Friday, October 9, 2015

"unusually burdened by the excellence of its past"

"That’s not to say that pop music is ‘over’, as one or two of my friends have been heard to say. They have their Neil Young records and feel that nothing more is necessary. It’s just that pop’s present is unusually burdened by the excellence of its past. Music fashioned long ago for instant gratification has proved to possess extraordinary staying power. Over the years I have met one or two pop performers socially and if I have been drunk enough, I have asked them how it feels to have songs they wrote (in some cases, dashed off) in their youth still being played and loved decades later. And they can’t quite get over it either. How did that happen? I bet even Paul McCartney asks himself that question from time to time.
"The music industry, delightful behemoth that it remains, squeezes this music dry, of course. I’m not sure there are many manifestations of modern life more dispiriting than the jukebox musical, wherein much- loved hits of yore are attached to a story so thin and ridiculous that only Ben Elton could have written it. At the same time, we shouldn’t be too hard on people who are just trying to make a living. The other day, I met someone else who had grown up and grown old with ABC’s 1982 album The Lexicon Of Love, and we sat and discussed it with wild glints in our eyes. Needless to say, the song we both liked the most was a non-single album track that many people will never have heard of (‘Date Stamp’, in case you are similarly afflicted). Teenage elitism never dies, and as far as we were concerned, neither does that album. Thirty-three years on, The Lexicon Of Love sounds only slightly less than current. ABC’s Martin Fry has never come close to equalling it, but he is still out there, playing it live. It’s one of my favourite albums, and it’s his pension."
- Marcus Berkmann announces the end of his 27 year tenure as pop critic of The Spectactor
Sounds like he didn't exactly start from the strongest of footings though:
"I was 27 when I started writing this, and I am 55 now, but I was an unusually crabbed, creaky and ill-tempered 27-year-old, who already felt left behind by the way pop music was developing, and preferred the music of his own teenage years, as almost everyone does. This hasn’t changed much. I still think hip-hop is a waste of ears. Grunge was spectacularly uninteresting. Of Britpop I now listen to only Blur and Supergrass. And so on"
Fun fact - when Berkmann started his column, I was actually the pop columnist of the New Statesman. My tenure lasted about two years. I wasn't aware that I had an opposite number, as it were - not sure I ever picked up the Spectator. I would have just assumed they wouldn't have had a pop columnist at all.

(He's right about "Date Stamp" though - best song on Lexicon)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

spreadsheet culture

1/   Digital recording and editing often feels like working in a spreadsheet—it's not always a place for dreams
-- Chris Walla -  quoted in press release for Tape Loops, project by ex-Death Cab for Cutie man whose says of his choice to go analogue: I can't change a closed, physical tape loop with a mouse-click or a keystroke, and that’s precisely the point"

2/ The code of ones and zeros found in the pits of a disc’s surface was, at its base level, no different from the ones and zeros that represented the code of a spreadsheet program."
-- from  Mark Richardson's excellent piece about Oval's 94Diskont  reactivating his Resonant Frequency column at Pitchfork. (94 Diskont - 20 years old! or is it 21?)

Mark further notes: "This marked a philosophical shift, because data implies flexibility and transportability" and adds "Popp... once said that what Oval did was not “art” or “capital-M music” but rather could best described as “file management”—a term so functional that it can’t help but shatter the persistent myth of creativity. What we are doing, Popp seemed to say, is sitting in front of computers, opening folders, creating files, and arranging them. The work was, at base level, no different from an administrative functionary in a large office tracking inventory with Microsoft Access: You figure out what needs to be done and engage the software and hardware tools at hand in completion of the task.


Walla's Tape Loops thing is really nice actually

hear a track from it here

interview about it here

Monday, September 21, 2015

low bit rate nostalgia

Pitchfork's Adam Ward with a piece on the poignant turn-of-millennium associations of 128 kbps, 64 kbps, even 58 kbps...

"For a certain point on the timeline of music discovery, quality wasn’t a defining factor. In the dawn of mp3 players, the big draw was the amount of music you could carry with you....  Low bit-rate mp3s colored the experience of music discovery in the early 21st century.... Especially considering the original iPod had only 5 gigabytes of hard drive space, listeners wanted to bring as many songs along with them as possible. 128 kbps used to be the baseline... I’ve come to love these awful quality files. In most cases, listening to their lossless versions just doesn’t sound right to me.....  With each layer of compression you can practically hear the thousands of others who shared and copied the same mp3, like a destructive digital fingerprint. Songs ripped from CDs, uploaded to streaming sites, shared via P2P, and burned back to a CD mixtape have incredible amounts of distortion, something akin to today’s over-compressed Instagram memes. ....

"....There’s a certain point where the desire for flawless sound is outweighed by your nostalgia for hearing it in a familiar way. It explains the near universal admiration for a crackling vinyl record, or the recent fascination with VHS distortion....

