Saturday, February 04, 2006

Music, Noise, Acoustics, Electronics, and the Future III

One thing I noticed that I have given short shrift to in this series is music. I have the threads of the various noise-art movements sussed out, but not the music. No way I can be exhaustive with this broad a topic, so I'm just going to mention some things that I think are important, and that are important to me.


Obviously, not every composer went the way of the atonalist noise-art pioneers. Notable among the traditionalists - at least in this regard - were Aaron Copland (Arguably the greatest American composer of the twentieth century), Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin. This is by no means a complete list - in fact, it's just the composers who are Americans or became Americans (Hey, I'm an American) - but if you think about this list for a minute, you will notice something significant: All of these composers used elements of folk music or jazz in at least some of their works (And, what is it about Russian Jews? All of those men are of Russian Jewish extraction).

There are only two kinds of indigenous American music if you boil it down: Scots-Irish folk music and the African-American blues. The blues basically evolved along different paths - not always completely separate - into the various jazz and rock idioms. When the blues cross-pollenated with Scotts-Irish folk music, C&W was born. Over time, the blues/jazz tradition became very rich and highly varied, and it borrowed elements from almost everywhere.

Gershwin was doubtless the most fascile at blending traditional elements with jazz, and had he lived longer, I believe he would have stood head-and-shoulders above any American composer who has yet appeared for this very reason. Interestingly, Gershwin used some noise-art effects in some of his pieces (As did Beethoven in at least one famous instance over a century earlier). Stravinsky went through a sort of noise-art stage, but he never let the serial technique totally rule over him or his music: There was always something particularly Stravinsky-like in everything he wrote (Obviously, I think this is a desireable attribute). Bernstein was a towering giant of an intellect (and ego), and there is a fabulous video interview of him explaining why music will always be governed by the overtone series that I never tire of seeing: I obviously agree to the point where I no longer even entertain any other possibility.

If we fast forward to the last couple of decades of the twentieth century, it was really the upper echelon popular music personalities who were doing the most musically significant experiments (Or, at least the ones I found most interesting). People like Sting and Paul Simon brought into popular music elements of world music and jazz to the point where categorizations became meaningless; indeed impossible. Obviously, with the constant presence of synthesizers and samplers, much - if not all - of this new pan-world music was liberally seasoned with sprinklings of noise-art.


With all of these miriad possibilities available to the creative sound-artist, in both music and noise, and both acoustic and electronic idioms, you might expect that effective amalgams would have appeared which would have coalesced into compelling stylistic expressiveness. This has not, as of yet, really been the case. Sure, there are a few composers like Penderecki who have evolved into a stylistically nice place, but he is very much a traditionalist from my point of view inso far as he has remained within an acoustic realm that is essentially the same as it was a century ago.

What has yet to appear is a stylistic amalgam that has traditional music and it's tangental noise-art combined with elements of pan-world music and electronics. Part of this is the result of the nascent nature of some of the technology required to make this happen in an organic and artistic way, but there is enough technology available now that there must be another finger in the dyke. There is, and it's factionalism.

Much of the current situation in the sound-related arts has nothing whatsoever to do with the imaginary construct of "high art" versus "low art" and everything to do with ignorance and laziness that results in shallow and meaningless dilettantism posing as something it isn't: Art.

In order to make a significant statement in the sound-arts today, a lot of sweat-equity must be invested. Most students are not only unwilling to do this, but most teachers don't enable them or even encourage them to do so (Primarily because the teachers are ignoramouses as well: The blind leading the blind).


Without continuing on this rant-line (I'd love to, but you get the idea), I will simply say that the solution is obvious: Autodidacticism. At no other time in human history has so much information been available to so many and for so little cost: There is nothing standing between the student and knowledge except for conventionalism and it's attendant propaganda, and there is no excuse for failure asside from laziness and... lack of talent.

I would like to see, withing my lifetime, the appearance of a new amalgam of all of the sonic arts. I guess if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Crud.

It's fine just as it is.


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