Many think it is.
I meant to get to this topic much later, but No Depression has beat me to it and forces my hand: the the idea of minimalism. The author of the piece is Kieran Ridge. For those who travel in the indie/Alt Country world, the topic has been around for quite sometime. Indie star Jack White started a record label that only deals in analog recording, and produces music only on vinyl. The reason is one of aesthetics: it sounds better to listen to music in analog and on vinyl than in digital.
But the article goes further than that in claiming the current music world, as controlled by the big record companies, has done us a great disservice, and they are making bad music. One thing that draws thinking people to the indie/alt country (small label) world, is that creativity is not lost, and real beauty has a chance to flourish. True, there are more risks and mistakes made in this world, but the music is more genuine, and when an artist creates a work of beauty, it shines. Few things of beauty come out of the major labels today. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. However, more often than not, the big labels stifle good music and beauty more than they encourage it. The result is a banal product, and much dubbing, over-dubbing, and digital tweaking that masks the artist’s poor talent, and the bad song writing that accompanies it.
In essence, No Depression states that the small labels we find in the indie and alt country world encourage experimentation, and art, as it ever has, does not apologize for not being mass produced, or critical, or whatever.
If I could draw, for a moment, from my own experience: In the 1980s a Pacific Northwest band called the Crazy 8s were simply the best band in the region, and perhaps the entire west coast. At the time I was a disc jockey and music director, and in that role, I spoke to record labels and promoters often. The 8s were a rock/ska/eclectic band.
They were never signed by a big label. Why? Because they could not be categorized. They spoke to no one genre. Yet, they packed the house. Imagine thousands of young college students from U of O and OSU flocking to their concerts. It happened. As No Depression notes, the big labels have a penchant to pigeon hole all bands. Once pigeon holed, it is very difficult to impossible for the band to break out of the mold and do something creative. In those days, there would be no Ryan Adams doing a stone cold country album, and then a metal album next. There would be no Shooter Jennings doing what he is doing with his latest release. One of the reasons for the online and extraterrestrial explosion is that the big labels have killed music. They have killed rock/rock-n-roll/country, etc. The proliferation of bands and labels today is a result of their continuing colossal mistake.
In some way, it is a good thing the 8s were never signed–it would have killed their creativity. The band never knew my feeble efforts to get them signed, but I thought a great band is a great band–and they wrote their own music thus further demonstrating their real talent.
Back to the Kieran Ridge article, some snips:
A similar movement has begun in opposition to mainstream, corporate music. Stripped down, American roots music is finding an enthusiastic audience with the success of the movie “Crazy Heart.” One of the main elements of the New Orleans based TV show Treme is the richly textured musical tradition of one of America’s greatest music cities. What is perhaps most promising is that Jack White has opened his own record label, Third Man Records, which records exclusively on analog tape, and distributes their music solely on vinyl. …
It’s my belief and assertion that the record industry in America is on the verge of a momentous and inevitable change that may very well be against its will, but not against its best interests. This change is the result of a shift that is taking place in American society, and in the American zeitgeist. Many Americans have grown increasingly disturbed by the overly corporate and industrial nature of so many aspects of our lives. From food to entertainment, big business has destroyed much of what we love and a general momentum for change is building.
These changes are also the inescapable consequence of the enormous financial failure of the record industry in the last decade. Let’s just start out with the assumption that popular music is not what it used to be. Argue if you will, but the evidence is in sales of recorded music and concert tickets. According to IFPI, the international representative of the recording industry, profits from sales of recorded music fell 7.2% in 2009. Of course, that might be expected in one of the worst years for the overall economy in decades. However, sales have fallen from $38 billion in 2000, to $17 billion in 2009, a catastrophic decline of 55.3%.
