Sunday, October 14, 2012

DIGITAL COBAIN

I have been spending time in the Emerald City (aka Seattle) this weekend with a group of fellow music enthusiasts and of course I have been quite inspired. I will be heading over to the Experience Music Project today as part of a music geek sojourn to a place that is seemingly magical and full of wonder for many of us.

With the ubiquity of Nirvana hanging over the cultural landscape of Seattle it was timely this morning to read a post by Alan Cross in which there is some speculation around how Kurt Cobain would have fared if he had began his career in this age of social media and file sharing.

Cross poses a few interesting questions, such as how Kurt Cobain would feel about his music being available for free, or if Nirvana would have even fundamentally existed in the same manner? The later question is intriguing for me in the context of this being a cultural milieu that is arguably more niche oriented and less likely to be populated by cultural products consumed on a mass scale. Nirvana certainly would engender a devout fan base if starting today, though the seismic impact they had on the musical landscape seems less like a possibility in the flooded digital landscape of today's music scene.

 It's an intriguing scenario to contemplate and ties in nicely with some conversations I have been having this weekend around how music is not only consumed, but how it is even perceived differently by a younger generation in this age of social media and digital abundance. It seems to be a more disposable entity at this time where the act of fully attending to music (and thus allowing it to have a lasting impact) is diverted by the need to focus on the next buzz worthy song or trending artist of the moment.

 In this context Alan Cross speculates around how Kurt's internal struggles would play out; "Kurt was conflicted about fame. He wanted his music to be world famous yet he didn't want many of the trappings, sacrifices or responsibilities that came with it. If he were a young musician active in music today, he might have found himself extremely frustrated at not being able to break through and be heard".

 I found myself thinking that perhaps Cobain might have been a different person in this age. Certainly the core of who he was would be similar, though I think it is highly probable that his expectations might have been fundamentally different. Although he would still be motivated to create his music, perhaps there would have been no expectation of making millions, or even sustaining a relatively decent living off of his art.

Would these different expectations have lowered his angst about the potential impact of being famous? In the context of the internet not being a neutral medium (think "the medium is the message") I actually think that not only would his expectations have been altered, but perhaps the fundamental manner in which his brain worked or how he even approached his craft might have been different somehow.

I wonder if his attention have been more diverted in multiple directions, such as the self-marketing and publishing that is required more of musicians starting out today. I also think that somehow this would have altered his approach or motivation around recording his music, and perhaps the feeling of having more direct control would have impacted even the type of music he would make.

Speculating about whether he would still have committed suicide is a more complicated matter, as I don't subscribe to the view that his internal conflicts about fame were the only reason for this.  It is quite possible that his internal struggles and doubts might have surfaced through other avenues, though I do think that being potentially relieved of the worry over "selling out" or being famous might have been somewhat liberating for Cobain as well.

Intriguing things to contemplate (for me at least) and I would love to read other people's thoughts about this. You could certainly play this scenario out with a number of different artists, as the breathtaking speed of social chance around us seems to be conducive to this sort of speculation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

SOUNDTRACKS LEFT BY THE WAYSIDE

While taking a lunch hour walk through Surrey this past March I found this derelict mixed CD by the side of the road. True to my character I couldn't resist contemplating this further.

I imagined at some point that the creator of "Slow Shiz - July 2011" had a purpose in making this. Perhaps it was a mix of more thoughtful and romantic songs made to impress a prospective date and show a more sensitive side?

Of course it is also possible that the maker of this mix decided to take a break from the usual soundtrack of ear splitting and bass heavy anthems in favour of some classic slow-jams to help come down from an evening of unbridled debauchery.

As I continued my walk I began to wonder why this less than one year-old mix was discarded so readily by the roadside.  The first scenario to emerge involved an argument where a jilted lover in a fit of jealous rage threw the once beloved mix out the window of a moving car, "SCREW YOU AND YOUR SLOW SHIZ"

A few other scenarios; some teens going for joy ride sorting through some poor sucker's music collection decided that this mix was particularly shitty,  or perhaps this is merely an impulsively discarded item of some fickle musical neophyte who decided  that slow shiz is "over" and now leans towards some classic rock mixes discovered from a cool uncle's music collection.

