What makes some music better than the rest

August 30, 2006 –
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Although the “art” of music, as an intangible creation expressed best as an abstraction translated through that pattern into its creation, cannot be sold in any true sense of the word, all art must have a conveyance and if it is not live informally, that is a product whether recorded CD, MP3 or concert. For this reason, the music market affects how metal music is able to propagate(tm) its sinister meme through the stupefacted masses of modern humanity.

The record industry, which is what we call the support structure for the expensive prospect of selling music, is reeling under the dual assault of MP3s and a fragmenting culture. The former allow people to download full albums and have them free, with no obligation except legal to buy the CD. The latter, cultural fragmentation, means that instead of a single dominant genre that sells massively there are now many niches that have to sell consistently to break even. Business plans are shifting.

What this means for metal, which sells few of any one CD but many CDs over time, and has the highest rate of people buying all the albums of an artist if they like one, can be discerned from the black metal experience. The average fan seems to download a few gigabytes a week of black metal, and they listen to it while IMing and watching TV, and then they either delete most of it or keep it in elaborate collections that are magically not restored after the hard drive crashes.

We can describe this hoarding behavior as what might happen if people were able to listen to any radio program from any time in history, and could bookmark them. There would be thousands of bookmarks on each computer. Since any music of reasonable complexity requires more than one listen to grasp its basic intention and structure, people would listen, be either perplexed or enticed, and would bookmark, then not return — except to those few incidences that seemed so perfectly complete or historically important that they could not be ignored.

For the first time in its career, black metal attracts fans who behave like pop fans. They are accustomed to music being cheap, meaning used everywhere in commercial messages and enticements to purchase it, and they saturate themselves in it for a few teenage and early 20s years before their jobs and televisions take their souls.

Black metal, which really picked up momentum in 1993 and collapsed in 1996 with the foundational bands spent and the hipster imitators coming in with inferior duplicates, has spent the last dozen years in a state of suspended animation, with people trying to like what is current but returning to the classics and a handful of bands out of thousands who are not only better than average, but are able to put together a complete package: music, lyrics, symbols, artistic vision, sane public statements and each part complementing the others and showing enough artistry to seem complete. Whole.

In this we see what will prevail in the time of MP3s and cultural fragmentation. It is not enough to have an album, and to have it be pretty good. It must be complete in the way the best albums are. Vision and voice, concept and execution come together like the interface to a warplane, or an elite computer program, or the echoing profundity of a well-constructed argument or theory. The albums that will be bought, as opposed to being downloaded and forgotten, are those that will ring true in this sense.

Through this lens we approach the most difficult question of human music, which is: if music alone communicates, why is it that one album in the same style is better than another? What motivates many of us to recognize this choice and make it simultaneously? It is the quality of the album as a whole product. Mathematically, it shows a higher degree of organization; artistically, whether we agree with it or not (or “like” it) it shows a willingness to tackle some idea which is neither dogmatic nor carelessly milktoast. It is whole.

Bands and labels wonder how to sell in a time of free music. The answer is simple: make concept albums, or maybe we should call them demi-concept albums, because they do not need overblown “conceptualization” that ends up with song titles like Ragn-Thor Attacking the Climate Control Apparatus of Zoroaster. We need albums that are whole. More work and thought must go into them. It is not a question of style. The style from 1992 will do. But an album that is whole will not sound like anything else, even though it’s in the same style.

The dummy writers sit out there wondering why people go wild over Sorcier des Glaces, Averse Sefira, Avzhia or Profanatica when there are 8,000 bands that “sound like” those bands, in style. The answer is that music can be a means to only one end, and that is enjoyment of a journey which involves a change in state. It cannot be manipulated through its form alone. That form must match something it is communicating, and that communication must be highly organized.

Record labels got by for years slapping together pop music “about nothing” — songs about sex, loss, anger, and material desire — and relied on their greater production power and the mechanical task of songwriting, or keeping songs in harmony with enough melodic expectation to deliver a quenchingly satisfying chorus. Bands in black metal got by from 1994-2007 by slapping together a composite of past successful riffs, bloviating on overworn topics, and putting a pentagram, swastika or Horus on the cover.

These times have changed. In fact, if we think carefully, those times of easy fat were themselves anomaly, because in them the music itself became a product — it was a means to an end of selling musical conveyances, like CDs. But now, the music is no longer rare. What is rare is someone who can put together patterns in such a way to fit nearly perfectly, and in that fit, to express something words and images alone cannot.

It’s natural selection for black metal, as for all music, and it will dovetail with the rise in cost of consumer products as cheaply drillable oil tapers off (about 2013). Suddenly, the hard years — that metaphorical frost of the elders of black metal — will return, and it will shape music to be a more precious commodity, more carefully thought out like the last missive of a dying man in prison.

Through pressures of the tangible, the focus will return to the intangible, and metal will rise in power as it leaves both hipsters and corporate behemoths — and aren’t they the same mentality, which is to manipulate others for their own social power — behind.

