Genetics of Musical Competency and Communication

June 2, 2009 –
Comments Off

Shedding more light on our statement that artistic aptitude in metal is a rare trait, a University of HELLsinki study reveals that musicality is more of an inborn characteristic than most think:

In the study high music test scores were significantly associated with creative functions in music (p< .0001), suggesting composing, improvising and arranging music demands musical aptitude. Creativity is a multifactorial genetic trait involving a complex network made up of a number of genes and environment. Here was shown for the first time that the creative functions in music have a strong genetic component (h2 =.84; composing h2 =.40; arranging h2 =.46; improvising h2 = .62) in Finnish multigenerational families. Additionally the heritability estimates of the musical aptitude were remarkable.

To elucidate the neurobiological basis of music in human evolution and communication the researchers demonstrated an association of arginine vasopressin receptor 1A (AVPR1A) gene variants with musical aptitude. In the previous studies the AVPR1A gene and its homologies have been associated with social, emotional and behavioral traits, including pair bonding and parenting. The results suggest that the neurobiology of music perception and production is related to the pathways affecting intrinsic attachment behavior.

“Music is social communication between individuals,” says Liisa Ukkola. “Darwin proposed that singing is used to attract the opposite sex. Furthermore, lullabies are implied to attach infant to a parent and singing or playing music together may add group cohesion. Thus, it is justified to hypothesize that music perception and creativity in music are linked to the same phenotypic spectrum of human cognitive social skills, like human bonding and altruism both associated with AVPR1A. We have shown for the first time in the molecular level that music perception has an attachment creating impact.”

Science Daily, Genetic Basis Of Musical Aptitude: Neurobiology Of Musicality Related To Intrinsic Attachment Behavior

In more layman terms: ability in music, meaning not just technical skill but creativity and general talent at composing and improvising, is determined mostly by the genes. Not just that, it is also claimed that music making is intimately related with the human traits associated with bonding and communication with other human beings: we use music to transmit to each other ideas so complex that we would be unable to convey with speaking or gestures and do so because we care about communicating those ideas to the world.

All of this data makes one thinks twice about supporting each and every band that comes our way. Not everyone can be an artist and create great, transcendental works, so why should we keep encouraging participation in the metal scene when we can be more concerned about quality and not quantity?

Heavy Metal Record Stores in Texas

June 1, 2009 –
Comments Off

Metal-friendly record stores are a blast. These wonderful places keep the metal on the shelves so people can browse. If you’re buying metal on the internet, you need to know what you’re looking for. Go to a store and you can see what’s there and try new things. You can get that feeling of finding something you really want on the first day it’s released. You can also get expert opinions from Hessians who work there.

Although many media figures have been howling bloody murder about mp3s, metal has remained relatively untouched. This is because metalheads are obsessive collectors who like to have all of the music from their favorite artists close at hand. Buying a metal CD means getting artwork, lyrics and the experience of striving for something and then getting it, and also lets you place a vote for what bands you think should be more appreciated.

Austin

Austin suffers from too many people getting paid government checks or parental aid, and too many college graduates willing to work for $8/hour at someplace “hip,” so it’s a hard place to keep a record store going. Longtime local color Sound Exchange closed down, as did 33 Degrees, depriving the city of some of its better metal outlets. Luckily, Encore records still exists and is intensifying its metal selection.

Encore Records
1745 W Anderson Lane
Austin, TX 78757-1335
(512) 451-8111
Hours: Mon-Sat 10AM-12AM, Sun 12PM – 11PM
http://www.revolutionnumber9.com/
encoremusic@austin.rr.com

This store starting selling videos, and has branched into music, but since they’ve hired Dangerous Toys frontman Jason McMaster, they now have a lot more metal knowledge. CDs are $16-19 and selection is good, including of underground metal.

San Antonio

Hogwild Records
1824 N Main Ave
San Antonio, TX 78212
(210) 733-5354
http://www.myspace.com/hogwildrecords

This place is Hessian heaven. They have two long aisles of metal CDs, a huge rack of metal LPs, and tshirts hanging like tapestries, not to mention rarities found in glass cases and behind the counter. The staff are mostly Hessians, speak the language and seem to love the music. Also has a good hardcore punk collection.

Houston

Houston is fortunate to have three stores with active and thriving metal sections. Two are in the Montrose area, and the third is out near Spring. However, they’re each worth visiting and good places to get some killer metal.

