Not Just the Ticket — #42, The Sugarcubes, April 24, 1992

The Sugarcubes, Wiltern

Then-current album: Stick Around for Joy

Opening act: Cracker

Back of ticket ad: And once again KLSX. I wonder if their programmers were dimly thinking “Wait, SHOULD we play that new Pearl Jam song?” around this time.

The sign of the times about this ticket hit me only after I took a second look at it — ‘A Non-Smoking Venue.’ Eighteen years really is a long time (and as someone who loved it so very, very much when the smoking ban kicked in at bars and clubs a few years later, I had to have highly appreciated that mention at the time, or at least went, “Oh good,” even though I’d already been there before a few times).

In the meantime, Iceland! Or a few people from there.

Talking about the Sugarcubes or Björk actually requires me going back in time a bit, since I’m pretty sure — maybe even entirely sure, the more I think about it — that the Sugarcubes were the first band I bought an album by strictly due to the power of the press, without hearing a note of their music. Until 1987 or 1988 or so, my exposure to music was strictly through the straightforward means of hearing a band or musician on the radio or seeing them perform on TV or seeing their video. So I already had some sort of incentive or means of judgment at hand — I didn’t buy albums willy-nilly, they were expensive, took up a lot of my allowance, though I did pick up twelve inch singles a little more regularly. All of which is tendentiously obvious to note but, again, consider how far along we’ve all now gone.

1988 was the breakthrough year of getting my first CD player and moving into the second phase of getting into music big time, while I started paying more attention the various magazines and things around. I forget exactly which issue of Rolling Stone it was, but there was a feature later in the year — I think shortly before I went to UCLA — on this band called the Sugarcubes, of which I knew nothing. I didn’t follow the UK press at all, I had never heard of them, I didn’t know anything about the connections to bands like Crass, the sonic similarities others had heard via the Fall and the Cocteau Twins (neither of whom I knew at all either). I just read this article and thought, “Huh, well, they’re featured in here, I guess that must mean they’re good, they sound kinda interesting.”

Simple enough, that process.

I remember scratching my head a lot at Life’s Too Good when I first listened to it — I was happy too, mind you, it had a lot of songs on the disc, something like five bonus tracks. (My blissful ignorance of things like compiling B-sides for reissues or overseas releases was also in full effect.) But it did click after a listen or two, songs like “Birthday,” like “Deus,” “Blue Eyed Pop,” more besides. Björk was a key reason — much more than Einar — but the music was good, strange, slippery, at once familiar and strange. It was, in retrospect, a very important peek into where things were going to go with me, but I didn’t treat or sense it as such, I just thought it was this fun album by a new band that had apparently come out of nowhere.

I never caught them on tour then — not unless you count their SNL live performance, which you shouldn’t, but you should count it as amazing TV — and Here Today Tomorrow Next Week honestly passed me by, I kept meaning to get it but I kept finding other new things I wanted to hear more. Meantime, the band kept cropping up in odd places for me — I took a class on Icelandic sagas at UCLA, taught by a great professor, Jesse Byock, who mentioned his frequent visits to the country for his research. A little curious, I mentioned the Sugarcubes to him at one point as this band I’d heard about and liked — his response: “Oh yeah, I know a few folks in the band, they’re friendly people!” Iceland really is that small.

The Sugarcubes then seemed to disappear for a bit in a welter of side-projects and one-offs — Björk notably turning up on vocals for 808 State, perhaps the clear move forward toward where her solo career would begin — but then in late 1991 interviews started happening and a new album was mentioned and Stick Around for Joy came out in early 1992 and I really like “Hit” a lot as well as “Gold” and “Chihuahua” and other songs and hey! I was all into them again. Not that I ever wasn’t but at the same time, I’d gone from just-on-the-verge-of-going-to-college to a-few-months-from-graduation and instant nostalgia or something like that. (Was it? Not sure.)

So ending up at the Wiltern for this show was something that wasn’t merely a good idea, it was a great idea — the word that this was their last album hadn’t been circulated yet (maybe it hadn’t even been decided on) and I was just up to catching show after show. 24 hours after the Wedding Present and the Poster Children I was up in the loge at the Wiltern about to see just what antics Einar would really get up to onstage, if any.

But first, Cracker. Arguably I could have switched out Camper Van Beethoven in a lot of my story and the question of time having passed and it would work just as well; I had first heard of them around the same time as I’d heard of the Sugarcubes thanks to them ending up on a major label with Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, though I ended up reasonably appreciating them more than outright loving them during those years. Then they broke up and that seemed to be that but then, thanks to timing and the accident of history or whatever it was, when David Lowery came back with his new band it was Alternative Nation Time! They were still a year plus away from “Low” being all over the radio but “Teenage Angst,” a well-timed choice of title if ever there was one, got plenty of airplay anyway. So they took the stage and…that’s about all I remember, really. They went over well, they played the hit that they had and there were cheers from various folks throughout. Never saw them again but they were there on tour and in the charts, kicking around for a lot of those years, so hey, more power to ya.

The Sugarcubes I remember rather the more clearly. In fact I have a distinct memory of some of the stage lights on the floor lighting up behind some of the musicians, partially because my angle in the loge meant I could see them go off and on pretty easily. Björk was in fine form, Einar was, well, Einar, they kicked it off with “Gold” and they were great. I feel glad to have caught them neither quite in swan song mode nor totally ‘the new thing’ — they were playing the biggest spots they ever would in America (when not opening for U2, admittedly), the crowd was plenty passionate and everything seems celebratory in the mind’s eye, a sense of ‘hey, they’re back and it’s fun! and Einar’s still crazy!’

I don’t recall him completely wigging out or anything, but I have a cryptic memory of some sort of flailing dance or the like while Björk mostly chilled or grooved. This seems appropriate. Besides most of the new album and a slew of the older songs, the one song that I definitely recall was the final one of the encore, something that remains one of my favorite one-off moments on a stage.

I don’t know how he was introduced, but either Björk or Einar said a brief something about him and then lo and behold, the mighty El Vez appeared in all his finery, accompanied by two lovely ladies in equally swank gear. I had never seen the good man perform but I certainly knew who he was and I was amazed — even more so when it came to the song that they did, “Blue Eyed Pop.” Hearing the Sugarcubes do that wonderful, very danceable bit of slithery pop/funk/whatever you want to call it while El Vez did various mariachi vocal yodels felt just superb.

They couldn’t top that, so they didn’t, and that was the end of the show. Never have seen Björk since then all that time back, though I’m an irregular enough follower of her music. It’s a good memory to have, an icon pre-solo icon, having fun on stage with Elvis’s greatest fan and a guy who inspired Michael Myers to create Sprockets. Good times.

Some March and April 2010 AMG reviews

Another overall batch to link to here:

Not Just the Ticket — #41, The Wedding Present, April 23 1992

The Wedding Present, Whisky

Then-current album: Seamonsters/Hit Parade 1

Opening act: Poster Children

Back of ticket ad: trying to imagine the alternate world were KLSX would have played the Wedding Present is rather hard to do.

And back after some time off for EMP and recuperation thereafter and general work stuff and and and. I actually think I needed the extended break a bit!

Meanwhile, the Weddoes. Was there ever a band so hated by its target press audience?

Which sounds extreme. But at the time, reading through the various mentions in Melody Maker, it seemed that nobody there liked the Wedding Present. NOBODY. Not a goddamn soul, except for Dave Jennings, who I think wrote in a cover story about them in early 1992 about how he seemed like he was alone against a horde. David Gedge and company had then just started their own version of a blog project, one single for every month of the year, an original on the A-side and a cover on the flip. They were just a couple of years shy of having been around for a decade’s worth of recording and everyone’s reaction to them at that point in the press seemed to be a combination of frustration, annoyance and ‘oh god why are you doing that and why are you even trying.’ It was an interesting lesson in…I hate to say groupthink, but even so.

Even Everett True’s review of the first Hit Parade collection that appeared later in June, drawing together the first set of singles, was ambivalent at best, though it seemed like he was mostly annoyed with the band sounding like…well, themselves. Which is kinda weird. But a slightly more telling note could be found in the fact that he also grudgingly admitted that the band had been astoundingly ahead of the curve at one point — when they first worked with Steve Albini a couple of years previously on the Brassneck EP, they’d recorded a song that their then-guitarist Peter Solowka had brought to them via an obscure EP he’d picked up. The result: a cover of “Box Elder MO,” one of the earliest songs by Pavement, well before their own sudden explosion into popularity in 1992.

Writing about this now, in a year where there’s the Pavement reunion and the Wedding Present touring America doing the album-straight-through tour gambit (in this case Bizarro), makes everything feel timely enough, I suppose, but I’m placing myself back a bit more in time thinking about how I heard about the Wedding Present and early impressions and context, if any. Nothing sticks, to be honest — there had to have been a ‘oh that’s a pretty cool name’ reaction on my part somewhere (and it is a cool name, still is — it suggests something very un-rock, still), and somehow I pieced together a sense about how they were this really fast (a lot of the time) and very prolific band and they seemed to have a ton of releases and so forth. Also, that the lead singer had a pretty gruff voice.

Where I think something clicked had to do with a review at KLA by my friend Eric J. — who I’ve mentioned before, and who I should say is the mighty Eric J. Lawrence, KCRW stalwart for many years now. Eric had worked a music director and manager and the like at KLA — I think he was the general manager that year, pretty sure — and he had a very good gift for reviews for fellow DJs to refer to. I remember he was the guy who called all our of attention to Ween when their first album came out, he had figured out early on that Blur were going to thrive beyond the demi-baggy/shoegaze associations they were first associated with, and in the thick of Nirvana’s impact he wrote up a review on our copy of the American release of Seamonsters, also produced by Albini, basically saying that this had all that Nevermind could offer sonically, but better. So that definitely caught my eye, by default.

Seamonsters ended up being one of my favorite albums of the whole decade — I haven’t listened to it in about a decade, unsurprisingly, but I locked into it early and often (and it’s one reason why the current tour isn’t totally firing me up — above and beyond my whole problem with the tour-an-album conceit, it’s not the album I like best anyway!). But as with so many of the shows at that time, it wasn’t a case of breathless anticipation, more like “Well here we go!” and off we went — and that feeling was further heightened by the fact that this was one of three shows in a row I was attending that week. More than anything I’m sure I was questioning my stamina (but only slightly — when you’re 21, this is not something you spend that much reflection on).

So the Whisky once more, and once more I’m not sure who I was with but two to one says that Eric had to be among that number. I do know that when we came in another band who I had just gotten to know about, and who also had an Albini connection, was kicking up things entertainingly on stage. The Poster Children also became definite favorites of mine throughout the rest of the decade, not least because, like the computer geeks they so happily identified themselves as, they took to the Internet early, had tour diaries and fan comments and more going through their websites, designed their own various games and programs and basically held true to themselves as much as they could during their stint on a major label.

