Thursday, July 5, 2007

Music as an evolutionary product

melody.'s latest, READY TO GO! is pretty forgettable, I won't dispute that. It reeks of cynicism to say this, but melody. and her production team are just doing their job. That there is a market for this kind of music must say something. Whether that something is positive or negative I leave up to you. Speculation as to what that something is, after these messages.

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Memorable were the last two tracks, Shine and Dangerous, the former a decent upbeat pop track, the latter a stronger dance offering than Finding my Road. But in general, this album is safe, capable of being mindlessly consumed.

You can rag on people and the music they listen to until you're blue in the face, but the truth is some people just need something to consume, like food. I can and have eaten instant noodles for lunch for a week or two straight and haven't given it a second thought.

With the advent of epic quantities of disposable income following World War II and the subsequent baby boom and sharp rise in post-war standard of living for countries who weren't bombed back to the stone age, comes all these neat things such as disposable cars *cough*GM*cough*, disposable clothes (but only in the sense that they're unfashionable; few actually try to keep a lid on the size of their wardrobes), disposable technology through built-in obsolescence and making gadgets as fashionable (or unfashionable) as clothing. Why couldn't the western industrialized nations have disposable entertainment? And so they did, and through cultural hegemony, the rest of the world embraced the concept.

Disposable entertainment is not new, as evidenced by the likes of the Brill Building and its predecessor Tin Pan Alley, but it's only been recently that people have thought to link it to, say, capitalism, or the ruining of modern society, and then complain bitterly about it.

Nodame Cantabile episode 10For those who like their music only semi-dignified

So, about that something, maybe it's as mundane as evolution. We may complain about how pop music all sounds the same, but we really just see the trees in the forest. The revolution may happen overnight, but it's decades in the making. In that time span, people need something new. It doesn't have to be different, it just has to be new.

Some things just don't change. It's a sore point among classical (era) music lovers to claim that all of their music sounds the same, but in many ways it was just as predictable as today's pop structure. When the predominant structure back in the day was the Sonata-Allegro form, you really did know when the performer was modulating. This distressed Debussy to no end, and breaking away from that form was a hallmark of Impressionism.

As with most other things, it is technology that is the great differentiator. Where there was only one Haydn or Bach capable of cranking out prodigious amounts of music, a few stars like Lizst or Beethoven, and the obscure guy like Franz Schubert or Mozart (he died broke), there are any number of cookie-cutter producers, great live acts, and obscure indie bands. The music video has displaced the live concert as a promotional tool as well as an experience mechanism. Accurate digital audio synthesis has replaced sheet music, which had varying quality directly proportional to skill and orchestral organization. Back then, sometimes it was literally only possible to listen to music when the composer themselves delivered a concert, because it was just too hard to play.

If anything, technology is accelerating the progression of musical styles. Consider yourself back in the 1800's. You would have heard classical music your entire life. Full stop. In this day and age, we've had a jazz revival, a latin fad, a classical blip (in the form of Celine Dion and Titanic), the age of boy-bands and girl-bands. This all occurred in the span of just over 10 years.

I myself want to experience the music I listen to. Experiencing is a lot like going to a concert, and it takes a bit out of me, and so I don't listen to as much music as the average consumer. But I have no overriding disdain for the average non-fanboy or non-fangirl. Yes, mainstream music continues to sound the same at the same time, but take comfort in the knowledge that it does not progress at a glacial pace.