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Monday
Sep222014

I Think I Hate In Flames New Record

I love In Flames. I stuck by them as greasy haired metalheads decried their "nu" influences. I think they were, and still are, one of the Gothenburg greats. At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames. Don't ask me to put one of their heads on the guillotine. I fucking won't.

But I think I hate this new record. A lot.

Per fucking che? Initially, Siren Charms is set upon by a dark fog of misplaced identity. Are they metal? Are they adult contemporary something-or-rather? What is this phantasmagoria?

At times, Anders sounds like a cat who's tail's just been stepped on. There's a bit of that chest puffery unsheathing their twin melodies and what have you, barely scraping over metal's red line.

 

 

On the main, they've been listening to too much Philly C era Genesis and Depeche Mode. Its as if they rushed to record before their synapses cooled off. Even so, I couldn't believe when my beloved Angry Metal Guy gave it 1.5/5.

AMG and his crew, to their credit, are the most trustworthy horde of reviewers (I think that's the collective noun for metal scribes) on these deep dark Internets. They give the European and American scenes a fair shake. Their articles don't require a Masters degree in English to understand. It's intelligent, honest and insightful stuff. 99% of the time, they're bang-fucking-on.

So why did I balk reading the review? Probably because I bought the album. Yeah. I actually shelled out money for it. Before I even heard it.

I fought so damn hard NOT to listen to a pre-release promo ahead of my Peter Iwers interview (which you'll read in Hysteria Mag in the near future.) I succumbed to defeat. Upon first listen, it had potential for its hooks to slowly dig under my skin. As time went on, the hooks never came. I only grew out of it.

Suddenly it hit me. Driving up a straight road, no cars in sight and at the speed limit, this album wasn't making the trip any more enjoyable. It was flat like the endless bitumen I rolled over.

The asshole metalhead in me wants to declare them D.O.A. The rational rock fan ponders if I'm being a "dude or a dick." They're the live band I want to see every time they come to town, and I'll even pay a sky-high Trivium tax to stand front and centre. Can you judge a band by their shitty albums? If they release shit like a monkey on laxatives, sure. If a band puts out ONE album considered a genre classic, they're likely standing with the top 1% of bands ever. If a band can manage TWO or THREE? Your argument is invalid. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Hate the game and not the player; hate the album not the band. I don't need a crew lashing me to a mainsail to resist this record. But god damn I'll tear those binds free to see them play it.

 

Monday
May272013

My Resistance is Useless

It was important that I met my Hapkido instructor, Ken. He texted me after three or so reschedules to meet him at a little café down a tree-lined street. I entered the faux-vintage butcher shop, finding him underneath an old wooden staircase, slurping down pumpkin soup. It was strange to see him in “civvies” instead of his black and menacing gi. Tufts of chest hair were escaping the top of his grey shirt.

“How’s it goin’,” he said. I replied with something phatic. He wiped the corner of his mouth with a napkin and took a deep breath.

“The ting is Tahm,” he spoke in brusque Irish, “you’ve got your orange belt now.” His next words were placed carefully.

“You’ve hit a plateau, I t’ink. Ye can make it to black belt but you’ve got t’ push harder.”

His words hung in the air for me. There was praise in there, but I thought it microscopic. The criticism loomed as high and wide as skyscrapers. We talked some more and as we waded through diet, exercise and new techniques for training, a wave of realization crashed on top of me.

My entire fucking life was plateauing.

His words weren’t one scrawled tag on a distant corner of a wall. It was like a building sat with more windows broken than not, cracking at the foundations. No hint of collapse, mind. It all seemed fine, but it wasn’t great.

The nucleus of my being lies with words I write. I’ve been doing it since I was a child, whether I acknowledge it or not. I keep green and black striped books filled with nonsense and dreams of movies that would never get made, let alone make sense (I don’t think anyone would pay to see a convoluted sci-fi version of Ocean’s Eleven.)  It all sort of flowed out of me until it all got deathly serious.

