Author Archives: The Doctor
Roger Scruton writes in “Music Goes Solo”:
The big change, it seems to me, came when music began to be packaged for home consumption – home consumption, without home production. The gramophone and the radio did some of this work. But it was completed by the iPod, and the habit, which children now acquire from the earliest age, of walking around with their music in their ears, regardless of what else they are doing. Music is no long something you stop to listen to, so as to pass, with whatever degree of wonder, from the world of ordinary causality into this sphere of freedom. Still less is it something that you take time off to play, or to make with your friends. It has been brought down to earth, so as to flow around everyday things, like rainwater on the pavement, demanding no effort either to make it or to hear it, as much a part of the background as the weather or the sound of traffic.
Some of the consequences of this are often remarked on: the fact that children are no longer motivated to learn musical instruments or to sing, whether alone or in choirs; the fact the musical tastes remain static, insulated from judgment, since the iPod only presents you with the things that you like; the fact that children only half attend to the things they are doing, just as they only half attend to the things that are sounding in their ear. But that last point is perhaps the most important. Thanks to the packaging of music we are entering a new world of half attention, a world where everything is done, read, understood, engaged with by half, the other half being the musical tapestry on which the thing of the moment is pinned.
Should we worry about this? And if so, is there anything we can do about it? One major difficulty in confronting the phenomenon is that – precisely because people are plugged into their music from morn to night – it is no longer possible to separate people from their music. We cannot invite them to stand back from their music in a posture of critical judgment.
A few observations about prog:
When done right, prog demands total attention and total immersion from the listener. (Long song lengths are merely a sign that prog grants no concessions on this point; namely, its classical demand for full musical attention.)
Prog demands musical excellence on the part of the instrumentalists. (The renowned virtuosity of prog’s best players is well known, as is their propensity for group collaborations that are opposed to the lone “soloist” mentality.)
Prog takes technology and self-consciously subordinates it to its musical purposes. (Towers of keyboard gear, for example, are tamed and brought into the service of a transformed rock idiom. And frequently this occurs during concept albums that take as their explicit theme the confrontation of humanity with technological threats and tyrannical regimes.)
And finally, prog takes pride its judgmental, critical mentality. Prog listeners are happy to argue for the superiority of their favorite genre and for their favorite artists within that genre. Progarchists love to debate the critical merits of proggy musical achievement. Disputations about artistic merit still thrive in the prog corner.
So, perhaps what Friedrich Hölderlin observed — an observation that Heidegger frequently liked to bring in to his meditations on technology — may be glimpsed as the promise of prog:
But where danger is, grows
The saving power also.
And even if one can enjoy prog alone, it still propels one to public discussion of it. In this way, it may also be seen as — by its very nature — no solo music.
Steven Wilson interviewed about his 5.1 mix of Close to the Edge:
Mettler: Do you consider this one of your best 5.1 mixes to date?
Wilson: There are a lot of magical moments on there, yes. At the same time, I was absolutely terrified to do this mix. It’s almost like rewriting The Bible, isn’t it?
Mettler: Since it is such an iconic album, you must have felt some level of added pressure before you even cued up those tapes in your studio.
Wilson: I did. And the same way The Bible defines the way people live their lives, Close to the Edge has defined some people’s musical taste. For better or worse, you have to realize you could be messing with people’s minds, in a way. So that’s terrifying. But I enjoyed it, and I came away with more admiration for the record than I had to start with – which is no mean feat, because I thought it was terrific to start with.
Mettler: Close to the Edge is one of those benchmark records that I always come back to for a full-album listening experience.
Wilson: It’s a bona-fide A-level masterpiece. I think “masterpiece” is an overused word, but there are some records that deserve being called that, and this is one of them.
In a nice coincidence, during the same time that Brad was writing and has posted his Progarchy Editorial on “The End of Rock,” I have been listening to and enjoying the new Boston CD released back in December, “Life, Love, & Hope.”
Boston has a great sound that can best be described with the adjective “soaring” — as in: soaring guitar riffs, soaring lead lines, soaring organ solos, and incredibly rich layers of soaring vocal harmonies. No wonder their signature album cover look has always been one that depicts guitars as spaceships.
I am happy to report that the new Boston album is a work of excellence. Tom Scholz has always been a perfectionist and he is very famous for his protracted battles with record companies. After he was pressured to use a non-basement studio to re-record the demo tracks for the original Boston album (1976), and after he was pressured to release the second Boston album without being fully happy with it (Don’t Look Back — 1978), Boston albums have ever since only come out at the rate of about one per decade: Third Stage (1986), Walk On (1994), Corporate America (2002), and now Life, Love, & Hope (2013).
