moments before the wind.

May 30, 2006

always and forever tied to the lamplight

Filed under: authenticity, business, digital, distribution, marketing, music, news — alimarcus @ 10:19 pm

This post on David Byrne's blog takes particular notice of the semi-offensive use of the term "content." Byrne writes that maybe he "might be kinda oversimplifying things," but it seems a bit like exploitation of artistic creation for financial profit. Sound familiar?

I think that there is a new kind of insidious effect that the word "content" causes, beyond the corporate business interests of old. Judging from that cover article from the NY Times Magazine a few weeks ago about web-ifying every written word that's ever existed, the trend to see "content" and "information" as a genre that surpasses anything purely artistic or contextual is ever-increasing. Yes, genres themselves are marketing tools, but what I mean is that people sense a kind of soul about a work of art which they definitely do not with a ringtone. I will allow for the possibility of a future land in which ringtones function as artistic endeavors, but as far as I know that hasn't evolved quite yet. The fringes are where art cultivates life and this will never change, but how grotesquely consumerist can we possibly get before enough is enough?


do i look to the stars

Filed under: authenticity, live shows, music — alimarcus @ 8:31 am

On a camping trip this weekend (Deception Pass: gorgeous) I brought a friend's guitar along with me for the campfire. There were so many reasons not to bring my own: it's heavy! it's big! it's expensive! it's loud! etc. The guitar I borrowed for the trip is tiny, light, sunbursted and embellished, and most likely not worth bunk. I think everyone should have a handy little guitar around for camping trips and other occasions that may warrant one.

This can go beyond my personal shopping habits though. Why am I so protective over my own guitar? Obviously, any guitar I brought on a camping trip would have been treated with equal respect, regardless of shape or size or nationality. It was the prospect of damage that really, really freaked me out. And I need to get over that. It's no use buying something and then not using it.

All of these perceptions are relative, anyways. I bought what I used to call an "expensive cheap" guitar in high school and used it for a good 5 years before moving on. It took a few years and some unavoidable damages (I'm looking at you, Watson) for me to lighten up about the finish and the shine and the blah blah blah. When I find myself in such blatant displays of material worship I am a bit shaken, because I know that I have to find a way out of it in order to restore some kind of happiness. Taking my Taylor on the camping trip would have been an important step, and I avoided it because of the convenience of someone else's "camping guitar." Which, by the way, made it through with not a scratch to take home for a souvenir.

I guess this means I'll have to challenge myself in a different way, and right now the prospect of taking my guitar on a plane from Seattle to Virginia may just fit the bill. Pressurized cabins and overflowed flights and checking things at the gate…all very scary. Advice on flying with a guitar? Anybody?

May 28, 2006

dressed up for each other

Filed under: business, digital, marketing, music — alimarcus @ 8:20 am

I had this idea about iPods. I don't own one, so I am not familiar with the kind of hand movements – twirling thumbs, really – that so many people are used to. A typical Mac product, it is user-friendly, but I still have to think about how to use it whereas for many people it is more of an innate, mindless task, like driving to work in the morning.

I do believe that nerves and muscle movements retain a kind of physical memory. My piano teacher used to tell me that there were three necessary elements for real dexterity on the piano: the brain, the fingers, and the connection between them. He always used to say, and now I experience this myself, that the fingers never forget; it's the connection between what your brain knows and what your fingers know that has to be strengthened, like a muscle. Recently I was playing with a friend's iPod and the physical memory in my hands responded not to piano keys but to – and maybe this is a result of me needing to use two hands – a Gameboy.

If iPod and Nintendo figured out a way to release all those old school games (and I mean the ones I know how to play) on an iPod – I would definitely buy one. No question about it. I would pretty much do anything for Super Mario Brothers, Paperboy, Marble Madness. Are there dealings between Apple and Nintendo? It's just the shape of the hardware that brought this up, but maybe there is something to that. Imagine how many people's hands would remember.

May 26, 2006

they say that the tree of lovin’

Filed under: authenticity, folk, live shows, music — alimarcus @ 7:46 pm

A quick little post about today's experience at the Folklife Festival. Three things, really.

 1. On what was called the "Narrative Stage," I came across a group performing Kingston Trio songs. They did a great version of Woody's "Hard Ain't It Hard." At shows I tend to spend a lot of time watching the audience, looking for their reactions. As I was spanning the crowd here, I noticed that there was no one who looked anywhere between 10 and 40 years old. There were kids, yes, and there were middle aged folk and beyond, but I was definitely the only person there who fell in in between. Not that this is surprising, but it is a little disturbing to me. There is this question of relevance that spoke loudly via demographics.

2. One of the best things about Folklife are the street performers. Any spot you stand it, there's at least three styles of music you can turn your ears on to. It's really pretty amazing the way people pay attention, crowds form around them. Many ensembles I saw were of the jug band type, full of eclectic instruments and Appalachian overtones. It made me miss the Hackensaw Boys, with their cans and their washboards. If you're into this type of music, go directly to to check it out. If you are in Charlottesville, go see them play.

