Sound of silence, sounds of confusion

The Tumblr trap: Is Internet culture turning musicians into content-producers? In the future, we will all be ‘content producers’. A dread phrase (via MeFi, where it is correctly pointed out that music is content). So is instant online media setting in motion a massive unbreakable feedback loop of influences and homages? Some people seem to think so: ‘What you get in this Tumblr scene is imitators of imitators of imitators, each less skilled than the one before them. One person starts using triangles in their album art? Everyone has triangles! One person uses strange Unicode characters in their band name? All of a sudden, everyone’s got unpronounceable band names made of umlauts, crosses and triangles. Faux-Polaroid album art of beach scenes? The word “Beach” in your band name? Band names that are poorly disguised ripoffs of other, slightly more famous bands’ names? It goes on and on. Copying is an inherent part in the creative process, but few of these Tumblr artists are forging forward and doing something original, and there’s very little quality control.’


This is the thing about music, as it is with many other creative endeavours: you can’t validate yourself. Quality control is an external process. You can be brilliant, but you are still without editing, or independent appraisal or anything approaching an authentic detached verdict on your work. The world needs editors, editors who really sift through things (another term that is rapidly being redefined), rather than simply re-blogging it or clicking ‘like’. The other alarming thing about the internet is that one’s hobby suddenly becomes an international property, tainted by the knowledge that it is happening in public (however disinterested or small the potential audience is). Bands are trapped between the Scylla and Charybdis of wanting to belong to some kind of swirling, all-enveloping and intimate community while also seeking to stand alone above a sea of mediocrity and somehow cut their vision through the waves.


The rather derided and unfashionable term ‘curation’ also plays a part. A tumblr is nothing more than a scrapbook, an instant assemblage that declares taste, status and self-belief, straight up. The contemplative act of filling a cabinet of curiosities for later scrutiny no longer belongs to the present era. We once put a box of treasured 7″ singles into the attic in the hope that at some point in the next two decades, a record player, a bottle of wine and an empty evening would eventually come together to complete the action. That hasn’t happened yet – it may never happen – but the point is that the physicality of the objects and their (eventual) consumption creates a very different experience to the rapid fire parcels of stuff that are being spat out every minute of the day via social media. On the other hand, perhaps it’s simply true that ‘Tumblr just provides us with a window into all the basements, garages, and cheap studios where all of the imitators congregated in the past.’ The process has becomes as visible as the end result, and that is the very definition of confusion. The process of consumption is no longer distinct from creation.


Image above is a porcelain sculpture by Kate MacDowell (via Rooms Magazinepdf of latest issue).

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6 Responses to Sound of silence, sounds of confusion

  1. David Eisler says:

    Your observations aptly describe the situation. For my part, I will post photos, carefully, with the object finding what resonates with the mass of perfect strangers on tumblr. Your ire directed at the “imitators of imitators” may have as much to do with the youth of many of the tumblr users as anything else. Defining the self is an arduous process, involving identification of “me” and not me.” So a more generous view of the imitators just starting our on theat process may be in order, since “me too” is part of the process of defining the self. Put in less exalted language: no one wants to be alone.

    • things magazine says:

      Yes, that ‘imitators of imitators’ quote wasn’t ours, but the point about duplication being a route to the self is a good one. It’s also true that tumblr is suddenly such an incredibly young place – the number of Twilight and Harry Potter animated gifs out there is truly terrifying.

  2. Ian Tuttle says:

    Definitely agree with this: “you are still without…anything approaching an authentic detached verdict on your work.” Good criticism is priceless.

    However, I am curious. What is wrong with being a “content producer?” How are you defining “content?” And what would be the alternative?

    • Callum says:

      “Content producer” as in a pawn of social media where the person is the product, and is known as a “content producer”. This happens in the course of being part of a community of online ‘friends’, when you share & talk about stuff. That stuff becomes the content that fills up the media space.

      But making something (cooking, a driftwood sculpture, going for a walk, etc) is completely different.

  3. I think that you discovered the black thread, the natural way to make the things is the imitation, we are all bad imitations of our ancestors. As you see, that is the way natural things works. The creativity is a non natural process; for that reason it is only for atypical people.

  4. Pingback: The process has become as visible as the end result, and that is the very definition of confusion. ‹ — Blog by Jonathan Bainbridge

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