John Cage’s Silent, Avant-Garde Piece 4′33″ Gets Covered by a Death Metal Band

When we think of silence, we think of med­i­ta­tive stretch­es of calm: hikes through desert­ed for­est paths, an ear­ly morn­ing sun­set before the world awakes, a stay­ca­tion at home with a good book. But we know oth­er silences: awk­ward silences, omi­nous silences, and—in the case of John Cage’s infa­mous con­cep­tu­al piece 4’33”—a mys­ti­fy­ing silence that asks us to lis­ten, not to noth­ing, but to every­thing. Instead of focus­ing our aur­al atten­tion, Cage’s for­mal­ized exer­cise in lis­ten­ing dis­pers­es it, to the ner­vous coughs and squeak­ing shoes of a rest­less audi­ence, the cease­less ebb and flow of traf­fic and breath­ing, the ambi­ent white noise of heat­ing and AC…

and the sus­pend­ed black noise of death met­al….

We’re used to see­ing 4’33” “per­formed” as a clas­si­cal exer­cise, with a dig­ni­fied pianist seat­ed at the bench, osten­ta­tious­ly turn­ing the pages of Cage’s “score.” But there’s no rea­son at all the exercise—or hoax, some insist—can’t work in any genre, includ­ing met­al. NPR’s All Songs TV brings us the video above, in which “64 years after its debut per­for­mance by pianist David Tudor,” death met­al band Dead Ter­ri­to­ry lines behind their instru­ments, tunes up, and takes on Cage: “There’s a set­up, earplugs go in, a brief gui­tar chug, a drum-stick count-off and… silence.”

As in every per­for­mance of 4’33”, we’re drawn not only to what we hear, in this case the sounds in what­ev­er room we watch the video, but also to what we see. And watch­ing these five met­al­heads, who are so used to deliv­er­ing a con­tin­u­ous assault, nod their heads solemn­ly in silence for over four min­utes adds yet anoth­er inter­pre­tive lay­er to Cage’s exper­i­ment, ask­ing us to con­sid­er the per­for­ma­tive avant-garde as a domain fit not only for rar­i­fied clas­si­cal and art house audi­ences but for every­one and any­one.

Also, despite their seri­ous­ness, NPR reminds us that Dead Territory’s take is “anoth­er in a long line of 4′33″ per­for­mances that under­stand Cage had a sense of humor while expand­ing our musi­cal uni­verse.” Cage hap­pi­ly gave his exper­i­ments to the world to adapt and impro­vise as it sees fit, and—as we see in his own per­for­mance of 4’33” in Har­vard Square—he was hap­py to make his own changes to silence as well.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Cage Per­forms His Avant-Garde Piano Piece 4’33” … in 1’22” (Har­vard Square, 1973)

See the Curi­ous Score for John Cage’s “Silent” Zen Com­po­si­tion 4’33”

Stream a Free 65-Hour Playlist of John Cage Music and Dis­cov­er the Full Scope of His Avant-Garde Com­po­si­tions

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Hear the 14-Hour “Essential Edgar Allan Poe” Playlist: “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart” & Much More

poe cause of death

Edgar Allan Poe: any­one with an inter­est in scary stories—and not just scary, but deeply, whole-oth­er-lev­el scary stories—quickly learns the name. Pre­sum­ably they also learn the prop­er spelling of the name: “Allan” with two As, not “Allen” with an E. But despite using the incor­rect lat­ter, the good peo­ple at Spo­ti­fy have still man­aged to craft the most expan­sive Poeian playlist cur­rent­ly avail­able on the inter­net, whose four­teen hours con­sti­tute “the essen­tial Poe lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence, from vin­tage radio ver­sions to con­tem­po­rary read­ings.” (If you don’t have Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here.)

Though he com­posed his entire body of work in the first half of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, Poe lives on, for those who like their cock­tails of mys­tery and the macabre with a long-last­ing (and long-trou­bling) psy­cho­log­i­cal after­taste, as the sto­ry­teller to beat. As impres­sive a num­ber of his writ­ings—“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Ush­er,” “The Cask of Amon­til­la­do,” and “The Pit and the Pen­du­lum”—have tak­en a per­ma­nent place in not just the Amer­i­can but human con­scious­ness, none have attained as much uni­ver­sal­i­ty as “The Raven,” the poem of lone­li­ness and the super­nat­ur­al which jus­ti­fi­ably begins the playlist.

Giv­en its sheer length, Spo­ti­fy’s Essen­tial Edgar Allen Allan Poe does­n’t just play the hits: even avowed Poe appre­ci­a­tors will like­ly hear a few intrigu­ing lit­er­ary B‑sides they nev­er have before. They’ll cer­tain­ly hear more than a few pro­duc­tions and inter­pre­ta­tions of their favorite pieces from the Poe canon. The playlist would also make a fine, if intense, intro­duc­tion for those who have yet set­tled in with the work of the man who defined mod­ern psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror. If you crave more afterward—and get­ting his read­er­ship hooked ranked not least among Poe’s concerns—do delve into the copi­ous amount of Poe mate­r­i­al we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, a few selec­tions from which appear below. You’ll find it all endur­ing­ly and dread­ful­ly com­pelling, no mat­ter how you spell its author’s name.

The “Essen­tial Edgar Allan Poe” Playlist will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load The Com­plete Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Macabre Sto­ries as Free eBooks & Audio Books

5 Hours of Edgar Allan Poe Sto­ries Read by Vin­cent Price & Basil Rath­bone

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” Read by Christo­pher Walken, Vin­cent Price, and Christo­pher Lee

Iggy Pop, Deb­bie Har­ry, Jeff Buck­ley & Oth­er Celebs Read Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

William S. Bur­roughs Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”

Hear Orson Welles Read Edgar Allan Poe on a Cult Clas­sic Album by The Alan Par­sons Project

Edgar Allan Poe Ani­mat­ed: Watch Four Ani­ma­tions of Clas­sic Poe Sto­ries

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Stephen King on the Magic Moment When a Young Writer Reads a Published Book and Says: “This Sucks. I Can Do Better.”

Go to a book­store.

Tell the clerk you’re an aspir­ing writer.

You’ll be direct­ed to a shelf—possibly an entire section—brimming with prompts, exer­cis­es, for­mu­lae, and Jedi mind tricks. Round out your pur­chase with a jour­nal, a fan­cy pen, or an inspi­ra­tional quote in book­mark form.

Few of author Stephen King’s books would be at home in this sec­tion, but his 2000 mem­oir, On Writ­ing, a com­bi­na­tion of per­son­al his­to­ry and prac­ti­cal advice, cer­tain­ly is. The writ­ing rules list­ed there­in are numer­ous enough to yield a top 20. He makes no bones about read­ing being a manda­to­ry activ­i­ty:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Sim­ple as that.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, giv­en his prodi­gious out­put, he also believes that writ­ers must write dai­ly. Prac­tice helps shape a writer’s voice. Dai­ly prac­tice keeps him or her on inti­mate terms with char­ac­ters and plot.

Got that?

Nose to the grind­stone, young writer! Quit look­ing for fairy god­moth­ers and mak­ing excus­es! Though you might be able to fast track to the mag­i­cal moment King revealed in a 2003 speech at Yale, above.

Go back to the book­store.

Ask the clerk to point you toward the shelves of what­ev­er genre has tra­di­tion­al­ly made your flesh crawl. Chick litvam­pire erot­i­caman­ly air­plane reads. Select the most odi­ous seem­ing title. Buy it. Read it. And heed the words of King:

There’s a mag­ic moment, a real­ly mag­ic moment if you read enough, it will always come to you if you want to be a writer, when you put down some book and say, This real­ly sucks. I can do bet­ter than this, and this got pub­lished!

(It’s real­ly more of a spon­ta­neous­ly occur­ring rite of pas­sage than mag­ic moment, but who are we to fault Stephen King for giv­ing it a crowd-pleas­ing super­nat­ur­al spin?)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writ­ers

Stephen King Cre­ates a List of 96 Books for Aspir­ing Writ­ers to Read

Stephen King Cre­ates a List of 82 Books for Aspir­ing Writ­ers (to Sup­ple­ment an Ear­li­er List of 96 Rec­om­mend Books)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Ray Bradbury Explains Why Literature is the Safety Valve of Civilization (in Which Case We Need More Literature!)