The record industry no longer grooms artists for long-term success, and so, music released by young acts on major labels is of very poor quality and it does not sell. What is called entertainment is failing to entertain. What is called popular music is unpopular. Instead of grooming acts for long-term success, record companies find or create a band or singer that conforms to their current marketing strategy with a one dimensional, easily definable, easily categorized sound. This act will have a hit or two and quickly be forgotten as another band or singer takes their place. This is music without thought, depth, or artistry, and the drop in profits is proof that this system is failing. Consequently – with the one possible exception of Country music – there are few young superstars with long careers in popular music today. …
Good music doesn’t come out of Protools or any other software program. It doesn’t come from effective marketing. It doesn’t come from some rarefied, effete notion of poesy, and art, and divine inspiration either. Good music is about grinding away with pencil and paper, and wood and strings. It’s earthy and comes out of real human experience. It whispers, it howls, it weeps, it dances, and it shakes. It’s about heart and soul and goose bumps up your spine. It comes from the place where our animal and spiritual natures converge. And so, it’s sometimes ambiguous and indefinable, maybe the words don’t make any logical sense. But there’s a part deep within that understands, and so you’re overjoyed, or you find you have tears in your eyes that you can’t explain. Great art and music are about creating something that the world has never experienced, but has always somehow known. You can see it when a previously indifferent audience suddenly catches fire in unison and starts moving, shaking, hollering at the band.
Music is not about sonic perfection, it’s about being moved: physically, emotionally, in your feet, and in your soul. No Pro Tools trick, no vocal effect, no onstage loops or lighting or device of any kind can send a chill up your spine like James Brown howling “Please, Please, Please.” No matter how good the technology gets, it’ll never be capable of that. Live music is where it’s at: the spontaneous vitality of a great performance by a great performer. Old records were, for the most part, a recording of a live performance. Today, the musicians play their parts separately and the spark of live performance is gone. A good record should sound like a great live performance without any special effects to come between the instruments and your ear. Digital perfection removes the raw emotion of the performance. A barrier between song, performer, and listener is created and the spell is broken. The sound of digital music is sterile, antiseptic, slick, but dull. Much of life has become too fast and depersonalized, overrun by technology. Music is a restorative that speaks to the best part of us. But music has become as inauthentic, computerized, and depersonalized as everything else. If this continues, the art of writing and playing great music will be further diminished and lost, just as painting was diminished and eclipsed by photography. I’m sure nobody in the year 1800 could have imagined that any technology could so quickly make painting irrelevant. The same thing is happening to song writing and performing that happened to painting. Digital music is to music what photography is to painting. They may bear a resemblance to the older art form, but they are not the same: they’re a quick and easy substitute that rely on technology rather than the human heart, mind, soul, as well as our creativity. People want the illusion that the band is in the room, that the singer is singing right in their ear, to them alone. That’s the magical element that makes a song timeless.
Read the whole thing.
One caveat: I am not so sure, as the author notes, that good music is always contrarian. Is great art always contrarian and challenging the standards of the time. Sometimes perhaps, but always? Great art is uplifting. Great music can be too, if it is allowed to do it and the artists are allowed to seek. There is also the problem with rock, and other music that has a basic four chords and under 4/4 time, but I will get to that much later. For the moment, digest Ridge’s interesting piece posted at No Depression.
There are a couple of interesting posts on the net over the last few weeks. First, is the RCP post by Jay Cost. Obama ran as a post partisan candidate–it defined his campaign and reason for running. After 8 years of Bush, he seemed like a corrective against the political ways of Bush and the Republicans. Cost notes that now Obama is very unpopular in part because he has governed, and spoken, as if Bush never left the White House.
Today, Gallup reports:
(Obama’s) first-year ratings were the most polarized for a president in Gallup history, with an average 65-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s approval ratings have become slightly more polarized thus far in his second year in office, with an average 69-point gap between Democrats (83%) and Republicans (14%) since late January.
This is a big deal. The first quote is the principal reason Barack Obama ran for President.At a minimum, it was his first public argument for why he thought the country should elect him, as opposed to the dozen or so other candidates who would enter the race. It remained a critically important idea throughout his candidacy. Remember, the Obama campaign was an “audacious” act of line-jumping within the Democratic Party. His justification was that the country couldn’t afford to keep playing the same old political games. The hook of his candidacy was: America, do you really want to do Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton?
