Moby: Sound of Mind Page 2

"As for worst there are two albums, 18 [2002] and Hotel [2005]. They're not technically bad, but boy, there's sterility to the way in which they were mixed and edited and processed. I wish they had a little more space."

Although in the recording studio the loudness war has been lost, if only for the moment (though that may be my naïveté talking), what most concerns Moby is the far larger issue of humanity's current path. The multi-talented musician, songwriter, remixer, and deejay became one of the biggest names in dance music in the 1990s, when his albums Play (1999) and 18 became international hits that respectively sold ten and four million copies worldwide. Ever busy, he also founded a music festival; formed a rock band, The Little Death; composed music for films and promoted Degenerates, a series of New York City nightclub events. A supporter of animal rights, he is a vegan who once owned a tea shop, Teany, and a clothes-and-comic-books store, both in New York. He now owns Little Pine, a vegan restaurant in the Silver Lake suburb of Los Angeles.

To describe the mood and purpose of his new album, he's even using the word eschatology, defined as "a belief concerning death, the end of the world or the ultimate destiny of mankind."

"There are several different ways we can look at this weird apocalypse that we as a species keep creating: politically, socioeconomically, hysterically. What really interests me is looking at it almost anthropologically. Like, who are we as a species, and why did we, as individuals and collectively, keep making these terrible, terrible decisions and choices? So this record, thematically, it's not looking at things politically, it's looking at what in our heredity and our history keep compelling us to be so stupid.


"It's the most baffling question. I just wrote an essay about how, a couple hundred years ago or a hundred years ago, we basically defeated all of the things that had been making us miserable for the longest time. We defeated famine, war, bad teeth, bears eating us. All the things our ancestors had problems with, we defeated. And then, when confronted with this victory, we just went out and created our own horrors that were so much worse than the adversity we'd just defeated."

The kind of horrors Col. Kurtz (via Marlon Brando and Joseph Conrad) whispered about in Apocalypse Now?

"Famine, genocide, climate change, deforestation, obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease—these things that have nothing to do with natural world and everything to do with us."

So does the new album's tone reflect the fact that Moby views humanity's current predicament as essentially hopeless?

"I think we're at the place where, if someone is dangerously obese and they go to the doctor, and the doctor says, 'Hey, look, you're dangerously obese—you have heart disease, hypertension, etc.,' the question is, will that person change, and will they change in time? Are we going to change our behavior, and even if we do, will our past kill us?

The music that Moby chose to carry this message can be classified, perhaps not surprisingly, as down-tempo trip-hop. It's the kind of music that made him famous, that filled albums like Play and made his music a mainstay of dance clubs all over the world. Usually bass-heavy, and moody if not doleful, trip-hop incorporates slowed-down hip-hop samples and is most often sung by women. The predominant instruments are keyboards, though horns often appear. Moby wrote, performed, recorded, and produced all of Everything Was Beautiful in his home studio, playing all the instruments—most of them computer-generated—by himself.

For Moby fans, Everything Was Beautiful is a welcome return to form. As major influences on this album he rightly credits Smith & Mighty, Sly & Robbie, and Wally Badarou. While it could be played in dance clubs, it's actually more of a chill listening record, though it's hard to judge as I only heard an MP3 stream. The vocals are sung by five women: Apollo Jane, Mindy Jones, Julie Mintz, and Raquel Rodriguez. In "This Wild Darkness," Jones and Jane are joined by Brie O'Bannon.

As he's aged, Moby has begun to fleck his music with references to great literature. These Systems Are Failing (2016) was made with a group he called The Void Pacific Choir, a name derived from a D.H. Lawrence quote. In Everything Was Beautiful he quotes the poetry of William Butler Yeats, specifically "The Second Coming." Two songs are titled with phrases from that poem: "Mere Anarchy" and "The Ceremony of Innocence." The poem's famously apocalyptic tone—"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold"—hovers over the entire album.

In perhaps his best-known record, Play, Moby used samples of blues and roots music. Here he returns to a classic American Negro spiritual, "Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child," aka "Motherless Child," and transforms it into a Mobyized electronica exploration. "The original is probably 200 years old," he said. "It's one of those pieces of music that's from a gospel tradition, it's from a field-holler tradition, it's from a bluegrass folk tradition. I don't think it would be possible to count the number of people who have covered or sung 'Motherless Child.'