Isolation: Why (Some) Smart People Suicide

August 19, 2006 –
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Jon Nödtveidt opted out of an insane world

Jon Nödtveidt is dead and the response to his suicide diagnoses why he did it. As an acquaintance of mine said, “I’m of higher than average intelligence — two standard deviations. This society is not designed for people of higher intelligence. We see things the others don’t, such as how inefficient or self-destructive the way this society works is. And since they don’t see it, they crowd out our opinions and leave us with no voice. It’s a lonely side of life.”

For the child born with intelligence, the invisible world becomes clear: the connection between ideas and consequences both immediate and long term. This has to be trained by experience, but it emerges over time (one great lament of humanity is that it takes almost four decades for wisdom to emerge in most). Such a child will literally “see” things that do not exist but which will exist because he or she understands the connection between design (our thoughts, plans, goals) and their consequences.

The higher intelligence gives this person the ability to see multiple levels of consequence. Where a dumb person can realize that setting a blaze in a living room will burn the house down, and an average person will recognize the blaze may spread to a neighborhood, the reasonably above average person weighs the dryness of the season, the amount of loose timber in the neighborhood, prevailing winds and many other factors and can see how if the situation is right this fire could torch a large section of the surrounding city.

Of course, it’s an impossible task to explain this to an angry mob wanting to torch the house of a perceived enemy; they see only the immediate and tangible, which is their desire. Their brains lack the circuits to see broader implications, so even if these are painstakingly explained, they shout out their contrarian “opinions” which are as uninformed as they are blind to the question itself. They will not care about what they do not understand, and they understand little more than a single house ablaze.

In our modern time this tendency is amplified. The masses see only that they can afford things they want and with the tendency of all crowds, confuse pleasure/comfort/stability with doing what is right to provide for the future. In fact, they don’t consider the future; most people have a consciousness span of about two weeks and beyond that are lost to consequence as well as memory. For someone with a greater span of prediction and recall speaking to such people is like shouting into the wind at someone speaking a foreign language.

The intelligent people among us have warned us for some time: there are too many people empowered by technology (Kaczynski); the cruder and dumber masses have seized political control from the more intelligent and through a policy of revenge will destroy all intelligent things (Nietzsche); the vast masses will pursue pleasure and create a sterile but safe world (Huxley); the interconnectedness of all things, including design, is blindness in most people and thus they confuse symbol with reality (Schopenhauer); people misdiagnose their problem as existential when it is instead a lack of commitment to loving consciousness itself (Mary Shelley); most people confuse preference with consequence (Plato); people commonly misunderstand good relative to a bad goal as good relative to the question of survival with grace (Aristotle); people confuse wealth with nobility (Fitzgerald); people confuse personal power with an enduring connection to their world through heroism (Hemingway); the masses mistake “progress” in the physical world for rising above its privations (Faulkner). The list would actually extend far past the length of this essay if each great thinker in history was enumerated.

Let us return to the case of Jon Nodtveidt. Smarter than most, he produced a groundbreaking heavy metal album, “The Somberlain,” while still in his teenage years. While he made mistakes after that regarding the direction of his art, he never let the quality slip, and returned with a somewhat insubstantial but musically beautiful album, “Reinkaos.” Clearly he lost philosophical direction, but the experiences of the past decade might well have injected confusion into his worldview. Whether or not he found a personal direction, he could not purge his knowledge of the invisible world from his mind.

The invisible world facing humanity is this: taking advantage of the ideological and religious confusion of the past two millennia, the group of people that Michael Crichton calls “thin intelligences” — able to perform tasks requiring intelligence but blind to the implications and development of those ideas — seized power. Their implements of control: the use of money alone to determine the fitness of an idea; the use of popularity to determine culture; the use of democracy to let the broadest segment of the population outshout the smarter ones. The consequences of their control is a ship without a captain, or more accurately, a captain who tells the passengers what they want to hear regardless of the truth.

The result will be disastrous. Since every piece of land (with less than 5% of the world’s open space excepted by governments who can later rescind those decisions) for sale, and no check on human expansion except the relatively low cost of breeding, humanity will spread like poured cement into every available space. Fences go up, and this kills off the native species of the forest that need to roam; food needs mean the oceans will soon be depleted of edible fish, the land denuded with agriculture, and high concentrations of pesticides and industrial pollutants will enter the environment.

Culture, for sale, will become cosmopolitan, and people from all over the world will flood into every city and mix with the people there, producing a cultureless heritageless grey race who speak whatever language is most popular. High art dies and is replaced by popular “art” (Britney Spears) and boutique art, which pretends to be high art so those who need novelty can purchase something “unique” (Turbonegro). Jobs that reward smart people are replaced by those where the workers are interchangeable parts controlled by huge networks of rules and deskbound bureaucrats. Freedom will be spoken of widely, but will not exist as the high cost of living will tie people to jobs of which speaking an offensive truth might cause deprivation.

This is the future, unless something changes. This is the future where the average intelligences rule over the above average. Someone like Jon Nödtveidt is likely to give this kind of world a shot for awhile, but to always love the thought of escape as it means no longer having to live the lie of riding an apocalypse-bound train with no engineer. For the intelligent, the doom to our existence is always visible, while it is invisible to the average person, and it should not surprise us that so many take their lives instead of passively accepting the inevitable failure of humanity.