August 22, 2006

"You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them."

Sound all over them... you know, I hate that too. "There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like ... static." So do you think Bob Dylan's just a messed up old man -- he's 65 -- or does he know what he's talking about? I'm so used to the old time records he plays on his radio show, that I'm inclined to believe him. It reminds me of the way R. Crumb talks about his old records in the movie "Crumb." I'll have to dig out the quote and post it later.


reader_iam said...

Part of me says: Well, it actually depends.

But the first part? The part that spoke before I'd truly finished reading your post? Its instant reaction was:


JohnF said...

On the one hand, there is the risk that we are being like the 50's parents who couldn't stand rock and roll because it was "just noise" compared to the great songs from when they grew up; and, on the other hand, there is the fact that so much of modern music is, er..., just noise.

Dave said...

Would have to disagree with JohnF.

Bissage said...

Please let me take a humble guess at what Mr. Dylan is talking about.

It used to be that music was something you went to hear.

If it came to you, that was heaven.

Sometime after Karlheinz Stockhausen shook hands with Buddy Holly, but before Sgt. Pepper forced everyone to pay attention, the recording studio became a musical instrument prevalent in popular music all its own.

Its repertoire is complete, so says Mr. Dylan.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

We all yearn for the authentic.

I know I do.

Much of contemporary music is something worse than empty.

Much of it is soul crushing.

The market has forgotten that music can connect us to a feeling much, much more ancient than ourselves.

That’s my two cents.

Thank you.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Y'all should tune into a country station now and then.

I'm serious.

Beth said...

I like some noise. There's some industrial stuff I just like for the noise, and some weird ambient stuff (Pole, I think) that's exactly that, noise: pops, clicks, grinding wheels and such. But I don't think that's what he means.

Sound all over them is okay sometimes. That Spector Wall of Sound thing works for me. The layers of sound in old Motown works for me, too.

But if he's talking about all the many ways to disguise that there's no there there in a voice or that no actual instruments are being played by actual people, yeah, there's a lotta noise on the radio.

Beth said...

Okay, that's weird. I saw no verification word, so I had to do a "listen and type numbers" verification. It was noisy.

Harkonnendog said...

The whole idea that you can say "modern records" and mean something is outdated.

No matter what your taste is, it is out there, just a few clicks away on Musicmatch Jukebox or any one of a hundred other music players that will help you find what you want.

Type Al Green into one of these players and you'll find Jill Scott, for example. Type in Bob Dylan and you'll find, well, I would never type that in, but I'm sure there's somebody out there who sing hippy music through his nose.

So, yeah, he's just an old fuddy who ain't with it enough to dig it.

Can you dig it, Ann?

I knew that you could.

Nels said...

I'm not sure exactly what he's talking about. Perhaps it's digital sound, or post-production, or just the smallness of a recording, as bissage said. But he's certainly not complaining about contemporary music itself, as he includes his own recordings among the afflicted.

Simon said...

Well, as explained here in relation to Rush's Vapor Trails album, there has been a trend towards ever louder mastering and wall-to-wall production. There's rarely any space in the arrangements.

Gordon Freece said...

Damn, Simon beat me to it: He might be talking about abuse of compression in mastering. He might also be talking about 16-bit digital sound, which certainly does sound worse than the 24 bits he was hearing through expensive monitors in the studio. Neil Young's been moaning about that for years.

But compared to AM radio in the Good Old Days, or the abominations that were mono 7" 45s, or those phantasmagorically bad pre-recorded cassettes they used to actually charge money for, and considering the harrowingly awful stereos people used to inflict all this garbage on, what the hell's he complaining about?

Blah, blah, blah. He's an old crank. Ignore him.

Wait'll he hears those squelchy-snare 128kbit mp3s the kids listen to, where in many cases you can almost identify which song it is, if you concentrate real hard. He'll have an aneurysm and keel over dead.

Mark Daniels said...

"Sound all over them."

I think that it was Ralph Gleason who once described Dylan's music as "democratic art." By this he meant that lyrically, musically, and in terms of production, there was still room for the listener's imagination. With his often vague, but rich, lyrics and sparse musical arrangements, Dylan invites listeners to attach their own meanings to his songs.

Gleason's characterization of Dylan's approach fits with Dylan's "sound all over them" assessment of "modern records."

In spite of the many who have wanted to treat him like a deity, Dylan has never wanted to micromanage what people heard in his songs. In fact, he's always seemed to want the potential interpretations of them to be as many and varied as possible; the more different ways people can hear his music, the more people will likely want to hear it.

If the many interviewees--like Joan Baez--featured in Martin Scorcese's documentary on Dylan are to be believed, Dylan never was that committed to the politics with which his music was associated in the early-60s. And yet, many of the lyrics to those and later Dylan songs are broadly "political." That's probably all because of the room his songs gave us to hear...sometimes what we wanted to records didn't have sound all over them.

