Digital Music Experience doesn’t deliver what I really want. It probably never will.

It is noticeable that music listening experience is ever decreasing in quality, the great story telling of yesteryear productions are getting rarer. I would have thought, if you wanted to sell more music then it’s actually a good thing to teach people how to appreciate music. This isn’t what I am seeing.

I waited eagerly on the launch of Apple Music. When it finally did, I signed up for the trial and started using it. It was a let down. Yet again, I wasn’t getting the music listening experience I’ve been longing for since my childhood. Worse, I had lost some of the features I already had. This was a surprise to me, given that Apple had recently joined forces with some successful music professionals.

As a young boy, I learned to appreciate the sound of the vinyl discs that played in our house. The sounds were so crisp that they felt even better than listening to a real live performance. I loved touching the sleeves, admiring the beautiful art printed on them, sometime the lyrics other time some back stories. When I liked a track, I would spend hours listening to it repeatedly on a loop, each time trying to focus on just one instrument in order to appreciate how that was played. I would often fantasise that I could hear the players responding to each other with their instruments.

Janis Joplin

I didn’t listen to music and do something else. I was either listening to music, hence dropped everything else. Or the other way around, in which case I would stop the music from playing or try to block it. I couldn’t tolerate the slightest unrelated noise disturbing my listening experience. This was frustrating for someone who lived in a compound with lots of people around. I could do this for many hours.

IMG_3304If what I considered to be great music were playing, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to chatter and miss out of the delicate sounds. In fact, I think this trait was shared by a lot of people in Mali, where I grew up. You would often see young people sitting around quietly listening to a record, nobody making a sound.

IMG_3306

I didn’t understand anything about the pop music culture and the media, I didn’t care what anyone said, I only cared about what I could listen to and touch. In this manner, I grew my own mental model of music, that’s how I would develop an eclectic taste as I could somehow identify signature sounds across multiple recordings from different artists. Without knowing it, I was also growing an understanding of the artists, I could tell if a recording was the original or not, and I was even sometimes sure I could feel the artists emotions through their voice or the way they played. I would envision a recording as a chain of mountains and valleys, I could hear sadness and joy alternating in an artist voice on one song. One time, a Bob Marley music took me to such a roller coaster that I kept talking about it all week. I didn’t even understand the words properly because my English wasn’t good enough.

This was my music listening experience.

As I started making my own money, my Saturday afternoon were often spent in record shops looking for the next exciting album. I would always open up the booklets and whatever the cover was, read up on everything I could, as part of the selection process. I could never tire of this.

As we migrated to all streaming and downloading experience, my lifestyle also evolved and I lost the habit of going to record shops. But I still expected that somehow, the leaders like Apple would eventually bring us the kind of listening experience I was enjoying as a boy. As I listen to a track, I want to be able to navigate to the lyrics (if available), the backstories, the album artwork, see the track listing as it was originally produced, see any collaborations that the score writer or the artists might also have made. With digital, this should have been a snap. Sadly, this never materialised.

What is noticeable is that music listening experience is constantly being dumbed down, the great story telling of yesteryear’s album production is getting lost. Somehow as if none of that mattered. It’s a shame because digital could have made the experience even richer, but it isn’t. If I would make a parallel with painting, you wouldn’t dream of removing any layers from a Van Gogh or Matisse piece of work. Arguably music production itself is also degrading in quality. Pick a Jeff Beck, Radiohead or Kendrick Lamar record however, you’d notice a richness in sound and production. The CDs often come with nice artwork, lyrics. Björk’s Biophilia album is an encouraging experiment, it takes the music experience to an entirely new level. This won’t be a definite trend anytime soon. In the mean time, I do feel that some intermediate steps would be more portable than going down the mobile App route.

I would have thought, if you wanted to sell more music then it’s actually a good thing to teach people how to appreciate music. This isn’t what I am seeing. Instead we’re learning to skim on everything, take things for granted and gloss over effort, all in the rush to show a ‘buy now’ button. If I were an artist I would be livid and would want to take control over the whole thing, down to managing my fan communities, to be sure they can appreciate my work unadulterated.

PS: I am not a music professional. I know nothing about the correct terminology and concepts. I am only telling it as I experienced it.

Mozart in Mali

The artist Rokia Traore would be difficult to put in any specific box as she’s always been trying to blend western and african music, sounds and styles. I’ve got all her albums, some of the songs are delightful indeed. An article from The Guardian reviews her latest work, she’s now involved in classical music: none other than Mozart. Now then, Mr. Musicologist what are going to call this, eh?

