moments before the wind.

December 31, 2006

james, do you like your life?

Filed under: architecture, business, country, music, producers, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 10:27 am

From today’s NYT: 

The subtlest reason that pop music is so flavorful to our brains is that it relies so strongly on timbre. Timbre is a peculiar blend of tones in any sound; it is why a tuba sounds so different from a flute even when they are playing the same melody in the same key. Popular performers or groups, Dr. Levitin argued, are pleasing not because of any particular virtuosity, but because they create an overall timbre that remains consistent from song to song. That quality explains why, for example, I could identify even a single note of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.”

“Nobody else’s piano sounds quite like that,” he said, referring to Mr. John. “Pop musicians compose with timbre. Pitch and harmony are becoming less important.”

Dr. Levitin dragged me over to a lab computer to show me what he was talking about. “Listen to this,” he said, and played an MP3. It was pretty awful: a poorly recorded, nasal-sounding British band performing, for some reason, a Spanish-themed ballad.

Dr. Levitin grinned. “That,” he said, “is the original demo tape of the Beatles. It was rejected by every record company. And you can see why. To you and me it sounds terrible. But George Martin heard this and thought, ‘Oh yeah, I can imagine a multibillion-dollar industry built on this.’

“Now that’s musical genius.”

I’m conflicted about this. First of all, a focus on timbre over the traditional pitch/harmony/melody stuff is smart, it avoids a knee-jerk reaction and makes you stop and think about what you’re really listening to. And in a lot of cases yes, I do think it’s more about the tone, the particular combination of sound rather than just what’s on one of the tracks. But this is such a biased opinion, coming from a guy who spent 15 years as a record producer. Of course he believes that it’s all in the mix. But I need to believe that there’s also something very fundamental in the song itself that makes some very deep imprints as well.

And secondly, this business about the Beatles’ demo tape. Again, with the producers taking credit for everything. I like what a lot of the information in the article says, but it just doesn’t make sense to me that the talent of a band is all of a sudden under the jurisdiction of producers who either make or break them. And thirdly that a multibillion dollar industry is the key legacy of the Beatles, the ultimate goal for musical genius. What?


December 30, 2006

or it could make you go blind

Filed under: architecture, business, digital, distribution, marketing, music, news — alimarcus @ 9:33 am

Word from a friend stranded at the airport in Dallas due to the wrath of our angry planet:

“There’s an iPod vending machine but no food. I can’t eat an iPod. and they are still playing xmas music.”

December 18, 2006

there is no rewind

Filed under: architecture, business, digital, distribution, marketing, music, news — alimarcus @ 2:30 pm

So there’s a short article in today’s paper about how big media, after scorning and threatening YouTube, is now trying to outdo them. The lesson of this story? Abandon all hope, ye who go up against the heavyweights, unless you can acquire billions of dollars with which to prove your worth.

The involved companies are only mentioned in passing, but we recognize them all: Viacom, News Corporation, NBC Universal, CBS. This is like every single traditional media company ever invented. That’s not true, but it is a hefty bunch. News Corp has MySpace, which has it’s own video thing that will be competing with whatever the massive conglomeration of effort is going to produce. And MTV has their own whole social networking thing that is normally considered a competitor of MySpace.

But here’s what I continue to find so ludicrous: incestuousity. All these companies are simultaneously fighting each other and trying to join together to fight everyone else. The more I sit and think about it, the more superficial social parallels arise. For instance, if you began to look at business mergers and venture from the perspective of, say, antiquated social economics, the whole mess starts to feel like emperors, queens, and interweaving royal families upon which national identity and safety depend. I don’t think I really have a concrete point to make about this, but just the fact that the herarchies and the distribution of information and relationships seem to be the same.

If we had known about the genetic consequences of so much inbreeding, do you think all that incestuous stuff would still have happened? And if not, what do you think we will find out this time around in the corporate business media world?

December 15, 2006

in letters made of gold, my love

Filed under: authenticity, business, folk, labels, marketing, music, writing — alimarcus @ 3:52 pm

There seems to be an insane amount of Christmas music around this year. I am not sure if it is actually more prolific than usual, if I happen to be noticing it more, or if it’s just the fact that the less showy singers seem to be more involved that they have been in the past. A short list off the top of my head – I’m hearing Aimee Mann’s Christmas stuff all over the place, and she put on some concerts. I saw a Sufijan Stevens Christmas album (no surprise there, really). Sarah McLaughlin too. And this big family gathering put on by the Wainwright/McGarrigle clan. And I just don’t really get it.

From the audience’s perspective, what inspires people to want to listen to an entire album, or an entire concert, of Christmas music? I think this just might be a personal choice, one that I have never agonized over, that some people are actually emotionally attached to Christmas music, and to hear one of their favorite artists sing it can be a worthwile experience. To me it sounds like an afterschool special from, if not hell, then at least our high school holiday assemblies.

Additionally, it seems like a marketing scam. As if all of the Christmas frenzy hasn’t already consumed far too much of our time, worry, and money, the music industry – no, the halfway respectable part of the music industry, specifically – is trying to grab their piece of the pie. It’s never so much bothered me that the crooners, the chansonniers of the world have been doing it for ages, like Dean Martin or Bette Midler or Mariah Carey. And I suppose that when I say “respectable” I don’t actually mean “respectable,” since there’s plenty to respect about DM, BM, MC, etc. What I mean is something entirely different, but rather than edit my words I’ll just unwrap it this way.

What I incorrectly dub as “respectable” artists are artists with whom I identify. Artist that I can see parts of myself in, and in whom I want to be able to see parts of my self or future self, or past self, or all of them.

