‘net friend today, im passim, about the state of digital culture and in particular listening preferences when it comes to muzak. He was saying how the album had become passe and that he now preferred to listen to music in singular form for the most part anyway.
Not many people know this: I am an analogue freak. I love the pops and crackles of my very early home stereo, 1969 model Dansette-style record player, and the masses of vinyl I have picked and rooted and smelled around for, the long hours of research as to which version it was best to get etc. - vinyl freaks will know what I mean. And thus I found myself in the familiar position of defending the album, with all the familiar remarks of purity of vision, the experience to be treasured over a longer time period, the comfortability and completeness of inter- and meta-textual reference usually included within albums of a certain nature.
And then I realised the growing fear of digital culture that has begun amongst audiophiles of a certain bent: OH NOES! DA BIG MEAN BITZ IZ GONNA DESTROY QUALITY CONTROL! WHARR IS DA PHYSICALITY ANDSENSUALITY OV HOLDIN’ DA FING!… 
But this is an unnecessary fear. This has happened before. People taking these same stances, crowded over different technology, different methods of musical dissemination. At least three times to my musical history memory have the musical “purists” descended on new technologies.
The first came around the time of the first printing presses, circa 1800 when the middle classes were able to afford sheet music, and composers began adopting a new employment system (pioneered by Mozart, in which composers were now no longer employed by persons of official - mostly royal or ecclesiastical - position, but instead employed on a piece-by-piece basis or fuelled - as Beethoven mostly was - by a patronage scheme). These changes meant that music was not only largely secular (pre-1650 it was mostly not), but also widely-available to a burgeoning middle class. This led to the fear the music would devolve into a serious of short (meaning cheap: less paper to use) secular pieces, composed for the home with little or no musical expression, progression, or vision. Sound familiar?
The same again appears when we take a look at the early 20th century. The invention of the phonograph again made people terrified that music would be condensed into easy-to-swallow short loads. An injection of speed into the veins of public that craved ever more pop and crackle to their music. This coincident with the ascent of Jazz and Blues - a double pronged attack on the “supremacy” of “high art” and longer forms. 
And again, repeat picture with radio and the 3-minute pop song. Rock and roll. The Moog. The DX7. Tapes. The sequencer. Computers. Audio software. And now .mp3’s, .flac, and the deadliest of all - streaming music.

The thing is - people find a way to make everything complex after a certain period of ubiquity. The chorus of the choir became augmented with instruments and, eventually lost the voice altogether. This was chamber music, which expanded to become the symphony. The symphony was then again augmented with voice and became the opera. Which became a total entity and became Wagner’s “total art work”. Then came Jazz, with longer and longer improvs, til we hit Charlie Parker with entire hour-long shows dedicated to one jazz header. Then we hit rock and roll, resent, until the Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds” closely followed by the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Longform albums. Complexity.
Now you have mixtapes. The art of using interconnecting strings to link from one bit of appropriated or changed music to another. Mater Suspiria Vision’s “Zombie Rave” mixtapes are the next step towards totally original streaming mixtape-type albums or interconnected material. 
And the thing is this: there is always an audience for complexity - people always want more. More of the same, more different, juxtaposition, new contexts, more inter/intra/metacontexts. More content.
It’s what human’s do. It’s why we’re never happy. It’s how we’re still here. Whatever new technologies are on the horizon there will always emerge complexity, as well as simplicity. Two modes that will coexist, not necessarily harmoniously, but indifferently.
So there’s nothing to fear, really.

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