It didn’t get “deathly,” let alone “serious.” It just did in my head.

Of late, I noticed editors expressing displeasure with my work. “I’ll be honest, I don’t understand this,” said one. “This is so weighed down with poetry it doesn’t work,” noted another. “Your copy’s crisp but not concise,” scolded one more. I saw a few snide comments on my overzealous use of adjectives.

So I clicked through the jungles of Amazon for tips. The Art of Writing, by my childhood hero Ray Bradbury. Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I cracked open my Writing for Journalists and Subediting for Journalists again. Help! For Writers. Choose the Right Word. My confidence felt so shaken I had forgotten everything I’d learned. Maybe everything I learned was bunk anyhow. I felt boxed in and shut down.

But the cardboard box flaps were taped up by my mind. I was the one holding the masking tape over my own mouth, not someone else. On the verge of giving up, I arranged to see my shrink, Geoff.

I entered his office on a warm day. Outside, yellowing leaves of trees began to flutter to the ground. I sat on his sleek, modern rocking chair and blurted, “I don’t think my writing is any good.”

He stared. He stared some more. I looked around his room at his chipped wooden bookcase and wallpaper made of degrees and certificates. We both bobbed back and forth in silence. He was still staring at me.

“I dunno,” I murmured, “maybe I’m not being honest enough.”

He flashed a smile; a seasoned poker shark would have been at pains to see it. He earned his $120, right there.

A few weeks back at my men’s support group I said the same thing. “I don’t think my honesty is where it is. I’ve been holding shit in that doesn’t need to be.” A couple of years ago, I was losing friends faster than investors did money in BlackBerry. I didn’t care, because I was fucking honest. I wasn’t pretending, I wasn’t faking, and it was all 100% genuine. I was climbing heights I never dared climb because I dared to speak my mind. For the past year I’ve been zombie-walking through life. I’ve not felt the bone-quaking fear of telling the truth.

I’m not going to get shit right. I have to let that go. I’m really afraid of getting it wrong. My face will be lit for hours by a bluish MS Word page with nothing on it. I’m 730 words in and it’s taken me less than an hour because I’m not bullshitting myself. I triple-check every fact and figure that goes into my work; nothing is unverifiable or false there. This is my headline: no one can engage with my writing because it’s coming from a bullshit place.

People are bullshit detectors. They’ve been ferreting out bullshit since the dawn of time. You can see corners of eyes wrinkle and arms fold when people are hissing virtues of snake oil and carbon taxes. I feel like a fucking fraud hitting “send” on my shit of late because its trying to be something it’s not. “I wish I could be more like X,” I secretly wish to myself. “Then I’ll finally be great.” What the fuck for? Let X be X. I have to let me be me.

Salieri was all pissed off Mozart stole praise that was “rightly” his. Why? Because his soul was dog shit. It’s the whole reason he confessed to a priest, framing the entire fucking film. Salieri was fine being Salieri; he just had to accept the gifts Mozart bestowed to him and move the fuck on. Same goes for me.

It’s been two weeks since Ken told me what I needed to do. I hung up a punching bag on my rickety veranda, scared shitless it’ll collapse on me if I take too hard a swing. I go to the gym more often, eat less shit and run, run, run. But what about pushing that which is most vital to me, my writing? There’s no black belt for writing. I’m gonna aim for Grand Master anyway.

