Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

Robert Moog’s 78th birthday celebrated in Google doodle

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Music pioneer Robert Moog, who would have been 78 on Wednesday, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle

Google has marked the birthday of music pioneer Robert Moog by creating a ‘Doodle’ in the form of an interactive electronic synthesiser which can be played by clicking on its keys using a cursor.

Although musical synthesisers already existed, Moog transformed pop music during the 1960s by producing and marketing a small keyboard synth which could be used with relative ease.

Bands including the Beatles and the Doors used the Moog synthesiser, while others later became fans of the Minimoog, a stripped-down version which followed it in the 1970s.

The New Yorker, who would have turned 78 on Wednesday, had been encouraged to dabble in electronics from an early age by his father and built his first electronic instrument, a theremin, at the age of 14

The pair started their own company in 1954 to sell theremin kits by mail order. After studying at the Bronx High School of Science, Moog attended Queens College before graduating in electrical engineering at Columbia University and earning a doctorate in engineering physics at Cornell.

Of the Moog synthesiser, which appeared in 1964, the inventor was to later recall: “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was doing this thing to have a good time, then all of a sudden someone’s saying to me, ‘I’ll take one of those and two of that.’ That’s how I got into business.”

Moog died in 2005 at the age of 71, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour four months previously. However, the Moog sound has lived on, with musicians such as Fat Boy Slim choosing to continue to use it even in the digital era.

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Music’s local scenes wither in an age of global cool | Dorian Lynskey

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

As bohemians flit between capitals, pop’s centre of gravity is difficult to gauge. It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at

According to Pop Muzik, the 1979 hit single by M, the four corners of the tastemaker’s world were once “New York, London, Paris, Munich”. According to The Geographic Flow of Music, a considerably less catchy research paper by Conrad Lee and Padraig Cunningham of University College Dublin, the surprising modern equivalent would be”Atlanta, Oslo, Montreal, Paris”.

Well, perhaps. The study, which uses such intriguing measures as “Euclid. Normalized Coldplay”, is based entirely on listener data from last.fm, and has more to do with Gladwellian networks of mavens, connectors and salesmen than any of the musicians hailing from those cities. Oslo, for example, isn’t even the most musically fertile city in Norway (that would be Bergen), let alone Europe. And Lee, taken aback by all the online attention, admits that he doesn’t know why some cities are more influential than others. But his preliminary studydoes suggest that, even as the internet erodes the importance of local scenes, musical influence moves in mysterious ways.

In truth, all the explanations for sudden efflorescences of creativity are retrospective. Today’s pop music backwater is tomorrow’s capital of cool. French pop was so widely derided until the mid-90s that journalists profiling Air or Daft Punk were obliged by law to crack wise about Johnny Hallyday. The Pacific northwest was musically insignificant until the grunge boom, at which point weekend flights from LA to Seattle were booked solid by A&R men waving fistfuls of cash at any band who had ever played the same bar as Nirvana.

The explosion of a new scene turns critics into amateur ethnographers, suddenly wise about the cultural impact of maritime trade and heavy industry. Sometimes you can isolate concrete socioeconomic factors that allowed musicians to thrive during certain periods: Bristol’s multiracial population in the 80s; Atlanta’s rising black middle-class in the 90s; Berlin’s cheap rents today. Other possible causes are more nebulous. Histories of grunge tend to mention the nagging northwestern rain, while accounts of the Human League and Sheffield’s synth-pop vanguard inevitably cite the steelworks. But rain and factories aren’t magic ingredients. Just ask Gdansk.

It’s because talent is such a slippery, unpredictable quality that every theory is retrofitted according to isolated success stories. Say what you like about the significance of sailors bringing rock’n'roll records back to Liverpool from the US, but the Beatles were great because they were the Beatles and not, say, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. TheManic Street Preachers didn’t trigger a landslide of bands from Blackwood, south Wales, even though they were decisively shaped by the town. Some areas glow with talent for a brief, wondrous period and never experience anything like it again. The initial excited questions – “Why here? Why now?” – give way to “Why not again?”

In many cases, obscurity is a boon. While cosmopolitan hubs such as London or New York will always attract musicians from all over – today the latest so-called “Brooklyn band” probably has its roots somewhere else entirely – most exciting local bands and scenes, like mushrooms, flourish in the dark. Many groups can trace their distinctive aesthetics back to limited options, such as the racks of their town’s only record store or the playlist of a celebrated local DJ, and a more general sense of being excluded from the tastemaking circuitry of big cities. The Arctic Monkeys came from High Green, a village so small you can get off the bus at one end and emerge in a field 10 minutes later. On their debut single, Fake Tales of San Francisco, they taunted indie poseurs: “You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham.” Even as it had the well-turned bathos of a Victoria Wood line it made a serious point: don’t deny your origins, however unglamorous, but draw on them.

But technology is working against geographically specific scenes. History suggests that idiosyncratic music is often informed by boredom, isolation, distance and limited access, conditions that the internet alleviates. This is the age of peripatetic young bohemians flitting from capital to capital; DJs whose natural habitat is the airport VIPlounge; hybridising laptop producers whose music seems to come from everywhere yet nowhere; omnivorous global hipsters for whom music is as mobile as their phones. That doesn’t by any means guarantee worse music but it does make the peculiar integrity of local scenes harder to maintain. For producers and listeners, from Oslo to Atlanta, the rapper Rakim’s famous maxim is increasingly true: It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.

