?

Log in

No account? Create an account
click opera
February 2010
 
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
 
 
 
 
 
 
Page 1 of 2
[1] [2]
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 03:53 pm
From Stockhausen to stock repertoire

In 1995 BBC Radio 3 sent Karlheinz Stockhausen -- who died the other day -- a package containing recordings by Aphex Twin, Plastikman, Scanner and Daniel Pemberton. Dick Witts (formerly vocalist in The Passage, an excellent experimental pop group in the early 80s) then interviewed Stockhausen and asked what advice he had for the young composers. Stockhausen said they should give up repetition, likening the constant iteration to the sound of "someone who is stuttering all the time". The youngest of the artists, Daniel Pemberton, responded that Stockhausen's music wasn't bad considering the time it was made (the 1960s) but wished that the German "would use more basic repetition".

Mark E. Smith once sang about how his band The Fall had "repetition in the music and we're never gonna lose it", even inserting a joke about "the three Rs: repetition, repetition, repetition". But I wonder if Stockhausen wasn't right; I wonder if repetition hasn't been the death of pop music. Not just repetition on the simple formal level of the loop, the beat and the groove, but the bigger question of repetition of gestures and sounds from pop's own past. I wonder if it isn't precisely repetition -- and technology's ability to help us repeat ever-more-accurately, in ever-higher definition -- which has made pop music, in fact, "lose it".

Today pop music has become a slow-moving interpretive art, a classical art involving more renovation than innovation, more repertoire than research. In fact, I used to think that the R in A&R stood for "research" (Artists and Research). I soon discovered it stands for "repertoire". It's an interesting word, a word that entered English from French in 1847. It means a stock list (a canon) of dramas, operas or musical works a company can perform. A repertory theatre company (called a "stock" company in the US) is one, usually based in a small town, with a list of plays they're ready to perform, a stock list.

A music industry that poured as much money into artistic research as into, say, the quest for perfect sound might have brought pop music to a place beyond repetition -- a place as splendidly future-oriented as the ones Stockhausen discovered. Instead, pop music is caught up in the epigonal anxieties I've described here before; a fear of repetition leading to the fulfillment of that fear in the form of ever-diminishing circles yielding ever-smaller artistic returns. Think of pop radio, with its ring-fenced playlists of evergreen retro classics. Pop now has an iconic, canonical tradition more hidebound and static than 19th century classical music ever was.

Somewhat unexpectedly, technology has restricted pop's artistic development rather than facilitating change: new media like CD, mp3 and You Tube accelerated a "total recall" state in which nothing could ever get lost. A sort of "archive fever" was the result -- endless recycling of past glories, endless Top 10 lists, endless academic dissections of decades'-old minutiae, and yet more of the anxiety that we'd never be able to outstrip the magnificent achievements of the canonical past. Increasingly, our artform has become a retrospective one, an interpretive one like classical music. The emphasis has switched from big paradigm shifts (the last were perhaps punk and hip hop) to small nuances of interpretation, embroideries on blueprints handed down through an electronic version of the academy, stocked with a heritage of digitally-archived tradition. Put this together with the logic of a cultural era (postmodernism) which made endless recycling and retro-conservatism intellectually respectable, and the effect has been stultifying indeed.

It isn't just that we've swung away from research and towards repertoire, or that we all stutter now with repetition. It's also that we've forgotten how to forget, and forgetting is tremendously important. This is a point that came up in an interesting talk given by film director Mike Figgis as part of BBC Radio 3's recent Freethinking Festival. In a 44-minute lecture entitled Too Much Culture, Figgis advanced the idea that our inability to let things go -- he used the image of a lake, able to collect new water from streams, but with a dam blocking its output to the sea -- is doing us harm. Here's what he had to say about popular music:

"The 1950s was the birth of rock'n'roll. And let's say we can argue that the king of rock'n'roll is Elvis Presley. One of the most famous actors of that period is Marilyn Monroe, but there's also James Dean, there's Marlon Brando, and any number of other figures that we would now call icons. And they were recorded in the 1950s. And I wonder why, fifty years on, 2007, when you go to an event, say popular music, we're still seeing Elvis Presley. We're still seeing someone accompanied by two guitars and a bass and drums, and a chord structure which is pretty much three chords and twelve bars. There's nothing wrong with rock'n'roll in its limited way. But fifty years on they're still wearing the same clothes. They're still singing the same songs. And they're still trying to look like Elvis. Think about it -- it's jeans, it's leather jackets, nothing's changed. Now let's take 1957, say, and go back fifty years. That would be 1907, right? Can you imagine in 1957 the youth wanting to look and sound like someone from 1907? It's unthinkable. Because that seems like the dark ages. That's prehistoric, baby. So why? Why suddenly are we stuck in 1957? And I think the reason why is that we've become the prisoner of this reproductive image of ourselves, and we can't let it go."



Thanks to our conservative tastes and our advanced technology, we can't forget, can't purge, can't let stuff flow and go, can't rip it all up and start again, an act of destruction which is crucial to all acts of new creation. I don't entirely agree with Figgis -- I think "ubiquity is the abyss", in other words, total recall is a form of forgetting, and I think that formats today are much more frail than we think (look at CD-ROMs and websites, here today, gone tomorrow) -- and I think he underestimates the fact that 1957 to now is all part of the postmodern period, and that's why it all feels so similar, but that we're about to leave it and make something new.

