time to change the way we view music and the arts

Consider contemplating (music and media) consumption

Thinking person silhouette

Let’s slow down and really think about this!
(Cit. ThePersonalDevelopmentShow.com)

It’s that time again! Time for another visit to the “Great Audio Quality Debate!” (The previous visit was back in this post on the destruction of physical music.) No worries though, as like before, this installment is not so much about doing the usual, run of the mill, preaching session on why high fidelity is better than something else. The discussion does take a turn in pointing out the principle driving passions behind the common audiophile but, not for such black and white reasons.

Getting right to the meat and potatoes question on hand:
Could audiophiles be the catalyst for moving the music industry away from “songs for short attention spans?” 
The average mainstream pop-rock song is 3-3:30 minutes long. This length of time hasn’t varied much in quite a while but that’s not to say songwriting has stayed the same. In some cases, hooks of songs have almost entirely taken over the song itself, (See Rihanna’s “We Found Love,”) Lyrical complexity and or cohesive narration lasting longer than half a verse have become less the norm and a commonly expressed explanation for why this is usually the case, boils down to a shorter rope for patience and or interest in general.
The incessant nature of the internet is largely a part of the reason why list-icles and one-liner memes have become repeated pieces of centralized reference in pop-culture and trending chatter. Only a few short decades ago, the internet itself jump started a significant shift in how work and play were, and still are, affected. Since then, it seems nothing has caused that shift to swing back the other way, or, at the very least, reduce its progress of invasive possession over the speed of everyday living and consuming (both physical consumption and intellectual consumption).

Such a snowball of an effect has tipped over into just about every form of media engagement, including music, and thus, become the current norm, to which no challenger has dared approach. In other words, there hasn’t been anything with nearly enough impact to society as a whole, to warrant contemplating an effort to restore patience and concentration, which would then have an (ideally) lasting impact on the media we so carelessly and hyper actively zoom through by the hour, day, week, month and year. A complementary area seen as suffering this problem is actually music writing, and, journalism overall. Music critic and Rawkblog.com founder, David Greenwald, pointed this out late last week, via a brief stream of tweets that disclose his feelings on the degradation of lines between what “music writing” is, when crossed with the journalism sector, as opposed to others that might intersect with the former but not the latter. Parts of Greenwald’s dialogue with extra poignancy and relevance to this discussion are in bold:


It has been cool to see people use blogs as vehicle for starting labels etc but it has made a lot music writing super, super grey area
David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) February 15, 2014


Especially as online publications come w/o necessarily having a newspaper/mag culture of rigor and ethics at their core
— David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) February 15, 2014


Good work is being done in all kinds of places, but also money/favors are changing hands and a lot of weirdness is happening out there
— David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) February 15, 2014


But I don’t think readers care enough to police it or look for transparency. That’s the new reality.
— David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) February 15, 2014


Don’t think it’s the end of the world, either, but a separation between music writing + industry worlds is important to writing surviving.
— David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) February 15, 2014


If music writing loses skills or incentive to reach for and tell truth, it might as well be a press release and a playlist.
— David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) February 15, 2014


Music itself might not necessarily be suffering a loss of credibility in the same way that Greenwald sees some watering down of the words written about music, but, for the last part of his last tweet here, “it might as well be a…” screams out a common denominator: That sentiment echoes a sense of an eventual giving up, should things continue in the fashion of “grey” writing and, what I am interpreting as, a slipshod sense of public awareness toward the material being read. Not everyone will agree but the similarity to public decline in awareness or absorption when it comes to music, does illuminate some backing to the idea of an overall lowered imperative regarding deeper engagement with media.

