Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Lerosa has done some fascinating, different, inventive and soulful electronics, first coming to my attention via Enclave Recordings, and now Kenny at ISM does an interview, which has a ton of interesting stuff in it.

Firstly, Lerosa recalls coming into contact with studio hardware via Graham [D1] O’Sullivan:

I’d never seen a studio proper and he gave me this Nord synth he had. I thought “What the hell is this!”. I was just pressing buttons and instant ambient!

It reminds me of the time I first came in to contact with hardware – a Yamaha cassette 4-track, and a Juno 106 synthesizer. I could neither understand nor control the noises coming out of the synthesizer, and I really had no idea at first how to get good-quality recordings from the cassette 4-track, but it was amazing how a few electronic noises could give you something that sounded like it was from a different planet. There was something magic happening when I didn’t know what I was doing.

He also talks about D1 records (on whom he released some tracks) deciding to abandon vinyl releases in favour of all digital:

Eamonn [D1] said from now on he was going all digital and I was a bit disappointed. That was 2005, I think they had just lost a tone of money with the distributor folding and decided that that was it with vinyl.

There is something that I can’t get my head around when it comes to digital “releases” - I'm deeply uncomfortable with music being released as digital-only, and it’s a partially logical, and perhaps partly emotional response. This isn’t to argue with labels such as D1 who have in their time released tons of vinyl, taken any losses involved with doing so, and may have been stung by distributors going bust while holding shedloads of physical product - it’s not an easy position to be in. But there’s definitely something that doesn’t feel the same with digital.

Firstly, there’s the quality aspect. I recently had a discussion with some audio engineers, in which they expressed the opinion that MP3 is amazing in that it has really moved audio quality backwards for consumers, but at the same time has been touted for the last 10 years as being the latest, greatest development. Noone can possibly claim that MP3 is in any way comparable to CD quality, and this at a time when we were told that even CDs were neither as clear as digital should be, nor as warm as analogue had been.

Or as Lerosa puts it:

I buy a record and I listen to them, I dunno, that’s how I do it, and put it back in their sleeve and they are there for ever – unless you scratch it, and its not there for ever - but you buy an mp3 file its just a cut down version of whats been mastered on vinyl or whats been mastered to CD, it just feels like your getting a bit of a raw deal. And on Beatport now it costs about 8 quid to buy a full EP, so where’s the saving?

The argument that vinyl lasts forever (or thereabouts) is also a powerful one. Seeing as nobody has a commercially available digital storage format, that will last for more than about 10 years give or take, is MP3 (and ‘lossless’ digital) a way of getting our music collections into a format where we will be hostage to operating systems, playback software, compulsory new formats, and endlessly rebuying that which we thought we owned already?

Then, there are the issues that arise from the way in which digital files can be distributed. In a sense, it’s democratisation of access in the same way that cassettes were (home taping is killing music - er - no it’s not), except that being able to transport files via the internet is a much more radical distribution method than anything that has preceded it. Even in its heyday, cassette was never in any danger of actually killing another format (such as CD, or vinyl), so the change that has come with digital files is fundamental.

While digital distribution does no doubt bring some benefits (you can hear lots and lots of music very quickly, and find things you would never have previously discovered), there are also problems in that it does leave a very unstable pack of distribution cards between the producer and the end-user, including the record label, sales websites (bleep, beatport), “review” websites (de:bug) and so on. Why would anyone invest too much time or money in building up these middle-man organisations, when due to the lack of security from the presence of an entrenched physical distribution channel, you could be replaced at any time? And for that matter, why would an artist need a “label”, when all the label are theoretically doing are sending out digital copies of files that the artist has supplied, and emailing press releases – what about that is an artist not capable of themselves? This does not mean that I’m arguing the case for not having record labels - quite the opposite - but it does mean that with the removal of the risk of an up-front expense resulting from pressing physical product, labels need to be careful that they are providing to the artist a service that the artist cannot provide for themselves.

Back to Lerosa and perhaps the most interesting nugget from the entire interview - on the actual process of making music:

I don’t have a full musical understanding of everything I’m doing, so some of it may just be emulation of what I’m listening to at the time.

As someone with fairly significant musical training, there’s a freshness that I remember vividly which seemed to be at its peak back when I didn’t really understand how music equipment worked. There was something more exciting about the sound back then, although whether that was the unfamiliarity of the noises, or that I was actually doing things in a more inspired manner, I don’t know. There does seem to be a certain part of “pointless” messing around that generates interesting and fresh ideas, something that I find becomes harder as you become more experienced writing music. Perhaps the most inventive and original music occurs when your formal musical knowledge is sufficiently suppressed by some other force - in this case, lack of technical aptitude.

Or to put it another way - is “messing around” a more inventive way of writing music, than actually writing music?