May 8, 2011

Medium != Message...

by Chris Randall

One thing I've often said, when confronted with the type of person that gets in to the minutia of the recording process, perhaps at the expense of the big picture, is that a good song will survive any production process, while a bad song can't be saved by the most sophisticated gear and recording techniques available.

This sort of idea is anathema to the Gear Queer, who is always certain that there is that one more piece of kit sitting out there, just beyond grasp, that will push things over the edge and make all the difference. We're each of us guilty of this behavior, of course. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, etc. But the simple fact of the matter is that the work of art exists already, as a wave function, and whatever you need to collapse that bitch and bring shit out in to the cold light of day is what you need. There are records that wouldn't exist without a massive, and relatively expensive, modular synth and a fairly detail-oriented production approach (see: A Funneled Stone), and others that would sound fucking retarded if they were anything but a guitar and a vocal. (See: Robert Johnson's entire ouvre. Happy 100th b'day to Mr. Johnson, btw.)

Now, this entire approach could be perceived as my own way of justifying my several rather ridiculous recording habits, the which you're all perfectly aware of. I approach photography and music-making in the same way, trying to squeeze something interesting out of a device not really meant to do what I'm asking of it, largely via a trial-and-error approach rather than any cohesive planning on my part. My general philosophy with respect to photography is the Shakespeare/Monkey method: if you take enough pictures, some of them are bound to be interesting, and quantity has a quality all its own. No particular reason this can't be applied to music. (See: Wesley Willis.)

I guess what I'm trying to say, when it comes down to it, is this: I am of the firm opinion that there is interesting shit hiding in my brain. All I have to do is figure out how to get it out. While a new piece of The Shiny might make certain aspects of that chore easier, at the end of the day, the song lives in my brain, not in the gear. The medium is the messenger, not the message itself.


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May.08.2011 @ 3:38 PM
"I am of the firm opinion that there is interesting shit hiding in my brain. All I have to do is figure out how to get it out."

Looks like I just found my new motto.

May.08.2011 @ 4:04 PM
there's a lot of ways to skin a cat. no matter how you do it the cat get's skinned. bare hands, fancy scalpels, steak knife..

so, nice post, i agree with you. the gear may influence the outcome but it isn't the idea.

also, quantity - i try to follow through with all the ideas and finish them off even if i know an idea is not my best because maybe i go back to it later and it becomes something else or maybe i learn something or maybe the idea isn't as bad as i think. i don't know how many times there's a song i write that i think is kind of weak and that's the one everybody loves. wtf.

and my gear past is full of things bought and sold thinking they'd be the magic inspirational bullet. not so much any more.

May.08.2011 @ 5:37 PM
This post triggers some of my own recent thoughts and processes, so please bear with me through this:

1) McLuhans title originally was "the medium is the massage", but as this sounded funny to the editor, he changed it to "the message". As such, the original title is much closer to your interpretation, Chris.

2) However, I like the word "the message", because I think the media tells a message about us, about the state of the society, as a reflection of what we are doing and where our focus is.

3) I fully agree to your sentences about good song/bad song (myself a mixing engineer for many years, so I am speaking against my own arts)

4) in my view, the interesting bits and pieces are not located in our brain, but in our feelings (or call it soul or heart, whatever, I am not religious). "Art" is the ability to feel in the first place, to store those emotions, and to be able to recreate those feelings for someone else who is sensitive to a specific form of art. may it be through music, painting, photography, literature, dance, etc... Art is about recovering your stored experiences, and transforming those into something which will "touch" others.

May.08.2011 @ 7:12 PM
Tangental but...

@audioworld - i don't believe the book was ever titled The Medium is the Message (there may have been a later comp with the title). The book is called the Medium Is the Massage which is either (depending on who you believe) a misprint that McLuhan preferred to his intended title or a pun on mass age.

One of my favorite McLuhan quotes is from his cameo in Annie Hall when he exclaims "you mean my whole fallacy is wrong!"

I think I have come to view acquiring/playing with gear and song/sound creation as two different past times.

I don't feel I need the latest/greatest/newest gear to accomplish something/anything. I do, however, enjoy playing with the latest/greatest/newest gear in and of itself. Often the two are complimentary but not always.

May.08.2011 @ 7:44 PM
Waldorf Attack vst ...always keeps me from buying some overpriced drum synth no matter how hard my tallywhacker gets when I hear it... kinda like eatin with ya eyes.

May.08.2011 @ 9:54 PM
I dunno. New sound-producing gear usually provides me with the spark to create - and for a brief time feel that I've broken new ground - although it still sounds pretty much like me...
New recording gear doesn't excite me as much (save for monitors). It's just there to capture what I do, not fix it.

May.08.2011 @ 11:37 PM
the spark to create, sure and some times genuine 'game changer' but sometimes "shiny new toy".

sometimes new hotness and a new 'system' for making things happen. if it sounds good, is fun to use then chances is are it will yield something interesting and be full of new discoveries.

the very least.. it's figuring out how something works and learning a new thing.

May.09.2011 @ 3:02 AM
"if you take enough pictures, some of them are bound to be interesting"

Yeah, but at $2+ a shot this photography thing has started getting 'spensive! Polaroid cameras are directly leading to the starvation and ruination of my family. But hey:
link []

Also, how is the Yunon? I have bought two, and neither have worked. If I buy another one, I'll probably have enough parts to Frankenstein together a working one. Worth it? Or is it just another toy camera?


May.09.2011 @ 3:22 AM
Anyone ever read T.E.Hulme's Romanticism and Classcism?

I recommend it. I'm sure he wasn't thinking about converters when he wrote it, but the themes hold true...

May.09.2011 @ 3:24 AM
That should read 'Classicism'...

Apologies-fat fingers+iPhones=typos.

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