"I was out to dinner one night with Lou Reed and Bill T. Jones and a few other people, and Bill stood up and sang 'Motherless Child' and did this spontaneous choreography. It really struck me, because these older pieces of music can be really sad, and I guess a lot of musicians are uncomfortable making them sadder, so they try to lighten them up and they become kind of jaunty. The way Bill sang it, it was really dark and morose, and so when I had my friend Raquel Rodriguez sing it for the record, I wanted it to be that. I wanted it to be austere and dark, without even a hint of levity to it."

With his wealths of fame and talent, Moby could take his career in almost any direction and be a success. He's clearly conscious of good sound, but his primary fame comes from working in a genre known for compromised sound—so where is he headed these days?

"So you're asking: As a musician making albums at a time when very few people pay attention to albums, why in the world do I keep making them? Being 52 years old and hating touring has forced me to have more purity around the process of making music. I don't expect anything from it except to love the act of making it—and, hopefully, someone somewhere will be willing to listen to it.

"And there's no commercial pressure. There's no need or desire to compromise. Why would I compromise? So I could get a few more downloads? I'd rather just go hiking. On my deathbed, I don't want to look back at compromise. I want to look back at aspiring to do things that, at the very least, tried to be beautiful and aspired to integrity."

Despite Moby's ominous outlook on the future of well-recorded music—not to mention the prospects of humanity itself—his worldview and music still contain sparks of optimism and passion that make his artistry vivid and meaningful.

"The strangest thing about music is that, technically, music has never once existed. There's no such thing as corporeal, physical music. It's just air molecules moving around. But if it's a jackhammer pushing air molecules around, it's annoying. If it's a cello pushing those same air molecules around, it can beautiful. Making it, listening to it—even talking about it—is in service to that weird magic."


dalethorn's picture

This article rings loud and true today, given our push for more excesses disguised as personal and collective freedoms. Musically speaking, I think of the Disco days, when the music was beginning to mature and creative souls discovered their own place in the genre. Then it came to an astonishingly quick end - dance venues closed everywhere, radio play switched to other genres - just gone. And it wasn't until 20 or so years later that I stumbled across an explanation that I felt was very revealing: Liner notes to a Rhino Records Disco compilation stated "It was basically shut down because the entertainment industry felt that Disco was being taken over disproportionately by Gays, Blacks, and Women" (quote approximate).

While that might sound different than the Loudness issues, it isn't so different. "They" - the gods of the music industry - just don't like good sound. They don't like it because they don't like the people who make it, they don't like audiophiles, and they don't like criticism that gets in the way of their business.

I ran into this sort of thing when I first explored working in an audio store. They (many They's actually) told me that they didn't want audiophiles as salespeople, because audiophiles would chat too much with the customers rather than closing sales.

crenca's picture

...and this whole time I thought it was a Marxist (left wing) plot. Oh well, it had to be one or the other ;)

dalethorn's picture

I don't have any idea what the hell you're talking about. Money talks, unless you know of some special brand of currency that overrules ordinary money.

Indydan's picture

Dale. I thought posts about politics and social issues (sexual orientation, race, etc.) were not allowed on Stereophile.

dalethorn's picture

Indydan (your fake name) - you're .... mistaken!

crenca's picture

Interesting as I have not read a modern Electronica/IDM/fill_in_the_blank speak to this, but he does not say anything that we have not already heard before about the pressures, the fact that most artists are not really interested in good sound, etc.

tonykaz's picture

all those Cars on the expressways are "everyday" people's "High-End" listening rooms, they're noisy, probably 70db ambient with the windows up, much louder with the windows down. Lady GaGa's Telephone Song has got to be LOUD, for gods sake, why wasn't there an Audiophile version released ?, that's the question, isn't it?

I can get a Reference Recording/Doug MacLeod that's pretty much loaded with Dynamic Bursts.

I purchase/collect my music for Sonic Qualities , if something sounds not-so-good it doesn't get played. ( like Fusion Jazz )

Sometimes, music is so dam well performed that it's magnetically addictive even though I wouldn't normally want to listen to that sort of thing : ( Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal Chamber Music )

In summary, it's the noisy Cars needing noisy music. I can't blame the music producers trying to satisfy a need, can I or we ?