It takes a lot of guts from an artist of african origins to get involved in western classical music, she dared cross the line. Will the pundits be open-minded about this, just like Peter Sellars was when he involved her in this project? Time will tell.

Read the article here: Mozart and the magic iron bar

Music download “me too”

Do you think Internet music download space is crowded? Nah, define crowded, how can the Internet ever be too crowded? Upgrade to IP v6 and off you go, trillions more sites can be put up.

Since last.fm was bought out I expect my neighbourhood radio to become more “streamlined” indeed. I learned about two new download sites today, lala.com and we7.com. Where to start, I wish them both luck. But there’s definitely a limited amount of eyeballs and/or eardrums on offer! No? World and Internet population ever evolving? Blimey, how are we going to keep a lid on all this? Oh I just got it, don’t bother with the lid, just let the Darwinian model unfold and we shall see…

Bad jokes aside, it takes courage (money?) and a fair amount of optimism (and money?) to enter any Internet space today. Just as you think you’re becoming successful some total strangers will pop up from nowhere and claim a piece of the action/pie. Adding insult to injury, some of these impertinents can get published with just a few dollars in their pockets! You might even have created that whole concept in the first place, how unfair! Bring up patents and IP protection. But wait, it’ll be tough to patent concepts like breathing and eating and possibly a few other amazing human achievements and discoveries. Well i guess i can’t shrug off the cynic in me at the moment. Next time lucky maybe…

“Born Somewhere” by Maxime Le Forestier

This song by Maxime Le Forestier is well written. Good lyrics, good tunes. If you like the genre and you speak french that is. If you’ve been travelling to worlds you deem alien to your own then the words make more sense. Er, I should point out that the song is relatively old, easily more than a decade old.

A few months ago I stumbled upon a blog called Entre Le Monde et l’Ecran (Between The World and The screen), some good narration i thought. I like to read about the Third World, especially how First and Second World people perceive the Third World. I checked back in several times on Entre Le Monde et L’Ecran. What was fascinating is that this person had been travelling in mainly Thirld World countries and she was telling her story, her thoughts and her experiences. She’s been lately in Mali, West Africa, where I’m from in case you haven’t guessed. It’s interesting sometimes to see things through somebody else’s lenses.
Born somewhere, Maxime Le Forestier, i wonder what he was really on about. He must have been travelling at the time he wrote the song, or wished he did? Who knows…

Back to Björk :–

“…here come the earth intruders,
we are the paratroopers,
stampede of sharpshooters,
voodoo…”

I actually imagined correctly how the video would be like before seeing it on YouTube!. I did expect it to close with a large ship taking the “intruders” towards further worlds, just like Frodo after defeating the Dark Lord of Mordor. That was a little disappointing. I can’t get it out my head at the moment.

Nneka has got potential, soul and r&b

An article on liberation.fr compared Nneka to Lauryn Hill, i didn’t hear of her until now. At the time Lauryn Hill’s debut album impressed me so much that i thought that was a fluke she would not likely repeat (her talent is real, just the record was exceptional). So far I feel I was right about that. Having listened to the samples on Nneka’s web site, I think she’s more like India Irie. Perhaps she’s done some hip-hop work, i should soon find out. She’s definitely got that something.

I just missed an opportunity to see her, says her site nnekaworld.com. I now know to check her out.

Bjork is brilliant: Volta

I just got hold of my copy of Bjork‘s latest gem, Volta. How exciting! I rushed home to load it up on my iPod and have been ‘sipping’ it meticulously, on a loop. Bjork is right up there with my favourites. Normally I wait for the buzz and the hype to pass before buying new records. But if the artist is Damon Albarn, Radiohead, or Sting, then it’s beyond hype, it’s a different story. Björk, you amaze me all the time. What a beautiful delivery!

On a loop for today. And again, later.

Calabash Music

Phew! It was about time that i get back to posting something. It’s got to be about music, for sure.

I discovered little known Calabash Music. What caught my attention is that these people are musicians themselves, they sell music from up and coming talents you probably haven’t heard of either (yet). Thanks to Calabash Music i’ve now discovered Ali Farka Toure’s heir, true and true. Another new artist i’ve discovered is Rhian Benson – she reminds me Lisa Stansfield, groovy tunes and a lovely voice.