Wednesday
Feb132013

Are we Goebbels' stepchildren? (and other journalistic conjectures)

When the ethical standards of the media slip we expose ourselves to ruin. So we're told. In Melbourne on February 12, inventor of the World Wide Web (W3) Sir Tim Berners-Lee alarmed us to the fact a tweet can travel faster than an earthquake. Someone in the epicentre of a seismic shift underfoot can alert others faster than the quake can travel itself. If you have five followers under an eggy avatar with a handle of @ahzzzopll001 and you offer nothing but FREE BEATS BY DRE then your tweets aren’t going to have much impact. But if you have thousands, millions of followers and may broadcast your message through airwaves, optic fibre and print to countless more one's noblesse oblige on integrity increases exponentially. Have we learned anything from Goebbels’ media manipulation in the electronic media’s infancy or have we all become his stepchildren? (Oooh, how deliciously evil)

Have Lies, Will Travel

Goebbels' once wrote that “[t]he English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” The big lie today is that the internet is so vast and interconnected the transmission of big lies would be caught, debunked and refuted before their virus’ deadly payloads had a chance to inflict any real damage. We’re thinking in what McLuhan termed the rear-view mirror with little inclination to look forward. But are reporters really lying?

In 2010, American Apparel marketing director and media strategist Ryan Holiday fell victim to this new craze of divesting oneself of accusations of unethical conduct by reporting in a time-honored yet disingenuous way.

Feminist website Jezebel, a masthead of Gawker Media, posted a claim by staff blogger Irin Carmon that American Apparel’s new nail polish contained hazardous material. Holiday was asked for comment after the post was live. His company’s official refutation was published as an addendum once “dozens of other blogs were already parroting her claims.” Despite Gawker Media's shoulders aching from the ideological barrow they push, their conduct insofar as it pertains to ethics finds itself in a strange loop.

The email contained in the report – that nail polish ought to be removed from shelves and that someone (in management? Operations? It’s unclear) mentioned the product could be considered ‘hazardous material’ in a conference call – is the report. Ms. Carmon could argue that the public was unaware of said email and Ms. Carmon was bringing it to light. On higher level of abstraction, not reporting the leaked email may have caused more harm than running it without attempting to confirm the presence of hazardous material (not the contents of the email, which are self-validating, provided it was not doctored.) Fact checking may have unreasonably delayed disposal of the product, leading users into harm. So which approach was ethical? One, the other, both and neither. It’s like Schrodinger meets William Randolph Hearst.

We can take rightful umbrage if this story was incomplete - that is, if it they were reporting one level up on Hayakawa's abstraction ladder, i.e., that the nail polish indeed contained hazardous material. Jezebel and Gawker Media could have conducted a chemical analysis, consulted with experts, interviewed manufacturers or actually waited for a response from American Apparel before running the piece. But none of this was ethically necessary insofar the scope of the report is concerned. In terms of reporting this story – the wider publication of a "damning" email and what may have been said in a conference call – their obligations to ethics were mind-bogglingly internally consistent. However, the entire head-scratching episode superficially resembles a variant of investigative reporting instead of “blogging” (which I will expound upon later.) The former relies on external sources to confirm or refute claims. This so-old-it's-new style is akin to what I term publicity driven journalism, as opposed to 'traditional' news journalism.

The ethical functions in publicity driven journalism

Any form of journalism that does not rely on the independent verification of more than one source to make a substantive claim could be reliably dubbed as publicity driven journalism. Publicity driven journalism is usually publisher-backed, industry recognised and profit-driven. As broad categories, these include but are not limited to entertainment, sports, technology, lifestyle, Gonzo, opinion and criticism. Opinion and criticism do not ethically require sources to make claims. Entertainment journalism such as music journalism may blur the distinction between opinion and fact; however pieces such as interviews only require one reliable source (i.e., the interview subject) to which their own conjecture is reported as the fact. (“It’s the most accessible yet heavy record we’ve ever done”, “We’re going to take it one day at a time, but we’ll definitely trounce our rivals.”)

Its ethical obligation is to not misquote or misrepresent the conjecture–bearer as a matter of public record. This is constrained by the tripartite model as described before – publishers will not come into disrepute by disseminating copy riddled with falsity, the industry will delegitimise any publication that does so and profit margins will decline as advertisers and the subjects of the copy (artists, products, etc.) withdraw their business. We now live in an age where conjecture-as-fact, not event-true-to-fact is the standard for what's reasonably assumed as ‘credible’ journalism online. (See what I did there?)

