On the transformation of everyday culture in an era of liquid modernity

Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark

In art, cultural industries, everyday life, marketing, media ecology, music on October 28, 2009 at 4:53 pm

If you are a fantastic cultural producer, what good is it if no-one hears, sees or gets to know about your work? The problem of structural support to the cultural industries is as much to do with supporting new forms of distribution and recommendation systems as it is to do with direct economic support to producers, or leveraging employment rules and state subsidies in useful ways, or due appreciation also to distinctly amateur forms of production.

That last note, about the importance of appreciating amateur forms of production, is essentially there as an inital reservation: Of course I’m in favour of an amateur-led wave of cultural production, better enabled by digital technology. Who isn’t? And of course it is great that tools and knowledge are more horizontally distributed now, favouring bazaar-like modes of organization over cathedral-like ones.

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The decade in popular music

In art, history, music on October 16, 2009 at 10:23 am

Apart from the material, social and technical reasons for change pointed out in this blog, I would like to take this opportunity for venturing further into what might constitute a zeitgeist in contemporary music.

This posting has a twin posting on the mp3 blog Solid Bond In Your Heart, where I am listing my 100 favourite tunes of the last 10 years.

Materially, we can already conclude that the last ten years have seen the partial death of the album, the definitive death of the CD single, the rebirth of the individual song, an increase in the sheer loudness of music (“loudness war,” effectively decreasing the dynamic range of music), and the birth of new, Internet-based music communities and distribution platforms often bypassing traditional record industry modes of manufacturing, marketing and “plugging” records. But we have also seen a range of stylistic and aesthetic formations during these last ten years. Here are some of them.

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I fought a loudness war

In aesthetics, art, everyday life, media ecology, music, philosophy on October 5, 2009 at 9:17 pm

One of the most striking features of popular music in the last decade has been the “loudness war”. The music we listen to has become increasingly louder in the last 20 years, as it is now music industry standard to try and make the soundwaves contained within a sound file as maximised as possible, in terms of loudness.

By a combination of extreme compression of the dynamic range and make-up gain, the sound range is boosted to a more uniform level, removing the peaks and troughs that would normally separate a quieter verse from a pumping chorus. (Read more about it here and here.)

As this is the normative aesthetic nowadays – “it has to sound like this” – the sociology of music should really sharpen its ears and point them in this direction. It is extremely interesting in terms its philosophical implications. So, let us delve deeper into the aesthetic implications of loudness below!

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Mp3s and ‘thisness’

In art, mp3, music on March 11, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Mp3, as a format, might lack tactile dimensions, and its nature as pure code might render it ontologically vacuous. Yet, it presents fantastic hope for the song as artform.
I wrote in a previous post about the verisimilitude of mp3s, the fact that in technical terms the digital file is always an approximation; never really the “real thing”.
However, there’s a paradox here, and that is that I believe mp3s, because of their virtual nature, bring back the ‘thisness’ of the song itself. Evan Eisenberg writes about the ‘thisness’ of songs in The Recording Angel (1987): the medieval term that he revisits for this is haecceity, the ontological concept that basically talks about those aspects of a thing which make it a particular thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Mp3s and their supposed lack of magic

In art, mp3, music on February 11, 2008 at 1:57 pm

The physical carrier of music makes a difference: Compared to mp3, vinyl is more tactile, cumbersome, weighty, and lends itself to rarity rather than to instant duplicability – but therefore it is also more mystical, and indeed more magical, some people argue.
The Stool Pigeon is a healthy little music publication, withstanding the current celebrity culture and commodification of “authenticity” by sticking to a strict fanzine aesthetic, a peculiar fondness for 19th century font exorbitance and a deliberately haphazard web presence. In the most recent issue, someone with the alias ‘Bone Dagger’ writes about the ephemera of mp3s versus vinyl. An old debate you might say, and one that would have been more academically convincing if invoking Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Kittler and N. Katherine Hayles (I guess one could pull out more and more articles like this, for example). Anyhow, in taking its cue from Arthur C. Clarke’s recognition that any technology advanced enough is virtually indistinguishable from magic, the Dagger’s argument still makes for a cosy read for a materialist like me. After having spent far too many hours indexing my own vinyl collection on Discogs.com, I must say I generally agree with the sentiment. Read the rest of this entry »

Translations: Creative copying and originality

In art, copying on August 4, 2005 at 9:48 pm

All creativity builds on the past. This blog post is merely a reflection on that fact. (It is loosely based on an exhibition at Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 14/7 to 9/9 2005.)

They said that when I began in Paris I copied Toulouse-Lautrec and Steinlen; possible, but never was a painting by Toulouse-Lautrec or Steinlen taken for mine. It is better to copy a drawing or painting than to try to be inspired by it, to make something similar. In that case one risks painting only the faults of the model. A painter’s atelier should be a laboratory. One doesn’t make a monkey’s job there: one invents.   (Pablo Picasso)

Allowing a multitude of approaches to the source (record, exercise, parody, quotation, paraphrase, exorcism, caricature, metamorphosis, transformation, catalyst), copying has enabled artists to establish their own voices, to invoke and reject precedents and declare affinities, to measure distances and declare new goals. In some cases the most radically advanced work has been deeply indebted to history (For example, Cezanne’s Bathers or Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon). Read the rest of this entry »