what about 2005?
By Beppe Colli
Jan. 9, 2005
First really big news of 2005? For this writer,
it was the closing of the last manufacturer of professional reel-to-reel analogue
audio tape left in the whole world: the Opelika plant, located in Alabama,
owned by Quantegy. While it had once employed 1.800 workers - back in the
days when the Ampex name was for many synonymous with tape - it now employed
about 250. The firm filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which - since we're talking
about a producer that had the world market all to itself (the last European
manufacturer, Emtec - former BASF, AGFA - having already closed its doors)
- says plenty about the commercial (non) importance of analogue in the present
It took all of
three days - in the age of Internet, a small eternity - before the news got
to the usually attentive Slashdot. But already for three days said news had
been the focus of animated - even if in some ways resigned - threads all over
those Forums where producers and engineers discuss such things - check the
one moderated by George Massenburg. It goes without saying that the discussion
saw the participation of Steve Albini, one of the most sanguine champions
ready to bet that with the lonely exception of those (paper) magazines that
deal with these matters on a professional level, those news will stay there,
on those Forums. "Not really interesting. Not sexy enough. Too difficult
to get. Not relevant." All kinds of reasons can be found. The fact that
the technical means of productions of music play a very big part in the end
result doesn't seem that interesting to many - provided they are aware of
Which is absolutely
paradoxical, since in an age where more and more drastic digital remastering
occurs - nowadays there's not that much difference anymore between a "digitally
remastered" snare on a Family album from the end of the 60s and one by
Dr. Dre - music is an abstraction that doesn't appear to have a precise physical
counterpart anymore. Meanwhile, everybody's ready to jump on the iPod bandwagon.
Again, Jason Gross has produced his end-of-year
piece dedicated to the best writing about music (there are also the "Ignoble
Prizes"). With the title of Best Music Scribing
Awards, 2004 (I'd say about 150 pieces in all are discussed, and links are
included) the thing can be found on the usual source, Rockcritics.com.
Even a quick
glimpse at the list tells us that the vast majority of those pieces - many
of which were penned by reasonably known names - come to us from newspapers
and general interest magazines. Which has not been big news for some time.
Once the exclusive possession of a noisy minority, nowadays music - even of
the most extreme kinds - is part of the giant background to everyday life
in this modern world (at least, till the next big energy crisis). It's only
logical, then, that all kind of papers cover it - and that they give shelter
to writers tired of extreme (M)TV trendiness and of the growing illiteracy
among younger readers.
It's not all
fun and games, obviously - what kind of cultural event can nowadays be considered
to be totally immune to requests of "shorter pieces! bigger photos!"?
But the days when the notion that the best coverage of music was to be found
in the pages of specialized magazines was regarded as self-evident are long
over. What's more, tiny circulations and overworked reviewers with tired ears
whose main source of income is the selling of the CDs they review doesn't
speak in favour of profound, reliable opinions. (That many music papers cover
the same long-awaited album all at the same time I'd define as logical. But
that many music magazines happen to discover the same gem in the form of the
first album by an unknown name by digging deep inside the endless flow of
monthly releases is something that goes well beyond logic, and the law of
The big news of last year? I'd say it was
the increase in the number of CDs sold in the United States (+2.3%) and United
Kingdom (+3%). In UK the number of copies sold was a record 237 million. This
appeared to me even more stunning when an article by Dorian Lynskey titled
Can One Live On Free CDs Alone? which appeared in the pages of The Guardian
made me aware of the fact that a big slice of UK papers gives away a CD with
very nice songs. What the possible implications of this trend for those music
magazines that offer a CD as a decisive feature of their marketing strategy
I'd say is not too difficult to imagine.
In the last few years I've increasingly felt
let down by new albums of artists I liked, and more than a few times I got
to the conclusion that the biggest problem was to be found in the recording
and mixing of the albums. The main point seems to be that for many groups
what we could maybe call "analogue knowledge" was such a natural
thing that it had become practically invisible. Nowadays, digital recording
systems such as Pro Tools are for many artists the most logical and practical
choice. But the problems (and solutions) of digital require specific procedures
which don't necessarily come cheap. Which could become a problem for those
blessed with a personal sonic signature.
Three month ago
US monthly Guitar Player presented a cover story that went The 50 Greatest
Guitar Tones Of All Time. What about those timbres that are made anonymous
by a "wrong" recording process? I already know the answer: these
are the only available tools, given the budget; and if the "group"
members live all over the map... Right. It's not a dilemma that's easily solved.
But - though being fully aware that musicians are doing their best - maybe
aficionados will say goodbye just the same, having become tired of listening
to a music that doesn't move them anymore.
Meanwhile, we have bad news coming from the
live front: not enough paying customers, short attention spans, people
going to a concert for no precise reason, bad manners... A kind of sleepy
concentration similar to that required by a TV set seems to reign in
a lot of theaters and rooms. And people appear to having become indifferent
to the production of music in real time, with the canned music of a
lot of today's concerts and the pre-recorded music emanating from laptops
increasingly appearing like two sides of the same coin.
The end of November, 2004 signalled Clouds
and Clocks second birthday. I had though about writing something celebratory
when the decision on the part of this site's provider to transfer their servers
made the site invisible for a few days. So, no celebrations.
Readers can refer,
if they wish so, to the first editorial, somewhere deep in the archives, to
see whether what was announced two years ago did indeed occur.
| Jan. 9, 2005