It’s easy to feel lucky being part of the relatively close-knit community around improvised and creative music. Whether one is a supporter through buying CDs and going to gigs, or a writer/interviewer, or a historian and collector, the shared interest and accessibility of the music’s living creators is something not always available in the rock and “indie” world. But in the age of social networking – which has become pretty much part and parcel of the writer’s tools as well as the musician’s or the promoter’s – these relationships become more complex. I started thinking about this more in earnest when I began writing reviews for Tiny Mix Tapes, which is a site covering (mostly) current indie rock, punk, experimental and what-not releases; I’ve been occasionally plugging some of the new improvised music releases as well as the occasional “other folks’ music” disc. Anyway, one of the rules at TMT – as well as, one would assume, a number of the larger or more mainstream review magazines and blogs – is that one is not allowed to review releases by one’s friends (or, obviously, significant other or family member). That’s all well and good, but it becomes a challenge being part of the real and virtual music community.
After all, with Facebook, Twitter, and now G+, the lines between “friends,” “acquaintances,” “colleagues,” and “network” are quite blurry. I am proud and happy to consider friends some excellent artists and musicians (and label owners, promoters, etc. as well), and my hope is that objectivity is still part of the equation. A very close friend runs a psych and experimental music label, and I feel comfortable enough asking pertinent questions for a review of one of his discs. I also don’t feel obligated to review something he puts out that isn’t to my taste. Recently, I wrote an article on a Texas percussionist-composer for Signal To Noise, which did not in any way feel like buttering up a drinking buddy (as though that would ever need to be done). Another good friend is a guitarist in New York who gigs frequently and whose records I’ve enjoyed and reviewed positively – but for whom I also would not feel required to do so. There are a lot of examples in my own life of this kind of thing. It is a very common situation, and now even moreso as lines between personal and professional relationships become diffuse. Many of the younger writers (and even some from earlier generations) are tied in to social networking sites and spend time back-and-forthing with the subjects of their articles and reviews, though it’s probably not a new phenomenon. I can imagine someone like Ira Gitler sharing a beer with Roswell Rudd in the mid-Sixties or another writer sending back-and-forth communiqués on life and interests with a musician whose work they follow.
It seems like one should be able to be honest enough in their discussion of a record that friendships would not suffer (or that reviews would be just more back-washing). But then again, the question of objectivity or non-objectivity has itself become rather absurd as nobody in their right mind reviews something they don’t have some taste for or against. If I write about a recording (usually positively, because negative reviews seem like a waste of energy), it’s because it fits in with the things I like listening to, thinking about, and writing about. Ultimately, the idea of encouraging community and, perhaps, a broader dialogue on issues in creative music would seem to trump whether or not one went halvsies on a pizza with a restructural trumpeter. In good faith, I’ll continue to be engaged as much as I can with trying to parse the meaning and value of this music with friends, colleagues, and new faces via the online and real-time network. In the meantime, please stay tuned for July reviews of music made by people I’ve never met as well as those for whom I was, perhaps, best man at their wedding.