 Whatever the case, I am intrigued by the musical collections that lay discarded beside the roadsides of our lives, both literally and symbolically. These mixes that at one point were important enough to take some thought and time to create are now collecting dust somewhere, mostly forgotten or even thrown out long ago.

Unearthing a forgotten mix is an intriguing prospect. Whether it be some premillennial mixed tape, a scratched up CD compilation or a derelict playlist curated for that road trip in '07, these lost soundtracks from our journey might conceivably reintroduce us to an important and dormant narrative arc from our lives. Of course I have to wonder what insights the owner of "Slow Shiz" would gain if he/she were to find this mix 10 years from now?  

Have you unearthed any ancient musical artifacts? Do you wonder where one might be?  Am I the only one who contemplates this sort of thing?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

SPREADING THE JOY


Other than perhaps a few elite media moguls, most people understand that the instinct to share music is natural and an essential part of our humanity.  It started at the dawn of humanity when a Neanderthal named Grog invited his pals over to hear the crazy beats he discovered while banging on some mammoth bones in his cave, and continues today with people like myself sharing exciting new sounds over the Internet with friends.

One person who totally understands the pure and unadulterated joy of sharing music is my friend Sean Wraight. I have known Sean for a few years online and had the privilege of being in his company last October. Sean is great, he won't accept that you simply like a song but wants to know the real story behind it, and of course more often than not there is one.

Sean takes sharing music to a whole other level. I have been fortunate enough on a few occasions now to be a lucky recipient of one of his thoughtfully curated musical packages.  The effort he takes to out together a collection of songs and videos is breathtaking.

Sean fundamentally understands not only the joy of unearthing new musical discoveries, but the value of sharing it with others in a way that includes a very personalized finger print . He creates pieces of art that go beyond the functionality of being simply a place to hold your music.

The accompanying photos, sleeves, words and container for the music become inextricably linked with the experience of listening to it. I can't listen to one of his collections without thinking of the greater narrative thread and the aesthetics that are attached to it.

This post is my long overdue way of showing my appreciation for Sean. In age of digital abundance where you can link to a sample of almost anything you want to hear, Sean has reestablished for me a real appreciation for something that goes beyond a collection of files on a hard drive. He has created something that is unique and reflective of a distinct personality, turning a number of smaller components into a cohesive and greater whole.

He has created something truly unique and personal, something you can hold in your hands and engage with on a number of levels as a more holistic sensory experience. Something magical!

Thank you Sean


Sunday, January 22, 2012

A TRIBUTE TO TRIBUTE ALBUMS

One of my favourite trends in recent years is the multi artist tribute album in honour of a specific album, often including the same track sequencing as the original LP.   There have been some great LP tribute compilations circulating on a number of sites, the most notable and prolific being on Stereogum.

Often there are a few missteps, but in general these compilations offer a chance to appreciate the totality of a classic album, filtered through the many artists who have been indelibly influenced or inspired by it.

In the age of digital abundance and quick access to music files the idea of a complete album may seem like an anachronism to many people. It is refreshing therefore to see artists paying homage to this form and perhaps inadvertently encouraging others to experience an album as a complete piece of art, with the songs being considered in relation to each other rather than in isolation.

As an added bonus many of these tribute comps are available as legitimately sanctioned and free downloads. This in my mind increases the significance of these; while there is certainly some promotional benefits for the artists and publications involved it also speaks to the pure joy of an artist sharing their personal love of a recording that shaped their own musical journey.

These tributes often work best when they have a more diverse range of artists and include a healthy balance between reinvention and stripped down simplicity. A degree of playfulness with the source material that enhances it's core elements is also welcomed as well. In my mind, a successful tribute comp will inspire me to delve back into the original album with a renewed sense of wonder.

A few recent offerings I have enjoyed lately are the Stereogum tribute to Radiohead's "OK Computer", and the Q Magazine tribute to U2's "Achtung Baby" (with the phonetically enhanced title "AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered").  I am also eager to get my hands on a tribute to New Order's classic album "Power, Corruption & Lies" once the latest issue of Mojo makes it's way across the pond (worth the cover price of the mag).


