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The year in (anything but) music - click opera
February 2010
 
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Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 12:46 pm
The year in (anything but) music

If music didn't exactly die in 2006, it certainly felt sidelined, jilted, demoted, decentred, dethroned as the exemplary creative activity, the most vibrant subculture. Even the days of new movements like Freak Folk and new messiahs like Devendra Banhart felt far away and a million years ago. From where I stand (and I'm not standing here by accident), visual culture now occupies the central position music once did. I don't just say that because art fairs are booming, because art has become a better investment even than property, or because I spent three months as a performance artist and got gigs in as many galleries as rock venues. The signs are all around us.

It was the year when the megalithic mastodons of music toppled. Institutions like Tower Records and Top of the Pops crumbled and fell. David Bowie, whose 1972 TOTP appearance changed my life as it changed many others', crowned his year with a comedy song on the Ricky Gervais show Extras. And the death of Ivor Cutler, a staple of the John Peel show, reminded us again that the central pole of UK alternapop's big top still hadn't been adequately replaced, and perhaps never would be.



Meanwhile, new institutions came along to replace the old mastodons. Web 2.0 brought us YouTube and MySpace, which became the way most of us discovered and shared new music, and relived old. If someone mentioned a band, YouTube was the place I went first to hear their music. I even released a couple of "YouTube singles" myself, Frilly Military and Nervous Heartbeat off my 2006 album, Ocky Milk (which popped up on quite a few album of the year lists, thanks everyone). Note, again, in the YouTube-ization of music, the sly upstaging of audio by visual content.

MySpace (which I refuse to have a presence on, but can't avoid consulting) continued the "famous for 15 people" trend. It was here we discovered new acts like No Bra (who I'm pleased to say will support me at my gig at The Spitz on January 4th) or Nobuko Hori or Joe Howe aka Germlin. It was here too that we kept up with musical friends and collaborators; O.LAMM's shiny and massive "Monolith" album, the new Konki Duet.

Other friends, seeming to recognize the crisis in music, pushed at the boundaries, or the exit: Toog made a record using a bird as the main artist and threatened to do the same next time with a tree. Meanwhile Anne Laplantine gave up music to play go, like Duchamp quitting art for chess.

I completely understand Anne's decision. 2006 was the year I decided that roomtone was preferable to the endless flow of iTunes muzak. My eulogy for pop music came in the form of the catchphrase ubiquity is the abyss and, inevitably, accompanying Wired News article Hell is other people's music.

The music I ended up tolerating best this year was appropriately quiet and self-effacing. Gutevolk's Hirono Nishiyama made, I think, the record of her career in Tiny People Singing in the Rainbow (due early next year). Kansai band Popo made a lovely minimalist record called Kibito. And I titled my appreciation of The Mountain Record by Yuichiro Fujimoto In Praise of Quietness. Kahimi Karie's 2006 record, like Cornelius's, drew its strength from quietness and self-deprecation too.

I found myself listening a lot to the trilogy of records made by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Carsten Nicolai; Vrioon, Insen and the EP Revep. Sure, in one sense these are coffeetable ambient records, 20 years after Eno's groundbreaking On Land, the embourgeoisement of the Clicks and Cuts movement. But in another they're formally beautiful, with lots of space allowing you to admire the clarity and elegance of the suspended shapes and colours, or just get on with other things. Even the videos (and Insen came out as a luscious live DVD with visuals by Karl Kliem) were minimal and elegant. But wasn't I more excited by the fact that Sakamoto had edited an eco-sex magazine? Like Cornelius, whose videos eclipsed his slight singles, style leader Eye Yamataka seemed more interesting for his visual activities than his music.

When things are dead you spend a lot of time at the museum; I got interested in Enka, Cambodian khmer cassette pop, Nyahbinghi reggae, and rediscovered the great Jake Thackray thanks to a brace of BBC 4 documentaries. There was also an outbreak of what I call epigone pop in the form of some shameless coffin-snatching by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who enlisted the usual suspects to pastiche her dead dad's style. I preferred Jarvis as a radio journalist, though, guiding us through the history of the British art school.

The death of Syd Barrett made one wonder whether the switched-on art student wouldn't have skipped straight to painting if he'd been born in 1980. It wouldn't necessarily have been a betrayal of music: he could have become an artist like Luke Fowler, whose film about Cornelius Cardew was one of the best things I saw all year.

