the thursday agitation: christopher r. weingarten

I’ve known Christopher Weingarten for a few years now: first as the copiously intense drummer for Parts & Labor, and more recently as my editor at Paper Thin Walls. Lately I’ve been following his 1000 Times Yes project, in which he plans to review 1,000 records by the end of 2009 within the confines of Twitter’s 140-character limit.

It’s something that interests me for any number of reasons. I’m an admirer of writers who can be evocative using few words, whether Robert Christgau or Amy Hempel; and the nature of this project also brings in trends in music criticism, in technology, and in the dissemination of information. And the best of these reviews — such as his recent take on the Deradoorian EP — neatly evoke an album using only a sentence or two.

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When did you first get the idea to do 1000 Times Yes?
Not all that long ago, maybe four months ago. After PaperThinWalls shut down in September, I had taken a break from professional music writing altogether, trying my hand at working a proper 9 to 5 office job. Thing is, I missed writing, I missed the community, I missed helping bands in the increasingly miniscule way that music writing actually helps bands. So I came up with an idea that plays on my strengths: my short attention span and my voracious appetite towards new music.

Are the reviews generally edited down from something longer? Or do you begin with the Twitter window, character tally counting down?
I usually write the reviews in my head–usually while I’m working or on the subway. Then when I have a minute, I open a Twitter window and pray that it all fits.

A thousand records is no small amount; how do you decide what makes the cut?
I’ve been a music editor at a few publications now, so I have a decent idea of what’s considered a “newsworthy” release. I mean I’d love to blow a lot of web-two-point-boring stuff up your ass about “google traffic” or “stickiness” or whatever, but really it comes down to “Does anyone give a shit about this record?” In essence, I’m way more likely to review a new Black Keys record than the 200 bands that are doing the same thing but aren’t as well-known. But that doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for smaller, undiscovered, under-covered bands–it just means I don’t review little bands unless I like them and want to give them some support. No one needs a takedown of a band they don’t know exists.

I’ve noticed that some of the reviews use other bands as reference points; what ends up making you decide to opt for that approach as opposed to a more neutral description?
I mean, which puts a better image in your head, a “political punk band” or “Dead Kennedys.” It’s just shorthand that happens to work better than longhand.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the length of music criticism online and in print. Do you see this project as an extension of where criticism is headed, or as more of an experiment with new(ish) technology?
I mean I’m worried music criticism is going to disappear completely as an art form because every year it serves less of a purpose. Think of people’s relationship with music writing in the last few years. Just six years ago, music critics were a conduit for computer-savvy people and magazine readers to discern what’s good and what’s not. Once music blogs hit critical mass about three years ago, music writers became just megaphones for the internet hive-mind: When Pitchfork or Spin were covering Deerhunter in 2006, they were just saying “We see what tastemakers and bloggers are already saying and now are introducing it to to people who don’t pay as much attention as we do.” Now people are getting so adept at using leak blogs and message boards that there’s no real reason for critics to exist except to reinforce the opinions that people already have. When Animal Collective leaked over Christmas break, no one had to wait for blogs to respond in January, or magazines in March. Everyone already heard it and made their opinion known.

Twitter might be an extension of where music writing is headed because music writing for most people is basically becoming “a sentence or two about a leak I might consider downloading.” And that’s not coming from Christgau or something, it’s coming from someone on atease or Saddle Creek or Blabbermouth or whatever.  Or your nerdy music friend. I basically just want to be everyone’s nerdy music friend.

How has working within the limitations imposed by this project affected your longer-form writing?
Sometimes I say everything I want to say about a record and then forget to pitch it to magazines!

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