It's no wonder then that Dylan is critical of recordings that are heavily produced and lyrically unimaginative and artlessly direct. They violate his sense of what should happen in and to a song.

Sparseness, vagueness, richness. These are the things this "song and dance man," as Dylan once jokingly called himself, has aimed to create. In approaching his music in this way, he has often been the musical equivalent of Greta Garbo, the person of mystery who never says exactly what he means--or does he?--but allows you to think that because you perceive what really means, you have a sort of exclusive Vulcan Mind Link with him. You co-create with Dylan in between his lines, in the holes of sparse arrangements.

In the things hinted at but unsaid and in the music implied but not played, Dylan invites you to entertain the notion that you too are an artist, that you too can poke fun at Mr. Jones for failing to get it.

Democratic art.


cardeblu said...

"Sound all over them." - Bob Dylan

"Too many notes." - Emperor Joseph II

Maxine Weiss said...

Can you imagine listening to Billie Holliday, or Bing Crosby, without static?


Peace, Maxine

XWL said...

"Even these songs probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded 'em. CDs are small. There's no stature to it."

That's the quote from Dylan that ends the quoted article, and I say it's a bunch of hooey. There are serious audiophiles who swear up and down about the 'warmer' analog sound of records over CD, but a good CD player or a good computer can recreate the original experience better than any analog recording.

Given that many folks grew up hearing his songs on scratched records on crappy equipment, the quality of the songmaking will shine through regardless of the 'end user equipment'.

Sounds like excuse making for an album that he finds smaller and less compelling than he imagined it would be while sitting in the studio.

But that's just my gut reaction to these statements.

CD mastering is hit or miss though, but then so were albums.

The potential for recreating the studio sound with precision is there for those that care to bother and have the resources.

But if you're afraid your album can't be enjoyed without thousands of dollars of equipment, the problem most likely lies with the album.

But he's right about CDs being small in stature, and for that matter physically speaking mp3s are non-existent.

Part of the experience of vinyl LPs were the tactile sensation of the album, its size, its defects, and above all else (exclusive of the actual music), the cover art.

Still, I like having thousands of songs on a single player, rather than a wall full of vinyl, what mp3s lack in aesthetics, they make up for in versatility.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Donohue said...

The Joseph II quote is almost certainly apocryphal, BTW. And Salieri did not kill Mozart.

Dylan is right, modern music is garbage. Of course, I may extend my definition of modern a tad further than Dylan would.

chuck b. said...

This has nothing to do with anything (like that's ever stopped me), but the scene in Ghost World when Enid plays one of Seymour's scratchy blues albums in her bedroom must be one of the most sublime moments of musical epiphany ever conveyed in art.

Hamsun56 said...

I agree with the comments made by Sippicancottage and Mark Daniels, but Dylan is obviously making a broad overstatement.

From his radio show, it is clear that he likes some "modern music". He even said, in a response to a fictitious listener's email, that he has nothing against modern music, but he plays more older music because there is more of it.

There is plenty of authentic music out there, some of it with popular appeal. I offer the White Stripes as an example, as well as two Dylan covers they did:
Love Sick:
Outlaw blues:

Ann Althouse said...

chuck b. said..."This has nothing to do with anything (like that's ever stopped me), but the scene in Ghost World when Enid plays one of Seymour's scratchy blues albums in her bedroom must be one of the most sublime moments of musical epiphany ever conveyed in art."

That scene mirrors things in the movie "Crumb," which I've already mentioned. Terry Zwigoff directed both films, and Zwigoff and Crumb both collect those old records. Both have the idea -- which I heard in Dylan's comments -- that there was a time in the past when music contained the real soul of humanity, and it's gone. The mourning is profond.

bill said...

Ruth Anne recommends listening to a country station. Before you do, you should familiarize yourself with Jack Sparks. A chronicler of all things good and evil in the world of country music.

SWBarns said...

I am listening to the antidote for all of this.

Johnny Cash 'Unearthed'. Cash and an acoutic guitar. It is unbelievable.

RuthAnne: The country music stations around me don't play country music anymore. Try Twang at

SWBarns said...

Maybe 10% of "music contained the real soul of humanity" you have just forgotten about the other 90% which was never very good. Maybe it is unfair to compare the 10% you remember to the 100% of modern music that you hear now. Great music stands the test of time the rest fades away.

Mark Haag said...

The first time I heard Dylan and Hendrix, they sounded noisy to me.
After a listening or two, I "got" the music. If he is just hearing "noise" now, he is either being very selective in what he listens to, or he is no longer able to try to hear the music in it. There are at least a half a dozen artists working now that I would put up against..well, not Dylan and Hendrix, but certainly the rest of that era.

Abraham said...

I agree with Barns. There's a terrific selection bias at play here. The basic rule is that 90% of everything is crap. Always has been, always will be. On the other hand, you tend to really only remember the 10% that's good. Thus, it's just a trick of the mind that you remember everything being much better than it is now.

Matt said...

