I feel a rant coming on. It's been a while and I'm due. I don't think I have done a full tilt rant in the Grant County Gazette yet so that means you're due also.
The Long Creek Fiddlers and Pickers Jam which I attended last weekend in the Grant County town of Long Creek was the cause. This was a gathering of local musicians and taco feed, a benefit for the Allovars Community House
. Long Creek, like all Grant County towns, is a very small place although it does have a traffic light. And on Sunday most of the town turned out to eat tacos and listen to music (and even dance a little bit).
It wasn't anything at the Jam which awakened my inner curmudgeon. But it did highlight one of the features of our new modern age which has gradually crystallized a counter-reaction in me which can be summed up as: \"If it isn't live, it aint music\".
It was not always so. In the beginning all music was live so the issue never came up. The first forms of recorded music did not immediately cause things to go all to hell. The player piano with its limitations and peculiar dynamics inspired Scott Joplin to create a unique body of subtle and expressive music. Even after Edison came up with his wax cylinders, music thrived. The limitations of early recording technology meant one had to hear music live to get the full experience so recordings were always an adjunct to the live performance.
But the technology kept getting better and by the 1950s hi-fi came to the mass market. For a while it was great, you could hear every note exactly as it was played. With stereo, one could have the entire symphony right in their living room.
Then the recording engineers got into the act and went beyond any live performance. I doubt if many remember them today, but the Kingston Trio had a remarkable four or five year run of top selling albums. Their secret was although the music seems very simple: three singers with acoustic instruments, the final product was polished in the studio until everything had been tweaked to perfection; reverb added here, balance shifted there, until each note sparkled like a rhinestone.
Jimi Hendrix took stereo separation and amplifier artifacts and made new forms of music from them. We could sit in our living room and hear the Mormon Tabernacle or the East Village Fugs sounding exactly as they are or better than they could ever really be. \"Live\" bands lip-synced to recordings because there was no way they could produce on stage the sounds that people expected.
And then Satan offered a shiny apple to the innocent and unwary. The most succinct way I can put it is: \"Mp3s are to music what Cheetos are to food.\" The result has been a collapse of musical quality in our culture. Why struggle to attain that last bit of excellence when all anyone will hear is whatever is left after being squeezed into 32kb/s and strained through a speaker the size of a fingernail? Just how long does the last note of \"A Day in the Life\" really last?
The people who sell music feel a little bad about this so they boost the bass to earbleed levels to create the impression that we are getting lots of music but it doesn't really help.
So that's the rant. I know none of this is going to change anything or even be noticed. But for myself I've come to feel that if it isn't live, I'm not very interested. I'm sure there are plenty of living musicians in your town or you are invited join us out here in Grant County Oregon. The musicians aren't always great but they are usually pretty good and sometimes they are great. And it's always one hundred per cent real.