Of course, nobility in purpose isn’t always the sign of good music (would that it were so), but that wasn’t a worry here, and more than anything I remember bright lights, big smiles and just having a blast. They were there to entertain us, themselves, whoever was around, and they were doing so with their own alternately thick-and-blasting and crisp-and-spiky and more arrangements (more often than not in the space of any one individual song) — still kills me that they weren’t more famous in the end, they were too good for the world, I suppose, and it wasn’t because they didn’t try to break through. They did, they just didn’t want to sell their souls while they were at it. (And they’re still kicking around doing what they do — really, go say hi.)

The Wedding Present’s main set is even more dim in the memory, I know it happened but I don’t remember much about it at all aside from where I was in the audience facing the stage…not quite dead center twenty feet away, but not that far removed from that spot either. I seem to remember Gedge was off to my left a bit. Pretty positive they started with “Dalliance,” could be wrong, but if they did it’s a hell of an opener — it starts Seamonsters on a dramatic, angry note and would have started the show similarly, a rough burn of a song.

And from there into various things, “Brassneck” was played, “Kennedy,” more from Seamonsters, they had to have dipped into at least some of the new singles, possibly “California” even though it hadn’t been released yet just because, well, it was called “California” after all. I do remember one thing that didn’t surprise me but that did make me happy — Gedge announcing before the final song something like “Just a quick note, as some of you know — we don’t do encores.” I’d heard about this before and frankly was already plenty tired of the ‘leave-then-come-back’ rote response of encores in general at shows — I’m even more tired of it now. So seeing a band happily trash this was completely fine by me.

Of course, I’m sure hoping they still don’t do encores — that would be a bad thing to backtrack on.

Italian lettuce soup

Italian lettuce soup

Or so it is said. Whether or not this really is such a recipe from Italy — and I like to think it is — it was very tasty and just what I needed, a soothing soup given my nagging cough/chest cold or whatever it is, but one that was light rather than heavy now that the weather is starting to turn some more. The recipe can be found tons of different places; this one is the one I went with.

Gardening update from last Friday

A couple of weeks along and things are coming along well — when I arrived with Y and her kids, I recorded this video:

Then some work was done, followed by some new photos, including:

The rose bushes


A rose

Artichokes and roses

And final thoughts on the EMP Pop Conference 2010

Because, without wanting to sound impatient or ungrateful, it really is time to look ahead to other things! Seeing what so many fellow attendees have been doing via their Twitter feeds makes me feel a bit slack in comparison. Then again, the one truly bad thing about the conference this year was whoever inadvertantly brought the bug that went around — I know at least three other people who got hit with it, and personally I’ve had a fairly blah week dealing with a combination of laryngitis and chest cold and more besides — so I’m not going to let myself feel pressured to do too much when I’d rather just take it easy!

First off, though, two obvious things to note — first, to give thanks to everyone involved, especially Eric and Ann, the eternal prime movers. Second, here’s the updated notes I took from the presentations, with formatting fixed, links added and other additions and tweaking done to make everything more of an overall useful archive:

All further thoughts and observations welcomed!

I think the prime feeling I had as the weekend went on was of a sense of closure, largely due to the fact that the conference will, for the first time next year, not be held in Seattle — while the EMP will be the prime sponsor still of the whole thing, next year’s Pop Conference is due to be held at UCLA, the following year’s at NYU, and then back to Seattle in three years’ time. Admittedly on a purely selfish level I’m more than happy with next year’s conference being held just an hour away by car — easier to get to and to return from, for a start! But having grown used to spending a few days in mid-April in Seattle catching up with many people, above all else being my good friend Mackro, it’s going to seem strange not to go there next time around. Seattle is and remains a wonderful city and I look forward to my next visit, whenever it is (and which will definitely be sooner than three years from now!), and in a weird way not having the conference to take up much of my time next time through can mean a more leisurely trip anchored around enjoying the city as it is.

For that reason, building off my previous post, it wasn’t merely a thrill to get to present at this year’s conference, but also a sense that I got to do in its home, for lack of a better term. This observed, there is much about the EMP as a venue that’s both a joy and — I think many people would agree with me here — a frustration. I say this not to be ungrateful but simply because there’s no such thing as perfection. I remember the first year I did obsessive blogging on the conference I discovered that, whether due to the building’s construction or the quality of the network at the time, it was nearly impossible to access the AT&T network at many points in the building itself, while the EMP’s own guest wi-fi program didn’t work for me at all. It’s never been a problem since, so it’s not like things are static, but it’s an instance of how sometimes the best of intentions can be tripped up by reality. Still, it is now very familiar to me as a venue through and through — I was almost scared how quickly I remembered where everything was — and not having that at UCLA beyond the hazy outlines of my undergrad days will be an initial challenge.

Meantime, there’s always the fact that one can’t see every panel that looks interesting, just due to the logistics of the conference — this will likely never change, and there are always regrets. For me, not being able to see Christine Balance and Alexandra Vazquez present was the result a simple enough situation — they were presenting at the same time I was, so I could hardly duck out and see them! But there were many other presentations that caught the eye and as always one must choose as one can.

In a discussion on Sunday at lunch after the conference wrapped up, a local friend, Robert, mentioned that to him the conference, while still jam packed with many excellent ideas and presentations, had been less inspiring in terms of chasing down new songs and new groups this year in comparison to previous years. He enjoyed it as per usual but I could see how he thought that, though I found the balance towards larger ideas, or repurposing of familiar figures and songs to new ends, to be a good tradeoff. At the same time, everyone’s conference is different in the end, based on what one sees, and I learned more about a variety of figures than some but certainly less than others.

There was one thing that was definitely different for me this year, though, and that was a lack of mental exhaustion, for lack of a better term. I think this can be taken two ways — on the one hand, so many of the previous conferences had been in serious intellectual overdrive that one’s head could spin, where I felt a day or two was needed simply to digest every observation that came along. On the other hand, it wasn’t that this conference was no less creative and whip-smart with ideas, but I felt better able to ride the flow of this one in all, perhaps helped by a sense of familiarity with many presenters and what they would cover. As ever I did my best to balance that out with unfamiliar names and topics where possible — there is no point is simply relying on the tried and true, as where else would one get surprises? — but things seemed to move very well and then ease down just so into the final night and following morning. (That get-together at the Solo Bar was actually a really great Saturday night all around, social but not hectic!)

If there’s a constant question, it was one that I’ve seen a number of Seattlites say before and which some said again — “Where’s everyone else in this town?” It wasn’t that there weren’t local attendees at the conference, but they always seem to be fewer and far between in comparison to the rest of us swinging into town. I’m hoping that the pattern won’t repeat at UCLA, if only because I could imagine any number of people wanting to make use of the resource that is the conference who haven’t been able to make it to Seattle themselves yet.

But all this said and done — as ever, just a blast to see and chat with so many people again, and to finally meet others at long last like Chuck Eddy. Renewing friendships face to face is always a key joy no matter the context and without wishing to sound either soppy or overly tribal there is definitely a sense at the conference that I’m among ‘my’ peers to a large degree, at least in the arena I’m most well known for. At this point I have memories of everything from chatting with Ann and Evie and others at the Rendezvous bar in downtown well after midnight about family and luck to chilling over margaritas with Mackro and Andy and Lisa Jane on an easy afternoon, and much more. The notes I took and the papers and articles I may yet read that came out of this all have their place, but those are the images that’ll stick with me the most.

Roll on next year! Now if I can just get this darn bug I have to give up the ghost and go away. Anyway, more garden, food and of course Not Just the Ticket stuff soon to come…

Video and text of my EMP Pop Conference 2010 presentation, “The Listener as Electronic Librarian”

Hi there!

And why not a glamour shot, as such?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (and probably bored a lot of people to death about), going to the EMP Pop Conference each year is a treat in and of itself — meeting up with old friends, making new ones, getting to see my good friend Mackro and more besides. But I admit that I really, really wanted to present at one of them as well — and I’ve tried, several times! So getting the nod this year was both a thrill and a bit of wish fulfillment. (And I should say again, of course, much thanks to the committee for accepting my pitch!)

I also admit I hoped I would have a good crowd at my panel — why not a full audience, after all? And I say this having covered panels and presentations where the audience members can be counted on two hands — that happened with more than a few presentations I saw this year, while I missed others with that amount that sounded amazing. So on that front we lucked out — looked like every seat was full, plus other folks standing or sitting around the edges of the Learning Labs. I’m under no illusions why our panel’s audience was so packed — our anchor presenters, Douglas Wolk and Tim Quirk, are longtime veterans of the Conference, each having presented some of the most well-received entries in past years — and Nick Minichino and I both felt like the party crashers, especially when Conference cofounder Eric Weisbard ended up moderating the panel after Tim Lawrence was unfortunately stuck in London given the volcano ash problems affecting Europe. But we did our best!

I feel in reviewing the video that my nerves do show — I think I rushed the delivery a bit, and more than once use the podium less as a place to rest my hands and more to give me something to grip on to. That said what could have been the most nervous moment — Douglas’s revelation that the story I was citing him about turned out to be one he made up, as he hilariously stage-whispered — was actually one of the most hilarious and memorable, and I loved it. You can’t plan stuff like that! I also enjoyed the question and answer session later in the panel — a few questions were directed to me specifically and allowed me to touch on some things I couldn’t have included in the presentation as it stood. (Tim also offered a good thought on Gracenote in response to my mention of it before beginning his own presentation, which I should have written down somewhere!)

I kindly received many specific compliments after the panel concluded, both in person and via other comments elsewhere, and I do thank everyone for them. But the best compliments were that the panel as a whole was strong, and I had to agree — I think there were a lot of interrelated issues much on everyone’s mind. Chris Estey’s blog coverage for KEXP on the day (scroll ahead to the TMI panel coverage), while focusing on Douglas’s and Tim’s presentations for the first two paragraphs, explores a bit of that tension in the third paragraph; there are other angles that could be mentioned. Chuck Eddy in his question brought up the issue — in response to my own rather suspicious (or to use Chuck’s word, cynical) take on the Eichler piece in my presentation — that there is something potentially lost if access is indeed too easy and too immediate, that music really simply might not mean as much. I’ve heard variations of this thought from other writers and musicians I know and respect, and while I disagree with it, it’s something worth engaging with more.

Which is good because my piece is meant to open up conversations and suggest ideas. It was an interesting exercise all in all, and I’d like to think of it as an ‘of its time’ piece, something that may well be severely outdated sooner than I think — then again, perhaps not. I don’t claim any deep revelations, but hopefully there is something here of interest for the general reader as well as those whose interests cover music, information science or the two in concert.

