moments before the wind.

April 23, 2007

EMP Pop Conference #16 – End Bits

One thing that I continually find entertaning is the feedback loop at the conference, presenters quoting writers to help support their point, and those writers are literally sitting in the audience listening to their own words spoken back to them. This kind of validation (or cancellation?) is a kind of black hole, a weird moment in time when the reasoning behind an argument starts to sound circular. For some reason the fact that the original writer is in the room listening sort of serves to render the intellectual capacity of the argument null and void. Like anything that is circular, you have to wonder whether it’s useful to end up where you started. Of course it can be. And of course it can’t be.

Also.

There seemed to be an exceptional amount of political commentaries built into the arguments I saw. The theme of the conference, “Waking Up From History,” propelled many writers to arrive at the concusion that we should actually wake up TO history, to learn from history, and to draw conclusions between the cultural sphere that our work covers and the political sphere of which we are citizens.

Some examples:

-Robert Bennett on the Jazz Diplomacy program and the things we should learn from it.
-Scott Nelson’s timely mention of “abortive gun policies” in the paper about John Henry’s exhumation – I’m not sure how he managed to reference the VA. Tech shootings in that conversation but at the time it made perfect sense.
-Brendan Greaves’ talk of Terry Allen’s border politics and the ways in which the Texas/Mexico border is treated by the government versus the inhabitants. 
-There was also an entire panel about New Orleans, as well as a smattering of other related papers throughout the weekend, all of which contained a fervent expression of the power of music and solidarity and the essential character of the city.

In general, as there seems to be in more and more things these days, there was a real sense of urgency that was more palpable than in previous conferences. It may have been the effect of the theme, but in general people’s research was very much rooted in the grim realities of life and music’s ability to help maintain and even create hope where all seems quite hopeless.

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EMP Pop Conference #15 – Analog as Analogy

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, digital, distribution, folk, indie, marketing, music, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 2:18 pm

Erik Davis brought a decidedly esoteric (in a good way) perspective to the issue of the analog/digital divide. He quotes Joanna Newsom speaking of her analog aesthetic as a reaction to the “crispy mosquito of digital sound boring into your brain.” Fantastic, in both ways.

Enlarging the divide into a debate about Analog Ethics (could be the name of the best graduate seminar EVER), Davis proceeded to codify the opposing notions of analog and digital in a larger framework, ultimately reducing it to the phenomenological difference between the wave and the particle. If you are me, then this is incredibly interesting considering that you believe the ultimate meaning in paradox is that they collapse each other into one and the same thing, though you don’t know what to name that thing or whether to liken it to religion, existence, life, or anything more mundane like music.

Also, if you are me, you will find yourself up against a kind of wall, because if digital and analog are all part of it, whatever it is, then what the hell is real and what is fake and what is worth arguing about anyways?

Well, here’s a thought. Davis spoke of the freak folk genre (boy, I dislike that term!) as a crowd that generally seeks authenticity in their musical experience. But I have to wonder about seeking authenticity. Is seeking authenticity akin to seeking good karma? I always thought that someone seeking good karma is totally missing the point, because then they are acting in complete self-interest. So if one is seeking authenticity, then are they truly false as a result of their hyper-conscious (postmodern) decisions?

But gah, authenticity!

EMP Pop Conference #10 – The Pure Land

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, digital, distribution, folk, indie, live shows, music, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 10:46 am

Phil Ford quoted an old professor of mine, Scott DeVeaux – so much UVA love this weekend. DeVeaux taught a really wonderful class, Music and WWII, where I thought about many things for the first time and will never forget. The quote he read, I wish I had been able to record it, was so typical of the way DeVeaux spoke – it was perfect.

Ford’s presentation was about some obscure acetate recordings that the Beats made. I sort of lost track of the talk, just a personal ambivalence about the Beats – it’s hard for me to really pay attention to it. He made a general point about the purity of experience though, which is what they were striving for, and all of a sudden the quality of the recordings became an issue, then extrapolated to the larger circumstance of all recorded music. Ford talked about the expression of a particular kind of inability to attain this purity, which he then likened to “the melancholy of recorded sound itself,” a loaded and entirely plausible statement.

Recording brings a kind of distance to the musical experience. Yes, OK, well, this is an obvious point, however existential you’d like to make it. The physical distance between the room in which the sound was made and the room in which it is heard cannot be stressed enough. Is this distance detrimental to the musical experience? On both ends, for the musican and the listener, I think something is lost. Other things stand to be gained, of course, but some people may never be able to reclaim the visceral experience of proximity.

I learned about a different kind of music that seems to be entirely about the visceral experience of proximity in Lorriane Plourde’s talk about a kind of Japanese experiemental music mainly performed at a gallery called Off Site. I can’t remember the Japanese term for the genre, but it involved cramming a bunch of listeners into a typically small Tokyo apartment space, where they listen to a performance that consists mainly of sounds that you must strain to be able to hear. These performances are so quiet (made up mostly of sine waves and feedback noise from a mixer), that apparently you must strain to stay awake as well. What Plourde took away from her study of this music was the sense of physical tension, explaining the palpable sense of stress and, well, strain, among the audience members and their relation to the performing artist. More of a happening than a concert, it illustrates a lot about what remains to be sought out in a lot of American commercial recording. Conceptually, this experiemental form seemed to me to be sort of a reactionary form of art, forcing the kind of particiption and recipriocation that hardly any popular music asks of us anymore.

