An unclear, random collection of thoughts about music

from R Stevens great webcomic Diesel Sweeties

Getting back to the blog today feels nice. Posting in real time will feel weird and all, but whatever. I’m going to do my best to edit this piece before I post it so it will be awesome for you. This is all an indication that I am getting better. Sadly, I am passing up on being an extra on In Plain Sight tomorrow because I still don’t think my respiratory system can take a spring day outside in dusty Albuquerque. However, the fact that I am sitting here, enjoying Thursday’s new album No Devolución for the first time tells me I am getting better.

As I woke up this morning and emerged into the hallway, looking at the mess on my desk I noticed the pile of tapes I have waiting to be digitized or cut up so they can be put on my iPod. There is guilt there because my friend Joao, who runs the awesome Fabrica Records, sent me some tapes for review and I lost one of the digitized versions somewhere and haven’t gotten that review up and running yet. That’s not cool because he sent me stuff out of kindness and used money to do it. Through this guilt I realized how odd my music consumption has become simply by the fact that I have like ten cassette tapes on my desk. See, I don’t own a stereo system anymore, though I do own a dual cassette deck still. But I have nothing to plug it into except my computer. I listen to music exclusively through my computer or on the stereo in my car. My computer sits on my desk in what most people would use for a dining area. It’s great, I can listen to music while I make food or work on art or read in my living room. But it’s all gotta come through my ipod.

The strange thing is though, now that I am unemployed, when I do buy the occasional physical album, it’s always on what was once a dead format, either cassette or vinyl. This occurred to me last night as I placed an order with No Idea Records who have the pre-Minutemen compilation/covers album 1979 by the Reactionaries. I don’t know if that comes with a download card. It didn’t specify in the listing on the website. Now I wonder when I will find the time to format it the way I need it so I can enjoy it countless number of times.

In Noel Murray’s recent post in his reoccurring series  Home Taping is Killing Music he talks about the consumers fight with multi-devices to consume the entertainment the way companies want them to. I don’t run into this problem too much. Sure I miss some TV shows that I’d like to watch in real time, but I know eventually I’ll get my fix. Plus, Netflix and Hulu have enough content to distract me. Who needs choice? When it comes to music though, most music I buy is independent and those labels have the good sense to include the download code. However, there is this trend to back track, to force a more personal interaction with music. Partly because it’s more cost effective, but partly it’s away for the artist to reclaim space. The reemergence of the cassette tape in DIY culture is not totally surprising. People in my age range, early to mid-thirties who are still making music have a certain nostalgia for tapes. I know I do. The tactile feeling I got when I received Chris Clavin’s latest split tape got me really excited. It’s bright orange and you can feel the ink of the silk screened cover. The thing hisses and hums when I played it. It’s not just sounds coming from a speaker, it’s a whole new world. And considering that his songs are all about his time in dusty, run down and forgotten Cairo, Illinois, there is no other format these songs could work on but the cassette tape.

And yet, how many miles will I get from that tape? I love Chris Clavin’s story telling. I think he’s one of America’s greatest, living story tellers.But format, for me is an issue; as is time management and a plethora or other things. But shouldn’t there be a separation between art and entertainment? After all, most of Noel Murray’s article is about television, and sure it’s about how we want to have access to it and how the creators want to sell it to us. But, who cares really? I’m not saying TV can’t be great art or story telling, but it’s so driven by revenue streams that eventually, even the best shows begin to fail and stop telling good stories. Music has that tendency in today’s market and I think the major labels are once again getting a grasp on that revenue stream again. The single song model seems to work and ensure that people will buy, cuz after all what’s a $1.29 to the average westerner? But for the rest of us who want something more then just distraction, who want to be engaged, what are we to do? Yes, I like the tactile feel of records and tapes, but they take up space and are wholly unnecessary. Those that I buy are carefully selected works, both out of necessity of finances and because the particular work either warrants the oil and plastic presentation or is only available that way. Some of this is obscure by choice and some by content. And honestly, most of the stuff released on these formats is to fulfill the first world distraction of collection, a habit that many middle class boys have growing up and seem to be unable to give up in adulthood. But I don’t take any pride in the stuff I have. Records and CD’s by the thousands take up space in my one bedroom apartment, are a mess to manage and a pain in the ass to move. The digital storage of it all though doesn’t really help either. I have a collection of MP3’s, a half a terabyte deep. How much of all of this do I really need? How much can I actually enjoy?

We have quickly become a document obsessed culture, collecting so many moments, worthless thoughts, boring ideas and mundane experiences. The access to technology is no longer a rite of the wealthy or a fight for those that are most willing to be heard. I think of DIY punk in the 70’s, all those labels like SST and Dischord that just usurped the system in order to be heard. They built and grew and worked for their own networks. Now, any one can have a music label on BandCamp with the albums they make on Garageband. But who is listening? Who cares?

And as for the things that permeate through culture, be it art or entertainment, who really controls it anymore? The ease of which I can download any film or album or book or view any piece of art on my computer is, honestly overwhelming. What code can be put in the way of want? None really. This entitlement age, this over-consumption age, this availability age it’s all reeking havoc. While the anarchy has potential for everyone to have a voice, with everyone shouting, no one’s actually listening.