The same old stuff,
one more time.
By Beppe Colli
July 4, 2005
I have absolutely no problem in
admitting that here at Clouds And Clocks the fact of receiving mail
never fails to make our day brighter. Especially when we get a letter
which kindly accuses me of not stressing enough the horrible sound,
due to hyper-compressed mastering, of a CD that I reviewed some time
ago. After reading the letter, I immediately decided to open a good
bottle to celebrate: it's very rare, in fact, that my attention for
this kind of topics - which is usually classified under "mental
disorder" - gets to be considered as a legitimate preoccupation.
certainly funny to think that, having long abandoned (maybe forever
- at least in the field of "popular music") the concept of
the "score as ideal", we never developed a widespread critical
attention toward sound (with the partial exception, obviously, of those
who play). It's true that, on the surface, we pay a lot more attention
to sound than ever before; but most of the time it's just empty words
that we hear - a fact that puts into question the amount of attention
that's paid to music.
fact that not too many seem to have paid attention to the nice vocal
and instrumental elements featured in those albums that Amy X Neuburg
and Emily Bezar released last year - Residue and Angels' Abacus - was
in a way something to be expected, given their scarce commercial visibility;
but it's not really obvious that nobody seemed to notice how much the
warm but clear sound of Nellie McKay's debut album, Get Away From Me,
contributed to its (artistic) success. Meanwhile, a recent interview
with Jared Reynolds that appeared in the USA magazine Bass Player confirmed
that a "casual" attitude towards performance, mistakes and
all, is not a tiny part of the "old time" appeal of the most
recent Ben Folds album, Songs For Silverman.
Not too long ago, while dealing
with a series of topics that make me quite worried, talking about the
audiences that one finds at most live concerts (and I said: most; it's
quite interesting to examine the whys behind the exceptions), I had
written of scarce audiences with short attention spans, of people who
appeared as not being too sure of the reasons of their presence there,
of bad manners. I just got a letter from a friend who recently attended
quite a few concerts, very different in terms of style and type of venue.
He writes: "Judging from the most recent evidence, I have to confess
that recently audiences have got a lot worse. They talk, they shout,
they don't pay any attention, they get all excited at the first trace
of a 'lively' rhythm, then after fifteen minutes they start losing interest.
End-of-concert opinions are never backed by any real arguments. Maybe
I'm getting older, but the situation is bleak."
the situation is bleak is self'-evident. Nowadays we see the result
of the combination of two different factors: "videomusic",
which makes music = character ("What about Elvis, then?" But
today this phenomenon is absolutely widespread, which is a very important
distinction); and the "illiteracy" factor, where schools and
families surrendered in favour of a "fun" kind of teaching
- hence, severe problems when people are asked to follow an argument
or to articulate one's thoughts. (Some members of the avant-garde have
mistaken people's difficulty of making sense of a long narration with
a refusal of it in favour of "particles")
I happened to read about a new re-release edition of four old albums
(without a doubt, his best ones) by a UK musician who was very famous (better said: world-famous)
in the 60s. I'm talking about someone who went to India with The Beatles,
and who taught John Lennon an arpeggio technique that Lennon used on
The Beatles (aka "The White Album") - check Julia. As is to
be expected, nothing was said about the new re-mastering; but we were
told that every CD featured a lot of bonus tracks, many of them quite
interesting. More details? None. So I had to make a search on the Net,
where I found what I was looking for. I can't get the sense of this
kind of "information". Maybe "I'll tell you that record
so and so is about to be released, then if you're really interested
it's up to you"? But why am I supposed to buy a magazine that offers
this kind of information? Maybe because it offers a "Free CD"?
I have to confess that I was quite
curious about Fiona Apple's new album, scheduled for release in 2003.
Produced by Jon Brion - a name that really needs no introduction - Extraordinary
Machine was destined to prove the definitive maturation of the US singer-songwriter.
As is well-known, the record has never been released. It seems that
Sony was deeply unhappy about the (non-existent) commercial potential
of an album that has been said to be "difficult and lacking any
potential singles". Then the whole CD was made available on the
Net. Downloading it was obviously illegal, but with my kind of connection
- a dial-up at 33.600 bps - I didn't need to ask my conscience - or
my lawyer. Then Rolling Stone reviewed (!) the album, not very enthusiastically;
another magazine said that Sony was right: the album was too difficult.
I'd like to make my opinion, but I can't. Meanwhile, the whole world
seems to have listened to the album, which many define as a masterpiece,
well sung and with fantastic orchestral arrangements. And now?
It was totally by chance that
I discovered a radio station which only broadcasts "oldies".
So it happens that these days - a lot of traffic, going to the sea -
I listen to a lot of old songs - mostly from the 50s and the 60s - that
I've never heard before, or that I've never heard after the time when
they were first released. Funny how some groups that sounded so different
now seem to resemble each other. How many nice instrumental parts were
made on the spot by session men! I was thinking about this, for no special
reason, when I happened to read the article called After
The Stall, the most recent installment of the nice biweekly online column
called What Goes On which Mark Jenkins writes for the Washington City
Paper. After writing that "by some estimates, "catalog"
sales - older CDs that no one's really working to sell today, other
than by offering some of them at a "nice price" - is approaching
40 percent of the market", Jenkins observes that in the "catalogue
chart" there are no titles of CDs of techno and electronic music
- both genres that not too long ago were said to represent "the
future of music". He proceeds to make a few conjectures about this.
What about ours?
© Beppe Colli 2005
CloudsandClocks.net | July 4, 2005