Gone Bloggin’

Blogs, short for weblog are part of an amateur journalist or diarist tradition. Even the first blogs or “webdiaries” had no ethical constraints placed on them; conjecture-as-fact informs its process and output. For example, the Drudge Report could reasonably print a headline “Is Obama a Maniac?” in which one of his opponents described him as “a maniac.” Moreover, tabloid magazines print stories which might appear “patently untrue” such as “Is Prince Harry of Wales a Nazi?” – The story itself might be a “source” overhearing a conversation in which Prince Harry of Wales is alleged to have uttered Nazi sentiments. “Is Kate Middleton an alien from outer space?” and etc. The fact itself is derived from the initial conjecture. (Even though the headline sure as shit isn’t.)

When mastheads such as The Times or Daily Mail manoeuvre themselves to drive up pageviews, drawing on their reputation as event-true-to-fact tellers using this new online conjecture-as-fact model, the entire ethical framework for truth in reporting be it amateur or professional ought to be called into question. But if we’re bombarded by tweets and blogs generating 2.5 quintiillion bytes of new information each day, who has the time to say “Hang on a minute?” It's precisely what we must ask ourselves now when we read almost anything online. The unadorned truth does not go viral, not any more.

Facts aren’t being discounted; they’re just being reframed, and most of real reporting isn’t actually reporting in the traditional sense. Is it ethical? Technically yes. Does it make us prone to manipulation, as if we were sired by propaganda and popular enlightenment? If we look backwards to look forwards, we may as well be.

Updated: Go Australia! Here's an example from national broadsheet The Australian, half consumer panic and half free publicity regarding one (one!) software developer's claim Google Play might be passing on user details to vendors after app purchases

Tuesday
Jul172012

21st Century Facebookless Man

It's been a year. One productive, fruitful and prosperous year since I deactivated my Facebook account. I told everyone once I'd done it I wouldn't relapse once; and thankfully haven't. I kept my solemn vow never to use it ever again.

Have I missed out on anything? No. What have I gained? Quite a bit.

Once it was gone, I didn’t miss it. I broke the habit of checking it and fussing over every minute detail rather swiftly. Once the apps were removed and bookmarks purged, there was no yearning to open them up. The only times I wished I’d had it were to enter “Like this page” competitions where a prize was otherwise unobtainable in the marketplace (like signed moon rocks by a dead rock star, or something.) Even then, it’s not as ubiquitous nor an essential a tool as people would like to think.

Only a handful of times over the past year have people told me to “Check my Facebook” for a link or some other piece of trivia they insisted I just had to see. At no instance was it ever a requisite for keeping on top of events or other issues that I deemed important. In fact, it just made me work harder and smarter about what events I would attend and with whom. It increases the efficacy of your “social memory” – your ability to recall details about your friends beyond the superficial, past what they simply “like.” Labelling something usually libels it as Neil Postman would say; I’m sure people simply dismiss me as “Metal Tom” and pay no more mind to my “largeness” that contains multitudes. (I’m guilty of the same with other acquaintances, I’m sure.)

I’ve sent links to friends about Bukowski, new astronomical discoveries and octo-necked guitars via email or text message (or even called them and met up with them! Quelle horreur!) because I’ve actually remembered conversations in which they’ve mentioned such interests. Schopenhauer said to train the mind you must build its power of unaided recall; with no basis with which to “reference” what your friends like trains it well.

I tended to focus more on my enjoyment of events – I wasn’t one of those arseholes at gigs clicking photos of the band instead of actually watching the fucking band play. For example, I went to see Goatwhore and Impiety a couple of weeks ago. To my dismay, the room was awash with deep electric blue light glowing from smartphones. They were posting up-to-the-minute dispatches to Facebook about events transpiring before them, despite never actually experiencing the present fully.

