I’m still cursing Apple for doing away with the iPod Classic, which for a music lover that travels constantly remains the best device for taking your music library with you. (I’m not completely against streaming, but until it pays musicians a fair rate, I refuse. I also don’t want to have to rely on something that needs an internet connection. You think the world is high tech until you travel a lot. Then you are aware of just how many places don’t have service. I was in the Florida panhandle on tour and my girlfriend was working in Orlando. I couldn’t even get basic phone or text service most of the time, let alone internet.) I have never owned an iPhone. I do really love my Apple computer though. These aren’t pronouncements of shame or pride, just facts. However, anyone interested in the latest Apple device will be well served by the above article. It is an extremely in depth review, with plenty of demonstrative pics and graphics, by someone who wore the new watch for a week. I personally can’t imagine wearing one anytime soon, but to each their own.
I’ve been thinking lately about how technology affects the quality of art being made. Now art is not monolithic. Just because digital recording became the norm doesn’t mean that analog gear isn’t still used. Just because photography was invented obviously doesn’t mean that there stopped being painters. But I am talking about trends in general.
I have mentioned numerous times that I have spent a lot of time listening to The Cure lately. I want to use two of their songs as an example. I am going to post YouTubes, but it would be much better if you could listen to higher quality recordings to really get the details. First I want you to listen to Play For Today from their album Seventeen Seconds, which at the time was a low budget recording (However you are listening, I would recommend headphones):
Now I want you to listen to a song called Sleep When I’m Dead from their album 4:13 Dream album. This is a song that was written much earlier in their career, in what many fans feel was the best period of their career. I purposely picked this song because it was written at an earlier period. Although there are probably reasons this didn’t make a record, I wanted to get the argument that Robert Smith isn’t as good of a song writer as he used to be out of the way. I’m not trying to talk about taste in writing or performance, merely the technology to capture each song. (I personally like all periods of The Cure, though I have slight preferences for some.) Anyway, here is the song:
Now it is impossible to know what creative decisions went into recording each song. However, what is going on in each song is part of a bigger trend in music, so that I don’t think you can just base the sound of each recording to the taste of the artist. I would also imagine that the budget was much bigger for Sleep When I’m Dead, given the fact that The Cure has gone on to be a band that can play stadiums.
On the earlier song there is much more clarity to the way it sounds. Each instrument is discernible no matter how loud or quiet they are in the mix. There is also much more depth of field. When things get it seems like they are farther away. In a lot of modern recordings when things get quieter, part of the instruments seem lost in a way that does not happen naturally in reality. The newer song has less clarity and less depth of field, despite probably having a bigger budget for recording. This is also despite the fact that technology has progressed. I’m not doing this to knock later period Cure. Too many times fans of any band develop sentimental attachments to artists that don’t allow them to view their newer work clearly. I personally prefer the older song out of the two, but I am happy to hear any new material by an artist that I like. Plus, there are newer songs by The Cure that I prefer to certain older ones. It just comes down to the material itself. However, I feel that the way the earlier material was recorded gives it a better chance of flight. It has more sonic ambience and atmosphere in just the recording itself.
Anyway, I’m using music, but this really could apply to many art forms. Although there are certain movies that look great when they are filmed digitally, there is something about the way film looks, which is a longer and more expensive process, that often wins out on average. It always, at the end of the day, comes down to the choices that each individual artist makes and how they use a medium that matters most.
Technology often makes things easier and less expensive. This is good because it allows more people to express themselves. The downside to technology is that sometimes less of what is made, as a percentage, reaches a certain level of quality. It is easier to record than ever before, which means more recordings are being made. This is a good thing. However, even average quality recordings of earlier time periods usually have a higher standard that average quality recordings today.
I’m not trying to make a point necessarily. There are people on both sides of the argument. Both have valid points. I only am trying to get you to think about how technology can affect art both good and bad. Technology in art, as it does in life, can often make things better and worse at the same time.
I have said it on here before, but I can’t say it enough: If you value the work that artists in any field do, you should support them by buying their work, attending their events, etc. In the music world, listening to internet radio or using streaming services are not a substitute for buying an artist’s record. That’s not to say that at some point they might not be viable financial models, but right now they are a joke. Read the above article about Pandora’s latest attempt to screw artists. If we want to have a viable culture in this country, one that doesn’t just reflect the lowest common denominator, than we need to make sure that the artists we value can earn a living.
The above link is a recently published Morrissey rant at http://www.true-to-you.net, his official site. It’s long, but full of laughs. It is an attack on the Brit Awards, though many passages could serve as attacks on any awards show and the modern music business in general. A sample:
In short, Britain has been encouraged to become a nation of idiots (which, of course, is what it is not). But why has British culture become so debased? Why is it that only ideas-free and factory-farmed ‘personalities’ are encouraged? Is it simply because we are all easier to govern as long as we are free of any content? Well, yes. The sudden, manic rise in loud and overquick camera shots (for a populace presumed to have zero attention span); television sponsorship; persistent sports news for events attended by no one; the obvious lusty dictatorship of the “royal” family (the one and only British institution that we pray for the government to ‘sell off’ – preferably to China)… it all adds up to an underpattern of controlled obedience, and the notion of the BPI awards being handed out by genuine musicologists becomes as ludicrous a concept as witnessing someone on the Brit Awards coming perilously close to actually making a worthwhile point. Meanwhile, if we mourn the unlikely possibility of positive change in pop music, or if we dare suggest that change is even allowable, we are treated like mental patients.
