September 29, 2007

How to make mayonnaise (hint: you start with eggs...)

by Chris Randall

Frequent visitors will remember a comment I made in, uhh, the comments of a post that I'm too fucking lazy to find, the gist of which was "Steve Albini is cool and all, but he says some stupid shit from time to time." To cultivate his odd personality trait (flaw?) of holding court in strange places (like, e.g., a the forums of a poker site, just to name one), he gave an interview with Gourmandizer, which is either a record label with an atrocious web site, or a food blog with a really atrocious web site. I'm not sure which. (Note to web "designer": Flash-based splashes with music and rollover sounds are the strictly the domain of car companies, c. 1998. Don't do it. Ever.)

Anywho, I managed to sift through the single most pompous interview ever, in order to farm this little hidden gem:

Compare the advent of digital recording to an event in the history of food or agriculture.

Mayonnaise is as it is now known a bastardization of the Sauce Mayonnaise every saucier learns to make his first season as an apprentice. Pre-packaged mayonnaise sold in jars is almost nothing but tasteless vegetable oil and water, emulsified by gum and gelatin. I think this product is analogous in many ways to the CD, and it's introduction has degraded the standard of eating in much the same way digital recording has degraded the standard of music.

We'll avoid the obvious fact that both the question and response are a fantastic example of non sequitur logic and just say that, sorry, Steve, but digital recording has nothing whatsoever to do with the standard of music. Or mayonnaise, for that matter. I realize, of course, that you know that as well as I do, and you were just trying to figure out a cute way to get your mayonnaise recipe in to what is obviously an e-mail interview, but even so, since the God Hath Spake, this will get bandied about the Interwebs for time immemorial (it may be 10 years old already, for all I know).


Or, to put it crystal clear to the fanboys: there is just as much (if not more) singular shit recorded through tubes, on to tape and cut to vinyl. THE MEDIUM IS NOT THE MESSAGE. Shitty songs won't be improved by good technique, and a great song will survive the worst recording methods.



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Sep.29.2007 @ 8:16 PM
If you combine Albini's metaphor with Dylan's complaints it starts to remind me of a performance art piece a friend did in college all we need is chicken feet and a bottle of Jack.

Sep.29.2007 @ 8:18 PM
Solipsist Nation
I listen to Big Black on CD. IN YOUR FACE, ALBINI.

(I have resisted the urge to eat egg and cheese sandwiches from my copy of The Rich Man's 8-Track Tape, though, even though he suggests it and I do like a good egg and cheese sandwich.)


Sep.29.2007 @ 8:38 PM
Can Steve Albini really stand behind all the poop he's produced? Cause there's a lot of poop in that catalogue...

Sep.29.2007 @ 8:56 PM
Steve Albini is an engineer for hire and his name is associated with hundreds of records. I doubt you can really blame the man if a good deal of those records suck, as even he'll put it, his job is just to record them. That said, if you think any of his bands(rapeman, big black, shellac) are poop, then i guess you can hold him accountable.

Sep.29.2007 @ 9:19 PM
i've got albini on MP 3

Sep.29.2007 @ 10:49 PM
This is not so simple.
To begin with, as Chris quite rightly noted, the analogy of mayo to the CD delivery medium is poor - it implies that mayo is an ingredient in every dish made for human consumption, or that it is some sort of lubricant essential to the physical delivery of food to the human organism - obvious nonsense. Second, Steve wasn't as precise as he should have been, and third Chris chose to take that imprecision literally the better to thrash him. Steve should have said something along the lines of "...degraded the standards of audio reproduction excellence..." It might well have also been qualified by adding "[what in my subjective opinion were the exemplary and impeccable analog technology-based] standards etc..."

I can look at this dispassionately because to me Steve is only a craftsperson/business owner in a different city. I don't know any of the music with which he is associated.

This is only a guess, but I venture to suggest that the reason people take note of and react to what Steve says (aside from his professional credentials) is the same reason this blog is so popular - an interesting and opinionated person speaks his mind and cares not much where the chips fall.


Sep.29.2007 @ 11:30 PM
Chris Randall
I agree inasmuch as I took his generalization (which, as I said, I assume was just a way to talk about mayonnaise) quite literally for, well, literal purposes. But be that as it may, it is the root of the "everything sucks now that there's no tubes in it" mentality, which is quite silly.

And Steve has made some great records. He's also been party to vast quantities of utter crap because quite literally anyone can buy him. Whether this is Good or not is certainly open to lengthy argument, but he is, for better or worse, enabling that which he dislikes. Part of the reason the signal-to-noise ratio has become so fucked in the last few years is exactly that which he is both decrying with one side of his mouth while welcoming with the other: accessibility. Literally anyone can make a record these days, with little cost outlay. Hence, a lot more noise. The signal is still there, though. There are records that came out last month, last year, this decade that, IN MY OPINION, easily stand with the Analog Masterworks Of The Seventies that everyone trumpets.

In order to make my first demo (which was the one that got me a spec deal, and thus a direct link to signing a recording contract) I quite literally turned to crime to be able to pay for the recording. There's no need to do that now; anyone with a weekly paycheck from Wendy's has access to far better gear than I could get in 1989. And if that person saved a little bit, he could afford a Day With Steve, no questions asked. Welcome to the future.



Sep.30.2007 @ 2:24 AM
Even Steve recorded at least one of my fave albums of the last few years (Joanna Newsom's 'Ys', you can shoot me now) and does have some really good points in his rants, that is just tired. I think that interview might be something like mid '90s though (based on all the other stuff on the site), maybe at that point everyone and his mom hadn't had enough of whining about digital recording?

If you want a much funnier and palatable quote on the same vein though, you can always look in that poker site Q&A where at some point he answers a question with something like "I don't use computers to make records. I use tape machines, like nature intended. I use computers for correspondence, arguments, poker and porn".


Sep.30.2007 @ 2:42 AM
bait aside, the fact is you "...managed to sift through the single most pompous interview ever, in order to farm this little hidden gem: ..."

oh, there's always the pontificating sifter.

cheers in your quest


Sep.30.2007 @ 5:04 PM
In all fairness, I've recently read Albini saying "there's tons of great bands out there." So I don't think he's saying there's no good music. And I also believe that one of his strongest arguments against digital is not so much that it sounds bad but as a long-term storage medium it is inherently flawed. Whereas you can take any properly cared for tape into any studio and play it back, there's thousands of hours of digital recording that are all but lost, either because the storage was flawed, the technology is no longer available, or if it is it no longer work properly and is all but impossible to fix.

Is that what he's talking about here? I can't parse the metaphor. But the man does not shy away from his opinions.


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