I should also say that many people offered up thoughts and ideas that ended up in the paper, among others, I have to thank jaymc and dad a on ILM and Maura J. in particular, while various fellow UCI library employees (most of whom were actual librarians!) as well as Prof. Stephen Franklin from the campus’s ICS department heard me present an earlier version of the paper; their critiques and suggestions were invaluable. Finally, of course, I wouldn’t have a video record of the presentation were it not for the kindness of the inestimable Jacki M.

The text follows the video clips; as per YouTube’s usual practice, the presentation was split to allow each clip to go under the ten minute limit. All feedback happily welcomed, and thanks for checking it out! Final overall EMP 2010 thoughts to be posted tomorrow.

In a discussion on the Internet site I Love Music, or ILM for short, one participant recently asked his fellow board members for assistance with an Erykah Badu song title:

“so what is jump up in the air actually called:
“jump up in the air and stay there”
“jump up in the air (and stay there)”
“jump up in the air (stay there)””

He followed up that request with a further comment:

“it’s when i ask questions like those that i reflect on how last.fm has ruined my life”

His request and comment is a perfect summary of the kind of position that we, collectively if conditionally, now find ourselves in. We are a group shaped by access to technology and the time and interest spent on those things we consider most dear. We possess the knowledge – conscious or implied – that we are no longer simply listeners of music, or even consumers of it in a previously understood sense. Using technological resources only recently developed, we are collators of information, we are identifiers of sound, we are resources of reference.

In a recent piece for Paste magazine, “Listening to My Life: Lost in the Shuffle,” Maura Johnston pointed to this state with her characteristically well-observed ambivalence:

“…as much as I’ve become used to clicking through my library over the past few months, this transformation of music into something post-physical freaks me out. There was value in music having a physical presence—even those records that you’d only pull out for very specific reasons reminded you of their existence during a routine house-cleaning. Now it’s easy for songs to get lost in the shuffle. The labeling can be faulty; the artist’s name could be in a weird nether-region of the library that you never scroll through.”

As did the ILM user, Johnston touches on the issue of correct naming, to which I will return. Yet even more telling is her use of a common word twice within the course of the paragraph, a word that appears at the top of the lefthand column in every standard iTunes window. She speaks of her collection not as a collection, but as her library. And as she has her library, she has her self-chosen role as the curator of that collection – as the librarian.

We are all librarians now. It does not matter if we have a formal degree, we nonetheless are librarians, electronic librarians, or to use a more current term for the field, we are all information scientists in an online world. As noted, this state is conditional – it is based on everything from access to cheap energy and technology to the availability of information infrastructure to the economics of personal time, it seems permanent without actually being permanent. Yet here we are, in a world where those born at the start of this millennium will never have not known Google, iTunes, YouTube, Twitter. The names of these companies and products are not as important as the assumptions and the tools they provide, everything they encompass, the new baselines of experiences that have been created.

It is hardly something new that we are librarians or experts on collections in general – the physical objects generated which captured performances, from the original wax cylinders forward, were over time seen less as novelty, more as something that could possess a longer-term value. If you wanted to know what it was that you had heard and wanted to return to it, you had to organize and be able to search for it. But it is important to note that the original time of this historical moment itself saw the codification of the home book library as a key status symbol – something that a middle-class household had to possess. It is one of the greatest legacies of the European Victorian age, and remains a powerful one to this day – think of the lingering appeal via advertisements that some in my age group or older may remember about needing to have a good set of encyclopedias at home, reference books, great novels.

The development of recorded audio provided a new extension of the impulse. Using America alone as an example, within a few decades the idea of the quality record collection was commonplace, with labels and marketers attending to new canons, from the classical tradition to jazz to Broadway musicals and from there into the archives of rock, soul, funk, metal, dub, hip-hop, the list continues. The record shelves of my youth, filled with vinyl by my parents, was no less important a possession – a presumed necessity – than the books on the walls. By the time I started my own collection of CDs, I was working within a well understood approach – and the groundwork was already being created for the upending of it all via the Internet and modern computing.

For myself, I’ve found riding this wave to be absolutely fascinating, worth the trip, but this is far from a universal feeling. Johnston’s piece is one example of this ambivalence. In a piece last December in the Boston Globe, “Untouchable,” Jeremy Eichler vented more directly. At one point his complaint was familiar – and incomplete:

“For a real collector, the hunt to find an object can at once take on the dimensions of sport, art, and life’s quest. Even a casual music lover can appreciate the feeling of working hard to track down a particular recording, thumbing through the bins, or scouring the holdings of used-music stores.

“Today’s increasingly preferred mode of acquiring music – downloading – is a surreally effortless activity. A few clicks of the mouse, and, as if some cosmic spigot has been opened, the music pours onto your hard drive. If you are converting a large CD collection, there are services that will do the entire thing for you. It has become, in some senses, too easy.”

The language in this would require endless unpacking to be studied in thorough detail – starting with the third word, ‘real.’ But I instead call your attention to what is absent in this passage, and what has often been absent in similarly phrased stories over these last few years – the step before the search. What do his idealized real collector and his presumably deeply unreal computer user need before their searches? They need to know what they are looking for. How do they know what they are looking for? What information do they have to hand? How do they use that information? Is that information easily gathered? And is it accurate – and will it lead them to what they want to find, or hope they might find?

These are the questions that dominate the work of librarians, of information scientists. For some decades in this computer era a cliché has been, per Canadian writer Bruce Sterling’s endlessly referred-to (and nearly always redacted) phrase “Information wants to be free.” A more aspirational reworking would surely be “Information wants to be found.” We are here to talk about information that presumably wants to be found, the musical creation that its creators want people to hear. Per Dr. Seuss, if the Whos that lived on Horton the Elephant’s puffball had to shout “We are here!” as loud as they could to avoid being destroyed, the musicians of the world must shout all the louder – or, if not shout, at least find a way to see that others can find their way back to them. It is the eternal problem that any and all artists, have – to capture the attention. To be found.

In 1998 in the online journal Hermenaut, Chris Fujiwara’s essay “Disintermediated!” addressed what has proved to be a series of relevant issues for the current state of research in general, though his focus was literary rather than musical. To quote a concern that has essentially come true:

“Claims have been made that the Internet, with its potential to link together unlimited stocks of digitally represented knowledge, will disintermediate the library and the university, both subject to the fatal disadvantages of spatial location and world-time.”

What do people use to search for music in the present day? Do they use the Library of Congress, or their local libraries? These are options, but clearly not the most popular ones. Instead people can use retailers, sellers like Amazon and Apple, who employ their own staff to work with artists and labels to catalog material – but they are not the only sources. Not in the world of last.fm, of Wikipedia, of YouTube, of Discogs.com, of eternal Google queries. The contributors there may take their cues from those ‘formal’ sources, or be obsessive cataloguers themselves – or they may not be.

On ILM, the same poster whose quote was noted at the start of this presentation said elsewhere that a fellow poster had once observed “our brave new digital future sometimes feels a lot like unpaid data entry work.” It is work approached by each person as they choose to approach it, there is no formal ‘training’ in place, and there will likely never be.

What are the consequences of this? Consider where the potential for error can be introduced in this sequence of events: a song is released to the world, via a livestream, via a radio debut that’s immediately ripped, it does not matter. Is there a date of its uploading? Its recording? Is that provided? Should the artist provide it? Should the label, if the artist is signed? Is it a live version? Is it a demo version? A mixtape version? Are there guest artists? Are they new, do we know who they are? Is it definitely different from a formally released version? Will it ever be formally released?

For all that there are multiplicities at work, there’s also simplicities that can create massive consequences. Consider the story of Gracenote, formerly the Compact Disc Data Base or CDDB. This site has become the de facto 800 pound gorilla of digital music information, designed to collate and present correct mp3 ID tags, an automated process – a CD is read by a computer, it is matched with an entry at Gracenote and the information is sent back to one’s own computer. However, each individual disc must be entered into the system at some point – and often it’s down to whoever gets around to it first, one anonymous listener out of the entire world.

Consider how the potential for error has also appeared over time as first promo CDs and then mp3 promo releases are sent out to the world, quite often without a Gracenote entry or without the ID tags in the mp3s to identify the tracks. This leaves it to the music writer or the radio DJ or someone similar to do the work that arguably should have been done by the person or group releasing the album or song – as perhaps some of us have thought with a sigh, contemplating an unlisted thirty-track various artists compilation.

This question of error is therefore of paramount importance. If he’ll allow my indulgence in pointing it out, my fellow panelist Douglas Wolk has written on an example of this problem before for the July/August 2008 issue of The Believer – having acquired a copy of Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns’ Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu, he entered the data into iTunes and submitted it to Gracenote, as the site returned no match with the disc. At the time of writing, he had never found a copy of it since, and the tracklisting he submitted via iTunes has since been borrowed and reproduced many times – each time containing an error he had introduced to that track listing. The ‘real’ tracklisting has now been subsumed completely by the erroneous one.

Closer to home, back around 2000 or so my good friend Mackro and I completed something we had been working towards for years – a collation of the out of print EPs by the UK band Disco Inferno. As it happened, I was the person who submitted a tracklisting for this collation, titled The Five EPs, to Gracenote. In doing so, I made a noteworthy mistake – based on the order in which the song titles appeared, front and back, on the second EP’s CD cover, I assumed that the third song of the compilation was “From the Devil to the Deep Blue Sea” and the fourth was “A Rock to Cling To.” Over time, as copies of my CDR began to circulate widely, questions were raised about this, finally confirmed by Brian when he found a copy of the original vinyl single, but first indicated by the fact that what I thought was the song “From the Devil to the Deep Blue Sea” actually contained the lyric ‘a rock to cling to.’ I had switched the song titles. The error in identification can and still has cropped up over time, and even the just-announced formal release of this collection will likely not stop this error from recurring.

These kind of issues are not simply academic or of limited interest. Consider this section from a recent story in the LA Times about SoundExchange, the nonprofit organization created by Congress in 2001 to deliver royalty payments based on digital streaming online and elsewhere:

“…at any given time, about 25% of the money SoundExchange gets from online music services such as Pandora, XM Radio and Last.fm can’t be distributed because the artists can’t be tracked down, [noted] John Simson, SoundExchange’s executive director.

“The problem stems from what Simson calls “bad data.” Music services have been required by law since 2001 to send royalty payments to SoundExchange for the songs they stream online. But they often provide scant details. Stations routinely get promotional discs in the mail that aren’t properly labeled, so the performers often go uncredited. Other times, music services keep sloppy records of the songs they play. Some tunes, for example, are titled “Unknown” and performed by “Various Artists.”

“”We have this inside joke [said Simson] that if you want to make millions in the music business, just form a record label called Unknown and a band called Various Artists, and before you’ve even recorded a track, you can collect millions of dollars.””

This would only be amusing if there were not consequences – but given the history of the music business when it comes to an uncompensated artist, whose work provides a living for everyone else involved but the performer or songwriter him or herself, often it’s not funny in the slightest.

