On music videos

Ever since I moved to Pittsburgh, I haven’t owned a TV, so thoughts of the music video had really escaped my mind until recently, when a few friends of mine were commissioned to make a music video for a local rapper. As they were experimental filmmakers, I was a bit surprised that the young rapper wanted them to make his video. They had green screens and crazy editing tricks, but as far as rental bling-bling, romping rear ends, and a mean-looking posse, there was not a whole lot they could offer.

When I voiced my concerns about this deficit of quintessential rapper paraphernalia, my friend made a solid point to me: No one cares about the music video anymore.

Most of us grew up in a time where after school we could plop on the couch, turn on MTV’s Total Request Live, and it seemed like one of the coolest things in the world. We were envious of the people in that Times Square studio that made hand contact with whomever the big guest was that day, and of course with that dreamboat of a host, Carson Daly. We liked how interactive it was, with people all across the country voting to see their favorite video. We got sad when our favorite videos went to the retirement home, and pissed off when the video we liked even more never made it out of the purgatory of being ranked 11th.

There was even a point at which the music video was so exciting that they started making TV shows about making music videos. Making the Music Video launched in 1999, and now almost 10 years later, you can hardly find a music video being broadcast on MTV.

What it comes down to is this: Video killed the radio star, and YouTube killed the music video. Before the Internet was always at your fingertips, you relished the opportunity to see it broadcast — the same way that before you could buy a single song from iTunes, you relished the chance to hear it on the radio. The excitement of anonymously voting your favorite band into TRL stardom doesn’t have half the glory of posting your own video response, heckling on the comments board, or spamming blogs with links to the video.

The music video has become so irrelevant that no one needs a $50,000 budget, 300 naked chicks, 10 choreographers, and two body doubles for it to be watched in households across the world anymore. As proven with OK Go’s 2006 YouTube video wonder “Here It Goes Again,” you can throw a bunch of household shit together, and make it interesting enough for someone to watch while they’re procrastinating from everything else they should be doing.

On robotic noise

In Pittsburgh, some might argue that experimental music is king. From heavy noise bands to kitchen sink recordings, if you’re into the weird, you’re not too far away from a decent house show (provided you know the right people). Experimental music seems to be gaining popularity across the board, and with that popularity comes new people finding new ways to create it. What used to be a couple of dudes with microphones down their throats, running their guitars through frequency analyzers, and showing a rainbow display of effects pedals slowly seems to be getting replaced with full-on machine-made music.

So, try to picture it: a whole band of robots playing robot instruments, which are far more complex than anything a human could do. Is the robot band cooler? Are they more talented? Which would you rather listen to? My question is: What makes this kind of music cool? I recently read an article about a band that uses an EEG (electroencephalograph) to convert brainwaves into effective noise pedals that control the tone, pitch, etc. of the noise that the band is creating.

If I were to hear this band without knowing what it was and it didn’t sound too good, I’d probably turn it off. But after knowing the concept and the process, I would want to give it a shot and listen to it the whole way through. I have no problem admitting that it’ll probably sound extremely bad, but I would still appreciate it.

Now, I’m not saying that I would appreciate it nearly as much as the sound of, say, Chick Corea pouring his heart and soul into a piano, but I would still respect it. In a sense, the brainwaves are a portrayal of the creator’s emotions so I could even claim that I could relate to it, if I wanted to. But I don’t think that I would.

Back to the robots, though. Let’s say the whole band is a bunch of instruments that are programmed to make noise based on some computer algorithm that is randomly generated. That would catch my attention for sure. I would be quite amazed by whoever created these robots, but as for the music, I don’t think I would really listen to it. I mean, I would hear it, that’s for sure, but the whole time I would just be thinking about the process by which it was created, not the actual composition. The robot band is definitely cool, there’s no doubt about that, but I would prefer to listen to Chick Corea for the rest of my life rather than a whole digital playlist of every genre created by robots.

On autumn tunes

The windows in my apartment have been shut, an act that is irreversible and signals what I knew was bound to happen. Fall decided to come after all, and winter is beginning to rear its head, and I am waiting out what will probably be a few years until the landlord turns on our heat. So while we’re clinging onto Kleenex and cleaning the cough drops off the shelves, we have to keep company with songs for fall. These songs, some new and some old, have kept me warm over certain chilly months in ways that not even wood paneling and a glass of bourbon could.

The National — “Fake Empire.” I was never too big a fan of this album, but there is a certain fit between this song and carving pumpkins. Granted, I have never carved a pumpkin, or even looked at a pumpkin while listening to this song, but I can imagine the exact texture of pumpkin pulp in my hands when I listen to this song.

Leadbelly — “In the Pines.” There are a lot of old blues songs that are right at home in the foggy months of fall and winter, but the story conveyed in this traditional folk song will make you feel a little bit more grateful for where you’re shiverin’ the whole night through.

Menomena — “Wet and Rusting.” Ah, yes, the intrinsic longing of fall. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want someone to come over and use a heavy down comforter. The song has enough energy to move around a bit, but it furls its eyebrows all the time and is commendable in its acknowledgment of futility.

Karen Dalton — “A Little Bit of Rain.” Last week I was playing Karen Dalton’s album at work on a rainy day. At least 12 customers asked what was playing, and two of them even bought her album. “A Little Bit of Rain” is the song I put on all my high school mix CDs, but I’m still not tired of it. The perfect music for a gray day, Dalton’s voice hangs thick in the air and her lack of apology and regret is refreshing to hear.

Elvis Perkins — “While You Were Sleeping.” You could make a blanket of the description in this song, which rolls constantly off Perkins’ tongue without becoming flowery or overbearing. In this post-9/11 song, Perkins works with a melancholy sensibility without brooding or isolating himself from the audience.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy — “What’s Missing Is.” It’s hard to choose just one Will Oldham song for a fall playlist. This song, from his latest album, Lie Down in the Light, has a calm and steady rhythm with quiet harmonies that make the song perfect for keeping still. Whether you’re lying down to take a nap or taking a minute during the day to steady yourself, this song is beautiful in the autumn foliage.

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