Saturday, January 9, 2016

Music as Art (or bullshit)?

shkreliThe internet news has had a good time with “Asshole of the Year” Martin Shkreli’s greed and corruption, but one small aspect of the multi-millionare’s story seems to have barely dented the group consciousness. Shkreli paid $2M for a one-off Wu-Tang Clan album, just for the bragging rights. Many of us have heard that, but until the recent edition of Pro Sound News I hadn’t heard much about the Wu-Tang Clan side of the story.

First, here’s what Shkreli got for his money:

  • Wu-Tang-2“An engraved silver-and nickel box and a 174-page manuscript containing lyrics, credits and anecdotes, printed on gilded parchment and encased in leather by a master book binder.”
  • A pair of customized PMC MB2-XBD studio monitors (list price $85,500).
  • A guarantee that “there are no other physical or digital duplicates in existence.”
  • A requirement that they buyer “may not release any of the content for a period of 88 years.” Here’s the bullshit part (outside of all things SHkreli): On their best day, the self-promoters also known as the Wu-Tang Clan are not known for any particular audio fidelity concerns. Their “music” (see sample below) is pretty much the usual hip-hop culprits of sampled instruments, sampled voices, cheezy repetitive beats, what passes for spoken word “poetry” in this sad age, and indiscriminate distortion mostly due to noise-induced hearing loss since the primary requirement from speakers from Wu-Tang’s producer, Tarik Azzougarh, is “I like my music super-duper loud.”

    At the self-delusional side of this transaction is Azzougarth’s claim that this whole marketing scam was an attempt to “bring value back to music.” (Choke. Sorry. I threw up a bit.) “We wanted to do something that was radical and the complete opposite of everything the music industry stands for,” said Azzougarth from his palace in Morocco.  Music, he said, “Feels like it’s something you play in the background while checking your Twitter feed and updating your Facebook status.”

    He fixed that, for sure. Shkreli had an intern pick up the “album” and other bullshit included in the $2M purchase and, supposedly, he hasn’t listened to any of it yet. He’s bragged about it, but since it’s not really music, original, interesting, or even worth showing off to his prison buddies he hasn’t listened to it.

    Way to go Wu-Tang Clan and Azzougarh! You’ve not only taken kid’s music to the heights of fine art (stored in a 1%’er’s closet where no one will ever have to suffer hearing or seeing it) you’ve saved the rest of us from having to listen to your godawful bullshit in bank elevators, on what passes for speakers on some saggy-pants kid’s cell phone or the bleed from his earbuds, or as the warm-up music pre-concert anywhere ever. Your “world-record breaking art project” has assumed a place slightly below every kid’s favorite display format; mom’s refrigerator. Your little piece of drivel is well-hidden in the asshole-of-the-year’s walk-in closet. Better yet, the FTC might end up owning all of Shkreli’s crap and, when that happens, they might just toss the whole mess into a dumpster.

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    Wirebender Audio Rants

    Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.