There are many signs that more is being demanded and expected, as the digital music world reaches a level of, to use a slightly loaded term, maturity. On the level of business alone, as just noted, compelling reasons are clear when it comes to providing correct information. Meanwhile, when web services like Shazam can analyze a song one hears and give you full information about it back, it seems a perfect solution exists – except that such a service, like Gracenote, relies on a database that by definition is never fixed nor universal.

That may well be the eternal stumbling block – the idea that there’s always going to be more information out there to catalog and describe, perhaps too much information at heart. There is always ‘more’ music, new, old, constantly produced, discovered, out in the world, being made for the world. More than one library professional I’ve spoken with has said, with a wry smile, that this current situation is a way for general members of the public to sense just what it is that goes into library work, that sense of commitment – of professionalism – that requires careful attention, accuracy, focus, and a similar realization that the work is never truly done. That it started before they were born – and will continue after they’re gone.

Keeping this in mind, I should say my discussion hasn’t really been about music. Not entirely. It never was. It never could be. It’s about those points I raised at the start – about access, about ability, about what could be found. Music is the reason we are here, it’s why I’m talking to you, it’s our particular realm. But we are not simply creatures responding to notes and nothing else.

So many of the positive dreams and clichés of futurist visions have come true, however haphazardly, however unexpectedly. The instant access to ‘everything’ via a device in your hand. That we have an imperfect world of inequity and injustice rather than a perfect one is just as much of a commonplace, and the real tragedy of time and existence. However much greater the opportunities, life daily reminds us of the losses, the limitations – that there is so much unfairness of things, enough to make you scream in anger at those who refuse to see it.

Then why, out of all the concerns one should be aware of in this world, why a call to be more self-conscious about ourselves as the electronic librarians, the archivists, the markers of ‘art’ as we define it? We all create more knowledge than may ever possibly be used by any one person, and yet it is there now. We provide the help to the person in the first step in the search so they may progress to the second. We provide the tools for the future, the signposts, the way to get to that thing that was written, recorded, whatever, for someone to encounter, to consider, to be inspired by – and not simply musically.

That was always what a library did, what a librarian did. We all now have that role. And there is now so much more we can do, to contribute and to give back, each in our ways.

In doing this, we inspire the future by enabling the present. The rest will follow.

Thank you.

EMP Pop Conference 2010 — Sunday presentations

And these will wrap up the conference!

Tim Lawrence, “Musical Relationships: Interrogating the Digital with Arthur Russell,” read by Ken Wissoker“This is How We Walk on the Moon” played, brings together a set of sounds that might not ordinarily meet, given time to work out their relationships to one another, cello, trombone, congos, players from different backgrounds all pulled together by Russell. Looped cello allows others to enter into an open space, new elements accomodating the old and vice versa, transition and integration. A childlike fascination with the lunar, fun, crazy, learning, building up skill over time. Jim Thomas: title lyrics first delivered in alien voice, a bridge for the other musical voices. Russell would not have used a Vocoder, effects were added. Wouldn’t have been recorded in a single take, process could be elongated. Russell would walk around listening to tapes to work out what versions he wanted, reluctance to release as idealistic relationship to music. Version played might not be ‘the’ cycle. Russell was short on money so many recordings done cheap at night, often on full moon nights, Russell’s favored night. Julius Eastman’s own moon fascination noted. “Big Moon” and “Antigravity Soap” discussed. Russell integrated the lunar. “This Is How” appeared on Another Thought, seen by many as a tamed Russell, but not successful. Audika/Soul Jazz reissues prompt new attention and praise, new articles on his wonderfulness. Message from Spanish backpacker on “This is How” quoted to show impact on others. More systematic introduction to Russell needed, biographic overview provided about growing up in Iowa, escaping, studying, moving to NYC, compositional work and various projects discussed, scene hopping on a daily basis. Few musicians and listeners who liked him fully followed his course at the time, the breadth seen now in the scene was still marked by limits. How has he managed to become a reference point? The reissues, his genius? More likely, the development of the digital, instant playback and the sharing of information widely, something he did not have access to at the time. File sharing isn’t perfect but does provide something, less important to listen by tribal loyalties. He didn’t make sense then, makes much more sense now, but let’s not congratulate ourselves too much, no musical nirvana has been reached, too much casualness and haste, decontextualized listening. Lots of recycling, less working together in real time, more file exchanges, speed and disconnection. Examples, not full problem, but the slow and enduring can still produce good music, difference can be appreciated by visiting it on its home territory. Russell would work for long times on ‘spontaneous’ sounds, not merely a forward thinking artist but one of the present.

Charles Kronengold, “Hearing (Thinking) Digital People” — this paper is frontloaded text, then music! Recognition of studio musicians as thinking subjects in black music, hearing music is some contexts but not others. When are we convinced we hear people in electronic dance music? People are surplus, who are they? Producer/DJ provides a subject but there are others, heard in breakdowns, songlengths, more, heard via sampling, captured and reproduced. They are read into the sound, before asking if there is someone there. Nonspecific sorts of cultural knowledge, what forms do claims of attention take? Voices in the musical texture, hearing many people thinking, thinking by means of the senses and communally, exposing fragilities. Encouraging listeners to react. Example played of Detroit house (more history needed) “Throw” by Paperclip People aka Carl Craig plus the sample source Loleatta Holloway’s “Hit and Run” — what does the use of the sample provoke, the repetition of this bass sample? Holloway track played, in context only a very short part. In “Throw” it provokes organ parts, percussive additions. Another excerpt bringing out vulnerability, a male falsetto channelling Holloway, only on the vinyl 12″ version. More humanized/performed than sequenced?70s musicians still fighting for recognition in “Throw”? Disclavier can capture full performance of piano, original recording via Disclavier playback, original has the incidental sounds and is generally preferred, yet not specifically preferred because of that. Field recordings of percussion played, turned out to be icicles dripping on paint cans but sounded ‘human’ to listeners. Always other stuff going on when a musician is working heard on a less than conscious level. What sort of things are happening? We want to hear people trying to do something. Theo Parrish’s raw/gritty house cited, physicality of making different to physicality of dancing, what sorts of physical comportment do we imagine particular sounds incorporating? Trumpet sample focused on, heavily repeated in the song, song called “Reaction to Plastic,” note squelching midrange loop/pulse, shift to more…ethereal/percussive section, near complete breakdown to the loop. Played by a human, what is it? At sparsest moment, face to face with something strange, amateur that can’t quite hang with the pros, DJ that is not a musician. Different elements suggest different modes of care, examples cited, even white noise can work as breathing. Multivocality as more plausible frame, asked to care by many people, black thinkers in the mix.

Michaelangelo Matos, “The Digital Glossolalia of Todd Edwards and DJ Koze” (Matos has since posted his full paper but I’ll let the notes stand so you can see where I compress and edit as I hear something!) — glossolalia, speaking in tongues. Edwards and Koze make such voices work in unexpected contexts, tweak, distend, microedit voices. Edwards from New Jersey, tracks are all very similar, manipulates voices and instruments, catches the ear and tugs you toward it. Remix of Mantra feat. Lillian Rhodes’ “Away,” original lyrics/performance described, more recent Jon Creamer/Stephane remix played first, known in hard house circles, big room pumping stuff, drugs aren’t working, original vocal was straightforward. With Edwards, quick microcutups of syllables, reassembled, arranged out like a painter’s packet, a distinct difference, cut to bridge transforms the vocal line completely, glossolalic lyrics! “Oh essa eh uh ah ooo.” Edwards influenced by Masters of Work, Todd Terry, hip hop brought into house. Also, Enya! Vocals as musical instruments. ‘Todd the God’ laid the groundwork for two step garage, famously and outspokenly a devout Christian. “Saved My Life” played, approximation of a gospel choir, “Saviour Tonight” even more straightforward sentiments, original St. Germain “Alabama Blues” played, dub mix played, note vocal interplay, highhats, snares, swings! Main vocal line can’t be heard aside from a changed “Alabama” and a “Jesus loves me/you, it’s alright.” Edwards provides a specific pleasure each time, Koze veers all over the place, sound versus sensibility. Koze will do anything — “We Are the World” by Adolf Noise played. Just amazing. Vocal imitations just insane. “We ARRRRE the world!” No reverence to source material. Matthew Dear’s “Elementary Lover” original played, Talking Heads groove, Brazil in the percussion accents, Bowie in the vocals. Then Koze got a hold of it — painting and echoes, chittering vocal lines a call and response for Dear, vocals gather mass like a flock of birds, cutting a word apart. Koze as silly symphonist to Edwards’s sample orchestrator. “Thank you!”

Paul Farber, “Selections from History’s Jukebox: Rebuilding and Remixing the Berlin Wall” — part of a larger project about the Wall in American culture. Passing Strange clip shown, protagonist shown reaching an impasse, loses track, no resolution, but Stew will repurpose this, songwriting like building a wall, and if the song never stops? PS history discussed, fueled by displacement, actors and band both present on stage, in what ways is music real? Stew moves to Amsterdam, then Berlin, desire to write the perfect song. The song pushes Youth to the brink, piano notes quoted, stage transformed to show the Wall but also a sonic reconstruction. A rebuilt Wall is a site of American cultural opportunities in the mind, steering away from Cold War nostalgia. Wall as audiotopia, negotiating black male identity in music. Paul Beatty‘s Slumberland also discussed, similar biographical details though Beatty is a DJ. Berlin as ideal stage for encounters and implications. Beatty’s DJ builds jukebox of timeless tunes that still sound fresh. Traces of classic hip hop beats in both works, Stew and Beatty steer from hiphop to other possibilities than hiphop as historical construction. Beatty quoted in detail, listen for difference, Josh Kun quotes from Audiotopia on pieces of music, small momentary lived Utopias. By routing through Cold War Berlin, Beatty and Stew’s work takes note of its liminal possibilities, ideas of authenticity do not have to be bracketed. 1989 as moment of closure? Not necessarily, Joshua Clover quoted, fall of the Wall as congealed event, hiphop approaching 1989 as Golden Age apex, deposited in cultures past, dissonance emerges with larger ideological payload. Coheres into singular narrative of bygone triumph and emerging ‘smooth’ commercial success. Musical styles in Berlin noted, guitars, neo-cabaret, Youth’s projection of “passing” for black/ghetto discussed, his song about building a mask noted, piano part suggests “The Bridge is Over,” sonically constructed from fragments, question of reinforced geographic division. Borough of bifurcation. Song and songwriter work to protect the entertainer, requires something more than real to fill the void, echo reveals new directions about a song to escape a song. Beatty’s satire fueled by consciousness, protagonist wants to create the perfect beat and make blackness passé, hunting for the avant garde jazz composer the Schwa lost in Berlin. The Schwa found wanting to rebuild the Wall — “how can we read the writing on the wall without it?” Create a sonic wall, the Black Passe tour. Connections to black music history via jukebox, must accentuate but not throw off a certain balance, no hiphop because it needs claustrophobia. Concert event described as overwhelming, violinist quotes Eric B and Rakim “My Melody,” a new remixed Wall of sound. Schwa as restored link to musical past, wall as monumental but less permanent, beat erased, black is the new black. Way to bracket realness via the Wall in both Stew and Beatty.