My favourite new guitar band of 2006 was New Humans. But is "guitar band" really the right term for a project which "began out of bassist Mika Tajima's art practice and continues to be a large part of her investigation of space and minimalist concepts"?

The art world also seemed to annex the best pop music when Bjork disappeared into the belly of whale-boyfriend Matthew Barney's new film, Drawing Restraint 9. Who knows if she'll ever re-emerge, and, when she does, whether there will even be such a thing as pop music left for her to cling to. Her collaborators Matmos made a record featuring the sound of semen, burning flesh, and the embalmed reproductive tract of a cow. Their Best of 2006 list appears in art magazine ArtForum.

When people did treat pop as if it had evolved into a serious artform rather than weakening and being annexed by visual culture, the results were terrifying. Scott Walker's The Drift, though utterly admirable in its ambition and originality, was too horrifying to listen to more than a couple of times. The record -- the last album ever made, in a sense -- spoke with a moral authority popular music no longer commands, and seemed to expect to be listened to with ears more adult than anyone currently has. Well, at least we still have eyes.

69CommentReplyShare

dzima
dzima
ralf dziminski
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 12:09 pm (UTC)

I think that the zeitgeist defining song of 2006 is silenceinspades's Tired Of Music as I only listen to music voluntarily very rarely these days.


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dzima
dzima
ralf dziminski
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 12:17 pm (UTC)

Jim O'Rourke has quit music too.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 12:39 pm (UTC)

I think one reason is that the old centralized mass market, broken forever by the internet, thrived on a relatively democratic model for the sale of cultural products, ie you mass manufactured pop records, promoted them on TV, and sold them at an affordable price to anyone who wanted them. Now, with the emergence of a gulf between the super-poor and the super-rich classes, culture is either free (ie bits being file-shared, this blog, etc) or very expensive, one-off products, ie unique works of art, architecture, etc.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 01:00 pm (UTC)

But is it really music that's dying, or is it the illusion of homogenous, unified sub-cultures surrounding individual styles of music that is starting to come unraveled? Possibly for you the two are the same. cap_scaleman, dzima, silenceinspades and I have shared in a sort of micro-culture of music over the last year or so, which for me at least has completely precluded participation in any other sort of scene. I wonder at times if there aren't an increasing number of these micro-cultures, distributed about the Internet. It may be that music has become less universal.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 01:27 pm (UTC)

Well, that's what I'm talking about with my "famous for 15 people" thing. What's died is music's status as the up-and-coming exemplary subculture. In other words, direction has been lost. That sense of growth is gone. Now all is shinkage. The rock mags switch to retro mode, or go out of business. I'd compare it to China and India -- there's a sense for Chinese and Indian people that "the only way is up", even if in comparative terms they're very poor compared with Western people. It's that sense that your "subculture" is headed somewhere that makes people ambitious to achieve something, and pop music really doesn't have that feeling now.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 02:12 pm (UTC)

Eno was syaing much the smae sort of thing about ten years ago vis a vis this 1996 interview I''ve got a feeling that music might not be the most interesting place to be in the world of things. And this is rather undermining my commitment to doing it...adding to the obscene pile of CDs in the world doesn't thrill me that much at the moment."
www.psouper.co.uk


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)

I think that's one reason why so much of the music we can stand to listen to is so minimal. It's a kind of atonement for, or salvation from, the glut of stuff that surrounds us. Ambient music is a kind of diet music, a low fat music for guilty people. And Eno was making it way before anyone else, he should know.

(Is his return to relatively conventional sung pop records since then a kind of reneging, a longterm dieter going on a bulimic spree?)


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC)

I've spent the last few days re-acquainting myself with Debord's "The Society of The Spectacle, which I hadn't read since about 1986....

http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/

I couldn't help thinking: Whilst in Debord's lifetime 5 people thinking and acting on the same heresies in London or Paris could rapidly change the fabric of societal life (if only briefly), it would appear that 500,000 people thinking and acting on the same heresies via the internet can change precisely NOTHING.

The internet is a VAST BLACK-HOLE, a DESERT THAT LOOKS LIKE A PARADISE that has swallowed music, politics, thought, conversation, creativity, and has given NOTHING BACK.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Sat, Dec. 23rd, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC)

it can't swallow us unless we let it.
some people see "oh no3z, black hole!" and i think "Tee-hee! Supermassive BLaaack HOooOOLEEE!"

