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Old 12-01-2004, 10:27 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Location: Canada
Kulrblind's short essays on music

Hey Tilted Literature types:
It's not often that I sit down and write just for the sake of writing (well, not since my love-stricken high school days), but a while back, I had the inspiration to do a little first-person essay writing on the topic of music.

I'm not sure what I wanted to do with the whole project, but since I opted to do NOTHING with it, the least I could do is share it with someone out there who desperately needs to read something.

Here's the Introduction (there are a few more parts).

Note: This was written a couple of years ago, so some topics may be slightly out of date.



Introduction

I realize that, in this world, people have their own idea of what constitutes good music. This rings true every time you hear someone talk about the latest band they're either obsessing over, or the latest in a long line of hated bands, sounds, images, and music genres. What follows is not so much a documentary-type endeavor, but more a journal of thoughts, impressions, and personal obsessions relating to music and the industry as I understand it. It should be stated at the outset that I am highly unqualified to comment as an expert on music, or on the industry. I am nothing but a listener - an appreciator of what I deem 'good' music.

I consider myself rather open to all varieties of music, and I have clear likes and dislikes within that. Not infrequently do I find myself going on and on about a new band, or a new album that I have heard, begging others to indulge me in listening and feeling the music as I feed my obsession to not only experience, but to share. My love of music transcends audible boundaries and manifests itself in everything from emotional to physical responses. Chills up my back, down my arm, a twitch in my face, all because of the way music makes me feel. Not just any music, mind you. I don't find myself bawling in the car on the way to work because of some sappy song on the radio, but certain sounds effect me in a way that nothing else can.

Now, there are innumerable people in this world to whom music is just background noise, generally inaudible and superfluous to life in general. If you fit this description, these writings are not for you. Stop reading. These types of people will not understand the hype and attraction to new music, old music, and everything in between. They will not understand the power, the sensuality, and the emotion that are embodied in this form of so-called 'entertainment'. They will not hear (and make note of) the soundtrack/score in the movie they just sat through two-and-a-half hours of, nor will they hear it in the background of their favourite television shows. It is the lightest form of entertainment, the least demanding of attention. Others, however, will hear every note in the background on television, watch the movie credits to find out who did that song, and write down the names of bands on little scraps of paper as they're waking up with a cup of steaming coffee on a Saturday morning while watching the music television station or listening to the radio (OK, that was me). They are truly involved; they are the active, participatory audience.

As I mentioned, I tend to go off on extended tangents about new and old music that has grabbed or steadily held my attention, and cannot help but obsess and share my excitement with whoever will sit and listen to me ramble. Somewhere in the sharing is the basic premise of these writings. I suppose that they're not really for anyone specific to read, but just to be read by anyone: passing strangers, voyeuristic thrill seekers, or boredom-stricken acquaintances who might enjoy listening to the rants and emotions of a not-so-total stranger. So, if you fit into one of these categories, feel free to read on.

Consider this your only warning.

Last edited by kulrblind; 12-01-2004 at 12:06 PM..
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Old 12-01-2004, 11:44 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Location: Canada
the next instalment...

Evolution

The listener evolves. It's true. Everyone does, I suppose. The listener's collection of music is the evidence of years of change. Looking back into my own collection, I have, as many others, I'm sure, said to myself, “what is this?! What the hell was I THINKING, listening to this garbage?” Chalk it up to lots of things. Fad, phases, peer pressure, last-minute-clearout-K-mart-specially-priced-bin…they're all to blame in some cases. Of course, now and then you can attribute it to just plain old personal preference, even if you can't really figure out what you preferred about some band you're afraid to admit to your next-door neighbour you listened to. Or, basically, why your preferences are what they are. But the fact is, as I change, my musical tastes change. I've noticed one or two things about the way people evolve.

First, it seems like people roll with the music scene for a while, and then, all of a sudden, stop. Kind of the same way as people who change fashion with the times, and then all of a sudden stop changing the way they dress. All judgments aside: It is not for me to decide who's in or out of style. Especially since I can hardly get my own socks to match each other, let alone what I'm wearing. So, like the clothes in your closet, the CDs in your collection sooner or later stop keeping up with the times. That's not to say that you stop buying CDs, only that you start buying Bob Seger's Greatest Hit(s) albums after he stops producing new material, if you get where I'm going here.

The good part about that is similar to the good part about saving old clothes: sooner or later it might come back into style. If you care at all about the rest of the world and the 'contemporary' music scene, this is a bonus. If you're hermetic and couldn't care less if every radio tower in the world suddenly crashed to the ground, rendering the world music-less, this is a moot point. At any rate, those who own signed copies of Beatles, Stones, or Jimi Hendrix albums and the like are feeling pretty special these days. Hell, anyone who bought CD copies of bands when they were new and popular and didn't have to pay the extra 50% charge for sitting on the shelf in a music shop for 15 years should consider himself or herself fortunate.

