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Wednesday, Mar 8, 2006

I used to listen to classical music sometimes, usually when I wanted sound that wouldn’t distract me too much while I was reading books for my prelim exams. I am one of those hopeless philistines who think of classical music as sonic wallpaper. So I would just turn on the classical music station, and whatever was playing was fine with me; I didn’t need to know anything about the composer or the performers or even the titles of the works, and I would get completely annoyed with the deep-throated DJ would come on and read through the details of all that information. It seemed like so much bullshit connoisseurship. The idea that one would invest the time and energy to master all that data seemed preposterous to me; it much better to let that kind of music just wash over you. My atttude toward classical music is probably most people’s attitude toward music in general.

Like his cousin, the comic-book nerd, the music snob is subject to all sorts of derision, in part because he tends to be represented as someone enacting a revenge fantasy against the world through something that most people take for granted—they will accept whatever music is in the air. I think most people accept that popular music is popular without questioning why, and they appreciate that it will be diverting for a time and then vanish and then maybe reappear again years later to spur fun memories. Music snobs are the butt of jokes because they worry about why, are perhaps even tormented by the alienation it makes it impossible for them to ignore. People generally have incentives to accept the given culture and the apparently spontaneous way it is ordering itself rather than to heighten their separation from it and keep themselves constantly aware of the potential ulterior motives. The former get to be swept up into a shared joy via whatever song has captured the zeitgeist (even if its “My Humps”), whereas the latter must regard his peers as either brainwashed or idiotic. The former accept notions of spontaneous order—the idea that society regulates itself with no master plan or purpose and without any specific person guiding it —without any angst; the latter perhaps is secretly horrified by this and wants someone in charge, some cabal of profiteers who have a conspiracy against, say, decent music reaching the masses. But DJs don’t have an agenda; there’s no reason to “hang” him per that Smiths song. Most of them care only about ratings, if they care about anything at all.

(Spontaneous order: I was just in Duane Reade to get a gallon of drinking water, and per no one’s instruction a single line formed for the three registers. Then at some point, the line naturally dissolved into three separate lines, per no one’s instruction or initiative. What does this anecdote express: the inherent desire of humans for order; the proof of well-internalized codes for social behavior; the invisible hand that patterns economic life at work? The post-facto construction of rules to organize any group behavior? Or the implicit natural law that we all coordinate with? If these questions interest you, read more here.)

The rock snob is tortured by the very existence of popularity, of the monentum that gathers behind seemingly arbitrary songs or bands or phenomena. The snob is a rationalist, who expects careful deliberation before one makes a choice to assent to some piece of music. But everyone else is content to let their taste be accidental, driven by contingency and circumstance, not planning and deliberation and study. The snob wants the efforts that go into establishing a coherent collection of tastes to be the whole of identity, something that can be curated and groomed and managed like a collection; but the chaos of actual life requires much more flexibility than that in identity, which is much more fluid, much more a matter of who one is surrounded with at any given time, and with whom one wants to get along or associate oneself with. Identity is tactical; snobs have the profoundly conservative wish that it were a monument. The snob cares about music as information more than he cares about it as sound.

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Wednesday, Mar 8, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Featured MySpace Artist
The Strange Division Akron, Ohio mod-pop band
“Gone Gone Gone” [MP3]
“Instances” [MP3]
“New Way of Thinking” [MP3]
“Nightmare” [MP3]

Tom Brosseau
“Pretty Low” [MP3]

“Rock Roll” [MP3]

Joseph Francis Machine
“Under My Steps” [MP3]

Ian Love
“Butterfly” [MP3]

Julie Doiron
“Snow Falls in November” [MP3]

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Tuesday, Mar 7, 2006

If you have ever had the misfortune to enroll with a temp agency, you probably had to take some kind of exam that tested you on your Microsoft Word knowledge, and if you are anything like me, you were probably astounded by all the things it can do that most people have no need for. (You’d also know this if Word ever started autoformating your text and you couldn’t make the damn thing stop.) Word is an astonishgly powerful program; like the human brain, 95 percent of it probably goes unused on most people’s machines. To take advantage of its vast functionality, you have to see it as something other than a typewriter. You have to become a processor of words.

I get the feeling that the same is true of iTunes and similar such programs. These programs are not merely stereos that reside on your computer but are probably better understood as music processors. The options iTunes affords you to organize your music in myriad different cross-referenced ways enable you to listen to music in ways previously impossible—it’s not just the shuffling, but the manu ways in which you can shuffle; and the ease with which you can clump genres together or edit songs out you don’t like and compile spontaneous playlists via search criteria. I used to sit on the couch and read while music would play; now all the time I spend listening to music at home I also spend organizing music data. It’s not like I only listened to records when alphabetizing my collection, so this development disturbs me a little.

What iTunes does is make the data aspects of music more apprehensible that music’s aural qualities—one can interact with the data much easier than one can listen to the sound. It takes less concentration and has a more immediate payoff. It feels constructive. I can spent all night adding record covers to my ID tags and applying my preferred capitalization style (down for prepositions of 4 or fewer letters, up for all nouns, pronouns and verbs) and sorting through and devising more useful genre categories. But something is slipping away from me and I’m not sure I even know what it is, and I know that before long I won’t even remember that it’s gone. As an undergraduate I used to type my papers for class on a typewriter, and that seems unfathomable to me now; it’s as though it wasn’t me who did that because I never would do that now—I wouldn’t be able to, I’d be paralyzed with my fingers on the keys the first time I wanted to move a sentence or insert a introductory clause or qualification. Something similar has happened with listening to music; soon I won’t be able to hear a song without thinking about how I want to classify it in my own personal taxonomy.

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Tuesday, Mar 7, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Featured MySpace Artist
The Tamborines
“Looking Glass House” [MP3]
“Sally O’Gannon” [MP3]
“The Great Division” [MP3]
“What Took You So Long” [MP3]

Serena Maneesh
“Un-Deux” [MP3]

“Destroy Everything You Touch” [MP3]

The Czars
“I Am the Man” [MP3]

Zucchini Drive
“Sombre City” [MP3]

“Laika” [MP3]

“Say Hey There” [MP3]

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Monday, Mar 6, 2006

Anyone who has had Mexican Coca-cola knows its a different product than the vastly inferior American version. That’s why there’s a gray market in Mexican soda in America, where Coke tries to keep what it bottles in Mexico out of the States to protect the turf arrangements it has worked out with its bottlers. Why is the Mexican coke so much better? It has real sugar in it. The American Prospect‘s blog had several posts about sugar versus high-fructose corn syrup recently, pointing out that the point at which sugar became more expensive than HFCS, Amercians started becoming obese and soft drinks began to suck. Sugar is grown cheaply in the Caribbean and Central American countries, so why is it so expensive in America. What happened to CAFTA? The reason why HFCS is cheaper than sugar is that the American agribuisiness lobby—corn-growers and sugar growers in America—united to make sugar an exception to free trade so that sugar prices would remain high and the sales of corn would increase. So in short, just another way that America protects the profit margins of its businesses at the expense of the health of our children, who likely consume the bulk amount of HFCS.

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