Tuesday, March 05, 2013

History in photos, Black Swans in music

Catching up on some older links I've been meaning to say something about:

I can't recall seeing a better collection of photos that take you right inside New York club culture in the 70's and 80's. You really feel as though you're sitting in the room with them in these pictures.  The comments and reminiscences are revealing too, in particular, Nicky Siano's memories of Bianca Jagger's birthday party at Studio 54 (with photographers magically appearing out of the woodwork and bums lining the streets in the back) really sums up NYC's legendary highs (clubs, artists, glamour) and lows (crime, everyday dangers) that made the city so notorious in the 70's.

Why did I only find out about Slices DVD Features a couple of months ago?  In the latest installment, Alva Noto talks about how he was influenced by physics and oscilloscopes (which could be inferred from listening to his music for ten seconds, but it's still nice to hear him talk about it) and the whole interview and all the music in it could have been recorded at almost any time between 2000-2013.  Don't ever change Carsten!  He's been dong exactly the same thing since forever but he knows exactly who he is.

Finally, I woke up to a lot of "best mashup ever!"/"this wins the internet"-style posts today (which of course happens a few times most weeks) but this time it really might be true.  I always say that one of the main reasons I write about music is to be able to look back on what I write in a few years time and laugh about how wrong I was about something (and also to gloat about being right).  But just about everyone (which obviously includes me) writes intrinsically conservative predictions, neglecting to speculate on the Black Swan events that are usually more eye-catching.  Not that there aren't good reasons for this -- Black Swan events are by definition completely impossible to predict, so it's a bit silly to waste time on fantasy booking when you could be writing about the art that's sitting in front of your face.  Nevertheless it would be interesting if we could place Superbowl-type prop bets on music and musicians.  For instance, in 1991, what odds would you give on Trent Reznor winning an Oscar?  1000 to 1?  Maybe the odds come down a bit when he improbably won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 1992, but still.  You can assign almost any number you want to these odds -- these events were so improbable that nobody would have known how to place a value on them.

This is still true today.  In 2007, what were the odds of a reject from a Canadian reality show scoring the runaway biggest pop hit of the year in five years time?  I'd have gone a lot higher than 1000 to 1 on that.  There are precedents for renegade rock artists switching to soundtrack work and winning awards in their 40's and 50's.  There was no precedent for Carly Rae Jepsen.

If I traveled back in time to 1991 and told you that Nine Inch Nails would "collaborate" with a bubblegum pop artist on a "rerecorded" version of "Head Like a Hole" (nobody knew what a mashup was so it would have been described in those terms) and that fans of both bands and music in general would say it was cool and awesome, would you have believed it?

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