Lately I’ve been recording new and slightly twisted arrangements of Beatles tunes, using Reason 7.1. This is great fun — they’re memorable tunes, and they inspire me with creative ideas. “Day Tripper” works well in 5/8 time, for instance.
But yesterday, as I was putting the Magical Mystery Tour LP on the turntable, it occurred to me that that LP is 45 years old. That’s a hell of a long time in pop music. When I bought that LP in 1969, a 45-year-old phonograph record would have been produced in 1924. That’s not quite before my mother was born — she was born in 1922. But 1924 was the year when 23-year-old Louis Armstrong left King Oliver’s Chicago band and started his own career. That fact puts the Beatles in some kind of historical perspective, I suppose.
Meanwhile, on the other channel, I’ve been looking at a bunch of new music software. Some of it I’ll be reviewing for Keyboard, so I won’t give details here, but my list of possibles includes a new Kontakt library called REV (the samples are mostly played backwards, or can be), a convolution synthesis program called Galaxy X that runs on the Magix sampler platform, a BT-style slicing and dicing rhythm machine from iZotope called BeatTweaker, and Glitchmachines Scope, a modular VST effects processor that would really rather generate off-the-wall noises on its own than process whatever signals you send it.
The connection between these two activities is that time (and music) marches on. I won’t say that I don’t understand what these extremely weird noise-makers are good for, because I’m not that far out of the loop. But I will say that they’re challenging me to think about music in new and different ways. None of them is very suitable for a Beatles mash-up, that’s clear.
Probably the challenge I’m looking at is deeper than what Armstrong would have run into had he tried playing a Beatles tune in the final years of his life. I mean, chords and melodies hadn’t changed that drastically between 1924 and 1969, though they were being interpreted in very different ways. With today’s noise-makers, though, chords and melody are almost an irrelevance. The entire aesthetic basis of music has changed.
We’re living in interesting times. As Joni Mitchell said, “Something’s lost, but something’s gained, in living every day.” And then there’s Thomas Dolby: “We’re living through the break-up, commercial break-up, here it comes again!”