A constant for me, is trying to figure out how the music business feel into such decline. I not only mean in terms of sales that is partially, if not substantially, due to technology, but also why the artistry and cultural relevance is in decline as well? To me, it is an endlessly fascinating subject, not only because I am interested in music, but because I, along with many many other people, can sense that aspects of our culture seem in decline. What are the artistic, economic, political, technological, and cultural forces that are causing this?
The Next Episode: Apple’s plans for Beats-based music service revealed
Here is an article I was reading about Apple and their next step in music service. Apparently they are developing a streaming service along with Beats, which they own. The article hints at how the service will work, but it doesn’t feature any info on what this means for the music business at large.
As a musician I am deeply suspicious of all streaming services thus far, as it doesn’t seem to be paying musicians fairly for their work. However, I am trying to keep an open mind as these platforms develop. Maybe at some point the tide will turn, though I have yet to see any proof of that. This is not only based on worries for my own career and that of my friends and coworkers, but also for the music business at large. Although I love seeing a great live show, I have always been a record guy. Records can take a lot money to make, even with technological advancements. If we want to keep seeing great ones made, people have to be willing to financially support artists. It is true that there was a lot of decadence in the recording industry in the 60’s and 70’s, probably too much, but those years were also the pinnacle of music as artistic experience. We can’t go back in time, things will never be the same, but perhaps there can be a model created where things are better than they are now.
I once read part of Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World. Although I don’t agree with Ferguson on most current political issues and he can often be pompous and arrogant, there were parts of this book that were really interesting and one part in particular that stuck with me. This was the idea that technology cannot only spread progress and enlightenment, but can also spread bad ideas just as quickly. In the book he talks about the implementation of rail. Rail allowed certain regions to progress economically and culturally. Goods and technology that had not reached parts of the world were now more easily available and allowed civilization to advance. Different people that had never been in much contact were able to come together, become more familiar with each other, and share worthwhile ideas. However, things like racism and anti-semitism, that might not have been prevalent in certain areas, were able to spread as well.
We can see in modern times how the internet allows both good and bad ideas to spread more easily. Not only can the internet be a place where democratic ideas can be shared, but fundamentalists and fascist corporatists are able to spread their message through the internet as well.
Earlier tonight as I drove home from a gig I was listening to Chuck D’s album The Black in Man. On one of the songs Chuck D raps that,”There’s a difference between censorship and senseless shit.” I’m against censorship of any kind, the banning of ideas. However, this does not mean that ideas have equal value and should be regarded as such. There is not enough critical thinking and bullshit detecting going on in our society. Whether it is the right’s fear of intellectualism, because facts are often not in their favor, or the left’s fear of things being deemed intolerant, too many of the conversations we have end up being about how people respond to something and not the actual value an idea itself.
Making scientific decisions is better when science is the metric for a decision and not economics. A culture that treats women equally is flat out better than a culture that tries to keep them subservient. These, and others, are simple conclusions that can be reached easily when reason and critical thinking are involved. Now more than ever, in this information age, we need people that can critique our culture in a meaningful way and that aren’t afraid to stand up and be counted. At the same time we need these same kind of people to be unafraid to change their opinions when facts add up to something different than what we previously thought. Utilitarianism, what benefits the most amount of people, should be a force in that debate, even if that idea in and of itself isn’t enough. (No matter how many benefit from something, it should not be at the expense of suffering of the minority. There needs to be clear ethical lines as safeguards to that utilitarianism.) What gives the people the best chance to be free of fear, want, and oppression? How do we as a society prosper and live lives of meaning without creating suffering in others? What brings long term meaning to life? What kinds of short term satiation of our desires makes life less meaningful in the long run?
We have all of the information of the world at our fingertips, but kids are taught less and less how to actually parse that information and decide what has value. People on the right and the left sense their is something sick in our culture, even if they can’t agree on what it is.
In my opinion, although there is still a lot of ill in our culture due to petty tribal and religious differences, our main problem is that we have allowed money to become the thing we worship above all else. Whatever sells wins, even if in the long run it will lead to our destruction.
As I read the news today I couldn’t help but notice all of the false gods that we worship on a daily basis. We too often worship the god of the tribe, while allowing money and power to have their way while we are distracted at decaying alters.
I already know, before even reading over what I wrote, that it is somewhat rambling, that it possibly touches on too many different ideas. But I can’t help but feel these are the kinds of things we should be thinking about, that these are the kinds of questions that we should be asking.
I fucking knew this shit!!!:
Just today I thought of throwing my phone in Lady Bird Lake. I have become acutely aware lately of how much time I have been wasting doing meaningless tasks when I could be doing more meaningful things. My reading pace has greatly slowed in the last month or two as I have had increasing work to do on my phone. It isn’t just the time it takes to do the work. When I do try to slow my mind down to concentrate it takes me longer to focus. I’ve noticed how few people I know read period, and I know a pretty interesting cross section of folks. I can’t help but feel these devices are slowly draining our ability to focus and to critically think about complex issues. It appears science is slowly saying the same thing.