by carl wilson

Chromewaves' Cal Ripken Streak

Today in The Globe and Mail, my colleague, music critic Robert Everett-Green, provides a (necessarily limited) intro and guided tour of the audio-blog universe, which namechecks Chromewaves, Gramophone, Tofu Hut, Fluxblog, Music for Robots, No. 1 Songs in Heaven, Pitchfork (as blog manque) and, by way of contrast, me and Alex Ross.

First off, what? No URLs in a feature wholly about blogs? (I know I didn't link the above, but I'm not getting paid here. Also, see links page for 99% of 'em.) The Globe site should at least have linked them in the online version. That aside - the glam angle of record labels calling you up and trying to cram CDs down your blowhole is emphasized, naturally enough, though the headline took it too far ("A record company's best friend" has insulting, you-are-puppy-dogs subtext directly contradicted in the text - copy editors please try harder). But I was more interested in the B-plot, which we might call What Kind of Writing Is This Anyway? To wit:

Jordan of Said the Gramophone (whose R. Kelly post this week was great Pathetic Art, only accentuated by the pathetic cover-with-giggling he posted when there are new actual R. Kelly songs you can hear instead!): "[An audio blog] allows for a different kind of music writing, because you can engage with the song on a moment-by-moment basis ... Without the audience being able to listen while they read, it would be too obscure."

Wait - so you're saying that for decades people have been reading record reviews without hearing any music and they've been totally confused by that? Maybe it's true. I'm not sure what Jordan means by "moment to moment" - like a running colour commentary timed to run concurrent with the song? Show me the button and I'll push it! Where are these complicatedly scientifically timed music blogs? I don't think I'm the only one who reads first and downloads, if I'm intrigued by the writeup, second. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. But it seems to me the engagement is more that instant gratification (in a good way), not a traffic jam of music and words. I wouldn't be able to "engage" both of them very fully if I did that. Am I alone here?

On a similar note Robert makes audio blogs sound pretty unappealing when he says, "Reading a blog entry about a song by Spoon while hearing the music on your computer speakers is like listening to a friend's excited analysis of the sounds pouring from his dorm-room stereo." To which my reaction is (read in Napoleon Dynamite voice for best effect): "Dude, shut up, I'm trying to listen to Spoon here. We'll talk about it after I've heard it."

The corollary to which is that audio blogs with no commentary at all are like your friend sitting there, putting a song on, taking it off and staring at you blankly, and make me say, "Dude, what is wrong? What do you hate, this song or me? What are these records you've got? Where did they come from? Which one do you like the most? ... Well, screw it, I gotta go."

But my favourite bit in the piece comes from Chromewaves: "One of the worst things I ever did was to get into the habit of publishing daily," said Web engineer Frank Yang, who writes Chromewaves, a text-heavy Toronto blog that features one mp3 per week. "I've got this Cal Ripken streak going on, where I haven't missed a day in 16 months." Besides the hilarity of "Cal Ripken streak," this image of blog-slave Frank makes the rest of us feel better about our comparative total lassitude. Tune in, Frank! Turn on! Blog out!

Elsewhere: Better late than never I stumble on this precious pearl by Ben Ratliff from July 4's Times, covering the Sounds of the Underground tour in Sayreville, NJ: "Even more wrenching in their segues were Norma Jean and Every Time I Die, two excellent emo-metal bands who go off like booby traps and play basically from breakdown to breakdown, several mini-songs compressed into one. Their lyrics are nonlinear, and don't organize into refrains; they're like John Ashbery to Opeth's German Romantics. (In Bayonetwork, Norma Jean's singer, Cory Brandan, sang a typical line: 'This isn't at all unpleasant/ I'm enchanted by the lavish ballet,/ and I'll whistle the tune all the way to the gallows/ that I heard at the cabaret.')" I must get me some of this Ashbercore RIGHT AWAY!

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 13 at 04:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

COMMENTS

Um, that label would be "By Bernie Taupin and Elton John." Which has to do with what? Or are you some odd form of spam?

Posted by zoilus on July 15, 2005 01:12 PM

 

 

Not sure what this means, maybe a label will be attached later by some clearer thinking blogger....

