Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Everything old is new again (part 2) / Friday Muxtape no. 3

When I'm not composing or touring or bandleading, I love watching technology obsolesce and re-emerge. Our gadgets rarely disappear entirely: through processes of fascination and fetishization, the trappings of dead or dying technologies are usually rescued and put to new (albeit sometimes entirely superficial and / or merely psychologically satisfying) uses.

Kevin Kelly is right: we love our machines.

Exhibit A:

Get a rotary dial on your iPhone.

I actually don't understand the appeal of this -- I used to get my fingers stuck in rotary dials all the time, and I always thought they were a royal pain in the ass... though I kind of liked the way they sounded during the dialing process.

Exhibit B:

The "Grungelizer" plug-in for Cubase.

It makes things sound... old.

(I'm not even going to say anything about the digital simulacra of fully functioning "dials," because that is pretty much standard with any audio recording software or plug-in.)

Exhibit C:

"Below the fold." Check it out: strictly speaking, there is no "fold" on a computer screen. This is a term from another dying technology: printing.

Exhibit D:


I have tons and tons of cassette tapes stowed away in boxes in the basement. Why don't I just chuck 'em? I don't know.

Here's what I do understand: when riffing on the cultural idea of "the mix," it's only natural that Muxtape would define itself visually by referring back to the first commercially-available medium for the practice of making mixes.

* * * * *

It's interesting when a new technology cuts down on the work involved in making art. In the face of this sort of thing, there's a risk that the stuff that already exists, which was created without the benefit of that technology, may come to seem more "obsolete" or "quaint" than it actually is. Someone outside the history of a given practice -- audio editing, say -- can mistakenly focus on how "easy" it is, now.

What is an artist born at the wrong time to do? Sometimes it's just a matter of figuring out ways to put new technologies to even newer uses -- uses other than the ones which they were specifically designed for. Note that the phonograph itself was originally conceived (by Edison, anyway) as a dictation machine, not as a device for disseminating recorded music (how's that for ironic: what became one of the greatest emblems of leisure was originally intended for use in a fucking office).

So what about computers: the context for most creativity in the twenty-first century (so far)? Sometimes I think that the light-show you can get from an iTunes or Windows Media Player "visualizer", for instance, would be seen as "art" if it weren't so easily available. Maybe that's what makes the following video, by Dennis Liu, so damned fascinating: it takes the mundane processes of the personal computer -- processes which would have been amazing twenty years ago, but which now seem hackneyed (to me, anyway) -- and uses them to entirely different (and new) aesthetic purposes (and very effectively, I might add):


* * * * *

And now today's mix:

1. Masaro Sato: "The Plan to Incinerate the H-Man." From a movie I've never seen but would like to.

2.. Lavender Diamond: "Rise in the Springtime." The excessive sweetness of this band (what else would you expect, with a lead singer named "Becky"?) is much more endearing live. Anyway, it was a hot day today, so I thought of this tune.

3. Deep Zen Pill With Brother Bam Shock: "Power." John Oswald. Plunderphonics. A double-album of mashups par excellence -- done without the aid of digital technology, as I recall. This one poaches from Zeppelin and a preacher.

4. Colin Stetson: "Groundswell." A lot with a little.

5. Them: "Friday's Child." Van Morrison was in a band called Them -- before he was the Van Morrison.

6. Chico Hamilton: "In a Mellotone." You east coasters will hate this, I know.

7. Barbara Lynn: "Heartbreaking Years." Old school that never really got its due. Tight horns, eh?

8. Carla Bley and Paul Haines: "Why." Linda Ronstadt on vocals. Remember when pop singers actually wanted to expand their horizons?

9. Harry Nilsson: "Turn On Your Radio." The opening guitar bit gets me every time.

10. The Sylvers: "Love Over Mind." My wife laughs at me for liking this band. You can too. Circa the disco era, or something.

11. Tinhorn Justice: "White Crow (Mike Rowe)." One of the many nice things about leading a band as big as the IJG is that you get to meet a lot of great players. I'm gonna be featuring the projects of IJG members in this and future muxtapes (instead of always just featuring IJG tracks) -- just so you get a sense of the sort of talent I'm fortunate enough to be able to share the stage with whenever we go out on tour. This week: trombonist Ian Carroll's [not "Carr" -- that's what I get for writing this post in the wee hours of the morning - ed.] band Tin Horn Justice, with Cory Beers on drums and percussion, Tony Digennaro on guitar, James Berry on electric accordion, and Ian on electric trombone. Recorded live at CalArts, recently.

12. Kenyon Hopkins / Creed Taylor: "No Smoking." There's so much going on in this little play -- a satire of the sexual norms of the mid-twentieth century, a commentary on scientific hubris, a quirky example of easy listening music. It's that perfect combination of weird and mainstream that actually used to be possible -- the sort of thing that would never slip through the cracks at a serious label today. From an album called Panic: Son of Shock.


Jeff Kaiser said...

Nice post! What really fascinates me beyond the return of the physical gadgetry, is the way technological terminology spills into our everyday world, and then remains there, even when the technology is gone, such as your example of "fold"..."speed dial" on your cell phone would be another one...or when the guy in the booth at the recording studio says, "rolling!' after clicking record on the Pro Tools rig...

Jeff K. said...

I will cop to being the guy who says "rolling" when clicking the "Record" button.

As to Exhibit B: I've also extensively used iZotope's Vinyl plug-in (free!) which gives you scratches and pops as if it was on a record. Its interface isn't quite as analog as Grungelize's...

Re "the fold" -- I never knew that to be anything other than an insider's term in newspaper printing (did anyone thing about the story "below the fold"; that it made the jump (ha!) to mainstream use and people still know what it means..."

I prefer the phrase "After the jump" when referring to extensive blog posts which are broken up into two pages...

(And I wish I had muxtapes as eclectic as yours... makes me feed pedestrian. :-)

Andrew Durkin said...

Hey dudes, thanks for weighing in.

In my 4-track days, I used pre-track LP scratch (i.e., the sound of the LP spinning, before the music actually kicked in), and looped and layered that over an already existing recording to get a pretty convincing LP sound. I never liked Grungelizer all that much...

On "below the fold" -- perhaps JT Whitney's journalism class is coming in handy after all!

Jeff K. said...

"In my 4-track days, I used pre-track LP scratch (i.e., the sound of the LP spinning, before the music actually kicked in) ..."

I've done that too. I recall I used the scratchiest record I could -- Phantom 309 by Red Sovine (ask my sister about it) -- and then looped it at the Sanctuary for the tune Darren, Bob and I wrote for my senior movie...

I've since come to rely on the Izotope plug-in. Did a production of something or other and we wanted all the music to match a scratchy recording we had, so it was quite handy in Audition to "scratch up" nice CD rips...

Good times...