A Better Thought

For all of my frustration with MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, and the ongoing process of self-marketing they engender, a recent interview with Ralf from Kraftwerk netted this gem, which concisely explains the paradox of the easy coexistence of radical individualism and radical conformity on these sites:

What he says next is probably not intended as his verdict on Twitter - a
Kraftwerkian development, if ever there was one - but it may as well be.
"Everybody is becoming like ... " - he pauses - "a Stasi agent, constantly
observing himself or his friends."

Like the child of Marx and Coca-Cola that I am, I keep thinking of these sites only in terms of the constant self-marketing, forgetting the desire for instant feedback (and approval) that may be even more important for the obsessed user.


Two Wrongs Make A Right

As mentioned a few posts ago, I have been slowly working my way through the list of 100 best singles that Mixmag published back around 1996 or so. Although I have heard many of the records on the list, there are definitely a few that were new to me. One of the most surprising gems is David Morales' (!) mix of Mariah Carey's (!!) "Dreamlover" (!!!). Here is the original, sung with a youthful, daydreaming optimism that, while pleasant, belies the stated desperation of the singers need.

And here, the remix, which, I think, changes the key and rewrites the background to drastic effect. In terms of need and desperation, this is an adult record.



I don't have anything interesting to say, but here are a few thoughts anyways:

1. While MJ's life and death provide plenty of food for thought for those that excel at theorizing the Modern/Post-Modern/Late Capitalism, what have you, I never enjoyed thinking about him in these terms. These sort of critiques need the media frenzy they lament, and many of them seem to forget that there was every any music involved in the first place. And it is the music, in the first place, that concerns me. Those po-mo professors gaining cultural or literal capital off of the back of the frenzy are sometimes just as cynical and debased as the creators of the frenzy itself.

2. K-Punk is right in calling "Billie Jean" one of the great artworks of the twentieth century. And I think, if there is a sense of MJ's death being the end of an era, it is really the end, at least to me, of the era of true convergence of talent in all aspects of recording. Think: what was the last album in which the best producers, engineers, studio musicians and artists all came together to create something of that calibre? Honestly, U2 might be the (very frustrating for many of you!) answer. Most of the great non-rock (ie self-contained bands) pop records have been made in the control room since and, only now, as the intense synth-driven Modernism of the super-producer era has drawn to an end (at least in terms of artistic innovation), can I feel a bit of nostalgia for the big-California-studio era of music that, after Thriller, grew so cynical as to deserve the dethroning it received at the hands of young kids from New York armed with low-resolution samplers. 

2a. There are some interesting anecdotes here. If you can make it through the geeky aspects of this thread, you will find some great stories (including the recollection that Quincy Jones didn't think "Billie Jean" was strong enough to put on the album, whose nine songs, incidentally, were culled from a choice of 300 [!]) from Bruce Swedien, the engineer behind Thriller, and, along with drummer N'Dugu Chancler, the other genius behind "Billie Jean". Why genius? The beat played on that record is the most straightforward imaginable, the first rock beat any drummer would learn, and yet, between the disciplined performance of the beat, and the weight the bass drum was given by Swedien's techniques, this simple beat is not only instantly recognizable as the beat of that song, but also, sonically, matches the mood of the lyrics in a way that few drum recordings, at least to me, ever have.

3. "Baby Be Mine" is the most underrated track on Thriller. Please give it your extra consideration in whatever nostalgic listening-fest you have or will be engaging in. Pure joy, the way I prefer to remember MJ and his music.



[2021 removed broken link :-(] 

Thoughts on synths here. I haven't talked about it much online, but I have spent the last few years in day jobs dealing with electronics that either make, record, or reproduce music. I probably have too much to say it about it all, and plans for an extensive post explaining recording and reproduction, replete with passages describing the ethics of certain perspectives, keep falling through due to the sheer ambition of the project. 

Some commentary:
1. I do agree that the Oberheims are probably the best out there as a line on the whole, though the affordability mentioned in relation to them is slightly deceptive. The Matrix6r is certinly a reasonably-priced model, usually going for around $350-500-ish on eBay, though the bigger brothers of this model, the Xpander and Matrix12, the ones that actually provide enough control capabilities to obviate the need for an external box (which raises the price of the investment), run more towards $2,000-$2,750 and $3,000-$5,000 respectively. The soon-to-be-reissued(!) SEM module runs towards $1,000, is monophonic (meaning it only plays one note at a time), and requires an external keyboard. Price-wise it runs towards the middle of the monosynth spectrum. The 4- and 8-voice models almost take you to used-car territory in pricing. As for the OB8, expect to pay around $1,500-$2,500. 

2. Surprised that Matthew [2021 writer of long-lost post accessible via broken link] finds Rolands to be nasty. Those boards are such a fixture in dance music that it is probably impossible to hear five classic records from the genre and avoid hearing a Roland sound or a Roland-inspired one. The Rolands are mostly known for their strings, and their general warmth, compared to many Oberheims, which have a more brassy quality (which I love equally, if not slightly more). Here is one of my favorite Rolands, played by one of the better Youtube synthesists. Great evocative pads, and it's a digital synth! 