Shana L. Redmond, “Bandung Holograms: Paul Robeson on Tape” — 1956, Robeson v HUAC on his passport revocation, HUAC dealing with an uphill fight thanks to the Fifth Amendment, a political statement. No acknowledging, talking instead about his persecution due to his work, educating listeners about injustices. Quotes given, a confession of radical/global activity. While he could not travel, new ways were found to spread his message during the time of Cold War imperialism and resistance. Focus on his tape for 1955 Asian African Bandung Conference in Indonesia. Singing body, passport as technology, holograms as his tools. In performance, took advantage of the physical/corporeal body, sound technology discussed, vocalist’s body is first and final lines of defense. Waves test/challenge of the walls containing them, distinct voice of Robeson discussed, early review quoted describing it, education and race up for debate giving the choice of language and categorization. Singers’ qualities to reduce separation discussed via quotes, Robeson celebrated for interpretive/inhabitive abilities, uniting through music and communal listening and questioning. Feared by State Department, thus passport. Passport as technology discussed as helping secure the ideas of the state. Military’s role of power discussed, Robeson critiqued it, saw himself as a global citizen versus the nation-state’s drives. Robeson exposed inequality disguised in the name of family. Restriction meant counteraction in domestic circles and elsewhere. Bandung Conference and his note to them discussed. Recording sent along with three songs to be sung, “No More Auction Block,” “Hymn for Nations,” “Old Man River.” Song selection strategies in general discussed, song choices studied as linked to Robeson’s work and projects. Shorelines and rivers mentioned in his note, a tying together of cultures. Hearing his voice means hearing the physical limits. Struggling against limits, being unable to join the third world and his work there. As Bandung listened to Robeson the beginning of the reconstruction of his body begins, a hologram in the assembly hall. Because we can hear him, we can hear the limits. Quote on books as forged passports, recording as similar, a reaction to the silent nation state.

Salamishah Tillet, “Black Sonic Revivals: Cassidy and the Strange Samplin’ of Nina Simone” — Simone on the ugliness of “Strange Fruit,” the violence done, graphic images shown. Her career and repetoire discussed, reworkings and virtuosities and enacting her ideals and interests. Through genre mixing she rejected the segregation of sound, unified via her theatricality, “that Nina sound.” Wanting to stay out of any category, defying the social contract of the genre, like Toni Morrison’s Sula, metaphysically black, a new world black/woman sound. Post-liberated artists listed, including Cassidy and John Legend. A story of remixes and revivals, knowing how it sounds to be free. Simone’s Pastel Blues discussed, its various experiments noted, with Holliday covers as the big ones including her version of “Strange Fruit.” The importance of “Strange Fruit” in general noted. Simone on Holliday — sharing a disillusion in the former’s eyes, but Simone distanced herself more with time (preferred a Callas comparison!). Reinvention as struggle against the past, Lena Horne quote on SF noted. Simone’s recapturing connects past to her present, her ultimate borrowing of the torch song for the idea and ideal of democracy, a polemic against second-class citizenship. No lead-in, active subjects not passive listeners, Simone jumps right in, plays with tempo and temporality, Holliday’s outburst short, Simone’s a protest over octaves. A political rite of passage. Despite the shift from Holliday to Monk and Bach, Simone still acknowledges her anyway, while resisting the tragic end. Mary J Blige — not a Holliday fan much but loves Simone (and is playing her in the movie!) Simone enters hiphop — Cassidy releases “Celebrate,” John Legend’s riff on “Dance Little Sister” and a sample of Simone’s “Strange Fruit” included. Wanted to create a melodic song, wanted Simone’s blacker voice as Devo Springsteen noted, wanting the grain, the tone and timbularity. An uncharacteristic song for Cassidy, heterogenous via samples, a politics of the past partially inherited via Holliday, of disenfranchisement then and now. Samples used to achieve sonic unity/ambiguity; Cassidy wraps himself into a matrilineal tradition. The bad mothering stereotype discussed/critiqued. Simone not only a standin for Holliday but a shout-out to the female singers of the past and present (Kanye West’s “Bad News” and John Legend’s grandmother as music teacher discussed.) Sample provides link to past, ushering in a new sonic space, mixes genres and geneaologies, black pleasure through black pain.

EMP Pop Conference 2010 — Saturday presentations

And once more into the breach…

Jason Hanley, “The Transformation of Kraftwerk: From ‘Autobahn’ to ‘Man Machine’” — Rock defined often by singers and guitarists, keyboardists trying to look cool (Rick Wakeman!) or trying something different visually. Thus Kraftwerk and its run of core seventies albums. Paper addresses their sound, image, modernist agenda in the post modern rock world. Ralf and Florian’s background, education and early collaborations discussed, “total rupture” by embracing electronic possibilities, meeting Conny Plank and his idea of a uniquely German sound. Photo of the early studio shown, discusses the idea of studio as instrument. First Kraftwerk album discussed, the implications of the name of the band, linguistic resonances, the Dusseldorf setting. Instruments edited and altered, live 1970 TV clip of “Ruckzuck” shown. Critical reputation as intellectuals noted, then Autobahn and the fuller move to the synthesizer, album credits and the audio scientist role, clip played of the synth bird chirps from the album mixed with flute, “Autobahn” and its use of Vocoder and melodic refrains as a new step, clip played. Image shift discussed to full clean cut style, 1975 TV clip shown playing the new percussion pads. Rock journalist responses to Kraftwerk: mixed shall we say, or worse (anti German jokes etc.), Lester Bangs Creem article discussed as is the Man Machine concept. Radioactivity — few on songs, heavy on concept, using new pieces of technology, without Conny Plank, radioactivity as confused concept (as radio waves? as nuclear power?), nuclear power plant press photo shown. More trashing reviews: “album sounds mechanical even for them!” Trans Europe Express released next, a circular pattern of an album, minimalist and only pop because of the vocal hooks. They start reacting back to other musicians working with their sound (Bowie/Eno Low). Man Machine released, response in part to Eurodisco, Moroder, etc. “I Feel Love” and “Spacelab” compared. New box set replaces earlier covers but keep the later ones.

Lauren Hume Flood, “Total Sonic Annihilation” — introduces the story of Oliver Ackermann and Death by Audio and their DIY pedal business, recent attention in the mainstream. Takes us on a tour of the offices, equipment everywhere, scattered pieces of work, various pedal names mentioned and photos of the equipment shown, packaging. Explanation of a pedal’s general construction and appearance, inner workings widely accepted as is unless it doesn’t work or someone wants to change and alter the ‘black box.’ “Necessary but ugly machinery” mentioned. Decoration of a pedal as reflective of sound and meaning/uses. Names as metaphors, aural into text. Death by Audio website shown, text for the Total Sonic Annihilation discussed. Rhetoric around A Place to Bury Strangers discussed plus the noise/analog inspirations, aesthetics through machines. Video for “I Know I’ll See You” shown, filmed via webcam while in an RV, intentionally corroded, circuit board shots interpersed with industrial parks, “Keep Slipping Away” video features old TV sets and other seemingly kitsch audio equipment, plus Ackermann directly interacting with his pedals — lines between machines get blurred, technology as captivating and oppressive. Sonic must manifest itself visually in a market economy.

Theo Cateforis, “‘Dark Spaces and Empty Places’” — Peter Doyle and reverb mentioned, paper explores post 1960 possibilities. Plays clip of the start of “All Cats Are Grey” by the Cure. Reverb! Echo! Great of course. Perception of reverb comes from the physical world, large spaces and hard surfaces. Percussion discussed in the song, the eternally looped and echoed parts with ‘wet reverberance’ — keyboards and bass add a solemn tone, like an organ in a cathedral. Partial sonic inspiration is Mervyn Peake‘s Gormenghast, a massive Gothic castle in the mind’s eye. Double tracked vocals places us in the cave, literally given the lyrics, a sense of passivity and emptiness, enshrouded in darkness. Lol Tolhurst’s mother’s death, Robert Smith’s fear in lack of faith — suburban background and connections explored, Michael Bracewell on Crawley as empty and echoed landscape. Simon Reynolds on the desolate psychogeography of the industrial North in Thatcher’s time, plus general postpunk cultural gloom. Critical reaction mixed — was it Thatcher that annoyed Smith or just the weather? Reverb’s general impact discussed, Martin Hannett and dub and the embrace of artifice. A revolt against dry sound/dead studio effect. Drums as the linchpin. Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” vs Joy Division’s “Heart and Soul” drum styles, close miked vs echo echo echo. Hannett draining ambient spillage and adding it back, Mike Hedges doing similar with the Cure, Lillywhite and gated drums, etc. Songwriting approaches in lines and layers, Wire’s “The Other Window.” Composed on bass, four impossible to reproduce key changes, suggestions of space resultant, lyrics as fragmented in the overall echo construction. Brilliant song. Shifting harmonies reflecting multiplicity of spaces in the song, a mounting inner turmoil reflected. A different song from “All Cats” but there’s an aesthetic at work. Smith on wanting a very stripped back sound, resultant implied harmonies. The Walkman comes out around this time — the ultimate in isolation while listening to music on isolation?

Daphne Brooks, “Open Tuning: Blind Tom, Human Photography & Black (Metaphysical) Noise in the Age of Slavery” — grew out of research for a book, everyone asked about Blind Tom! So into the performance with some Massive Attack, “Pray for Rain,” lyrics about people under stress, a way to enter the past, an alternative sonic sphere in the 19th century. Willa Cather on Blind Tom: a human phonograph, a crossover success after the Civil War in the North. Fits in the nighttime, echolalia — autistic? Defied conventional diagnosis at the time. His ability to translate and reproduce information was beyond measure, yet he was triply exploited as slave, blind man, musician, marketed as a Barnumesque freak show for thirty five years, died in 1908. Moved from unintended CSA fundraiser to something else after the war. Lots of great quotes I can’t capture here, sorry! Thoughts on Blind Tom as jukebox hero, liminally between slavery and freedom, a ghostly medium, fugitive sonics, the reverb of reconstruction. Whew! Daphne is a very quick reader so I’m being a bit outstripped here. What did he hear? America singing but also quotidian sounds, a translator of sounds, Whitman like. Thoughts on intersections, Blind Tom as a hot mike for society. Hits, classical, popular, but imitations of other instruments. Quote from 1867 paper on his imitative abilities, especially of tuning up other instruments. Seeds of an avant garde culture, automatic art? Strindberg quoted and there we are!

