theoldhandI have become an old hand. Not literally, but figuratively. An old hand is someone who is very experienced and skilled in a particular area of activity. How did this exaltation occur? Not many years ago I was a novice and struggling to orientate in the genre. Nowadays, people are writing to me with music suggestions and want to know what I think. I get very well-informed suggestions from like-minded people. Their aim are often spot-on. On the other hand, there are some artists and bands who insists that they have "a gothic streak" in their music and want me to confirm this. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff? I simply apply the duck test. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Practising the duck test makes perfect. However, to tell someone that they're non-gothic is a difficult conversation. "With great power comes great responsibility". To be an old hand is desirable. It involves the same satisfaction as achieving mastery in collecting, read more here (opens in a new window). You achieve mastery through specialized knowledge and expertise. No tiny detail is too small to remain unnoticed. It's deeply satisfying to know more than anyone else in the world in your tiny field. It doesn't matter that almost no-one cares. You and few like-minded people care. And that's really all that matters.

 

      

mostexpensiveLet me tell you a story about the "most expensive" hifi system ever. Surprisingly, it's not a story about a ridiculously over-priced high-end system. On the contrary, this is the story about a mid-priced Technics hifi system that I bought in the beginning of the 1980s. The system deserves the epithet "most expensive" since I paid for it at least twice, maybe more. This is also a cautionary tale. Once upon a time I got my first job. I wanted to make up lost ground as a consumer. I longed for a hifi system, but didn't have the patience or discipline to save enough money. Of course, there's a business segment for these situations, installment plan. After usual credit worthiness evaluation I was accepted as borrower (having a warm body was sufficient). I went to the local hifi dealer and bought a Technics turntable, amplifier and cassette deck which was supplemented with Jamo speakers, on wheels. To top it off I added a stereo rack in fake teak with dark tinted glass doors (tacky, but it was the 1980s). But, I overlooked one important thing. I didn't read the fine print. If I had, I would have noticed the effective interest rate of 34 percent. The ironic element in this story is that we never really connected. The turntable had no statute, amplifier sound was harsh, cassette deck was plain and the musculous speakers sounded like whiplashes (it was the 1980s). I might as well have burned the money. After all, that's pretty much what I did.

 

       

theartofcompilationIt's hard to make a good compilation. In Nick Hornby's book "High Fidelity" there's a good description of the agony. "I spent hours putting that cassette together. To me, making a tape is like writing a letter - there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again, and I wanted it to be a good one... A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention, and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch... oh, there are loads of rules.” There are three broad categories for compilations; chronological, thematical and typical. They all require boundaries. All physical formats have limitations (in time and space). That's a good thing, since you need to really focus and make strong priorities. The difficulty level is higher for a cassette than a cd, since you have two sides (A and B). Which song should close side A and which song should open side B? These profound questions need to be addressed. To give a person a personalized mixtape or cd-compilation isn't something to be taken lightly. The giving (and receiving) is a ritual not unlike meishi koukan (exchanging business cards); given and received with two hands, handed face-down to the receiver, kept on display for the remainder of the interaction and kept as immaculate as possible. It should be obvious that you don't make and give a mixtape or a cd-compilation to just anyone. Maybe an impersonal copy of a copy, but never a unique compilation since it requires both thought and reflection. Compilations are becoming more rare and compilators are a dying breed. Not many people want to put in the time and effort. On the other hand, people want to get informed, enlighted and guided. In fact, a lot of the traffic on the site is directed towards the lists. Humans are today competing against algorithms. However, we beat algorithms every single time since humans are complex. But, sometimes humans make mistakes. Making a playlist on Spotify or Youtube with over 200 gothic country songs isn't compiling, it's piling.

  

 

SchlaraffenlandI'm sick of the widespread stereotype image of musicians. They don't really do anything, do they? Only music, but how hard could that be? It's just easy living without any demands. Musicians are bohemians and don't like to make any plans. Instead, they simple turn on their musical tap and create in the spur of the moment. It comes without any effort just as in the fictitious land with many names; Schlaraffenland (german), Cockaigne (english), Pays de Cocagne (french) and Luilekkerland (dutch). Read more here (opens in a new window). However, every single musician I know is the total opposite of this tiresome stereotype. They are all hard working individuals, driven project leaders and entrepreneurials, masters of logistics and multitaskers by birth. In fact, most musicians could set up a complete circus including the trapeze in no time. And what about the bohemian approach? The work ethic is extremely strong: "Early is On Time, On Time is Late, and Late is Unacceptable". Ask any musician and you will hear the truth.

 

 

357bandIn several blog entries I have made the prediction that the best years for the genre have come and gone. Are we already at the point where we are looking back and remembering? A warning bell should ring when you're looking more back than forward. The state of Wisconsin's motto is incidentally: "Forward". Very apt for Wisconsin's fastest band, .357 String Band. Ten years ago they released their second album "Fire & Hail". Read all about it here (opens in a new window). In this well-written article you can follow the rise and fall of streetgrass. It also captures the zeitgeist. .357 String Band closed shop with two farewell shows in Milwaukee and Green Bay on 25 and 26 November 2011. They didn’t go quietly into the night. I've been thinking a lot about why this particular band concerns me. An explanation is the monumental injustice: their interest for traditional music, the strong commitment, the unparalleled brilliance, the ridiculously low return on their work, all deprivations of family and friends and ultimately the unbroken view of life despite the lack of commercial success. What is the explanation to why it never took off for the band? Most important, the lack of strategies to make their music and the band known. The band was extremely bad at marketing themselves and hated it at the same time, which isn't a good combination. The band had its entire focus on playing and touring. A little naive perhaps, but to retain their integrity and just do what you believe is not so bad either. ”Rest easy boys, you did well”.

 

 

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