Monday, November 07, 2005

Musical Diversity: Inclusion vs. Exclusion

Let me approach my gripes from a different angle Tim, et al.

WARNING: Free-associative, circuitous musings follow.

On the face of it, as a cultural phenomenon, music is stupifyingly diverse. I've given up trying to hear everything in the vast "world music" category, because there's just too much there to get more than a rough overview of all the ways music manifests itself throughout the culturally diverse races of humankind. People are always bringing me things I've never heard before that I find compelling in one way or another. There is, in fact, a lot of non-western music that I like: The Indian classical traditions I find mind-bendingly cool, and I saw Ravi Shankar and his ensemble for the first time back in the 70's (As did countless other western musicians back then). I am a HUGE fan of John McLaughlin's old acoustic Indian/Western fusion group "Shakti" (And The Mahavishnu Orchestra, of course, was a huge influence on me), and both Paul Simon and Sting have put together world music-influenced ensembles that I have enjoyed. Micky Hart of The Dead had a simply awesome African percussion ensemble a few years back who were, incredibly, rehersing right next door to me for a while. They were beyond any superlatives. Australian indiginous music, particularly, I find haunting. The dige... di... That aboriginal pipe dealie-bob makes the hairs at the nape of my neck electrify when I hear a virtuoso playing one: No western music has had that effect on me for ages, but a good shaku... saku... A good player of that Japanese wooden flute thingy also has the same effect on me. Tibetan monk chants where they use vocal harmonics and formants (I compare it to shining a flashlight up and down the overtone series, and you know how much I like the overtone series!) are quite simply sublime: Western singers have never come up with techniques like that (That I am aware of). So, I've been exposed to a lot of diverse stuff over the years. Stuff I like. A lot.

If I look at my personal listening habits, I don't actually listen to a lot of world music that is non-western, but I do listen to a lot of western music outside of the traditional vein. In fact, I listen to more jazz, rock, pop, and fusion music than I do classical, and I'll take a great Flamenco improviser over most classical guitarists any day of the week (I'm sorry, but I've really heard the 100 or so pieces of the guitar's standard repetoire quite enough: Another Chaconne transcription or the Lute Suites in the original keys is simply going to give me the uncontrollable yawns. Now, another Kazuhito Yamashita transcription along the lines of "Firebird", or "Pictures at an Exhibition", that will get my full and complete attention).

I'm influenced by jazz harmonic thinking, just because that's who I am and where I come from (And, most importantly, those are the sounds that express what I want to express), so my little Figuration Preludes - through which I invented my personal harmonic language - are a quite modern take on trad harmony's voice leading combined with a traditional jazz and contemporary jazz sonic palette. Number one starts out quite simple, but by number five or six, I'm writing in a unique sonic style that I like a lot: It's "me." The bigest influences on me harmonically as a writer of guitar music are Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, and John Fahey; not Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. In case you didn't notice, two of the first three guys are still alive.

But, my favorite western music that is non-traditional is da Blues, baby. The blues is the fount from which all American popular music originated: Blues begat, jazz; blues begat soul; blues begat R&B; blues begat rock (I personally love "Rockabilly", like Brian Setzer did it with the Stray Cats some years back, because it's so pure as blues and as rock); and blues, combined with Scots-Irish "mountain music", begat country and western. You can trace all of it back to the blues. The only American musical tradition that is really seperate from the blues is another "mountain music" offspring: Bluegrass, which I also love.