A smarter way to put it is that Obama was never in a position to deliver on his promises, as Cost notes. Furthermore, the ideological division in the country are great. Finally, division is not such a bad things. There is really no base with which Obama can govern the way he speaks, and Cost notes this well:
Second, insofar as leadership could bridge the many divides in this country, this President has never been in a good position to exercise it. He owes too much to others. You don’t win a nomination battle like the Clinton-Obama smackdown without making a bunch of promises. Remember that neither Clinton nor Obama secured enough delegates through the primaries and caucuses; Obama needed the superdelegates, chief among them being Speaker Nancy Pelosi (easily the most powerful Democrat in the country prior to the President’s inauguration). There is a long line of constituent groups in the Democratic Party who certainly needed assurances about what an Obama presidency would look like. So long as reelection remains to be secured, these groups at least have to be monitored if not placated. And so, in a time of great divisiveness, the people with the closest connection to the 44th President are consistently on one side of the aisle. The left side. This feature of the Obama presidency came through most clearly on health care.
Obama talked a good game about bipartisan compromise, but at no point did I get the impression that he was willing to ditch a guy like George Miller (a far left liberal in the House) to pick up a moderate Republican like Delaware’s Mike Castle. Indeed, George Miller was one of the key authors of the health care bill in the House! There’s no practical way you can get George Miller and Mike Castle to work together on a comprehensive overhaul of the American health care system. They are just too far apart ideologically. So, the question is: whose vote do you value more? Obama’s answer has been crystal clear in his deeds, if not his words.
People are divided, and politics is about division–politics is about justice. Where there are differing views of justice there will be differing views, and hence, divisions in the electorate. Obama is bound to disappoint those who desired he would be the leader to heal the nation of division. I think Cost downplays that reality a bit, but the reality is people expected it in some way, and that was the base of his electoral coalition. He has governed with a different governing coalition, and now his electoral coalition is falling apart.
Case in point, his approval ratings.
Rasmussen Reports makes clear Obama’s rise in unpopularity. He also has an approval rating of 42%. This is very low. The trend is obvious–downward.
The increase in the graph above, lends evidence that Obama is losing not only the independents, but likely his base, whom believe he has not governed to the left enough. Should this continue, this trend, Obama could have a challenger in the primary at worst, or a lackluster turnout, at best, in 2012.
The lesson of all this is simple: Obama is a typically partisan president.
Citing our ability to be creative, trade, and learn from one another, Matt Ridley in the WSJ explains why we have risen above the other animals. The answer? Innovation:
The answer lies in a new idea, borrowed from economics, known as collective intelligence: the notion that what determines the inventiveness and rate of cultural change of a population is the amount of interaction between individuals. Even as it explains very old patterns in prehistory, this idea holds out hope that the human race will prosper mightily in the years ahead—because ideas are having sex with each other as never before.
The more scientists discover, the bigger the evolution puzzle has become. Tool-making itself has now been pushed back at least two million years, and modern tool kits emerged very gradually over 300,000 years in Africa. Meanwhile, Neanderthals are now known to have had brains that were bigger than ours and to have inherited the same genetic mutations that facilitate speech as us. Yet, despite surviving until 30,000 years ago, they hardly invented any new tools, let alone farms, cities and toothpaste. The Neanderthals prove that it is quite possible to be intelligent and imaginative human beings (they buried their dead) yet not experience cultural and economic progress.
Scientists have so far been looking for the answer to this riddle in the wrong place: inside human heads. Most have been expecting to find a sort of neural or genetic breakthrough that sparked a “big bang of human consciousness,” an auspicious mutation so that people could speak, think or plan better, setting the human race on the path to continuous and exponential innovation.
I am reminded of book 1 of Aristotle’s Politics in the next paragraph:
Dense populations don’t produce innovation in other species. They only do so in human beings, because only human beings indulge in regular exchange of different items among unrelated, unmated individuals and even among strangers. So here is the answer to the puzzle of human takeoff. It was caused by the invention of a collective brain itself made possible by the invention of exchange.
Once human beings started swapping things and thoughts, they stumbled upon divisions of labor, in which specialization led to mutually beneficial collective knowledge. Specialization is the means by which exchange encourages innovation: In getting better at making your product or delivering your service, you come up with new tools. The story of the human race has been a gradual spread of specialization and exchange ever since: Prosperity consists of getting more and more narrow in what you make and more and more diverse in what you buy. Self-sufficiency—subsistence—is poverty.