If anyone's still reading way down here... I think y'all are missing his point. He's talking about the mixing/mastering processes in modern music. Look here:

Basically, modern cds, even versus albums put out like 10-15 years ago are just louder, no matter what volume level you have your stereo set to. And he's right, it makes 'em sound like junk. It's not about the production (Lanois, etc.), the medium (cds v. vinyl), or modern music at all. It's about the technology, and the labels, specifically, who overdrive the sound on the cds. Compare, if you're curious, The Killers' album to say, Talk Talk's last album.

Mark Haag said...

You are probably right, Matt, but reading the article, I think it is hard to tell that that is all he meant. When I was young, I only had crap to listen to all that great music on. So maybe my judgement is clouded. I will read the wikipedia article you reference. When I listen to, say, Elliot Smith or Blur's 13, on halfway decent stuff, it sounds pretty good. What am I missing?

Hamsun56 said...

Matt: Read your Wikipedia link. Interesting. I knew that many artists had complained about the lack of a warm sound with CDs when they first came out, but I was unaware of this issue.

If this is what Dylan is referring to, then it strikes me as strange that he would have no control over this technology. He should have enough clout with Sony to do as he likes.

dick said...

I wonder if he might be talking about the recordings now of DJ's mixing their music. They are in fact just noise in many cases with the DJ jiggling records to get scratchy sounds and so forth. Surely not music.

I really wish more of the moderns would do recordings like Clapton etc who did the Unplugged series. I think that was some of the best recording those artists did and shows that they really did have talent.

I also wonder what would happen if the "artists" appear at a concert and there is a brownout with lowered power available. Would many of them even be able to perform at all? When your whole performance is a light show with noise, what would you be able to do without all the trappings of huge amps and flashing lights and have to depend on your own voice and abilities without all that huge amplification.

Jason said...

Come one people; these are the rantings of someone who is now utterly irrelevant and desparately trying to make it otherwise.

Matt said...

Quietnorth: What are you missing? Probably nothing. I mean, the difference in the sound has been gradual over the years, as the Wikipedia article suggests, so it is tough to pick up on. One CD that you may have is Oasis' "Morning Glory," which just sounds huge and awful. The guitars just sound like mud, really no definition, just bombast. I'd have to agree with whoever it was that said that the "Unplugged" series sounds good. I think they were talking about the performances, though, and not the sound, but I think Clapton's unplugged album sounds fantastic. Same with Neil Young's unplugged. The new Chili Pepper's album is supposed to be atrocious, as well, but I haven't heard it cos they're mostly garbage, if you ask me. So, yeah, i don't know. Listen to some older stuff (late 80s/early 90s) vs some newer stuff and I'm sure you'll pick up on it.

Hamsun: Still, I don't think this is about the "warmth" issue. It's really about just making cds louder. For example, if a car touts it's spacious interior, but you're cramming 5 people into the front seat, you're not really making use of the space. This is basically what people (and Dylan here, I think) are complaining about: recording engineers are not using the cd to it's capacity, and instead simply cramming everything into the front seat, as it were. As far as Dylan's clout with Sony, yeah, I'd have to agree. You'd think if anyone had clout, it would be Dylan. On the other hand, industry types these days are notoriously short-sighted, and if a "louder" recording is going to get your new cd noticed in this crowded market... Plus, I'm not sure how many albums Dylan really sells these days, which might affect his clout.

Smilin' Jack said...

Ruth Anne Adams said...
Y'all should tune into a country station now and then.

I'm serious.

Absolutely agree...then you will appreciate noise.

I rarely listen to anything I can't dance to anymore...right now I'm tapping my toes to Goldfrapp's "Ride a White Horse."

dick said...

I do remember when I had the same recording on CD and on LP. I had a really good audio system at the time and I played the two for a friend. My LP was about 10 years old at the time and the CD was brand new. The difference in the favor of the LP was phenomenal. The recording just seemed so much more musical on the LP than it did on the CD. This was one of the really high end RCA Living Stereo recordings so it was not a POS recording BTW.

I think the new recording methods, the DVD and the SACD, are getting closer but I find that I still do prefer the LP's to the CD's. Maybe part of it is that you just have to be more connected to play them but I just like the sound better.xotgrh

Rusty said...

Minor talents badly overproduced.

Listen to the Johnny Cash CDs produced by Rick Rubin.

That is music.

Schuft said...

Matt said... "It's not about the production (Lanois, etc.), the medium (cds v. vinyl), or modern music at all. It's about the technology, and the labels, specifically, who overdrive the sound on the cds. Compare, if you're curious, The Killers' album to say, Talk Talk's last album."

I was listening to Hot Fuss when you posted that. I don't own any Talk Talk, but out of curiousity I switched to the Clash's "Give 'Em Enough Rope". After that I cued up the Stars' "Set Yourself On Fire".

Maybe I'm deaf, but I don't hear a difference in the volume. And hasn't that argument about the mastered volume been around since the Stones?