Category: music

On the Hobby of Collecting Hobbies

One consistent problem I’ve had throughout most of my life is that my principal hobby is collecting hobbies. Almost everything is interesting to me, and my shelves are stuffed with books of literature, history, philosophy; DVDs and glorious blu-rays of film and animation; plenty of music and comics. If I had the time, I’d get into even more – theatre, fine arts, sports, cuisine, and who knows what else.

So much dabbling does have its advantages. There are few people with whom I can’t find some common interest, provided it’s not too obscure – and even then, there’s a decent chance I’ll at least be aware of what they’re talking about. Having a wide field of reference also helps when dealing with authors or directors who also have a wide field of reference, whether I’m reading through T.S. Eliot’s tangles of allusions or Tanigawa Nagaru’s off-hand references in the Haruhi novels.

It also allows me to be especially selective as far as what I read and watch. The majority of the books I read, the films I watch, the albums I listen to, and so on, are at least memorable. Of course, it’s also possible that I don’t have as much appreciation for the excellent since I don’t have as much mediocre content to compare it to, but for now I’m content with the selective approach to media.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of free time, so even though I have a working knowledge of so many topics, that knowledge tends to be fairly shallow. So, for example, I watched Puella Magi Madoka Magica as it came out, and though I enjoyed it, much of the discussion of the show centred on how it relates to other magical girl shows. I had nothing to say on that, because I can count the number of magical girl anime and comics I’ve experienced on one hand. I did catch the Faust references, though.

I’ve occasionally considered focusing my attention almost entirely to just one, maybe two fields, but have never seriously attempted this. As much as I respect those who have an encyclopedic knowledge of a particular subject, I find the world too fascinating to devote myself to just one aspect of it. So, I continue to run about in circles, in a mental equivalent of getting a free sample of every item at the supermarket without actually buying enough of any one thing to make a full meal.…

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On Critiquing Live Music

So, right now I’m trying to write a critique of a live concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for a class I’m taking.

The problem is, all I can really say about it is that I enjoyed it, though it suffered from some problems to be expected from an outdoor concert. Somewhat unclear sound, sirens from a passing fire engine, and some other miscellaneous distractions. However, I made the critical mistake of not taking notes at the concert. Even driving home from the event, I could scarecly have said much about the early pieces performed (out of seven or so total). Since I got home a bit late and had to wake up early the next morning, I made another mistake in not writing anything down before going to bed.

Lesson learned for the next assignment, though.…

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Yesterday Never Knew

I present to you, my reader (yes, I’m pretty sure it’s “reader,” singular), the modern system of economics, as proposed by those in favor of music piracy:

1: Artist produces something

2: Artist gives said something away for free

3: ????

4: PROFIT!

Actually, this system has been thought through more than that chart. According to this article from the Illinois Business Law Journal, this story from the New York Times, and a number of other places, step three is “Artist gives concerts and sells merchandise.” At first, I thought this sounded fair enough, but then I realized that step three is a non sequiter. It isn’t related to the original product.

Admitedly, this system of “make a record, give it away, make money some other way” works for most bands, but not all. When a musician sets out to make a record, he is apt to do his best work if he can focus purely on that. I submit as evidence to that effect The Beatles, who wrote and recorded what I personally consider their best work after giving up touring altogether. Without having to worry about performing live, they were free to do whatever the heck they wanted in the studio, with results like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. Songs like “A Day in the Life,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and the White Album’s perennial fan-unfavorite “Revolution 9” are all impossible to perform live, but that’s okay because the band was able to just sell the recording of the songs and still make money.

Ultimately, this model makes about as much sense  as asking the artist to give free concerts and then make money on recordings. Yes, it can work for most bands, but not all, and really, why not just pay someone for the work they do? Someone makes a record, customer pays for the record. Someone gives a concert, customer pays for the concert. Fair compensation for services rendered… how novel.…

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We Hope You Will Enjoy the Show… In One Piece

“[iTunes has shown that] the natural unit of the album is the track.”

This is a quote (more or less direct) from David Weinberg, and I was reminded of it while reading Chris Anderson’s article “The Long Tail” in Wired magazine, when he discusses the online music industry, since he appears to assume a similar viewpoint to what Weinberg stated explicitly.

Put briefly, they are both wrong. The natural unit of the album is the album, and the track relates to the album as a chapter relates to a book.

Now, I’ll concede that there are a number of “albums” for which Weinberg’s statement would hold true. Compilation albums come to mind, and there are many records and CDs whose tracks have nothing in common with each other besides the date of their recording. Really, though, I’m hesitant to refer to these as albums at all, because the term “album” refers to a collection of songs and there is no reason to collect a bunch of songs together unless there is some significant relationship between them. For instance, the tracks of an album may all further a common story (as on Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Startdust and the Spiders from Mars), theme (such as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon), or even just a style (such as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). However, there is no term that I’m aware of for thrown-together compilations of music, so I must refer to them as albums.

What Weinberg and others I’ve spoken to on the topic of iTunes and online music stores (or, more commonly, piracy) don’t seem to appreciate is that a talented artist is able to make the most of his medium. The Beatles generally get credit for figuring this out regarding the LP. Put simply, if a band is going to have a bunch of songs collected together on a single disc, shouldn’t the songs relate to each other somehow? So, following Paul McCartney’s idea, the band put together Sgt. Pepper, and other bands followed their lead and took the concept further.

Sgt. Pepper uses a very loose concept, but the album does work best when listened to as a single unit. Simon & Garfunkel employed a similar idea on Bookends, on which every song relates to friendship and nostalgia – some more so than others, admitedly, but again there is a definite effect created by listening to the album as it was intended that is lost when the tracks are split up. A few years later, The Who released Tommy, in which every song tells the next part in the titular hero’s story. Tommy is likely the best example for my argument, because it quite simply does not work when split up or rearranged. One may as well split up the chapters of Babbitt or The Scarlet Letter. It just does not function as a work of art anymore.…

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Icky Reviews

Last month the White Stripes released their sixth album, Icky Thump, to mostly positive reviews and strong sales. So, the music must be pretty good, right? Rolling Stone‘s review seems to think so, but while reading their review I noticed that their main critique seems to be not the music, but the lack of a message. For example, the critic (Robert Christgau) said:

Still, what do the White Stripes have to say? What do they stand for? Why do simple pop fans care about minimal Jack and his mythical sister, Meg?

[…] The other part of the answer, sad to say, is that this cultural breakthrough is almost certainly an accident. That’s because Jack White is less a songwriter than a sonic architect. Compared even with Lil Jon or Avril Lavigne, what his hits have in common isn’t anything he stands for.

After this, Christgau does begin to critique the album proper, but what did he accomplish with this little sideshow? It does not give any real insight into the album, but instead tells the reader that Christgau feels all musicians must have a message, as though one cannot produce compelling music unless it is at the forefront of a great political or social movement. I’d be curious about where this attitude comes from. Was it Bob Dylan? Though Dylan has always resented being tied to any social movements, he is well-known for the protest songs of his early career, and Rolling Stone did give Dylan 10 spots on its list of the 500 greatest albums, and 12 of its 500 greatest songs (including the top spot).

Providing an interesting contrast to Rolling Stone‘s review is a review by John’s Music Reviews (which is also the simplest-titled blog I’ve seen). Not a single mention does John provide of the White Stripes’ politics, though he does agree with RS that the band is slightly overrated.

A music review focusing on music. Imagine that……

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