We need each other, humans do, in order to live the good life. We come together in communities in order to live better lives than if we were on our own. Subsistence is a part of that, but Aristotle would not stop there. An interesting essay. Even if you disagree, read the whole thing.
The last time a Republican was elected in Hawaii? 20 years ago.
Advantage: Still the Democrats. However, elections are about more than party ID, and Djou is pretty articulate. He has a few months to gain the voters’ favor.
Seth Godin provokes us with doom and gloom. Other than predicting the end of higher ed as we have known it, he predicts that accreditation leads to mass market degrees. In one of his most interesting paragraphs, he writes:
A lot of these ills are the result of uniform accreditation programs that have pushed high-cost, low-reward policies on institutions and rewarded schools that churn out young wanna-be professors instead of experiences that turn out leaders and problem-solvers.
Just as we’re watching the disintegration of old-school marketers with mass market products, I think we’re about to see significant cracks in old-school schools with mass market degrees.
Back before the digital revolution, access to information was an issue. The size of the library mattered. One reason to go to college was to get access. Today, that access is worth a lot less. The valuable things people take away from college are interactions with great minds (usually professors who actually teach and actually care) and non-class activities that shape them as people. The question I’d ask: is the money that mass-marketing colleges are spending on marketing themselves and scaling themselves well spent? Are they organizing for changing lives or for ranking high? Does NYU have to get so much bigger? Why?
What is more? Parents and employers are waking up to the problems with higher ed. I am not necessarily in agreement with his post, but he does hit on a few problems, viz accreditation costs and expectations, that make higher ed’s job much more difficult. Lost in Godin’s view of higher ed is the role of liberal education. He ignores it completely and seems to be more enamored with the for profit model. An interesting question for the digital age is: what does the 21st century library look like?
Update: one other thought: Godin misses a bit of the increase in tuition. He compares it to the rise in wages, but that is not necessarily a measure that tells us anything significant. I bet if he looked into it, he’d find that the reason tuition is increasing is because state appropriations in most of the states is decreasing. In other words, taxpayer dollars are subsidizing higher ed less and less.
It was another bad night for the administration. Despite their claim that this is no anti-incumbent year, it is an anti-incumbent year. And that means for Republicans as well as Democrats. The RCP had a real-time election night blog, which is interesting if you are interested in how it appeared as the votes rolled in.
The night can be seen three ways it seems to me:
All of these may be true in some fashion. Let us count the major races from that night:
James Taranto at the WSJ wrote late Wednesday afternoon that it could be seen both ways–the Dems had gains, but so did Republicans. There’s enough good news to go around. He also raises the issue we are becoming a more divided country.
The fact is for the Democrats, it was not a real bad night, but it was a bad night–they lost more than they gained, and there is more omnious weather on their horizon than on the Reps side. Still, it may be too difficult to tell if a trend exists and if there is a Republican trend how it will last to November. One thing to note in PA’s 12th to temper the Democrat gains is that, just like WV’s 1st, the Democrat ran as a Reagan Democrat. This is not good news to the Democrat base. However, it does give the Democrats a way to win in November–they have to run as center-right to win. They cannot run as a big government spending, crony capitalism (I read this as old Republican, big business), candidate.
The WSJ and Jay Cost disagree with me. The WSJ:
What happened? One obvious lesson is that Democrats aren’t about to go down without a fight. Mr. Critz was able to use his ties to Murtha to rally his union base and prevail in a low-turnout election. Republicans who were counting on their voters to be more enthusiastic should be concerned that too many stayed home when it counted. Democrats have been reading for months that their majority is in peril, and Tuesday’s results showed that they know how to motivate and get out their vote.
Republicans also got outsmarted on message. The GOP’s made-in-Washington strategy was to “nationalize” the race by stressing Mr. Critz’s Beltway ties and linking him to the Obama agenda on health care, cap and trade, and runaway spending. One problem: Mr. Critz said he was against all of that stuff too. The national Republicans ran TV ads playing up Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Obama, neither of whom were on the ballot.
