Tag Archives: Music

Something Kinda Strange, Fascinating and Cool

 

I'll tell you what it is as soon as I've figured out what it is

For a while now, I’ve been intermittently paying an interest to the music used in advertising – everything from the briefs sent to agents/musicians to articles on the goal of advertising (I bet you thought it was complicated. Turns out they’re trying to raise awareness > interest > money), and some good ol’ fashioned research by the way of watching television. Subverting tradition, however, by getting up to make myself a coffee and snack every time the program comes back on so I don’t miss any of the commercials.

The problem with this, aside from the fact that I have no idea what to do when infomercials come on, is that it often takes me months to go from the seed of an idea to having something I think is complete and cohesive enough to post. (When I’m actually tackling an issue where insight, research, a point and a conclusion is required, anyway). My drafts folder currently contains about a dozen half-finished articles of approximately 2000 words each that meander all over the place and don’t reach any conclusion, some begun six months ago.

 

We'll share one day, promise

It’s because I have this habit of allowing my point of view to be variable and concentric – I start out like Frodo on a great quest, covering vast areas of terrain, but unfortunately – just like he – I then take on the characteristics of  Gollum, coveting newly acquired information and secreting it back to my cave (that’s not a euphamism by the way, you should see this lair my landlord calls a “unit” – t’is a dark place indeed). I’d like to be able to say that after mulling over all my gathered things, at least in the end I emerge, blinking into the sun, with something resembling an original, informative article. But – surprise – I also have this habit of ending up in totally weird places that have nothing to do with where I started and maps of Middle Earth never seem to aid my navigation back.

So, anyway, music in advertising…  While I’m still tackling exactly where that’s going, I thought I’d share something kind of interesting that I stumbled across, as it doesn’t look like it’s going to fit in with any of the other topics I’ve been exploring at depth. Perhaps it may even be best to continue with these random, bite-sized pieces of (lets call them) “information”. At least it will keep me away from the fridge when something good is on, like Antiques Roadshow. (That’s not a joke, AR is awesome).

The following two clips contain exactly the same commercial, which was for tourism in Yarra Valley, Victoria back in 2004. First up is the original, using a song called Run, Rabbit, Run. (NB Yet another YT clip that can’t be played anywhere but on-site. Click here for the direct link).

I wonder what kind of impression that leaves most people with? Cheery? Playful? Inviting? A nice touch of romantic nostalgia? I’m quite sure that was the idea, and it probably achieves its goal well enough for most, but here’s what I think is a prime example of just how powerful a role the music used in a commercial plays (which is primarily a visual medium…obviously). The second take instead features music from the score to Donnie Darko.


Credit for the second edit goes to Bland Canyon writer, PetStarr.

I don’t actually have a point to close this with, other than (as exemplified above in paragraph 4) getting back to the point is as easy as using an ellipsis…¹

 

S4E

1. Hopefully it makes it easy to get away with not having one, too.

 


Boduf Songs – This Alone Above All Else In Spite of Everything

I’ve been meaning to post about this album for a while, without quite knowing what the hell to say about it that eloquently conveyed what I wanted to. As you can see, I decided to abandon eloquence. I’m just going to wing it and see what happens.

First off, I still have no idea how to describe these songs in terms that will help anyone that hasn’t heard them know what to expect. That’s probably important. What I can say is that Boduf Songs is the music of one Mat Sweet (and when I first saw that name, back when I listened to How Shadows Chase the Balance, I have to admit to thinking oh my, the guy who did the Grifriend song has taken a drastically different direction. It’s not the same Mat[thew] Sweet – that’s definitely important). I can also tell you that most other people tag it with folk, acoustic and slowcore. Others say it has a black metal aesthetic, Pitchfork – and who doesn’t take them at their word – called it doom-folk. I did see one person call it ‘evil folk music’, primarily, I presume, owing to the way the subject matter is handled (not, I point out, the subject matter itself. That’s probably important, too).

