Your regularly scheduled installment of Hugs and Kisses, a weekly Sound of the City column from Everett True, author of Nirvana: The Biography (da Capo Press), publisher of Plan B Magazine, and notable cunt.
THIS WEEK: Noise annoys
It started with Kim Deal.
I casually mentioned that I’d been listening to the new Breeders album Mountain Battles on a flight to London, and had problems with the sound levels. It was too quiet for me to hear over the plane’s thrum, especially during the sparser numbers. She latched on to this instantly: demanded to know where and how: and was this a bad thing, and if it wasn’t why did I mention it, and didn’t I know that, to counter the volume control automatically placed upon iPods, CD manufacturers have been making CDs louder and louder, emo dense, but not without unwanted side effects – the most obvious of which is a faint clicking sound in the background. I thought I’d been imagining this sound for years, but here was Kim Deal (for Crissakes) telling me it was real, and that she refused to let Mountain Battles be dirtied like this, that it needed proper care and attention, and anyway why the hell did I want to listen to her music on an iPod anyway?
And this reminded me of something Billy Childish told me before Christmas, how technology is now so far ‘advanced’ that people can now talk on “walkie-talkie” phones – mobiles – and, “That’s the worst a phone has probably ever sounded since the phone was invented. And people listen to music on them!”
So Kim wanted to know whether I’d listened to Mountain Battles on CD and I said I hadn’t, that I’d burned it to my computer straight away for easier listening…and this reminded me of a chance conversation I’d had with a friend who owns a Mod clothing shop in Brighton’s North Laines – he also puts on ska gigs for teenagers, and plays bass in a ska band – and he was telling me that his band’s next release is going to be vinyl and digital download only, “Because no one bothers with CDs any more,” and this brought me in a roundabout way to thinking about the incredible job people at high-class reissue labels like Trikont and Light In The Attic and Dust-To-Digital do (and Rhino sometimes do) with their music: package it up so lovingly and carefully that it becomes far less about the actual format then everything else: the CD cases, the liner notes, the stuff you can physically hold in your hands and thus can’t get from the Internet.
I mean, I love writing this column–and man, does it have its advantages (only this week, I received a fan letter from a famous musician: “So glad to see you’re still a cunt”) – but I’d never switch for a magazine. Never.
And then, whoa. I’m sent a couple of awesome CD reissues from a pair of labels well-versed in this sort of thing: one, a two-CD, 50-song distillation of the BBC Radio 2 show Theme Time Radio Hour with your host Bob Dylan (on Ace), the other the two-CD, 48-song “1920s parlor listening experience” Victrola Favorites (on Dust-To-Digital). Musically, it’s hard to fault either compilation: the first is a heady swing through old school (Forties/Fifties) country and blues and jive and jazz, the emphasis on the voice and the message, two versions of ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’ nestling up wonderfully to one another, Betty Hall Jones’ scorching cautionary tale ‘Buddy, Stay Off The Wine’ trading barbs with Charles Mingus, Dinah Washington, The Clash’s ‘Tommy Fun’ and The Donays. It’s real treasure trove of popular music from near 60 years back, no fucking around.
The second is even wilier and wilder: packaged with a hardback book lovingly assembled round old record sleeves and logos and photos, it features a bewildering array of exotica, religious chanting and barroom bawls from an equally bewildering array of countries – India, USA, bamboo flutes in Korea, Chinese Buddhist monks chanting in Hong Kong circa 1915, Thailand, bamboo xylophones from Japan circa 1910, Zulus, Persia, Zapotec-Teotitlan Indians…We’re talking about field recordings and beyond from the dawn of recorded music, pretty much. And yes, it totally is the shit.
Both are exemplary collections in their own right.
The only problem comes when it comes to the sound: the first is all cleaned up, digitalised (probably for the original broadcasts), everything EQ’d and standardised to ‘perfection.’ The second, you get a sensation of what the original recordings sounded like, more up and down in the mix. I’m not saying the original cracks and scratches are still present. They’re not. Just that I greatly prefer the way the source material has been treated – not ‘improved upon,’ just diligently re-presented. Doubtless, Kim Deal would be able to listen to both and tell in a trice what the difference in the mastering process was: I’m not that smart or instinctual. All I know is what I hear, and what I prefer.
So, anyway…I mentioned all this in the Plan B offices last Friday, and they pointed me in the direction of this.
Don’t you just hate it when some folk are way more erudite and informed then you could ever hope to be?
Hugs And Kisses Top 5
Everett True’s favourite Victrola moments
1. Bismallah Khan and Party, “Shenai Instrumental” (India c. 1949). Haunting, tumultuous: a slow-burner on percussion and reed.
2. He Zemin/Huang Peiying, “Big Idiot Buys A Pig” (Hong Kong c. 1930s). Um, somehow this reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite without the artifice.
3. Goebble Reeves, The Texas Drifter, “The Cowboy’s Dizzy Sweetheart” (USA 1935). Yodelling taken to one extreme.
4. Kachikuri Mimasuya, “Shiokumi Kasatsukashi” (“Collecting Water”) (Japan c 1910). I’m a real sucker for this sort of music: bamboo xylophone delicately and firmly struck.
5. Maria Smymea, “The Grass Widow” (Greek, recorded in New York c 1919).
Desolate, thin, piercing: an entire generation weeps. (All taken from the Dust-To-Digital compilation Victrola Favorites)