Friday, June 29, 2007

Ipods and genres

A couple of my punk friends recently got ipods, and I delicately was trying to ask them, "Do you really listen to punk on your ipod?" Because I don't.

What does it mean to say you like some art? At any given point in one's biography, one may very well not like an album or movie that later will become a defining favorite. One doesn't want to listen to Marvin Gaye while having sex (that would be monstrously lame in 2007), but maybe that is great cleaning-around-the-house music. Or, let's put it this way: where do you hear music first? and where do you listen to music?

Most people don't buy a great number of records unheard, on a whim, or even on recommendations. The radio, mp3 blogs, podcasts, parties, jukeboxes, Starbucks, DJ nights, live shows, and myspace are where most people hear about (new) music. Not me (I read record reviews for at least an hour a day)--but you can see that these are split between social and asocial types. And I would argue, the situation in which you hear music cannot be overstated. A lot of really "difficult" records rely on privacy and a lot of time--like the Minutemen's Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat; other records just leap out of whatever sound-space they are in and grab you--say, Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder they Come," or Poison Idea's Feel the Darkness.

[You can see why The Velvet Underground remain the smartest band of all time. Their eponymous first album splits between, on one hand, immediate rockers ("There She Goes Again"), sweet melodies ("Sunday Morning," "Femme Fatale"), and Dylan-esque contemporary folk-rock fare ("Waiting for My Man," "Run Run Run"), and on the other hand, difficult brooding set-pieces ("Heroin," "Venus in Furs," and "The Black Angel's Death Song"). This division is completely turned on its head on White Light White Heat, of course; the softer songs are infinitely weirder than the straight-forward but unbearably-loud rockers: nothing is easy to digest. Of course it all still "works" more than any attempted-pop record.]

Point being, listening to punk on an ipod is ineffectual. Hardcore already sounds like the subway and street noise--the vocals are usually mixed low, there are no dynamics, etc. Ipods are fucking MADE for Morrissey, though. (And rap, soul, and any pre-Hendrix rock: any really vocal-heavy music, basically). Not jazz, really. Obviously not metal :(

This seems more pertinent the more I think about it. Because very few people just sit in their rooms alone, undistracted by the internet, and just stare at the wall while listening to an album. As if hardcore, metal, free jazz, Wagner, et al, weren't unlikeable enough, they require such specific settings to absorb.

Not only a specific setting (absolute silence) for being able to hear the music, but also a specific mode of listening (complete attention) to get the music. A hardcore song is so compressed-- over very quickly, unrepetitive, and reliant on the listener to fill in a lot of gaps--that you really have to pay attention or else it becomes one big blur. (On top of already *sounding* the grating whir of a lawnmower).

Basically, music in 2007, when we all have ipods, listen to music on crappy laptop speakers, download and then only listen to 30 seconds of an mp3 before we delete an album, etc, means not only that we listen to music and buy music in different ways, but that whole genres no longer make sense. Music has to be so immediate, repetitive, unquirky, streamlined, etc. in order to grab even die-hard fans (we are the most inundated and over-burdened of all!), while casual fans have everything made so easy for them that they will rarely think, "Oh, listening to all 18 minutes of 'Sister Ray' will make this go by a lot faster!"


Christy said...

i'm sorry, ben, but you haven't lived until you've listened to "lets get rid of new york" at full volume walking down the street. but i know, i know, that's sex music.

Slobodan Burgher said...

Now do I comment on this post, most of which I as a complete obsessive music freak who listen to punk very much so using an iPod and who therefore most certainly disagree with what you write for a number of reasons, or do I take this to be a halfhearted attempt to formulate a halfhearted ambigious and reactionary halfgerm of a thought? The main would be that objectively (YES! OBJECTIVELY!) an mp3 player is just a device and ultimately you focus on the associated issue sof branding and style and tastes and preferences! Thus falls your complete argument!

(not to say I enjoy reading it as I have reading the rest of blog)