Today on the Quietus, my interview with Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance

This interview was done a couple of months back around the time of the release of the RTZ comp but functions better now as more of a stand-alone collection of reflections on music, technology and art — and if that sounds too vague, trust me, this was some very thoughtful stuff. Part of it very much made me think of M. Matos’s Slow Listening Movement, but the issues touched on cover wider areas than that. To quote a section:

…the other day I came across the first Sun City Girls LP on a blog. It’s absolutely out of print, no way I will probably ever see it in a store or on eBay for a sum I could afford, so that left me with a clear conscience about downloading it for free. But I realized, how much pleasure would I get from it anyway? Why do that? Just to say I have it, that I have heard it? I decided not to download it because it would be much more enjoyable to at least share the experience with someone else. Maybe someone will play it for me one day. Until then, it’s just information.

And I do believe we are becoming addicted to information. You only need to look at those people who have hard drives filled with songs that they have never even listened to. They are not even collecting music. They are collecting information. And the more people become addicted to information and the faster they can obtain that information, the less they will be able to contemplate that information, and it is the contemplation of the information which makes it art.

And there’s much more besides, ranging from Paul Virilio to the value of community. Pleasure of an interview and I have to thank Ben again for taking the time and placing such thought into his answers.


Some days I hear or read music news that makes me feel like Edmund, Lord Blackadder

Specifically in the context of the opening minute of this YouTube clip:

And more specifically his slow burn of frustration up to the point about 40 seconds into the clip where he says, “LOOK, cretins…”

My latest reaction along these lines was courtesy of a NY Times piece with the stunningly brilliant and utterly new observation “Hey gee, there sure are a lot of people who like vinyl out there.” (It’s become such a cliche that when I mentioned said phenomenon in passing in my Thursday post on single, album and Net sales, I did so under the full assumption that anyone interested in the general subject of music had already heard it plenty of times, and was likely very sick of it.) The article in question was linked over on ILM by Chuck E. with the preface, “How many times has this article been written in the past few months? (Gets dumber every time, I think.)” A follow-up comment ran, “Yeah, these articles keep treading over the same territory, but I never get tired of reading them … especially if they are so chock full of LOLs at the expense of corny indie types and clueless record execs.”

There’s plenty to pick apart in the piece that prompts such talk — a classic eyeroller being the amazingly hamhanded attempt to equate vinyl worship with going for local/organically grown food. (As a flagbearer for the latter several times over, I couldn’t even begin to imagining coming up with that comparison without the copious aid of drugs or money, or both.) The big winner, though, comes from someone who I recognize instinctively as a fellow denizen of my past life — the college-age music freak with a love for things indie or somesuch. Thus one James Acklin talking about bonding with a bright young lass over Broken Social Scene (of all bands! I guess the Arcade Fire would have been too obvious):

“There was this immediate mutual acknowledgment, like we both totally understood what we define ourselves by,” continued Mr. Acklin, who considers his turntable, a Technics model from the 1980s that belonged to an aunt, a prized possession. “It takes a special kind of person to appreciate pops and clicks and imperfections in their music.”

Needless to say it’s the latter quote, contemptuous and condescending, which brought the LOLs on the thread so far. Deservedly so, but let’s be fair to Acklin — years ago, John D. on ILM once described the genius of the first Christian Death album (overwrought, ridiculous, absolutely beautiful in its self-conscious extremity) as a classic example of the ‘dumb-blowtorch-of-youth’ syndrome. That sounds contemptuous and condescending in turn, but he meant it, rightly, from the point of view of self-recognition, that he’d been there as well and appreciated it for what it was, while not wanting to go back there. Acklin’s flash-of-pseudo-insight arrogance isn’t that far removed from plenty of sins we’ve all committed — and lord knows if I listed mine I’d be here forever (sure am glad I didn’t say something like THAT in the first two paragraphs of an NY Times thinkpiece when I was twenty, though — if he has a sense of humor about himself he’ll live with it).

