Moby Makes Sense of Destroyed Media

Moby has been making music across media and genre for over three decades now. Which means he’s watched genres bleed into each other, technology kill the music industry as we knew it, the internet rebuild the music industry as we’ll know it, and how a conscientious artist must work if s/he’s going to survive the cultural and political aftershocks. In short, he’s smart. I picked his deep brain for Wired.

With Destroyed, Moby Makes Sense of Shattered Musical Landscape

On his upcoming effort Destroyed, Moby constructs synthetic symphonies out of sounds coaxed from broken-down gear during dead-of-night sessions in hotel rooms.

It’s an insomniac artist’s way of making sense of the world during a time when the music industry, and everything else, seems to be falling into chaos.
“You ideally make music because you want people to hear it,” the artist formerly known as Richard Melville Hall told by phone ahead of his Thursday DJ set at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. “But it seems like some record companies wake up in the morning and try to find new ways to get people not to hear the music.”

Luckily, today’s sonic landscape teems with the work of artists and technicians busy on their laptops, iPads and iPhones, making “good enough” music that works outside the system even as audience expectations and demands mutate, with some adding dj equipment into the mix to turn out some new and unique sounds. Some DJs will play around with new sounds using some of the best music production software available on the market. Music production software similar to Pro Tools (or Pro tools pour pc if you are a French speaker) is one of many types of music software available for download online.

According to multidisciplinary pioneer Moby, more people than ever are channeling their creative energies into tech-assisted songs that possess the neurochemical ability to literally reshape minds. The bad news is we’re living in a world blasted by a light-speed media assault that scares some of us into corners, ducking the latest domestic terror or global catastrophe.

“Every single day the world seems like it is on the brink of falling apart,” the soft-spoken 45-year-old musician and DJ said. “But then I look outside my window, and things look about the same as they did a week ago. It’s almost a form of cognitive dissonance.”

Destroyed, arriving May 16 in an arty deluxe package complete with a book of Moby’s photography, capably chronicles that dissonance in disembodied electronic music filled with human concerns like love and hope. probed Moby’s deep brain about mass media, free culture, the death of the album and why his Institute for Music and Neurologic Function colleague Oliver Sacks might be too cranky to dig electronic music. You’ve been making music for 35 years. What strands of musical and technological evolution stand out most to you, and what do you see developing on the horizon?

Moby: The reason I started making music really young is that no other art form affected me as powerfully. I was a latchkey kid who didn’t have a ton of friends and was bad at sports, so that gave me a lot of time to sit in my living room, listen to records and play guitar. And I don’t know how to do anything else, which I think is a key component for success. It really helps if you only know how to do one thing, because then you have no fallback plan. I think you just gave career counselors a collective heart attack.

Moby: But my answer to the question about musical and technological evolution is that basically everything has become less monolithic. When I was growing up, and up until quite recently, there really was a stranglehold on the creation, distribution and promotion of music on the part of major labels, radio stations and media outlets. That has completely fractured and splintered. And personally, I think that is for the best, and has actually improved the quality of music. It has also helped attenuate some of the more pernicious elements of corporate media control.
‘Anyone with a laptop, or even an iPhone, can make decent-sounding records. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.’ How about the production of music?

Moby: As far as that, now literally anyone with a laptop, or even an iPhone, can make decent-sounding records. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, it’s a lot more egalitarian, but it seems like there is something to be said for spending a long time figuring out how to make a record, and then spending a long time actually making a record.

Now it seems like there is an awful lot of people making records that are quite good, but not an awful lot of people making records that are truly great. That’s the downside to remarkable software. You can sit down with Reason or Ableton and literally in a couple of hours make a very good-sounding record. But then a lot of people become contented with that, rather than pushing themselves to making something that sounds great. By the way, I apologize for the length of that Fidel Castro-like answer. Do you think the audience has assimilated that cultural shift, getting more and more used to less and less incredible work, and shorter work, rather than waiting for what seems an eternity for a world-changing release like Sgt. Pepper’s and such?

Moby: Yeah, definitely. The way in which music production has changed has certainly changed expectations for what music can do. I had one of these self-evident epiphanies about eight or nine years ago at a MTV awards show. Alicia Keys was performing, and everyone seemed amazed that she actually knew how to play the piano. People were in the lobby saying, “Wow, she can actually play an instrument!” And I remember thinking to myself, “Isn’t that part of the job description?”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not knowing how to play an instrument, but the rise of the nonmusical producer has done away with musicianship and focused attention purely on the song’s hook. Again, I’m not criticizing, but when hip-hop producers started making records where the verse and chorus were exactly the same – except maybe the chorus was a little louder, and they said different things – that certainly changed the nature of songwriting. It also made people a lot more comfortable only listening to bits of a song, and certainly more comfortable only listening to a song. The old idea of sitting down and listening to a well-crafted album from musicians who spent years perfecting their craft seems anachronistic at this point. It’s ironic, because hip-hop was started by producers who remixed and rebooted song snippets into addictive beats. But in its early period, those producers still managed to create coherent albums, like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, which practically mandated an experience in full like Sgt. Pepper’s.

Moby: Yeah, the same goes for Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full or Boogie Down Productions‘ Criminal Minded. But I think that’s because some of these guys were coming from an album background. If you’re talking about It Takes a Nation, Hank Shocklee and The Bomb Squad grew up listening to classic rock and funk records, so they were trying to make cohesive albums. A lot of people do talk about the demise of the album, but I still believe that if an artist tries hard to make a great album, people will buy it and listen to it as an album, rather than just a collection of random songs. What about releasing an album into the real world? If artists are going to go offline, it seems today that they have to make their material albums a multimedia event, such as you’ve done with Destroyed’s photography book, to offer something that listeners can’t get solely through downloading songs.

Moby: You can still just put out an album. But I get excited by the fact that I still have some semblance of an audience. There’s a responsibility that comes with that. Ideally, you don’t want to waste people’s time. If someone is willing to sit down and listen to an album, you want to give them something that is worthy of their time and attention. And for me, if you’ve made an album that you really care about, then you have to do everything you can to get people to listen to it. Which doesn’t mean the end result has to be sales or market share.


Sevastopol from Moby on Vimeo.