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Damon Krukowski

Damon Krukowski: Fucked up and photocopied

July 2014

Damon Krukowski imagines a different analogue metaphor for our digital music making tools

Cut and paste is a gesture fundamental to our digital life. But in music, it’s always driven me to distraction. Perhaps because I am a drummer first, I’ve never gotten used to hearing beats repeat without any variation. When the technique is extended to an entire chorus, I can’t help but see a flashing cursor in my mind’s eye, rather than flashing stage lights.

Compared to an LP, digital music is itself a version of cut and paste. Play a digital track – play it again – there’s no variation. But vinyl frustrates an identical repeat; the record itself degrades with each play, for one. There’s the dust that settles into the grooves and collects on the needle, constantly shifting. And there are all the inevitable fluctuations of analogue sound reproduction that high end audio strives to minimise: the speed of the turntable, the vibrations in the room, the variability of the current, etcetera.

Listening to an LP is a rather Cagean experience of an unrepeatable moment, in other words. (Despite Cage’s famous hostility to the format – see David Grubbs’s recent book Records Ruin The Landscape for much more on that.)

What if instead of cut and paste we borrowed a different analogue metaphor for our digital tools? ‘Fucked up and photocopied’ (to take the title of a compendium of punk rock flyers), for example, would certainly lead somewhere else again. Indeed, there are many musicians and producers who work with digital sound to do just that – à la glitch, generative music, electroacoustic improvisation, etc. But what about on the receiving end: Might we initiate a more varied experience when we simply push play for a digital track, as we do for an LP?

A number of iPhone/iPad apps that represent the vinyl experience for MP3s would seem to reach for this – VinylLove, Turntable, Vinyl Mini, AirVinyl, and so on – but sonically they offer little more than kitsch, the audio equivalent of nostalgic filters applied to digital photos. Like those visual filters, the effect can be fun, even beautiful – but it is unvaried. As a result, listening at length via one of these apps starts to feel as tiresome to me as a drum machine.

Can we imagine and build a digital audio system that seals our music listening in a single, unrepeatable experience? Until that arrives, perhaps external factors are the only way to keep digital listening attentive to the moment. What we see, what we touch, what we taste and smell – whatever sense we leave open to the analogue vagaries of the environment – remains variable and immediate, while MP3s drone on in the background.

And maybe this – even more than economics – helps explain the demise of recorded music, in favour of live bands or DJs?

Comments

I disagree fundamentally actually, I do not agree that vinyl represents such a varied and changing experience, sure over time it does degrade but this doesn't mean that every listen picks up the minute differences to any conscious degree, it's slow degradation is more interesting conceptually than in reality.

What does change about the listening experience is us, every time we listen to a record we are older than the last time, we have more experience, we have different context for hearing it and we have more memory of earlier listens. This all affects the end product and as such no matter the format only someone whose memory was wiped between each listen could truly experience identical experiences.

Indeed I would argue that it is just as interesting that when recording digital music, through cut and paste as you say there are a continual and beguiling array of variables one can do, if one beat is truly an identical to the last one, it could be laziness but it could also be deliberate and interesting. It is made interesting because whereas live performances can't ever be the same, recordings can repeat the same beat, the same phrase exactly. This is not a limitation, as ever what makes it good or bad is the artist, not the medium they use.

Whose idea was it to publish this tosh?

I disagree fundamentally actually, I do not agree that vinyl represents such a varied and changing experience, sure over time it does degrade but this doesn't mean that every listen picks up the minute differences to any conscious degree, it's slow degradation is more interesting conceptually than in reality.

What does change about the listening experience is us, every time we listen to a record we are older than the last time, we have more experience, we have different context for hearing it and we have more memory of earlier listens. This all affects the end product and as such no matter the format only someone whose memory was wiped between each listen could truly experience identical experiences.

Indeed I would argue that it is just as interesting that when recording digital music, through cut and paste as you say there are a continual and beguiling array of variables one can do, if one beat is truly an identical to the last one, it could be laziness but it could also be deliberate and interesting. It is made interesting because whereas live performances can't ever be the same, recordings can repeat the same beat, the same phrase exactly. This is not a limitation, as ever what makes it good or bad is the artist, not the medium they use.

I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually

I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually

I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually
I disagree fundamentally actually

Oh wow they liked my comment so much they published it twice

Re: "Whose idea was it to publish this tosh?"

Sadly, due to your anonymity, we may never know whose idea it was to contribute such an enlightening rebuttal.

chuck person fans vs ornette coleman fans, or, wait, are they the same thing right now?

...And my reply seems to have been published thrice! Which of us has the last word in this situation?

Digital generative music that is never the same twice, for example, is the future...!

!

?

One more sample of the strange, nearly religious belief in the superiority of analog formats over digital that the final(?) wave of digitalization has seemed to cause. The vinyl record is a great medium but really, a bit embarrassing when it's treated like some mystic cult totem object thing... And now it doesn't even count as hi-fi anymore? Really, I love the sound of "real records", always have, but it's not the dust and scratches I listen too. There's brushes and stuff for sale at just any **hi-fi** store to get rid of those you know.
Also, note: there really is no such thing as "digital listening". Wires and speakers are always analog -- soundwaves in the air are.
Great read tho! Inspiring, as you can see.

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