Scholz prefers to be a loner in the studio, in order to best pursue excellence through perfectionism. There has always been something wonderfully “prog” about Scholz’s insanely detailed musical devotion. There are abundant examples of musical virtuosity on Boston records, but just take “Foreplay/Long Time” from Boston (1976) if you would dispute placing Boston in the prog pantheon. And Scholz can achieve stratospheric musical heights in just a two minute instrumental — for example, take either “Last Day of School” or “O Canada” from the new album — thus demonstrating how he can soar even higher than what the average prog band can attain in even ten minutes.
It was interesting to read Brad’s editorial and at the same time try to imagine an album like Boston (1976) being released today and achieving similar mass acclaim with sales figures of over 17 million. What a cultural loss that we cannot hear any tracks from the new Boston album being played across all radio stations everywhere! The youth of today are suffering a great deprivation.
For my part, I am thankful that I encountered Boston at the age I did. For me, Boston in effect was “starter prog,” as the excellence that they conveyed in “More Than a Feeling” opened me up to the transcendent possibilities available through music. “More Than a Feeling” was a true revelation, and my love of that song has never changed. It sounds as magical to me now as when I first heard it.
It’s a genuine thrill that Scholz is still devoted to his uncompromising art and that this new album has caught me off guard by being so darn good. Every track is wonderful and I will have to post further at Progarchy about it.
For now, in the spirit of Brad’s excellent editorial, I just wanted to share with you what Scholz writes in the liner notes. His note shows that the heart of rock and roll is still beating, and that the spirit of prog is what animates that beating heart. Now, you may perhaps know that spirit by one of its more well-known names — “The Spirit of Radio” — but for me, because of what I learned early on from Scholz, I have always known that that spirit is a spirit that is indeed “More Than a Feeling”:
When I started recording this album over ten years ago, who’d have thought I’d still be working on it in 2013? OK, don’t answer that. These are all songs from the heart, each of them taking many months of effort to write, arrange, perform and record, always up to the demands of BOSTON’s harshest critic, me. They have all been meticulously recorded to analogue tape on the same machines and equipment used for BOSTON’s hits for the past 35 years.
After the internet and digital file sharing knocked the foundation out from under the music business, it no longer became possible to record a full production analogue album like this one, unless you were willing to do it purely for the art. I found out that I was. But as the years wore on, struggling with obstinate pieces, over-stressed gear, and my own uncertainty, I sometimes wondered if these songs would ever see the light of day. Now, listening to the album, I feel like I have burst from a dark tunnel of seemingly endless solitary work and self-doubt into a bright new world. If any of these songs can brighten your day for a few minutes, it was worth it.
— Tom Scholz
David Clayton reminisces in an interesting piece — “Genesis — Can Popular Culture Create the Desire for God? I Say Yes!” — over at his Web site, The Way of Beauty:
When I was sixteen, I had no interest in music and if you’d asked me I would have said that I just wasn’t musical. Then I heard the album (do we still use that word nowadays?) by Genesis called Selling England by the Pound. This was my first experience of hearing a piece of music that just transported me through its beauty (the instrumental section in the last half of the track called Cinema Show and then instrumental sections, again, on the track, the Firth of Fifth ). What would happen later with Schubert, Brahms, Mozart and Palestrina happened first with Genesis.
Yes is coming to Canada:
In March 2014, iconic and Grammy-winning rock band YES bring their concert tour to Canada, unveiling a true classic rock triple-header by performing three of their most popular albums in their entirety, all in one concert: 1971’s THE YES ALBUM, 1972’s CLOSE TO THE EDGE, and 1977’s GOING FOR THE ONE.
Music audiences across Canada will experience the albums – each representing an important milestone in YES’ career which encompasses sales of close to 50 million albums worldwide – performed from beginning to end.
Chris Epting of AOL’s Noisecreep.com said: “Yes demonstrates why they remain one of the most vaunted and respected musical forces in progressive rock among both fans and players alike… Singer Jon Davison, now a year into his role as frontman demonstrated from the outset that he is more than up to the task… At one time it was about exploration, experimentation and an elegant, seamless blending of many musical styles into one space-age storm that remains inspired, atmospheric and very hard to categorize. This was a feast for the followers; faithful renditions for the many die hard starship troopers that were no doubt reliving many scrapbook Yes memories over the years. But the show was not about mere nostalgia. This is a band that still feels strangely new, simply by doing what they do, pushing the boundaries and presenting songs that, like the wildly colorful and original Roger Dean artwork that represents them, are just beautifully designed and built to last.”
I can’t miss this!
Concert of a lifetime!
And my detailed concert review will be posted right here at Progarchy.com.