Which brings me to the cultural comparison I wish to make. Not a race-based cultural comparison, but a musical cultural comparison. My personal experience has been that those of us with a blues/rock/jazz/pop background tend to be inclusive when we experience music along those various lines, as well as truely exotic fare. Sure, there are snobs in every genera, but a white guy from suburbia who falls in love with the old-time Delta Blues, and who goes out and learns to play it, and play it at the highest, most authentic level, will be complimented by the majority of us for taking the time to keep a cool tradition alive. Not only that, but we will actually, you know, enjoy his music on a visceral and emotional level as well. Same thing for a red-haired, freckle-faced girl from suburbia: She can grow up to be Bonnie Rait, and most pop, rock, jazz, and blues artists will enjoy what she does, and praise her for it. Like it, even. See where I'm going with this? Most of us from this side of the tracks are inclusively "cool"; a far larger percentage of people from the traditional side of the tracks are decidedly exclusively "uncool" by comparison (Sorta like "progressives" who "talk the talk" of diversity, but "walk the walk" of demonizing all who disagree with them). Sorry, but I prefer cool people. Just a "thing" I have.

The same white guy from the 'burbs (Yes, this is me I'm talking about) who falls in love with the modal/tonal contrapuntal tradition, autodidactically teaches himself to write it, and then who naievely and innocently goes to a university to learn more about it is?... "Disappointed", is the word I'll use: I'm trying my best to keep my head from exploding.

What I did - with malace aforethought - was to look at the contempory traditional music scene, analyze it by learning some of it's techniques (Yes, I've written serial compositions, various mathmatically-based non-tonal fractal pieces, and just a ton of electronic music), listen to a lot of it (The horror... the horror), and then I decided for myself: This is bull$#!*. And, of course, I mean for me it is BS: Ives, Cage, Stockhausen, Babbitt, Schoenberg, Webern et al simply say nothing that I find the very least bit interesting: What they do is simply not music by my definition at all (But, all of the aforementioned world and popular music definately is). So, I've virtually rejected twentieth century "traditional" music en toto: There were a few licks I copped from Copland, and stole from Stravinski, but just incidental effects that I found interesting, and there are some interesting pieces, but they are exceptions that prove the rule. In what way is my rejection of post-classic "traditional" music invalid as an artistic statement? As a decision, it's based on logic, and the requisite amount of study and philosophical contemplation went into it; so in what way is it invalid as my personal artistic stance? It's not. In fact, it's perfectly valid. You may not agree with it, and you may not like it, but that's tough: It's still perfectly valid as an artistic statement.

The stodgy, old, dry-as-dust, twentieth-century musical mindset is nothing other than musical elitism, and it's made of the same stuff that falls out of a cow's ass. Kyle Gann was referring to some music or other as "important" the other day: What a concept "important music" is. Must_stop_laughing. So important that "the composer has left the audience behind" (puh-leeze), or so important that it will sell a million CD's?

Laura asks:

"You mean, Pink Floyd-important, Led Zeppelin-important, or Jimi Hendrix-important?"


Blogger Tim Rutherford-Johnson said...

Hucbald - just to clarify, I wasn't dismissing your artistic stance at all. You're absolutely entitled to it, especially as it's been so thoroughly thought out. I'm still not sure why you should be happy to admit that pop can admit cultural timeliness and classical can't - not that classical doesn't (subjectively) to you, but flat out that it can't. This seems a very difficult distinction to make; where do you objectively draw a line where timeliness in music can happen and where it can't?

9:02 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey Hucbald,

When Kyle Gann declares something to be "important" he's operating from the same personal terrain that you utilize when identifying "bull$#!*." Gann frequently laments the fact that so many pieces he finds personally "important" haven't received wider due. It's the flip side from where you lament that so much "bull$#!*" has received more than its due. Pehaps the balance is found in between... or not.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

I HATE when I do that! I was IN NO WAY criticising Kyle with the "important music" sarcasm: He is my single favorite writer on the subject of music, in fact. I KNOW where he's coming from, but I found the entire CONCEPT of music somehow being important (Like breathing, breasts, or beer) to be hysterically funny. I'm sorry, but I just don't think there really is such a thing... on the metaphysical plane, ... dude.

Seriously, you can attribute most understandings here to the fact that I'm a stream-of-consciousness writer - a terrible one, at that - and often get into problems with my non-sequiters being interpreted as... "sequiters"?... Is that actually a word? ;^)

I know "editing" is a non-word. Here.

7:49 AM  

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