The Austin Chronicle

What Happened to the Big Idea in Music Technology?

By Raoul Hernandez, March 2, 2012, Music

Wednesday, March 14, 2pm, Austin Convention Center Room 17A

In 1997, Rick Moody's second novel, The Ice Storm, a biting tragedy of Seventies malaise, was translated onscreen with an all-star cast by future Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee. Now a Criterion Collection DVD shown in December at the Blanton Museum with Moody present, the film didn't capture the era's soundtrack the way the book did, even if its author made mixtapes for his cinematic stand-in, Tobey Maguire.

A lifelong musician and friend of Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen, who moderates this panel, Moody's way with words – "Actual music would subvert the immanence of music in novel writing, the incredible power of music described in words, the music suggested by words, the very music of prose," he wrote in an afterward to The Ice Storm – demanded an email interview. Why talk by phone when you can get a master of prose to write you? For the complete exchange, see the Earache! Music blog.

Austin Chronicle: So what did 'Happen to the Big Idea in Technology'? Is there one? Do we need one? Didn't tech already liberate the industry?

Ricky Moody: Yes, I think there is a de-centralization that has taken place in music as a result of digital technology. Now it's really possible to make a record at home without all the incredibly expensive equipment and studio time. And it's possible to distribute music yourself without a record label. (I have done it, in fact, though I cannot say I think I have done it very well.) That's good, that's democratic.

On the other hand, I think iTunes has driven promotion into the ground, and file-sharing has destroyed the sense of music as a product. Which means that only one part of the business – live music – seems to have any vitality to it anymore. This is good for touring musicians, I guess. They can make money on tickets and t-shirts. But the retrenchment in the industry has meanwhile made the major labels risk averse, both in the recording and the promotion. People make records that risk nothing, and which are cookie cutter releases stylistically, and they promote them (if they do at all) in the same ways all the time.

I can't think of a more depressing time in terms of what popular music is. And I was alive in the early Seventies, before punk. All of this, all of what remains of the revolution that was once rock & roll, is driven by capitalism and by the herd mentality of the record labels and technology companies. I hope the kids will take the ashes of popular song and remake it their own revolutionary way.

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