Eleven Years

By Beppe Colli
Nov. 26, 2013

Today Clouds and Clocks is eleven years old! (Massive applause erupts.)

As usual, on this day I try to think aloud about the current "state of the world". However, reading again what I wrote last year, I now see that I don't have much to add that's new. So, quite aware of the fact that saying the same stuff all over again, and again, can only turn into a massive snoozefest - but if we were all perfectly conscious of what's going on there'd be no need to speak in the first place, right? - I invite newcomers to read the piece titled Ten Years.

That sales are down, this much we know. But what does it all mean, exactly?

Last month, the press wrote about some figures that were quite remarkable indeed: sitting at the #1 spot of the US album chart, Katy Perry's new one had sold 300.000 copies - if a little, or a lot, it's something that everybody will have to decide for themselves; the real news being that the total amount sold by those albums ranking from #2 to #8 was less than that; which means that all titles charting in the Top 8 combined had sold less than 600.000 copies total. Now that's what I call news.

Sometimes it happens that a single sentence sums up perfectly a very complex issue, this being the case of what Pete Paphides wrote in The Guardian music blog on 17 October 2013 in a piece titled "Want to get Daft Punk's Get Lucky? Give the vinyl a few more spins on the turntable." I quote: "Spotify merely formalises on a global scale the decline in how much people are prepared to pay for music.".

But I think there's still one more piece of the puzzle that's missing: the crisis in the state of the economy in a large part of the Western World. Readers are invited to consider - well, not those generic formulations like "there's no money", but the weight that a crisis where no end is in sight has put on the shoulders of those - the "boomers" and their cultural successors - who regard "paying for something" as being an inseparable part of their "cultural consumption".

And this is what, in my opinion, has made things even worse when it comes to the financial well-being of those "difficult" - hence, "adult" - kind of music I root for.

Weak sales, and declining ads, can only add more strain to the already precarious health of music mags. A quick look at the carnage will suffice.

Sure, the Web is a parade of horrors, but the state of the printed press is no healthier, given the lack of (adequate) retribution for contributors of both.

While the massive use of under-qualified young people can only produce the expected results - which could be of some comical value, especially when it comes to their use of terms and labels that have absolutely no meaning for them - I also seem to detect a massive lack of motivation on the part of the elders.

While a magazine like Mojo still looks like a viable proposition to me, I don't seem to get the reason why so many mags still fill their pages with collections of facts that can be easily found on, say, Wikipedia.

More criticism is what we really need. But criticism doesn't come cheap, given the time it takes to formulate a point of view, something which requires an intimate familiarity with the subject.

I recently happened to read on the Web a very competent discussion about the mono and stereo versions of the Beatles song titled She's Leaving Home, featured in their highly-celebrated album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. A thread that I read with much interest, given the fact that I'm only familiar with the stereo editions of the Beatles albums.

To put it in a nutshell, the crucial point is that the mono version runs faster than the stereo (to be even more clear: there's only one performance, it's the tape in the mono version that runs faster). This was nothing special, of course, in those days: there are a thousand instances on the same album - for instance, in When I'm Sixty-Four, where Paul McCartney's sped-up vocals give an air of "youthful exuberance" to his performance, something which adds credibility to his "question". The consensus being that the mono version runs faster, while the stereo version runs slower (when compared to a "natural" tonality of voices and instruments, a "zero degree" of the performance).

What I find especially interesting here is not the technical side, the point being the very different perceptions that those two versions offer to the listener. As per the discussion, the slower stereo version sounds more "melancholy", and so more "pessimistic" about the end of the story: maybe the girl will find nobody there; while the faster mono version sounds more "optimistic": everything will be alright, he will come to the appointment.

What I intend to underline here is the fact that attentive listeners "derive" meaning from sound.

Is it something common nowadays? Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions.

I happened to think about this stuff while I was checking the balance of the tonearm of my turntable, trying to optimize the performance of my new cartridge. Taking for granted the more "technical" side of this kind of operation, which is of no interest here, the main point is to compare the sound of the same track at different points in time - can I still perceive that vibrato effect that I expect to hear when the two channels are read properly by the stylus?

While I was having a look at Steve Hoffman's Forum, just a few days ago, I noticed a thread about something that I had thought about upon reading of a new release of the Jethro Tull album Benefit, remixed by Steven Wilson. Which made my mind flow back to those times when music was something we often listened to collectively. (Something which was once quite common, which nowadays many don't even believe it existed.)

The question being: "Do you still have friends come over to listen to music?".

There's a generational side to this, of course, hence a panorama of quite diverse replies.

The part that I found the most interesting was the one concerning people's attention spans: "Not for quite awhile, most people I know can't spend 2 minutes without staring at some sort of screen (Phone, TV, iPad). I'll put music on but to everyone else besides me it's definitely just background.". "I don't know anyone who can sit still and pay attention to one thing for five minutes.".

Welcome to the future.

Beppe Colli 2013

CloudsandClocks.net | Nov. 26, 2013