July 2, 2011

Towards a New Aesthetics of Indie Rock

It appears that, in the loudness wars, loudness won. Because loudness (not volume, loudness) degrades the aesthetic quality of the music in order to get your attention, and getting-your-attention isn’t itself aesthetic, I propose a new, formalist aesthetics of Indie Rock.

Loudness, as it has infected Indie Rock, means that all the frequencies are mixed up too high. Not only can you not hear dynamics, which have been eliminated altogether, you can barely hear the tone of individual instruments. Recordings of Bartok, Dylan, and Black Sabbath might have moved listeners; only now must we take movement literally. Because even superbly composed Indie Rock generally sounds like shit when you listen to the CD, we need a movement-based aesthetics—movement in a physical sense: change in place across time.

I propose that Indie Rock is aesthetically excellent insofar as, on some standard stereo equipment at some standard volume, it moves paper objects across flat surfaces. The type of surface and the distance between the surface (and paper object) and the stereo equipment will both need to be specified. We all agree that, when talking aesthetics, there’s no Good (full stop), but only good-at-this-or-that, taken as a single, multiple-place predicate. For instance, when talking about movies, we might identify some standards for composition and editing, and then say that this or that or Days of Heaven is ok, good, or masterful at meeting those standards.

To those skeptical of my approach, I answer: Because we know that the loudness wars have made Indie Rock songs sound like traffic noise with rhythm and melody, what’s better for them to do than to move paper objects across flat surfaces?

In order to develop this as a serious aesthetic approach, we will need both to recruit some persons who excel at making small paper objects, and then to determine which frequencies or frequency-patterns best move certain objects across flat surfaces. It would be patently unfair to use only paper wads. We should include paper swans, slightly crumpled receipts, and even pieces of cardboard boxes.

Work needs to be done; I don’t deny it. I support a wide promulgation of different paper shapes, and detailed study of the loud, acoustic properties that they respond to. As with formalist aesthetics generally, we need to determine what Indie Rock we currently call excellent before we can develop our aesthetic framework. What is important is that we recognize that, whatever the details, the best claim Indie Rock has to aesthetic excellence is its ability to move paper objects across a flat surface.

2 Comments:

Blogger Tony Gonzalez said...

Maybe Katie can make some tiny paper books.

July 3, 2011 at 5:29 PM 
Blogger K. Harvey said...

Remember in the remake of the film "The Italian Job" (the movie which made Mark Wahlberg, aka Markie Mark, think he was a star) one of the thieves plans to buy with his loot a set of speakers so loud that they blow women's clothes off?
At what frequency do women's clothes come off?
Sub question: once the woman's clothes are off, what becomes of the songs aesthetic appeal? It's not unlike the sound barrier: a fixed standard of achievement, rather than an on-going aesthetic. Once the barrier is broken, pilots and planes cease to become noteworthy.

July 4, 2011 at 9:56 PM 

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