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ALL MUSIC IS THE SOUND OF NOW

This listening to music thing has gotten overwhelming. While I feel we’ve whittled away at our meaningful connection to music, it may be a small price to pay for how limitless our sonic horizons have become.

Technology has effectively eliminated the borders that contained popular music of the past. Listeners are no longer limited by the era they live in. Adventurous music fans can sit in Spotsylvania County while their ears take an extended vacation to Argentina.

Today’s middle-schooler is growing up with Justin Timberlake, but they are only a YouTube search away from Serge Gainsbourg.

There is an Internet series that films teenagers as they react to pop culture ephemera. One episode had teens watching and listening to Nirvana videos. While they rightly ridiculed the bizarre visuals in the “Heart-Shaped Box” video, the kids were nearly unanimous in their praise for the music of a band that was at its peak popularity more than 20 years ago. Not only that, but the teens were familiar with the songs—some of them seemed to have an intimate connection to the music. Some went so far as to lament the current state of pop music.

For decades, popular music has been compartmentalized by generation. You could pin down a person’s taste in music based on the year they graduated from high school. That taste in music was an important signifier—a bulwark against parents and grandparents, a cozy capsule for traveling into the future and a nostalgic touchstone for advertisers.

Among the many marketing challenges that face a struggling music industry, I imagine that the dissolution of this generational system is going to be the most difficult to overcome. But what does it mean to consumers?

I would like to think only good things can come of it. Perhaps age-based cohorts won’t be as culturally bonded as they once were, but it opens the possibility that music will act as a powerful cross-generational conduit. We lose the occasional decade-defining “protest song,” but we get a more nuanced understanding of other eras and cultures. Not a bad trade-off.

I’m having a harder time thinking of “old” music as something stuck in its own time. A New York Times story by John Jeremiah Sullivan called “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie” was an eye-opening reminder that even some of the oldest American recordings tell a story worth hearing today. The acoustic blues songs that Geeshie Wiley and L.V. Thomas recorded in 1930 are scratchy and dusty, and I once thought that sort of distortion was simply a sign of age—a barrier to understanding that I would never be able to overcome.

Now that I know the story—and what a story it is—I feel more like a time traveler when I hear those ancient tones. I try to experience them not as I am today, with the expectations I have grown accustomed to, but as someone hearing those songs for the first time. It’s not hard. The millions or billions of songs we have access to are all from the past, but they are hardly lifeless artifacts.

Thanks to technology, music is becoming one long, unbroken continuum. It is literally timeless—an infinite pool of sound suspended in quantum superposition, easily accessed and observed by any person at any time, and not just as descriptions in history books.

It’s a great time to be a fan of music—any music. The biggest problem is trying to figure out where to begin.

JONAS’ IN-TOWN PICK: The Jammers at The Recreation Center. Local cats rocking to some fine classic rock tunes.  Saturday at 8 p.m.

OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Ludacris at the Patriot Center in Fairfax. Luda got something to say, and it would be a lot more fun to hear it live in person. Friday at 8 p.m.

LISTENING TO: “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” by Outkast.  If you’re planning on going to a music festival this summer, you need a refresher.

Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036 | jbeals@freelancestar.com

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