April 20, 2007

EMP Pop Conference #5 – On UVA

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, digital, distribution, folk, indie, labels, marketing, music, writing — alimarcus @ 10:12 pm

I had to make a stop to see the talk of an old college professor. Actually, he was never my professor, but he did administer a sightreading test once, and he also rejected my idea for a thesis on the grounds that there was no faculty member who would be interested in supporting it. (For the record, it was 2003, and I wanted to deconstruct the process of record labels as we knew them, and through a re-evaluation of the digital possibilties and available communication outlets, redesign the record label model for the 21st century. Heady topic for a 20-year-old intern, but I’ve always had big eyes.)

And so, I graduated without honors, but am a living example of the doomed thesis, or at least trying to be, so I am not sure yet whether he was being flippant about it, or if my career, like the thesis, is doomed as well.

His talk on the Pet Shop Boys, I dutifully report, was enlightening in the sense that I learned a little bit about them, and wonderfully pedantic in the sense that the combination of an old professor and some harmonic analysis brought me back to the basement of Old Cabell Hall. I could feel the chalk dust in the air, the creaky door panels, the musty classicism. I heard they are rebuilding the whole music department over there, which is triumphant but also a bit tragic as well.

EMP Pop Conference #3 – Music Sound

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, digital, folk, live shows, music, recording, writing — alimarcus @ 9:44 pm

For people who revel in the rich, eternal abyss that is the recording studio. This particular writer is more fascinated with the ideas of the possibilities of the technology, however, when confronted with the real thing, wants to eliminate the presence of it altogether. I’ve always felt that this instinct of mine is a bit like musique concrete, in a way.

Which David Grubbs spoke about in his presentation that was basically the story of his struggle to define the term “sound art.” He eventually arrived at “Sound art is an argument about the context in which the work should be received.” A good, relativist approach, for sure, that, like the artwork itself, “aims to evoke an aesthetic reaction.” Especially in a room of critics.

Tim Hecker spoke about Glenn Gould, always a fascinating figure to mull over. It sort of centered around the ineluctable existential conflict that lived inside of Gould, his inability to rise above himself. The amount of paradox is too much to bear. But in particular, his simultaneous feeling of liberation and anxiety surrounding the recording studio, his fervent desire to escape his bodily restrictions, the interiority of his reclusiveness versus his megastar status. (Semi relevant factoid: apparently Gould was the first North American musician to tour the Soviet Union after WWII – see here.)

Interestingly, Hecker chose not to play and of Gould’s music. One could argue that it was irrelevant to this paper, but it would have illuminated a lot of the character attributes discussed in the paper, in the sense that hearing the music would illuminate certain things about Gould’s personality or inner conflicts. Maybe his frenetic style or his eccentric virtuosity. Without Alex Ross around this year to play some “classical” music and explain to us all why its pop music after all, I felt a big empty hole.

i heard there was a major chord – introduction

Ahhhhhhh. So nice to be back. The continual decline of the EMP’s institutional gravitas only makes this conference all the more sweeter. Oh, how imminent demise doth make the heart grow!

But in the lovely Seattle springtime, everything feels like a rebirth, and so this weekend we embark on the eternal journey of speculation and debate, insight and confusion. Does this stuff matter to anyone else? If it doesn’t, does that matter? And if it does, then what are we doing here?

We are analysts, we are critics, we are artists: I cannot think of a more potent combination of inspired and cynical people who must against all odds maintain faith in this crazy work we do. For me, the conference feels like a yearly pep rally. So lets get to it. Thanks for reading!

February 10, 2007

fifteen miles on the erie canal

On an article in today’s NYT:

A woman curates a show called “Not For Sale,” in which artists are showing pieces that are not for sale. Very interesting things, to read about the various reasons artists hold on to or don’t hold on to things. The conclusion of the article:

“I’m not insisting that all these artists are in any way pure, whatever that is,” she said. “I just want to show people art that can be made and exist apart from the market for reasons that I hope still exist, even in this kind of market.”

But then, expressing her allegiance with the Ray Johnsons of the world and unable to stay completely away from the pulpit, she thumped the table with her hand. “We are talking about religion here, aren’t we?” she said, smiling fiercely. “We’re talking about God.”

A curious mix of righteousness and independence. It seems very clear that this woman knows exactly what she thinks, and while she is not going to force it on anyone else, she is going to make it very clear, and leave the choice up to the individual.

This sounds a little bit familiar. How ’bout here:

Turtle Rock is not a record label that is trying to compete with – or even criticize – the practices of other record labels, major or independent. It is simply going its own way.

Nevertheless, the materialism of our culture has become an ecstatic caricature of itself, unabashedly reveling in its own greed.

The same sort of back and forth coming from me. And Turtle Rock practices are shifting a little bit, with a new record out that actually costs money, people are asking questions. But people are also buying, so it can’t be that horrible. Things like integrity or value can’t truly be measured but they can be felt. So as long as we are still paying attention to that, then things should be OK.

Did I mention the record is for sale?

Did I mention that the website is rebuilt?

Did I mention that half of the album is still completely free?

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.”

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