Sound Exchange
1846 Richmond Ave
Houston Texas 77098
(713) 666-5555
Hours: Mon-Sun, 11:00 to 7:00
http://www.soundexchangehouston.com/
store@soundexchangehouston.com

This store has been around forever, and has always had a brilliant metal section. It used to be on Westheimer right before Dunlavy, where the antiques place is now. Currently, it’s at Woodhead and Richmond in a solid, comfy brick house. I think the owners live upstairs. If you go in the front door and head straight to the back right-hand side of the house, there’s a small room that may once have been a kitchen, and it has two racks of metal. One is for new and used CDs, and the second is for vinyl and DVDs.

Although the rack is only six feet wide, it has a good selection of new metal as well as classics, with an emphasis on death metal and black metal. Two rows are reserved for local bands, which are sold at highly reasonable prices. Prices for new CDs are $14-17. Before you leave, check under the counter by the register — they stock metal rarities and box sets there. At least one staff member loves metal and likes to chat it up with local bands. The staff are very supportive, knowledgeable about metal and content to let you browse.

Directions: Take 59 to Shepherd. Take a right turn on Richmond, and go for about two miles until you reach Hazard. Sound Exchange is on the NE corner. [map]

Look for the sign:

Sound Waves
3509 Montrose
Houston, Tx 77006
(713) 520-9283
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10-9 pm
http://soundwaves.com/

Soundwaves hovers between selling surf gear and music, but it’s worth going for the used CD section. The store is divided with the left two-thirds being music and the right third filled with surfboards, shoes, lycra swimsuits, goggles, etc. Right on the border between these sections are used CDs and DVDs. If you scan through the general rock section, you will almost always find underground metal because whoever buys for them seems to like it.

Going back to the rows of new CDs, you’ll find the third row from the left, facing away from the sportsgear part of the store, is about 25′ of metal CDs. These are generally priced at $15-17, which is a reversal from how Soundwaves used to be — an inexpensive high-volume store. They stock a wide variety of stuff from the more extreme heavy metal through the metalcore/nu-metal stuff, but whoever buys for them tries to keep representative CDs of classic death metal and black metal bands in stock.

When they find a band they like, they stick with it, which is why you can get CDs from each segment of Prong’s 20-year career any day of the week. Although this is the busiest of the stores we mention in this review, it also has the highest-profile metal section which could easily be replaced with more indie, electronica or hip-hop to bring in the bucks. Make sure to check the sale racks fronting each aisle as periodically they throw some more mainstream death metal on sale.

Directions: From Sound Exchange, take a left on Richmond. Go until you reach Montrose. Take a left on Montrose. Soundwaves is on your right about three streets shy of Westheimer. [map]

Look for the sign:

Vinal Edge
13171 Veterans Memorial Drive
Houston, Texas 77014
(281) 537-2575
Hours: Mon-Thurs 10AM-7PM, Fri-Sat 10AM-9PM, Sun 12-6
http://www.vinaledge.com/
retail@vinaledge.com

This store is an old school Hessian shop. The front display is a disaster, and it’s piled high with boxes of records and CDs. You have to step over stuff to navigate through the cramped aisles. It is not a large shop. It is not a clean shop. In fact, it’s a giant pile of stuff that people don’t bother to move much. However, they take their metal seriously, even putting notations in grease pencil on used CDs. I don’t understand the misspelled name either.

Despite its location far from most Houston metalheads, this store remains a metal institution because although it stocks many kinds of music, it loves its metal. Right by the front door is the metal section; about 15′ of new CDs in racks, and a flat shelf storing used metal spine-up. This store does the best job of represented every era of metal. There’s a ton of old heavy metal, a dedicated “stoner doom” section, and then as much new black metal as you can shake a stick at.

Death metal is there as well but less prevalent. They seem to love labels like Southern Lord. However, they also carry a wide selection of death metal and black metal classics on vinyls, have a 7″ section dedicated to metal, and the best metal used CDs selection seen at a Houston store. Staff were friendly, liked metal and played it in the store, and were obvious metalheads. It’s a friendly place to shop for metal.