Dream Theater has invited the Berklee College of Music onstage with them in Boston. The March 25th concert will be recorded and include “the Berklee World Strings and the Berklee Concert Choir for the second half of the set“:
DREAM THEATER was founded in 1985 when founding members—guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and former drummer Mike Portnoy—attended the Berklee College of Music. Also adding to the significance of this collaboration: Mike Mangini (drums), who joined the band in 2010, is a former faculty member of the Berklee College of Music. This special homecoming will be captured and recorded for a later release. DREAM THEATER will be joined by special guest ensembles the Berklee World Strings and the Berklee Concert Choir for the second half of the set. The ensembles will layer distinct dramatic elements to DREAM THEATER’s production. The World Strings are an international group of creative improvisers who play with rhythmic qualities seldom heard from string instruments. The Concert Choir stretches its repertoire from traditional and contemporary music through a wide range of genres.
Mike Portnoy is excited that Transatlantic is becoming something more than just a side-project, but a great band in which all four voices are singing:
This is now our fourth album – we started in ’99, and so we’re into our 15th year. I think we’ve been promoted from side project to part-time band. In the beginning, it was this concept of mine to put together a quote-unquote supergroup of modern prog players. That was the initial thing from the get-go – it was a project.
The second album was kind of an immediate response to how successful the first one was; we wanted to do it again. Then we had a big eight or nine-year hiatus. When we got back together for The Whirlwind, it was like a big secret reunion. People didn’t know about it, so when we finally announced it, it was kind of a big deal.
Now, here we are with the fourth album, and after the reunion and the success of The Whirlwind, we feel like this can be a real part-time band, because our circumstances have changed. When we started this in the late ‘90s, I was obviously still in Dream Theater, and Neal was in Spock’s Beard. Those were our main things, and Transatlantic was definitely a side band.
But here we are in 2014: I’m no longer in Dream Theater – I’m a free agent, doing lots of different things; Neal’s a free agent and is doing lots of different things. So it gives Transatlantic as an entity a little bit more flexibility. I think that’s what’s promoted us from side project to more part-time band.
… In Dream Theater I did most of my singing. In Transatlantic I sing lead as well as lot of background vocals – same with Flying Colors, and the same with Yellow Matter Custard, my Beatles tribute. And like I said, I did a tremendous amount within Dream Theater. I did a tremendous amount of secondary lead vocals and harmonies, and I wrote a huge amount of lyrics and melodies within the band. You’d think a lot of people would know by now, but I guess not everybody pays attention.
For me, this is one of the great things about Transatlantic, that you’ve got four people singing, four distinct voices contributing to the music. All of my favorite bands have had all four members singing. Obviously, The Beatles are a great example; maybe a lesser example is KISS. In Pink Floyd, you had three of the guys singing; Queen had three of the guys singing. I’ve always appreciated the variety in those bands.
The digital future is here. Streaming is increasing and downloading is shrinking.
While the major record labels are floundering, Google is backing a small new new record label called “300″ (named after the movie about the last stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae).
This reveals “that Google is prepared to invest in at least partially owning music copyrights and helping to develop artists outside of the traditional label system“:
- 300 will be “a music content company devoted to the discovery and development of the artists of the future.”
- The general idea is “to create an innovative artist development structure with greater flexibility and lower overheads to challenge the majors.”
- Other investment funds are involved in addition to Google, but Google is the biggest investor.
- … 300 “promises to push the envelope in terms of artist development and distribution.”
Rocco Pendola announces that iTunes is dead:
Digital downloads are dead. As reported by Billboard, digital music sales decreased — for the first time ever — by 5.7% in 2013. …
Apple wins no matter what happens. The record industry cannot hang its hat on the still-breathing iTunes Store. That’s a ticket to certain death. Put another way, iTunes will not be the sole long-term survivor, as digital sales go the way of the compact disc. That’s why Timothy D. Cook hedged his bets with streaming service iTunes Radio.
Dan Flynn nails it over at The American Spectator:
We use our futuristic devices to play ancient music. Starting sometime in 2012, catalog albums outsold new releases (eighteen-months old or younger) for the first time since Soundscan began tracking sales. When stale tastes better than fresh, something’s gone terribly wrong with the market where you shop. …
What do we bequeath in 2014’s time capsule? The dearth of truly popular and remotely cultural pop culture is enough to make one feel sorry for posterity employing postmodern technology to relive the early 21st century.
The past regarded nostalgia as a mental illness. We experience it as a normal aspect of contemporary life. What does this say of our collective health?
Our preference for Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” over Frank Turner’s “Tape Deck Heart” isn’t an indication of the superiority of the past to the present. It merely demonstrates the choke that memory lane holds over current creativity. Great is out there. But you have to look in spots that are really out there.