That caveat said — such a stupid statement, and the cascade of similar sentiments, or at least parallel ones, building up throughout the article provoked my invocation of Blackadder there. You just can’t believe the willful ignorance at play sometimes, or the self-delusion, or more. Allowing for your own sins as always, as already noted, sometimes it’s just breathtaking.

For instance, let’s take this sentiment, which since it isn’t a direct quote leads me to wonder how much of this is a leap of interpretive faith by author Alex Williams:

Young vinyl collectors said digital technology had made it easy for anyone — even parents — to acquire vast, esoteric music collections. In that context, nothing seems hipper than old-fashioned inconvenience.

Hahah…no. This much more than whatever Acklin says is true arrogance, an amazing if utterly expected twist on the standard idea of obscurity equalling quality. It’s not enough now that you have something unique or obscure on vinyl as compared to all that nasty mass-market stuff out there — now that music’s around for everyone, you have to show you’ve sweated and somehow earned the right to enjoy music precisely because you had to scrounge for a physical manifestation of same. Confronted with a literalization of Marx’s dictum about all that was solid melting into air, solidity is now suddenly the most crucial thing about a release, its ‘realness’ as much as its ‘inconvenience.’

Thus, to follow that part I just quoted, in a truly dumb-blowtorch-of-youth move (but which also leads me to conclude that Williams took this one guy’s claim as being more universal than it really is):

“The process of taking the record off the shelf, pulling it out of the sleeve, putting the needle on the record, makes for a much more intense and personal connection with the music because it’s more effort,” said R. J. Crowder-Schaefer, 21, a senior at New York University who said he became a serious vinyl disciple a few years ago.

A whole ten to fifteen seconds worth of ‘effort’ validates an experience! LOOK, cretins…

And I realize that mocking laughter ain’t going to fly much as an explanation, so on the off chance this fellow’s self-googling leads him here (odder’s happened…) — look, dude, what matters to you? The song, or how you hear the song? The feelings or emotions or awe that a piece of music creates in you, or whether or not you found it at a thrift sale as opposed to purchasing it through iTunes? The artistic creation or its physical incarnation?

This actually opens up a huge can of theoretical worms, one admittedly long since opened in general. (Invoking Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is almost as bad a cliche as these ‘vinyl’s back!’ pieces, and yet the man’s words remain still relevant even as we move from mechanical reproduction towards digital.) And there’s much to discuss and has been discussed in the act of how we receive and understand ‘art’ as conceived and formalized — what do we expect our books to look like? our movies and their presentation? and so forth. To go on would be more than I would want to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, thanks.

Rightly or wrongly I keep feeling like I want to pull the ‘you kids, why back in my day…’ move, which I suppose is inevitable. And as I keep telling people, the fact remains that different generations will have different expectations and desires about ‘their’ art, how it is presented and conceived — mine isn’t the only way to look at things and should never be. Love vinyl all you want, folks — as someone who collects things like Folio Society books, I’m hardly averse to the idea of fancy presentations, quality materials, the whiff of exclusivity. We each deal with such things in our own way.

But it would be *utterly* ignorant of me — utterly, totally, completely — to make a claim along the lines of how, say, the fact that I have a sleek, high-quality-paper edition of something like Gulliver’s Travels or the complete work of Keats means I am somehow making a ‘much more intense and personal connection’ with those pieces and their authors than someone who reads them in a cheap paperback version or, in fact, googles and finds them online. (Which, of course, you can.) My hope — and really, my end belief — is that someone like Crowder-Schaefer will recognize that on his own quickly enough. I am a natural optimist that way.

Meantime, to conclude — you’ll note I haven’t gotten into the ‘but vinyl just sounds better’ argument. Frankly that’s a road even MORE long-trodden since the 1980s. So instead I’ll leave the final words to Scott Seward, again from that ILM thread, who’s around my age and has been a vinyl lover pretty much all his life, in response to Acklin’s ‘pops and clicks and imperfections’ appreciation:

ugh, i get really tired hearing about the allure of pops and clicks. blah. buy clean vinyl, you dolts.

