The Crowd: Exit, Stage Left [256]

Hi Crowd.

Frank Stella is dead.

Steve Albini is dead.

Both absolutely monumental figures who gave so much beauty to the world, and whose legend will live on forever. Stella was unexpected but not a surprise because he was getting up there, but Albini is a fucking gut punch that I really wasn't ready for in any way. He was a rare genius who had his opinions but was thoughtful about them and could back them up with the math and experience, and perhaps more importantly had the wherewithall to step back and reconsider and admit when he'd gotten something wrong. Very few people can do that. The first time I recall really taking note of his name was when he wrote that now legendary piece Some Of Your Friends Are Already This Fucked article for MaximumRocknRoll. I read it back and forth several times to make sure I had the argument straight and sat there, fingers stained with newsprint ink thinking that this was something to aspire to. He could rock, and he could write. I never pulled off rocking (though I can sing along with the best of them) and the verdict is still out if I'll ever pull off writing, but I always held this idea of a smart punk who stuck to their ethics despite what others might think and could articulate them was something we needed more of in this world, and I naively assumed he'd always be there filling that role. I met him a few times back in the Victory era and he was always a gem.

Shane died last year. I'm not ok with this "outlive your heroes" thing. This sucks. I need things to look forward to and while there's a new Shellac record coming out next week which I'm sure you've already preordered, it's going to hurt listening to it knowing now that it'll be the last.

If you've been following the Kendrick/Drake drama then you already know this, if you haven't then the 1 second explainer is that these two musicians who have previously collaborated have been releasing new tracks almost daily going at each other. A whole host of threats and insults and insinuations. There's countless think pieces flying all over the place and I won't add to them because I don't really care that much, but I do think essentially weaponizing streaming platforms is a pretty wild step. Used to be you had to wait for an album and then find the diss track and then there would be months of speculation about the response, which would be buried in a diss track on another album, but the crazy thing here is that these back and forths have been happening like, an hour later, with millions of plays before the response which drops just as quickly. WWTD? (What Would Tupac Do) But this "make a thing about the thing that just happened today and release it today too" idea can play out in other interesting ways as well, like this one from Macklemore. Em kinda did this with Mosh too, but even that was more of an overall comment on current events rather than a specific comment on the events of right fucking now.

If we’ve been friends for a while and talked coffee over coffee you’ve likely heard my story about 23andme and the coffee gene. I won't retell it but suffice to say I drink a lot of coffee and found out that I have a gene which makes it more likely that I'll do that. Which explains a lot. Also the whole self medicating for ADHD thing. Anyway, I learned from Fitnessgenes that I'm probably tone deaf, which also explains a lot. I love music but unless someone shows me “do this, then this and then this” I just can’t play it very well. That’s in part why I’ve been drawn to making ambient and noise because the atonal and structure-free nature allows more expression without the confines of notes and traditional music theory. Call that "don’t know how to play your own instruments" if you like, and not wrong, but I also took a bunch of "ear training" test things and couldn't tell the difference between various sharp/flat versions of notes. So when I play something I think it sounds great, and everyone else around me is like no. My D5K stuff was all about seeing what I could do without doing the normal thing, but it was also a bit too laid back. I kept wanting it to get more agro, and you can only do so much tape loop degrading warble noise stuff to get there. Which is kind of when I realized I needed to add back in the guitars and trying to figure out how to do that. And thats kind of the idea I'm picking at with DRØNE WAR INDUSTRIES which I haven't released anything for yet but trust me the ideas are banging.

My youth was filled with lots of angry screaming songs about the problems of the world, and pretty love songs about love and stuff. But almost no in between, which I always really wanted. I wanted pretty songs that were angry and full of hate, but sounded beautiful which I would eventually find with bands like Hankshaw and Cinerama. Anyway I feel like there's been times when I'm listening to this thing and love it and also listening to that thing and love it but really really really want to listen to those things combined somehow and just can't find it, my point is that I really love Mat Ball's new Amplified Guitar II album, (unsurprisingly a follow up to Amplified Guitar) which is just wonderfully expressive and emotional and chaotic and noisy destruction and no so much about what note follows the previous as it is about how these loud textures and sounds interact with each other and feedback on top of each other and where that goes. I've been listening to it nonstop. In fact, when I paused it this morning to go on a walk Tara was like "oh was that you? I thought there was some construction going on outside."

