Saturday, October 20, 2007

On Artistic Expression, Part 2: Pitch

Let me begin this post with a potentially controversial statement: Pitch is an artificial construct, foisted upon us by our culture. Why is this controversial? Perhaps because people such as myself have spent many years and dollars studying a discipline that is centered around the concept of playing or singing in tune, matching the pitches perfectly. Then, we turn around and teach the next generation the same concepts.

Now, technically, pitch is actually the number of cycles per second a sound wave travels through the air, so in that sense, perhaps we wouldn't call it an artificial construct. I am referring instead to our perception of pitch within our western scale -- you know, the one that starts with A and ends with G#?

Of course, the greatest evidence for this hypothesis is the fact that, in some eastern cultures, there are more scale tones to the octave. These are quite foreign to our ears, and usually sound "out of tune." However, to those brought up in that culture, they sound perfectly normal.

In many indie rock styles, it is actually considered inauthentic to sing or play too much in tune. This is most likely rooted in the punk aesthetic. There are also many R&B singers who tend to sing consistently out of tune. In recent years, R&B and rap artists have incorporated non-western sounds into their music. I believe this has contributed to this phenomenon. Popular music was born from a fusion of western and non-western sounds, which may partly explain why pop musicians have never been overly concerned with singing in tune.

I have come to the point in my life where I no longer consider singing or playing out of tune a bad thing. If someone has an interesting sound, but isn't quite in tune, it doesn't bother me. I also no longer consider that solely a reflection of someone's musical ability. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for the listener,) I cannot divorce myself of the obsession with being in tune. Perhaps that will come in time.

Comments, please!

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On Artistic Expression, part 1

Reading David Thomas' blog post the other day reminded me of some questions I have wrestled with for many years:

  1. Can "Art" exist in a vacuum?
  2. Is a work of art required to appeal to an audience, even if it is only a small one?
  3. Is the artist who is creating solely for their own enjoyment really creating art?

Years ago, my answers to these questions would have been no, yes, and no. However, I'm not sure my motives were pure. At the time, I was trying to be a "rock star," and I was always quick to defend my conscious decision to write "hooks." I also think that deep down inside, I really felt like I was selling out, so I was very defensive.

If you will pardon the pun, I have changed my tune these days. If I am creating purely for my own enjoyment, I still have an audience. It doesn't matter that the artist and the audience are one and the same. An audience of one is still an audience. Furthermore, some art may appeal to a large audience while other art may appeal to only a small, select audience. This does not diminish the artistic quality of either work. Of course, this leads us back to the art vs. commerce debate, but you may refer to my earlier post on the subject.

Please comment - I really want to hear your opinions!

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

David Thomas of Pere Ubu discusses MySpace

In his blog post "On The Subject of MySpace" David Thomas brings up some interesting points about being an independent musician outside the mainstream. He also sheds some light on the history of Pere Ubu itself!

BTW, if you have never heard Pere Ubu, you should start with "Dub Housing" and "The Modern Dance," then pick up their latest, "Why I Hate Women." After that, you will want every other album they ever made, and you should! Warning: do not listen to them if you are not prepared to be challenged!
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Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Shock Doctrine by Alfonso Cuarón and Naomi Klein

This interesting short doc was made by the director of "Children of Men."

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Bad News For The Record Industry

This has been a noteworthy week for the future of the music business. It began when Radiohead released their latest album, "In Rainbows," as a "pay-what-you-wish" digital download. The catch, of course, is that they are no longer affiliated with a record label. Rumor has it they had more than 1 million downloads, and took in a fairly good profit as well!

The same day, rumors surfaced that Oasis and Jamiroquai were considering a similar move.

Now, it looks like Madonna might be thinking about jumping ship from Warner to sign a record/touring/merchandise deal with concert promoter Live Nation, a company which has never been in the record business prior to this.

Of course, the labels have been watching all of this like hawks, as evidenced by this leaked memo from EMI Records.

Things aren't looking so good for our friends at the record labels. Of course, it's tough to feel sorry for them when they are spending their time suing Native American single mothers who make $36,000 a year!
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