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Friday, October 28, 2005

The Origin of the Sound

This had started as an exploration of what defines the sounds attached to geography, and how they come to be. Places like Seattle, Bristol, Detroit, Jamaica. If I say "Seattle sound", you instantly know what I'm talking about, whether or not you automatically start denying that Seattle had a particular sound. At the heart of the matter was the notion of figuring out how a new sound or style gets made, and after looking into all of these places to find the common thread, I think I've got it. It's a coincidence. Sorry. The sound you hear about in Spin or wherever comes from as few as 3 bands being from the same place, and sounding roughly similar. And that's because they all seem to know each other. And because of that, they all have similar tastes and influences. Which brings me to what I think is the true origin of new musical sounds: Good old-fashioned genetic mutation.

Our resident ethnomusicologists can fill you in on how long we've been living in the postmodern era, but safe to say it's been a long time. One can say that everything has been done at this point, and we've just been rehashing all of the old ideas since then. The popularity of mashups is certainly a good indicator that this is true. But I would argue that it isn't that everything has already been done, but that all of the original bits to work with have now been discovered, and now it's a matter of mating the different parts to find the good mutations. A lot of people gave Moby shit for releasing Play with the gimmick of taking old blues samples and building a techno beat around them, but I think it was a great idea. It's a shame that no one took what he did and expanded on it a bit more. The Bristol sound came from hip-hop mixed with earlier influences like jazz and soul, in some cases rather directly. Smashing Pumpkins combined stadium butt-rock with punk and managed to find something new and good. So did Green Day, for that matter, but they spent a bit too much time at the mall to sound appealing to me. Or look at the second and third wave of ska. In the 70's they mixed it with punk and it turned into something substantially different from what they were doing in Jamaica, and everyone got all excited about it again. And then when people mixed in grunge and put the hip-hop back in it, again it went in a different direction. Garbage did that one song "Can't Cry These Tears" where Butch Vig and all his knowledge of late 90's techno-rock decided he wanted to do a 50's doo-wop song, which I'd actually like to see more of. I'm sick of people sampling the 70's and 80's, and I really don't want to have to suffer through another 60's revival. So do the 50's. Or the 20's. It will be good for you. People got mad at the Squirrel Nut Zippers for mixing swing with whatever else they felt like, but I would love to hear driving industrial beats with people singing like Billie Holiday. Or maybe if more people had taken that swing revival and ran with it. Feel free to steal my suggestions, I'm tired of listening to the same thing.

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