photo: Incongruous Activities, Jasmine Dreame Wagner
In the Aughts, coffee shop soundtracks were wet with reverb. I wondered if the music would sound so deep, so profound, if the production weren’t soaked. There is a damp desperation in reverb. Who has fallen down the drain—the performer or the listener?
Reverb introduces space between the performer and the listener. It transports the performer from her bedroom studio to front of a concert hall. It imparts a distance and a grandeur that isn’t necessarily true to the performance. Reverb implies that the music is popular enough to be performed in an amphitheater. It recasts the bedroom performer as an idol.
Reverb reveals the desire not to be a musician, but to be an influence.
Reverb forestalls critical distance. It separates the listener from the performer. The greater the distance between the listener and the performer, the less the listener participates in the performance. In the widening gap, the listener becomes a critic.
Reverb glosses over errors. Reverb is a finishing glaze. It is the maximum gloss enhancement offered by an auto body shop.
Hall reverb coats the snare in a patina of nostalgia found in staged battles of historical reenactment.
Cathedral reverb on the guitar is a tenured poet’s aubade for Christ’s crucifixion.
Room reverb on the voice is Siri’s personification of Mnemosyne.
Plate reverb on the flute is Pan soloing in a dumpster.
The cacophony of the Aughts’ lo-fi indie rock reverb evokes angst and structural violence. It is the sound of gentrification, the sound of a neighborhood becoming economically out of reach for those who cause it to become economically out of reach, the sound of that shame, a humiliated sound. Can you hear it straining against itself? It’s the sound of if only. It’s the sound of why me. It’s the sound of an era whose dream forgot me.
It’s also the sound of why not me.
It’s also the sound of not me.
In the Aughts, the reverb of gentrified Brooklyn became more a capitalistic veneration than an artistic device. Despite the futuristic utopian collectivity of downloads, streams, and torrents, music profits took a nosedive. Revivalism was born again as a brand story that evoked a time when artists and recording company executives could earn fortunes or at least make an upper middle class living by harnessing and distributing sound. Reverb denotes a shift in consumer alliance with the now to the then.
The past surged in popularity. In the late Aughts, surf-rock was everywhere, so much so that the roar of water coalesced in a new conformity. In folk, indie, rock, and pop, the shimmering guitar, the vocal and the snare swam in distant waters. In the local pools of DIY, a movement that banked on authenticity, the use of reverb ran deepest. First it was a sonic costume, then a uniform.
Bands took names like Beach Fossils and Wavves. There were animals: Deer Tick, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Wolf Parade. Can you hear the evolution? We’re so ancient, we’re not even human.
Reverb taught its audience to desire: an address in the past, a primordial cove on outer-borough edges, on coasts of dominant trends; visibility and consistency through echo and repetition—not difference.
Dominant trends emerged from gentrified neighborhoods of wealthy cities. Brand managers relied on analytics to fill the lost manpower in Artist & Repertoire. Each band had the basic plugin package; each band and band member, a MySpace, Facebook, ReverbNation, then Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages. In response to the abundance of home recordings, blogs and printed press required new releases to be promoted through boutique public relations outfits. How else could the industry cut through the noise?
Repeatable clicks were desired. Predictable clicks were required. Sound was distributed and consumed only after its accompanying images passed muster with label heads, who were now Chief Marketing Officers. Band photos were weather-filter worn and sun-filter faded. The filters connoted distance between the viewer and the subject. The distance provided by intermediate agents. The simulation of distance provided by the simulation of elapsed time. Filters, too, are a form of reverb. They are a maximum gloss enhancement. They unveil the artist’s urge to appear as, to be perceived as, an idol, an authentic prayer object, which, in the Aughts, is practically the same thing as being an authentic prayer object. Pedestal-rock. Faux tarnished. Never an actual God. (Immortality requires actual omnipresence and an original word.)
When is music more valued: When you are living it—or when it has been extinguished?
Reverb allows music to linger, if only for a fraction of a second. Reverb extends the moment’s shelf life: the duration in which the music, dying, lives.
It allows the music to resist extinguishment.
What resists extinguishment fights for its life.
In the Aughts, music surfaces, gasping for air—Listen:
Before the Aughts, Converse and Mountain Dew were products. During the Aughts, Converse and Mountain Dew were brands.
In the Aughts, Converse and Mountain Dew became curators. Mountain Dew incorporated Green Label Sound. Converse opened a chain of recording studios for sponsored bands: Converse Rubber Tracks.
Movies used to feature product placement. Products would pay a fee to enter into a fictional narrative. In the Aughts, products hired musicians to play roles in the product’s narrative. In the Aughts, products have human placement.
I would say, the product’s timeline. But timeline suggests Facebook.
I mean: History books.
History: Since the Supreme Court’s end-of-the-Aughts ruling in Citizens United, Converse and Mountain Dew have held the same rights as people.
In order to secure a voice equal to those of corporations, in order to become larger than life, people become brands. Qualities of successful brands, such as media visibility, message consistency, and financial solvency become measures of human achievement.
Visibility, consistency, solvency, become moral imperatives.
Do musicians need to be visible, consistent, and profitable for their work to be considered real music?
(Depends on the blog.)
The end of the Aughts culminated in the birth of Lana Del Rey, Inc., a reverb-heavy cyborg of conservative values and post-war nostalgia packaged in trickle-down economics and third-wave feminism.
Lana Del Rey is the late-Aughts’ most successfully contrived media scarab, entombing Lana Turner’s wardrobe, Brigitte Bardot’s bouffant, Marilyn Monroe’s suicidal ideation, and the background radiation of the entertainment and military industrial complexes, in Elizabeth Grant’s ambitious amber.
Lana Del Rey’s daddy is a dot com millionaire. This fact is both relevant and irrelevant. It is part of her brand story, a part that is officially erased and reported unofficially. Two press campaigns: the tender underbelly and the surface.
Celebrity in the Aughts requires equal parts erasure and exposure. What is exposed is denied or erased; what is erased or denied is exposed.
Lana Del Rey often invokes Walt Whitman, whose use of anaphora and extended praise evokes the Song of Solomon. Sexy Song of Solomon, where the beloved is always something else—a shepherd, a dove, a rose, a lily, a tree, a wild gazelle—where what is beloved is erased by its metaphor—where metaphor lives again in the preacher, the father’s, Sunday retelling. Anaphora, a prosodic method that uses repetition to extend the ecstatic duration of an accruing idea, is a kind of echo, a reverb.
Lana Del Rey sings: “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you. Everything I do.”
“Everything I do, I do it for you,” sang Bryan Adams in 1991.
Lana Del Rey is a master of echolalia, as she ought to be, as a poet, and as a capitalist product.
Hall, cathedral, room, plate; tube, spring, chamber, tape.
Like a fantasy, reverb revises itself in order to tantalize us continuously.
How will we remember how we actually sounded?
If you want to hear unadulterated History, you’ll have to listen to the ocean.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**