The presumption is that the main explanation for this ebbing of attention and or effort is due to the fact that nothing has managed to come about, that matches the game-changing factor of the world wide web. It is this line of thinking that could stand to be debated with the audiophile as the primary fuel for rebuttal.
In addition to the expectation for nitpicking about the numbers and figures that represent quality audio, another factor that tends to get relegated to the second position when describing audiophiles, is that of a person who takes their time and listens with intensity; with an intentional slowness in their process of experiencing and reviewing any music played (regardless of whether said review is published online or stays only in a person’s own head).
This is not to imply a correlation between increasing societal patience toward music and audiophiles by solely slowing down, or, implying that the answer is just to write slow music. After all, everything cannot be down tempo ballads or society would fall into the one-trick, dreary doldrums. The correlation of audiophiles and slowness is more about how we need to slow down the need to move onto “the next thing.” The next thing could be a next verse, a next track, a next artist, a next genre, a next trendy audio effect that ‘everyone and their mother’s engineer is using…’ the tempo of music played is not the core here, so much as how we as listeners, and as thinking, feeling beings in general, choose to take that music in and let it settle in our consciousness to a more substantial degree of processing –both logically and emotionally.
Books are the same way. Some are light reads and some are filled with metaphorical connections only capable of being fully realized with a mentally purpose-driven review; not simply scanning your eyes over the words on the page and fleetingly telling your brain within the span of a micro second, “I know what that word means, on to the next one!”
Coincidentally, a new novel that rather heavily embraces music for propelling its plot, Richard Powers “Orfeo,” has a series of passages that illustrate this point for both reading of the written word and listening to music, in one fell swoop.
This excerpt involves protagonist, Peter Els, and his mentor, Karole Kopacz, in a lesson about discovering other notes when listening carefully to (what initially seems like) only one:


Peter hits a key.

What do you hear?”

C?” Peter tries. His brain scrambles for the real answer, “C2, Great C,”

Yes, yes,” Kopacz snaps. “What else? Again!”

Bewildered, Peter re-strikes the note.

Well? …Mother of God, just, listen.”

Els strokes the key. He doesn’t understand. It might be a foghorn at night. It might be the singing radiator from his childhood bedroom. It might be the first note, of the first prelude, of the first book of the ‘Well Tempered Clavier.’ He strikes again harder but says nothing. His teacher hangs his head and groans for civilization’s sad waste.

Just, listen!” he begs. “Stay inside the sound.”

Els does. The building’s torrent of heating switches off; audible now that it stops. He hears the plosives of two people bickering. Down the hall, someone runs through the Adagio from the Pathetique. Someone else grinds out four measures from the Elgar cello concerto, until it sounds like fluxes. A soprano vocalizes in rapid, chromatic swells and dips the cartoon cue for seasickness. Something that sounds like a cardboard box, knocks against the wall in six second intervals. Outside, a young couple flirts in muffled Spanish. Blocks away, a siren makes its way towards someone’s life-erasing disaster. Through it all, Karol Kopacz sits slumped at his desk, face in his hands, drowning in bitter music.

Els blocks him out and listens. He focuses until the note he keeps striking breaks in two. Obvious. What else is there, now that he stops assuming that there’s nothing else to hear.

I also hear C3.” He braces for abuse but his teacher barks in triumph.

Thank you! Maybe your ear does function after all. What else?”

Now the game is flushed out into the open. Els has never before taken the fact seriously: Hovering above any tone, is twice that tone and triple it –and on up the integers. He has the map. He knows what islands must be farther out there at sea…”

The slightly music theory-fueled character of the dialogue aside, this exercise in extreme attention, but simultaneously un-forced detachment, probably comes across as a foreign concept in a world where driving the actual speed limit, and not at least 10 miles per hour above it, is somehow indicative of personal obliviousness. Nevertheless, maybe we do not have to wait around for something as big as the internet to come along in order to get the world’s musicians, and their accompanying fans, back to a place where the popular music at large promotes consumption akin to that of audiophiles.

Consider that songs could be written with more provision –in tempo, in lyrical intricacy, in actual recording assembly (e.g. less digital processing *gasp*) etc. basically some way that deviates from current material’s need for skimming structure. Then, listeners could feel more comfortable with the idea that added meticulous examination of whatever they play, is not some sign of snobbery, inaccessibility or general negativity. It would not be about judging more mental immersion but merely re-assimilating it as a significant component pertinent to shaping society’s default interaction with music. The music industry acts and writes to cater to the shorter attention spans of the public but, maybe, the public’s mental bandwidth needs an assertive re-steering by the creators of the music industry to cater to a desire to move away from the limited substance of many of today’s three minute songs. 

Then again, this idea would still need tempering by way of moderation, lest we end up with music and or reactions like these, later expressed in Orfeo:

Holy crap. That was 50 minutes? I now know how to double my remaining life. …For the better part of an hour, they had done nothing but listen. There was nothing to do now but come up slowly enough to avoid the bends. The eight of them stood, shaking off one of those spells of syncope that old people grow skilled at covering up…” 

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