Monday, August 5, 2013

A Wired View of Music

I ran across a pretty scathing comment on what passes for journalistic wisdom the other day. Here is a good excerpt:
The rise of new publications like IBT [International Business Times] illustrates the reality that the public still wants and needs news. Indeed, the global hunger for real news, useful filters and helpful analysis is growing. What isn’t growing is the desire to read the bloviating, self-indulgent prose of dozens of highly paid, self-important windbags who tweak the conventional wisdom week after week under the illusion that they are making some kind of contribution to public life.
 This is from the pretty interesting blog Via Meadia. An awful lot of music journalism is similar to this, though I would rather describe it as know-nothing commentary masquerading as all-knowing.  Wired provides us with some good examples. Here is how one piece of music is described:
Stick Freighter” starts out with that cheesy, fruity muzak repetitive funk strut, and then tosses in the burbling video game effects from before there were video games — the corny feel good crescendos counterpointed with anticlimactic cutesy spits, followed by an incongruous, fiery rock solo.
I'm dying to know, was it cheesy or fruity? And what is the exact difference? Something to do with the rhythmic articulations, maybe? What did burbling video game effects sound like before there were video games? Was it banjos? How is a corny feel good crescendo different from a non-corny feel good crescendo? My favorite bit is where he uses the musical technical term "counterpoint", but as a metaphor in a paragraph attempting to describe music! And I don't think I even want to know what an anticlimactic cutesy spit is...

The writer seems to actually believe he said something, but all I see here is meaningless word diarrhea. Take the sequence "cheesy, fruity muzak repetitive funk strut". Jamming all those words together may look like it has meaning, but any actual significance is wiped out by the conflicting senses of the words. I know what muzak is and possibly what funk is, but putting them together just makes no sense. And that is just two out of the six words strung together.

Kinda makes you long for "bloviating, self-indulgent prose" doesn't it?

We don't have to look far for another example. Also from Wired is the article "Gangnam Style is One Year Old, And Music is Forever Different." I think that counts as bloviating! Here is how the article concludes:
Psy isn’t the first YouTube star (and it’s worth noting he was massive in his home country before Americans discovered him) but he’s emblematic of how completely things have changed. And while sure, there’s some marketing weasel in Los Angeles right now trying to figure out how to emulate Psy’s success, the future of music distribution is you. That future has been a long time coming. But one look at Gangnam’s numbers, and it’s massively evident that it is here.
Yes, and Valentina Lisitsa is a classical YouTube star as well. But I had just about managed to have "Gangnam Style" fade from my consciousness when the article reminds me of it again. Musically, the nearest equivalent to "Gangnam Style" might be the 1966 novelty song "I Love Onions" by Susan Christie.

And wow, that one sure changed music forever, didn't it?


Rickard said...

Fun article. The first review didn't make any sense, it's like the writing technique where you write everything that's on your mind and thus coming up with combinations of words that make no sense. And the second, Gangnam Style changing music, pretty funny too. If it did change music it certainly changed it for the worse. Maybe some day bad music will make people want to listen to (or even write) good music to counter the downwards going trend but for now bad music equals more bad music and good music doesn't stand much of a chance in the eyes of the general public.

Bryan Townsend said...


I am amazed at how much tolerance people have for aggressively bad music. But I think that the general public actually has a bit better musical taste than you would guess from articles like those in Wired. I think that the mass media tend to only talk about the attention-getting new stuff like Gangnam Style. Also, I wonder how many of those 1.7 billion views were by people who were horrified by it?

Rickard said...

1.7 billion??? Wow, I didn't know it had so many views. Either way, yeah a bit better but still far from good taste.

The only thing I slightly like about pop music are the pariodies of it (which happen to be better than the original most of the time as they aren't trying to be serious about the music).

Bryan Townsend said...

As of right now, 1,725,593,648 views.

Three cheers for "Weird Al" Yankovic!