Monday, August 9, 2010

The Vanishing Art of Listening

Recently, one of my favorite regular features in Electronic Musician magazine was discontinued. At first, I was a bit dismayed by the axing of Grammy-winning producer and engineer Nathaniel Kunkel’s monthly column. But, as interesting as it had been, I have to admit that Kunkel’s column had pretty much run its course after a few years. So I was delighted to see it replaced by a new monthly contribution from composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Steven Wilson.

Wilson is an innovative solo artist and leader of the modern English prog-rock band, Porcupine Tree. He’s hardly a household name, but he’s a respected musician who has achieved a modicum of commercial success and considerable artistic triumphs in his 15 or so years in music biz.

I knew from the few interviews with Wilson that I have read over the years that he is a thoughtful and articulate artist. His first few EM columns have bolstered that impression.

In his August column, Wilson argues that cheap convenience is trumping artistic aesthetics in modern music and, as a result, devaluing the experience itself. It’s quite ironic that as recording technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent decades, the quality of what most of us consume as music has regressed substantially.

As Wilson thoughtfully puts it: “Would you rather see the Mona Lisa in the flesh, or look at a thumbnail jpeg of it on your mobile phone? And if you’d only ever seen the virtual Mona Lisa, would you really feel honest saying you’d seen it at all?” Or, as applied to music, “If you’ve only experienced an album [you know, 10 or so purposefully sequenced songs] as compressed audio files [MP3s], have you really experienced it?”

Wilson says consumption of music primarily through compressed MP3s is analogous to making a photocopy of a genuine work of art and putting it in a crappy picture frame. The chasm in relative quality greatly undermines the nuance and beauty of the art.

• Check out Wilson’s first solo release, Insurgentes, or Porcupine Tree’s latest, The Incident, both of which I wrote about in my round-up of last year’s best releases.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know Electric Musician magazine. I am going to check it out. Sounds like it discusses interesting stuff.