And that's really what it is, and should be about.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC)

I listen to "The Drift" constantly--Its beauty entreats me to revel in its horror, and I find it seems to meet my worst nightmares with a sense of mutual validation and hence, elevation of my radioactive spirit; it's kind of like the way I can either dance furiously or pleasantly nap to Einstürzende Neubauten's "Halber Mensch"; something about it just meets whatever mood I'm in to either even me out or make me insane. And I adore it.

I'd not be so quick to call it the "last record ever made" because I truly believe that people like Scott Walker are possessed of a limitless, uninfluencable brilliance; once we've decided "That's it" we close ourselves--and I will never close myself.
Everything that looks like a frontier, can be suddenly and alarmingly uprooted and inverted, and that's the joy of it all, the joy of real "art".
I have the highest respect for your art too, no question, but I am just expanding on what you seem to love/fear in modern art/music, rather than help you close something that cannot and doesn't deserve to be closed.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 03:24 pm (UTC)

Also, it's so easy to call Charlotte Gainsbourg "shameless pastiche" when, if it sounds good, it is good.

For me, the world without music is too horrible to contemplate, but one must respect silence fully to fully respect IT. And that is where you are quite right.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 03:39 pm (UTC)
time-efficient space

<< MySpace (which I refuse to have a presence on, but can't avoid consulting) >>

hahaha, but you DO have a presence on myspace:

ottospooky

It's just that that presence hasn't been present since July 2nd 2006!

As for the demise of music. I prefer visual stimulation over aural because I control the timing myself, when looking at something, but cannot control the timing myself when listening.

When I'm on my computer and have the opportunity to listen to something, I usually don't because I'm already listening to something and don't want to change it.

As for video, I skip most youtube links but look occasionally, sometimes with the sound muted, again, because I don't want to interrupt what I'm alreay listening to.

I believe visual single-frame art, often in collage sequence, will be what captures people as they use their computers in the next few years to come. Because they can consume that art at their own pace, and without interrupting whatever important matters they may be resolving while at their computer, which they would have to interrupt if they were going to go listen to something.

The same goes with text. Yes, consuming text is sequential and takes time, but I can stop at any word I want, when I want. I don't have to see/listen to the whole thing. I can be scattered as I consume. And that suits me.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
Re: time-efficient space

I think you have a point about visuals being better suited to our low-attention-span world because they're more instantaneous. If music suffers from this, though, the cinema suffers more (I know I really can't be bothered watching most films all the way to the end, although if I love a film I'll watch it countless times), and novels worst of all.

As for the fake MySpace profile, I just came across another one today, equally fake (but with a few more friends).


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insomnia
insomnia
Insomnia
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 03:51 pm (UTC)

"2006 was the year I decided that roomtone was preferable to the endless flow of iTunes muzak. My eulogy for pop music came in the form of the catchphrase ubiquity is the abyss and, inevitably, accompanying Wired News article Hell is other people's music. The music I ended up tolerating best this year was appropriately quiet and self-effacing."

This reminds me of a story a friend told me from when he interviewed Blixa Bargeld, in the early '90s. We both worked for a college station, and had tried to do an interview with him either before or after his soundcheck, but he was obviously in a frazzled, generally pissed off mood... so, arrangements were made to drive up and interview him the next day, at his hotel.

The next day, my friend went up by himself to do the interview, and met Mr. Bargeld in a green, lush brunchy/cocktail and cigarrette friendly patio area at the hotel, where he was decidedly more friendly, relaxed, and social than on the previous day.

So, my friend starts recording the interview, and Bargeld said "Do you hear that?"

My friend clearly didn't hear that... at least at first.

"The crickets and the birds. But there are no animals here. They pipe in background noises. It's very nice, and it sounds like it belongs here. That's one of the reasons why I always stay at this hotel."

-------------

There is something to the idea that ubiquitous music = noise pollution.

I think it's more than just that, however. When I hear music in public nowadays, it's not in the same context as Musac when I was younger, with pop songs turned into timid, generic mush. Rather, it's pop songs AS itself... which, when presented in such a ubiquitous, inescapable form, is just as good as mush. Best hits of today, mixed with "oldies" from the '80s. Sure, you might have a few good memories of a particular song, but the intended effect is this background drone of commercial sedation. It's an ad for the album, an ad for the place you're hearing it play, it's an ad for who you are and what choices you make and where you and your generation like to shop... it's all just one big ad.

