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Ubiquity is the abyss - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 12:42 pm
Ubiquity is the abyss

Music is a good thing. Of course it is. I'm a musician, I've dedicated my life to it, and I know few better things. Music can be sacred, mysterious, otherworldly, intimate, moving, extraordinary. But, increasingly, music is the opposite of those things. It's profane, banal, public, shared, irritating, ordinary and ubiquitous. It's in every restaurant and every cafe and every car and every office and on every computer and on every website. It's in each ear, snaking in on a thin white wire. You listen to music all day, every day. Time without music is downtime. It's the triumph of music! Or is it? Maybe ubiquity signals quite the opposite; music's defeat. For music, ubiquity is the abyss.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, and thank you, Rupert Murdoch! Your marketing ingenuity has spread 42 million iPods across the world, each capable of holding weeks and weeks of music. There are almost as many MySpace pages, 37 million, each one loading up a piece of music as soon as you hit it. Of course, Steve and Rupert aren't leveraging music into our lives because they love music, or even because they love us. They're doing it because it's a key to massive profits, because we love music. Music, after all, is a key to so many other things. It's an index of taste, a measure of social class, a way to bond with others in a social network.

But for whatever reason, Steve and Rupert and the others have squeezed music into every blank bit of space in our lives. We are rapidly reaching the limits of our own ears (tinnitus, my headphoned friend?) and the saturation point at which music becomes utterly unremarkable, and thus, effectively, inaudible.

As usual, Brian Eno was the first person I'm aware of to sound a warning note. In an interview he gave around the time he moved to St Petersburg, he said (I quote from memory) "I'm beginning to be dissatisfied with the idea of CDs, the way they make all music so available to us, the way that all musical experiences are supposedly able to be shrunk down to fit this little plastic disc. I'm beginning to think it should be as difficult to hear music as it was in the Middle Ages. Imagine just hearing a concert once a month, how amazing it must have sounded!"

One good thing about iPods, though, is that they privatize the bad taste of others. When not plugged into speakers or streaming wirelessly to sound systems, iPods shrink other people's music choices (and for me 95% of other people's music taste is unbearable, sorry, other people!) down to little white buds of semi-silence. It's a start in the great work of music removal we must now begin to undertake, we who love music and want to save it by making it scarce again.



On Friday evening I attended a party celebrating Lord Whimsy's birthday at a flock wallpapered bar called The Dove on Thompson Street. A Californian dandy called Doran Wittelsbach was there, and I found his Robert de Montesquiou-esque image admirably extreme. He told me he'd been catcalled on the street by ruffians who pronouced him a "douche". "It sounds very clean, a douche," I remarked, refreshed and impressed by his capacity to antagonize the bridge and tunnel crowd merely by walking down the street in a top hat. Clothes, these days, are clearly more subversive than even the most aggressive music.

Unfortunately, the inevitable moment came. "I also make music," Wittelsbach confided. "I'd like to give you a CD later." I made hasty excuses and left, sneaking off with Karin Komoto to Japanese cafe Hiroko's Place further down the same street. I'd love to tell you we dined accompanied by the ambient, arhythmic sounds of running water, voices cooing conversational Japanese, and clattering pots. But no, Hiroko was piping in Ayumi Hamasaki. Another hour, another 15 songs.

132CommentReply

cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC)

Have there ever been a period of your life when you looked for just... New sensations of musical styles, Momus? I am having such a period right now... Since a few years back.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)

Wait a minute... The middle ages?! Of all ages you pick THE MIDDLE AGES?! Then I wonder, LATE middle ages or EARLY middle ages? Because there is a differnce between the two (which you probably already know).


