||I come here today first to bring you love. I found about 5 hours of new love last week, even when you reduce it to only one song per album.|
||"The Great Ennead"
||Blood from the Lion's Mouth
||And I come here, I guess, as usual, to write alongside the love and the roaring about how music is the thing that humans do best.|
||T. Bone Burnett, who is a man famous for using machines to make music, didn't have any new music of his own last week, but he did give a speech in which he declared, among other things, that Art Is a Holy Pursuit, that Music Confounds the Machines, and that our "culture" is at stake in a struggle between the artists and the "technocrats and iTopians".|
||"In This Greenhouse of Loneliness and Clouds"
||One might argue that the crat in "techocrat" incriminates only the executives of companies like the one where I work, and thus I shouldn't take this personally.|
||Drop the Act
||"Guide Me Away"
||But if I am not technocratic royalty, I am at least a technocourtier. I have the freedom of the palace, and the power to direct resources of the realm, and thus accept responsibility for at least some of what those forces enact.|
||And since the impersonality of "machines" is largely what Burnett is condeming, taking his polemic personally seems to me like a fairly appropriate and poetic response.|
||"Muspelsturm - A Capella Version"
||I am not in charge of any business functions at Spotify, but I spend my work days avidly inventing and refining and operating machines. I know, pretty well, what they are doing. They have no agendas, since they are only machines and machines don't want things, but I definitely have agendas.|
||"PYRO (FT. IMAABS & LAO)"
||And it's at least true, I think, that my agendae arise from different moral premises than Burnett's.|
||I do not believe, for one, that music is holy. Maybe the opposite, if the opposite of holy is humane. Maybe still the opposite if the opposite of holy is elemental.|
||Burnett was delivering a keynote address to a music-industry conference in Nashville. I am listening to these songs on headphones while my daughter sleeps downstairs. I will love these songs as best I can for a few more days, but then it will be Friday again and there will be more.|
||They will be delicate, brutal, oblique, effusive, ethereal, methodical, fragmentary, distended, unselfconscious and unselfconfident. I will treat them with awe and delight, but not reverence or worship.|
||"Don't Kill The Messenger"
||They will be derivative and reactionary and bombastic and magnificent.|
||But in none of these innumerable forms and guises will they in any sense confound the machines.|
||To claim that they might is, I think, to vastly and grandly misunderstand not only the goals but the nature of the process in which the machines participate.|
||You cannot confound a machine, because it has no expectations. You cannot frustrate it, because it has no desires. You might make it overheat or stop working, but attributing any emotional significance to this is purely meaningless anthropomorphization. A crashed machine, restarted, experiences no chastisement, no sense of defeat.|
||And anyway, the things these machines do is transmit energies between people. Woody Guthrie wrote on his guitar "This machine kills fascists", and I assume we can safely categorize Woody as not a technocrat.|
||The Struggle +1
||Mostly, in fact, the machines transmit love. This is what Woody's guitar did, which is part of why he wrote "kill", challenging the idea of weaponry as much as the idea of fascism.|
||"When Humanity Is Gone"
||Into the Void
||Most of my machines are, at least conceptually, no more complex than the guitar, which is after all itself an instrument of ratios. Mostly they use cheerfully uncomplicated math to quantify listening patterns, in the hopes of calculating a way through the distance separating music and audiences.|
||Burnett accuses somebody of claiming that artists need to get better at marketing, and then laments, rhetorically, "I didn’t start playing music because I sought, or thought it would lead to, a career in marketing." |
||"I Don't Forget, I Don't Forgive"
||But the systems I work on do not require artists to learn marketing any more than they require listeners to become assistant professors of cultural studies in order to listen better.|
||All this machinery making and distributing modern music is profoundly and inherently open-hearted, in that it magnifies the open-heartedness of the people who operate it. The point of categorization and personalization is to bypass "marketing", which tries to confront and change people's behavior and desires, and instead align the universe such that their existing behaviors lead more directly to their desires.|
||"Hold Your Children Close and Pray for Oblivion"
||While Burnett is recruiting for a holy war, I'm trying to teach machines how to find people who would like his music if they only heard it.|
||"Beneath the Relics of Old"
||I want David Lowery fans to hear Cracker on Spotify.|
||I want Taylor Swift to come back so I can play people her songs.|
||Downfall Of Gaia
||I want jazz fans to fall in love with new jazz they don't know, and I hate jazz.|
||This is possible because different jazz lovers discover different jazz, and as a person you can fly across the country to a music conference and listen to a guy in a suit tell you that machines break and art is immortal, but you can't walk the surfaces of the earth finding every other person who likes the same sort of music you do and get them to tell you everything else they know.|
||But the machines, patiently unconfounded, can do this, exactly and exhaustively.|
||What the music industry used to have was markets.|
||"Girl I Met On The Internet"
||What an artist now has is a scattered global audience waiting to be gathered.|
||And, to be very sure, they aren't going to gather on their own.|
||From Patterns to Details
||At the soul of the plaintive line about marketing is the truth that you do not qualify for a minimum wage by virtue of a DistroKid upload.|
||But if anybody is trying to bring that fantasy closer to true, it is us.|
||"The Hum - GFOL"
