Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Plus everyone sweated and looked silly



I was speaking with a friend of mine about dear old PinataPinata, my dearly departed old band which I still long for. We got to talking about the musical dynamics of the group and I explained that as we had no drummer and only one guitarist on stage, we ended up having the backing track on an iPod for performances, which at the time we still vaguely in homage to TestIcicles. A look of horror fell on her face just then, and it turns out not only was she offended by our use of a backing track live (an understandable complaint) but by just the sheer fact that I own an iPod (though I no longer do). And I then realized I've had a similar debate before. Several times before. For the last 15 years. Basically ever since I gained enough musical knowledge to start discussing it with others and inevitably, using it as a judicial force with which to decide whether or not I want to know someone. Which is precisely what was being done to me, except this time I wasn't being judged on what music I listen to, but on how I listen to it.
I've never quite understood this debate, which always seems to revolve around vinyl and it's superiority to all other musical formats. In my view, it doesn't really matter a great deal what you listen to music on, vinyl, cassette, cd, mp3 hell, even minidisc. Yes, vinyl may be the cooler of the bunch (bar reel-to-reel) and it certainly looks the best, but this alone does not make it intrinsically better. It's simply different. I know it has all those lovely scratchy noise that makes it sound so authentic and vintage, and the gatefold can be a real turn-on, but the songs themselves are the same. And one could argue that with digital quality we can here more of the music. Also, though I totally understand having a hard-to-come-by 1954 collectable, buying the latest U2 album on vinyl does seem rather pointless. Not to mention the limitations vinyl posits on one's listening due to its lack of portability. It's super to have friends around and just play records all day, but if it's a sunny afternoon and you want to stroll in a field while Nick Drake hums you a ditty, you're fucked. It's not that I see anything wrong with vinyl, quite the opposite in fact; I just don't see how it being older makes it better. I mean christ, nowadays listening to a cassette tape is somehow cooler and better because it's retro. So this format judging - is it any worse than my judging someone else on his or her musical tastes?

Yes. It is.

A little bit. I'll admit that whether or not someone likes New Order or Don Henley doesn't actually tell you a great deal about them as a person, so using that information to judge them can be deemed slightly ridiculous, superficial and just plain stupid. Despite how accurate it can often prove to be. However, the reason musical taste is such a valid ruler with which to measure others is because people who like terrible music are going against human nature. All ears are generally constructed the same, and in a very basic sense, all ears like and dislike the same noises. Of course, this is affected wildly by culture, society, rearing etc. but still, anyone who likes truly, truly awful music, like say Eiffel 65, is going against instinct and therefore they must be an idiot. All of our ears hear the same in general and there are some sounds that are just naturally displeasing.
This can be seen in those tedious "5 minute interview" sections in magazines in which no-longer-famous celebrities and reality show stars get asked arbitrary questions which they then answer in an affected and hackneyed 'quirky' manner. Inevitably they get asked, "What's your favorite sound?" and to this they answer, to show their inherent depth, "A child's laughter". Then, when asked, "What's your least favorite sound?" they of course reply, "A child crying", a reply so insipid, I find myself compelled to go find a crying child and really give it something to cry about. And while it's all very funny and ironic and edgy to say we love the sound of a child crying, really when you get one of those screaming bastards behind you on a bus it's agonizing.
Now, a case could be made that this is more to do with our emotions and instinct, that as it's one of our own species in turmoil, we instinctively want to end their pain etc. However, normally I want to rip their fucking heads off and shove it down the throat of the apathetic and inactive parent who is usually sat seemingly unaware, next to the screaming mess, blithely looking out the window, no doubt contemplating his/her worthless existence rather than that of their evil spawn. I never feel a great need to go hug the little shit. I just want it to shut up.
Same thing with sirens, when you hear an emergency siren it's never pleasurable. It's terrible and startling, hence why they exist. Because all humans detest that noise, it will definitely serve its purpose to get our attention. This can't be argued against.
Likewise, there is a reason background music can be background music, because it's inoffensive. It may be dull and bromidic, but it's calming to the human ear. As such, I may complain that the latest Keane track offends me, and it does, but it offends me intellectually rather than aurally. As I hate it so much, the sheer sound of it angers me. Particularly if I have to hear it 6 times a day thanks to the radio at work. Though were I to somehow listen to it on a pure aural level, as just sound, even ignoring the meaning of the words, I'd be hard-pressed to pick out a note that was actually bad. It's what the song symbolizes for me, how much I dislike the members of the group, how dull the lyrics and musicality are, how over-rated the effort is - all these qualities that I've attached to the song, so that when I hear even the first few notes I am in a state of distress.

This is why I understand people who are into bands like this:

who make utterly awful sounds. The music is actually painful and headache inducing, yet that's half the point. A band like Gorgoroth can be horrific because that is their pure aim, they look disgusting, they preach disgusting and they sound disgusting. A Gorgoroth fan wants his/her music disgusting. It's an entire culture, a school of thought, a way of life. Much like punk or goth or even, dare I say it, emo. Gorgoroth are the musical equivalent to genital piercings - I don't ever want to get involved with them, but I can understand why others would.

However, the same cannot be said for songs like this, for instance, which is just plain aggravating. As is the case for rave music, which was and still is utterly painful. I mean hell, people freely admit they have to be on mind-altering narcotics to change the chemicals in their brain in order to enjoy the music. Does that not tell you something? And this is why I hate that music so much, because it's human nature to hate it. And there's absolutely no meaning behind it for people to latch on to. The only "culture" it dictates is that of dancing while on drugs.* Something American Indians were doing hundreds of years ago - this is hardly a revolution. Upon hearing one of these awful songs out of context, surely the only feeling it conjures up to a fan is perhaps a hazy memory of the previous saturday night. Not exactly a ground-breaking allusion.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against vacuous, meaningless music per se. Pop music is my friend, my favorite singer is Sinatra and though he had his moments, his music was hardly reeling with insurgency. Same thing with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul etc - its just good music. Hell Brian Wilson is seen as a musical genius (which he is) and yet most of his songs are about beaches, surfing, girls and California. Not exactly pioneering topics. Just well crafted pop and it's wonderful. Which is something that I'm fairly sure cannot be said about anything produced by Brainstorm Crew or Paul Van Dyk. Both of whom I'm pretty sure sound equally as shit on vinyl and mp3.

*And don't even start trying to convince me that rave was about sticking it to the man, anti-Thatcher and revolution. If you can look at a bunch of 20 year-olds in bad clothes, fucked on ecstacy screaming, "Aciiiid!" and seriously tell me that's about anything more than having fun and possibly annoying their parents while their at it, you must be retarded.

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