Have any tribute albums inspired your imagination? Most importantly, what classic album in your mind deserves a fitting tribute? Kudos to anyone inspired enough to name which artists they would like to see covering a specific track. Personally, I would love to hear Cat Power cover The Cure's "Disintegration" on the tribute LP of the same name.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

HAPPINESS IS A WARM DISC


Can you relate to the following symptomology;
  • your heart rate quickens 
  • sudden inexplicable euphoria
  • difficulty keeping track of time
  • fixation on circular objects
  • intense craving for auditory stimuli
Fear not, for you are not alone.  I also experience a sense of awe, wonder and mood elevation upon entering the threshold of a place that still sells physical music.  The symmetrical rows of vinyl and CDs send me into a giddy tailspin of manic joy. 

 Each vinyl treasure or hard to find CD is like an artifact waiting to be unearthed and explored. I am frequently guilty of tearing open the packaging before I get home in order to try and unlock some of the secrets found within, throwing any restraint or sense of delayed gratification out the window. I am often convinced each time that there is something revelatory in the liner notes that warrants immediate perusal.

In this age of digital abundance this experience can even be more meaningful. As our connection to physical objects becomes increasingly tenuous there is something special about something that is as context specific and multifaceted as an LP; the potential for auditory, tactile and aesthetic interaction from one object can be very gratifying.

It's a simple pleasure, the power of which shouldn't be dismissed or underestimate from my point of view.  My record purchasing sojourns aren't as common as they used to be, but when they do happen I experience a sense of joy over the promise of something that is at times quite magical.

Do you experience any symptoms?

(a big ol' shout-out to fine folks at Yep Roc Records for posting this Peanuts comic strip and providing further inspiration)

    Monday, January 9, 2012

    THE SACRED RITE OF THE PLAYLIST

    I had the privilege this past October to host an evening social with some wonderful people, some of whom I had met previously via a mutual love of music through various blogs and social media.  I was also fortunate to be acquainted with some fine new folks as well that night.

    To me the best part of the evening was the sacred rite of passing the iPad around to take turns selecting songs (connected remotely to my digital library) resulting in a collectively curated playlist that evolved throughout the evening.

    As the evening progressed stories were shared of what was behind each song choice (thanks to the persistent bidding of  Sean Wraight). It felt like the 21st century version of passing the talking stick around the campfire, though in this case we didn't have to be worried about being eaten by wild animals.

    There were tales behind many of the songs or anecdotes that in the tellers mind was inextricably connected to their chosen track. Many of the stories were humorous and even touching at times, revealing tiny snapshots of the spark in each person present that evening. It was a wonderful and inspiring experience.

    In the spirit of this I hope to facilitate an ongoing virtual version of this sacred rite by doing a series on this blog called "songs have stories", where I hope many songs and the stories behind them will be connected or shared.  I am curious to see what commonalities or themes emerge around certain songs.

    More to come!

    (A big shout-out to Barbara Bruederlin who was the force behind Communique 2011 and made this event happen)

    Sunday, January 8, 2012

    HOW IT ALL BEGINS

    It usually starts when we are very young. We are drawn to a sound that leaves a mark on our impressionable young psyche and we are forever changed.

    The music we hear embeds itself into our neural pathways and opens new doors filled with possibility. We discover new aural landscapes that stimulate the brain and we pursue them with a ravenous appetite.

    Music brings us together as we form our identity as young people. Based on the rhythms that inspire us we band together in tightly woven tribes. We develop a significant portion of our emotional vocabulary from the words and sounds that play out constantly in the background like an unfolding drama without resolution.

    As we grow older the musical palette expands. We increasingly value diversity, yet in an honest moment we will default to certain preferences that will never let go of us. Certain sounds will always be sacred and will provide us with a sensory experience that defies rational explanation.

    There are moments when we are taken outside of ourselves and out of linear time and to a place where the only thing that matters is the warm sound that envelopes us. Perhaps it is one of the few things that induces that state of awe and wonderment that can be increasingly elusive in our day to day lives.

    No erudite criticism or rating albums on a ten point scale here. I am starting this blog charged with a restless creativity and a drive to explore more about the purely subjective experience and response I have to the music that inspires me.

    So it begins, again...