The song or album that represents the time that is…

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

Posts at the moment seem to have either a common theme, or somewhat refer back to an earlier post. Recently, I was having some discussion with a friend about music lists. I have my 10 favourite on an early post somewhere, and a post on an idea called “the music map of me”. But in discussing we also referred to that old BBC radio favourite desert Island discs, and a feature in Mojo magazine called “All back to my place”, (where numerous questions are asked around your soundtrack for different circumstances, e.g. sunday mornings). So we came up with a new list. The idea is that you choose a song or album that represents you, or has a lot of relevance to you in a certain circumstance. I guess really they are about memories. So here is some of the list that we came up with. Some categories were easier to answer than others:

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The Monday Mess – The irony of good music – 19 Nov 2012

YupWelcome to the Monday mess, where this Monday we shall, mainly because I had most of this written, and I didn’t want to start anything else, via the medium of a small essay, take a flying look at the irony of good music. Will you still love me tomorrow?

I do not know this woman, she is just appreciating the irony of good music.
(Image courtesy of Morguefile.com)

In times gone by, that being the time before it was easy to get music off the internet and download individual tracks, the single used to be the selling point, and often the introduction to a new album. Originally the album was just a collection of tracks used to get more money from the consumer. Then Artists like the Beatles, The Beach boys, The Who, and many, many more utilised it for larger artistic statements. Record companies realised early on that they could make bigger profits from the album. Artistic statements aside, the album needed to be made, it needed to be sold, and some singles from the album was the way to sell it. Problem is, this often leads to albums with some good singles and some filler. Early Stones or Who anyone? The reality is there are good albums and bad ones. Singles are or were, not always a good indicator of how good the album is, or was. But unless you read reviews you had nothing else to go on other than the singles. Another problem is a good album does not always have good singles, or singles that catch on. Those albums might not get heard much no matter how good they are. Love’s “Forever Changes” being one example which has become a cult classic over time, and is genuinely a great album.

Of course this is the scenario in very general terms. Bands often built an audience through touring or word of mouth. But the point I’m getting at is a single is not always an indicator of how good an album is. The same tracks aside, you could almost say the two are unrelated. You could easily miss a lot of good music, and easily build up a collection of dross. The irony of good music, is that unless you get proper access to it, and a time to explore it, then you could easily not even discover it. Let me explain a little further.

Often good music or great music is layered, or the quality is not always fully apparent on the first listen or two. It takes our brain a couple of listens to decode it before the qualities begin to shine through. A quick listen on the radio isn’t going to get you that. But from the radio, that is what most people want. We more often need something that is catchy, that has the hooks that pull you in straight away. So receiving music that way, is mostly only a certain type of music. In most instances, anyway. That explains why when you buy an album, even one you soon come to love, it does not sound too impressive in the first listen or two. Unless of course it is full of catchy pop hooks. I cannot remember the amount of times I have bought albums and then had to give them a few days of plays to bed into my mind before deciding whether I really liked it or not.

Generally though, even if you don’t buy a lot of music, you will have some variety of taste. You might have been exposed to it from your parents, family or friends. You might be exposed to it through some constant radio listening, or certain tv shows. There will usually be something that didn’t grab you instantly but crept up on you over time. And there will be the opposite, something that stuck in straight away and sounded brilliant. But after a few plays that initial buzz has worn off. It’s ok but not that amazing. Then a few listens later and it is starting to do your head in. A simple truth in music is that writing music which is catchy, and stays with you, and maybe even reveals more detail over time, is difficult. Some are lucky to put together a good one on the fly, but repeating it? Not so easy. You see the irony of most good music is that it takes some time to grow on you, and reveal itself. It’s like a good friend, more just keeps on coming, even if the way you met was nothing special.

And if you survived that, or just skimmed over it, here is the same argument in “Nonet”:

To your ears, I do not sound like much

but I don’t give it up like that

I’ll tease, and let you taste it

draw you in, be your muse

wonder wat you missed

listen again

soon I will

grow on 

you

So with that, I’m signing off.

Have a nice week, and tune in somewhen further down it for the next brainsplats blog post.

Lexicon word of the day: etymology.

Haiku poem – arrogant, misguided

One day last week I had a quick burst of some Haiku poems where three or four poems would also work as a larger poem. It is kind of interesting although a little bit cheating if comparing to “larger poems”. Anyway as I had done in an earlier post, I took a lyric from a song, and used it as the basis for something completely new. This one is based on a lyric from the Beatle’s Blue Jay Way (from Magical Mystery tour which sounds quite cool in remastered form), the lyric “And my friends have lost their way”.