Getting rid of Facebook in my experience strengthened my commitment to personal development. One aspect of this journey which requires much patience and effort is my tendency to seek approval from others and attach myself to a desired outcome. Killing Facebook (and the occasional Twitter moratorium) greatly aids the attainment of such a goal. You begin to enjoy activities and work for oneself, instead of grovelling for “likes” or pats on the head. Likewise, you tend not to conceal failures, either. It really does lend meaning to the aphorism “a good deed is its own reward.” An inward honesty is also projected outward. It builds trust and rapport with people. Likewise, you can start to feel when things are amiss; your internal “bullshit detection” apparatus activates and heightens with each day.

Bullshit detection also applies to self-reflexion and self-perception. Burying feelings and emotions almost never have any upsides. Letting them out and focusing on the root causes without bullshitting yourself maintains a mental wellbeing and working toward Dr. Ellis’ USA – Unconditional Self-Acceptance. Likewise, you tend not to settle for second best, especially in terms of relationships. Your boundaries are much more defined and active instead of passively “hiding” (read: avoiding) someone you find undesirable. A very dear friend of mine had to be cauterized out of my life as his friendship was simply too toxic and untrustworthy to hold on to. I felt much sadness and anger as a result, but it had to be done. It simply followed from the self-belief that I deserve better treatment. 

The value I place on interpersonal communication is higher. As my birthday rolled around last year, I received a handful of well-wished from friends and family. They received no electronic pats on the back for it; they did it out of kindness and genuine affection. Lengthy emails and Skype chats with friends from overseas seems to dismiss those lengthy distances in the way a few photos pushed out on a news feed every so often never could.

Over the last year it’s as if I’ve discovered killing Facebook was like my “gateway anti-drug” to personal development and lasting, strong friendships. People hum and haw at getting rid of it, as if they’ll be swallowed up into a social abyss; but nothing could be further from the truth. Your excuses are simply that. If it isn’t fun anymore then why persist? Besides, who doesn’t want liberation?

Tuesday
May222012

Spotify: The new/old musical counter-revolution

I got two packages in the mail - a vinyl record and a compact disc. All on the day that Australian music lovers would point their fingers and laugh at my stubborn luddism. Hadn't I heard? Spotify had finally launched Down Under! I could now stream any song I wanted from a pool of over sixteen million tracks filled by virtually all the major labels and independents, sailing across it with a totally "new" musical model.

As many pundits would have you believe the Spotify "revolution" isn't one at all - it's not the Red Army storming the Winter Palace and declaring peace, bread and land for the people. It's akin to a bound and gagged family Romanov inexplicably sprouting laser turrets from their heads. Envigorated, they'd command the ghosts of Cossacks to rise from their graves and mercilessly hound Trotsky and his troops back toward the Ukraine. Spotify is a musical counter-revolution aiming to quash the orgiastic "free" producer/consumer-led music rebellion once and for all.

It’s so deliciously evil it beats life back into Monty Burns’ desiccated heart and has him whistling Dixie and calling Mater. (Ahoy-hoy?) Here’s why.

The digital arms race
Ever since the dawn of recorded music, the industry at large kept its eye on one prize. That is, controlling the content, the media and its distribution.[1] When gramophone records first appeared it wasn’t uncommon to see music on vinyl sold via totally vertical integration: ownership from top to bottom from producer of the content to the point of purchase by the consumer. (Case and point: HMV or “His Master’s Voice.”) The Compact Disc was a shift toward higher-fidelity media and lower overall manufacturing costs per unit.

The CD was jointly developed by Sony and Philips in the late-70s. CDs as a format gained consumer acceptance in the late-80s when an economy of scale was established. Together, Sony and Philips paid for the research & development, marketing and manufacturing of both Compact Discs and the machines that would play them. Like all good R&D, they could on-license the technology to other companies. It’s a no brainer – Sony and Philips were (and still are, to some extent!) multinational music labels possessing vast back catalogues and new talent primed for polymer pressing, proving positively pilfer-proof (until the late 1990s, as we all know.)

