Tuesday, June 15, 2004

PJ and me

Currentish Events

A weekend of very dilettantish practice. The fingerpickin' continues to improve, albeit in fits and starts.

Friday night I spent some quality time in the tub with PJ Harvey. Well, her new album and I anyway. I don't think it's her best work but it was inspiring; one of the quietest songs on it has noticeable tape hiss.

I suspect that most people have forgotten, or never noticed, that one of the most profound changes digital recording and playback brought to music was real silence. Tape and vinyl can't provide this, the hiss is always lurking underneath, waiting for those quiet moments.

So why am I happy to hear it on a PJ Harvey album? Because it means ol' P J has to make the same esthetic choices I do. Ms. Harvey is a professional, she must have access to some very good equipment. There's no reason for her songs to have tape hiss, indeed, none of the other tunes do.

So why did she do it? It could be that she had some artistic reason. Maybe it was an attempt to tap into a nostalgia that was suitable for the song. I don't think that's the case, the song doesn't seem to warrant it. There's also a liner note that implies that it was unwanted. Or it might be that she recorded a demo and never managed as good a performance in the studio. Either way, it was a brave choice to include that particular take on the album.

It all comes down to choices. I struggle with the desire for perfection. I'd hate it if a quiet tune I'd written had tape hiss and probably wouldn't release it. And yet here's PJ, a far better musician than I, releasing something that has just that.

Technical perfection versus artistic, when does one cancel the other? I need to learn how to make these choices because apparently they never go away.

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