The editorial also comes close to calling for the ouster of Michael Steele, the RNC chair. I think it is only a matter of time before Steele is sent packing.
Jay Cost has a sober view of the loss in the 12th:
Still, Republicans should be disappointed. I wrote recently that Republicans need to do well in Appalachian and Ohio River Valley districts to win in November. To do that, they must rebrand local Democrats as members of the Obama-Pelosi version of the Democratic Party. They didn’t do a very good job of executing this strategy in PA-12, and they need to learn from their mistakes as they go on to compete in districts whose macro features are more favorable to them.
None of this bodes well for Republicans if Cost is correct. Oliverio has to be seen as having the edge over the McKinley. Republicans will likely fall short of a takeover of Congress.
We continue with some of the new songs making waves in the indie world fro your summer enjoyment. We will take a distinct look back (other than what we already posted with Sonic Youth and the Aggrolites) in future posts. Until then, enjoy!
This week, it’s the Dum Dum Girls, who bring their anti-drug–Bhang Bhang–and 60s laced sound to indie:
As noted here, the for profit university is making a bit of headway into the higher ed world. The video below has some of the basic information as to how it works. There are pluses and minuses to the whole enterprise, as it functions in this state of flux. For profit institutions are on the rise. The financial troubles of institutions all over the United States, lends evidence to the problems. In order to not link a lot, here are a three from this week or month. The business model is coming to higher ed, and this is a new thing. I think what is so remarkable is that the accrediting agencies are so determined to save the institutions and help them go private–in some instances. All colleges and universities are experiencing fiscal constraints presently. Some colleges are closing, some are shrinking. This is where the for profit story begins:
[hana-code-insert name=’For Profit University’ /]
Some students have asked about my musical tastes. Most have quizzical looks when I say I like Alt Country and Indie. They understand when I say, I like blues and classical (more on those genres at some point, for the time being, we are going to consider the value of Indie). I am eclectic, and so listen to many different styles and genres. One thing that is true at other colleges, but less so at WLU, is the student identification with indie music. WGLZ does not dedicate a significant amount of airtime to the genre like we might find at one of the best indie college stations in the U.S. at NC State, WKNC. WKNC has quite a significant following and ranks as one of the best in terrestrial ratings.
Most of the Indie innovations, though, are extra-terrestrial or online. Sirius XMU is one of the best stations dedicated to the genre. The used-to-be-terrestrial radio station Indie 103.1 in Los Angeles was an important underground movement indie station. However, it went off the air, and lives in a shell of what it once was as an online station. Decent music may still be heard at 103.1, but the air talent is gone. Finally, of course, there is Pandora, and AOL Radio (which has been programming fantastic music across a whole host of disciplines for years now).
I ave often thought Indie has saved Rock-n-Roll, or Rock, or whatever. Indie has a breadth to it, and over the next few weeks, while we are working on our summer projects, I will post some typically considered excellent pieces of Indie. I will post five songs this week, and fewer as the weeks go on. Feel free to comment on what you like or dislike. There is a lot of decent music being made that challenges the more canned/corporate bands. The reason for the explosion of extra-terrestrial, and online, music has to do with the failure to sign and promote these kinds of bands at the big record labels. The same is true of the alt country world. At any rate, along the way, we will likely have a discussion on the primitiveness of Rock and the value of time signatures, the problems with imitation, and whether classical music solves any of those problems. Without further adieu, enjoy:
A couple of older Indie tunes to serve as examples:
A song WKNC played frequently when it released. Sonic Youth, Reena:
I was introduced to Cat Power on an airplane of all places, and while listening to its Indie channel. Many indie lovers really like this band. Here’s “He War”:
The new: The band getting rave reviews this week, and last, is Sleigh Bells. There is a bit of sampling, and looping, not to mention imitated instruments, but Sirius XMU is playing this song a lot at the moment. Pitchfork loves this duo, and as I write, is featuring the album on its website. The song is Ring Ring, or Rill Rill–take your pick:
Finally, Minus the Bear. Sirius XMU featured this band whose throwback 70s sound was one of last week’s top 15 most downloaded songs. More synth, lots of vocals–My Time: