If you asked what the sound of my childhood is, it’s the sound of my grandmother’s portable radio. More specifically, the sound of Detroit Tigers baseball games broadcasting in the summers of my youth.
What I didn’t grasp at the time is what that particular silver rectangular Sony radio was doing. The physical aspect of being at the game, its sounds and smells in particular, were pushed through the channels with a patina of comforting AM static. A breeze and an airplane shadow on a humid, expansive Detroit day.
A child’s mind craves the pictures, the video. What these voices were portraying wasn’t news. It was about connecting you to a place, both imaginary and real. My Grandmother lived for these games, and the moment. I get it now.
The micro-gestures in the voice and the capacity for emotion. Memory. Somewhere, this is happening.
“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit—all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: So much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart.” – A Year With Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno, 1996
David Byrne proposes that music has always been created with the space or element of playback in mind. Namely the bigger the “room”, the more expansive the sound. Bach for the church, Adele for the earbuds.
When artists (or us) make things (pictures, paintings, writing, films) they can assume the size of the screen is actually as big as space itself. If not in content, at least in form.
The limitations of the apps and devices we use today are but a blip. Compression is the tape hiss or VHS tracking of our day, or what Brian Eno thinks are the kinds of defective charms we will miss from the previous era.
Simply put: Save your stems, your layers, your biggest lossless file.
These current considerations are technological shortcuts to reduce time/cost to transfer and ship. These aren’t reasons to limit our art.
The imperial phase of an artist is when they can seemingly do no wrong.
Whether it’s “10,000 hours” at work or just hitting the zeitgeist square on the nose, the assumption is the audience is fully invested in your success.
As far as I’m aware the name was given for the Pet Shop Boys’ run from 1986-1988 or more explicitly inside the brackets of the singles “It’s A Sin” to “Heart”.
But what other worlds does this apply to? Sports is relatively easy. We call them dynasties and can chart their zenith based on dominance (I was lucky to grow up in suburban Detroit as a basketball fan). What about architecture as defined by buildings, Fashion defined by seasons, and of course filmmakers (Spike Lee 1989-1992).
The problem with imperial phases is that they seek perfection which isn’t in sync with the realities of art. They’re also obsessed with success, which in retrospect doesn’t only account for an artists’ best work (my favorite Lee film is from 1995). Some of the greatest talents of any industry don’t apply because they never stop being great (Rei Kawakubo springs to mind).
Am now curious how we can look at imperial phases in our own lives. Or perhaps better, jettison the concept completely in favor of the long but craggy trend line that is reality.
For a while I stopped DJing. No one cared, even me. There was always part of me that felt like I worked with so many great DJs that it wasn’t important for me to contribute. Also, for a while I wasn’t inspired by the music I was hearing.
I’ve been having way more fun DJing lately. Usually for radio or for friend’s parties but even in the club. I think that’s largely because of a perspective shift. Much like blogging i just look at DJing as simply organizing ideas.
It’s not that I’m a particularly great DJ or that I even love performing (I don’t). I shifted my energy away from thinking of it as an act of performance and pressure and have now found the act (including prep) to be a way to organize time and give focus to a big part of my unaccounted for life, listening to music. For someone who consumes a fair bit of music, it’s important to have a moment to collect and sift.
Have been talking a lot with friends about friction lately. Friction is the time spent waiting, the having to leave your house to do something, and the certain imperfections or inconveniences that the internet wants to scrub from our lives. Even social media is shorthand for “talk to people you like or admire without having to actually talk to them.”
But what about the good stuff? Going to a movie theatre is great if you are into that. Waiting outside in line for sneakers is a tribal gathering. Vinyl is slow to arrive, heavy, and sonically imperfect. These experiences are communal, rooted in discovery, and leave the element of chance in play. Frictionless extends to dating now, something I have experienced for the first time. This form of introduction with speed and volume is exciting, but I wonder what we’re jettisoning in the process.
This isn’t to say that the frictionless is not desired. It’s great for the banal transactional bits like paying for things, but I’m loyal to projects and businesses that invoke good friction along their journey.
One of our big goals for Ghostly this year was to find a way to engage youth with the experience and wisdom of our musical and visual artist roster. We put this in motion last month with our first Ghostly Knowledge Share at the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor.
Neutral Zone creates a positive space for Washtenaw County (where Ghostly started in Michigan back in 1999) teens to learn and develop key skills for their lives and future careers.
Ghostly artists Matthew Dear, Kllo, Mary Lattimore, Tadd Mullinix, Lord Raja, Starchild & The New Romantic, and Matthew Shlian Came together for a very special day and we hope to make this the first of many.
Big thank you to Doug Coombe who captured the day.
Way back at the turn of the millennium, the first album on Ghostly was from a local kid (a Florida transplant) named Tadd Mullinix and the second album was under an alias of his, Dabrye. The Dabrye project led us to crazy places like venues in Glasgow and Tokyo, and to sacred spaces like the home studio of the departed J Dilla, who Dabrye collaborated on the song “Game Over”.
Tadd arrived to me/Ghostly via our friend Todd Osborn who heard the Matthew Dear / Disco D record we did in 1999, and Tadd gave me a mixtape in 2000 (a cassette, yes) that had snippets of these sleek, strange, and wonderful hip-hop instrumentals. We didn’t have big intentions other than to get them out in the world, and when his album One/Three came out in 2001 it put Ghostly International on the map of music heads almost instantly.
Next year we’ll release the final installment (but not the last word) in Tadd’s futuristic, vast trilogy of albums (featuring a world class array of talent) and we couldn’t be happier.
We’re also offering the previous Dabrye records (including the long out of print Instrmntl) in box format, limited to 500 pieces.
Big thanks to the believers who stayed with Tadd through this all especially Jason DeMarco at Adult Swim, Michael Cina, and the Ghostly team who made this possible. Thanks to Tadd and Ghostly’s fans for supporting this art.