Ray Brad­bury had it all thought out. Behind his cap­ti­vat­ing works of sci­ence fic­tion, there were sub­tle the­o­ries about what lit­er­a­ture was meant to do. The retro clip above takes you back to the 1970s and it shows Brad­bury giv­ing a rather intrigu­ing take on the role of lit­er­a­ture and art. For the author of Fahren­heit 451 and The Mar­t­ian Chron­i­cles, lit­er­a­ture has more than an aes­thet­ic pur­pose. It has an impor­tant sociological/psychoanalytic role to play. Sto­ries are a safe­ty valve. They keep soci­ety col­lec­tive­ly, and us indi­vid­u­al­ly, from com­ing apart at the seams. Which is to say–if you’ve been fol­low­ing the news lately–we need a hel­lu­va lot more lit­er­a­ture these days. And a few new Ray Brad­burys.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ray Brad­bury Reveals the True Mean­ing of Fahren­heit 451: It’s Not About Cen­sor­ship, But Peo­ple “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

Hear Ray Bradbury’s Beloved Sci-Fi Sto­ries as Clas­sic Radio Dra­mas

Leonard Nimoy Reads Ray Brad­bury Sto­ries From The Mar­t­ian Chron­i­cles & The Illus­trat­ed Man (1975–76)

Father Writes a Great Let­ter About Cen­sor­ship When Son Brings Home Per­mis­sion Slip to Read Ray Bradbury’s Cen­sored Book, Fahren­heit 451

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The Bizarre Time When Frank Zappa’s Entirely Instrumental Album Received an “Explicit Lyrics” Sticker

zappa lyrics

In 1958, Link Wray released his bluesy instru­men­tal “Rum­ble,” known for its pio­neer­ing use of reverb and dis­tor­tion. The grit­ty, seduc­tive tune became a huge hit with the kids, but grown-ups found the sound threat­en­ing, rem­i­nis­cent of scary gang scenes in West Side Sto­ry and grow­ing fears over “Juve­nile Delinquency”—a nation­al anx­i­ety marked by the 1955 release of Black­board Jun­gle and its intro­duc­tion of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock.”

Just three years lat­er, “Rum­ble” made mid­dle class cit­i­zens so ner­vous that the song has the dis­tinc­tion of being the only instru­men­tal ever banned from radio play in the U.S. And yet, that hon­or is some­what mis­lead­ing. It’s true many radio sta­tions refused to play the song, or any rock and roll records at all, but it did receive enough exposure—from peo­ple like Amer­i­can Band­stand’s Dick Clark, no less—to remain in the top 40 for ten weeks in 1958.

Fast-for­ward thir­ty years from Black­board Jun­gle pan­ic, and we find the coun­try in the midst of anoth­er nation­al freak­out about the kids and their music, this one spear­head­ed by the Par­ents Music Resource Cen­ter (PMRC), formed by Tip­per Gore and three oth­er so-called “Wash­ing­ton Wives” who sought to place warn­ing labels on “explic­it” pop­u­lar albums and oth­er­wise impose moral­is­tic guide­lines on music and movies. Con­gres­sion­al hear­ings in 1985 saw the odd trio of Twist­ed Sister’s Dee Snider, mild-man­nered folk star John Den­ver, and vir­tu­oso prog-weirdo Frank Zap­pa tes­ti­fy­ing before the Sen­ate against cen­sor­ship. The fierce­ly lib­er­tar­i­an Zappa’s oppo­si­tion to the PMRC became some­thing of a cru­sade, and the fol­low­ing year he appeared on Cross­fire to argue his case.

PMRC back­lash from musi­cians every­where began to clut­ter the pop cul­tur­al land­scape. Glenn Danzig released his anti-PMRC anthem, “Moth­er”; Ice‑T’s The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech vicious­ly attacked Gore and her orga­ni­za­tion; NOFX released their E.P. The P.M.R.C. Can Suck on This… just a small sam­pling of dozens of anti-PMRC songs/albums/messages after those infa­mous hear­ings. But we can cred­it Zap­pa with found­ing the musi­cal sub­gen­era in his 1985 Frank Zap­pa Meets the Moth­ers of Pre­ven­tion, which includ­ed “Porn Wars,” above, a mashup of dis­tort­ed sam­ples from the hear­ings.

