A Journal Of The Dark Arts
I’ve been reading a series of articles from Drowned in Sound, about the so-called death of music journalism. I realize i’m rather late into the game, as far as the hauntological/retromania/end of history conversation is concerned, but it seems that the establishment has run into a brick wall, as far as predictions are concerned. They can tell us what things aren’t, how they were, but everyone is kind of clueless and pessimistic, regarding the state of our culture, and in this particular case, the state of music.
I’ve lurked on the sideline for 7 years, wolfing down criticism like raw lamb, struggling to come to grips with post-Marxist theory, French philosophy, critical theory. Shit, i probably heard the term first in a Oneohtrix Point Never review. Thanks to the internet, i found myself trying to say something illuminating about the sounds that i was thrilled about, realized i had no idea how to do that, and it seemed that people were paying attention anyway. There’s nothing more humiliating than being clueless and tongue-tied, with an audience of thousands of opinionated music geeks. As such, i had every motivation in the world to learn how to write about sounds, and i’m still working on it. I must be pure of mind and sound of body, for this to work.
The main question: What is good music? What makes it good? The Philosopher’s Stone of a critic. I can tell when something stirs my blood, when it boils my brain and covers my body in gooseflesh, but as to just exactly what those criteria ARE, its hard to pin it down. And here, i need to make my first disclaimer, which ties nicely into this conversation. I’m a musician. I started listening to music so voraciously because i had horrible writer’s block, and i was trying to distill the essence of brilliant songwriting, and my Spirit just would not let me churn out mediocre, ego-fulfilling art. I studied music theory, i studied musicology, i even went to college for sound-engineering. In my efforts to write ONE SINGLE FUCKING SONG, i was introduced to 2000 years of musical history of every conceivable genre, from every corner of the globe, and some sounds from beyond. I was never trying to be impartial, or authoritative, which automatically disqualified me from the major journalism channels, as a number of editors have been quick to point out. But it raises the first sub-question: Good in what sense?
It all depends on what role that music plays in yr life. Some like a driving soundtrack, or for reading around the house. Some like to dance on the weekends, and some like to smoke bongs and listen to vinyl. These are all factors that must be taken into consideration, when writing about a record. I make a lot of electronic music, so i do a lot of sampling, so i’ve ended up listening for ‘breaks’ in music, which is a section where an instrument plays by itself, the central nervous system of hip-hop and all its derivatives. As such, i find a lot of music ‘good’ that i never would have listened to before: Library music, old soundtracks, hillbilly records, loner loser slacker keyboard jams. Its all good, all rife for the pillaging.
So we start with the umbrella question, what makes for good music, then start to refine and drill down. Good at what? Good for whom? Zooming in closer and closer, until the question loses all cohesion, like the persistence of memory, and the texture utterly consumes yr entire existence. The question facing every critic, at this juncture, is the same problem plaguing every musician on Earth. How to shine? There’s a million things to consider: mixing, mastering, cover art, typography, marketing, song-writing, personal expression, and quality of performance. As a critic, you must deal with every layer.
We arrive at the dilemma that everyone is barking about. There’s just too much goddamn music! But there is no such thing, in my world. I have the right mix of a mean stubborn streak, and an overly curious mind, (fueled by too much caffeine and nicotine) and a masochistic nature, to help slough through the pile. Before the singularity, albums and artists were judged by market forces, aka Sales. Now, how are you to know which are the essential Merzbow albums? And just because Masami Akita made it, does not make it superior to some kid’s wash on SoundCloud.
Here’s where things get good, here’s where i enter the fray. We CAN tell the difference between good and bad music. We do have tastes and preferences, and sure, those tastes are changing constantly, but so what? Why not let the music you listen to be like the weather, constantly shifting? Ephemeral. But we have almost the whole of human history at our disposal, we could have the most refined hearing of any generation, ever. Even now, you can watch kids breaking rock ‘n roll down to its base elements, performing a primordial alchemy past punk rock, beyond bubblegum, back down to a couple of notes and the truth. We’re all getting wary and wise, and figuring out what we DON’T want, and it remains to see what we DO want.
I started writing about music, to forge my soul in an iron crucible of brilliance, that i may step up, refined, and share what i had learned with other. This is part of what pushed me towards Forestpunk, towards living on the margins. An outcast in the city, taking it all in with voracious dark eyes. It has been a stumbling, fumbling start because i’m not THERE yet. I will repeat myself a lot, say things twice or more, misquote, misrepresent, but ultimately, i will unearth the hidden gem, hiding within any given song. Any given moment. What is required is an exquisite attention to detail, inhuman patience, and above all else, LOVE.
I fucking love music, and the people who make it. It has made my life a richer, weirder experience, even if it makes me twitchy and distant and my teeth fall out. Hazards of the trade. We own the tools of production, we have our own media. We have an infinite lending library, and scores of collaborators everywhere. Coming from a shitty little suburb in Indiana, this is paradise. As we look at the various strata of creativity (and i’m not just talking about music, we’ll be looking at film, books, and comics also) i hope to locate the spectre of inspiration, and send us all skyrocketing into the future.
This is my manifesto, but if you have any thoughts, let’s hear ’em. Got requests? A particular album you’d like to see discussed or shared? Bring it on. This is for everybody.