Sunday, March 19, 2006

Up from barbarism

As I believe I have mentioned, I have recently joined the ranks of the civilized in the following respect: I now have broadband internet access (cue "Freiheit" chorus from Fidelio).

One important advance is this. With dial-up, it's pointless to download music (let alone video). A single song, even in low-fi formats, can take an hour or more. Forget it! But now it's a snap. (One exception: entire albums, downloaded from inefficient servers, can still take a while.)

Of course, what they would like us to do with this glorious new technology is to go to iTunes and pay $.99 per song for whatever malodorous load of pop ephemera is hot this week (or to replace those dusty Culture Club or Pat Benatar LP's in the garage). But even with a lot of the illegal peer-to-peer activity (e.g. Napster) shut down or at least reduced – and you wouldn't want to break the law anyway, now would you? At least not to snag the latest Shakira ditty (*shudder*) – there is an amazing amount of entirely free music available out there, a good deal of it, believe it or not, worth hearing. (Cue "Freiheit" chorus again.)

The key development is that of the "netlabel." Of course virtually every record label has a website, but that's not what we're talking about. A netlabel is a label whose sole purpose is to distibute free music on the net. Why? Well, for several reasons: 1) get exposure for the artists, who may also have material-media releases out elsewhere; 2) for the love of music, dammit; 3) and sometimes there is a virtual tip jar, which it would be nice to use if you hear something you like. I sort of knew this; but I did not know just how fracking many of them there are. (and yes, you should indeed expect BSG posting in this space).

Not only that, there are plenty of places where people post mixes that they've made. Now of course some of these are of somewhat iffy legality, but many are not, some of them even telling you when all tracks are taken from netlabels (and/or other public or original material). But of course with good DJ mixes (as opposed to iPod dumps) this is – or would be in a sane society – a non-issue.

Anyway, we have neglected the tunes (sounds, noise, whatever) here at DR for far too long. Netlabels need support! So if you like a place I send you to make sure to spread the word. And follow the links!

Let me start with the first thing I ever downloaded (snif!). Loscil is the project name of one Scott Morgan, who releases real CD's on the Kranky label (home of Labradford, Windy & Carl, and Stars of the Lid). His first two releases for them were a bit flat but showed promise. But then First Narrows was a gem. I'm terrible at describing music – I tend just to point to similar-sounding artists, which is often enough – but here I can say that on this record it is the many subtly different arrangements of a recurring gentle ambient-electronic shuffle, some using "real" instruments, that make this disc stand out.

But that's not what I got. (I already have his other stuff – go here and get it!) He has also made available a gorgeous set of what seem to have started out as backing tracks or studies, but work just fine by themselves as drifty soundscapes. It's called stases (drones 2001 - 2005) and can be found at the netlabel One, here. And we are to expect a new Kranky release soon as well (but we'll have to pay for that one).

By the way, the bio on the Kranky site tells us that the name Loscil comes from the computer program Csound and is a compound of "loop" and "oscillate." So maybe it rhymes with "jostle." But I"ve never heard it pronounced, so I don't know.

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