Monday, February 28, 2005

Another disturbing trend


Today I got a real cool Firefox extension called StumbleUpon. It basically gives you a new toolbar with a thumbs-up and thumbs-down icon which lets you decide whether or not you like the site you are currently looking at. Based upon your choices, combined with your predefined set of preferences and the choices of other users, you will be taken to a site that the extension thinks you will probably like by pressing the "Stumble" button. Overall, very cool. I've discovered a bunch of new stuff this way. However, while using my Stumble button today, I stumbled upon an article at Jaguaro.org entitled "One Hundred Albums you should Remove From your Collection Immediately." Let me provide for you just a few quotes from the article:
This project marks the first time Jaguaro.org is giving back to the community -- something we intend to do a lot of. We would like to offer you and the rest of the world nothing more than the gift of good taste, which some people can feel threatened by.

Hardly. Here's some more:
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
If an untruth gets repeated enough, it takes on the appearance of fact. I'm tired of reading about this cacophonous, arrhythmic "masterpiece." Now's the time to rescind Don Van Vliet's "genius" status by eighty-sixing this.


Typical uninformed fear response - hate what you don't understand. There's more:

Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
You fantasize that your friends come over and admire you for having this album don't you? Yeah, too bad you can't fucking stand this shrill, rambling, incoherent mess. Oh, and if you've got The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, you should probably just give it up and sell your entire collection, you poser.


I've never purchased a CD for the purpose of hoping that people admire me when looking at my collection. If that were my motive, I'd own far more Sex Pistols CD's than the zero I currently own. Isn't it interesting that the writer approaches the subject of owning a CD with the implied motive that such a purchase is done for some sort of lifestyle motive, rather than an appreciation of the arts and e desire to expand the boundaries of one's own understanding? This, again, goes back to my previous post about the function of music - to plastic filler for pre-teens and nostalgia catalyst, add status enhancer.

Some of the others to make Jaguaro's list of CDs they take offense at (and yes the use the word "offended"):
#1 The Clash - Combat Rock
#5
The Beatles - Let It Be
#10
David Bowie - Hunky Dory
#21
Derek and the Dominoes - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
#34
Dave Brubeck - Time Out
#37
John Coltrane - Giant Steps
#38
Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention - We're Only In It For The Money


I could go on and on, but before I heap too much ire at this one online publication, I think it is important to realize that this is no isolated incident. I think it is a positive trend that the definition of what is mainstream continues to expand. However, the parallel trend to spew this uniformed vitriolic derision at what falls outside of the accepted norm is an unfortunate development - as it only serves for the eventual re-homoginization of our culture back into a couple of predictable, easy to formulate trends - just perfect for the "corporate media" so many of these ignorant indy-rock spitheads hate so much.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Yeti Sighting on G4-TechTV

Diane Mizota (insert Conan O'Brien cat noise here) just uttered the phrase "waylaid by a Yeti with love on its mind" on the tech countdown show Filter. Insert your own joke here.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

...maybe it is about the perception of the function of music

So I was driving home after work yesterday listening to NPR and during All Things Considered they had a review of a new album called Transistor Radios by a singer/songwriter guy named M. Ward. In listening to this review and the little clips of music, it occurred to me that I probably have a very different idea about the function of music than most people.

See, for years I've had arguments with my friends who are into punk / post-punk music. My argument goes something like this:

Punk developed as a reaction to the predominately over-produced, over-orchestrated FM pop music and disco of the late 70's. The idea was (as I understand it) to strip away all pretense and play raw, honest music. The problem is, nobody bothered to learn their instruments, write songs, or even understand music theory. Therefore, the only people to whom punk will be interesting will be those people who have a connection to the culture from which it sprang. In other words, once people have forgotten all about the over-produced, over-orchestrated FM pop music and disco of the late 70's, punk will lose 100% of its meaning. It can't stand alone - it is purely reactionary.


At the heart of this argument is a notion that there is music in the world which is capable of standing alone - standing the test of time, and that this music - art for art's sake - should be the acme to which all musicians and composers should strive, and all music lovers should strive to discover. These ideas are at the core of my philosophy and they strongly influence my opinions about music and musicians. In listening to this review (M. Ward is not punk, by the way), it became clear to me that this may not be the opinion most people hold.

The once consistent reaction I get from people when I say things like "if genius exists, why waste your time with the mediocre?" goes something like: "what's wrong with just enjoying the music?" I've never been able to fully understand this reaction since I tend not to enjoy music if it is too predictable or formulaic. But the one thing this NPR reviewer kept repeating was that this M. Ward album was great because it transports the listener back to another time. In other words, the music, in and of itself, is only good because it reminds someone of different music at a different time - and it is the TIME that the listener is enjoying, not the MUSIC.