"The underwater compression of a low-quality mp3 is our generation’s vinyl crackle or skipping CD. It’s a limitation of technology that defines the experience of an era......  When we talk about the coldness of digital music in comparison to the "warmth" of vinyl, we neglect to highlight the peculiar characteristics of digital compression."

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Phillip Maciak at LA Review of Books on Mr Robot, season 1:

".... I see Rubicon when I watch Mr. Robot, but that’s not a bad thing, nor is it the only thing that’s true about my relationship to the show as a spectator. That’s just how it works: networks of inference and allusion. It’s not downgrading Mr. Robot’s originality or Esmail’s creative achievement to suggest that, in an era of influential TV series, Mr. Robot is maybe the most visibly and precociously influenced series on the air.

"Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that he lived in a “retrospective age,” that “the foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we through their eyes.” And he demanded that a new art, a new vision of God and nature, be forged in the nineteenth century. But Ralph knew as well as anybody that “new” is a relative concept. Everything that is is a recombination of what’s old, what’s known. The impossibility of newness is not a failure so much as the definition of existence. We — along with our loved ones and our objects and our art — are a reassemblage of what once was. We can’t behold anything new, but we can hope to see through new eyes that which is newly arranged and that which has been here for a long time.

"So a TV series identified by its influences is not just okay, it’s natural. In other words, Mr. Robot’s pastiche quality may be its defining trait, but that doesn’t mean it’s negatively defined by indebtedness. Just because a work owes something to another work doesn’t mean that it’s plagiarism or hackery. Nor does it mean that a pastiche with this kind of dynamic associative energy and annotative sophistication isn’t, in and of itself, somewhat unique to cable television. You can see the Kubrick and the Scorsese and, once someone points it out, even the Dunham, but it’s neither all you see nor the limit of what you might be able to see if you look hard enough.

"But given what Ralph said earlier, given that anything we watch likely consists of a series of revisions, variations, sometimes even outright thefts, and given that nobody seems to mind the show’s nods to other media, why are we so concerned with Mr. Robot’s influences? Why ask Sam Esmail what he’s watching when we only come upon that kind of information by accident talking to Vince Gilligan or Jenji Kohan? Television is built on this kind of recycling. The Sopranos and Deadwood are both genre pieces as derivative as they are innovative, every procedural borrows from every other procedural, most of the bread-and-butter series surrounding Mr. Robot on USA are cut from the same sunwashed linen cloth. What’s so shocking about Mr. Robot all of a sudden?"....

Well I had not noticed all these plagiarisms, borrowings, reworkings in Mr. Robot ... except for the big one - Fight Club - which seemed glaring to me, but not quite enough to put me off enjoying the show a lot

enjoyed this show a lot, despite a queasy feeling - increasingly common with the new breed of digi-maximalist TV series -  of being led up the narrative garden path (see True Detective as prime offender, but a dozen others could also spring to mind)

the curse of Plot-itis, aka Lost-itis, - after that classic "worra loada cobblers" make-it-up-as-we-go-along series

narrative maximalism: engendered by the new structures of watching (binge watching, watching-on-demand)

there's two kinds of narrative maximalism - synchronic and diachronic, vertical and horizontal:

1/ Synchronic / Vertical : scrofulous proliferation of subplots, characters, etc  - a cake with too many layers, too much icing and sprinkles ... exhausting the brain's capacity to keep up with and contain so many strata of characterisation and subnarrative

2/ Diachronic / Horizontal : too many twists, too many turns  - an unnatural elongation of storyline, way beyond being convincing.... straining  one's credulity, exhausting one's patience.... one's memory capacity even (how did this story start? where's it been?)

Some series have both going on - Game of Thrones

Alan Kirby pointed towards this in Digimodernism, the "onwardness and endlessness" of digital cultural products, their relentlessness and propulsiveness -  the infinite extendability of narrative - a quality discernible equally in videogames and in series fiction (Potter, Thrones, etc)  (and movie sequels, prequels, etc)

where the consumer sacrifices plausibility, sense, etc for the satisfactions of continuation, of neverendingness

I miss the temporally-limited, characterologically focused TV series -  the confined study of a relatively small number of humans interacting within a fairly restricted framework and duration ... series that allowed themselves  to culminate after perhaps a dozen episodes (maybe less).... maybe at most, two seasons of the series.... then, the work done, the point made... the parties involved disperse to other projects

hooray for Show Me A Hero, which kept it to just six episodes, divided into three meaty portions.... focused on a manageable set of characters ....  and, importantly, accepted the historical facts

(unlikely the increasingly fictional and liberty-taking Masters of Sex - which i suspect for digimodernist/digimaximalst reasons is forced to make stuff up, adulterate the truth, which otherwise would be  just too plain, too uneventful for the viewer demands, the narrative strictures, of contemporary television-making )