Adventures of a University Finalist

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Anatomy of a Mix Pt. 2


The Byrds - Dolphin's Smile
Belle & Sebastien - Sukie in the Graveyard
Ron Sexsmith - Tell Me Again
Daniel Wylie - Snow Pony

Tomorrow, next Thursday… there’s not that much difference between the two is there really?
This particular post is going to be another attempt to if not kill a sacred cow then to give it a least a little bruising or maybe even a poorly hoof. This is where the fabled art of the mix tape is to be ripped out of its renaissance and forced screaming into a stuckist nightmare. Well, perhaps it doesn’t quite embrace the naivety of stuckism but rather revels in an optimistic form of nihilism (if such a construct can exist).
For a mix tape to truly succeed it must pay heed to two central principles: 1) each song must appear only on a scale of personal merit, and 2) the ideas of flow, pace, and stylistic rigour must be abandoned in favour of a chaotic model. This is a highly unpopular concept in the post-Hornby generation where the onus is largely placed on controlled dynamics, deliberate pacing, and the ultimate goal to encompass moods, themes or circumstance i.e. "Songs for a Wet Saturday Afternoon in June driving counter clockwise around the M25". Not only is it unpopular but it is also surprisingly difficult to adhere to as last week’s attempt by myself shows.
‘Sexual Funk’ was included merely due to its title adding an aesthetic danger not normally attributed to the Black Country. ‘The Wizard and the Lizard’ is not my favourite title by Gorky’s – however, it is fey and hallucinogenic in approach. There was a tendency on my part to separate genres and both the opening and closing tracks were chosen in the name of dynamics. One and a half minutes of feedback would be an incredibly brave move if placed at track 4 or 15 but not as the first track. Songs were removed, or simply forgotten, (apologies to Notorious Byrd Brothers who would have liked a bit of ‘Dolphin’s Smile’ – I’ve uploaded it in penance) due to the fatal flaw of mix makers, attempting to fit the mix to the recipient’s established tastes. So pretty much every trap that I knew about, I fell in to regardless. The mix was random only in a suitably contrived fashion.
The paragon of a mix tape based on this model would be your twenty favourite songs in the world being placed in a random generator. This leaves the burning question: where’s the romance in such a cold clinical process? Such a paragon would undesirable in the long term but if one establishes a more progressive outlook then it is clearly the most effective. Why? Preferences fluctuate. Loves are lost in order for others to take their place as circumstances change. The tape that you made two months ago has become irrelevant as ‘Sukie in the Graveyard’s Nintendo organ riff loses its lustre and Tom Waits is suddenly too "cabaret night-club" for your tastes. So you sit down and make another. Some songs will stay and others will discarded. Which sounds better: a tape that encapsulates your current state perfectly or a variety of detritus that set to looks to extensive pluralism – a tape for every conceivable eventuality.
The mistake that most people make is that when they are facing a break-up, for example, they undergo a forced and rather clunky paradigm shift whereby everything must be focused on the central event. Every song that they listen to must become about broken bodies and empty bottles. There is no desire to retain any form of optimism as songs that still hold true and dear are replaced by inferior efforts that are shaped to fit a rigid template. Rational values are diminished as emotive reaction takes hold. This is not contradictory to the tenet that preferences fluctuate. This is a case of a single event enforcing radical change rather than a steady flux. An objective approach should be pursued instead of an unfulfilling form of reactionary negativism.
To move away from atavism toward style, I’ll be brief. Just because an external set of factors has occurred, e.g. going on holiday, does not mean that every song on a mix should have the word "sun", "holiday" or "conga" in it. It’s just silly.
An interesting side note to the randomly generated mix, or at least the forms that it has taken whilst I’ve made them, is that a form that is essentially chaotic will invariably establish an ordered dynamic. Songs that on paper seems distinct will blend against expectations as they share the same key, instrumentation or style. The splash of organ found throughout one song may continue in another as a more rhythmic pulse. Arpeggios and glissandos will ebb and fade. The feather-light brushwork of an artisan builds toward a labourer’s pounding. To find order in chaos when the music you are confronted with refuses to conform or to be pinned down is one of its greatest joys. Unpredictable and aggressive shifts in approach are a supremely important commodity in an assault upon the senses and surely that’s what is the achievable goal of a mix; to affect others and to inform.
Long live the iPod shuffle you may be thinking. It is the best vessel for a random generation of songs that you enjoy. However, to come to that conclusion is to denounce form. I hate mix CDs although I must now rely upon them for comfort as I have no reliable tape decks since the arrival of my vinyl player. A mix tape is a constant sign of thoughtfulness and hard work. To make a CD one has to merely set it up for ten minutes and then go have your tea. To make a mix tape, you must sit in a highly uncomfortable position waiting for the point for an hour and half waiting for each song to reach its inevitable conclusion with fingers constantly raised like the Sword of Damacles over the pause button’s nub of a head. It is time consuming and satisfying for both parties when all is said and done.
There’s also the fact that the bugger you give it to will have to listen to the whole thing enabling the holistic vision that you have created to grab hold rather than reaching for his remote if a certain song doesn’t immediately snag their heartstrings. A mix tape is pure atavism in its desire for the complete picture whereas a mix CD is just a glorified sampler that disregards the entire basis behind the form.

Buy - Belle & Sebastien - The Life Pursuit
Buy - Ron Sexsmith - Blue Boy
Buy - The Byrds - The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Buy - Daniel Wylie - Ramshackle Beauty