Hence, when someone like Aimee Mann, who is easily one of the most important people in this category for me, puts out an album that I interpret as pandering, I am really put off by it. And there’s a lot of pandering to go around these days.

And of course I want Aimee Mann to be able to continue her career, and succeed, so that there can be more great music and all that. But from an artist’s perspective, I just feel like I lose a bit of respect in situations like these. Thus the use of “respectable.”

But I am a purist. And you gotta do what you gotta do, and hell, maybe these people actually wanted to do something like this. It seems to me, though, to be more of a symptom of the flailing industry model and the gasps of breath that people are lunging for at any opportunity. Understandably. This could be part of a larger lesson in the realities of life for me also. It’s sort of that time. Aimee Mann, just like me or anyone else, has to weigh the sacrifices against the rewards, and I doubt there are many tangible things that retain their idealogical purity anyhow. And in addition to that, there are plenty of people whom I respect that disappoint me in certain ways, and you have to learn how to process that, and learn from the disappointments along with the encouragement.

The Nields, who appeared in my bizarre dream last night, have this great song on an old album (Bob On The Ceiling) called “Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones,” and it’s a rare specimen: a song sort of about Christmas, with Christmas in the title, that still manages to use the context in an intriguing way, to make a song that can be listened to at any time of the year, no holiday misery/euphoria necessary.

December 9, 2006

what a cold and common old way to go

Filed under: authenticity, business, digital, distribution, marketing, music, news, writing — alimarcus @ 8:53 pm

Jon Pareles wrote a sweeping commentary on the state of culture and self expression in the 21st century.

A couple standouts:

In utopian terms the great abundance of self-expression puts an end to the old, supposedly wrongheaded gatekeeping mechanisms: hit-driven recording companies, hidebound movie studios, timid broadcast radio stations, trend-seeking media coverage. But toss out those old obstacles to creativity and, lo and behold, people begin to crave a new set of filters.
True. The inevitability of beaurocracy is slightly depressing. One point of light though is the fact that since a new path is available, it requires innovation and originality, which for better or for worse, allow for plenty of artistic change. Beaurocracy can’t go away, but the individual experience can transform in any old way.

User-generated content — turning the audience into the auteur — isn’t exactly an online innovation. It’s as old as “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” or letters to the editor, or community sings, or Talmudic commentary, or graffiti.
Just a really great point. It’s just an openness to conversation, the idea that a response has implicit validation with the public.

Selection, a time-consuming job, has been outsourced. What’s growing is the plentitude not just of user-generated content, but also of user-filtered content.
This is sort of creepy, that in an attempt to circumvent the monster we may actually be feeding it.

Mouse-clicking individuals can be as tasteless, in the aggregate, as entertainment professionals.
Something I noticed a long time ago. The democratization that the internet allows just means that all the crap can succeed. It turns out that people like the crap.

The songs on music blogs are chosen not by companies desperate for profit, but by individuals with time to spare, and if the choices often seem a little, well, geeky — indie rock, with a side of underground hip-hop, seems to be the overwhelming choice of music bloggers — who but a geek would be spending all that time at a computer?

And this is absolutely hilarious.

just as sincere as a dog does

Filed under: music — alimarcus @ 8:41 pm

Hey, read this article that Anthony Lane wrote for the New Yorker, about Walt Disney. It’s fascinating.

December 8, 2006

the perfect ending to a bad day

Filed under: architecture, music, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 2:29 pm

On hidden tracks

Why do people do hidden tracks? What was the first hidden track? I myself have used them, though just because we felt like it’s what people do when they make albums. But when I really sit down and think about it – I can’t find an actual good reason.

It’s possible that it’s just the air of secrecy, of silliness, or an inside joke. Maybe there is a track that doesn’t fit the standard “song” mold – bad production, screw-ups, conversations that wouldn’t be “acceptable” as a real track listing. It’s weird though. There must be some kind of cult appeal to hidden tracks.

What are some great ones? In recent discussions, people keep bringing up Jagged Little Pill, which is a great song. Others I can think of are Ben Folds Five Whatever and Ever Amen, Abbey Road of course, Sheryl Crow has one on The Globe Sessions about Clinton’s impeachment. Jewel’s got one where she sings a beautiful duet with her mom on Spirit. Counting Crows and Barenaked Ladies are big on them too.

That’s about all I can think of. Does anyone know more about this?

December 4, 2006

you can be my peter pan

I opened a MySpace account this week, because I decided that it was time to try it out. I feel a little bit shamed, for so often having ranted about how shameless and silly the website is. I’ve decided, though, that it’s all in the way one decides to use it.

For instance, I got Bob Dylan to be my friend. And however ludicrous that truth may be, it is still thrilling! Small, flighty pleasures have a kind of value, even if we all understand that it has no basis in reality.

Also, I’ve always said that I am much more interested in having people on my own website, listening and downloading music off of a place that I own (or rent, anyways). But there are perks to MySpace – it unabashedly counts things that, like it or not, give an accurate picture of who is out there paying attention. So I’ve posted a preview track, from an album that has not been released yet, and I’ll be able to see just exactly how many people have even noticed. It’s a song about Bob actually, and Joan, and Rilo Kiley and James Joyce.

I do have to say though, there is an element of shamelessness here, because I’ve just finished recording an album that I am so proud of. So I DO want everyone to hear it. And maybe MySpace can help, without completely stripping me of integrity. I think it just might be possible.

But maybe you should see for yourself.

Blog at