Today I’ve been poking around on the Web, looking for interesting new music. Hoping to be inspired, basically. No luck, so far. There’s a vast wasteland out there.
Granted, my points of reference are perhaps terra incognita to your average 20-something ambitious pop musician. I’m coming from the far side of eclectic. I play in a symphony orchestra. At home, for recreation, I play Bach and Haydn on the piano. On my iPhone I have albums by Weather Report, Jon Hassell, Paul Simon, Bill Nelson, Frank Zappa, National Health, and the Residents.
More than anything else, I respond to music that’s intelligent. If a piece simply wallows in an emotion for four minutes without any evidence that the composer expects listeners to engage in mental activity, I find the music not just boring but offensive.
But that’s what I’m finding online. I don’t think I could ever write music this stupid. It would drive me nuts. I keep wanting to use, you know, melodies. Chord progressions. Bass lines. Syncopations. Phrases. Maybe even key changes or meter changes. When I listen, I listen for those things.
An endlessly repeated drum loop is bad enough. When there’s no discernible melody, when the bass line plods endlessly along the roots of a single four-bar progression without so much as a passing tone to break the monotony, I find myself wanting to shake the composer until his teeth rattle.
Has none of these alleged composers ever heard of any of these fundamental techniques? Or are they just afraid to alienate their brain-dead listeners by using any of them? I don’t know.
I wouldn’t single out any of the artists on bandcamp or soundcloud, because they’re mostly amateurs. But when I flip open this month’s Electronic Musician and find record reviews of new CDs by Olafur Arnalds, William Tyler, and Tricky (no, I’ve never heard of any of them), I figure, hey, these people are professionals. They must have something to say.
But no. I seek them out on the Web. I listen to tracks. I recoil. I cringe. Has it come to this? Evidently it has. The pod people have won.
I’m curious what you think of this guy?
You really want to know? Okay. Imagine a big Pyrex bowl. It’s in your refrigerator. It’s covered with Saran Wrap. In the bowl is about five gallons of vanilla pudding. But when you take the bowl out and peel back the Saran Wrap, you find that a dead squirrel is partially submerged in the pudding.
I listened to the first 16 minutes. That was all I could take. When I hit the Stop button, the violin pizzicato thing (interrupted by occasional reverberant bass drum events and overlaid with high-pitched whining that reminded me of a jet airliner) was still going on. It had been going on for five minutes or so at that point, yet nothing of any musical value or substance had been conveyed. Prior to that there had been some singing, yet not a word of the lyrics could be understood.
I’m fundamentally a power-to-the-people, democratic kind of guy. But this effort makes a case for the position that people really shouldn’t be allowed to use recording equipment until they have passed some sort of competency examination. I don’t really mean that, because one of my favorite groups is the Residents, and in their early days the Residents could not have passed a competency examination. But still … one despairs. The fact that this individual actually thought he or she had something of musical value or substance to convey is utterly baffling. Shall we blame self-absorption? Intellectual incapacity? Or is a cultural trend at work? One would have hoped that his friends would have intervened, drawn him aside, and explained the value of a thorough course of study in music fundamentals. But it was not to be.