So yeah I've been playing with tube amps and high gain and noisy drones from the synths and I'm really into it. Of course I can't help but wish that I'd found my way to this place in my 20's rather than my 40's but I'm here and that's the important thing, and where it goes next. There's this interesting conversation I've had a few times recently - in different formats - where someone wanted to do something but didn't have the tools or vocabulary or skills or whatever, so they kept reaching and longing for this thing they knew they couldn't get to, and then something happened and allowed them to get there and it's been world changing for them. In some cases they got a grant, in others they found a new tool or the right collaborator.

I had a conversation with a friend in Los Angeles circa 2007 and I remember them saying "Guitar music sucks, I could never hear a guitar again and not miss it for a second" which jumped out at me at the time for what seemed like obvious reasons - how could someone lump all music created on a guitar into one thing. There's so much variety and the landscape so wide, I just couldn't grasp how they could say such a thing with a straight face. I mean sure, pick a genre you don't like and that's at least arguable, but an instrument? It felt like they were saying "anything built with a hammer is dumb." They were into electronic music, and that was the end all be all for them. I thought about this for a long time because it really struck me as odd. But then I also remembered years earlier when I might have said the same thing about synthesizers. Or at least claimed that electronic music had no soul or emotion. In my head I might have been thinking of 80's new wave or something (which I now concede is great) but I might have thought of that and used it then to write off everything else. That would have been ignorant, but I could have seen the rationale. But also, that "everything X sucks" kind of drove me to find things that didn't. Discovering Surachai, Venetian Snares, Master Boot Record and others helped me see how an instrument was just a tool and how it was used was the important thing, and just because one band used it in a way I thought was dumb didn't mean someone else might use it in a way that was exciting in fresh.

What am I on about? When I see people say "ai art sucks" it sounds to me like when that friend said "guitar music sucks." First of all, trying to lump the entirety of "ai art" into one thing is mind bogglingly impossible. Which makes me think they are like I was, seeing one example they don't like and thinking that's all there is to it. Or maybe they don't understand the process and think someone is typing one sentence, getting an output and calling it a day rather than the reality of artists spending days, weeks, months refining prompts and training their tools to get the results that are in their head to materialize. It gets to the question of art all over again, what is it? Is it just the result, just the process, just the intention? Take Japanese artist Emi Kusano for example. She has a distinct visual style and aesthetic that she's been refining for over a decade, utilizing hand made fashion through video art and music and now ai, is her art and this world she's been trying to create for her entire career suddenly soulless because of the tool she's using this week? It's just such a mind boggling position to take. And I get it, it's a low bar easy target, but it's also kind of lazy.

Speaking of lazy, there's a now deleted tweet that was making the rounds last week wherein someone with a large audience in tech used "wives" as the example of someone who doesn't know what's going on. Was it malicious? Of course not. Was it hurtful, yeah actually it was to some people. Was it disappointing? Unquestionably. The good news is they took the backlash as an opportunity to learn what they'd done wrong - made a lazy joke based on a stereotype without considering what that meant or who might read it or how it might land - to perhaps do better tomorrow. The bad news is, reply guy incel idiocy is still very much alive and well as was apparent by the people who were absolutely beside themselves with the idea that anyone would take offense to the comment, and even more horrified that the author might recognize the mistake and want to fix it.

Speaking of learning, this is some interesting thoughts about migrating your life from web2 to web3. This is part of why I moved this newsletter, which is now on web3 rails even though most people reading it don't notice a difference. It still amazes me that some people who have rightly been pointing out so many problems in society and technology for so long, have ignored the solutions being provided by web3 because of their blind hatred for anything they think is "crypto." It's so short sighted. Like hating anything with a guitar.

But you know who has it all figured out? Pokemon Go players.

OK, that's it for now. I have some Albini tracks to listen to. You should do the same.


Collect this post to permanently own it.
Just Another Crowd logo
Subscribe to Just Another Crowd and never miss a post.