Low fidelity

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Cash-strapped mu­sic hope­fuls of­ten jam in cramped bed­rooms or aban­doned spa­ces that al­low them to prac­tice freely without hav­ing to spend a cent. These as­pir­ing mu­si­cians then bravely record their self-com­posed demos in these dive venues in the hope of get­ting signed by a re­spectable la­bel. Un­for­tu­nately, the con­verted dig­i­tal au­dio out­put pro­duced from these ses­sions sound lack­lus­tre and dull—raw, crack­ling, scratchy and filled with hisses. The ab­sence of con­tem­po­rary in­dus­try-stan­dard equip­ment is the cul­prit.

De­spite the flawed record­ings, the im­per­fec­tions de­vel­oped through phono­graphic dis­tor­tion adds an at­trac­tive el­e­ment that com­ple­ments cer­tain mu­sic com­po­si­tions. And that, my friends, is ‘lo-fi’ in a nut­shell. Al­ter­na­tively re­ferred to as DIY mu­sic, lo-fi aes­thet­ics evokes qual­i­ties of home-recorded melodies with at­tached out-of-tune or out-of-time mu­si­cal notes. Why are lis­ten­ers still en­am­oured by such sub­par out­put? Its un­forced ar­range­ment and raw struc­ture are recog­nised by a re­spectable al­ter­na­tive crowd, a feat since the genre’s ori­gins in the 1950s. Re­fer to The Beach Boys, An­i­mal Col­lec­tive, R Steven Moore and early Sir Paul Mc­Cart­ney.

Presently, lo-fi has a di­verse pres­ence in hip-hop, in­die and even am­bi­ent tracks. But I’ll wa­ger that chill­wave is the true heir for such warped tunes. Modern tech­nol­ogy has al­lowed sketchy mu­si­cal notes to be cre­ated dig­i­tally and ma­nip­u­lated on de­mand. This de­lib­er­ate process takes away the or­ganic glitches formed while record­ing a song but al­lows ma­nip­u­la­tion on the place­ment of phono­graphic flaws. Neon In­dian’s 8-bit ‘Slum­lord’, Sohn’s loopy ‘Tem­pest’, the Richard X-pro­duced ‘Some Girls’ and, of course, the god­fa­ther of chill­wave, Ariel Pink.

The bar for a per­fect song with sonic clar­ity com­plies to in­dus­try stan­dards, but hav­ing some im­per­fec­tions may yield an un­ex­pected au­dio mas­ter­piece.

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