Sunday, August 2, 2009

Don't Cry For Music Magazines (Argentina) AKA The Future Of Recorded Sound In The Postmodern World

When presented with the opportunity to cut at the heart of the matter, count on Slate to merely induce a paper cut. For example: Spinning In The Grave: The Three Biggest Reasons Music Magazines Are Dying. The author, Jonah Weiner, provides us with three key reasons for this supposedly unfortunate turn of events:

1. There are fewer superstars, and the same musicians show up on every magazine cover.

2. Music mags have less to offer music lovers, and music lovers need them less than ever anyway.

3. Music magazines were an early version of social networking. But now there's this thing called "social networking" …

Intriguing reasons, all. But I feel Mr. Weiner tiptoes around the most obvious source of music journalism's decline: There isn't any good music to write about.

You may remember me proclaiming that the rock band is dead. Well I will now go one step further. Popular music is dead. It's dead, my friends. It's free, it's downloadable, and it's dead.

But that's OK. Every art form runs its course. Classical composition ran its course. It evolved in endlessly fascinating permutations from the time of Bach to the era of Wagner, Debussy, and Mahler. Suddenly, in the early 20th century, composers started running out of gas, and the only way to make musical composition "new" was to make it "atonal" and "avant-garde," i.e. the strict province of university music departments, i.e. a dead art form. After Stravinsky and Schoenberg laid tonality to waste, the best "new" compositions consisted of pianists plucking the strings from inside the piano rather than pressing the keys with their fingers as Beethoven and Schubert were known to do.

But music gained new life with the invention of recording. Suddenly the act of record-making brought several new elements to the tired old compositional table: the manipulation of the recorded sound; the quality of the musicians' individual performing style; the sense of place and time. It instantly rendered all those boring old chord changes brand spanking new. It took a while, of course. Initially, musicians just looked at records as a means of capturing a live performance and multiplying it out to the masses. Recording was treated in this manner for more than fifty years. Only in the 1960s did The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Jimi Hendrix, Motown, Pink Floyd, etc. begin to look that the recorded piece of music as the work of art in and of itself. That is why I think the music of that era was particularly strong. These artists were exploring the possibilities of a brand new art form. Of course, that art form had a lot of gas in it. And although the basic rules of that art form had pretty much been established by the end of the 1960s, clearly there was plenty of room left for exploration.

Until now. Honestly, I think the art of recorded music is finally out of gas for good. But that's OK! It's nothing that we need to mourn. It's just how the cookie crumbles. So the real reason why music magazines are dying is that there isn't any music out there that's really worth reading about anymore, and at one point there actually was. Weiner proves my point by attempting to name some of the few music superstars of today. He names Beyonce, Kanye West, and Kelly Clarkson. Man are we screwed. We're just screwed.

For music to once again be an exciting art form, it needs to take on a different ... form. If I could tell you exactly at this moment what that form might be, I would not be sitting here writing a blog post, I can tell you that. What I can tell you is that it needs to be as different from recorded music as recorded music was from classical composition. "3D music," perhaps? Plugging music directly into your brain? You get the idea. It needs to be so impressive that it makes 1960s rock sound boring and old-fashioned, the way that sound film made silent film seem instantly antiquated. You know there's a problem when music that's forty years old sounds not only better, but much better than the music of today. Old music is not supposed to sound better than new music.

Somebody out there better be working on this.


Herr Zrbo said...

Only tangentially related, on your brother's recommendation I recently began listening to Sigur Ros. It's sort of fascinating how rock has evolved to the point where the lyrics are ultimately meaningless. It's all just made up syllables, oohs and aaahs, thought it sounds like they are saying something deep and meaningful, just in a language you can't understand. Except it really isn't a language at all. I'm somewhat divided on this. One part of me thinks it's somewhat brilliant, the melodies of what's being sung sound familiar, like someone singing about love, even though they are devoid of meaning. Another part of me thinks we've reached the bottom of the well when can't even come up with anything new to sing about so we just "go through the motions" of what rock is supposed to sound like.

Little Earl said...

Don't you still like a lot of current music? I thought you were going to argue with me. Somebody better argue with me.

Herr Zrbo said...

Well, I listen to a lot of current non-popular/mtv/radio music if that's what you mean. But as for anything with mainstream popularity, yes, it's worn out it's appeal. When Beyonce and Lady Gaga get the most nominations at the MTV music awards you know there's not much left to talk about.