moments before the wind.

April 28, 2006

EMP Pop Conference #1

Filed under: authenticity, digital, music, producers, recording, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 11:51 pm

Michael Coyle gave a presentation about cover songs that made a distinction between jazz "versions" and jazz, pop, or otherwise described "covers."  He asserted that they are fundamentally different in that "versions" are elementally about the qualities of a song and a particular musician's take on them in various combinations, while "covers" are based on a specific sound recording and respond more to particular details of a recording aesthetic than to underlying compositional structures. 

It's an interesting point and there is a lot of truth to it, because the paradigm shift that recording technology caused in the way people perceive the world and create art definitely allows for this to be true.  Coyle played some selections in which jazz bands cover "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and 'Black Hole Sun" to help show what he meant.  The voicing of the instruments, the mic techniques, and the adherence to basic melodies already put in place by Cobain and Cornell was unmistakable.

My reaction though, is that the explanation is more nuanced than Coyle laid out.  Nirvana and Soundgarden recorded albums, in a time before the digital revolution when albums as a singular work were – and to a large extent still are, though I'm not sure how long it will last – the framework that guided the creative process.  It follows that the characteristics of their songs, including things like production values and instrumentation, were responding to a greater cultural circumstance.  The tradition of rock music laid all the groundwork for that kind of stuff, and it's understandable for many reasons why it's inescapable.  This being the case, isn't it fair to posit that jazz musicians who are covering rock music make similar choices in their covers due to this same, much larger scope of influence?  Is it justifiable to make it seem as though the jazz musicians – and this was only implied in the talk, but a central idea especially given that the theme of the entire conference is "shame"- are ripping off the rock musicians? 

 –side note– The shame involved purportedly comes from the listener's enjoyment of the cheese factor, essentially from the failure of the cover artist to achieve the core rock value: sincere authenticity. I dont think there is one, but a paper on Richard Cheese would have fit right in at this year's conference. –end–

I wouldn't be able to answer this, but I wonder about similar concerns regarding more "normal" kinds of jazz.  I mean, in contemporary recordings of even the most traditional sort, has there been a shift in mic tech or voicing or other kinds of these issues over a period of time?  I don't know the answer, but I'm willing to bet that there has, and that someone out there ascribes that shift to the general cultural situation, regarding the effects of both technology and rock.

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