I know from first-hand experience that music as nostalgia can be a very powerful thing. My wife, to this day, has a guilty pleasure of putting on old a-ha CDs precisely for that purpose. But if you look at the state of not only music but all entertainment media as a whole, it seems to me that, once you weed out the bubble-gum filler material marketed for 12 year olds, the vast majority of what remains fills exactly this nostalgia niche.

I'm not saying that this is entirely a bad thing - I still love The Band's second album for this very reason - but it makes me wonder if we are losing something in the way of originality. I know this is true in the movie and TV industries simply because people have had their careers ended by taking a chance on an original project which didn't make enough money - and to a great degree I would say that it is also true in the music business. But it's funny how a Norah Jones or Wilco CD, or the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? seems somehow more authentic and original than the remakes of old movies and TV shows. Or is it just me?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Lifting, Dog, and Thoughts

There is a quality of music which I highly prize, but is exceedingly rare. I don't know that I can adequately explain this quality without falling into the "dancing about architecture" music-writing trap, so I think the best I will be able to do is give a few general qualities then cite some examples.

I refer to this nebulous music-thing as "lift". Songs with lift all seem to be more-or-less positive or optimistic. This is not the same as being in a major key, upbeat, even-metered, or anything else. Nor does it refer to lyrics or use of vocals. Rather the positivity is a direct result of the music and the choices of the songwriter / composer / improviser. Coupled with the positive nature of the music, a song with lift also has a subtle key change at a critical moment in the song - the moment of lift. This key change is usually a modulation which keeps a constant tone center (like holding an "E" note while the chord changes from Amaj7 to Cmaj7, for example).

Sure there are plenty of songs that are positive and have key changes simultaneously, but that is not nearly enough. "Mack the Knife", for example, has no lift - at least not to me. So here are some examples:

"Oceanus" by Ralph Towner, from the album Solstice. Boy Howdy do I love Ralph Towner! If you are not familiar with him, just go find anything by him, its all good. But if you know this song in particular, the moment of lift comes near the very end. The entire compositional structure is based around the subtle use of dissonance, but at the very end of the song, after some killer improvisation by both Towner and saxophonist Jan Garbarek, all the dissonance melts away into one perfect sustained chord. Man I love that!

"Help Me" by Joni Mitchell, from the album Court and Spark. This is my all time favorite Joni Mitchell song, and the more I dig into the subtleties of music, the more I love this song. The brilliant thing about this song is that it is made up almost entirely of maj7 chords - but the key keeps shifting. Get it? With nothing more than chord choices (no vocals, no rhythms, just chords) she has conveyed a sense of optimism through uncertainty.

"Village of the Sun" by Frank Zappa, from the album Roxy and Elsewhere. Anyone who knows me knows how much I respect the work of Frank Zappa. Currently, my favorite period of his is the early 70's stuff (Apostrophe through One Size Fits All). "Village of the Sun" grooves harder than just about any other FZ work (with the possible exception of "Peaches en Regalia"), plus it contains such interesting dynamics, accents, and other musical choices. Its just amazing how happy a song about turkey farming makes me!

"Splane" by Mike Keneally, from the album Dog. Sure Keneally started out in FZ's doomed 1988 band, but his solo stuff is quite suprising. Many FZ alums have seen their best music come and go with Zappa's passing, but Mike Keneally continues to surprise me with his highly original voice.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, Dog is the reason for this post. I wanted to put into context just how great I think this album is, and the only way I could sufficiently do that was to put the greatness into context. I think the songs on Dog rank right up there with songs by Ralph Towner, Joni Mitchell, and FZ! So - go and get Dog right away! There are only 4 people and 11 tracks, but man is there a vast expanse of musical territory covered.

And finally I guess I will say this. Since nobody is reading this blasted blog, I might as well post just about anything to it I want. Expect any little thing that pops into my head- music wise - to make its way onto these pages.

FMEH

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Yetispeak Blog

I just noticed that is have been over a year since the site was last updated. This may lead some of you to the impression that Yeti is dead-y and the site is a forgotten artifact of a now-defunct musical organization. Well if that is what you think then SHAME ON YOU!

Big plans. It's always big plans. As of right now, I'm not playing any music at all (which SUCKS!), Eric is the busiest drummer in Atlanta, and Brooks is temporarily sidelined - but there are still big plans! We're all hoping that, sometime this year (maybe even in the next few months) the stars will align and the mighty Yeti will unleash its FMEH upon the unsuspecting masses once again!

Meanwhile, if you dig the music, great! Download the MP3's from the site, burn them, pass them around as much as you like. The same goes with our 8 downloadable shows available at http://www.archive.org. Also, in lieu of a boring old guestbook - lets get with the times and do this in blog fashion. During the downtime, I will be contributing little Yeti-related thoughts here and there, and I will do my best to get Brooks and Eric to contribute stuff here as well. Also, if you are in the Atlanta area and are looking for someone who can play weird guitar notes, please feel free to email me!