Came across an interesting article on Jim O'Rourke today:
Mr. O’Rourke’s production style is precise and dry; he creates a sound picture in which tiny sonic details matter. But where his Drag City records are concerned, everything matters: the pacing, the length, the sound, the cover images. For this reason he won’t allow “The Visitor,” or any of his albums, to be sold as downloads, on iTunes or anywhere else. He’s taking a stand against the sound quality of MP3s; he’s also taking a stand in favor of artists being able to control the medium and reception of their work.
“You can no longer use context as part of your work,” he said, glumly, “because it doesn’t matter what you do, somebody’s going to change the context of it. The confusion of creativity, making something, with this Internet idea of democratization ...” he trailed off, disgusted. “It sounds like old-man stuff, but I think it’s disastrous for the possibilities of any art form.”
Like me, O'Rourke is 40. I suppose, when you're that "old," and faced with the sort of industry-wide upheaval that the music business is currently going through, you're entitled to a certain degree of curmudgeonliness. And while I generally try to resist that sort of thing, for the purposes of this post I'm going to broadly agree with O'Rourke's assessment of where music is at, because it gives me a convenient excuse to express a few thoughts I've been mulling over anyway.
First: the obvious. To the extent that jazz's viability as a music of the future is in jeopardy, that situation has a lot to do with various threats to the existence of a strong and extensive fan community.
But what is a fan? Consider: a true fan does much more than simply "like" a certain artist or genre. True fanhood is, essentially, an irrational enterprise.
For instance: I have written before about the importance of context for a fan's love of a given work. I may be fascinated by the biographies of my favorite musicians, because they provide an engaging frame -- but the music itself is no different whether I know the relevant background or not. The fact that I seem to enjoy a given tune more once I have obtained said information strikes me as somewhat odd.
But if you really want to talk about irrationality, think about the extent to which fanhood has traditionally involved elaborate rituals of fetishization. While true music fans love music, and love stories about music, we also love to fetishize the objects that convey music.
(Right? I'm assuming that you too have lovingly caressed a well-worn LP jacket.)
So the fact that we are developing a purely digital, artifact-less musical culture is maybe a little concerning. Cuz, you know: how do you fetishize an mp3?
And what happens to fanhood when you no longer have an art object to fetishize? Do you stop caring about the art itself? I wonder. While people still do buy physical media, I suspect that in general our relationship with recordings (i.e., qua recordings) has become much more ethereal, and much more casual (I know, I know). Who really worries about losing, misplacing, or wearing out a recording anymore? In my own case, I transfer most of the digital music I download onto disc, but I rarely buy jewel cases in which to protectively house them. I also gave up on CD wallets. Generally I just let the damned things accumulate in piles on my desk, or else just stack 'em back on the spindle they came from. Once they have been "consumed" for a given period of time, the MP3s, in turn, get backed up onto numerous hard-drives, which I hardly ever consult because there is so much new music to get to.
One could argue that the whole history of recording technology thus far has been driven by the search for devices and media that make the experience of music durable, reliable, and convenient. At their most fragile, brittle, and finite, older forms of music media (the 78, say, or even the cassette, which was always getting "eaten" at the wrong time (in my experience, anyway)) seemed to invite a greater degree of fetishization. We knew they wouldn't last forever, we knew they might be hard to replace, we knew they actually required some effort to obtain -- so of course we treated them with greater reverence.
Now that everything is so much easier, more durable and convenient, is that reverence harder to come by?
[photo credits: puroticorico, carlcollins]
Speaking of "fetishizing": the Industrial Jazz Group is having a fall fundraiser, in support of our October tour! You can find out more, and contribute to the cause (for as little as $1!), here.
Oh yeah, and we also have a remix contest.