Cut-and-paste and Pitchfork

Yesterday’s theme was Lollapalooza and Vampire Weekend. Today, the pitchforks are out for indie music, at least in Chicago’s Red Eye on the eve of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival.

Music criticism has a low bar to entry and is heavily reliant on adjectives (how often have you heard “warm,” “harsh,” “loud,” “ambient” or words in their respective families?), which means that most of it is opinion and little else. Historical knowledge – of the band and its influences, for example – can only go so far in pushing the critique about “I like it/don’t like it.”

The Red Eye writers, given a limited space, gave their duly opinionated but charming takes on their peceived can’t miss and must-miss acts at Pitchfork. It was nice to see slapdowns of The Field, Animal Collective, and especially Neutral Milk Hotel (“snore fest of a band”), artists all entered into the indie pantheon by Pitchfork writers of yesteryear.

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Simplify PItchfork? Never!

After reading, I got back to my own mass production of keywords, today cutting and pasting from someone’s copy on hybrid cloud and polishing it as I saw fit. Which got me thinking:

  • When I smooth-over someone else’s words, one of the biggest tasks is always removing all the first- and second-person pronouns. No, “I” don’t want “you” to talk to the audience about the need for orchestration and cloud management platforms. Yet, a lot of professional music criticism is written in similar style (“If you were around when Neutral Milk Hotel were a working band…”, went Pitchfork’s review of the band’s Box Set).
  • However, even an opinionated and ungrounded argument – overuse of “I” and “you” is a frequent, but not absolute, sign of such – can be useful. It can bypass the grunt work of getting the audience on your wavelength – so much writing is just about using the right buzzwords and not, say, thinking that “orchestrating” is an acceptable synonym for “coordinating” when writing about IT. “I” and “you” are two such words for music criticism and, apparently, for some in-depth white papers trying to get CEOs to buy into specific tech.
  • Cut-and-paste has been a more common technique than I expected, since many of the clients I work with basically request it, or imply it by asking for a rewrite. It’s not easy to get the lifted text to align with words I created from whole cloth (strained metaphor, yep), but the process is so instructive – it parallels the challenge of writing in general, especially long form writing, of making sensible transitions and creating discernible story arcs.

I’m not going to Pitchfork this year. But I think that

“It’s the kind of sentiment that teenagers who feel assaulted by their surroundings will continue to discover, and its wide-eyed and wounded view of the world goes a long way toward explaining why they keep returning to this songwriter. Despite its vague and decidedly lo-fi profile… [it] also has its share of experimentation.”

could be a useful paragraph to cut, paste, and rewrite for my future music criticism: Ssufficiently generic, but a fleshy body with the bones of promise, all the same.

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