With that in mind, I did, quite briefly, ask myself if I should be disturbed by how close and comforting I find these songs. Why? Because the second I heard the final track – I Am Going Away and I Am Never Coming Back – I loved it. Quite a lot. It does that thing where it gets you at a completely different level than just heart and mind. It’s like a Grimm fairytale creeped up to me and started whispering sweet (no pun intended, but I’ll delight in it anyway) nothings and made my knees all watery the same way as when I blush under the gaze of a guy I’ve got a crush on. It’s really quite odd, not the least because somehow, some way, the lines stay with me until the hammer cracks my skull for the last time, I’ll stay with you until the blood has drained from you completely, sound like the most intimately romantic goodbye ever.

Maybe it’s just me and I should be disturbed by that. This Alone… could be the musical equivalent of being dangerously attracted to the softly spoken, charismatic, good looking guy who makes you feel totally safe to go off alone with him even though you’ve only just met and he turns out to be the kind of guy no one could quite bring themselves to warn you about, possibly because it’s the same guy they think about when they’re alone but don’t want anyone to know.

Hmm, I’m getting off track here… What it really is, is that these songs go to some disturbing, intimate places without ever being wholly discomfiting as you might expect from work of this nature – that in itself not only challenges me to think about them in a different way, but it also – ultimately – challenges the way I think full stop. Interesting.

If you’ve heard any of the previous albums, and here I’ll just make mention that I’m well familiar with the self-titled debut, Lion Devours the Sun, “The Straight GaitorA Great Difficulty in Getting to Heaven” and the aforementioned How Shadows Chase the Balance, you’ll notice a definite progression in terms of instrumentation, as percussion, bass and electric guitar take a more prominent (and welcome) role. Even if previous work could be called folk (a term I’d dispute even though I have nothing to counter it with), it’s far less likely to be applied here.

Nine tracks, each one able to find it’s own place next to you to nestle. I suggest getting to know them all well, they certainly make it easy considering half the time it feels like they know you well already. Oh, and here….take a listen to the song that makes mah knees all watery, and you are quite welcome to be disturbed by that, in fact, I fairly well expect most will. I, however, choose not to be.

Oh, and the album is available on vinyl and digital formats only (for the time being) – buy it at Kranky or whatever your favourite MP3 store is. I used Boomkat.

S4E


Some Kinda Jazz

A week into October and I’m thus far yet to let the world know what’s floating my musical boat – madness! (Actually, now that I think of it, what would float a musical boat? Oh, that is just asking for myriad groan-worthy puns: Buoy George…erm, I’m sure there are more drifting around out there, someone else can think of them).

Anyway, I have been erstwhile engaged with a review for [sic], as well as all sorts of other crazy goings on, so what I’m about to do now is the blogging equivalent of a scat, and summarise my week in short bursts of random noise.

Eep!

(Hypocrisy)
A cassingle I had to have:

Why? Because it has a new Pillars and Tongues track on it, and they make music so awesome that it’s very necessary. Last album was vinyl only, I bought it even though I still don’t have a record player. Now it’s cassette, and I don’t have a cassette player either. In my defence, though, the cassette  has complimentary downloads of the tracks, the other of which is by a band named This Is Cinema, who I have to admit I hadn’t heard of before, but I took a listen to some stuff over at the website where I purchased the tape (Hotel Earth) and am now quite intrigued and looking forward to hearing more.

(Let’s not mention at all that this is actually the third cassette I’ve bought since my fairly notable tirade against them… I mean, sure, it’s probably significant which artists I’ve made an exception for, but knowing that I rate Lois Magic above such convictions will just make me look even more a hypocrite and put my entire reputation into question, and I’m hardly likely to be prepared to do that, am I?).

On a completely unrelated note, Lois Magic is awesome and if you don’t believe me, go buy Desert Colour at Skrot Up. If you’re not quite up for that, at least pay a visit to Last.fm and grab the free tracks from an EP called Killer Looks.

Woot!

(Joy)
The last in a long line of Beekeepers

I am about to make the above mine, thus bringing a near-three year long quest to its close. There has been some good times and some very dark times along the way, but I’ll be damned if I’ll say it wasn’t worth it.

WTF??

(Srsly)
What are you waiting for?

Badge

Help me make this happen, people, else I shall get very cross.

More cross that I get when people suddenly decide to listen to each of their mobile phone ringtones at 5am, and when I yell at them to shut the hell up, they start singing them instead. Out of key.

S4E


Medicinal Music, Lyrical Lotions & A Lil Scientific Skepticism

I have heaps of t-shirt slogans as hilarious as this one. At least 3.