Especially if the world figured that any particular band would go out of style and never be heard from again, and suddenly they're in style again. See also: one hit wonders. Disco becomes retro. I rest my case.

So I've come to a point in my life (and my finances, probably) where I'm more conscious of what I buy. Maybe this has something to do with moving around the country every few years (as I change schools, usually) and having to make cuts to my CD collection with every departure, and leaving a long trail of bad CDs in my wake. Maybe it just has something to do with being entirely happy with the music that I buy, instead of being content with one or two good songs per CD in my collection, and the rest of the tracks pretty-well garbage. I've had many a conversation with friends while perusing their collections and saying, “wow, I wanted to get that but I heard it's not very good”. This is often responded to with “yah, well, it does kind of suck, but I liked that one song”. Of course, I'm on the other side of things at times, too. Many a time have I looked through my CDs left behind in my family's house, years ago, saying to myself, “wow, <insert outdated, high-school band here>, I used to really like them. When did I stop liking them?”

The other evidence of evolution is through generally slowing down, usually with age. Now, before you start calling me 'sonny-boy' and 'why-you-little…', maybe you can see in your own life or in someone else's how their tastes have changed, and how they've left the louder music of their youthful days behind in favour of smooth crooners and adult-contemporary rockers. Similarly, this type of change can be seen in the musician as well, as artists change lyrics, sounds, and/or image reflect a more mature state of mind, or more mature sounding material. Have you ever wondered why a rock band suddenly came out with a slower follow-up album, or why your favourite artist from the 70s is now making children's albums? From personal experience, I have left many of the louder bands of my past happily behind, realizing that there were very good reasons (usually) behind my like for those bands, but that through processes of everyday change (if not respect for my eardrums) I have gradually settled for something I consider 'deeper', but is generally just slower, or quieter. I'm fine with that. Really.

Now, back to my original idea, it is revisiting one's collection (or just visiting it, for a change, instead of buying something new, listening for a month, and filing it away) that shows the evidence of change. The dynamics of musical taste can do more than just show you the way you've changed. It can show you the way the world has changed. This is probably not news to you. Everyone realizes that times in history can be categorized and recognized by the music that was popular in that day. But do you really realize that you can do the same in your own living room?

Well, maybe. There's a musical soundtrack of your own life story, just sitting, colleting dust on your wall-unit, hiding from the dreaded moving-box-with-a-little-note-taped-to-it. Dozens (?) of people you have met over the past 'x' number of years, locked up in the music that you may or may not realize is significant in your life. Let me not over-dramatize.

Sooner or later, though, most people stop rolling with the times. They stop buying altogether, for whatever reason, or they stop buying new material. It could be that whatever trend is taking over the industry is just not amiable to you, or, like me, you have found something that you really enjoy, be it a genre or a group of genres, and you stop expanding. This is not to say that you stop buying new music altogether, but rather you stop being 'adventurous'.

Perhaps I'm the only person on this earth who is considering toning down his adventurousness in musical purchases, but I doubt it. I do not consider myself to have stopped evolving, just that I'm doing it in a more constructed, informed manner. Call me naïve, call me egotistical, but I seem to enjoy my purchases more when I know what I'm getting into, and, more importantly, when I know that I will enjoy the selection because I'm the one who truly likes it, and not because the rest of the world thinks it's good and therefore I should definitely own it or fear the wrath of society. There is something special in knowing that you love your collection. There's something even better in knowing why.

/end
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Old 12-03-2004, 04:10 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Location: Canada
part three

Patriotism (or, My country's music is better than yours…)

Sparing all the “I AM … Canadian” clichés, I will admit that there is some patriotism in my music collection. This is probably for a number of reasons. It's not so much that I dislike music from other countries, or that I believe Canadian artists are getting the shaft as compared to the ever-growing and encroaching American market, but just that I feel that Canada has something special to offer in their musical style. Not to say that Canada has a distinct musical style as a nation - more like there are generally differences in what becomes 'big' in Canada as opposed to what makes it in the U.S. Maybe it has to do with market size and demographics. It probably does. Who am I kidding? Maybe it's not really attributable to cultural differences.

Sure, Canadians are different from Americans in a lot of ways (let's not get into THAT), but the truth is that there appears to be a broader variety of music getting radio play in Canada. Of course, the CRTC and their 'Canadian content' legislation can definitely play a part in that. We hear Canadian music on our radios and watch it on our music video television stations because we have to - the government says so. Would we as Canadians listen to music made in Canada if we had the choice? I can't say. If it were up to the listeners to decide radio programming, it might just as well sound like an American pop station, for all I know. What I do know is this: Canadian music, perhaps lacking true, unique sound, lacks not in originality.

