Monday, February 13, 2006

ultimate choice - absolute freedom

The Internet is quite wonderful. Its appeal, in presenting almost unlimited choice is a truly contemporary phenomenon. Any musical group, no matter how esoteric is now able to present its music to a truly global audience. What idealistic egalitarianism! The record buyer, or consumer as they are now termed, is no longer at the mercy of cynical marketing executives in large multinational record companies. Freedom and liberty prevail.
Only one small question remains. How do we select the music we want to hear from the plethora available?

The mainstream media is continually cajoling the public to vote for the greatest of them all: whether it be the most famous historical personage, the greatest ever Britain or the latest and best teen pop idol. Such votes reveal little beyond the abject wretchedness of uninformed democratic choice.

When we buy books or CDs online we are regaled with other products bought by other of our supposedly like-minded contemporaries. The intention of such marketing is clear but why should we suppose that our fellow consumers are any better informed than ourselves? Do we really want our choices informed by nothing more than the uniformity of popularity?

Besides, whoever said that the public are only interested in discovering the very best? Uniqueness is surely a more desirable trait, and this is to be found in differences between one performance and another, between one interpretation and another. The quest for the best not only devalues variety, it denudes music of its humanity and its capacity for expression.

New systems are becoming available to help online music lovers to make new musical discoveries that suit their taste. Websites, such as Pandora, develop databases by using feedback and by monitoring patterns of usage in order to be able to recommend other music that they deem likely to be to the user’s taste. To me, such systems seem to be stultifying in the extreme. The cleverness of the site is terrifying, compelling and patronising in equal measure. But Pandora's claim to be able “to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level” by analysing “the unique and magical musical identity of a song” including “everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics,” is truly wide of the mark. Whilst musical analysis can be fascinating, stimulating and no doubt rewarding, what it has never been able to do with any success is to predict, prescribe or otherwise quantify the essence of music and what determines its appeal. It is common to speak of music as ‘a language’. If this is so, then it is a language beyond words: irreducible and impossible to paraphrase – wherein lies its power.

Unguided, unconsidered, disinterested recommendations may have something going for them, but if we don’t take pains to develop and inform our tastes they will be subsumed by mediocrity.

Record company artist and repertoire personnel used to guide the public through the contemporary musical landscape. Even the brand names of the larger labels suggested quality and musical maturity. The role of today’s A&R representatives are so circumscribed by the bean-counting executives to whom they answer that their choices are less recommendations than attempted predictions of up-and-coming stardom.

If the Internet is to offer real choice and to free us from the ravages of rampant directionless commercialism it must not abandon us to the desert of proliferation - an excess of choice is as baffling and inhibiting as a dearth. And like freedom, choice is not especially desirable when absolute.
“The record listener is a child of the supermarket. His self-expression is almost entirely a matter of selecting among packages that someone else designs. And he tends to think that these packages exhaust the possibilities. That kind of freedom can be tyrannical.”
Evan Eisenberg The Recording Angel


Anonymous benoit said...

The satisfaction that no longer comes from using the commodities produced in abundance is now sought through recognition of their value as commodities. Consumers are filled with religious fervor for the sovereign freedom of commodities whose use has become an end in itself. Waves of enthusiasm for particular products are propagated by all the communications media (…)Like the old religious fetishism, with its convulsionary raptures and miraculous cures, the fetishism of commodities generates its own moments of fervent exaltation. All this is useful for only one purpose: producing habitual submission.

Guy Debord ¨"the society of the spectacle"

Friday, February 17, 2006 4:28:00 pm  

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