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)

are you familiar with Komar and Malamid's survey regarding and creation of the "most wanted" and "most unwanted" songs?

from this American Life:

"Alex Melamid and Vitaly Komar hired a polling firm to investigate what people want to see in paintings. Then, using the data, they painted what people want. It turned out to be a landscape, with a mountain and a lake, and deer, and a family, and George Washington. Then they applied these techniques to music, with composer David Soldier. They surveyed audiences about what kind of instruments and topics for they liked most in their songs. Then they produced one song based on what people most want to hear--and one song based on what they hate the most. The one people hate includes bagpipes, children singing, lyrics about holidays and religion, wild volume and tempo changes...."

the most wanted one sounds like a dispicably radio-worthy r&b song.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)

Yes, I even bought the record of that project at Printed Matter, when it was down on Wooster Street (god, I miss that store, and its fabulous silence)! It was unlistenable tripe.


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hunchentoot
hunchentoot
Joseph C. Krause
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:16 pm (UTC)

Let's have silence as a series of holidays. April 33rd will be John Cage-themed.


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bricology
bricology
bricology
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 08:19 pm (UTC)

I also make music. I'm putting together a collection of remixes of John Cage's song 4'33" by various celebrity DJs. (DJ Spooky's version is KILLER, but it goes on for almost 12 minutes!) I'll be podcasting it soon, and it should be available through iTunes by summer.


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dangoldman
dangoldman
Dan Goldman
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:27 pm (UTC)

Very astute; I've been an avid and constant love of music most of my life, but with the near-saturation-point being almost constant the last handful of years, my near-silences are becoming more and more precious.

Sitting at home with the window open, listening to the tree branches brush against each other outside and the occasional horn-honks of Flatbush Ave, bark of dog and squeal of child... this uncomposed ambience is my creativity engine lately. I'm not even turning to Eno's quiet music to cocoon me when I write in the mornings anymore, I am listening to his quiet philosophy instead.

Cheers.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Mon, Mar. 27th, 2006 12:31 am (UTC)

is this why about three years ago everyone was going to buy DAT's and MD Walkmans and capture the soul of the environment with field recordings?


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jermynsavile
jermynsavile
jermynsavile
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)

You missed a treat with the offer of a CD, his music sounds like a party one wishes one had an invite to.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:32 pm (UTC)
food

As you mentioned in a Wired article, there is still nothing like the experience of live music. A record is just that- a record of the sounds made from physical action that actually happened at some point. Food is the same- people will go to great lengths to eat at some specific place in order to experience "live food", even though food, even tasty food, is everywhere.

Joey
www.joeyroth.com


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bugpete
bugpete
Pete Ashton
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:39 pm (UTC)

"One good thing about iPods, though, is that they privatize the bad taste of others."

There's a worrying trend in the UK at the moment of "young people" loading their phones with music and playing it through the speaker, notably on busses. Not only do you have to suffer their bad taste but it sounds like it's coming from a broken transistor radio.

I wonder if this idiotic behaviour is because they've grown up in a world where music is, like you say, ubiquitous so adding a little more isn't going to make any difference. On they other hand, they might just be morons.

I've just realised that despite having 17,000 mp3s on my computer I often work with no music playing at all. Hmm...


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honeychurch
honeychurch
honeychurch
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 08:37 pm (UTC)

strange - I remember when I was in college (doing my second major in Literary and Cultural Studies [College of William & Mary]) we read a book about the Walkman as a cultural phenomenon - I can't recall the name of it, but I remember that one chapter was on the case of a man who was fined or taken off the Tube for listening to his Walkman too loud - the passengers could hear the music, and it became a big issue. (I also remember distinctly that he was listening to The Housemartins.)


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dickon_edwards
dickon_edwards
Dickon Edwards
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:46 pm (UTC)

I knew things had changed when I overhead two young people in a cafe discussing 'gigs'. I thought they were talking about concerts, but as the conversation progressed, I realised they meant gigabytes, as in iPod memory.


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dickon_edwards
dickon_edwards
Dickon Edwards
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)

Actually, I've just remembered. I bought your last album but still haven't gotten around to listening to it yet. I mainly bought it as a gesture of approval. Um, that's what you want, isn't it...?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 27th, 2006 01:39 am (UTC)

No, I want people to get lost in an album of mine, and find the whole world in it, as if they only had one album, like those people who only have one book and read it again and again (in my grandfather's case, "The Pilgrim's Progress").