What happened here
As the new york sunset disappeared
I found an empty garden among the flagstones there
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And now it all looks strange
Its funny how one insect can damage so much grain

And whats it for
This little empty garden by the brownstone door
And in the cracks along the sidewalk nothing grows no more
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And we are so amazed were crippled and were dazed
A gardener like that one no one can replace

And Ive been knocking but no one answers
And Ive been knocking most all the day
Oh and Ive been calling oh hey hey johnny
Cant you come out to play

And through their tears
Some say he farmed his best in younger years
But hed have said that roots grow stronger if only he could hear
Who lived there
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
Now we pray for rain, and with every drop that falls
We hear, we hear your name

Johnny cant you come out to play in your empty garden

Posted by bp on July 14, 2005 11:55 PM

 

 

"Maybe I'm doing it wrong. But it seems to me the engagement is more that instant gratification (in a good way), not a traffic jam of music and words. I wouldn't be able to "engage" both of them very fully if I did that. Am I alone here?"

No, you're not. Most people are with you. But some mp3bloggers (as discussed above) are engaging with the music they post in a different way than others, and they work really well when played/read simultaneously. Popsheep, for instance, says on its sidebar that the "sugested method of browsing this page is to... open a new tab for the mp3 while you read the text". A lot of my text is certainly more interesting when played against the music (at least I hope so).

But that said, I follow basically the same methodology as you do. Read (or browse) a post, download if I'm interested, listen, and then go back to the post and reread with soundtrack. It's that last step which is useful with some blogs and not with others.

Posted by Sean on July 14, 2005 12:53 PM

 

 

Nicely put, Jordan. The point about the specifics you can indulge when you know someone's about to hear or has just heard the music is a good one. I don't disagree that mp3-blog music writing can be different from other kinds - I think the prose on StG and Matt's writing on Fluxblog have commonalities that stem from that role, for instance. It's unfortunate that more audioblog writers don't give it the kind of thought you do.

Posted by zoilus on July 14, 2005 12:11 PM

 

 

Carl - What I meant: In writing about a song that the reader has immediate access to, the mp3 blogger can write with a degree of specificity that would be "too obscure" (me) in magazine or newspaper writing. That's all. When I'm feeling ambitious, I will attempt to mimic the emotional dynamics of a song in a post, or describe the effect of a particular note played by a particular instrument at a particular time. I hope this makes the reader want to listen to the song, and also broadens and enriches the "immediate gratification" (you) available to them. I don't think that, for decades, people have been confused by not hearing the music written about in reviews, but I do think that the writing has not been as specific as mp3 blogs allow.

Also - Intriguing someone enough to listen to an mp3 is very different from intriguing them enough to buy a record or go to a show. The former can be done by engaging with the specifics of a song in a way that wouldn't necessarily work in other kinds of music writing. Sean writes "It's a drum and a shaker, bamf bamf bamf, a guitar, another guitar, another, and there's Micah's still-grim voice, echoing back on itself, and out of nowhere, out of the moon or up from the ground or kicked up by your boot, it's another guitar and this one comes with bells and sparkle," and we're intrigued enough to listen, but then blown away when, moments later, we hear the song and think "It's true. There's the drum, the shaker, the guitars, the voice, and they sound like he says they sound, they do what he says they do. And through the lens of his language, this music is even more beautiful than it would be otherwise."

Posted by Jordan on July 13, 2005 09:32 PM

 

 

I appreciate your corollary to audio blogs with no commentary. I feel the same way. It's especially strange when someone says, "Oh, you'll love this!" You say, "Why?" And they say, "I just know you will." And then it turns out that you don't love it, and you secretly wonder how well that person knows you. Awkwardness ensues.

So much better when a total stanger drops a bomb on what the song means to him, and then you listen to the song, maybe not having the same exact experience, but you might listen for what they heard.

Posted by Delia True on July 13, 2005 08:28 PM

 

 

ok, i may think on the meat of this post and comment again later, but i wanted to add quickly that Said the Gramophone did, of course, write about "new actual R.Kelly" - just last week, - and that Jordan's humble pie is in a lot of ways a response to that. ( http://www.saidthegramophone.com/archives/filibuster_necromanc.php )

Posted by Sean on July 13, 2005 07:03 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson