Specifications

Specs can dominate your life if you let them. What chip is in your smartphone? What resolution is the song you are listening to? How big is your car’s engine? Newer, smarter, better. It’s a game that can drag you down a rabbit hole.

The biggest problems of chasing the specs as I see it:

  1. There is always a newer gadget coming up around the corner. This means your claims and feelings of superiority are always going to leave you empty when the new gadget is released.
  2. The FUNCTION of the gadget often gets totally lost in the spec wars. I was describing the problem of being an audiophile to a grounded friend of mine. I told him how the marketing leads us to believe that the newer amplifiers and DACs and speakers can reflect a truer sound than the old. He dismissed the whole thing in one simple question: “What is the point of listening to music? It’s to enjoy the music, right? You don’t sound like you’re enjoying the music much when you talk about the specs”. Music players are there to serve us music, not to make us feel like we are lacking something.
  3. Specs are corrupting in the most real sense. If two different specs matter, but they are contradictory – it can corrupt the human spirit. Take VW emissions standards as an example (link). The tension between on the one hand, environmental responsibility and the customers’ perception of the company doing the right thing, and on the other hand, customers need a high performance vehicle that is zippy and meeting speed and power specs – this dichotomy led to false information being manufactured and published. Possibly 20 years in jail??! Hectic punishment all to meet a specs expectation.

As someone prone to chasing specs, I am learning that making do with something that is GOOD ENOUGH for the job it is intended – this is the secret to a lot of contentment and productivity.

Embedding a track

Continuing with the podcast preparations, I am going to try and embed a Soundcloud track on this blog post.

This blog will be the primary place to go to hear my podcast. Therefore I want to be able to embed tracks so that they are playable without having to leave this site. This involves getting HTML code and pasting it into WordPress. I’ve never done this before, so here it goes with an old track I digitised from an LP a while ago:

Cute song. Radical embedding of audio!

One step closer to my podcast.

Insomnia, America, and Tunein Radio

I can’t sleep. Insomnia is hard to shake because the more you worry about not sleeping, the less likely you are to sleep. When this cycle happens I eventually make a call – It’s time to get up and drink coffee.

So here I am listening to my newfound, favourite TuneIn radio station “American Routes”.

This has me thinking about America and American culture. I am not American in any way – I come from Kenya and South Africa, but in many ways America is always on my mind. I grew up on American cartoons, toys, series and movies. Whether it is the brunt of our jokes, our jealousy or our ambitions, America is a place and an ideal that is all over Africa: “Stupid American tourists” “America is keeping us in debt”. “America is killing our traditions”. “America will save us”. “God bless America”.

At a personal level, this relationship between myself and America is at its most peaceful when American music is playing. For the last 20 years, hiphop has taken Africa by storm. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Blues, jazz, soul, folk, country, bluegrass and gospel traditions of America have enriched my life like little else. All merged together into the melting pot that is Rock n Roll, I would feel starved without American music in my life.

 

 

Quincy Jones’ interview

They say software is eating the world. In the world of music production, software has given anyone with a computer or an iPad access to multiple sounds and techniques. Is this a valid replacement for the old school methods?

Quincy Jones doesn’t think so. In his recent, infamous interview with Vulture he claims that: “Musical principles exist, man,” he said. “Musicians today can’t go all the way with the music because they haven’t done their homework with the left brain. Music is emotion and science. You don’t have to practice emotion because that comes naturally. Technique is different. If you can’t get your finger between three and four and seven and eight on a piano, you can’t play. You can only get so far without technique. People limit themselves musically, man.”

I agree with him on some of this – A classically trained musician will presumably be able to get more out of a production studio (and an iPad) than I can with my untrained background. But, I also think that convenience and emotion trumps technical proficiency for a reason – it sells. And so we have music-by-numbers.

The internet has let the genie out the bottle. By giving publishing and creative power to anyone with a modem, the internet upended the music industry harder than any other i can think of. Music used to have the perfect model. Scarcity in its production process meant that money was made at an astounding rate, and this could be ploughed back into experimentation within the industry. However with the cash dissipating due to online piracy and access to resources – most songs on the radio are now designed to appeal to the masses, and to guarantee a sale. Much like we tend to have sequel movies at the cinema, new ground is rarely broken in the mainstream music world.

My response to Quincy is – so what? Move out of the mainstream then. What Quincy Jones fails to realise in his interview is that mainstream music is only one type of failing music. In fact, the term ‘mainstream’ and ‘pop’ are becoming less and less important. The internet has built up communities around every kind of genre you can imagine – from classical to afro-electronic beats driven by iPads – you can find it if you want to.

The problem is not a lack of proficient musicians or producers in the world. It is just that Quincy is looking for new things in the old places. And those old places are broken now.

 

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

One of my favourite songs and it has this line:

“I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are, you make it hard.”

And then after the switchup in timing:

“I’ve got an answer, I’m going to fly away. What have I got to lose?”

And then a trippy guitar solo.

Magic.