Musical Taxonomies and Global Economies

On our walk between the hotel and biergarten for dinner last night, a few of us stopped into a local music store on the Ku'dam in Berlin. This is one of my favorite ways to get a sense of local culture: stop into a local retail store. This music shop was 80% equivalent to what you'd find at a good used-CD store in the states but the classification system for the CD trays made up the other 20% that was unique.

In addition to the Rock A-Z dividers and a separate section for new releases, there was an almost equal-sized area for German artists, which was further broken down by genre. If I didn't have (literally) half of our European management team tapping its toes to a different (hungry) beat, I would have browsed the selection of German Hip-Hop. And I was thoroughly impressed by the dedicated and sizeable stack of Kraftwerk, although I was somewhat disappointed that Edgar Froese didn't have his own section (in all seriousness, I would have picked up a German pressing rather than download his material from iTunes just to see the liner notes).

Hanging out with Global Sales and Services Chief Geek Jim Baty has given me an appreciation for artists in general, and what Jim calls "the discomfort that comes with good art." Alas, the discomfort of long queues for weisswurst took precendence over further exploration of the deustche music scene, but not before I noticed that in the "world music" section, there was a divider labeled "Klezmer/Gypsy."

I'd never considered klezmer orchestras as a variation on gypsy music, or derived from Central European roots rather than the stuff of Hassidic tales of Tsarist Russia, but it stimulated an interesting conversation for the rest of our walk. Turns out that Inka, part of our GSE team in Prague refers to "gypsy music" as something that makes you feel energetic but you're not really sure you like it because it's crazy music. That's a more accurate description of klezmer than that of a friend who tabbed it "high speed oompah with jazz clarinet." Yes, the discomfort of good art. In the case of my affiliation with klezmer music, it started around 5th grade when I was suffering through clarinet lessons. Occasionally my father would dig up his old "Russian music fake books", primarily badly printed, hand-written transcriptions of klezmer songs that had survived on aural tradition for decades. We'd play a few songs together, a little clarinet duo having fun with the score to definitely capture "energy" and "crazy music" at the same time.

Bottom line: this is why meta data matters. Whatever the surface level taxonomy - CD shelves, file labels, bookstore directions to "file under programming languages" - it only represents one view of the actual bits or atoms. What we associate with the content in terms of related concepts, family memories, national references or other, alternate filing systems adds to the appeal and reach of the content. What's frightening is that I'm starting to think that klezmer isn't so much of an acquired taste as a genetic predisposition to take liberties with musical tradition: at least that's how I explained my son's arco rendition of the bass line to Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" at the end of a school concert. Discomfort, good art, crazy music, but I'm not sure where you file it.

Comments:

hanging out at arrow park at my russian babas "commune" in monroe ny in the 1970s . Klezmer was sort of like garage band with eastern euro samples. You genetic predisposition theory definately resonate w/me there and also in the east village russian social clubs of the time.

Posted by pete lega on July 04, 2008 at 02:50 AM EDT #

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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