You can read below where I came up with something completely different (and with apologies to George Harrison, less spiritual).

I am the greatest
and my friends have lost their way
let me lead them home

Me the controller
Seize the opportunity
feed the chosen ones

Gift them this wisdom
friends there is no other way
bow down to the king

All shall salute me
I will give you a life back
be loyal to me

I shall post some more later in the week.

Lexicon word of the day: vitiate.

Mojo Music Magazine – The alternative take

 

What do you need to know about it?

Mojo Magazine is a British “Rock” magazine, although it covers other music. It covers very little hip hop or dance so I suppose it’s main focus is Rock, pop, folk, alt-country, and similar. It has been around since 1993 and truth be told was a bit “Dad” rock back then. It got a bit more Indie and alternative over the years without being too “out there”.

The magazine has interviews, but as much of its focus, if not more, is on the stories around various bands, albums and so forth. That is why I like it. It also gives away a free, and high quality cd. Often these have a theme, for example a classic album where all the tracks are covered by other artists. For example, March 2012 was Leonard Cohen’s first album. As you would imagine, several Beatles albums such as “Sgt Pepper” and “The White Album”, have had this treatment. You can get the history of all the disks at Mojo Cover CDs (a fan site).

Where did I first become acquainted?

I think from early days but I’m not sure when. The first issue I really took an interest in that I can remember was August 1995. There was a “greatest 100 albums ever” critics poll (The Beach boys “Pet Sounds was number 1). I was still building my collection so this was a useful reference point. Actually I still have that magazine as well as numerous others with special features that I like (I don’t keep them all).

Over the years I have gotten familiar with the reviews section so I have a good idea how reliable they are for different types of music, and therefore whether it will be something I would be into. As a reference point I might use Mojo, pitchfork and the guardian to gauge reviews for something I have not heard at all, but might wish to try. Or I suppose I could use Metacritic.

On the whole, I like the stories about various artists and what not, plus I do like a bit of “rock journalism“.

What to buy:

Erm, the magazine. I would say that some issues tend to focus on artists I’m not interested in, and the reverse will apply where I get an issue of artists I love. On the whole it is well worth reading and the only magazine I have stuck with in recent years.

Anything related to look at:

It has it’s own Website here. You can get a free weekly newsletter from the website, with a quick signup. You can get a look at many Mojo “greatest” type lists here.

Where to buy: Ok it’s a UK magazine so you can get it there from any newsagent. I live in the US so have to pay for a subscription through GreatMagazines.co.uk.  Or you can order it through Amazon.com.

Anything else?

Not really. Oh hang on,I did have a problem with a month or two being late, but they turned up in the end. Plus the customer service (for great magazines) is very good at sending out a new issue if one does not turn up.

Oh hang on again, if you want a music magazine with more interviews and that sort of thing, go for “Q”. Mojo is the one you want for some interviews, but also plenty of stories.

Lexicon word of the day: Valetudinarian.

Does technology actually stifle real creativity?

A question for you today. These days, over the last decade, most people have access to a computer, and increased usage, has improved computer skills on them. The quality of the software and networking via the internet, has constantly improved. Myself I have a Macbook Pro. Apple have been promoting their computers with the “creative” software that comes pre-installed. There is iTunes, but also iPhoto (manage and do some basic editing of your photos, create photo books, slideshows), iMovie (edit your video, create movies and trailers), Garageband (create, record and produce your own music e.g. “Grimes” recently release an album created with this), idvd (burn movies, slideshows to a dvd), iWeb (create websites). This all comes preinstalled, is pretty fantastic actually, and as they would have it, is the doorway to creativity. But recently I have been thinking, is all this technology having the opposite affect? Is too much actually stifling good creativity?

Bear with me here, the argument is one of two many options, not against using the technology itself. In the current issue of Rolling Stone (1154) there is an interview with Jimmy Iovine legendary music engineer, producer, label chairman (Interscope), and co-headphone maker (Beats with Dre). He worked with John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Patti Smith, U2 and many others. He refers to how many of the artists were after a particular sound, their sound, and once they had found it, it was then more about good songs, and some good singles. Springsteen in particular (on Born to Run) was a torture in finding the right sound, but once he found it, then it was all about the songs. Like him or loather him, you can still tell his sound immediately, and that is an important point, because in doing that, he had found his voice.