NB: This post follows on from a recent topic over at the [sic] Magazine forum.

A recent article on BBC News briefly highlighted a study currently being conducted and lead by audio engineer Dr Don Knox, with the aim of creating a mathematical model by which music would be created and subsequently prescribed to aid patients suffering conditions such as depression as well as physical pain. Below are the opening comments from the article:

“Scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University are using a mixture of psychology and audio engineering to see how music can prompt certain responses. They will analyse a composition’s lyrics, tone or even the thoughts associated with it. Those behind the study say it could be used to help those suffering physical pain or conditions like depression. By considering elements of a song’s rhythm patterns, melodic range, lyrics or pitch, the team believe music could one day be used to help regulate a patient’s mood.”

I think it’s pretty much undeniable that music can and does affect a person’s mood. It’s the idea that it can be engineered by scientists with the specific goal of doing so that I have a problem with. For a start, that goes against just about everything I believe music and art stands for – that being a free expression of ideas, emotions and thoughts of the creator(s) and not the product of pre-determined equations (and yes, I’m well aware of the existence of such music already, what with the scores of generic, formulaic and  industry-generated pop acts).

The study focuses on the technical aspects of a piece of music and their subsequent effect on listeners. As far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t just dilute the core of a piece of music, it makes it something else entirely.

I’ll agree that language, in whichever form it takes, contains an inherent lyrical element, which encompasses things like rhythm and meter, so, sure, mathematical equations and algorithms could be formulated to determine certain characteristics of effective lyrics. They could well come up with graphs to match specific vocal intonations with corresponding neurological effects and determine patterns. But I don’t need a scientific explanation to tell me why I shiver every time I hear Tori Amos sing the line “is your place in heaven worth giving up these kisses” in the live version of Cooling found on To Venus and Back, and not when I hear it on any of the other versions I have.

The aforementioned elements aside, however, how can anyone possibly propose to dissect lyrics into mathematical components and use it as a means to direct people to compositions that will have specific emotional (or physical) effects? Will we see new warning labels appearing on music releases? This just found on a post-rock album… Warning: This recording contains emotionally effective music and is intended for the temporary relief of silence and minor ailments caused by emotional disturbances. Prolonged use may cause feelings of calm, followed by extended periods of gloom, fits of euphoria and in some instances, melodramatic climaxes.  Not to be used in conjunction with inferior audio equipment. Please see your record dealer if symptoms persist.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe it’s about time I stopped the incredibly challenging affair of seeking my own rewards from music and let a computer decide my ‘best match’. If movies have taught us anything it’s that computers and robots are capable of understanding human emotions. Edgar, the talking computer from 80’s flick Electric Dreams is testement to that, and boy did he know music. He certainly had a profound effect with that little duet through the air vent, and even stood a good chance at winning fair Madelines heart. But, alas, t’was not to be and the self-sacrificing computer ended his life to clear the path for Miles. Let that be a lesson to you, Mr Scientists – while Edgar is proof positive that a machine can learn what love is, creating emotionally charged programs on electrical equipment results in severe system overloads, and just because they leave us with incredibly beautiful swan songs (see below), it’s not justification enough to use mechanical hearts to further our own emotional advancement. Plus, since he could never quite manage to pronounce ‘Miles’ correctly, I fear we’d be in for a slew of lyrics such as “I see a thousand moles through you“*, “But all the moles that separate, disappear now when I’m dreaming of your face“*, etc. etc.

Seriously though, in my experience, people tend to listen to specific pieces they’ve previously connected with on some level and subsequently chosen to match a mood that they’re already in; which suggests an awareness  of their connection, but I can’t see how those kinds of connections can be forged, mimicked, designed or manipulated (manipulated being the key word there – personally, if a scientist handed me a song “hand picked” via a system of computerised, possibly standardised, parameters, I would almost certainly baulk at the inferred manipulation).

Understanding a number of common, predictable elements is one thing, but it’s not just content and delivery that matters, that resonates with an individual. Those things are subject to worlds – universes – of subjective filtering, meaning that the effect a simple word or phrase has on one person will be completely meaningless for another, or even have the opposite effect. I just don’t see how the myriad, wildy varying nuances of an individual’s psyche can be accounted and catered for. One may be able to use probability to predict the likely outcome of something, but I can’t see music choices generated from a statistical chart achieving the same kind of resonance as music that we find and love on our own.