David Suisman, “Digital Before Digital” — the player piano has not aged well, true! But mechanical reproduction is not just about the phonograph, and one hundred years back the player piano was seen as the winner and more innovative. Both invented around the same time, both popularized over time into the 20th century, seen as harbringers of dramatic change, often talked about together, seen to be more democratic but less creative, perhaps a menace or robbing copyright holders. Early music business history and copyright issues discussed in Congress, the Copyright Act of 1909 covering both broadly. Player piano disrupts the narrative — music, mechanized, digitized — into something else. Not just revolutionary but evolutionary, part of a larger mechanical interest in music (like the development of the piano itself pre the player piano!). It’s not that the earlier operations were automatic but predetermined, thus Marx and displacement of labor. Examples discussed, piano vs violin as an example, player piano is more advanced but operator involvement still needed, as with phonographs. (Radio etc as something with less control over time.) Antecedents — the oldest organs even shows this, Roman hydraulus organs, through to barrel organs and the like. All based on binary or digital programming if you like! Machine executes feats. Pianolas discussed, human operators still needed for tempo, then later ones take that out. Pianists recorded rolls for reproducing player pianos. John McTammany mentioned, earlier inventions worked from silk looms, 18th century punch cards! Babbage machine stuff noted as well, 1890 tabulating the census inspired by player piano roll work, leading to IBM! Their music box at Seattle Worlds Fair shown, Mo Tucker and punch card work! Last year the final piano roll company shut down — still operating all this time! Amazing stuff. The player piano is still with us.

Lori Brooks, “‘To Be Black Is To Be Funny’” — discussion of coon songs in the early part of the last century, coon as term discussed, applied in the post Civil War years, songs popularized in Tin Pan Alley times by white women, stereotypes outlined. Quote on racialization of society noted, but paper wants to address a different kind of performance. Melancholy and race explored, what of racial grief? Freud and Cheng (?) quoted. Endless self impoverishment that can still nurture, feeding upon it, loss, denial and incorporation. The ego takes it in and sustains it — deep psych theory here, sorry for any elisions! Swallowed, not digested. Nonwhites stuck in the throat of the nation, those who do not belong yet there. Ghostly performances discussed, white female coon shouters, singing in the voice of an absent coon. What kind of modernity is this? What can it teach us about ethics? Coon used rather than black man in this talk precisely because it is a denigrating stereotype. Title is from 1941 book on American humor, conflating minstrelsy and African American art. May Irwin — Canadian, lived until 1938, clip of 1895 “Bully Song” played. Irwin’s style was different — a large woman, used that as a source of humor, performances seen as conversational and intimate. Song is violent, razors mentioned, death…and in this context meant to be comedic. It’s not blackface minstrelsy as she did not dress up as such, other standards apply instead. What does it all mean? What is to be made of her body, rearticulating the bully as something else, a liberation via violence, a presentation of paradox, a kind of cross dressing. Sex is implied, an invasion of the body, white women being a site of anxiety given ragtime. Simply a story of domination? Consider it as queer space too, a space of intersex, so while there shouldn’t be no blame, power must be accounted for. Irwin performs in the liminal space, to perform there is to enact a certain kind of violence in the Plessy v Ferguson years. Irwin’s performance was unethical yet transgressive — not revolutionary but exposed a way of remaking the self, inhabiting forbidden spaces. Anna Deavere Smith described in comparison/contrast.

Jody Rosen, “‘The Microphone Has No Footlights’: Al Jolson’s Radio Days” — “Al Jolson, come on!” Photo on screen, minstrelsy connection noted but paper is on other things. First some clips: Al in 1927 in The Jazz Singer, whistle it up!, then Owl Jolson in a 1936 cartoon! Singing on the radio! Jolson as musical modernity in the 1910/20′s, the human megaphone, a turbine, a current. Vaudeville crashes in the Depression, radio comes in, no comedic gestures to be seen! Crooning is about understatement and Al couldn’t quite fit. In his heyday he covered all areas, of his Jewishness brought full to the fore in his work and life. Part of a revolt against the Anglo-American tradition, song clips played “I Sent My Wife To the Thousand Isles.” Vocal styles about volume and effects, abhorred a vocal vacuum. Hour long encores! Made managers installed ramps, loved sweating on the audience, very James Brown! “Mammy” clip played. Not an act that lent itself to radio! “Jolson too big for radio,” said George Burns. First radio work in 1933 a notable flop, sounded nervous, went offmike. Negative fan reaction quoted. Vaughn DeLeath‘s “The Whisper Song” played, first crooner hit, Rudy Vallee as the anti-Jolson, megaphones as a collegiate signifiers, new not old, PR claimed “the guy with the cock in his voice!” (Jolson in response: “the guy with a cock in his mouth!” Jody says that was real, crowd dies in laughter!) Questions of weak-voiced singers, not masculine, Jolson dismissive and insulting to crooners. Subject matter shrinking to just love songs, Jolson used to doing more, frustrated by limitations and the redomesticated pop world. Jolson returned to radio but as an oldies act later on. But Jolson did have this ballsy move, stepping offmike, clip from The Jolson Story shown him at 60, other film clip starts with a croon, then ragtime, stepping away from the mike, go for the ham joke! And done!

“The Machine Speaks: Hua Hsu Interviews Dave Tompkins on the History of the Vocoder” — I won’t be doing a full runthrough here, taking a lunch break! But Tompkins’s book How to Wreck a Nice Beach is on the subject so check that out — Tompkins has a great slide show and amazing anecdotes.

“Plagiarhythm Nation: Appropriation in Electric Dance Music” — a joint presentation by Bernardo Alexander Attias, Fred Church and Mark Gunderson. Part overview of the phonographic cut and paste aesthetic, part performance with Mark on the VidiMasher:

Mark is doing quote readings from figures in the history of phonographics (Edison, Sousa, Gramaphone magazine writers, etc.) with a crackly/old radio broadcast overlay, along with the musical collage he is overseeing. Ben is doing the initial reading, presumably Fred to follow. It’s a good overall history lesson, touching on various factors — copyright philosophy, perceptions of moral problems in the early days, Edison vs Bell, more to follow — but it’s not easily summarizable given the performance nature!

Christopher DeLaurenti, “The New Photographers: An Alternate History of Field Recording” — field recording conjures images of getting lost songs, recording without ADR, etc. But what is it? We mostly hear studio work, meticulously controlled and predictable, edited down. Field recordings are unstable, uncontrolled, with flaky gear, vulnerable to the elements. Recordist is far from home, but it’s not location but a condition. Alternate history: 1877 and Edison and the tinfoil phonograph, Greek sound writer. Developments into the wax cylinder, then the anthropologists start recording and the archives start appearing, Vienna/Berlin 1899. Tashkent recording from 1905 played, a now nonexistent instrument apparently. Musicians were from royal court, anonymous for their protection, limitations of recording turns string instruments into tones. 1899 is first known recording of bird songs. Gear could be cumbersome — Lomaxes recorded with 315 pound acetate recorder! Field expanded, recorders shrank. Tony Schwartz recorded people and places in New York in the forties and onward, recording played describing a murdered man’s dying words as told by another with thoughts on racism. Field recordings change late between recording and recording/editing/reworking. Nature recordings reached amazing levels of virtuosity in the 1990s. Inaudible edits shored up seamless sonic realities. Then digitally flattened sound kicks in (Nono, Feldman as forebears), glitch and computer manipulation, reissues, MiniDisc recorder arrives (no crumpled tape!). Clip played of dog bark recordings and noise — 1996 Claude Matthews recording of dogs about to be destroyed. Michael Northam recorded the wind in Texas silos, empty blasted drones. 2003 Peter Cusack goes to Lake Baikal, birds and waves and echoed…something, a singing broadcast voice? All three clips unedited, no overdubs. Instruments endure because they are reliable, notation as form of field recording. Recording of vocal piece from Italy (Banchieri?) composed four centuries back, at once singing and meows! Dogs, cats, more. Flutes as representing birds in Beethoven in the Pastorale. Unusual juxtapositions, unexpected polyphony. A history of field recording should therefore not begin with the technology of recording!

Jon Leidecker, “The Radio as Instrument: Shortwave Sound at the Roots of Sampling” — guts of paper taken from a podcast about appropriated collage! Thus a subset about radio as instrument. Collage in general is the style that reflects the 20th century in music the best, in its collaborative and communal over generations. Turntables are the pop instrument in this process, some pieces predate radio. Radio was the instrument that people could respond to first, more than the frozen recorded moment. 1922 is the commercial ground zero, massive boost in stations and receivers even when turntables were still a luxury item. Three works to be discussed here, a novelty 20s piece, Cage in the 40s, Czukay in the late seventies. Quote from book about radio talking about its social nature in the twenties, interactive and immediate, in the room with the broadcast. By late twenties, definitely marketed as a form of entertainment at home. Billy Jones and Ernest Hair were the Happiness Boys, early radio personalities. Song recorded simulates the listener searching through stations at home, “Twisting the Dial” by name. Clip played and it’s great, the static between stations created by a slide whistle (is it?) and a “washboard with a rock.” Not strictly using the radio but encourages others to use it as an instrument, media overload from 1928! Sampling cut to shellac, six records used in the collage and credited on the sleeve, speed altered. Built for non-sequiturs and disjunctive listening where turntables were more static. Cage starts proposing turntable/radio pieces in the late 1930′s, “Credo in Us” from 1942 played, radio operator instructed when to turn on instrument and add snippet (1971 recording but sounds like 1942 anyway!) Forced randomness in the mix, but Cage was pissed whenever improv was introduced! Allow for sounds beyond self-expression. 12 radios in “Imaginary Landscape No. 4″ allowed him to enjoy the beach and its noise! Italian 1974 performance played in part, radio merriment madness and static crackle. Why not more collage earlier given all the radio station equipment? Quite a bit of restraint up to a certain point, but Les Ford multitracking and rock sonics help expand the idea of what works, by 1960 everyone starts collaging like crazy. Shortwave radio interference runs throughout, Keith Rowe, Cage, Stockhausen, Lennon and “I Am the Walrus.” From Stockhausen to Can, Czukay playing radio, Canaxis as world music collage, shortwave noise. Was Can’s tape editor, working with the improvs to create, then shifting with Rosko Gee so Czukay takes radio and Morse code tappers on stage to liven things up, as it were. Czukay leaves just to edit, vocals from shortwave. 1979′s “Cool in the Pool” played, devolved disco? Proto Arthur Russell solo? Vocal samples collaged together. Pop, looks forward to digital sampling. Radio as performative element, Chris Cutler’s performance of the Cage piece lately didn’t work as well as shortwave has mostly gone silent (thus Basinski, Dockstadter).