If this is some sort of new visual age, then we're certainly not seeing any enormous visual success tied to music. Early Bowie was far more visual and artistic than any of what we've seen in music this year, I'd argue.

Instead, there have been some notable music successes lately which are notably stripped down, both visually and musically.

Case in point -- Sufjan Stevens has been touring the country, selling out large venues within hours. His quirky, often low-tech collection of Christmas songs is ranked #24 over at Amazon. His most recent non-Christmas album, Illinois, is selling at #143. Not bad for a twenty-month-old album.

Although much of his music is folk / pop, in many ways, he is a minimalist, both musically and visually. Critics love him, and you're probably more likely to hear him on public radio or at the Kennedy Center than in a grimy club.

This, ordinarily, would be the kiss of death for most successful pop artists, but somehow, inconcievably, he's having incredible success.

Since when did this kind of thing start happening? Little commercial radio airplay, little attention from movies or television, and yet, here this guy is, with a ton of fans flocking to his concerts, most of them quite young.

In many ways, he is the anti-Bowie. Not particularly visual or revealing, and yet, he doesn't feel the need to obscure himself either, in a Low-like haze.

In today's oversaturated, ubiquitious commercial environment, obviously low-tech banjo minimalism sells. If Tower Records and Top of the Pops went under, perhaps it had more to do with the fact that they were more about selling image and identity, as opposed to the music.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 04:14 pm (UTC)



I don't know if I can do the Bowie v. Sufjan thing, except to say that Sufjan shares more than just a surname with Cat Stevens, who did very well and was around when Bowie was being "visual" in the 70s. I think there can be any number of mild, religiose soft rock singers with large cult followings, but there can't be another Bowie. But I may be quite wrong...


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 05:19 pm (UTC)

Bowie is so not a blob :( He's just livin'life you! One can't be "on" as a revolutionary, otherwordly artist all the time when they're a human being who needs to have some "being a person" time (even though ther are inherantly awesomer than most people, granted.)


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 05:17 pm (UTC)

Those are damn nice.

BTW, I wrote a huge reply to your extinction post, but it disappeared into the ether.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
rroland
rroland
rroland
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 04:42 pm (UTC)

my 2006
started with my composition 'Hikaru', the small release of the Concept Bureau 'Identity Encoder' document of install with Sean Talley. The Fall live wherein MES used the kickdrum mike for vocals. The lead singer of the old funk band I as in leaving the group for the church. My short stint as stand in bassist/guitarist for Seahorse Liberation Army, and is ending with my new job as guitarist for Her Grace the Duchess, a ten piece band with four incredible ladies singing and dancing. So it started small and ends big. so much for shrinkage.


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC)

That Bowie apperance was priceless and hard to watch at the same time. Damn. I love that show.

You mention a lot of stuff I need to explore. Thanks for that.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 05:22 pm (UTC)

Ultimately, I think 2006 was the most unfathomably, unprecedentedly awesome year for music I've ever experienced. And you were part of that, so don't disdain it. ♥


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eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC)

But then you get something like Joanna Newsom's "Ys", which is utterly musical music approached with classical rigor designed to fit the album format and suffused with genuine emotion, bucking all trends at once and thus coming away a classic. There's your "last album".


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 06:07 pm (UTC)

I think the last album is whichever one is made just before the sun explodes and engulfs the earth in searing flames.


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butterflyrobert
RND
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 06:41 pm (UTC)

Sometimes you are most right when you are mostly wrong. Genius!


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure at all about contrasting the current state of visuals to that of music. I personally think they're at the same point. Being probably as hyper-sensitive to visuals as you are to sound i feel i'm going through visual ludovico therapy on a daily basis. no more design! a short trip to touhoku, the margiela store in ebisu (stay away from line 6) or their website, an untrendy onsen, a flea market, the top floor of a shopping centre on the outskirts of shinagawa where fat people eat average ramen under fluoro-light etc. yes


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)
my top pop moments of 2006

a) My Chemical Romance's Black Parade
b) Sting's Elizabethan lute album

Can I get a witness? Not on imomus.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)

Who could listen to pop music all their life? It's a type of music created for adolescents. Just be amazed you hung on to it for as long as you did.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 10:47 pm (UTC)