And you know what? Even if it could, I’d really rather they not try. Music is an art, the result of human creativity,  and our connections with it are based on such a vast range of individual circumstances, i.e. have you ever discovered an album, artist or song at just the right time for it to be the most profound? Let’s not undermine the thrill of that very personal  experience by engineering formulas that can spit out proposed intimations like a dating service. Really, let’s not allow science to decide everything for us.

S4E

*Lyrics taken – and slightly adjusted – from A Thousand Miles from You by Mindflow, and Here Without You by 3 Doors Down respectively.


Amie Street – Music Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Go directly to Amazon. Do not pass Go. Do not collect your music....

A few of my previous posts have pointed people in the direction of the site  Amie Street to check out and/or download music. Unfortunately this is no longer an option, Amie Street is “moving” to Amazon, taking with it the option to buy the music they had on offer in MP3 format; at least not outside of the US, as the digital store on Amazon is limited to US customers only.

I’m greatly disappointed by this. While it’s true that I prefer my music to be on a physical format, via a quick listen and cheap download over at Amie Street, I was able to discover quite a number of artists I quite likely wouldn’t have, and have since gone on to buy several albums from the respestive artists directly. It also takes away one more opportunity for independent artists releasing music  to be heard. Of course, there are other avenues for new artists to upload and distribute their music, but each option that disappears into the ether makes it that much harder to develop a decently widespread following. Not cool.

Oh, and I’m also going to take this opportunity to gripe about that fact that while it’s possible to download any purchases made previously up until 22nd September, the site is currently rife with “unknown errors”. I’m working my way through albums and tracks I never got around to downloading, but I’ve found it impossible thus far to use my remaining credit for new purchases. Even less cool.

And how do the thoughtful people at Amie Street / Amazon thank me and compensate for the decent amount of $$’s I’ve spent in the past and the fact that I will not be able to in the future? By giving me a complimentary $5 voucher to spend at the Amazon digital store…which I can’t use because I’m not in the US. Gee, thanks guys.

S4E


Tragic Fixation – Dancing Bones, Cannibals & A Mysterious Watermelon Man

I have to admit I visit Amie Street only on the odd occasion, usually just to check up on the latest releases for anything that might take my fancy (the rec system leaves a bit to be desired – I have no idea why, when it’s based on my previous purchases as well as the top 50 artists in my Last.fm library, I keep getting rec’d Patsy Cline, and today, for some reason Pavarotti is up there on my home page. No disrespect intended for either of those two artists, but they’re just not my style…)

Anyway, the point is the above artist – Tragic Fixation – caught both my eye and subsequently my fancy. I don’t really need much more encouragement to download a few songs when they’re tagged industrial & gothic rock (or industrial devil music, according to the artist bio) – the fact that they’re practically being given away right now just makes it a bunch easier. Having had a few listens I think there’s some nuances of punk/post-punk in there, too.

Three tracks are currently available to download via Amie Street – Alchemist’s Broth, Oversized and Cannibals Anonymous – which are all pretty nifty and worth the effort to go grab (you need an account as well as either a credit card or PayPal account to add a minimum of US$5.00 to it before you can start purchasing, but at least it’s rather quick and painless and there’s no reason for begrudging the current price of $0.31).

Just for a frame of reference, at various points I was reminded in part of one or all of the following, to varying degrees: Big Black, Public Image Limited, The Sisters of Mercy, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies; as well as somewhere in the realm of the influences listed over on their MySpace: Nine Inch Nails, Lacuna Coil, Bauhaus… eh, stuff it, better to just let the music speak for itself, methinks. Take a listen to Oversized.

Thanks to that song, I now have an overwhelming urge to find out the name of the watermelon man. (Herbie Hancock doesn’t know, just seems to be a little hot an bothered by it all, The Gun Club don’t seem to know much at all except “he no dead“,  Dick Curless claims to be the son of a watermelon man named Dan, but it’s another name for The Night the Sun Came Out, according to Answers Encyclopedia… Stupid mysteries – I’m now on a quest for a definitive answer).