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The reaction to Viva Brother’s break-up proves we love being part of a mob

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Viva Brother’s split and Samantha Brick’s Daily Mail article provoked torrents of abuse. Why? Can’t we separate a person’s worth from the quality of their work

It’s a commonplace in consideration of art: separate the work from the person. Larkin’s poetry is not diminished by the racist, sexist content of his personal letters; Jerry Lee Lewis might have married a 13-year-old, but he’s still one of the founding fathers of rock’n'roll; Lou Reed’s entire public persona might be an insult to those who believe in politeness and common decency, but he still made those Velvet Underground records.

What, though, if consensus holds your work is rubbish? Should that reflect back on you as a person?

Social media reaction to two events this week suggested the world believes that, yes, if we don’t like what you do, we are perfectly entitled to pour on the vitriol. The more recent of the two events was a piece – a terrible, terrible piece – by Samantha Brick in the Daily Mail, in which she complained women did not like her because she was too beautiful. The accompanying pictures revealed a perfectly attractive woman, but not one at whom people would be likely to stop and stare in awe. The second was the announcement on Sunday, via Twitter, that the self-styled “gritpop” band Viva Brother had split.

“It was their own fault that everyone hated them,” said one tweeter of Viva Brother. “The world’s a much better place now that Viva Brother have split,” said another. There were plenty more: “Viva Brother have split up, faith in humanity restored”; “You pile of wank”; “So glad those cunts Viva Brother weren’t pulling some sort of shit April fools joke with their split up”; “Rot in hell Viva Brother”.

Brick had it much worse. She didn’t even have a rump of fans coming on to Twitter to support her. Instead, she was told repeatedly she was ugly (she’s not) and deluded (I don’t know). The entire world seemed to form the view that she was fully deserving of hatred, based on the fact that she had written a terrible article, the latest in a long line of ill-judged pieces for the Mail. And she had celebrities – the kind of people who might understand the difference between public and private personas – queueing up to join the mob. The odious Frankie Boyle phrased it thus: “Samantha Brick looks like what you see when you masturbate through a brain haemorrhage.”

What these events suggest is the opposite of conventional wisdom about the web. It’s assumed the web has killed consensus opinion: by allowing everyone a voice, it has promoted a variety of tastes. Hence the predictions that never again will we have those globe-straddling rock superstars that everyone seems to quite like, because in world where anything can be found, there’s no need to settle for second best.

In fact, it seems we do still crave consensus, but we’ve found it at the other end of the spectrum. These days what we seek to agree about is awfulness. We still want to feel part of the crowd, but with the opportunities to feel part of a unified celebration so few and far between we settle instead for being part of a mob.

And you’re kidding yourself if you believe the viciousness a mob can kick up is not felt, keenly, by those targetted. I was at a gig on Monday night and heard someone call my name along the bar. It was Viva Brother’s Lee Newell – whom I have interviewed twice – who wanted to thank me for sticking up for his band on Twitter. It’s not as if I had mourned their passing with tears streaming down my cheeks. I had said: “On the Viva Brother thing – nice lads, and while not to my taste, they didn’t merit the outpouring of hatred their existence provoked.” He’d clearly been taken aback by the world’s response to their split, just as when I interviewed him for the second time he was clearly disturbed that the narrative about a group who’d just recorded their first album was already: “Why does everyone hate Viva Brother so much?”

Now, if you tell the world you’re a perfect model of pulchritude, as Samantha Brick did, or that you’re the greatest rock’n'roll band in the world, as Viva Brother did, you’re offering up hostages to fortune. You’re inviting the response: “No, you’re not.” Especially if your claims – as in both cases – are untrue, and especially if – as in both cases – there is evidence to suggest a gap between ego and actual attaintment. But you’re not offering up an invitation to contempt and abuse. When people walk past one of those fried chicken places with the motto “You’ve tried the rest, now try the best”, they don’t feel the need to storm inside and scream at the manager: “This fried chicken is a disgrace! It is not the best fried chicken! I hope you die!” So perhaps the same restraint might sometimes be in order in other spheres.

Years ago, when I edited FourFourTwo magazine, I ran a piece about the most hated players in the Premier League, each entry concluding with a chant that had been heard about them. A few days later, Robbie Savage phoned the office, furious and threatening legal action over what we’d said about him, specifically the chant – “You’re inbred and you know you are.” His parents, he said, were distraught. It didn’t take me all that long to decide that the article, while not actionable, had been morally wrong. I’d been cruel solely because I had the opportunity to be cruel. We hadn’t criticised Robbie Savage’s style of play – the only thing he really deserved to be judged on – we’d just done the 20th-century equivalent of tweeting: “LOL wanker!”

It hurt Robbie Savage when one magazine did it. Imagine how much it must hurt when thousands of people do it. So, maybe next time you stumble across a band you think are really terrible, why not just ignore them? At most, decide why you don’t like them. Don’t bother with the waves of hatred. It’ll be better for your blood pressure, and better for their mental health. Ultimately, all they will have done is make a not-very-good record, and that’s hardly a crime.

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