Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Music Vs. Film and CDs Vs. DVDs

Take a cross-section sample of society and ask them what their tastes in films and music are. Chances are they will all have seen similar (ie Hollywood) films, either at the cinema, on DVD or TV. But take these same people and ask them about their music tastes and a more personal taste will emerge. For musical taste seems so much more idiosyncratic than film taste. Film has about five main genres (comedy, romance, horror, action, thriller); music has hundreds. Films mainly follow a well-trodden formula in terms of narrative and technique which has changed very little since the days of DW Griffith, who sort of established the language we know today of long shot, medium shot, close-up. Music can be anything – and has a history lasting thousands of years. It's almost hard to think of Miles Davis and Britney Spears and Mozart and Basement Jaxx all being called music, but there's not a huge leap from films made today to those made a hundred years ago.

So it's surprising to me that CDs are being phased out (and yes, I realise it's because people are downloading it rather than going off music but it's now just as easy to download films yet DVD sales are still rising). UK Music shops such as HMV and Fopp now have about 50% DVDs and 30% music (and at least 20% 'other': games and books). But there's a few things I don't get. Firstly, your average film needs only to be watched once (unless you have more free time than me), so owning them seems a waste of time, money and valuable shelf space, whereas CDs are played on average at least six times. Second, plastic DVD cases are ugly things (though I'm quite partial to a nicely put together boxed-set). I know vinyl enthusiasts think CD jewel cases are ugly too but at least they can have cool booklets with artwork and lyrics. DVD cases just seem so generic and cheap. The days of pouring over lyrics and artwork of a newly-bought LP are no doubt over, but there's still some pleasure to be had from a coolly-designed CD booklet.

Independent experimental music labels such as Ghostbox, Entr'acte, Dekorder, Tomlab, Delaware, Squint Fuck Press and Constellation are still producing challenging and beautiful artwork for CDs. Even mainstream labels are making a bit of an effort with some releases by giving them deluxe fold-out packaging, extra tracks, bonus DVDs, etc. And digipaks seem an almost nice alternative to jewel cases.

DVD covers and booklets (if there is one) are usually Photoshop by numbers, simply shrinking the bland poster artwork to fit the box. Film posters themselves are so dull nowadays, simply consisting of film title, credits, pictures of the stars, quote from a tabloid. Nothing wrong with that, you say. Okay, fine, but album covers can have an iconic quality rarely seen on film posters; often it's not necessary to have the band on the cover, and the name of the band or title of the album may not even be on the front. DVD covers could never get away with this.

I guess what it boils down to is music is essentially abstract and film is concrete. Even though the medium of film is only 100 years old, it hasn't changed since the early 1900s – and the prohibitive costs of making them means it remains in the hands of big business pandering to the lowest possible denominator (obviously cheap experimental films exist but are little watched; even with the 'democracy' of YouTube people watch either clips from X-Factor or 'amusing' home movie clips). Music is ethereal, constantly changing with new genres and techniques emerging – and a lot cheaper to make.

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