Oh, and click here to go get Tragic Fixation’s tunes from Amie Street.

S4E


What’s In A Format?

Music by any other delivery would sound as sweet
…if not sweeter

When I first heard cassettes had made a bit of a comeback as a format for release, it was largely neither here nor there to me. It wasn’t something I had noticed, and while I have a few tapes about the place, I haven’t had the means to play them for a number of years. However, the more I delve into indie/underground scenes, both on home territory (Australia) and overseas, the more I find that artists I take an interest in have released predominantly, or even exclusively, on cassette. Ah, suddenly it matters!

I took an exception to the latter instance, so I had to ask why? Both why I had a problem with it, and why it was happening in the first place. I have to wonder how such a choice  best serves the artist’s work. Granted, for some of these artists their market is small no matter which format they choose to release on, but surely that’s all the more reason not to completely discount the formats favoured by the majority? I’m not talking about sales here, I’m talking about who actually gets to hear the music.

Is that the point, to be exclusionary? I doubt it, exclusive in a way, but not intentionally exclusionary. Anyone has the option to buy and play a cassette. If indeed there is any element of musical elitism behind these kinds of choices, I tend to think it’s the exception rather than the rule (“elitism” and “cassette” seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn‘t it?). But really, releasing on one type of format only – be it vinyl, cassette, CD or digital download could be seen (justifiably or not; I’m aware of issues of practicality and limitations not related to choice and preferences) as making a statement about the desire to exclude listeners from ever hearing the work if they don’t share the same aesthetic.

Personally, I also dislike iTune-only releases. Particularly if said release contains exclusive content not available with any subsequent physical versions. Any time, and I mean any time, there’s an inherent statement of “only people who have XXX (i.e. things other than money and a willingness to hand it over) can have YYY” coupled with a music release, my heckles rise just a ‘lil bit. I’m not so foolish as to not understand why it’s done, and they certianly don’t do it so I’ll like it; they do it in the hope that I want it enough to buy it regardless. I’ll admit some of my complaint stems from the fact that in these circumstances, I’m the one being excluded by my own reluctance to embrace “cassette culture”. So, I wanted to explore where that reluctance is coming from.

I began by researching what might be some of the reasoning behind the decision to release exclusively on cassette, just to see whether or not I could be swayed. There were certainly some valid points to be found, many of which I did agree with either in part or in principle. Nostalgia is a big one. Others have cited nostalgia towards cassettes as counter-productive to the progression of music and its distribution. I really don’t think it is. In fact I think nostalgia in itself is hugely important when, at the end of the day, we are talking about art, the way it’s presented, and how we identify with it on an immediate emotional level. I have, as a point of interest, been referred to as a “dinosaur” for preferring CDs over downloads.

True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories

~Florence King


An homage to the mighty boom box by Australian duo Vitabeats

When I was growing up, tapes and vinyl were the only formats available. The day our household acquired its first Ghetto Blaster, the excitement was almost unparalleled. Music was portable, recordable at home, even! Friends made mixtapes for friends, boyfriends and girlfriends made mixtapes for each other, to the degree that it became symbolic, a definitive indication of one’s affections. I definitely remember the first Walkman I had, thinking I was the coolest thing around because I could ride my bike at the same time that I could listen to, and sing along with, Off the Wall. I was completely oblivious to the rest of the world, including any imminent traffic hazards. I ignored the grimaced reactions to my warbling (I could barely hear myself, so in my ears I had never sounded more awesome). The world was gone, it was just me and MJ, a direct and exclusive exchange between he and I. When I hit 15 and was attending boarding school, my Walkman became infinitely more important, only by that stage the “conversations” were between myself and The Doors or Led Zeppelin.

In those days, before CDs, MP3s and the subsequent ease of digital transmission, acquiring new music was an event. It was rarely – if ever – free. It had to be (for me at least) saved up for, you had to choose wisely, you received something tangible to hold and examine as you listened to your new favourite obsession. I may have eventually grown out of my bike, Michael Jackson/Jim Morrison fandoms and the love of hearing my own voice (ok, so I still harbour a bit of the last one) but these are the things that made me cherish music all the more. But therein lies the crux of my point – I cherished the music and the experiences I had with it, not the format that contained or transmitted it.

