Category Archives: irrelevant

When Nothing Is Original, Only Innovative

Recently Machine Head released a single from their upcoming album. You can check it out below. Almost the moment it came out people, myself included, noticed the striking similarities between the main riff and Strapping Young Lad’s main riff from “Love?”. Devin Townsend dismissed it and even wished the band the best. He made a few other comments about influences and whatnot, and I agree with him on some of those points.

Overall it seemed like it wasn’t an issue to those who should have cared. The news outlets, however, are having a heyday (I’m only timely with this post because I saw this coming). After the semi-controversy over Machine Head’s release the very tired debate resurfaced: how original are we as people and when is it blatantly ripping off someone? Honestly I see part of it is as an issue of originality and then there’s issue of how much influence is too much.

Western culture, especially in America, love to demand innovation and originality from everyone and everything. Some people rise to the occasion. At least, with the innovative part. In truth people aren’t that original. The human experience bears its own limitations to some things. I remember in college learning there are something like 17-34 individual story lines because of universal experiences. Even if we ignore how having contact with anything will influence artistic output influences will creep in other ways. Have a really cool bass line? Does it sound familiar? Turns out you heard something similar a few years back and it stuck with you. Or maybe something an artist played really resonated with you and you wanted to expand on that aspect. If it was ever a factor at all, and Robb Flynn has remarked it wasn’t anything but coincidence, it was probably more of the latter.

There are other issues to consider with similar sounding music. There are legal elements that I won’t fully delve into (not sure I’m qualified for that anyway) but one must acknowledge there’s a line between plagiarism, homage, influence, and outright coincidence. Where many people heard the riff from Strapping Young Lad other bands were cited like A Perfect Circle. Sometimes some elements are so overused or generic we hear it in many songs possibly without realizing it. Confirmation bias plays a huge factor in those instances. Assuming someone did lift something how can we look at it? If something is lifted what was done with it? Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was lifted almost verbatim from another popular work of the time. Devin Townsend admits he lifted lyrics from a Yes song…in the very Strapping Young Lad song at the heart of the issue.

 

Even if content was lifted directly from somewhere else when is it called plagiarism and when is it called creative license?

While there are legal and ethical standings to determine if a work steals from another a solely artistic standpoint isn’t well defined. One could argue that even following music theory is lacking in originality the same way pulling implements from other sources displays a lack of originality. I personally am not of that philosophy, but I can understand it. Much of Western music theory has rules for aesthetics and practicality. Moreover In reality various art forms didn’t really deviate from a certain forms and rules. One was considered an accomplished artist if they followed those form to the letter. In poetry free verse was called “doggerel” (and with some groups still is) until Romantic poets found merit in deviating from any verse form.

Western culture no longer believes in close imitation as a form of creativity. Artistry is tied to innovation, or at least the appearance of such. Like I’ve mentioned several times originality isn’t a strong point in humans. Innovation, however, is a strong human trait. We have a knack for taking what’s already there and make something seem new or adding a new paradigm to the existing work. It’s why I keep stressing the issue of when is something blatantly lifting another’s work and when is it taking something already done and going in a different direction. It’s why I strive in my reviews to focus on the artistic intention. Otherwise I’d constantly bemoan how nothing is good because it’s unoriginal, when the focus should be on what the artist is presenting.

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Cassettes and Vinyl: Who Benefits?

It’s Record Store Day, and like others I feel a need to share my thoughts on one particular matter. I will probably repeat what others have said on the topic, but I don’t really express my opinion on these issues. I think we’re all aware of the intention of the day: to support local record stores and the last bastions of purchasing physical copies of music. I don’t think anyone will deny the good intentions behind this. For some indie and local musicians this one of few ways to get their music out there. In an effort to continue to support music stores it feels noble, but I also feel it’s somewhat misguided, namely in supporting local artists by purchasing outmoded forms of music.

One of the arguments I hear is how something like vinyl has overall a better sound quality when compared to something like an mp4 format. I don’t understand the demonizing of newer formats when the evidence is not strong for the comparison. What’s more is these same people will buy an album that was recorded digitally for people to buy as mp4’s. I feel like the chances of the album being of the sound quality those blessed with golden ears ramble about is compromised by the recording process. I also love to point out that when they purchase a re-release of an older album it was most likely digitally restored to bring back that crisp sound they love to describe. Moreover record formats, even for retro formats, isn’t the best way to listen to music. It only beat out hard plastic cylinders –a format which is equal and possible superior to record sound quality –due to better marketing and storage capabilities. I don’t think I’ll see a revival in hard plastic cylinders anytime soon, though, even if it would benefit possibly digitally archiving music from the earlier part of the 20th century.

Then again, the revival of older formats has surprised me and demonstrated how it’s not about the actual sound quality, but the perceived quality. I’m talking about the revival of cassette tapes. When I was younger I did prefer them over CD’s. Now that I’m older and had the pleasure of experiencing different formats I understand why its obsolescence was imminent since its inception. Like wax cylinders it was difficult to store without compromising the quality of the sound, it was easily destroyed, you could record over it without too much difficulty, the listening experience was limited to the quality of the player and quality of the musical product itself. Anyone who dealt with trying to listen to a cassette with a damaged tape knows what I mean. Nonetheless indie artists are selling cassettes of their music. Even some of my former bandmates sell their music on cassette. The fact it’s seeing a revival indicates it’s met with some welcome reception.

In some ways having a hard copy of an independent artist’s work is still helping. For some it’s still a viable way of getting their music out to world and fund their tour or future work. I often see out of town musicians selling CD’s and the occasional cassette. People do buy them at the shows. They’re selling, even if I don’t know to what extent. It’s supporting indie artists in some way.

I believe this is the pivotal issue of stuff like Record Store Day. When I started off in the mid 00’s reviewing music there was a revival in vinyl records. At the time it was hard to find a record player, especially one that worked and was affordable. Folks still purchased the albums with the same dubious arguments of sound quality were made. Those who purchased were supporting indie artists. As the revival continued mainstream labels re-released albums previously on vinyl or they converted previously CD-only formats to vinyl. There was a resurgence is producing record players, but I saw where folks were purchasing more vinyl by mainstream artists than indie ones. Now I’m more likely to see vinyl albums by mainstream artists than indie ones. I’m sure there are other reasons, especially with the cost of producing a hard copy of an album involved. I think, though, if we are buying records to support local record stores we need to also consider buying vinyl of local and indie music. If we’re so willing to support a physical format to create a day for it, we need to also remember the artists who support them.

A bit of an epilogue: in case anyone was wondering I now own a record player. It also has a cassette deck and an 8-track player. You know, just in case.

When Musical Festivals Get Canceled It’s Probably Not Mainstream Enough

If you live around the Kansas City area or in nearby Lawrence I’m sure you got some word of the Kanrocksas music festival.  Well, if you haven’t it’s fine too because they announced its cancellation a month before the festival.   There are currently no plans to reschedule.  To be incredibly honest I’m more shocked about the lack of ticket sales, but I guess I vastly underestimated the hipster population in the area.   I only got to see how things were going from twitter, so I don’t have a complete idea of any other perspective of what went wrong.  Based on what I saw on twitter, and how I view things as a concert goer, here’s what I think went wrong.

1.  The lineup outright sucked.  I know this is a matter of opinion, but I consider my music tastes eclectic and substandard as it is.  While I give the people behind the lineup kudos for trying to have a mixture of locals and some more established acts it was terrible.  Like I said I know it’s a matter of opinion, but I’ll let you be the judge by showing the lineup…

kanrocksas2013lineupSource

See?  Of the acts I recognize I’d only want to see two of them and they probably weren’t on the same night, let alone the same stage.  There isn’t even a strong headliner.  If the cancellation was due to poor sales, I’m probably not the only one who thought the same thing.

Personal tastes aside the lineup was too eclectic and not enough recognizable names for those into more mainstream music.  One could argue that the Wakarusa Music Festival, a festival which originated in Lawrence, is equally eclectic.  The difference is Wakarusa kept it fairly eclectic with mainstream acts as the headliners rather than filling the line up with  lesser-known acts equally eclectic as the mainstream ones.  Wakarusa also had more time to develop a greater following.

