07 December 2007

R.I.P. Stockhausen

Legendary German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen has died. He was 79.

Guardian Unlimited


03 December 2007

New Orleans is still the birth canal of tomorrow's sound

One aspect of the fun of being a music fan is tracking the trends. In practically every genre, things change and novelty is pursued. It's this continuing flux that adds elements of surprise and keeps the ancient art form fascinating.

New Orleans, once the birthplace of Jazz, is still a crucible of novelty for music--not to mention a handful of other cultural forms. The city is less a global crossroads than it was in the early 20th century. Nowadays it is more a national crossroads, a waystation for the various transient and fringe communities that do the hard work of keeping the United States weird. Even since the Storm, NOLA is a part time home for neo-carnies, pseudo-hoboes, professional vice enthusiasts, musicians and every other type of folk artist that this great nation spawns.

Each year at the New Orleans Voodoo Music Festival, while bigger names grace bigger stages, the Noomoon Tribe hosts a side stage chock full of local music acts. The names of the bands tend to change, but those who watch from year to year will notice that many of the same painted faces return over the course of time. It's possible that one or two of these dedicated artists may rise to higher levels in the music scene, but for many this is as good as it gets--a moment pushing the limits of their art on stage before a crowd that may not be large, but is most definitely appreciative.

Watch this video and see that there are many diamonds-in-the-rough in the mud of the flooded city. They pour their guts into what they do, and they always will, because it's New Orleans, shadow of America, the place where our culture is made every day, even if the fact is not always recognized.

01 December 2007

The MP3 Problem

The glaciers are melting. And when I say glaciers, I don't mean actual, literal glaciers; I mean something else entirely more vast, cool and unsympathetic--the record industry.

Yes, those stalwart champions of atavism at the various music conglomerates seem to be ever so gradually coming to terms with the inevitability of mp3 distribution. The process has been drawn out, of course, because the recorded-music industry can't wantonly enter new territory until they have proven to themselves with rock-solid conclusiveness that there is some kind of profitability in this new world.

And as these megalopolies experimented with DRM and such, the smaller mammals at their feet have filled the niches left unattended, proving for all to see that yes indeed, you can make money with the mp3 format.

So here we are. It looks like the mp3 is about to go mainstream.

The benefits of this trend are apparent enough, but what of the single-most important downside to the standardization of the mp3? The fact that they sound like hell.

When CDs first hit the market, all kinds of hyperbole was used to describe the sound. “Perfect,” “too good” and even “audio cocaine” were descriptions aimed at Compact Disc sound reproduction. But, little is said about the jangly aliasing at the high end of the mp3, that irritating digital distortion that never seems to go away no matter what you do to with your EQ sliders.

As things stand right now, mp3s are the perfect form for music distribution. They're light-weight, for one thing. And they sound just fine coming through small speakers such as those built into a laptop, or in earbuds or cheap computer speakers.

But run an mp3 through an ordinary stereo receiver to a decent pair of speakers and the inkly sizzle of the mp3 becomes unmistakable.

My fear is that with mp3s taking on an official status, we'll all develop a tolerance for this noise. No doubt there are many worse things going on in the world right now, but still it's unfortunate that we may be about to take a step backwards here. The adoption of CDs over vinyl and magnetic tape carried its own difficulties, for sure. The sound quality, though, was not worse in that case, only less “warm.”

Mp3s sound positively worse than Compact Discs. And despite the cultural revolutions that they have stimulated, they also diminish the listening experience. This is an unfortunate fact that we will have to endure for the foreseeable future.