by carl wilson

Good News for 'Sounds of the Ocean':
EMP Pop Con, Part 3

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My first two posts on EMP were a whole lot of meta-talk, but I think the meta-talk was one of the most invigorating parts of the event this year. One reason was that Robert Christgau was such a presence this year. In a way, the whole event and all this thinking about the future of music writing was in the shadow of the conflicts around Bob's firing at the Village Voice, and Bob was in a (deserved but amusingly odd) position of being the Pop Con's sort of patron martyr and saint. But I think finding himself turned into a freelancer also made him feel more than before that at EMP he's among his peers, so he was a less distanced observer. His contributions definitely helped liven things up, but I think a few people also felt intimidated out of participating in discussions, inhibited from arguing with his authoritative voice. That's probably inevitable at a gathering that brings together "big names" and small, and it's mostly a wonderful thing that Bob, like Greil Marcus and other star critics, comes out year after year to mingle.

Bob's own address was the essay manque for this year's VV Pazz & Jop poll, the first ever that he didn't preside over, and his thoughts on the rival Jackin' Pop poll that Michaelangelo Matos organized for the Idolator blog. (And in which I voted, while boycotting P&J; - Christgau, fyi, voted in both.) His talk included a lot of wise reflection with a smattering of generational crossfire, the flipside of Amy Phillips' remark about "the kids." I think Bob, too, was overgeneralizing. He was obviously right that a poll that skews younger might privilege "emergent" culture at the expense of the "residual" (TV on the Radio over Bob Dylan and the New York Dolls), but I think it's actually that younger critics have more diverse interests in terms of older culture - that is, practice a kind of "long tail" historicism, with less focused attention on the established canon and more time for other roots and rhizomes. What's more, those younger critics will be older someday too, and come to share Bob's interest in the long view. (Maybe I find this easier to see, being almost halfway in age between Bob and the whippersnappers he was fretting about.) Whether they/we will be able to get jobs at that point, of course, is less assured.

In the same panel, Daphne Brooks gave a beautiful, erudite paper about TV on the Radio's sonic black internationalism that made me want to give their album a fresh listen (although her mentions of their commonalities with Radiohead reminded me of other reasons I'm not so drawn to them).

Tim Quirk, the well-named, affable and charming executive from Rhapsody.com and singer for Too Much Joy, spoke about what the "universal jukebox," subscription-based model of music delivery might mean for the future of listening and "the economics of adoration." The upside is that it favours deep catalogue, transforming the industry term "turntable hit" (something that gets played a lot on radio but doesn't sell) from a perjorative to a goal; the downside is that it favours background music - especially "warm, upbeat acoustic troubadors." Several people voiced distress about the implications for black music, though Quirk pointed out that while he called his paper "Good News for Yo La Tengo" he could have called it "Good news for Luther Vandross." I'd say what's distressing is that this model disperses the marketing imperatives and pressures that can push pop toward novelty and surprise; that is, big hits could become less interesting.

">Jesse Fuchs (who'd earlier given a fantastic presentation on interactive music-based video games, from Parappa the Rapper to Guitar Hero) nailed it when he said that the paper should have been called "Good News for Brian Eno and 'Sounds of the Ocean.' " And bad news for Timbaland.

Incidentally,, in the closing session, Quirk also pointed out that music writers are in demand by such services to serve as guides and curators for subscribers. Which is a way of thinking about music for living. But it's not much of a way of writing about music, and that distinction matters to me much the way the distinction between foreground and background music does.

(To be continued...)

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, April 29 at 2:04 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

COMMENTS

Well, as always, it's more a question of patronage, no? A friend of mine just got employed by a similar kind of site as their in-house blurb-writer and review-summarizer, and now he's able to get health insurance and stop hustling quite as hard for stray freelance gigs, freeing up more time for larger projects.

(Of course I thought Tim was wrong in his model being a viable one for the music biz.)

Posted by Mike B. on April 30, 2007 10:28 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson