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#245 - Wed, 07 Jun 2006 01:21:00 TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
inelegy Offline
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Much of John Foxx's work gets tagged with the word "retro" and I've seen the term bandied about here recently with the release of "Tiny Colour Movies". I have to say that I disagree with the term entirely. Usually it is used in the context of "retro synths" or "vintage synths" or some such nonesense. This somehow degrades or invalidates the music.

What is it about synths that compel fans and reviewers to add this unnecessary adjective? I mean, if a guitarist is playing a "vintage" 1957 Les Paul on his new album has he gone retro?

Part of the problem lay in the fact that keyboard players are, generally speaking, whores for the latest and greatest technology and have a history of abandoning perfectly good instruments by the wayside in favor of newer instruments. I, for one, have always hated this trend. The fact of the matter is if it is supposed to be played on a Minimoog, Mellotron, or Prophet-5 you should play it on one (or a softsynth emulating one). As a Yes fan, there are few things worse than hearing Rick Wakeman playing the Mellotron part of, say, "And You And I" using some horrid, breathy string pad. (Interestingly, Wakeman just released an album performed entirely on the old equipment; it's a pity he chose to name the thing "Retro" and a greater pity he can't write a tune to save his life.)

Additionally, many artists are better writers and players when using their so-called "old" instruments. Tangerine Dream come irresistably to mind. They were somehow simply better (to my ears) with the Arps, Mellotrons, and Moogs grinding away, and I've come to dislike them for much of the last 20 years. Thankfully Radio Massacre International stepped up and gave voice again to writing and performing music in the style and with the technology that TD so unfortunately abandoned.

As a fan of John's I'm glad to see (hear) him sticking to these great instuments. They have a rightful place in music, not just in music history. The great orchestras of the world haven't tossed out their violin sections and their "retro" instruments and replaced them with digital synths, nor should keyboardists.

There is a timeless appeal to the sounds made by synths, just as there is to a piano or any other instument, and that appeal should not be limited to nostalgia. John has a great sense for what a song needs and appears to write to that need as opposed to writing to show off new technology or the lazy convenience of modern synth patches. Richard Barbieri is another brilliant synthesist who uses his analog palette to paint the perfect sound into the song picture.

If you want to be a technician and a gear jockey then be one, but I would hope you would be a musician first.

Thanks and cheers to John for another great collection of music.

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#246 - Wed, 07 Jun 2006 01:42:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
abc123 Offline
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I agree. The term 'retro' is just nonsense, a term used by lazy reviewers. Old synthesiser pioneers like John show todays' upstarts (who weren't around in the early 80s) how electronic music should be done - I've heard some of their works and am not impressed. They can't even make music with real melody or structure.

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#247 - Wed, 07 Jun 2006 02:36:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
robert Offline
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They brand the term futurist around alot as well. Not really sure if thats a good thing or a lazy thing. Ive always liked photos of john and his artwork especially crash and burn and tiny colour movies.

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#248 - Wed, 07 Jun 2006 02:55:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
abc123 Offline
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Don't suppose the new album features a photo of John? Would be nice as the standard mug shot you see everywhere (and MySpace) dates back to 1997 IIRC.

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#249 - Wed, 07 Jun 2006 22:03:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
feline1 Offline
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Hissy fit alert! LOL smile

The term "retro" is surely appropriate if an artist has opted to use a particular set of timbres/hairstyles simply because they want to reference/emulate some stuff done in (say) 1973.
You cannot dispute that there are a lot of artists out there who simply do just do this.
I must I do find it rather vapidly postmodern (ie simply referenceing the imagery - or "signs", to use the semiotic term - of the past for its own sake, without really grappling with the reasons those signs were used in the first place.

"TINY COLOUR MOVIES" does make deliberate and pointed use of a great deal of old "vintage" analogue synth timbres (although consensus opinion seems to be that there's a high possibility it was all achiecved using softsynths) -
I wouldn't particularly call this "retro" though, as I imagine John's motivation is simply that he *LIKES* those timbres, at an aesthetic level. They're part of his own, personal, past.

Back at the time of METAMATIC, he was nigh-on-indisputeably employing them to explore a Ballardian modernity and alienation.
His immaculate felt-tip-pen ultraclean softsynth & digital reverb recording however lends the album a far more innocent, warm, almost jaunty cartoon feel in places, which seems rather removed from futurism or modernism. The sleevenotes speak of a joy in finding art in the accidents and forgotten detritus of the fabric modern living, and the feeling happy wonderment in the music and timbres seems fairly consistent to me with that aim.

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#250 - Wed, 07 Jun 2006 22:40:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
Steve Roby Offline
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I've called TCM retro because it is, in fact, retro. That's not a judgement on its quality, it's a reference to the fact that much of it was deliberately created to sound like something from the mid-1970s at the latest. It's not a forward-looking album of new technology being used in new ways, the way Metamatic arguably was, it's a nostalgic look back at Kraftwerk, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and other early electronic music. Nothing wrong with that at all, and I really like the album, but it's old-fashioned in the same way that swing and rockabilly are old-fashioned. It's retro.

And if there's a band trying to sound like Tangerine Dream did decades ago, they're retro. Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, and the Editors are retro, too, as they swipe from the postpunk scene. Doesn't mean they aren't good, it just means that they're drawing on the past.

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#251 - Wed, 07 Jun 2006 22:55:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
feline1 Offline
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Is it trying to sound exactly like 1976 though?

Because it doesn't, cos it quite clearly is a pristine modern digital recording, and sounds nothing like some old 16-track analogue piece of vinyl.
(Indeed Metamatic was done on 8-track, and it reminds me a lot in mood of "Musik von Harmonia", which was done on 4-track and 2-track!)

Did John choose softsynths and recording digitally inside a computer as a conscious artistic decision to make it sound like a colouring-in book in felt tip? smile
Or did he just do it that way cos it's modern/"better"/more convenient?
Dunno.
Whatever the reason, it makes it fail to sound properly retro!

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#252 - Thu, 08 Jun 2006 20:12:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
Pater Noster Offline
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I wouldnt take retro as necessarily an insult. Have got a Fats Waller cd on right now; and was listening to ragtime when i was about 12 so it isnt an age thing. it is true nobody says guitar is old hat even though some of the best exponents were people like Robert Johnson in the 1920s or 30s. And, as we said elsewhere; rap and soul / "RnB" are ageing formats; but cos of the PC brigade nobody would dare diss those - cos they are made by so called minorities. (how come they dominate a lot of areas such as radio and pop shows if theyre minority? duh). confused

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#253 - Thu, 08 Jun 2006 20:37:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
Alex S Offline
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I don't think it's supposed to sound like 1976 - I think John is just openly letting the influences of that time shine through.

I don't really care about what synths he used, as long as I enjoy the results. They probably are new software synths - they're more reliable than original analogue equipment anyway!

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#254 - Thu, 08 Jun 2006 20:47:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
feline1 Offline
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balls they're more reliable!

I have several machines here at Feline HQ from the 1970s still working perfectly.

I doubt very much my current PC will be working perfectly in 30 years from now. Has the odd crash even now!

And since when were people not free to criticise music they don't like?!? I think R&B is largely bollocks!

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#255 - Thu, 08 Jun 2006 20:48:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
Havocman Offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by feline1:
I think R&B is largely bollocks!
It's improved then? wink

As for "Retro" I suspect it is irrelevant what synths John is using, it's the sounds that he uses that determine how retro anything sounds. If I recall, analogue sounds have been in common use since the early 1970's (and in use in a small way for decades before that). In the period between the early 1970's and now, there has probably only been one period where they have been out of "fashion" and that was the mid Eighties when the world seemed to go digital. So, quite how using analogue (or analogue type) sounds can be retro now is beyond me.

I think we are all in agreement though - whether it is retro or not, it sounds damn fine! laugh

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#256 - Thu, 08 Jun 2006 21:20:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
Alex S Offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by feline1:
I think R&B is largely bollocks!
Well I agree on that R&B is completely bollocks, not just largely!

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#257 - Thu, 08 Jun 2006 22:00:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
METAL BEAT Offline
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RETRO
Interesting word, just looked it up in the dictionary, "The style of an earlier period usually in the recent past" or "objects, artworks, music,clothes etc that imitate the past"

Do I think John is Retro? No. My opinion is that TCM sounds nothing like earlier music he has made. I feel sometimes people want that Metamatic style again but I think John is always moving forward so I tend to think of him as futuristic.
Regards
Peter

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#258 - Thu, 08 Jun 2006 22:59:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
Alex S Offline
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I don't think it's retro - it's simply John. His music almost has its own category, albeit partly influenced by acts or styles we might now term "retro".

But I agree Peter - futurist is a much more appropriate word. Right back from the beginning John was moving forward, looking to the future, and he's still doing that.

Analogue synths have definately made a comeback in recent years and there are so many bands influenced by acts of the 1970s that "retro" is beconming "current".

Let's leave "retro" to bad flares and wallpaper!!

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#259 - Fri, 09 Jun 2006 01:08:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
feline1 Offline
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well there seems to be a fair consensus that "Tiny Colour Movies" is not retro - it's just John!

What do you expect him to do - make an R&B album? LOL

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#260 - Fri, 09 Jun 2006 05:22:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
Steve Roby Offline
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If he was retro 30 years ago, what's so bad about being retro now?


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#261 - Fri, 09 Jun 2006 07:08:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
birdsong Offline
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There's an interesting interview with John somewhere entitled "Designing the retro-Future"...
Says it all really.

Somehow with this new album John seems to have made an album that manages to be nothing like he has done before, and strangely like a lot of things he has done before.

I'd define 'retro' as being 'reflective of the past'. Try listening to The Man Machine next to this album, and bear in mind there's thirty years between them.

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#262 - Fri, 09 Jun 2006 17:25:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
feline1 Offline
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Well, the the production style on "Tiny Colour Movies" is very much what Kraftwerk were trying to do with "The Man Machine" in 1978.

Unfortunately in 1978, they were lumbered with 24-track analogue tape, analogue bucket-brigade delays, Vako Orchestrons playing sounds off acetate discs, op-amps with worse slew rates than a donkey, etc etc etc
So it's not *quite* as pristine.

To be honest, I quite *like* a bit of crackle and hiss smile

On Tiny Colour Movies, John definately does a few gleeful nods to "Man-Machine" - e.g. there's big bass notes with swooping resonance, very similar to the ones in "Neon Lights".

It's all just a shared vocabulary,
and John is considerably has considerably more right than most to call it his own.

PS - he looks so CROSS on the cover of Retro LOL bless him!

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#263 - Sat, 10 Jun 2006 02:47:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
abc123 Offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by feline1:
[To be honest, I quite *like* a bit of crackle and hiss smile

[/QB]
Me too when it's on vinyl, but the modern day trend of many contemporary artists is to deliberately add it to their (crap) music. Bloody crackle meisters - what's that all about?

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#264 - Sat, 10 Jun 2006 03:42:00 Re: TCM - Retro? No!! Just great music.
birdsong Offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by abc123:
[QUOTE]Originally posted by feline1:
[To be honest, I quite *like* a bit of crackle and hiss smile

Well, we've had "Crash and Burn', so perhaps "Crackle and Hiss" is next...
laugh wink

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