Which begs the question: why do I even care what format my music is on?

Well….’Cos!

Actually, it’s not “just because”. I have a number of reasons for preferring CDs over other formats, to detail them all would extend this article by another 1000 words, so I’ll just leave it with the fact that it’s a love of craft beyond that of songwriting that keeps me preferring physical formats, and it’s a matter of practicality for the preference to be CD. Obviously, when entering the domain of personal preference, there needs to be a level understanding that I can not expect or demand my preferences to always be accommodated. Nor am I asking for the preferences of others to be dismissed. I want to make clear that while I don’t overly understand the  preference for cassette, I have an affinity with some of the reasoning behind it and therefore respect it. What I am having difficulty with is an artist’s or label’s preference, sometimes downright insistence, for releasing on cassette only.

Most of the reasoning I found makes sense on the surface. They ranged from the practical (cassette releases are less likely to be leaked), to the simple (‘cassettes are cool’ ). Are cassettes less likely to be leaked, though? Probably, if you consider ‘leaked’ to be referring specifically to the music being made available on file sharing sites prior to the official release date. After that, cassettes are just as much fair game as any other release. The fact is that cassette releases are generally in pretty low numbers, couple that with the number of people simply uninterested in owning cassettes and voila, you have dedicated blogs offering ripped versions to download.

One of the more interesting reasons I found for favouring cassettes is the notion that listening to them essentially forces the listener to hear the release from beginning to end and in full, (i.e. no skipping, picking out favourites to download, setting your library to shuffle and so on). The idea being that the cassette, through the inherent inconvenience of quickly accessing favoured tracks, allows the entire album to be heard the way it was intended, and therefore – hopefully – appreciated. I understand this concept well enough, and out of all the reasons I found, it’s probably the only one that strikes a chord with me on a personal level as it speaks, in part, to my dislike of the disposability that accompanies file-based formats. My issue with it is a case of ‘sounds good in theory, unlikely to hold up in practice’.

The problem here is, with all the tools currently and readily available for consumers to easily convert their music libraries to digital formats, no matter what specific ideas one has about the presentation and delivery of music, you can no longer ensure that’s how it will be treated once in the hands of the listener. You can try and force them to take the time to listen to the album in full, but the vast majority of the time you won’t be able to when someone just wants to hear track 3 over and over. Does that mean you have to pander to that desire? Of course not, but the fact remains that a person is going to listen to the music they have the way they want to no matter how you deliver it to them. Let’s not forget that the arrival of home-recordable cassettes heralded that personal freedom for listeners. Suddenly, one was able to pick out their favourite songs from albums and, indeed, other cassettes, then record them individually to create a personal mix.

The most mind-boggling reason offered is that over time, as cassettes and their respective players wear out, the music takes on different ‘characteristics’ and it therefore makes the music sound and feel more organic. The inference there is that hearing the sound effects of decaying technology interfering with the music is preferable, perhaps even essential. I have no grasp whatsoever on the idea that these other sounds  not meant to be a part of the recording – which to me obscure the listening experience rather than enhance it – somehow make the music warmer or more organic. At the end of the day, it suggests to me that if one prefers these other sounds and so on in order to effect a more personal resonance with the music being heard, it speaks to a disenchantment with music itself, and instead merely an enchantment with old machinery.

Ultimately, all formats can be described in the following (fairly generalised) manner: data, be it analogue or digital, housed on or within synthetic material. Personal preferences for one over the other, to see a format as giving more or less than that, can be cultivated in a variety of ways; by our history, our habits, what conveniences us and what gives us pleasure. Each format currently available has it’s own characteristics, pros and cons, and for most people the acquisition of a new album, particularly on a physical format, contains a certain level of ritualism. There are the obvious ones, which all physical formats lend themselves to –  from the first time you hold it, look at the art, read the liner notes and lyrics (when available) to the first time you play it. I’m going to go ahead and assume vinyl is probably the clear winner for being able to provide the most overt sense of satisfaction in all of those instances. I honestly can’t see tapes offering the same kind of gratification from the process of sticking it in a deck and pressing play. Maybe that’s just me, though.

Status §ΨΜßΦ£$ ?

