02 October 2008

Some clarifications on "Lars's Paradox"

From what I have heard of the CD master of Death Magnetic versus the GH3 mix, the GH3 mix is quite superior and the CD master is inferior even to other contemporary records. In that I'm pretty my in agreement with most other commentary.

That said, I certainly speak for nobody besides myself when I say that. My musical tastes, are, shall we say, immodest. My idea of a song with real dynamic range is the recent Boulez/CSO recording of Varèse's Amériques, or perhaps the Autechre and Hafler Trio collaboration æo³/³hæ. Or Mahler 3. It's to a certain degree ironic that we are debating relatively minuscule differences in dynamic range compared to stuff like that.

While many people apparently agree with my impressions of DM, many people don't. Look at the roadrunner thread below, or the comments for this YouTube video, or any number of dreck threads on metallicabb.com, and you'll find at least a few people who either do not mind the CD or believe it is better than the GH3 mix. It's been pointed out that some of their thinking is rather stupid - "this is what metal is supposed to sound like! you aren't a true metal fan if you don't like the CD mix! Roll over and die if you don't like loud music, pops!" - etc. But spaced between that are people who are saying, well, the CD sounds just fine. And a lot of people seem to have a problem with that - they do not understand why people would prefer music that is of far higher distortion than necessary.

I really can buy the argument that some people - artists and listeners alike - really are looking for this kind of distortion. Listen to some samples of Times New Viking's Rip It Off , and then marvel at the adoration it has received in some circles of the music community (and put the gun away - I know you hate Pitchfork, but hear me out here).
The layer of fuzz works like a security blanket-- a way of creating not just a distinctive sound, but of putting up an awning of safety over them and their listeners. Only the slightest bit of straining brings you to the pop virtues of these songs, on the band's own terms. Sure, it's an affectation, but its just another way of using the studio as an instrument in a way that makes these songs more intimate by design-- for better or worse, you can't sell a Volkswagen with a Times New Viking song. If cleaner production means truckloads of new bands who can summon their influences with little effort, and even less enthusiasm or creativity, then I'll stick with my tinnitus, thanks.
It's like I've said elsewhere: where do you draw the line on artistic intent? Where do you draw the line on unlistenability? Would people seriously believe that Venereology would sound "better" if Merzbow didn't use as much hard limiting? What kind of limits are acceptable on some genres of music when music in other genres would completely obliterate them?

Second-guessing the musician is easy, and occasionally even accurate, but it can also be cheap and unpersuasive. If mainstream production/mastering practices are being called into question, yet the musicians's music itself is not, the musicians will always set the terms of the debate. Examples abound of artists who seemingly add distortion for distortion's sake - Billy Corgan and Igga Pop are two examples of people who helped produce records from some time ago that were reviled for their lack of dynamics and ear-piercing distortion (Zwan's Mary Star of the Sea, in Corgan's case).

If you're not prepared to put your money where your mouth is, and stop buying music from the bands you love with the mastering you hate, then you will need to empathize with those artists, and those listeners who agree with their decisions, and truly understand what's going on in their heads comapred to yours. Only then will you be able to reconcile their musical tastes with your own, and hopefully, support a solution that makes everybody happy. Otherwise, Metallica and their business associates will continue to sleep quite soundly over all of this.

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