That's an arguable point,contemporary mainstream pop is generally radio friendly adolescent appeal crud. The fact that so many post-adolescents listen to it is indicative of the fact that a great many never really develop an adult musical aesthetic.
My personal music tastes have since my late teens branched out to encompass classical, jazz and electronic music and these genres have all become interchangeable. Pop retains it's place however, it may not be that once wondrous identity defining entity of my teenage years but Momus was keeping company with Ornette Coleman and Bartok on my car stereo today and they got on just fine.
Regards
Thomas Scott


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autokrater
autokrater
Metallic Lampshade
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 10:48 pm (UTC)

yes..this is very true
i find new music to be based on gimmicks or plays on myspace
or whatever.
the only new things i have enjoyed this year
have been your album
the new kahimi karie..though i just just just listened to it
ariel pink
and ecstatic sunshine
i am curious how the new konki duet sounds
i have grown angry with electronic music because
i can't program anything or express myself through it
if i listen to some really good but typical electronic song
i just get frustrated
i have been listening to lots of old music and little new music
and been back at my home
making folky songs with synthesizer and tambourines
with what i feel to be very good poetic ballad lyrics
i refuse to make a myspace
and i am working on making about 20 songs..record them many times over till they are perfect..and then debut it all when i feel it's solid and i am about 30


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joji_poji
joji_poji
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 10:53 pm (UTC)
solo

hold tight nick! 2007 will have a great start with a new tujiko noriko album "solo"...i think it's her best record since shojo toshi/hardo ni sasete...


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC)
Re: solo

hi anne. nice to have you back.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Fri, Dec. 22nd, 2006 11:55 pm (UTC)

i'm off to bed now...night night..night klasensjo.. definetely 4 sum one day. 2 bulls, 2 birds. the perfect combination. nick and hisae can watch...merry christmas...


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stjamesdawson
stjamesdawson
James Dawson
Sat, Dec. 23rd, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
Crumbled Tower

Appropriately, I read this post on the day that the last remaining Tower Records in the vicinity of Los Angeles (at the Sherman Oaks Galleria) closed its doors forever. Everything was 90% off from the time the store opened at 10 until the rather arbitrary closing time 2.5 hours later at half past noon.

The Woodland Hills, Northridge and Sunset Strip stores closed on successive days earlier this week, with the same 90% discount deal. Amazingly -- or perhaps not, considering the dropoff in CD sales that led to the chain's bankruptcy -- there still was enough decent stuff at each location that I didn't leave any of those stores empty-handed on their final days.

The good sales news, Momus-wise: Any Momus CDs the stores may have had in stock were long gone weeks ago, when the discount was a mere 30% off.

R.I.P.


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iamcoreyd
C.T. Dalton
Sun, Dec. 24th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)
Re: Crumbled Tower

I worked at a Tower store in Cambridge, MA until just after they announced the closings. By the time they put up the screaming circa-1991 pastel clearance signs, I'd had enough.


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iamcoreyd
C.T. Dalton
Sun, Dec. 24th, 2006 12:06 am (UTC)

coincidentally, this year was the year I basically abandoned pop music.


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charleshatcher
charleshatcher
charleshatcher
Sun, Dec. 24th, 2006 09:27 pm (UTC)

Never a mention of Cole or Irving. What's tha about? Also, did you listen to the new Gothic Archies? Well?


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desant012
||||||||||
Mon, Dec. 25th, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)

Late to the party, but I definitely agree with this ... and personally I see it as a total result of computers, broadband internet access, and the fact that creating visual media is now more democratic than it's ever been.

The internet is the zeitgeist for 21st century human communication... and it's strange to think, mass audio technology has only been around for a little more than a century. So, why not let this be the dawn of a new age of human expression? Not that I know what that happens to be.

Anyway, now that people can create more immersive, visually-oriented culture, it seems like it should all blend together - writing with music and design or images, etc. I don't think people are ever going to drift away from music or literature, but it seems now new -forms- are possible, and so the plain old ones have to die in their current 20th century forms.


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desant012
||||||||||
Mon, Dec. 25th, 2006 05:31 am (UTC)

... which brings to mind something: team-driven creativity. As in, it's not a single individual, but rather many people collaborating on a single project. I predict there'll be more of that now that so many different media are blending together now that a single medium is seen as not quite-as engaging. Anyway.


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