Directions: Take Beltway 8 to Veteran’s Memorial Drive, and go NW on that road. Right before the Bammel North Houston Road intersection, there is a shopping center with a giant Kroger in it. Vinal Edge is in the strip mall on the far side. [map]

Look for the Kroger:

The death of post-metal

Comments Off

Heavy metal came from horror movie soundtracks, loud rock, and progressive music mixed into a single package. This style differentiated itself by singing about epic, historical views of humanity and the dark subjects such thinking brings up, in opposition to the self-centered ramblings of rock musicians. It also brought in a new style of playing, where lead rhythm phrases were made of moveable chords into “riffs” which allowed greater complexity in songs, even if it reduced harmonic depth. With such a momentous birth, it took metal a couple generations to catch up with itself.

After its birth, it almost got assimilated by heavy rock and glam bands, but then bounced back by mixing aggressive punk hardcore into the mix. This new style evolved through thrash, which was crossover music for skateboarders, and speed metal, which was more traditional heavy metal, before exploding into form with death metal and black metal.

These styles fulfilled what Black Sabbath had started: creation of an entirely alien, post-human, horror-infused lifeform. Death metal introduced structuralism, or a way of linking together riffs that made the structure of the song the guiding force in lieu of harmony, and black metal pioneered using melody and atmosphere within the death metal framework to make a complete new style.

This new style most clearly resembled early Baroque or ancient Greek music in its atonal framing in which modal patterns are used to build melody, and inherited the tradition of bands from classical to Tangerine Dream of making spacious, lengthy compositions that eschew the verse-chorus tradition of pop music. Metal had transcended rock music.

Once that new wave of music, emboldened by the new easy (mid-1980s vintage) of printing and selling CDs, exploded from its indie roots to popularity, it lost direction. Too much of its impetus had been based on being tiny and alienated; now it was big. Now the crowd wanted to come to it, but they also wanted to change it to be more like the rock music and punk with which they were familiar.

Around 1994, the old guard started to pull back in confusion and pursue other things. In rushed the newcomers. They created two new styles which were basically the same thing: rock done in metal technique. The first, metalcore, mixed punk songs with metal riffs, but never “got” the death metal way of linking successive riffs in context. The second, nu-metal, added hip-hop bounce and alternative choruses to metal, but was basically metal riffs on top of rock songs.

Most death metal from the period 1994-2009 began to resemble metalcore. The riffs were no longer linked, but were variations on riff/chorus structures, and the swing and offbeat emphasis of rock music, and the desire of punk music to provide randomness, replaced the moody explorations of death metal. Black metal in turn got assimilated by underground punk, a cross between crustcore and shoegaze, which eschewed the ragged melodies for more predictable minor key pop songs.

For a long time, it seemed like the newcomers triumphed. Metal was bigger than ever before, in the numbers of fans and CDs sold. But a problem kept cropping up: it had produced no great works, only lots of “good” CDs. People bought “good” CDs and forgot them a few months later because they were not particularly distinctive in content, even if they were distinctive in form. Nothing quite made it to the epic stage of being timeless.

Starting in 2006, and slowly accelerating, this trend — which is as old as the hills, since the first thing that happens to every new genre is that they hybridize it with rock music — began to fade as labels found they couldn’t pump out the new music fast enough because within weeks its novelty wore off and it was forgotten. Profits turned to losses, and then in 2008, a recession hit, driving many labels and zines out of business.

This lucky break helped traditional metal come back into the spotlight. Over the last two years, band reunions and the formation of new bands by old school personnel have become commonplace. Many of the results at first were bad as old school metallers tried to compete with the new sound; however, over the last six months, the balance has shifted and now old school bands are making old school music.

As the Maryland Death Fest illustrates, the crowds are turning out for the old bands and old style bands, even the youngest audience members. They’re looking for a substantial musical experience and are tired of buying an underground version of the same thing they get on the radio.

The linked article illustrates the revolution that is happening in metal: younger people, newer fans and older fans alike are wanting the genre to uphold the styles and tradition of quality it once had. They’re tired of disposable garbage and endless hype that just leads back into the same blender of all quality that is commercial rock music. Bring back the metal, they say, and people are listening.

ANUS predicted this trend in the middle 1990s, and made comparisons to hardcore and past generations of metal, and now we’re being proven right. We knew that there would be a surge of newcomers, and then their lack of ideas would catch up with them, and people would abandon their contentless music for something more substantive. It just took a dozen years to manifest itself.