Amen. And in the meantime, if you could put this bag over your head to pretend you’re the person I just had executed…

Monday evening meanderings

LONG day. Very long. Very sad on one front in particular, involving an acquaintance of longstanding who went through something horrible the other day. Very confusing on other fronts. Very full with work, very full now with other work. More tomorrow…maybe. So in brief:

  • New band discovery of the day — Cafeneon, who I am reviewing for the AMG. Quite enjoyable debut album, a kind of danker art/new wave take on the kind of things the Studio did on their album last year. A promising start, not a perfect one but much better than many.
  • Jules Dassin has passed at 96. Though blacklisted, easily vindicated by history, for Rififi, The Naked City and Night and the City alone (as has already been widely noted, the star of the latter, Richard Widmark, himself passed away just a few days back). Dassin’s work is something I should know much better than I do, but you get a sense from him that he knew how to make lemons from lemonade more thoroughly than most would do, and that he took a more balanced long view than many: “I’m not bitter…But there’s an unhappiness for so many lives destroyed and for the effect it had on movies that were made, for a long time.” A little something to remember whenever you read about attempts to defend McCarthy’s twisted conflation of protecting the nation with paranoid flailing at all comers.
  • And speaking of paranoid — as the Cunning Realist notes, this story conveys what it’s like to be living in Baghdad for some right now:

    Two US officials and two Iraqi guards of Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi have been killed since last Sunday, when the first waves of attacks began on the zone, seat of the Iraqi government and home to foreign embassies.

    Some staff members of the US embassy admit they are in a state of constant fear and prefer to sleep on cots inside the embassy building — formerly a palace of Saddam Hussein — than in their less-safe living quarters.

    Warning alarms in the Green Zone, the most shelled 10 square kilometres (four square miles) of Baghdad, give about three seconds to find shelter in one of the numerous “duck and cover” concrete bunkers, a US military officer said.

    “As you drive through, you are constantly assessing where is the nearest bunker,” he added.

    Say it before, say it again — don’t kid yourself about Iraq and the situation there. Don’t be an idiot and hope for more chaos and death, but don’t ignore it either. Don’t try to explain it away, because it’s been five years now. Call it what it is. You might not like the answer but at least you won’t be doublethinking all day.

Mid-week meanderings and mumblings

As it were. As mentioned, this is a bit of a big work crunch time for me so my usual disquisitions are going to be at a premium for a bit (however, stay tuned for the end of the week, in that I’ll be doing some further experimenting with the blog on a couple of fronts). So for the moment, here’s some quick things noticed here and there:

  • This story about a library employee in the Central Valley is a striking one, and now that I’m more aware of the case I’ll be following it as I can. More than anything else, I hope it illustrates to folks who might think of librarians and library assistants as simply people who get the books and tell people to shush — or whatever other stereotype you might care to put into play — as people who, on all levels in a library system, can deal with vexing questions that relate to both many levels of the law as well as social standards.
  • The grinding out of the 2008 Democratic primaries, while expected at this point, is starting to become something worthy of one of my favorite phrases, ‘savage torpor.’ There’s a combination of ennui and passion at play which in combination with the calendar has produced a feeling of suspended animation on the one hand and a near-reflexive lashing out on the other. Most of the commentary out there reflects this, to one extent or another — and quite understandably, really. As ever, I am keeping my eye on other factors — and the big Iraq news of the day is disheartening all around — and hunkering down a bit as we wait.
  • It’s been a very good year for music so far — lots of excellent albums out — but nothing as yet is a core album/performer/song of the year for me. One quarter of the way down and more to go, of course, but I’m not surprised that the full process of hearing record after record without time or inclination to regularly return to something has reached this state for me. Mine is a very specific context, though — active listener who does a lot of freelance writing and all — so I’m not pretending that this signals something beyond my own ears and thoughts. It’s still an intriguing if not surprising development, though, and I’m not surprised that my concomitant interest in a variety of other things has increased alongside this change.
  • It’s spring and it’s beautiful outside. And sometimes that’s more than enough!