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)

It's a start in the great work of music removal we must now begin to undertake, we who love music and want to save it by making it scarce again.

If only filmakers would resist the urge to "score" thier films we might begin to see the beauty of a soundtrackless life. Most of us alive today have grown up with films and television where the image must be accompanied by music. It's for this reason, I believe, that we try to pipe music into nature.
Tecnology is to blame for the availability of music but why do we feel the need to always have music in the background.

"The public wants what the public gets."


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Mon, Mar. 27th, 2006 12:35 am (UTC)

Don't you think incidental soundtrack music in isolation from images can at times be some of most intriguing music?


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grande
grande
Lloyd
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 07:05 pm (UTC)

ok this post was brilliant. thank you.


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fandarzelig
fandarzelig
Fandar Zelig
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 07:35 pm (UTC)

I work in a grocery store and a consequence of this is that I have to listen to their piped in music all day. After eight hours of being brutalized with Phil Collins, Whitney Houston and Aerosmith, when I come home in the evening, I can’t enjoy music that I actually admire. All I want is to sit by the window and hear the subdued outside ambience.

Brian Eno should start a national chain of his quiet clubs. They would be as ubiquitous as Starbucks but without the sound of espresso machines and Jack Johnson.


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bricology
bricology
bricology
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC)

But wouldn't that force the patrons to actually to carry on conversations? Might that not lead to the development of verbal wit, the sincere expression of opinions and the revaluation of good manners? No, I doubt that people would know what to do in such circumstances.


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peristaltor
peristaltor
The Peristaltic Testator
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 07:43 pm (UTC)

Of all your recent posts, this one hit home. I recently realized I have hundreds of CDs, most burned to the new Mac; yet all the jewel cases are stashed in milkcrates unalphebetized for the first time in my history, and I often sit at the computer without even powering the speakers.

Would this be indicative of saturation, or worse, a tipping point? A Darned Fine Question.


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scottbateman
scottbateman
Scott Bateman
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC)

So Eno wants to return to a time when music was only available to the elites who could afford to have musicians on the payroll? Yes, please take this joyful thing away from the unwashed masses. Yay.


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beverlyhillscop
Andrew
Tue, Mar. 28th, 2006 02:17 am (UTC)

That's certainly a very literal interpretation. I think he was simply stating that music was once a more scarce commodity, rather than the almost worthless 'something' used to fill in gaps nowdays.

Imagine if the only way you could listen to music was to actually seek out musicians yourself? You might certainly value it more. (Depending on the musicianship of your locals...)


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lyrane
lyrane
menschheit
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC)

I don't think the dandy's clothes were subverting anybody or anything. That he was yelled at by the "bridge and tunnel crowd" doesn't prove he was challenging the worst tenets of society. They yelled at him because was flaunting his wealth and his own self-satisfied sense of ingenuity and hip whimsicality.

Classism is never cool, and never okay.

The music you like, experimental and independent musicians, still exists in the form you're talking about, playing concerts that are genuinely rare and special to hear.

Everybody should get to listen to music whenever they want, even if you don't like their specific taste. I think if people appreciate music less on the whole because they hear it more, that's fine, because they choose to listen to music more, because they like to.


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bricology
bricology
bricology
Sun, Mar. 26th, 2006 08:33 pm (UTC)

Would you even recognize "classism" if it slapped you with a dead fish? What's more "classist" than an iPod, a $200 pair of jeans and a new BMW? OK, ever seen anyone yelled at for sporting one of those things?

Indeed, have you ever even seen a wealthy person? They don't dress like Doran Wittelsbach; most of them dress like middle-class, middle-brow consumers with expensive designer loyalty. And by all means: let's be careful to avoid any appearance of "ingenuity and hip whimsicality". T-shirts and jeans, everyone, and you with the combed hair: muss that up right this minute!


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