Two terms get tossed around a lot, and though they sound similar they mean entirely different things. “Electronic music” is music in which the tools of artistic production are inherently mechanized (laptops, turntablism, field recordings). “Digital music” is music whose delivery to an audience is directly enabled by computers (MP3s, audiostreams, satellite radio). The iPod, and along with it the iTunes Music Store, has made much of the latter but little of the former. Ultimately, for all its digital gloss, Apple’s flagship product, the elegant MP3 player, is a fairly neutral device, as far as genre is concerned. In fact, were you to take one measure of the iTunes catalog, electronic music isn’t even particularly high on the premiere digital music emporium’s to-do list. That measure is iTunes’ weekly free download, its “Single of the Week,” which more often than not presents a sub-par singer-songwriter or positive hip-hop kinda thing, that odd yet numerous category: the Top 40 song that lacks a Top 40 audience. This week is no different, to the extent that the week’s single, Michael Lord’s “Smile,” is almost a parody of well-meaning blandness.
However, this week there’s an unusual entry: a second free download, a seven-minute preview of Moby‘s forthcoming album, Hotel. Now it’s easily arguable that Moby’s music isn’t inherently electronic. Moby would likely be among the first to make that argument. But the fact of the matter is that to the world at large, Moby is a figure who stands for electronic music, which is to say that this record will be seen as a touchstone, if not a milestone, regardless of what it actually sounds like. What makes this little preview neat is that it is, in essence, a “podcast,” one of those newfangled homemade broadcasts that allow anyone to sew together some sounds (a little talk, a little music, a little background noise) and put it out there for a willing, if far-flung, audience. In the case of this preview, we get Moby introducing the cuts with all the presence of a college-radio DJ (which is to say, none at all), and then cycling through some clips of the album, with no concern for rhythm or segues. You’d certainly never know he has spun for a living. There’s some nice stuff, and some generic stuff. You can be catty, and guess which products will soon feature each song in an advertisement. You can be a trainspotter, and wonder whether he’ll ever sound more like the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis than he does here. Or you can just enjoy the tunes for what they are, and this promotion for what it is: a Top 40 fulfillment of the promise of home recording. The track is available as of today, February 22, as part of the iTunes catalog. If you have iTunes installed on your computer, clicking this link will take you to the file. You have to wonder if he put the whole thing together in GarageBand.