This was arguably more the old model of record companies. To be signed you had to be pretty good at singing, songwriting, or maybe playing an instrument. To be successful you had (mostly) to be skilled in one of those areas. Often to define their voice, artists would work hard to find their own sound or write their own songs. It might well have taken a lot of practice, a lot of playing live, a lot of hard slog. But there was often no other way. It was either take this opportunity, or do nothing. The means to do something creative were a little harder to come by than now. Iovine says of Springsteen (on page 61):

“All you hear everyday is how not cool the record industry is. That’s going to have an effect on who gets into music. All you need is a new Bruce Springsteen deciding he is going to work for Apple – or create his own. Look at the intensity and force that went into making Darkness. If Bruce ever had a f*****g excuse not to do it, maybe he would have chosen not to”

Is this actually the case? Does all the different creative technologies give you that excuse? If you want to do something creative today, edit some photos, go edit some video. Well that is being creative. So I guess the point is the quality. Going back to music, you can easy record using a computer, it might be easier to make, because you do it yourself. And I’ve definitely nothing against this. But what is does not give you back is quality control. That is something you have to receive or you have to learn. I’m a fan of music, and I can think of many recent albums that are good, a few that are great. Usually the better ones have worked with a producer (someone not only with a separate view on the sound, but an independent on the quality of the material). More often than not, the really successful ones stand out for both the artist’s sound (for someone like Adele this is her voice, which is always upfront in the mix), but also for some really good quality songs (singles). Even under the current changing model of the music business, we are still moved by something that feels good, honest and grips us in some way. But note, all the best received artists, whether mainstream or indie, have their own voice and sound. We can tell their music in a second or two. Either they earned it, fought to find it, or were just lucky enough to have the talent anyway.

The same also applies in writing although it is a bit harder to tell because you have to spend more time reading a book, than you do listen to a 3 minute single or 45 minute album. The best writers have their own style or voice. I was reading the other day in the latest Writers Digest (March / April 12, pg 57) about mastering voice. Larry Brooks states:

“Less is more. The more personality and humour and edge you are looking for, the truer this is. Attempting to imbue your writing with noticeable narrative style is always risky, because you are hoping and assuming that whoever is reading your work will be attracted to that particular style. The safest bet – one placed by a bevy of bestselling writers …who are too often and unfairly accused of not being all that good because their writing bears little or no stylistic scent – is to write cleanly and crisply”.

I can understand his point. He is referring to selling your novel. You will have an easier job of it if it is easily understandable. Your voice ought to be natural, it ought to take little effort to read. Perhaps your story and characters better be good though (for example, Elmore Leonard), otherwise you might also be a bit bland. Not that I’m suggesting there is anything wrong with taking this approach, there isn’t. I’m all for writing in a style that is appropriate. I just couldn’t help feel with this advice that there was a slight whiff of not standing out in a crowd. Surely you would want to be good enough that some element stands out as your voice? To do that, unless naturally talented, you have to earn it.

A common creative output for many writers is the blog. It is likely that you reading now may have your own blog, or be a signed up wordpress member. This is a great output as it means you can put something out for people to read and judge, in fact I did the former and you are doing the latter right now. A problem I have is that maybe I spend too much time working the blog and not enough time on my other writing projects. In the grand scheme of things, I would like to think that they will be the recognised pieces of my work. At the moment, there is more blog than other. Part of the reason for this is simply that the blog is there as an output. Otherwise I might be doing some writing practice in a notebook (which I could still do) or more importantly, well you get the idea. Yet I enjoy the blog, and I enjoy putting some things out there for people to read if they wish.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he refers to 10,000 hours being the amount of time you need to spend on something to be a master of it. Clearly this is a balance of experience and learning. He provides various examples of where this would be the case e.g. The Beatles, or Bill Gates. I could therefore argue that the blog contributes some of the time towards this magic number. It is a good forum for me to practise, experiment and publish. Will this add up to me being better on my other projects or should I simply be spending more time on them?

Perhaps the answer is there is less pressure. I use the blog to try to give a certain level of quality, that I might not expect in a notebook, but I would not expect this to be as high a quality as my other projects. But if they don’t work out, I could always just keep with the blog. Or I could go edit some videos or photos. They are both good fun and creative too. These days it is not a one shot deal. But then I don’t want to be “Jack of all trades”. If I want to be good at one, I need to concentrate on one. Get the magic hours in and the learning, and the experience. So you see, technology gives us the opportunity to be creative, but it might also stifle real creativity, by which I mean something that is that much better, is our own voice.

Is that the case? What do you think?

N.B. This posting was maybe a bit longer than I was expecting but I still think I didn’t have space to put in several points. I may expand it to a larger essay at some point in the future.

Lexicon word of the day: Perfidious.