A CMJ Playlist

Herewith, for those not attending, and those attending NYC's annual college radio confab, the CMJ Music Marathon, a play list featuring a few of the bands playing my hometown this year.

Like always, please ignore all typos.

File under: curmudgeonly-slash-idealistic music notes...

I asked the folks at CMJ to send a zip download of every artist playing their marathon, which books about 1,400 bands for five days of showcases. When that wasn't possible, I asked for Team CMJ to curate a play list that would be permanently on shuffle, so that listeners could enjoy the factor of randomness and go through the play list with an open mind and avoid, or at least forestall, attention-span drop-off, since people love mystery gift bags.

When the shuffle feature wasn't available, I asked for an alphabetical list of artists; my thinking was that alphabetical arrangement is unique for the human mind in that it potentially facilitates a greater curiosity by furnishing multiple means of access for the listener, who is working within a cognitive realm based on language, rather than numbers or aesthetics.

By this I mean to say that a numbered sequence superimposes a linear path and generally limits the modality of perception to begin with "1" and likely ending, if the music isn't immediatley appealing, at around "10", a familiar number; a curated list based on aesthetics can be fun, however, for listeners unfamiliar with the music, a thematic or slow-building DJ set is again, potentially exclusionary in that it depends on the listener being in sync with the DJ. Of course, however, make no mistake about it: a good DJ, as the song goes, will always save somebody's life.

To my feeble mind, an alphabetized list, though also positing the listener on a linear path by beginning with numbers, then the letter "A", would additionally give the listener additional natural points of interest beyond numbers or aesthetics, because letters represent words and concepts beyond the cold one-dimensional abstraction of numbers or the subjective aesthetics o a DJ set. For example "S" is a very common letter for band names to begin with, and like "Wheel of Fortune's" "l, s, t, r, n, e" the listener might naturally be inclined to check further on the list, and this could avoid early play list burn-out, and lead to greater discovery.

Of course what do I know? In any event, despite my curmudgeonliness-slash-idealism, we got something done, and this is the play list CMJ's curated. I'm told it is by far the largest such list they've ever shared with a website, and I hope you find a few songs here that you'll love, and which might make you want to discover more sounds.

But wait! That's not all! In addition to countless hours of listening pleasure, you also get...

On the subject of music discovery, I'm always baffled when I hear (some, not all) folks of a certain age complain that they never hear any good new music anymore, and that all the new stuff sounds the same. Granted, I do think that the derivation factor in contemporary music is higher than ever and that some of the most revolutionary musical equipment, from the Akai MPC to the home computer recording studio, have been used to relatively mind-numbingly boring results, with a lot of loop-based soundbeds and karaoke-style vocals rather then the multi/poli/omni new musical forms which technology should have helped unleash within the human imagination. But there are still some worthwhile sounds to be found, despite the ever-accelerating half-life of genuine musical creativity.

And of course, every generation gripes about the newbies biting their styles and watering them down. And so, I ain't sayin' nuthin' new, though I maintain that those who think it's all been done before are simply ignorant of the fact that (and I've said this before) when you consider the absolutely hyper-miniscule number of individuals -- even in this supposed age of technology = greater freedom of expression -- who haven't had their curiosity and need for artistic self-expression denied them by circumstances, or have managed to not have their creative drives beaten out of them by the pressures of life, it's simply statistically impossible that it's all been done before, but I digress.

We have followed an interesting progression with consumer music tools: karaoke enabled us to sing along to our favorite songs; the MIDI revolution changed everything, except human nature and our tendency to stay with the familiar; Guitar Hero enabled us to play along; most operating systems now come with pre-loaded recording studio software, chock full of loops and pre-made guitar, keyboard and drum sounds. At a recent consumer technology preview event, I came across a device which fine-tuned one's voice to ensure that their karaoke was always in the correct key and pitch -- and these are all fun items, though it'd be nice to see a new age of original creation rather than emulation.

And so, no matter what age you are, go out, start a band, or stay in and click on that icon for whatever home-recording studio came pre-loaded on your machine (ready-made sounds optional) and just get up any way you can. And try to avoid cover tunes; you will very likely surprise yourself.

If, as the great G.W.F. Hegel noted, history is the march of freedom, then digital music technologies' place in history should hopefully serve in that purpose, again, far beyond mere emulation.

Thank you, Dayna and Rachel at BPM for helping sort this list out. The annual CMJ Music Marathon of panels, teach-ins and showcases begins today, running through 10/25. Festival passes are still available. More information can be found HERE

Random notes

File under: Radio! Radio!...While it seems admirable that the FCC has granted more broadcast licenses to low-power FM (LPFM) stations than ever before, they -- and we, as citizens -- have got it all wrong. The 1st amendment ensures that anyone can start a radio station. Sadly, we seem to think we need to ask for permission. First Amen: use it, or lose it -- or rather, fight to restore, re-gain it.

File under: please don't feed/give alms to the homeless...
Continuing on with the 1st amen, we can all just ignore those subway recordings that "inform" us that panhandling, public begging is illegal. Public begging is protected by the 1st amendment. Thank you, radio legend and free speech advocate Nat Hentoff (though I disagree with some of your conclusions), for noting this in The Village Voice of yester-yesteryear. First Run features have released a dynamite documentary on Henoff which is well worth your time.

File under: the heart is a noble hunter-gatherer... Icarus Films are releasing a documentary on the great Alan Lomax whose singularly heroic, downright dharmic efforts to discover and preserve the sounds of global humanity rank amongst the great cultural, anthropologial contributions of our bloody twentieth century. Films like this remind me that it would be great if CMJ re-launched their film festival next year; getting college kids -- and everyone else -- hip to someone like Lomax, who was a true one-man music search engine, seems more relevant than ever.