All of these records received the req­ui­site “Good House­keep­ing Seal of Dis­ap­proval,” the now-famil­iar stark black-and-white parental warn­ing label (top). Zappa’s album cov­er pre-empt­ed the inevitable stick­er­ing with a bright yel­low and red box read­ing “Warn­ing Guar­an­tee,” full of tongue-in-cheek small print like  “GUARANTEED NOT TO CAUSE ETERNAL TORMENT IN THE PLACE WHERE THE GUY WITH THE HORNS AND POINTED STICK CONDUCTS HIS BUSINESS.” All this inces­sant needling of the PMRC must have real­ly got to them, fans fig­ured, when Zappa’s 1986 record Jazz from Hell began appear­ing, it’s said, in record stores with a parental advi­so­ry label—on an album with­out lyrics of any kind.

But did Zappa’s Gram­my-award-win­ning instru­men­tal record (above) real­ly get the explic­it con­tent label? And was such label­ing retal­i­a­tion from the PMRC, as some believed? These claims have cir­cu­lat­ed for years on mes­sage boards, in books like Peter Blecha’s Taboo Tunes: A His­to­ry of Banned Bands & Cen­sored Songs, and on Wikipedia. And the answer is both yes, and no. Jazz from Hell did not get the famil­iar “Parental Advi­so­ry: Explic­it Lyrics” label, nor was it specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed by Gore’s orga­ni­za­tion.

The album was, how­ev­er, stick­ered in 1990—notes Dave Thompson’s The Music Lover’s Guide to Record Col­lect­ing—by “the Pacif­ic North­west chain of Fred Mey­er depart­ment stores,” who gave it “the retailer’s own ‘Explic­it Lyrics’ warn­ing, despite the fact that the album was whol­ly instru­men­tal.” This is like­ly due to the word “hell” and the title of the song “G‑Spot Tor­na­do.” So it may be fair to say that Zap­pa’s Jazz from Hell is the only ful­ly instru­men­tal album to receive an “Explic­it Lyrics” warn­ing, inspired by, if not direct­ly ordered by, the PMRC. Like the radio cen­sor­ship of Link Wray’s “Rum­ble,” this region­al seal of dis­ap­proval did not in the least pre­vent the record from receiv­ing due recog­ni­tion. But it makes for a curi­ous his­tor­i­cal exam­ple of the absurd lengths peo­ple have gone to in their fear of mod­ern pop music.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Frank Zap­pa Debates Cen­sor­ship on CNN’s Cross­fire (1986)

Frank Zappa’s Exper­i­men­tal Adver­tise­ments For Luden’s Cough Drops, Rem­ing­ton Razors & Port­land Gen­er­al Elec­tric

Hear the Musi­cal Evo­lu­tion of Frank Zap­pa in 401 Songs

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

A Drone’s Eye View of the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt, Sudan & Mexico

A cou­ple years ago we fea­tured drone footage shot above Los Ange­les, New York, Lon­don, Bangkok, and Mex­i­co City, the sort of metrop­o­lis­es that rank among the great­est works of mod­ern man. But the pilot-pho­tog­ra­phers of small, unmanned, cam­era-bear­ing air­craft have pro­duced equal­ly fas­ci­nat­ing visu­al rev­e­la­tions of the great works of not-so-mod­ern-man. Just above, for instance, we have a drone fly­over of the Nubian pyra­mids of Meroë, Sudan. You can see more such footage at Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, whose engi­neer Alan Turchik has tak­en his own quad­copter out there.

“The part of the site that draws the most atten­tion is the under­ground bur­ial cham­ber of a Nubian king who con­quered Egypt in 715 B.C.,” writes Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Nora Rap­pa­port. She quotes Turchik on the ben­e­fits of his cho­sen pho­to­graph­ic tech­nol­o­gy, which allows him to “fly over and gain this con­nec­tion between all the oth­er bur­ial sites, between the pyra­mid and the tem­ple, and get an under­stand­ing of what that is from the air.”