3. At the beginning of my set I felt the need to invoke not the Homerian muse but the sunshine, because the weather forecast has been iffy all week. I told the crowd that it was sort of like a Rain Dance, but opposite: Peter, Paul and Mary's "Weave Me The Sunshine." The clouds shifted about in the sky, and there seemed to be a bit of wind dusting around out there. Miraculously it remained in this weird stasis throughout the hour-long set. And literally in the last two seconds of the last song, the skies opened up in a kind of cosmic purge. I can't tell you how relieved I was that it held off until the very last chord was struck, and I couldn't help but feel part of something bigger. The crowd immediately scattered for shelter, and an uncharacteristic downpour ensued.

May 24, 2006

we’ve lived so well so long

Filed under: folk, indie, labels, live shows, music, news — alimarcus @ 6:47 pm

Northwest Folklife Festival comes to Seattle Center this weekend, and I'm playing in it. I've been picking and choosing my protest songs carefully, and have not completely decided whether to go double or nothing. You will have to show up to find out what happens. Also, the entire four-day festival is free. Sounds like a bit of Turtle Rock philosophy to me.

So. Friday, 3PM, Alki Court Stage. Me.

Details here.

i’m sure you probably knew

Filed under: business, digital, distribution, folk, music, news, rock — alimarcus @ 12:12 am

Pearl Jam released its video for "Life Wasted" under a Creative Commons license. I have been waiting to see who was going to step up to the plate on alternative licensing, and I'm not surprised that it's this band. No, not surprised at all.

When will major artists begin to license their music under CC? I've thought about it very seriously, and I ultimately have not been able to take the plunge: the phrase "non-revocable" is beyond daunting and even feels a bit threatening to me. Copyright protection seems a little bit superfluous, since a creator automatically owns the work they produce. There is something about the transfer of process, from one that has to do with producing work, to one that has to do with generating revenue. The age-old conflict between art and commerce will never go away; in fact, it's the interplay between the two that serve as the basis for a lot of significant interaction.

Here's the way I see it. Making money from art is possible – necessary, really. There is more to the art of music than the sound recording though. Is that such a ridiculous statement? In my mind it seems a perfectly normal assertion.

PS- I want the world to know that rubber stamps have redefined my experience of the world. Now you know.

May 22, 2006

the silly things that you say

Filed under: authenticity, music — alimarcus @ 8:29 am

I heard a cover of Van Morisson's "Into the Mystic" the other day on a country radio station. It was awful. No, it was beyond awful. Not only did it fall flat to the ground but then it stomped all over itself in a sad display of failure. It got me thinking again about cover songs.

In two spearate posts a few months ago I wrote about treating music with respect. In the post called  water from another time I talked about how the Coen brothers "treat the music with more respect [than biopics like Walk the Line], because they do not employ the uber-cheesy impressions in an attempt to be sincere." Then a few days later in motownphilly back again I lamented greatest hit albums for their sheer ignorance of an artists original vision. "I encourage you to give more attention to the primary source," I wrote.

The catch is that I, like many (the many who are reading this blog, perhaps), am haunted by Greil Marcus. About covers, I once heard him exclaim, "you can't play the stuff with respect!" In the context of his talk, it became a kind of motto for me, replaying in my head over and over. Apparently there've been some lapses in the looping, particularly around the dates of the abovementioned posts. But really I think that what we're dealing with is a binary.

There are two kinds of respect. One kind is the kind that boxes people in, caged by their preconceptions. The other is a kind of freedom. Clearly, as with all binaries, these are two opposites of the same coin, and when it's flipped we can't be sure where it will fall. I would say most people confront both at different times. That Marcus cautioned us against jailing ourselves and thus missing out on the experience of life, to put it in grander terms. This Marcus would like to add that a life sprung from inspiration ain't no small thing.

May 20, 2006

you better listen to the radio

Filed under: authenticity, business, digital, distribution, indie, labels, music — alimarcus @ 5:58 pm

The more I think about it, the less likely it seems that major labels are going to really suffer as a result of the kind of digital empowerment going on. In the short term, they are certainly slow-moving, because huge companies take waves of shock and response in order to transform themselves, but in the end they will remain powerhouses of reputation, glamour, and of course, money. I think that a lot of chatter about the accessibility of the internet sometimes implies that since the playing field is leveling out, the spread of earnings will follow suit. This is not so, because bands who find success independently will inevitably drift towards the larger, global temptations of fame and glory.

Right? It's one of those things where "selling out" becomes an issue even for the people who swore they never would.

Don't get me wrong, I most certainly know that the internet has changed a lot of things about the opportunities available to musicians. I myself am a product of such change. What I am saying though is that the Big Men On Campus are still the hotshots, and I don't see a lot of people shift their thinking away from these kinds of high-school power politics. I want to see more people who are just completely uninterested in this or that Warner A&R scout. Only then will the realities become tangible in a bigger way.

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