It’s funny isn’t it—how the internet has you do things you never imagined you’d do? As a 17 year old girl from Los Angeles, I never thought I’d speak to a highly influential and remarkably innovative German band of ages somewhere between those of my parents and grandparents. Well internet, you did it. Somehow in my internet exploration I found out about Can, fell in love, and spoke to their long time collaborator Jono Podmore.
For those of you who don’t know, Can is an experimental ensemble of noise and hypnotic nonconformity that began in West Germany in 1968. About a month ago, on June 19th, Spoon Records and Mute released Can — The Lost Tapes, a long awaited box set of unreleased and recently discovered studio, soundtrack, and live material which has been curated, compiled, and edited by Irmin Schmidt, Daniel Miller, and Jono Podmore. I’ve compiled some highlights from my conversation with Jono into what I’ll forever consider to be a highlight reel of the opportunities the internet presents to a kid like myself.
So many musicians we adore learned from Can, now we’re the lucky ones who they impart some knowledge upon:
I was born in ’65—so I was 3 when Can first came into existence. Nevertheless I came across Can and the work of Can members with British musicians when I was a teenager….. so even without the web, the music and the ideas of German musicians from Köln we’re getting through to me. The media was radio, cassettes and record shops, but the method was the same: find something, get enthusiastic about it and share it.
The web has sped up that process immeasurably but more important has made it universal, as long as you own a computer and live in a country where internet access is easy. When I find a new track I like I no longer simply play it to a small circle of friends in a provincial British city then make a cassette or 2. I hit “share” and my friends all over the (first) world can hear it and make their own minds up. This is a wonderful thing for the dissemination of ideas and artifacts, but isn’t necessarily such a wonderful thing for creativity.
In the 200 years between the writing of Geoffrey Chaucer and of William Shakespeare, the English language developed and changed almost beyond recognition. A small population in constant trade with the continent were swapping and multiplying meanings in their language at a fantastic rate which enabled a rich seam of poetry to develop. Shakespeare himself created many new words in his output, which his audience would understand by context and resonance with other common words. Many of these words are now in daily use in our language. But if you compare the language of Shakespeare with contemporary English, with over 400 years between, there isn’t such a difference.What happened to all the development? In those 400 years, the printing press had an enormous impact on language. It became codified, definitions were set—and so, perhaps, were the imaginations of the language’s users.
My concern is that the internet is having a similar impact. Stylistic definition, pigeonholes, are becoming stricter and more universal, not just in music but in other arts. In this current context a band like Can could exist, but would never get the backing and support they need to explore such a variety of techniques and styles in their music, due in part to the internet. Which in a way is why it isn’t at all surprising that younger generations are so interested in ‘The Lost Tapes’, they are hearing a creative freedom that may be out of reach for them. Hopefully that will be an inspiration to them to burn those restrictions to the ground and go for it themselves!!
My feeling is that there is A LOT of talent coming from young musicians—I work as a professor of music at a German university so I work with lots of young musicians. But I have a few concerns:
-internet access is making people feel stylistically restricted even before they play a note, as I mentioned before.
-too many young people are using their computers as musical instruments. It’s very seducing to write music on your laptop and it appears that you have an enormous amount of options. But sadly, the results just aren’t good enough. There’s lots of reasons for this but one of the most pernicious is that it leads you to work alone. No synergy, no serendipity, no funk.
-there’s a hideous lack of record company investment in new talent. Record companies no longer develop acts they have faith in, they simply buy up finished product with no overheads and with a guaranteed audience. It’s a short term economic answer to their problems caused by…lack of investment in new talent!!! The answer? Do it yourself!!! Using computers for what they’re good for (distribution and organization of ideas and data transfer) rather than using them to generate content, gives young musicians an unprecedented opportunity to escape the stranglehold of the traditional structure of music business finance. If they won’t invest in new talent, that’s their loss.
-the “woo yeah syndrome”. Young people these days don’t get the level of constructive criticism they need to improve. There is 1 reasons for this:
-a culture of sentimental encouragement, shouting “woo yeah!” about every miserable attempt, has made it uncool to criticise. If your friend plays a concert and one of the tunes is boring, HECKLE!!! They’ll be surprised, angry even, but they will also think twice about the piece and maybe improve it. Support is one thing, but a banal lack of criticism is quite another.
So, to summarize Jono’s words—heckle the bad, share the good, collaborate with others, and use laptops for only the right reasons. Thank you internet, and thank you Can.