That holds just as true for oth­er sites of inter­est, such as the famous pyra­mids of Giza, cap­tured just above by a trav­el­er-drone pho­tog­ra­ph­er from Chi­na. (Fly­ing drones in Egypt, we should note, has recent­ly become a more dif­fi­cult propo­si­tion; an enthu­si­ast called Izzy Drones made a video on the com­plex­i­ties of his own mis­sion to shoot the pyra­mids last year.)

Just as you’ll vis­it the pyra­mids if you take a trip to Cairo, you’ll vis­it the pyra­mids if you take a trip to Mex­i­co City — but the pyra­mids of the still-impres­sive, still-mys­te­ri­ous ancient city of Teoti­huacán. “Heli­copters ille­gal­ly fly over this area for for­eign dig­ni­taries, but we were told we might be the first to have filmed the pyra­mids with a drone,” writes the uploader of the video just above. He and his col­lab­o­ra­tors shot it ear­ly one morn­ing for a Boston Uni­ver­si­ty research project on “what the ruins of a pre-Aztec metrop­o­lis can teach us about today’s cities.” His­to­ry and urban­ism buffs alike will want to read the accom­pa­ny­ing arti­cle, but even just a glance at these clips tells you one thing for sure: whether old and long-ruined or rel­a­tive­ly new and thriv­ing, every city looks good from above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Haunt­ing Drone’s‑Eye View of Cher­nobyl

Auschwitz Cap­tured in Haunt­ing Drone Footage (and a New Short Film by Steven Spiel­berg & Meryl Streep)

A Beau­ti­ful Drone’s Eye View of Antarc­ti­ca

A Drone’s Eye View of Los Ange­les, New York, Lon­don, Bangkok & Mex­i­co City

The Best Drone Cin­e­ma in the World

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Watch the Beautiful Chemical Reactions Captured in Stunning Microphotography

You don’t have to know your Zn(NO3)2 from your CuSO4 to appre­ci­ate these absolute­ly beau­ti­ful videos of chem­i­cal reac­tions cre­at­ed for a site called Beau­ti­ful Chem­istry.

Pro­fes­sor Yan Liang of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy of Chi­na, along with co-cre­ators Xian­gang Tao and Wei Huang, and in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Tsinghua Uni­ver­si­ty Press, are all behind the project, which focus­es a hi-def micro­scop­ic cam­era on chem­i­cal reac­tions like bub­bling, met­al dis­place­ment, crys­tal­liza­tion, smoke and liq­uids.

It may sound like an effects menu in a com­put­er ren­der­ing pro­gram, and indeed some of these videos look so beau­ti­ful in terms of light­ing and col­or that CGI could be sus­pect­ed. (Some com­menters have added the videos to their VFX/Computer Graph­ics view­ing lists.) But accord­ing to the site, this is not the case.

For an exam­ple of the beau­ty, just check out at the six-sec­ond mark when Cobalt Chlo­ride and Sodi­um Sil­i­cate meet, result­ing in bul­bous blue and pur­ple growths:

Or look at the win­try frac­tal forests that spawn when zinc meets sil­ver nitrate (AgNO3), cop­per sul­fate (CuSO4), and lead nitrate (Pb(NO3)2):

The Beau­ti­ful Chem­istry site has sev­er­al oth­er inter­est­ing series to check out for the sci­ence lover, includ­ing an ongo­ing intro­duc­tion to the ele­ments in car­toon form and a pho­to gallery of chem­istry instru­ments from his­to­ry. They are, as the site says, beau­ti­ful. More videos can be found on their Vimeo chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Chem­istry Cours­es

Marie Curie’s Research Papers Are Still Radioac­tive 100+ Years Lat­er

The Peri­od­ic Table of Ele­ments Scaled to Show The Ele­ments’ Actu­al Abun­dance on Earth

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

Brian Eno Explains the Loss of Humanity in Modern Music

In music, as in film, we have reached a point where every ele­ment of every com­po­si­tion can be ful­ly pro­duced and auto­mat­ed by com­put­ers. This is a break­through that allows pro­duc­ers with lit­tle or no musi­cal train­ing the abil­i­ty to rapid­ly turn out hits. It also allows tal­ent­ed musi­cians with­out access to expen­sive equip­ment to record their music with lit­tle more than their lap­tops. But the ease of dig­i­tal record­ing tech­nol­o­gy has encour­aged pro­duc­ers, musi­cians, and engi­neers at all lev­els to smooth out every rough edge and cor­rect every mis­take, even in record­ings of real humans play­ing old-fash­ioned ana­logue instru­ments. After all, if you could make the drum­mer play in per­fect time every mea­sure, the singer hit every note on key, or the gui­tarist play every note per­fect­ly, why wouldn’t you?