Laura Harris, “Art and Social (After)life: Jimi Hendrix and Hélio Oiticica” — Oiticica’s archive recently destroyed in a fire, sadly. CC5 HENDRIX-WAR features altered covers of War Babies viewed while tapes of Hendrix play. Can Oiticica’s work be salvaged or recovered? Oiticica bio given, growing up in Brazil with its military government and racism. Grandfather was often imprisoned anarchist, father schooled children at home. Oiticica makes his reputation in Rio in avant garde art circles, explores samba in the mid-sixties and makes sonic connections in his art. Constructs art out of found objects meant to be carried, held, environmental works, “experimental exercise of freedom,” wear them and use them as you can. Impromptu exhibition set up when museum refuses access. Tropicalia installation noted, dictatorship cracks down due to the favelado connection. Oiticica knew he had to leave, first to London and then New York. Realized that he needed the margins in New York (Loft, S&M clubs), gravitates to the image of Hendrix and what it suggests. “Gives rise to a kind of delirium.” Musicworddancebody performances, National Anthem performance. It can’t survive itself, no afterlife, “suddenly arrived at — Woodstock doesn’t exist anymore.” Constructs/reconstructs ‘nests’ to live and work in, tunnels and boxes and more assembled, sites of ‘productive leisure,’ photos shown. Works on paper proposed and designed, constantly revised and worked on, thus CC5 and Hendrix. Notes shown, equipment needed to draw cocaine lines, public and private performances, where and how to set up things.

Tapes to be foregrounded, have all Hendrix to hand! Whatever the ‘administrator’ has available. Hendrix serves less as fetish for social space coalescing and more as theorist in the work. Not wasted time but invented time. A relation at the level of form between Hendrix and Oiticica’s work, Hendrix as constant reworker of material (“Voodoo Chile” and its versions and configurations of the band). Pop song as work of art exploded via technique. Clip played. What Hendrix does to pop song, Oiticica does to the work of art, disruptive, insurgent. Citizenship and the other had shut out the ‘motley crews’ but possibilities and traces exist, open formations and autonomy, aesthetic sociality of blackness. Oiticica extending Hendrix’s afterlife, and now Oiticica’s own?

EMP Pop Conference 2010 — Friday presentations

Rolling commentary on those presentations I attend will be posted here throughout the day!

Nate Chinen, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Pikasso” — starts with a film clip riffing on Pat Metheny as jazz fusion god, hurrah guitar geeks and their stupidities! As a Metheny clip plays, Chinen talks about early response to his new technological band setup, Metheny as guitar god for the geek squad, a discussion of his career follows from his ECM debut forward, and now the robot orchestra he uses, a steampunk ideal. Metheny born in the fifties in Missouri, grew up with plugging in the guitar, something that he has pondered more than most. Metheny quote about being around gear is like “reeds and mouthpieces for other people.” Clip is from Montreal and shows him using the Synclavier using it as a fretboard, creating almost pastoral/vibraphonic music. Wonder in solitude, tech as gateway to contemplation. Imagine the context of 1982, playing alone in this clip, and now where he plays with an acoustic guitar at first and then with the Orchestrion. Metheny quote about guitar possibilities as “one big instrument.” New clip of a 42-string acoustic guitar performance — pretty crazy! Form determining content, gives Metheny a broader palette, glissandi, cascading arpeggios. Mark Herbert commissioned to create a foot-driven instrument, things then built from there to the Orchestrion, apparently inspired by 19th century musical automation, playing the equivalent of the piano roll plus instant prompts, something that had driven him for years. LEMUR and Eric Singer was the cue to nifty gadgetry, Metheny asks and commissions more, samples shown of instruments, transcription of arrangement shown. Kim Caulkins involved, expertise in pneumatics brought in, sample setup shown with percussion, piano, more. Clip from Orchestrion played — no trace of herky jerky awkwardness, a self portrait of musical history. Example of not so much ends but means, totally in control yet not a solo gig either. Megalomania? Metheny: “You can predict the bad reviews!…But is it similar to someone playing a solo piano concert? This is my instrument, translates my ideas into sound….Really have been thinking about it since I was nine, but I have to admit a certain level of satisfaction, nice to get a direct translation of what I hear…a very clear representation.” By trading in PMG for OMG, deus in machina, chooses to do these things because he can, because they are easy, because they are hard. Live Italian TV clip played as a conclusion.

Geeta Dayal, “Brian Eno, Cybernetics and the Studio as a Musical Instrument” — she explains how it was strange that nobody had talked about cybernetics and Eno before, also that no women had written about him, also that the very difficult work Eno had worked with in the 60s and 70s had not been addressed (Cornelius Cardew etc.) Also that Eno was an legendary player — find the ex-girlfriends! (Eno prefers not to talk about the seventies now.) Graphics up, her favorite machines! 808, talks about playing with Fatboy Slim’s 808 in France (“I have a really strange life!”), TB-303, Jupiter 8. Let’s go back to the idea of the machine, Apple 1 from 1976 shown, but what happened pre-this? Flowchart of the idea of the machine shown, the concept of the machine, a cybernetics diagram, all interconnected. What is cybernetics? Widely misunderstood, confusion with cyborgs, people think it’s really hard, it’s not! It is the study of systems, Norbert Wiener definition about the science of control — but control isn’t scary! How things talk to each other. Stewart Brand (friend of Eno) thinks of it as whole systems thinking, Whole Earth Catalog connection, Cage/Rauschenberg, etc. Various systems discussed as examples, how things build on each other and are circular (thermostat as example). Post-Wiener, theory applied widely, including music. Feedback and control loops very important in this case. Wiener discussed in more detail as MIT icon, Geeta wondered about him, leading to more study. Also, UK thinkers following Wiener — Gordon Pask, Stafford Beer, W. Ross Ashby, all influences on Eno. Beer’s Project Cybersyn mockup shown, very Clockwork Orange. UK art school legacy in music discussed, Art Into Pop. Eno went to Ipswich, run by Roy Ascott, student of Pask. Ascott wanted to run his school as experiment, doing mind maps and the like, craziest school in the UK! Ascott ran it into the ground. Cardew and “The Great Learning” discussed — “Paragraph 7″ done with untrained musicians, gave them algorithms, follow these rules: sing any note, match it to someone around you — result: a gorgeous drone. Eno realizes it is self-regulating, cybernetics applied to music, small inputs leading to massive outputs each time. Also it sounds good! (Unlike a lot of Cage, however much she admires him — great riff on Cage as stickler, where Cardew was both process and product.) Steve Reich‘s “It’s Gonna Rain,” again process/product via the two tape machines played at slightly different speeds, set up machines, leaves the room, perfect for Eno, not as hard to create as musique concrete! Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968 in London at the ICA, attracts a lot of artists to science based art, Mondrian painting vs robot Mondrian painting. Peter Schmidt discussed, Oblique Strategies, etc. Eno into concepts, “Seven Deadly Finns” combines prostitute slang and systems theory, leading into Another Green World. Detailed quotes on studio and players as system, then Discreet Music discussed in contrast to Roxy Music’s Siren, hairdresser credits vs cybernetics theory diagrams! Metal Machine Music discussed — it’s a light record, can sleep to it! Released the same week as Discreet, Reed infamously lying about the record all over the place but he also created a cybernetic system, loops, guitars up to ten, music making itself. Ends presentation with “Totalled” by Eno and the Winkies, original “I’ll Come Running” from 1974, all very rocked out, then nine months later the dreamier AGW version, result of a major change, then a bit of DM played, more rapid change.

J. D. Considine, “The Devil’s Trombone: How the Hunger For Louder, Bigger and Heavier Tone Influenced Instrument Design and Function from Berlioz to Meshuggah” — instruments are tools that evolve according to meet the needs of composers. Since the start of rock and roll, guitarist have adjusted and experimented with their gear, the deep whuffy tone of heavy metal resulted from Tony Iommi’s accident and the resultant experimenting with strings and tuning, Master of Reality as the recorded shift, “making the tone a bit fatter.” “Sweet Leaf” clip played. Why did it get fatter? Length, tension and weight are the factors, equation shown illustrating the relationship, Iommi’s innovation by dropping downward readjusts the equation’s data and thus the results. Not many metal bands followed until the mid-nineties too slack therefore too difficult to play until Korn borrowed the 7-string idea from various forebears (tons of citations, including Epiphone and Fender models and prototypes, plus the Steve Vai connection and his seven string love). Munky went “Okay, tune that even lower…” — initially muddy, therefore a new amp setup to accomodate a heavy growling sound, crunchier. Clip played. Jonathan Davis wanted to scream, nu-metal born! Meshuggah went in 2002 to 8-string — “allow us to attain bass sounds on guitar, darker, slower, sinister.” Clip played. Tunings reviewed, extra chromatics added. This is what happened with the trombone in the 19th century! Started even earlier in church music, various kinds discussed. Tension of lips can result in differing notes, technical aspects discussed of various tones and a gap between low E and the pedal tones. For a long while, nobody cared! Tenor trombone rarely used in the classical tradition until Beethoven and Schubert, but Berlioz was the champion, “the true leader of wind instruments,” wide ranging in possibilities. Great extended quote given, really loved the low end, examples cited, segment played from a composition. Bass trombone changes discussed as well, new valves, etc. Rimsky Korsakov and Wagner cited, the latter comissioning the contrabass trombone, tuba plus trombone, took a while to perfect! Modern trombones discussed, shifting to guitar discussion and downtuning. Things can be reapplied — washboards, steel drums. Why the association of low tones with the devil and all? Who can say but to leave people unnerved — “loud and low is the way to go!”

Douglas Wolk, “Beyond the Celestial Jukebox” — talking about the future of listening to music, how people are able to listen to music now, William Gibson: “future is here, not evenly distributed!” First, electively receiving sound — virtual reality discussed, these days it’s more augmented reality, stuff on top of your senses, consider reading glasses. Music makes a natural sound environment more interesting. Earphones and headphones are there but ultimately inefficient, virtual but not augmented, lose the way you perceive loud sounds through your body. Can this be sent straight to your brain? Not yet, no cranial jacks, but there are cochlear implants, used by those with hearing damage, will get refined with time! Two buzzwords in sound tech, psychoacoustics and haptics. First term is too often abused, not about content! Idea that if you’re trying to document sound, you only want the stuff that humans can hear. Mp3s provide an option, most audible information with least digital information, signal not noise. Haptics — listening to speakers up close is different from a distance, so haptics allows for this sense of touch, but nobody wants a full body suit for it! So small and unobtrusive is the way to go — therefore use the skin, “skinput!” Your body as part of the playback. Second — hearing what you want to hear. Celestial Jukebox idea discussed, idea of total access anywhere anytime with minimal effort. Want playback, ownership, sharing, doing what we want with an easy interface. It is here but not evenly distributed. Billboard r’n’b chart listening project discussed, having to search for out of print stuff online, pretty easy to do. PCs are awkward jukeboxes, can work, iTunes does have more but still, something new will come along, perhaps via high speed access everywhere but it will happen. Third — hearing music you don’t know you want to hear. Pandora, sure, works with your taste, no unpleasant surprises, it’s improving its algorithm, etc. Context sensitive/location aware suggestions — “You scored some weed, how about some Acid Mothers Temple?” What will this mean? Greater overall integration, smartphones as carrying deliberate sound.

