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Monday, 28 March 2011

Weekly Roundup: All The Things That Happened, That I Noticed And Was Interested In

The critic frowns.

I’ve been thinking about musical traditions and their importance to ongoing stylistic growth. Tradition is contested ground in jazz, which has an ultra-progressive wing and an ultra-conservative one: even the most experimental jazz innovator will extoll the importance of the tradition however. There are very few jazz fans who would deny the value and importance of Satchmo, Duke, Hawk, Prez, Bird, Diz, Monk and many more nicknamed historical ‘greats’, and there is a sense that someone like Ornette Coleman earns the right to blow atonally through a plastic saxophone by first learning how to make the changes in the style of his more conventionally minded predecessors. Being able to play the traditional form of 4/4 swing is considered a basic necessity for any functioning player. If you stop to think about it, it’s a little odd that such a new form, whose central tradition is one of fusion, inclusion and innovation, should place so much importance on its inherited musical practices; perhaps its very novelty leads its practitioners to seek a solid historical context to hang onto, which with something so new requires a very rapid pace of canonisation, and gives the scholar or academic a paradoxically important role.
Tradition is also an important idea in pop music, where the related idea of authenticity denotes an uncompromised commitment to a personal artistic vision, rather than a technical grounding in historically established practices. Pop has always been associated with novelty, ephemerality and disposability, but at the same time it has always recycled formally and stylistically: when punk wanted to turn the whole shebang on its head, it did so by re-radicalising 50s rock ‘n’ roll with 60s sonic technologies. Technology has always been a driver of innovation in pop, with some of the most outwardly abrupt breaks with tradition coming in the field of electronic music: what’s interesting there, is that those new sounds have become important traditional touchstones, as though, like the jazzers, pop musicians are seeking validation and ‘authenticity’ by placing themselves in a historical context. Nowadays, with the simultaneous availability of the music of every time and place, fans of popular music look back nostalgically to the 60s and 70s at least as much as they look forward to the teens and imagine the future.
Clearly, without tradition there can be no innovation: everything needs an opposite to define itself against, but it does seem weird that at a time when I am discovering some of the most creative and imaginative popular music I’ve ever heard, there is also such a strong streak of conservatism, particularly among the best selling guitar music (which is laughably referred to as ‘indie’). Interestingly, some of the experimental music I have recently reviewed(specifically the work of James Beaudreau) is grounded in a very traditional approach to the guitar. Tradition can provide the materials for innovation, just as innovation can provide the materials for tradition.
It was the deaths of a brace of significant historical figures that got me thinking about the above. Last week we’d lost a pioneer of electronic music, and this week there was a further changing of the guard. I have to say, it’s pretty amazing to think that a central figure in the first flowering of blues was alive until last week.
I don’t usually link to other peoples’ album reviews in my news roundup, but this is a fundraiser for the incredibly creative, and gravely ill Tim Smith of Cardiacs, and it’s an extremely good album:
This just tickled my fancy: 55 tracks, adding up to less than 3 minutes of music, and ‘the world’s smallest album’.
Everyone knows MySpace is dying, and the statistics in this article are well known, but it’s the anecdote in the last paragraph that’s interesting: in the end, the value of a publicity channel to musicians trying to make a living, is the ease of translating it into revenue, and this says all you need to know about MySpace.
SEO (that’s Search Engine Optimization) is about to be radically transformed, in a way that will hopefully stop putting crappy content farms at the top of search results, and favour genuinely relevant content. This should play to musicians’ advantage, but you still need to think about SEO if you want to maximise traffic to your site.
A truly useful and informative article on building a good website without getting mired in techno-designo-confuso-headexplodingness.
Google’s music service is about ready to roll out, it appears, and further call into question the distinction between hearing and ‘owning’ music with its cloud storage facility.
My five albums on heavy rotation at the time of writing are as follows:
Cardiacs - Heaven Born and Ever Bright (pronk)
Los Chicharrons - Roots Of Life (funk/ house/ world)
Patrick & Eugene - Everything & Everyone (fun!)
Zook - Music From The Accumulator (minimal funk)
VA - Oi! A Nova Música Brasileira! (alternative Brazilian)

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