Will Digital Revolution Be Remembered as Artistic Renaissance or Cultural Death Knell?

  • by Sparrow
  • January 10th, 2012

Just FYI – You may have to reload this page to watch the video. Reason: It’s being hosted on a server in Italy. No idea.

Lykke Li - PressPausePlay

Recording artist Lykke Li puts extra care into her live performances to make up for what's lost in a digital age.

Examining the love-hate relationship between artists and their computers.
As an artist working in the digital age, you’re supposed to be super psyched that everything has gone do-it-yourself. Want to make a movie? You can now buy a camera (or two), rent some lights and recording equipment (if you’re feeling fancy), and get some software from a friend.

Best case scenario, you’re well on your way to the next showcase piece at SXSW.

Worst case, your friends and parents will have to dedicate 2 hours of their soul to a film that will forever haunt the dusty corners of Vimeo. Either way, booyah! That’s the magic of the Digital Revolution.

The word “Revolution” sounds punk rock. Add “Digital” and it immediately sounds less so.
People hate digital. Let’s be honest. Or at least what it represents. Because in most of our minds, even those that have fully invested their careers into digital pursuits (mine included), we secretly feel like we’ve come to the end of reality, of flesh and blood, of one-offs, of vulnerability, failings, and humanity.

Splicing film in the editing room - PressPausePlay

Splicing film in the editing room - A forgotten art? Or happily forgotten?

When was the last time you used the word “digital” in a conversation with a fellow creative person and didn’t feel your womb dry up and die? This is one of the ideas being explored in the movie PressPausePlay, produced by House of Radon, and featured by Wired Magazine (see the video at the bottom of this post).

Wired - How Social Media Fuels Social Unrest - By Bill Wasik

Wired - How Social Media Fuels Social Unrest - By Bill Wasik

I have a subscription to Wired. And so does Moby. Probably.
If you feel like the last time you heard the name Moby was when you were still on drugs and making poor decisions at after-hours clubs, then you are not alone. Because even Moby gave his digital music career a temporary hiatus. To make tea. Yes, that bottle of Teany Tea you just bought at Whole Foods? That’s Moby’s. When he came back to his music it was mostly to bitch about how the world of good taste had become overrun by regular people thinking they knew how to make dance music on their laptops. He also made a few interview appearances where he said he regretted licensing EVERY song off his Play album, because it made him feel like a sell out.

Poor Moby. (Oxymoron?)

Moby - Play - 1999

Moby - Play - 1999

That was a decade ago.

Today, if you’re going to be a successful musical act, you’re expected to sell out.
You expect it of yourself. When Santigold came out with her debut album in 2008, she followed the Moby model and leveraged every track to the hilt. And that was success. Or was it? Where is she now, just a couple years later?

Santigold for Converse

Santigold dropped her album and immediately started doing ads for Converse

The fact is, no one has the answer for digital.
The best we can do is call it a Revolution, and state, as they do in PressPausePlay, that this is the most epic time to be alive and creative. That past generations never had it so good. Maybe they’re right. Maybe hindsight will be twenty-twenty. All I know is that I just hung out with my Mom, who was alive for the Sixties and Seventies and saw her own share of revolutions. She said something that got inside me, way down deep. She said, “When I look at the world today and how fast everything is happening, I think this is a good time to be old. I’m glad I don’t have to do it.”

Do what? This. This way of life that has all of us doing a million things at once, just to get by. Let alone be seen or heard. But that’s just the one side of it. That’s the dark side. And everything has a dark side. Honestly, it’s sometimes the easiest thing to see.

But here’s where things take a brighter turn.
When I go to a playlist on my iPod and hit Play, I notice something. The songs that come up weren’t produced by a major record label, but rather by the artists themselves who were probably working in a room, much like the one I’m in now. All by themselves, spinning straw into gold. And when I think back to the music that was actually made by all of those record companies, back in “the good old days,” I remind myself that most of it was awful. Because back then, records were a commodity. They were tied to corporations and sales figures and test markets. Today, you could argue that there isn’t any market for music. But then there aren’t any test markets either. And so what you get is something fresh and raw coming from the most unlikely of places.

A computer.

Watch PressPausePlay in its entirety below.
Make some popcorn and snuggle up on the couch. It’s the most interesting (and important) thing you’ll watch all week.

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