More soon!

And speaking of music and politics — and OC history

I only just got around to this last night, but the cover story of last week’s OC Weekly was another unsurprisingly amazing piece from Gustavo Arellano. After my exhaustive post just previous to this one I feel a bit zoned — though lunch has helped — so all I’ll say is: read it. But here’s the opening section:

If the coffee that Maria Daniel spilled had landed directly on the tape player, this story might not exist.

Daniel was relaxing one recent Tuesday with her aunt Elisa Carr and uncle Emilio Martinez Jr. at Carr’s Stanton home. Rain clouds were sweeping overhead, so Carr offered her niece and brother some coffee to fend off the cold. Before she rose to make another pot, Carr turned on a tape player, the rectangular kind with piano-key buttons and a sturdy grip handle that went out of popularity around the Carter administration.

Out of a tinny speaker rumbled a deep, gravelly voice singing about a beautiful woman. A guitar strummed in the background. It was Carr’s father, Emilio Martinez, playing just one of the hundreds of corridos he penned during his 85 years.

“It’s so nice to hear his voice,” Carr remarked, as Daniel and Emilio Jr. nodded silently. She poured her niece another cup. But as Daniel raised her mug for a sip, the coffee splashed across the table.

Carr quickly snatched the tape player from the scalding liquid. The coffee only touched the machine’s side. Her father continued to sing.

“That was really close!” she exclaimed, laughing. Carr turned off the tape. The coffee glimmered on the table. “Too close,” she sighed, putting the tape recorder away and getting up to find some towels.

History is a fragile, incomplete thing, especially when documenting minorities in the United States, and few local cases are more telling than the story of Emilio Martinez. Many of his compositions offer a vital glimpse into the county’s Latino past, one ignored by Orange County’s major historians for more than a century. The man wrote about some of the most crucial events in the county’s formation: the 1936 Citrus War, the Great Flood of 1938, discrimination battles, the reign of King Citrus. He even made a couple of records.

Yet only Martinez’s family and friends are aware of his place in the Orange County saga. Historical ignorance is one factor, but part of the problem is Martinez’s incomplete legacy. Notebooks containing his tunes are missing; recordings are rare. His only full-length interviews with non-family members were with professors researching other topics. More important, Martinez’s Orange County no longer exists: the tight-knit communities that flocked to his performances, tuned in to his many appearances on radio and sang Martinez’s corridos over bonfires and picket lines are gone, and the new immigrants he so loved to document and fight for don’t concern themselves with the past of their predecessors.

In another place, another time, Martinez would’ve been a folk treasure, the subject of dissertations, Smithsonian restoration projects and tribute CDs. Another scrap in the proverbial dustbin.

To say that the story of Orange County is more than watching The OC and Arrested Development is patently obvious. This is the kind of writing that reminds how deep — and how moving — it really is.

Outrageous! (Well, no.)

Many, many years ago, I thought the American Music Awards were good things. They had musicians on them, for instance, and singers and people like that. It was the early eighties, I had a great time with the radio, all was wonderful. Lionel Richie hosted once and won all the awards he was up for — “Outrageous!” (If you were there, you know.)

Just now Idolator had its wicked way with tonight’s AMA ceremony. To quote my friend Mike deep in the comments section: “…this feels less like an actual awards show and more like one of those oldies reviews they’re always showing on PBS except there are only young people.”

2-1 sez there won’t be a ceremony next year. Farewell (I figure) AMAs! I love your memory forever, but I think you should have put Duran Duran back then instead of now. (Actually, maybe you did.)

(Nothing more blogwise tonight, am stuck with a nasty sore throat and possibly am coming down with something. Joy.)

A brief OC Weekly piece on some of my favorite music sites

Nothing much on here that any regular readers of my blog don’t already know about, I’m guess, either from appearing in my blogrolls or from me talking about various pieces on them. But again, ten crucial sites — and if you’ve never been to the last on the list, UCSB’s cylinder archive, you are missing out.