Earpollution was recently featured on NPR's program "All Things Considered." A very nice piece detailing our humble beginnings; our strength through diversity as writers; and our commitment to remain a 100% indie, ecofriendly, nonmultifuckingnationalcorporate web presence for you, the free thinking reader. Big shoutouts to Cynthia Rose for her kind words. Thank you, thankyouverymuch.
Inside the March issue of Profiles, Earpollution catches up with Sadhappy, Paul Hinklin and Evan Schiller's ten year musical collaboration and exploration. Cool By Proxy takes a look at Pentapus and some of the pitfalls involved with running an independent label. Elsewhere: singing your punk anthem at Punk Rock Karaoke; Earpollution on assignment at Toronto's Bitter Harvest; Up Up Up Up Up Up and away with Ani DiFranco; coming down with the new Damien Jurado; plus many more reviews on our merry-go-round of music.
Without further ado, Earpollution presents: The Sixty Minute Soundtrack.
by Mark Teppo
Brian Eno, in his liner notes to the first pressing of Music for Airports in 1978: "Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."
In the last twenty years, we have gone from simply listening to music to being constantly surrounded by it. The Baby Boomers and every successive generation only know a world that is filled with radio station call-signs, recorded soundbites, jingles, theme songs, sound effects, catch phrases, repetitive recycled melodies, modem squawks, cellphone ringers...the list goes on. Music is a part of each of these and, more regularly, each of these is becoming part of our music. The personal soundtrack of your life will be made up of every jingle that you couldn't get out of your head, every theme song that summoned you to the living room TV set, every one-hit wonder pop song that you sang in the shower, every cathartic chorus which made you feel that someone else felt your pain as well. Music heard on the street corner can be made by a guy with a piece of wax paper and a comb or two guys with plastic tubs and sticks or someone sawing at a violin or a hawking spit through a tuba or squeezing a dead cat through a saxophone. You get in the elevator of an office building and what you hear is an abomination both of spelling and of sound, but in some ways it still qualifies. Movies are turning into 90-minute commercials intent on getting $18 out of your wallet for that soundtrack album--just for that new Aerosmith song or the latest collaboration between Puff Daddy and some rock dinosaur who's attempting to reconnect to a new generation by selling his soul to the Bad Boy machine.
All music is becoming Ambient. It is becoming so all-pervasive that we are beginning to stop listening to it. Every note you hear can either be ignored or acknowledged; the tone has sustain whether you are an active listener or not. It's somewhat frightening to wonder how long the world would stay "noisy" if we suddenly disappeared. How long would it take for the echoes of our passage to disappear?
But even in this shuddering cacophony of our daily environments, there are some rules. There are some types of ambience which cater to specific environments. There is music that is really intended to fit one part of the day over another. There are moods to the ambience. We can even use Eno's definition and call them "tints." You would want a warm tint in a sun room and a colder tint might be more appropriate for the basement during the winter months. There are days that are black, just as some days are filled with greens and reds. Break it down even farther and there are tints for each hour, moods that can represent each part of your day. There is a 24-hour cycle to the ambience of your existence.
I own enough music to go more than forty days straight--twenty four hours a day--and not repeat a disc. Cut out the hours that I'm not conscious enough to differentiate between the sound of traffic and a Lull album and the count goes up to nearly sixty days. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't make the full sixty without repeating. Not because I have favorites that I can't let go (who doesn't?), but rather, there are hours which have musical requirements and the selection for those hours is limited.
People ask me to name the last three albums I bought as if those three titles would somehow encapsulate me enough for party-time pigeonholing. And there's never any easy connection, because I'm not buying for some disco retrospective that I'm hosting over the weekend, I'm buying for those individual hours of the day. Some months the purchases all fall around an attempt to find the right album for 6pm or the last three tracks to fill out the first hour of my day. It isn't a conscious decision when I'm queuing up to the counter with my purchases, but rather an unfocused attempt to fill out the tints with which I surround myself.
For example: The Hour of Monsters--11pm. The last dying breath of the day belongs to Cold Meat Industry, a Swedish dark ambient/industrial label. It is an hour when the Seattle rain is the only acceptable weather and it must be falling hard enough to be heard against the windowpane and roof over the gentle sweep and creep of the music. The music for this hour cannot be listened to during the day. It just sounds wrong and flat, as if a dimension has been stripped away.
I write in a Ridley Scott world. The blinds on the window in my office are never open and I have two lamps which provide all the illumination beside the computer screen. One comes on like a strobe light, shoving back the shadows as I come into the room; the other curls over my desk and illuminates a spot not much larger than a piece of paper. I have a plastic ball covered with glow-in-the-dark stars that sits in what used to be the walk-in closet. When I've been in here for a couple of hours, the ball has picked up enough light that it appears that I have a small dense opening to the Milky Way hiding in my closet. Some nights, I turn on the lava lamp. I can't see it directly, but it looks like Mephistopheles is sitting over to my right, reading a book by brimstone's fiery glow, waiting for me to finish a page so that we can talk. I turn on the overhead light only when I have to decipher the display on my printer so as to figure out why the lights are amber and not green, and recently, I've taken to using a pocket flashlight. I hate the overhead.
This tint--the music for this room and hour--must draw out the shadows, must give life to the shift of light at the edges and the patterns of darkness within. This final sixty minutes needs some assistance for it still to be productive and so I lean towards music which stimulates the fearful lizard part of my brain. It doesn't work at any other hour. Only now am I receptive to the images and ideas which flow from having this ambient environment around me. I'm past actually listening to anything and simply want texture to my office, a thickness to the shadows which thrive just beyond the weak spots of light from my two lamps. I want to be removed from the world beyond the room, protected and warded by this barrier of clattering moans and ghostly voices and spooky atmospherics which fill the sonic ether.
Music has power. And yet so much of that power is squandered and lost by misuse and neglect. It colors your world, consciously or not. William Congreve opens his tragedy, The Mourning Bride with this immortal line: "Music has charm to soothe the savage beast." Almeria examines the depth of her grief by noting that music--that sublime spirit which can move the most unyielding of stones and knotted oaks through its supple ministrations--has lost its hold on her heart. She fears for her nature because she has become unmoved by music. How cold, how distant, has she become?
Is music not an aural enhancement to the emotional state of the listeners? And what fearful place do we stray into when it fails to move us? When it becomes such "background noise" that even our unconscious minds begin to disregard the sensory data coming in. Music is ambience and Ambience is music. The two have begun to merge. But that doesn't alleviate the need to listen. "Many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular." Music is part of your daily sustenance. It's an undeniable facet of 20th and 21st century living.
Your day has varying levels of "listening attention" and the music you surround yourself with is a reflection of those peaks and valleys. There is music for the commute, music to work out to, music with which to fill that empty void in your life, music 'cause you're happy or sad or stoned out of your mind, music to set a mood for an evening, music to push you forward or draw you out. Your collection contains it all. No one has music for just one "space" on their shelves. Look at the Top Ten Lists of the Staff here at Earpollution. The range is there. Look at your own collection. Are there not albums that are relegated to specific times, to specific hours? Regardless of your listening pleasure, there are some things in your collection that belong to certain hours.
Hence, The Sixty Minute Soundtrack. Here's a challenge. Give yourself twenty-four blocks, each one an hour long. Fill the blocks with music that matches the hour. Sixty minutes: fill it any way you can--two short albums, a handful of singles, one track over and over again--it doesn't matter. The time is yours. The soundtrack is yours. Build an hour, build a day. Let us know.
Morthound "The Age of Crying" (excerpt) This Crying Age (CMI, Sweden)