The Hijacking of Obliquity

(Extract from my chapter for an upcoming Reader on Music and Law, to be published by Emerald Group).

propaganda

In truth,  music documents on YouTube are usually a lo-fi rendition of the original. Grain-infested, low definition transcriptions of home recordings of 1980s MTV specials; reduced frequency spectrum; fourth-generation, hiss-enhanced cassette recordings from 1970s rock gigs that echo the guitar solo in the back while an over-excited fan screams continuously at the forefront; vinyl pops and cracks betraying the age and wearing of the originals. As such, their appeal is intrinsically detached from mainstream taste and expectations. Yet what this scope of acoustic contingencies does is widen the spectrum for the actual listening experience: it trains the ear towards distinct sound palettes and a more continuous weaving of the music artefact into its surroundings, both physical and semantic. This seems particularly relevant in face of contemporary pop production, where both the mastering (and cyclic, revisionist re-mastering) of music artefacts is often made to maximise a “punchier” sound in detriment of subtlety, to the point of codifying specific acoustic effects such as autotune in lieu of a wide exploration of the vast territories afforded by current sound tools. Additionally, the mp3 format is still the medium of choice in digital mainstream music transactions, particularly due to its convenience in data transfer and storage capacity, often at the cost of sacrificing a significant portion of the intrinsic frequencies of the original recording: it is therefore relevant that most online bootleg peer-to-peer communities only allow the sharing of sound recordings in lossless formats.

In face of the above, it may be no less than ironic that this wider acoustic, conceptual and sensorial spectrum is often ensured by the recovery of analogue artefacts, themselves often made in less than ideal circumstances; yet this is simultaneously revealing of a deeper level of the meanings to be unraveled from “cultural preservation”, no longer strictly referring to the artefact itself but also the quality of one’s engagement with it: conceptual investment, acoustic flexibility, contextual awareness.

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