But what to do! In the yawning sunrise of 2000 AD, the medium of playback and distribution went spectacularly rogue. A stylized cat harvested innards of beige boxes, enabled by squeaky telephone wires. The pirates, once thought of as guerillas with nothing better to do than trade tapes around and occasionally burn a CD for a few bucks a pop were now legion, moving torrents (oh I love this water analogy) of (almost!) intangible data across networks without proper authorization from intellectual property holders. The content was there, like it had been since Tin Pan Alley and even centuries before 'round the campfire. Yet the stranglehold on media and distribution methods slipped the grasp of the industry virtually overnight. It felt like no amount of speech impeded Danes with expensive lawyers could ever halt their revolutionary advance.

Commodification ala mode and a cup of tea
So what now? Do record companies under the aegis of RIAA and their cronies hunt down pirates and strong-arm them back toward their sanctioned tripartite model of music consumption? Or do they spend more money than they’re prepared to on R&D creating a new medium and a new distribution method?

The iTunes model seemed “revolutionary” at the time – you know, telling people to pay for something they could get illegally for free – lest the counter-revolutionary martinets bound in and lay down the(ir) law. It was a step forward from CDs, sure. Slapping all DRM in the world on to files still meant people "got" something.  “Our content was never yours to begin with and now we’re keeping it,” they bellowed.

And lo, Spotify and its ilk emerged.

Record companies own the content. That's a given. The clever rub lies thus: remove the medium and utilize an established distribution network, which in its present broadband form has existed about fifteen years. Spotify etc. seek to change the concept or perception of content ownership back to an near pre-technological state much like in the age of travelling band shows of yore. Yes, you may hear the music but you can no longer hold it in your hands.

By removing the physical or even the illusion of physicality (files on a hard drive), the medium and the distribution is in a state of simultaneous allness and nothingness; it’s always “on” yet you can never “have” the music. It's "your" song when you choose it - like out of a jukebox - but once the last note decays, so is your claim over it (not that you really had one in the first place). You can “search” the (not your) collection but it’s never “yours” – they’re the gatekeepers and you pay for them to lower the drawbridge. Once inside their opaque vaults, they're able track your playing habits to sell you more of what you already want. Then you're their billboard as they publish every guilty play of Pat Benatar to your friends on Facebook. It’s like the IKEA of promotion – IKEA keep their prices low because they outsource the construction of the product to you. Now Spotify have got you to do their marketing for them, too.

If budding content producers are paid a pitiful commission, more so the better in the eyes of the industry. By melding (or abnegating) the medium, they’ve lowered the price of music and also its value. If Spotify spends the same amount of money paying for the rights to the new Gotye record (quelle horreur) and the entire back catalogue of Darkthrone, per se, then what is the differential of worth between the two? There is none. The only savvy trick the labels can pull is restricting the “supply” of Gotye (or someone just as horrible and popular) but that would distort the market and their profit margins (in this new medium-lite model). Make everything on offer the same (pre-paid) price per click, throw in some ads and the money rolls in regardless. Not much for those who wish to furnish Spotify with music, but big payoffs for those who control mammoth oceans - not paper cups full - of content.

But what really fucking burns my potatoes is that Spotify is the closest thing we have to the real pop music experience. Richard Meltzer in his inquiry/parody of the Aesthetics of Rock posited that rock and pop music is the act of making the mundane interesting and exciting. Shit, if you can make money off it, more so the better.

Spotify is accessible on a desktop computer which you more than likely stare into each day to earn those dollars to pay for, well, Spotify. For the fraction of a second your consciousness wanders toward the sublime tongue of rock and pop in all its tinned ferocity on your shitty laptop speakers, the music industry suits have not only breathed a sigh of relief, their tar-stained cackles can be heard from a blue million miles...

Like I said, it’s pure evil fucking genius.

---
1: Jones, S. Rock Formation: Music, Technology and Mass Communication, Sage Publications: Newbury Park, CA, 1992 p. 185.