My Company makes Cars, Mea-Copa.

On the other hand, we Audiophiles collect beautiful music, it's rare and we cherish it, we search it out, we pay generous amounts for it, we spend our money on gear able to play it beautifully.

We are Audiophiles & Stereophiles

We love our beautiful music

Tony in Michigan

fetuso's picture

Radio stations have their own DR compressors and don't need any studio help for loudness.

dce22's picture

This nonsense that you need your record to be loud so it stand out on the radio is just that nonsense, the more dynamic record gonna sounds louder when it goes thru the broadcasting processor.

These procesors are sophisticated loudness making machines, the new ones even have unmastering process then to remaster it again according to the radio program director taste.

Examples are from 20 years old optimod on medium-rock setting

This is a example of dynamic 80 rock the same processor little more juice


crenca's picture

"Lady GaGa's Telephone Song has got to be LOUD, for gods sake, why wasn't there an Audiophile version released ?, that's the question, isn't it?"

I assume the reason is because studios are either unaware of the demand for a differently mastered "audiophile" release, or don't think there is enough demand to $justify$ it.

Yet, they are willing to at least batch process several thousand albums for Tidal to give us MQA. Nobody believes that these batched processed albums took anywhere near the time and money an actual second "audiophile" release of an album would, but still they are at least aware of the audiophile (i.e. the demand).

So why not a second audiophile mastering/release? Why the willingness to go through the motion with a trivial SQ tweak like MQA instead of giving us something we can all actually use and would pay good money for like a decently mastered 16/44? What is MQA giving them that an Audiophile release does not? DRM & IP protected format safety? Yes, but is that all there is to it? Did they really buy into the sales job of Bob S and company about a reformation, a literal revolution of the entire recording/mastering/delivery/consumer chain? Possibly as publications such as this one did (though they are now pulling back) but one would think the labels are little more experienced and wiser.

In the end, I wonder how much real Audiophile interest there is in Lady Gaga and Moby. As is typical, I am mostly interested in classical and jazz, though I have made some purchases of the better sounding Electronica. Those who listen and purchase this music are overwhelmingly in the car, or on the dance floor. I suspect the answer to your very good question is that the demand is simply not there.

NeilS's picture

I don't know anything about the economics of multiple audiophile mastering/releases of new material, or whether or not more dynamic masters of albums originally released during the Loudness Wars exist (I hope so but kind of suspect not, perhaps for similar reasons that films aren't generally shot in more than one version).

But it does seem much more likely to me that in their vaults the labels still have the old masters (pun intended) - music released on CD during the 1980s and early 1990s that typically had a much wider dynamic range. Much of this music has been subsequently remastered and reissued during the Loudness Wars. To me the remasters generally sound like travesties of the originals, like remastering the frescos in the Sistine Chapel with Day-Glo so they can be seen easier in dim light.

Could it be that sooner or later the labels will again find a way to try to monetize their back catalog, perhaps this time as an MQA-free Original Masters streaming option targeted to the micromarket of audiophiles and which could command a premium price?

Perhaps not too long from now in practical terms it could well be the only way for such people who aren't lucky enough to have the old CDs to hear how music sounded before the Loudness Wars - classic albums like Brothers In Arms, Thriller, Jimi Hendrix Plays Monterey, Workingman's Dead, Back In Black, Bitches Brew, Exile on Main Street, It's Too Late To Stop Now, Stop Making Sense, Traveling Wilburys, Vol.1 etc.

Ladyfingers's picture

Not on your latest album, Moby, you hypocrite. DR6 is utterly brickwalled.

Joe8423's picture

Why not master it a few different ways? I would think it could have the potential to boost physical media sales if when you bought an album you got a few different sounding versions of it. Have a default version that is intended to maximize sales but add in a flat/minimally processed version for people who prefer that. There is so much space on a blu ray, there's no reason to be limited to an hour or two of content.

georgehifi's picture

No it's not, my 22year old son, can hear the difference, and now is a anti compression advocate.

All you have to keep saying is,
"No natural sounds in life are compressed, so why do it to our music"???

Cheers George