Some would like to think that for every band in Canada, there are likely 100 American bands with the same sound. I'm not sure I agree with that. My tastes are not patriotic, per se, but more driven to appreciate the differences in music, and the truth is, I'm quite proud of the fact that the Canadian music scene has brought some of the bands it has to the world scene (or, even just within Canada). The cultural diversity of Canada is reflected well in its diverse music industry. From the east and west coast Celtic (apologies for the over-used word) sounds to various bands whose sound is seemingly irreproducible, Canadians have a scene that they can be truly proud to be a part of.

Many popular Canadian bands will never gain international (American?) success, but will flourish in Canada. I would have no trouble creating a long list of bands who are generally considered “deserving of international success”, but who cannot crack the American market. So, what happens? Canadians in Ontario drive to New York State to see them play in small town bars (or small bars in big towns) for half the price, and a fraction of the attendance associated with the sell-out tours in Canada. Similarly, Vancouverites drive to Seattle for the same reason. Many a story have I heard of the New York bar where there were mostly Canadians in the audience. The truth seems to be that Canada does not market their music in such a way as to be conducive to success across the border.

What I have noticed, however, is the way that the American market seems to expand. It does not take a genius to figure out that when a sound gets big, any number of 'sound-alike' bands will emerge in the next year (or however long the expected life cycle of a pop band is, these days) to flood that genre of the market. Boy bands, alt-grunge bands, and something I call 'angry-girl-with-guitar' are examples of this. You may or may not know of which I speak. One appears, and the next thing you know, there are others, tripping on the coattails of their success. The positive side to this, I suppose, is the ability to find bands that sound like the one (or two, or three) that you like, and to get more enjoyment out of a particular sound. I am positive that the 8-15 year old girls who scream through boy-band concerts are elated that there are at least 9 bands in the continental United States (and in Canada, I might add - we are not ignorant to cashing in on the success of neighbouring music scene trends) who have nearly identical sounding albums. The more the merrier? Maybe so. I shudder to think that the duplication of popular sounds is edging out the unique, fresh sounds of lesser-known artists whose music is infinitely listen-able, but the market has no time to devote to going against the grain of trendy-ness. Even more horrifying is hearing someone tell you that someone you know as a product of the Canadian scene has been labeled as American once they cross the border with any amount of success.

Now, you might think that I am one narrow-minded, patriotic fool. I do realize that every country on earth has their own sound, and their own, unique industry as far as music is concerned. I am merely drawing attention to the Canadian scene, as I am infinitely more qualified to comment on that one than that of any other country. I am learning, however, that the Australian scene is equally as interesting as I dig deeper into it (with the help of digital, downloadable music, of course).

I have little doubt that every country has musical patriots. Personally, I would like to meet them and have them share their obsessions with me. Show me where the truly unique sounds are. The excitement I felt upon finding a band from Australia recently that completely grabbed my attention is surprisingly similar to the feeling I get from listening to something that was made in Canada. However, without friends in far away places, or without well-equipped internet music-libraries to sponge off, it is difficult to truly expand your library of lesser known import bands, and therefore more challenging to seriously get to 'know' another country's music scene. I am grateful that the global marketplace is growing in imported CDs, whatever the lag time from 'home country' release dates. I can rest easy knowing that the most recent release of my latest 'Aussie' band will likely not hit Canada for another two years (their third full length album was the first to make it to Canada, two years after original release, and yet different in content). At least I have the internet to provide me with the generally un-obtainable music from afar.

Spreading the world of Canadian music to friends afar is my specialty. I highly enjoy imbuing my country's treasures on those less fortunate (read: non-Canadians). Ha! But seriously…it is with great pleasure that I share my enthusiasm, no matter how strange it may seem, with those people who are out of touch with the Canadian music scene, either through geographical constraints, or through the general inefficiency of the world music market. It is not exactly easy to seek out bands from another country to get a taste of their music if you don't know who or what to look for. Similarly, artists are constrained by international agents for representation (i.e. if an artist has no representation in your country yet, you will find it difficult to hear anything of them).

Therefore, I am the liaison. I play the role of mediator and ambassador - a bearer of musical gifts, as it were. I cannot be sure that anyone with whom I share my enthusiasm for Canadian music will recognize the sounds as Canadian or just 'North American”, but at least I have provided the link and opened a door or three. I can only hope that those artists who are shared fervently by their global fans are receiving the attention they are due. More importantly, my wish is that those who listen will gain something from the music they experience. At times, it is difficult to gauge whether this is the case. I can only speak from personal experience. I know what I feel, and I know what other say. I cannot tell what they truly feel. Music is indeed an international gift. We should share the indulgence.
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