Thursday, September 02, 2004

Sparks in "The Guardian"

TalkTime: Ron and Russell Mael

The Guardian

Sparks, aka brothers Ron and Russell Mael, have released their 19th album, Lil Beethoven

Interviewed by Hamish Mackintosh
Thursday September 2, 2004

Is the computer integral to the Sparks' studio set-up?

Russell: We have one of the 2GHz Apple Mac G5s - of course, they've just brought out the 2.5GHz so every week you're obsolete! The one we have was reputed to be the fastest computer ... up until two weeks ago obviously! We use Digital Performer as the backbone because it handles the Midi and digital audio recording together ... effectively, we're using Digital Performer more as a means of capturing the actual performances instead of a tape recorder.

So is the G5 as good as we are told it is?

Russell: For digital audio, it's really great because it's powerful enough to give you more tracks or plug-ins, and everything's still smoother. It is by no means perfect because it still crashes, which is frustrating given that Apple assures us it is the fastest computer available. The other side of that is that it is miles beyond the computers we've had previously.

How do you feel about the move towards downloadable music?

Ron: Aside from the issues of music being stolen, one thing that worries me is this idea of people being able to select whatever they want from what you present ... like in iTunes. Even if listeners skip over tracks, I want them to have to accept the entire work I'm presenting as an album.

Any other concerns?

Russell: It's also completely eliminating the tangible aspect of what's cool about pop music, such as the album artwork. If your whole life is centred around iTunes or its equivalent, then you see a 1 inch by 1 inch digital representation of some artwork, and that's it. There's no back cover or liner notes. I've heard authors say the same of ebooks and downloads, that there's just something about a tangible book ... the feel of it, the smell ... and you can't replace that no matter how convenient it is to have in your Palm Pilot or music in your iPod. Technologically, that is all quite cool but you can't replace that experience of opening a new CD. I was on iTunes for a look around and was disappointed because it's just an interface, and there's no real background to the artists and nobody's really got a visual statement to help you figure out the sensibility of the group. That's a shame.

How about the ringtone phenomenon?

Ron: That's bizarre ... they're not even downloading the whole song, just the main hook. It sounds almost Japanese - like slicing things up into razor-thin segments so that nothing is ever really complete, and everything is taken out of context. It's not enough that there isn't time to go through a whole album - there isn't even time to go through a whole song! Once you've got that ringtone, that may be amusing to yourself but it tends to be quite irritating to anyone sitting next to you on public transport. They're becoming very intrusive in cinemas, too.

Lil Beethoven - Sparks Live in Stockholm (DVD) is out this week.


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