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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2009/02/26
by Jesse Jarnow

A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit Kzzzknkh

BRAIN TUBA: A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit Kzzzknkh

Yo Dean –

There was this thing Mike Doughty said a few years ago about how music isn't technology and it doesn't progress, and I used to quote it all the time. But lately, sitting here on the edge of GkkGkk'zzk Pass beaming a wifi signal off a Kzzzknkh—who is strapped to a Thrqqpt tree growing from the hillside some 60 feet above the Pass, holding a mirror—I'm not so sure Doughty's right. Certainly, there are things like, say, a great melody or an interesting groove (see: Bo Diddley) that make a song lasting and all of that. And that's totally cool. We like that. (Especially Kzzzknkh. I've caught him clicking "Not Fade Away" with his tongue.)

But music isn't just that. Not now, and probably not ever. Music, yes, is this thing that musicians make. But it is also something that listeners' share. Perhaps there is something objectively perfect about a lasting melody, something that can be isolated and examined, but for all practical purposes, it is the listeners that keep a song preserved by listening to it, backing it up in the cultural memory. For a long time, this was a purely folk culture, though media have been, well, mediating for well over a century now, through radio, records, print. This was accelerated with the introduction of mp3s as easily exchangeable standard of currency, and even more so since social networking has codified the word-of-mouth network into a mappable entity. The result is still genetically a folk culture, but other commercial and technological interests have long since blended into its strands.

Just like it was pretty much impossible for classical music to go back to consonance after the introduction of serialism, or jazz to go back to swing after Coltrane and Coleman, it's impossible for rock to go back to being dudes with guitars. Which doesn't mean there won't be dudes with guitars. There'll be lots of them, Dean, but hopefully with their heads blown open by high-speed internet connections, still the modern version of LSD, and their fingers doing something else entirely. And it's up to every individual musician to somehow reckon with the contemporary (or bury his head in the sand). It's probably to the musician's advantage, because technology (or the modern world) is a much more natural way of communicating than I-IV-V chord progressions, which are pretty archaic at heart.

Guitars were designed to broadcast music to those immediately around the instrument. Stages, PAs, and recordings came later. Facebook status messages, meanwhile, were built to broadcast to a specific network of one's acquaintances (or "friends," per, I imagine, their Terms of Service). And that's not to say that guitars aren't still good for that, too, but the idea of broadcasting information or art to an immediate locality has to co-exist with everything else. Which is to say—and I'm shifting gears here, slightly, Dean—there's some serious, serious shit going on in the world right now, and music is going to be the balm for a lot of it. It's not going to go away. It's going to keep beaming, as if from distant stars, so we'll keep discovering new and amazing music that was hiding, unheard, on reels and harddrives for decades.

That, in fact, is one of the few things we have to be thankful for in this new, insane economy: that music is now free and ubiquitous. Being totally broke surely sucks, but being broke without the ability to hear whatever you need to hear, well, that's probably just the real shits, y'know? Seriously, even if things got so bad you had to put stuff into hock, mp3 players would probably the last to be pawned. All things told, even iPods are pretty ubiquitous and valueless.

It's a new world out there, Dean, that's my point, and I do wonder how long the same old kicks can possibly last. That's why I'm here. At the same time, though, things are only bound to get weirder out there, where you are, and you know how I feel about weird. Perhaps it's time to pack up the meat, after all. I'll wire you if I'm hopping a dirigible anytime soon. Kzzzknkh is saying he's ready to come down from the cliffside—he was also scouting for ghyrrp birds, who drop poisonous turds down freshwater wells like proton torpedoes down small thermal exhaust ports—so I'm gonna let him down now. g2g, d00d.



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