Clouds and Clocks,
three years later.

By Beppe Colli
Dec. 29, 2005

Although it might appear to be somewhat hard to believe, the plain truth is that on November 26, 2005 Clouds and Clocks turned three years old. (Wow!) And yes, three years is a period of time that's long enough for one to want to have a look at a simple (but in the end, maybe not so simple) question: Did I reach my intended goals? (And, by the way: What were these goals, anyway?)

Strange as it may sound, my main intention in starting Clouds and Clocks (and yes, more than a few people have inquired about the name - but let's save this topic for another time, okay?) was to provide a meeting ground between musicians/critics/writers (on one hand) and listeners/readers (on the other). Agreed, that's not terribly original. But one thing I made immediately clear: "No Ads". As in: Here at Clouds And Clocks it's really easy to see who dictates the agenda - and without a doubt, it's us. Of course, I can be as biased - and have as many massive blind spots - as the next guy. But that's exactly what they are - and nothing more. And so, since at Clouds and Clocks we have a level playing field, everybody gets a fair chance.

The only real bias I'm aware of - and by this, I mean that it's editorially deliberate - is the fact that I have decided to report for the most part on what's happening right now. Yes, we also run reviews of re-released CDs, or of vintage material that's now coming out on DVD-V. And yes, our interviews always try to give readers "the full picture". But it has always been my intention to try to give an helping hand right now, during these fantastic times. I've always tried, though, to stress the importance of certain listening values that nowadays can be said to fall into the "endangered species" category.

Am I satisfied with the feedback I get? And: Do I get any feedback, by the way? Well, the answer is "Yes" on both counts. But it's a qualified yes, as I'm about to explain.

Of course, one would always like to get a bit more feedback, a few more e-mail messages, maybe a more profound type of feedback and so on - you get the idea. But really, all in all I can't complain. At first, I found some facts to be quite surprising - for instance (provided these things are to be considered as being reliable and trustworthy), for two years in a row the number of "hits" from the USA accounted for about 70% of the total, while response from Italy was decidedly quite muted. Judging from my (limited) personal experience, people from USA have shown to possess a quite distinctive attitude when it comes to the Web. When musician are taken into consideration, this is also true of the market, I'd say. More than once I've had the impression that, as a general rule, people in Europe (here I'm only referring to musicians) are so disillusioned about the whole thing that they don't even bother trying anymore. At times I've had the feeling that some people consider waiting for some kind of public money (funds, commissions, and the like) as the most productive use of their time at their disposal (but here I might be very wrong, of course). On a few occasions, musicians from USA have also surprised me by sending comments about various stuff that had been featured here, not at all linked to their career. To close this chapter, I'll only add that, in general, people from the USA appear to be more inclined than their European counterparts to do a "search" about, say, a recently released CD; having read the review, some of them actually bother to write (a couple of irate letters I received were especially funny).

Have I noticed any new trends since the days Clouds and Clocks first opened its doors? Not really. But the prevailing trends of three years ago appear to have gathered even more steam - which is hardly surprising, since they appear to be global, long-term trends: a fact which doesn't make for any happy reading.

Attention spans get shorter and shorter. People appear to consider doing many things at once - and as many as it's humanly possible to do in a single day - as something that's in itself worthwhile. The fallout from this is increasingly easy to see at those concerts I attend, where most people spend most of their time talking, making phone calls, saying hello to friends, trying to score (as in sex), and maybe, once in a while, listening. The main exception on a (mini)-mass level being jazz concerts of the "uncommercial" kind.

Two recent events caught my attention, in a funny way. The first was a three-day seminar on the topic of "Progressive Music" that was held at an Italian University. I could not attend, but I was told of many interesting papers that mostly dealt with the internal (musical) organization of the material. The second was the release of a special edition of (UK) Q/Mojo magazine, about "Prog". Of course, as it's customary these days, most of the space/attention was devoted to life stories and the like (nice pictures, though, some of which I had never seen). I happened to think that the latter (meaning: lots of people liking a basically uncommercial genre) was in a way the missing dimension of the former. Something that most commentators seem to miss completely.

And talking of magazines... well, the less said, the better. Of course, the "specialized press" is not (nor has it been for quite some time ) the only place where (in theory) one can find interesting stuff. The most discouraging aspect of the "CD war" that's currently bitterly fought (especially in UK, I'd say) is that the actual written content increasingly appears to take a back seat to the content of the CD (which in a way is hardly surprising). The "big weapon" at the moment is the "prestige cover story" - and since these stories are for the most part of the "exclusive" kind, this means absolutely no chance of any questions that could upset the star (and let's not kid ourselves here, guys, the "star = increased circulation" factor being proportionate to the magazine's size - get it?). Unfortunately, the nature of the present times has made the old "Musician recipe" - "We'll put a name musician on the cover, then fill the magazine with mostly unknown, difficult, and avant-garde types" - a thing of the past.

What about the current state of music, then? Well, it's a good question. The answer depends entirely on who you ask, of course - and it's a topic that gets a fascinating aura right now, when magazines are busy deciding what to put in their "Best Of" end-of-year charts.

The view from here is just the same as it has been for quite some time now: These are times when a lot of good records are released, but very few masterpieces. (Of course, every fifteen-year old always finds a certain number of masterpieces that will remain dear to his/her heart, but we can't be fifteen forever, right?) Recently I visited the CD section of a big shop that offered an end-of-year super-sale: well, even before the (50%) discount (which applied to both old and new stuff) I could have bought two masterpieces (my opinion, of course) from earlier times for the price of one mediocre new CD (ditto).

Of course there are recently released CDs that I find excellent, but they are few and far between. Sometimes what I really miss is the feeling of listening to a new musical language that's just being invented in front of me - the live albums by Miles Davis from the early 70s are far from perfect, but they are a lot more exciting than the clean, tidy version I hear on new CDs and on stage. And talking about "classic works", the "contemporary recreations" that are touring the world - Pet Sounds, Horses, Fun House, Aqualung and so on - don't make it, either.

Back to Clouds and Clocks: I really appreciate the fact that after a (brief) period of adjustment, musicians, labels and readers have all understood this is not another "review factory".

Thanks for reading this far. See you in 2006.

© Beppe Colli 2005 | Dec. 29, 2005