The time has come once again for a new issue of ‘eartrip’ to find its way onto the technological stream, bits and bytes of information travelling down the information superhighway (to hell?). First, a qualifying note: I realize that, in these editorials, I tend to rant about the virtues and vices of the internet with dull frequency; and that this may seem a little hypocritical, given that the World Wide Web is the medium which allows me to publish at all. And yet, engagement with the form in which one is writing is crucial if one is not to become glib and boringly comfortable; further than this (and hopefully not coming on all Marshall McLuhan), technological forces shape the way we live, work, listen and think, and it would be unrealistic not to consider the way in which they do so. This shouldn’t simply mean naïve, knee-jerk anti-technological primitivism, but a careful consideration of the entire situation, in both its positive and negative aspects.
So, onward…I’ve had a pile of CDs to review sitting on various shelves for the past couple of years: some of the CDs get taken down and off, put into the CD player, listened to and written about; and then their place is taken by new ones, fresh from the post, destined to languish for months while I manage not to listen or to write about them. There is something to be said here about information overload, about the way listening to something in order to write critically about it encourages a kind of attention that, while perhaps more focused and analytical than the usual casual soaking-in, also feels rather too narrow, restricted: as if I’m listening to the disc merely to turn out some pithy phrases or neat summaries, rather than for anything of inherent value in, or anything I can really learn from, the music itself. I’ve also been thinking recently about the constant enhanced speed and ease of access to – everything, really, music included: such apparently ‘democratic’ instant availability should not necessarily be considered a virtue, in the way it takes root in our Internet/ cable TV/ ADHD schizo brains, part of the 21st-cenutry mindset engendered by the intermeshing of utopian technological hopes / capital and the profit business / globalization. (For all the ecstatic joy and noise that electronics have brought to music over the years, there’s always that other, darker side of the coin – the sense of complicity at the suffering of others, the global outsourcing of exploitation / manufacture which enables us to dream our technological dreams in insulated comfort, and which Keith Rowe set out to explore in ‘Harsh’.) ‘How is the internet changing the way you think?’, asks a survey of various musicians, philosophers, writers and public figures by the online think tank The Edge Foundation1 note that the question takes it for granted that there has been some change (not ‘has the internet changed…?’ but ‘how is the internet changing…?’). Such change is imperceptible, irresistible: it seems that many of us are increasingly unable to imagine a world without facebook, which has become (positively) a platform for organising nationwide political protests and riots, but also for lazy ‘slacktivism’ (in which e-signing a petition becomes a replacement for genuine political activity, while at the same time allowing us to feel good about ourselves (like assuaging guilt through giving to charities, but without the financial rub)). Similarly, while social media and blogs enable devotees of esoteric or neglected disciplines (such as the music covered in this magazine) to form some sort of online ‘community’, such communities seem no less prone than sites covering, say, celebrity gossip or sports, to the sniping, back-biting, and Godwin’s law absurdities that you can see beneath any youtube video. Reading through such debates, even casually, quickly reveals their absurdity, and such caricatured interaction perhaps does not need to be taken too seriously; yet there is still a nagging fear that – for example, through the obsessive detailing of the supposed minutiae of everyday life, the creation of a kind of real/virtual persona through photos, videos, ‘tweets’ and status updates on social media sites – the internet may be taken as a substitute for real, lived life, online communication replacing real-world communication and interaction in ‘meatspace.’ This strikes me as something that needs resisting; and, even if we leave aside the social networking element of things, one is still faced with the problem of information overload replacing (standing in for) real knowledge or understanding (just as online interaction or activism replaces those activities in the physical world). True, the increased flow of information allows us a greater understanding of particular artists’ outputs, the history of musics that reveal their true depths, interconnections and cross-currents previously hidden, unknown (I could make myself an ‘expert’ on, say, Archie Shepp, in a couple of weeks, if I so chose: the recordings, the discographies, the bootlegs, all available at the click of a mouse, the touch of finger on computer keyboard). But if we are to listen with the true concentration, dedication and emotional engagement that so much of ‘our music’ (whatever that is) demands, we need some tonic to tabs, mp3 snippets, web browsers and youtube links. That’s why music with the sheer bloody-minded persistence of Sachiko M can prove such a balm (as well as producing headaches, scowls, expressions of acute discomfort): deciding to spend some time with some of her albums, and then write up my impressions outside the confines of the review format, as I’ve done for this issue, was certainly an…experience, though the results may, I don’t know, make for tortuous reading. Elsewhere in the following pages (as I wrap up what’s turned out to be a rather longer editorial than planned), a dialogue surrounding John Coltrane’s extraordinary ‘Live in Seattle’, recorded in 1965 though not released until after his death (of which sad event 2012 marks the 45th anniversary); a piece on what I guess you could call sounded performances, from Fluxus to Mattin; an interview with Canadian group The Rent, considering the music of Steve Lacy and the notion of free jazz repertory and interdisciplinary endeavour, among other things; a survey of Billy Harper performances available in online video format; and the usual reviews of CDs and concerts.
Finally, I must note the sad passing of composer, bassist, bandleader and educator Graham Collier, who died, suddenly and unexpectedly, on September 9th, 2011. Collier was featured in an interview for Issue 3 of ‘eartrip’, and had recently published his book ‘The Jazz Composer’, as well as running a related, and regularly-updated website. His death, no doubt, comes as a great shock and a loss to many musicians, friends and listeners around the world.
David Grundy // Cambridge, March 2012