3. As a poster on Vintagesynth, I have to comment a bit on the characterization of the board. Most of the technical discussions, when it comes down to it, are about the sound. The endless debates about chips versus discrete, VCO versus DCO, etc., are all sonic debates. The most fetishized synths out there, like the Roland Jupiter 8, the Sequential Prophet 5, and the Yamaha CS-80, have for the most part, fairly mediocre specifications, and can be easily outdone in terms of processing power by even the most modest synths on the market today, and yet, they do have special sounds, all of them, and are evocative on even the simplest patches (not to start the endless software vs. hardware debate here, but the frustrating aspect of software is that making it sound good, while entirely possible, requires so much more processing, so much more [sound-degrading] stuff in the signal path, that, in the end, the immediacy can be lost, whereas pressing any button and turning any knob on an Oberheim OBx while more likely result in something special almost immediately). 

4. Furthermore, some of the deepest and most complex synths out there are heavily undervalued right now. Most synthesists stop at learning subtractive synthesis (the category of synthesis to which all aforementioned synths belong), but other styles, especially additive and FM, remain comparatively unexplored. The synthesizers that best exemplify these styles, like some members of the Yamaha SY series (for FM), and the Kawai K5000x (for additive), are quite cheap on the used market and, though they have a much higher learning curve than other synths, promise the possibility of creating the few sound nobody has heard before (and, being digital, although not as warm as the best analogs, offer a distinctly glassy and ethereal palate that is all but impossible to render on most analog synths. 

5. In fact, "digital" and "hard to program" are the words that make my ears perk up at this point. Part of the allure of the classic synths is the one-knob-per-function control systems that add a certain immediacy to the music-making process. However, the desire for easy control tends to prove overly deterministic in the perceived value of synths out there. To put it another way, all of the really expensive ones have lots of knobs and usually fairly limited functionality. Of course, classic analog sounds have a very important place in the making of any music based on synthesizers, yet the modernist narrative of ever-deeper synths and ever-newer sounds started to curve from its linear path back into a circle as the 90s wore on and people turned back towards classic sounds and classic synth architectures. The most maligned and, therefore, the most interesting to me, synths out there right now are those models from the late 80s and early 90s that combined infinite sonic possibilities with imposing interfaces, and I am very interested in adding one or two pieces from this era to my incredibly modest studio someday. 

Some classic originals: 

Roland VP-330 (1979) 

Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 (Late 1970s - Early 1980s)
Roland Jupiter 6 (1983) 

90s Vintage-Inspired Recreations:
Clavia Nord Lead (1995)
Roland JP8000 (1996) 

And finally, the (comparatively) imposing minimalism of the late 80s and early 90s: 

Roland R8 (1989-1992)
Roland JD-800 (1991-1993)
Korg M1 (1988-1994)
Yamaha SY77 (1990) 

5. Finally, the subculture of synthesists on Youtube is very enjoyable for geeks like me. My favorite participants are RetroSound and Jexus. RetroSound's videos mostly feature the classics, albeit the affordable ones, and also some of the better-sounding digital synths. Jexus, on the other hand, is an interesting character. He mostly focuses on maligned, cheap gear, and through sheer skill of programming, wrenches amazing sounds out of the neglected pieces he champions. His videos can be read as contextually subversive as he is implicitly insulting those synthesists who tend to amass large collections of classic gear but never learn to program interesting sounds or make interesting music. Although Matthew is right in saying that each board has its character regardless of the talents of the user, the right user can turn the character of any synth into something positive and musical.



Before a good friend of mine moved out to LA, he gave me a large stockpile of old Muziks and Mixmags from the 90s. Besides the fun memories it has brought back (and I still don't know who the hell Seb Fontaine is, no offence bruv), I found a copy of Mixmag's list of greatest 100 singles of all time (which I am currently going through one-by-one). Although most of the choices are spot-on, I don't get the adoration for "Where Love Lives". British people of a certain age, please explain. 



I really do apologize to everyone but a handful of people for incessantly reacting to only a few other writers. I am going to make the effort at some point to add some more links to the many, many excellent writers I have come across in bouts of random clicking. Additionally, if you would like your writing to be linked-to here, please, by all means, use the comments tool. Lastly, if you have made specific comments on your website in relation to what I have said here, I would love to know, not for the purpose of feeding my own ego, which, I assure you, is not a factor here, but rather because I do desire dialogue. 

With that being said, I am, unsurprisingly, working on a reaction to recent calls over at blissblog for positivity ("The hate continues, only here at Airport Through The Trees!"). The post is so large that I have had to take it over to a word-processing program for proper editing. It is six pages long, with no spacing and fully-justified (hopefully in more ways thanone!) and I am in desperate need of an editor. Any volunteers?



Simon Reynolds writes:
anyone fancy a crack at updating the famous T-Shirt, You're Gonna Wake Up One Morning and KNOW What Side of the Bed You've Been Lying On? You know, the one McLaren, Westwood and Bernie Rhodes came up with shortly before punk, which divided pop (and beyond) culture into "Hates" and "Loves" (with Bryan Ferry shunted into the establishment/enemy camp despite the fact they'd all loved Roxy originally).
Before following the link [2021 link now broken] and realizing there was a list on this shirt, I came up with the following: One day I woke up and realized the bed wasn't there.  


More on Burial from the Impostume. [2021 broken link removed]

At least a part of the argument stems from the writer's incredulity that any "kid form the streets" could somehow feel the same way as certain academics about late capitalism. A little research would show that Burial is most likely in his late twenties and went to a fairly good school, where the foundation for an interest in social theory could have been laid (this information may also account for the Four Tet collaboration).

[2021 I still wonder about this]