Monday, 8 February 2010

The end of music...?

I remember reading Lester Bangs' review of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, where he theorizes that after that record, which Bangs erroneously assumes to be electronically made, rather than created from guitar feedback, music will be taken over by a technological, rather than an artistic impetus.

Whatever the truth of that, it seems true to me at least that most of the bands I really think are still out there pushing the envelope are looking at a huge technological set-up, which is as costly as it is complicated. Thinking about TSM, or SVIIB, does a man have to have two amps and a bank of pedals to create something new? I certainly came to that conclusion largely on my own years ago, and it's telling that the non guitar artists that I've come to respect over the last couple of years have seriously complicated and expensive equipment- Fears and Charlie Barnes to mention two- and in guitar rock, let's not forget just how much kit bands like My Vitriol, Amplifier, Muse and Oceansize use.

I couldn't get this thought out of my head last night as I watched Imogen Heap. I'm not going to talk about the show (it was mind-blowing, and a review will be on HV shortly), but just say that to recreate her songs live required what looked like, at a guess, the following:

1x Moog synth
1x keytar
at least 1 KAOSS Pad
Several sampler pedals/units
Two further keyboards
One computer (presumably a Mac)
Miscellaneous percussion
1x gong
Bespoke microphones

...and that was just her kit. Her band added to that:

a drum kit
2x acoustic guitar
1x acoustic bass
1x electric guitar
at least three keyboards
numerous pedals and samplers, trigger pads and midi controllers
two microphones
1x cello

Where am I going with this? Well, for a long time I've thought that the start up costs of big amp and decent guitar have put a decidedly middle class bent on rock n' roll in this country. I remember that on the '70s Live In Pompeii concert film, in interview Pink Floyd joke (with probably a little truth) that Dave Gilmour was chosen to fill Syd Barrett's shoes purely because he could afford the equipment needed to do so (at a glance, from the video, a wall of amps, several echo chambers and four-or-so Hiwatt heads). Back to the point: Imogen Heap was one of the only acts I've seen in a long time that actually brought something distinct and new to the table, but if the price tag for doing so is thirty or forty grand, doesn't that price most musicians out?

So no, we're not at the end of music, but has the technological revolution that once democratised music with the internet and cheap recording software now shown its true colours? Only time will tell.

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