There's a crisis with music today, and it's not just that your neighbor keeps asking you to turn it down at 2:30 a.m. The problem, Mat Callahan says, is that quantity has replaced quality so completely as to render it all but nonexistent. "Why does it matter whether a song that brings tears to your eyes has sold forty or forty million copies?" Callahan asks in his new AK Press book, The Trouble with Music. "Does this validate your perception and opinion?" Reversing the question, he asks, "Could it be that no song can bring tears to your eyes (or evoke any strong emotion) because ... there are so many that you hear none?"
Callahan knows of what he speaks, having been in the music industry for more than three decades, perhaps most notably (to Bay Area residents) as the founder of the storied SF venue, recording studio, and audio magazine Komotion. Now living, producing, and performing in Switzerland, he takes aim at the death of critical thought at the hands of what he calls "superabundance," the soulless ubiquity of music -- piped into malls, made disposable, and ultimately replaced by manufactured substitutes. He takes educated shots at critics as consumer guides, profitcentric labels, hack producers, and more. "A master is a person that has consummate knowledge of a particular activity that goes beyond technical virtuosity to express a deeper, timeless wisdom," he writes. But "mastery has been taken out of the hands of the masters of this kind and placed in the hands of masters of another kinds. The slave master. The gang boss. The corporate executive."
Callahan exalts the community-building, universalizing properties of music-making and listening, and has hope -- and solutions -- for the future of music. "All children sing, clap, and dance unless otherwise instructed not to and usually before they can utter a word. ... Playing in the sense of a game and playing in the sense of making music."
Clap your hands -- and try to keep the Britney Spears questions to a minimum -- when Callahan appears at the AK Press warehouse, 674-A 23rd St., Oakland, at 7 p.m. Friday. AKPress.org, 510-208-1700.
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