One answer comes in a suc­cinct quo­ta­tion from Bri­an Eno’s Oblique Strate­gies, which Ted Mills ref­er­enced in a recent post here on Miles Davis: “Hon­or Your Mis­takes as a Hid­den Inten­tion.” (The advice is sim­i­lar to that Davis gave to Her­bie Han­cock, “There are no mis­takes, just chances to impro­vise.”) In the short clip at the top, Eno elab­o­rates in the con­text of dig­i­tal pro­duc­tion, say­ing “the temp­ta­tion of the tech­nol­o­gy is to smooth every­thing out.”

But the net effect of cor­rect­ing every per­ceived mis­take is to “homog­e­nize the whole song,” he says, “till every bar sounds the same… until there’s no evi­dence of human life at all in there.” There is a rea­son, after all, that even pure­ly dig­i­tal, “in the box” sequencers and drum machines have func­tions to “human­ize” their beats—to make them cor­re­spond more to the loose­ness and occa­sion­al hes­i­tan­cy of real human play­ers.

This does not mean that there is no such thing as singing or play­ing well or badly—it means there is no such thing as per­fec­tion. Or rather, that per­fec­tion is not a wor­thy goal in music. The real hooks, the moments that we most con­nect with and return to again and again, are often hap­py acci­dents. Mills points to a whole Red­dit thread devot­ed to mis­takes left in record­ings that became part of the song. And when it comes to play­ing per­fect­ly in time or in tune, I think of what an atroc­i­ty would have result­ed from run­ning all of The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street through a dig­i­tal audio work­sta­tion to sand down the sharp edges and “fix” the mis­takes. All of its sham­bling, mum­bling, drunk­en bar­room charm would be com­plete­ly lost. That goes also for the entire record­ed out­put of The Band, or most of Dylan’s albums (such as my per­son­al favorite, John Wes­ley Hard­ing).

To take a some­what more mod­ern exam­ple, lis­ten to “Sire­na” from Aus­tralian instru­men­tal trio Dirty Three, above. This is a band that sounds for­ev­er on the verge of col­lapse, and it’s absolute­ly beau­ti­ful to hear (or see, if you get the chance to expe­ri­ence them live). This record­ing, from their album Ocean Songs, was made in 1998, before most pro­duc­tion went ful­ly dig­i­tal, and there are very few records that sound like it any­more. Even dance music has the poten­tial to be much more raw and organ­ic, instead of hav­ing singers’ voic­es run through so much pitch cor­rec­tion soft­ware that they sound like machines. (wit­ness the obscure dis­co hit “Miss Broad­way,” for exam­ple, or LCD Soundsys­tem’s career.)

There is a lot more to say about the way the albums rep­re­sent­ed above were record­ed, but the over­all point is that just as too much CGI has often ruined the excite­ment of cin­e­ma (we’re look­ing at you, George Lucas) —or as the dig­i­tal “loud­ness wars” sapped much record­ed music of its dynam­ic peaks and valleys—overzealous use of soft­ware to cor­rect imper­fec­tions can ruin the human appeal of music, and ren­der it ster­ile and dis­pos­able like so many cheap, plas­tic mass-pro­duced toys. As with all of our use of advanced tech­nol­o­gy, ques­tions about what we can do should always be fol­lowed by ques­tions about what we’re real­ly gain­ing, or los­ing, in the process.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

Bri­an Eno Cre­ates a List of His 13 Favorite Records: From Gospel to Afrobeat, Shoegaze to Bul­gar­i­an Folk

Bri­an Eno on Why Do We Make Art & What’s It Good For?: Down­load His 2015 John Peel Lec­ture

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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