The Technology Angel
In this age of conspicuous consumption, the objects of desire can often become more important than the ends for which they are intended. Are you more proud of your gear or your music?
"TO THE EARLY-19th-century German writers who gave him that nickname, the philistine was an enemy of the spirit. He was someone, usually with money, who took the assumptions of capitalism with him into the realm of culture. One assumption was that anything of value could be understood as a commodity to be bought and sold. The fact that most art took the form of objects was convenient."
The quote is from Evan Eisenberg's The Recording Angel (Picador, 1988), in which he studies the effect recording music has on the music itself and the society that consumes these recordings. His study covers the range of human activities from collectors who value music above all else to the "philistines" he refers to above. He looks at the impact of music on our culture and the effects of that culture on the music. What he is probably unaware of is that much of his study applies equally to those of us who have chosen to become involved in making music.
With instruments, as with records (CDs, tapes and so on), there is a tendency for the hardware to become sufficiently important to overshadow the music it was made to create. I'm not suggesting that there's no place in the world for guitar collectors, for example, but is a guitar better appreciated for its tone, design and history or for the music it's capable of making? Is a "collectable" guitar, able to command a small fortune because of its background, a more valuable instrument than the one you feel most comfortable writing songs on? And those huge collections of old synthesisers - are they really there because each one has a unique musical function that another cannot fulfil?
To quote Eisenberg once more: "In capitalism there are first heroes of production and then heroes of consumption. These are people who spend on an heroic scale, perhaps, or with heroic discrimination."
Again the discerning instrument collector comes to mind, but so does the studio owner - the amassing of racks of equipment on an "heroic scale" taking the place of the pursuit of music. Let's face it, many studio owners are simply failed musicians for whom the quest of fiIling a studio with expensive and impressive equipment has replaced musical goals. The studio has become the focus of his or her attention rather than a medium through whicb musical ideas can be recorded.
The idea of the latest sampler replacing a well-executed sample, the most sophisticated sequencing software replacing a song or the latest multitrack tape recorder replacing a recording of that song is only as strange as the aspiring guitarist searching out the gauge of Hendrix' strings and the make of his effects pedals in the belief that they hold the key to his musical skill. The only real difference is that our studio fetishist has given up on making music - whether he/she realises it or not.
How many times must our musician-turned-studio owner have issued the invitation "come over and see my studio" instead of "come and listen to my music" as he/she would once have aspired to do? The room full of equipment has taken the place of a tape full of music.
That Eisenberg's work does not take account of the technophile is no failing of his study. Rather it is a comment on the nature of mankind. That, to some people, the record has become more important than the recording it carries is certain; but let us hope that the recording studio never gains sufficient status to smother the music it was designed to help create.
ON A COMPLETELY different note, as it's customary to say, I'd like to extend a welcome to two new members of the MT team: Nigel Lord and Colin McKee.
Nigel is taking the place of David Bradwell on the editorial staff. A past editor of MT's sister magazine, Rhythm, he brings with him considerable experience of the recording studio as well as time spent behind drum kit and keyboards (he's even offered to help me sub-edit MT copy). Colin is MT's new Ad Manager, although he can be found behind the keys in his band, The Stretch, when he's not looking after the interests of the magazine's advertisers. A warm welcome to you both; the team goes from strength to strength.
Editorial by Tim Goodyer
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