||We are trying to build systems in which music flows from its creator to its receptive audience.|
||We are trying to make listeners more voraciously amazed by music they would never otherwise have heard.|
||Dance Gavin Dance
||"Betrayed By The Game"
||We want people to listen more, to be willing to spend more time and not incidentally more money on music.|
||"Allt jag har"
||We want that money to support as much music-creation as possible, not end up funding a pop oligarchy, because if music collapses to just a Top 40, our business model is totally fucked.|
||We know a hundred times better than anybody else that "technologies" break, because we're the ones who get woken up by alert systems in the middle of the night when they break.|
||Do you have a dashboard that monitors whether people are listening to your songs?|
||No, you don't, and 1) this is a privilege granted you as an "artist" that us technocrat artisans do not enjoy,|
||Volando al contrario
||and 2) maybe you should, and we could give you one.|
||La Montaña Rusa
||But then Burnett turns to "America", because he is at a conference about "Americana", and it gets smug and a little ugly.|
||"Music is to the United States as wine is to France."|
||Balance And Composure
||But part of what Spotify can help create, I think, is a human music community not locked so myopically into shipping channels and isolationist markets.|
||Music is to the United States as music is to France, as music is to Norway or Paraguay or anywhere else.|
||Borders don't confound the machines, either, but listening patterns flow unevenly across them, and this is interesting in itself.|
||"Suffering: The Art of Letting Go"
||Americana exceptionalism is, like American exceptionalism and every other kind of small-minded imagined superiority, a flourish of pride designed to distract attention from gnawing fears.|
||"Poison In Your Veins"
||Burnett says "So the iTopians have controlled the medium and the message for a generation now. And they are making a complete hash of things."|
||Trump says "...the political hacks that I see who have led our country so brilliantly over the last ten years with their knowledge because look at the mess that we're in."|
||And no matter how much more compelling it might be for fear to say "We could lose all this wonder", that isn't in the nature of the appeal to fear.|
||"Taste Of A Champion - Remastered"
||"We could lose all this" is countered too simply by "No".|
||AS IT IS
||So to sell fear of the future effectively, you have to also sell the illusion of past and current misery.|
||The rhetorical trick is to lure the opponent of fear into defending a real imperfect present against an idealized past and a hallucinated future.|
||But I accept this gambit. This, right now, late September 2016, is the greatest moment in the history of human music so far.|
||"The Silent Earth"
||The means of production have been methodically democratized to the point that you can make a song on a phone while you are waiting for an electric bus.|
||The Gospel Youth
||"The Hospital Blues You Gave to Me"
||All the music in the world could be instantly accessible to anybody with an internet connection, and it's getting ever closer to the point where regressive licensing laws are blocking more access than bandwidth.|
||"Running With Scissors"
||In strict terms of the direct commercial value of recorded music, you can draw graphs that had higher peaks before, but the lines are mostly going up again now, and with the shift from pay-before-hearing to pay-as-you-stream there's good reason to suspect that the future value of current growth may be significantly greater than it was pre-streaming.|
||And the music itself has never been better. It can't have been, because we still have the old music, plus we now have the new music. Basically we've reached the cultural point where every style or method that survived to this point need never vanish.|
||Americana streams. Gregorian chants stream. Burnett warns that "Digital is not an archival medium.", but neither is anything else.|
||The question of how we preserve the recordings of Burnett's sessions is real, and non-trivial. But universal awareness is a cultural archival medium. It's not like seed vaults: If you care about the survival of music, your first priority should be that it is heard.|
||Losing the master tapes Burnett produced for How Will the Wolf Survive? would be tragic.|
||But it would not steal from us those songs. Actually, for all I know, we lost them already. Maybe it doesn't even matter.|
||And, anyway, the opposite of death is not better cryogenesis, it's more life.|
||The best argument, to me, that this is the greatest moment in the history of human music so far, is music's literally incomprehensible profusion.|
||There have never been more songs, more styles, more syntheses and schisms and retrenchments and rebellions.|
||The magnitude of joy increases.|
||Too Close To Touch
||"Miss Your Face"
||Haven't Been Myself
||The barriers between you and your joys crumble.|
||"Art is not a career, it is a vocation, an inclination, a response to a summons.", Burnett rhapsodizes.|
||"Spin The Dial"
||A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings
||But then he still expects to get paid. I get paid to do what I do, too.|
||"Main Title Outlaws and Angels"
||Outlaws and Angels (Original Motion Picture Score)
||I don't believe that "risk" is what separates us.|
||I don't believe this is a war between technocrats and artists, any more than the current American elections are a war between public-policy rationales.|
||Cry of Dawn
||"Light a Light"
||Cry of Dawn
||I think, as with most emotional conflicts, both of these are choices between fear and love.|
||Jeroen van Koningsbrugge
||One way says "You are right to fear, and only I can lead you into this dark."|
||The other way says "Oh! Oh! It's this song! Get up and dance with me!"|
||"Hon gör mig galen"
||Most of our ideas will only sort of work. Maybe none of the ones we try today. But this way at least there's dancing.|
||"Here It Is Tomorrow"
||The Big Shot Chronicles
||And tomorrow, if we're neither too scared or too dead, we'll try a few more.|