Hey Pal, remember tape cassettes? Remember the sound your cassette made when it was at the end of a side? Ascending beep beep beep beep beeps. Arcade Fire put that audio bite on one of the tracks on their new album. Kids must have no idea when they hear it, but I sure as heck did. I heard it and the 12 year old Pal in me gave me a big warm hug. I had to take pause after hearing that 2 second sound. It made me think of things that I hadn’t thought of for a long time like that high pitched hiss as I waited for the first track to start. Long car rides with my family, where I would listen to tape after tape of Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Rush, Led Zeppelin, The Who…. The hard “kerchunk” of pressing play and stop. Painstakingly making a “real” mixed tape with my two deck ghetto blaster. Poised with my fingers over the “REC” and “PLAY” button, waiting to hear that one song on the radio in order to record it and then being annoyed when the DJ talked over the first few bars as if he did it on purpose. How about fixing a cassette with a Bic pen when the tape spooled out after getting caught on the deck as I pulled it out? Well, it seems that we will be able to relive those glory days again.
I was swiping through the pages of my digital Rolling Stone one day, and I read an article about a group of twenty something’s who opened up a small shop in a Brooklyn subway station that focuses on selling eighties gear. Things like audio cassettes. Believe it or not, some artists are releasing their albums on cassettes again. My first thought is, why? Has anyone ever made a case for why cassettes are superior to CDs or vinyl? Apparently cassette sales are on the rise.
This can’t be a preferred medium for musicians to display their work. This got me thinking about mediums like tape decks and about newer mediums like smart phones. Where are we headed? Are we providing the right platform for artists to give their work to the masses? Are we too often letting the consumer drive the platform on how art is received? Could this be influencing art in a bad way? Shouldn’t we let the artist drive the platform for their art? Are we sacrificing the experience of art for convenience?
Here are some rambling thoughts on the matter.
I bought a pair of high quality Bose headphones this year and it changed my world. In fact it changed my brain. The music that came through those magical ear speakers was so clear, that my brain went nuts. I had never heard such sound quality before. I actually thought they were broken for the first two weeks after I bought them. My other crappy headphones just mashed the music together and the sound would just ooze into my ears. I wasn’t used to the precise sharp shooting in the ear canal sound of the Bose.
Bose headphones adds space between the instruments allowing the listener to hear where every instrument, vocal, or other sound was intentionally placed. It expanded my appreciation for those albums that take painstaking efforts in production and sound mixing. It is the best way to hear the intent of the music. The intent of the artist. Here’s is a list of the albums that blew my new Bose brain:
The Beatles’ – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Radiohead’s – King of Limbs
Weather Report’s – Tale Spinnin’
Flying Lotus’ – Until the Quiet Comes
My Bloody Valentine’s – Loveless
Pink Floyd’s – Dark Side of the Moon
These are all albums that challenged convention in their time, thereby requiring the listener to go to the musician for appreciation. It is always more rewarding. To get off your figurative sofa and go to a figurative restaurant and figuratively eat what the figurative chef painstakingly figuratively cooked for you, instead of going to the figurative kitchen and cooking a figurative Swanson dinner and sitting back on that figurative couch so you can eat your figurative Salisbury steak and watch the latest Storage Wars on your figurative T.V. (my wife said this paragraph doesn’t work, but I think it does and its funnier if you read it out loud)
On a recent episode of the Doug Loves Movies podcast…
Michael Moore was talking about how nowadays movie makers have no control over how their movies are viewed. He derided these new behemoth multiplexes for not contributing to the proper movie going experience. He also had choice words for people who watch movies on their IPhones. Movies just aren’t meant to be viewed that way. Back in the day, movie theatres were grand and it felt like a big deal to go see a motion picture. It was an experience. The old places created a sense of awe and seeded inspiration in future movie makers.
He compared this control to musicians who go on stage before a show for sound check. They go to the venue and make sure that the sound is right before playing. They have some level of control. Mr. Moore would like to have some say in the venue his movies are shown, which is why he built his own theatre in Michigan and Quentin Tarantino is doing the same thing with the New Beverly Centre in L.A. Art house theatres seem to be popping up all over the place. Hopefully people want that experience, because the movie makers seem to want to give it to them.
One last example, and this one might put a positive spin on different technological mediums and how they can be used by the arist. On a recent episode of the Radiolab podcast, the band Dawn of Midi was featured. Originally a free jazz band, they are delving into acoustic music that sounds like electronic music. They perform music that would normally be produced through a computer or on a loop machine. Repetitive, evolving, mesmerizing. Deceptively simple. Syncopated at times and not syncopated at other times. A precision of rhythm that is difficult to replicate live.
On the podcast, they discussed how digital or new technologies allow us to take analog or human feats to a whole new level. He used the example of surfers. It wasn’t until the arrival of the jetski that surfers could get out far to ride those huge waves. The idea being that artists are always discovering new ways to create meaningful outputs and of course its possible to use new technologies to do it. Especially if it allows them to reach places that weren’t even remotely possible before. But can we, the consumer of art, get there too with the right vicarious view finder? Do we even know what that would be?
So, let them get to that big wave, but if it just looks like a ripple to us on our tiny little screen, is the art of it getting through?
I don’t know Pal.
Just some thoughts.