Nick Minichino, “The New Scarcity” — building off celestial jukebox, possibility of what is available, talks about finding a single that nobody seems to want to share online. Who is filesharing, what are they filesharing and why? Discussion of filesharing population and “natural familiarity” with its expectations and etiquette, typing an artist into Google and getting their songs. Bitrate quality discussed, limits of the jukebox, reactions to bad legal mp3 quality discussed. Examples of undigitized works noted (cassettes, etc.) as well as non-English releases. Who is invested in enough in the music to share it? Generally young middle class people who grew up with high speed internet, accustomed to the experience. Christgau on Rapidshare discussed. Last year looked for Michael Bolton songs written by Diane Warren, could only find a FLAC on a private service, not being shared by the celestial jukebox types. If you love stoner metal, you’re in luck, blog example shown. Something Awful discussed — grim stuff from SA brought up, so how welcoming will the filesharing offshoot be? Who is invited and who isn’t? YouTube file downloading can be wrangled but not easy, still it can be used many places. Michael Bolton examples shown, viewcounts and rarity discussed. Joubert Singers and ‘Larry Levan’ mix of “Stand on the Word” played, 100000 views, almost more heard than any actual Levan track, so is it a rarity? Now it’s down to things people just don’t care about, Built to Spill/Marine Research split discussed, scoring systems for who actually shares.

Ned Raggett, “The Listener as Electronic Librarian” — um yeah. More later! (EDIT — namely, over in this blog post.)

Tim Quirk, “The Quiet Revolution” — introduction of the Walkman and taping culture discussed — “Home taping is killing music” is funny because it’s sad! Unlike boomboxes the Walkman lacked a record button, but it gave people control. TC-D5 shown and the idea of the Walkman growing out of Sony’s cofounder wanting something to listen to on plane trips. Walkman offering stereo while taking out record was good but who would use such a thing? Turns out everyone! Stories of the orange button and double headphone jacks and more! Private listening in public seemed strange in 1979. Great ads from the time, lots of skating! Knockoffs soon appear, sociologists go nuts! So did Allan Bloom, oh god. Noise pollution and laws and UK tube arrests and plane travel and more — so why shut us up? Rey Chow quote about how the Walkman provides privacy, Vincent Jackson on the reactions to the symbolism of the Walkman. Transistor radios and boomboxes provided something but the Walkman was private, listener control has expanded exponentially with iPods etc. but ripping to tape was possible as he remembers a cross country move. Sony lost out on mp3 players via their content purchases and thus internecine warfare. Audio Home Recording Act discussed, music CDRs vs CDRs., trying to control mp3 players like Diamond, the market for mp3s went on without the majors, celestial jukeboxes discussed, etc. GAO trashes the piracy scare just the other day. Labels can learn what is desired from all the activity, if they can learn to relinquish control and hear what the listeners actually listen to, Big Champagne discussed as tracking who has what. Tables of tracks per fan shown, old/new, stylistic spread, shows how songs float and thrive out there! So if there are some lost dollars, 80% of listeners being new is a heck of a balance, new packagings for hyperfans, unexpected correlations between listener choices. “People are not radio formats!” to quote Big Champagne. Prince’s Lovesexy as one track — admire yet “fuck you fascist!”

Wendy Fonarow, “The Song May Be the Same But the Audience Isn’t” — entered in progress (sorry to be late!). Discussion of audience attendees using phone being photos, taking pictures, doing instant analysis, focus removed from show, more intermittent focus. Photos done as enumeration of your tastes, therefore you must record the events, life in real world done to gather material for life online. Instant wireless updating allows for quicker reaction, broadcasting self out of the venue, multiple spaces simultaneously. Immediacy has created escalating intolerance for boredom, less interaction with other audience members, disengagement from stage. Being with someone at a show, text a message to them. Audience members had expressed a desire for a sense of being fully present, something real, a real performance and experience. Now with phones, we become our own worst enemies. If desire to create a tasteful presentation online, very effective, but… More are holding their phones throughout shows, now an audience prop (lighters replaced by iPhones for rock ballads). Program demonstrated! Conclusion: audience in multiple perspectives, increasingly becoming cyborgs, no longer just there in the present tense.

Tina Majkowski, “Queer Gear: Percussive Technology and the Queer Sonic Body” — technology may suggest electronics in music, a vague archnemesis, but what about corporeal technologies? Rf Kaki King and her various performances. This paper is definitely gay! Pop music journalism has taken a love to people like Tegan and Sara, KD Lang, etc, but this journalism sneaks in a litany of questions on orientation as an “influence.” Too nebulous and flattening a term! Is it lyric subject matter, is it in fan followings? The answer doesn’t lie there, instead focusing on the gear that is used. King’s guitar god status via over-the-fret actions, Melissa York‘s innovations via gear. Kaki King “Playing with Pink Noise” clip shown, acoustic guitar complexity plus visual image of the performer against white background. How does the queer body use trad/DIY instruments? King is percussive and trained as a percussionist, use of fake acrylic nails rather than picks. York makes new gear altogether. The body in music: refers to her own “fights” with her lap steel guitar. Bulk of research on queering OF popular music (“Thong Song” as camp etc) focus instead here on performance as self formation. King says that it made sense to smack the guitar around a little, York wanted to jump around and dance and do vocals. Does sound form self or vice versa? Connection in training of personal training and sound, but what if this is bidirectional, to learn a different sense of self in relation to the instrument? Subjectivity discussed. All sound has musician backing it in some way. So is there a queer social body here? Produced not just because of self-identification. The title is a doppelgänger of sorts. Why is percussion worthy of attention? The idea of percussive skin discussed, downbeat compels the body where to be (refers to writer whose name I didn’t catch). What does the audience and performer actual feel in a show? Discusses feeling a performance via the stage. In watching and hearing King, York, etc, the body itself is a form of musical tech.

David Cantwell, “Log Cabin Songs in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” –begins with a Fiddlin John Carson recording from 1923 about a lonesome old man waiting for death and dreaming of the past and “the little old log cabin in the lane.” Written in Reconstruction, wiped of usual blackface dialect, given more universality, lonesome because everyone’s moved to the city. Country was never country but continuing mourning for a supposedly lost place, the rural one not rural anymore due to urbanization, from cabin home to decent sized town. One way or another the city was going to find them, Sherwood Anderson quoted. Comparatively rural mill towns were far more urban in feeling. Still, rare case for any listeners to have actually lived in a log cabin, though the song titles sure made it seem otherwise! All kinds of primitive mountain homes from logs or the like. Various rewritings of the titular motif cited, the Carter Family’s ‘cottage industry.’ Someone is always cut off from the people of the homeplace or the home itself, not working in the songs when the reality was hard backbreaking work on the road or railroad or in the city. The loss of it being “not country anymore” is key for country music, the appeal of the obsolete, the backward glance. This is NOT nostalgic, when nostalgia is supposed to be about a past that never was, a fabrication of twangy truthiness. But the backward glance does not idealize or imply the superiority of the past. Cabin songs now replaced by high school songs, but we do look back and do so without necessarily hating the present or loving the past. “Rocky Top” may be home sweet home but they ain’t go back! Glances to find benchmarks and key times and formations of who we become. Examples cited, a dynamic conversation with the past is not nostalgia but tradition, the two being opposites. The home to be returned to is not a fantasy one but a real one. The backward glance is a variety of grief, to mark the loss of beloved but imperfect days, then to move into the present and future. Various songs studied in more detail, focusing on the house, moving to a better place from a poor one. Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn songs discussed, memories of cabins gone, Parton with “The Good Old Days When Times Were Bad,” the mixture of emotions.

Roundtable: Freddie Mercury Deconstructed (will only be able to cover the first fifteen or so minutes) — Jason King outlines Freddie Mercury’s impact via Queen and in pop culture, notes that much of that impact is unclaimed in terms of ethnicity, sexuality, etc. Panel introduced — Barry Walters, Tavia Nyong’o, Daphne A. Brooks. Kandia Crazy Horse quote: Freddie as the first African rock star, international reach, clip from 2000 documentary shown with full participation with his family, much time spent framing his career and life starting in Zanzibar. Brief bio notes given, then clip actually shown. Argh, gotta dash, will try and duck back in later.

Andy Zax, “‘Don’t Ever Buy Nothin’ You Don’t Dig’: The Warner/Reprise Radio Spots, 1968-1972″ — this is a story of a pile of 45 rpm records! Spots promoting artists then recently deemed unfathomably weird. 100 made, 200 copies each for FM stations, few copies survive. Unfortunate as they are an accidental chronicle of pop evolution. Clip played of Neil Young promo — “Everybody knows!” “…Everybody knows what?” Deep hilarity. Young had flopped with the first solo album and he was just one of many people like Leonard Schaeffer! Proto James Taylor! Ludovico Technique with strings! Insane. Warner Reprise was sharp with the zeitgeist unlike most other labels, thus an ad for the Hook! Oh man that’s bad. The Glass Family ad in comparison is playful and ridiculous, featuring the band. 1968 was showcasing the shift to the album plus underground radio, an conundrum for record companies. Top 40 made sense, FM something else. Thus, radio ads for albums, plus Warners actually played the long game plus Stan Cornyn, the king of the liner notes. He recognized that things had to change and hated puffery. Therefore, apply soft sell techniques with wry ads for Newman, Parks — self deprecating, providing a personality. Radio ads less uniform in tone but were still straight talk, not hype talk. Neon Philharmonic ad played. Smothers Brothers on ad for Mason Williams, Gary Owens on Tiny Tim, amazing. David Ossman of the Firesign Theatre was given performing/writing gigs in 1969 — clips for the Fugs and Frank Zappa played, then Dean Martin! Amazing. Little Richard in his own spot is of course killer. 1970/1971 ZBS Media enters the picture — Captain Beefheart ad is astounding. 1972 was starting to change, freeform to AOR, all gets kinda boring. Good image builder! Finally ZBS Media on the second Faces album — non-Euclidean indeed!

(At this point I ducked back into the Freddie roundtable for a bit, then went up to try and catch Josh Chamberlain’s presentation but alas! He had finished and the panel had moved on to questions. I’m taking this as an omen and finishing conference coverage for today. Hope everyone enjoyed!)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 32 other followers