2.  Kanrocksas is not going to pull the same crowds as Wakarusa.  This was billed mostly with the appeal of local bands.  It’s also relatively new with a few cards stacked against it, given that it started in 2011 and didn’t hold a festival in 2012 due to construction in the Speedway area.  Wakarusa also had much more to offer with more popular and well known musical acts.  It was at least outside of town near a more friendly campsite.  Which is another point…

3.  The location.  Those who aren’t familiar with Kanrocksas it would have been held at the Kansas Speedway.  This is what the latest Google Maps image looks like.  I’ve been out there for sporting goods and furniture, and even with some understanding of the area I have a hard time conceptualizing a music festival in that area.  People aren’t likely to associate that area with music as much as shopping and NASCAR.

4.  The price.  Even though I encourage people to support music, especially local ones, it gets harder for people to do when it’s on a scale like a music festival.  Festivals are expensive not only to run but for attendees because it’s not just the cost of the music alone.  Even though this festival is a bargain price compared to other festivals it didn’t feel like a bargain for me.  That’s without figuring the costs of food, lodging, and transportation into it.  Like I mentioned before I was only interested in a couple of acts and didn’t really want to see the others.  I can’t justify breaking open my piggy bank for that.  Again, if ticket sales were that low I’m not the only one who felt this way.

5.  Was there even exposure for this?  It’s not so much a point as a question, but it can quickly turn into a point.  I only knew about this because of some remark on twitter back when Kanrocksas was announced.  After the cancellation I learned about the facebook page.  It was only then I saw any news about the festival as well because a few news sources reported on the cancellation and not so much the return of the festival.

I understand wanting to cut costs where possible, but it can hurt if not properly managed. I speak from personal experience without a decent budget for advertising people won’t know about anything you want to sell.  No knowledge of a festival means fewer ticket sales, if any.  I’m not the type who can calculate potential losses from these scenarios.  I’m not sure if it’s possible.  I do, however, know there is a loss.

What all of these points sum up is I suspect those coordinating this festival tried to appeal to as much of the non-mainstream crowd as possible, were underfunded, and thought they could pull it off anyway.   Admittedly I’m amazed to learn how small the purchasing power of the hipster population is for this area.  At the same time I also feel the lack of focus and vast underestimation of certain aspects damaged the festival.  I’m sure there were lots of other issues behind closed doors, doors that lead to boardrooms.  That’s probably why they waited when they did to announce the cancellation: it was the deadline for cancellation notices for some contracts.  It was still a cancellation during the eleventh hour for ticket purchasers.  It also came with a death knell for the festival.

Tadaima

As with all blogs it seems there’s some introductory post. As I’m obligated to write one, I figured I’d cover a few things. I picked the title for a reason; it’s Japanese for “I’m back”, specifically “I’m home”. That’s because I was a music critic before, though unless you hung out in Lawrence, Kansas you haven’t heard of me (and even then I’m pretty sure folks don’t know about me). Those who know who I am, I’m back. Those who have no clue who the hell I am (that should be most of my audience), hello to you.

So what makes me more qualified than anyone else to critique? Nothing in the vast scheme of things because my opinion is just that: an opinion. The only real difference between my opinion and others is I bothered to create an idea of how I formed my opinion and devote a whole blog to spouting it. I based my rubric off of my musical, theatrical, and dance training that I’ve nurtured since childhood–in fact I almost ended up with a BA in Dance. I’m not reviewing albums / recorded songs / etc. at this point because I’m still learning the ropes of producing. I want to get the basics down before I really dive into reviewing those.

I’m actually excited to have a blog host for reviving my endeavor. Back when I reviewed in the mid-late 2000’s there weren’t many blog hosting sites. I cobbled my own with t35.com (which led to many a scatological joke on my end) and always felt it was poor quality since I can’t code for beans. I don’t have to really worry about coding in most cases (unless I want to do something then complain about how nothing looks right) with this host. Blog sites also allow for more of what I envisioned with my site at the time: a place where there’s a forum to discuss reviews, a cohesive way to organize my music-related posts, and ways to promote the musicians I review.

So how do I review these things? Well, I only have a rubric for live performances right now. My rubric is divided into 4 categories: Technique; Presentation; Audience Interaction; and what I call “Brownie Points”, which allows me some wiggle room to adjust a score as needed. My overall scoring works on a 0-10 scale, with a maximum amount of points as follows: 4 in Technique; 3 in Presentation; 3 in Audience Interaction; and 3 for Brownie Points. I believe I originally had 1 point total for my Brownie Points category, but I’ve decided to change it.

Here I go again with reviewing music. I’m not fully sure what to expect this time, but I’m excited just the same.