By Beppe Colli
Nov. 26, 2015
And so, against all odds, once again, today is birthday time for
Clouds and Clocks: Thirteen!
(Thunderous applause erupts.)
By now, readers probably expect the usual
editorial painting an apocalyptic landscape, as per my custom in days like
But a funny thing happened to me this time:
While trying to make a list of all things disgusting and repulsive, I felt
really sick. So I decided to change my approach for once, my new attitude being
best summarized by the classic question about the proverbial glass: "Is it
half-full, or half-empty?".
As it happens every year, 2015 has brought the usual share of
brilliant works, something that never fails to amaze me: all difficulties
notwithstanding (readers know perfectly well what I'm talking about), there are
still people around who somehow manage to create fantastic music.
Still, a sense of precariousness lingers on
the scene. Sure, we have crowd-funding now, and a few fine works have
materialized thanks to this new financial formula. But looking at the figures,
sometimes I notice that those who generously contributed are often the same
people - here meaning: two hundred - who would have bought the finished
product. So that, in a way, an album's journey reaches its final destination
the very moment it's released.
It's a scenery those who used to subscribe
to those albums released by Recommended Records in the 70s and 80s know all too
well. But at the time it was still possible to hypothesize that there were
other people who could be reached via the usual commercial channels. People
who, while lacking in "activism", could still prove to be
"permeable" to new, "difficult-sounding" music.
Of course, things are quite different now.
Since I have the annoying habit of asking myself questions that make
me uncomfortable, I'll play the devil's advocate, and I'll ask myself this
question: Why should the future be just like the past?
We know that most people are inclined to
consider the pleasant conditions from the time when they were young as being
"perfectly natural". Hence, the question - which inside a different
conceptual framework would not even exist - which sounds like this: "Why
there are no groups today such as Faust and Henry Cow, or geniuses like Frank
Zappa? And if they indeed exist, why are they so unknown?". Questions like
these are made even more dramatic by the appearance of unreleased "sonic
objects" - the most recent example being the Frank Zappa film titled Roxy
- The Movie - that only seem to add salt to the old wounds.
In this respect, Clouds and Clocks has
always tried to reach two goals: first, putting the spotlight on music whose
quality I regarded as being special, and so noteworthy; but also, trying to
understand what conditions work as an impediment to the prosperity of
"difficult music", my attitude in this respect being, of course,
pragmatic and "partisan".
I remember quite well those times when I found myself puzzled and
confused, while listening to music whose logic seemed to defy my understanding.
Readers will maybe be surprised by my first
for instance: The Beatles.
Having bought the 45 single featuring the
fantastic song called Penny Lane, after many listening sessions I decided to
listen to the single flipside. I was surprised to find something quite
disturbing, sinister, off-putting - especially that fake ending and the reprise
that followed, which reminded me of the scary atmosphere of the TV series The
Of course, in time I managed to appreciate
the song called Strawberry Fields Forever.
I could talk about other "traumatic
experiences", such as my listening to Lizard, an album whose logic for a
long time I found impenetrable, while being already a fan of such albums as In
The Court Of The Crimson King and In The Wake Of Poseidon, but I'm afraid
readers will become bored.
I will not talk about such dubious notions
as "natural predisposition". Let's just consider two conditions:
silence (meaning: concentration), and interest (which could well prove to be
the quality that makes the requirement of silence an imperative).
I know all too well that arguing that
listening for a long time to music one finds to be without no sense or logic in
the end makes it a source of great pleasure could resemble the condition of
doing hard labour in prison. There's one thing we don't have to forget, though:
the tiny particle of fascination emanating from that off-putting sonic mass
that made our investigation a bitter-sweet imperative.
Sure, those times when Neil Young, passing though Nashville, met
record producer Elliot Mazer, who invited him to visit his new recording
studio, Young telling him "find me some good musicians, see you tonight at
the studio", are long gone. (That's the way that recording sessions for
Harvest started, according to Mazer.)
Even simple music from that time - I hope
readers won't be upset if I define the music featured on that historical album
as simple - can sound rich and complex, thanks to those amplifiers, mics,
mixers, the whole science of microphone placing that in the right hands can
make sounds bloom.
A few weeks ago, U.S. daily newspaper The New York Times announced
that the number of its "digital" subscribers had reached one million,
something which came after the number of its "hybrid" subscribers -
meaning: both digital and paper - already passed that mark.
I have no recent data for U.K. daily
newspaper The Guardian, whose effort to cover the United States by opening many
bureau there - an effort that appears not to have any unpleasant consequences
on the quality of its reporting due to the paper overextending its resources -
I assume to have been rewarded by subscribers old and new.
Here I'll ask myself some questions.
What's the point in reading an Italian
correspondent from the U.S. - somebody who acts like a jack of all trades -
writing about the new economic crisis when one can read Paul Krugman writing
about the same issue? And what about the work of such movie critics as A. O.
Scott and Manohla Dargis, who one can read on The New York Times?
Let's not forget that The Guardian has
chosen a different approach when it comes to accessing its content. But this is
a kind of access that's free in spite of its content being of a very high
quality, not because the quality of the paper is low, and they can't give it
Sure, a local paper has something that's
still very precious to us: information about people who died, a strike in
public transportation, that shooting on the corner last night, and so on.
But the fact of an enterprise surviving in
spite of a growing number of free riders - a condition that in the case of the
press can hide the dramatic decrease in the quality of its coverage, but only
up to a point - is only possible if the number of those who still fork the
required sum doesn't fall below a certain point.
By now, astute readers have already
understood where this is taking us.
Today's consumers have chosen not to investigate a crucial issue:
where those goods that it's nowadays possible to consume for free, or at prices
that are at best symbolic, come from, meaning: the issue of the compensation of
the factors that are embedded in their production.
Let's forget for a moment about those
"common people", and let's only talk about those who as "friends
of difficult music" have long lamented its dramatic fate.
For those, I have this question: Do you
really think you have properly understood the coordinates of the current
situation, and the type of role we are called to play? Provided that the grief
for the hard conditions we all know about is not something we fake while
sitting in front of a glass of beer.
It's with a lot of effort on the part of a lot of people that the
glass will stay half-empty - or half-full - instead of disappearing completely.
It's quite easy to lament the fact that the
new album by so and so is mediocre, even more so when compared to those
"past masterpieces" we all know and love. But we have to keep
separate categories for those albums that are the result of a process of a
spent inspiration - as Miles Davis used to say, "When there is no more
there is no more" - from those conditions that could benefit from an extra
helping hand from the outside.
It's not that - this is a side of Zygmunt
Bauman's work that has remained invisible to those who only noticed the
"liquidity" factor - we suddenly became egotistic and callous. But
it's apparent we have failed to understand the extent of the consequences
implied by the ever-increasing pointillism and insularity of our new lives.
Without necessarily getting back to the old
notion of "class", one could notice that even the shared experience
of a music magazine is nowadays a rarity.
With the disappearance of the old
commercial framework that made the previous situation possible, our
indifference when it comes to the inevitable consequences of the new situation
- an indifference that clearly manifests itself in our refusal to take into
consideration the future of the music we said was an indispensable item of our
lives - has a part in creating a situation where it's quite easy to declare
that "things were better, once".
Sure, things were better, once. What about
© Beppe Colli 2015
CloudsandClocks.net | Nov. 26, 2015