A society that has made “nostalgia” a marketable commodity on the cultural exchange quickly repudiates the suggestion that life in the past was in any important way better than life today.
~Christopher Lasch

Clockwise from far left: purse, watch, tote bag, gold belt buckle, Chanel bag, necklace. My research also turned up cassette-shaped business cards, notepads, USB flash drives, MP3 players, lamps and cabinets.

 

Ok, so at the beginning of this article I said cassettes have made a comeback. That’s not quite true. What actually seems to have happened is that somewhere along the line they’ve garnered a bit of retro-chic and became more fashionable to a subgroup of people. I’d warrant that a fair portion of the resurging indie interest is largely amongst those looking for something a bit different now that vinyl no longer has the same underground associations it once did; in other words, it’s the new ‘cool’ thing to say you have now that everyone has got some vinyl. If you look at sales figures for mainstream releases, it’s obvious support for tapes is almost at the point of non-existence. It’s interesting to note that as mainstream support dwindles, the sub-culture gains in popularity, suggesting these things are cool for as long as they remain on the side of obscure. Check the image above, while some are functional, all of them are little more than fashion accessories; icons representative of a trend and scene participated in by a select few. I’m yet to find any reasonable argument to suggest cassettes themselves are  now anything much more than that.

Some of the same things were said about vinyl decades ago, which is assuredly still supported strongly enough by the consumer market, thus those demands are provided for. I have high doubts the same circumstances or expectations can be applied to cassettes as they have few, if any, of the same advantages. Vinyl enthusiasts cite things like sound quality, appreciation for larger album art, easy manipulation (for DJ’s etc) and, of course, nostalgia as reasons behind the preference. One out of four is not likely to cut it. Nostalgia might be important, but in the long run practicality and convenience almost always prevail. Quality definitely does, which is where standard cassettes fail the most. Mainstream hardware support has prettty much gone the same way, and technical support will follow, so how long will the means to even play a cassette  on a good-sounding system be available without specialist support costing  $$$‘s? Are cassettes even worth that kind of investment to the average enthusiast? I certainly can’t afford to purchase and maintain another system for playing music to accommodate what I now see as little more than a fad.

Out of a total exceeding 32.5 million sales for physical releases in Australia for 2009, cassettes accounted for a mere 1125, less than half that of the previous year, and has been attributed largely to long-haul drivers in out-back rest-stops with older stereo systems in their vehicles. A statistic which speaks volumes about the general desirability and practicality of a mainstream cassette release.

Here are some things I understand: Artists have a right to present and deliver their work in any way they feel serves it best, I would never dispute that. But there is only so much an artist can do to influence what the listener experiences. Format is ultimately just a medium for delivery, and once received the listener has their own experience that no artist can alter. But the listener can, no matter which format the music is on, and the listener often will.

With that in mind, I’d like to pose a couple of questions to anyone out there who is either an artist or a label owner with releases either predominantly or exclusively on cassette by choice.

  1. Why do you write and/or release music?
  2. Why do you choose to release on cassette only?

It should be noted that the two are separate issues, and I hope for them to be answered without consideration for answers that serve one another. If they turn out to be conducive to one another, then so be it. Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion that if one was to really answer those two questions separately and honestly, they stand a greater chance of being contradictory, purely because, in my experience, artists that have a driving need to create and share their work don’t have a similar need to restrict who can subsequently access it. I’ll gladly be proven wrong, though.

My agenda here is not to ask for cassette releases to stop altogether –  that would just be silly and serve me no purpose. There are people who quite obviously and for their own reasons want to continue to be able to listen to them. I’m asking for a choice to be offered. I’m asking for greater opportunity for the music to be heard. I don’t want to go get a release I’m interested in from a blog linking to a cassette rip on a file sharing site – this doesn’t benefit any of the right people, including me. What I want is a legitimate means to access and support the music I love. In the vast majority of circumstances, if I find a release I’m interested in is cassette only, I’ll move on to another where my options aren’t so limited – there’s no shortage of them. My loss? Certainly, but not solely.

S4E

Further reading – check out the articles below for some good insight on the respective sound quality (or capability thereof) of various formats, as well as a couple of arguments more for the positive.

Digital vs Analog
This Is Not A Mixtape
The Hallucinatory Life of Tape

Also, do yourself a favour, google cassette art and check out some amazing things being done with old tapes.