But I think it's true that we're now in an age where popular music, once a low and scurrilous and delightfully ephemeral, expressive and effusive medium, has become a new sort of academicism. "But Nick, it's not as if you're going into museums and seeing Cramps shows exhibited there, is it?" Well, actually, yes, it is. On Saturday I went to see an interesting show at Kunst-Werke, a show of re-enactments and restagings called History Will Repeat Itself. In one room they had Jeremy Deller's re-enactment of The Battle of Orgreave (the confrontation between Margaret Thatcher and the National Union of Mineworkers) -- directed, incidentally, by Mike Figgis. Right next door was File Under Sacred Music by my friends Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. It's a recreation of a legendary Cramps gig at the Napa State Mental Institute. And here it is on video in a museum, recreated (interpreted) by actors, presented as high art.

It's even happened to me -- recently I told you how surprised I was to discover that a casual concert I played at an art opening in Vienna was to enter the exhibition at the Secession. A looped video archived and monumentalised the performance mere hours after it happened. That's fast! But in another sense, it's respect, repetition, repertoire and repertory. And when that happens to your medium, everything slows down.

39CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC)

This kind of critique has become so de rigueur of late that I find myself a bit suspicious of it. It fits well enough with today's rock music, but does it fit so well with, say, Britney's new album? I'm not so sure.

Also, you yourself seem to be stuck in a golden bygone age. Only yours happens to be modernism, which finds its transcendental values in experimentalism, newness, convention-breaking - those things that postmodernism banished or bundled into pastiche. The trouble is that postmodernism happened precisely because modernism dissolved into contradiction. Once you throw out convention then that also means there is no convention to break,and things dissipate into randomness, chaos. And when you have conventions that are so tight - like in modern R&B for instance - then the slightest shift can have meaning.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)

But if I'm saying "repetition is over-rated" there's always some Modernisthead ready to quote John Cage's take on Erik Satie: that if something's boring after 20 minutes, play it for 40 minutes, and so on, until it stops being boring. And I just think "repetition (including of that gem) is over-rated!"


ReplyThread Parent Expand

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC)

"yet more of the anxiety that we'd never be able to outstrip the magnificent achievements of the canonical past."

Oh, I guess I missed that.


ReplyThread
desant012
||||||||||
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)

I think one issue that goes largely ignored is that there's so much decent-good stuff that's produced so quickly and is so easily gotten a hold of, that music has become like chewing gum... the flavor lasts only a few minutes, and you throw it away without a single thought.

Say, back in the 80s you'd have to wait for the next Flexipop or whatever to hear the latest z-grade electronic pop group. Now you can download a 1,000 a day off torrents , slx, myspace, your friends sending you links, etc. Music has lost its Sacred Experience now that the control from the top has been lost.


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)

and I don't think a lot of bands ""still look like Elvis" or ever did - I mean, watching old clips of Morrissey or Depeche Mode hamming it up in James Dean wear looks ... weird. It's only in the past 6 or so years that people 1) started listening to rock music again and 2) started wearing jeans again.

Remember when nobody listened to rock or wore denim? The world was entirely electronic music and hip-hop, and I still think that's mostly true, and maybe there are still a few new good ideas out there. Rock is retro-necro or whatever you call it because ... most people gave up on rock except the dreary NPR indie crowd (who are by nature conservative), and all the best stuff -is- in the past. The new ideas went into electronic, "experimental", and hip-hop. When's the last time you heard somebody sample Funky Drummer?


ReplyThread Parent Expand





(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 03:52 pm (UTC)

Now let's take 1957, say, and go back fifty years. That would be 1907, right? Can you imagine in 1957 the youth wanting to look and sound like someone from 1907?

Has Mike Figgis never heard of Teddy Boys?


ReplyThread

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

ankh156
ankh156
ankh
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 03:59 pm (UTC)
Hop on over to my journal

I got a link to his (brilliant) 1956 piece "Gesang der Juenglinge".

I've been a fan of his since about 1967.

Did you hear Eno defending him gainst the scorn of Jim Naughtie on saturday morning ?


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Hop on over to my journal

I didn't hear Eno defending him, but I'm listening right now -- click here and wind forward to 19mins 50secs.


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

robotmummies
robotmummies
ad reinhardt
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)

I think pop music is still serving the same purpose it has since car radios were invented, as some content to put in between commercials and a part of some ritual. There is no purpose for it to do anything beyond occasionally refreshing itself between the "good old" and the "new," neither of which are so. Unless some musician really wants to make an artistic contribution, which is probably a frustrating undertaking and not very realistic an expectation. I've noticed since about the time the American Idol shows started, they are slowly releasing more and more singles that are just covers of random old hit songs that do little to differentiate themselves from the originals.


ReplyThread
skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)

Oh, there's use in pop music. Let's see: sometimes it's fun to listen to and to dance to. If that's the ritual you're talkin' about, I'm all about it. And makeout to. In cars.

If music is too interesting, it's hard to work to. It's hard (for me) to always work without music. Like any type of art, it's nice for (at least) me to give it my full attention. And when I want to, I do. If I can't, I find I can't enjoy it - or I miss something.

Somewhat unoriginal music I guess has an ecological niche. The same with dancing: I do enjoy some crazy insane stuff, but Blur's, "Boys and Girls" sure still seems to fill up the dance floor and dancing to it makes me happy. Most of the music my much more musically fluent DJ friend spins I'd still call, "disco", even if it's prefixed with, "Italo" - it's still disco.

Even pop stuff on TV has an ecological niche - I don't have to think about what I'm watching when I do (on a lark) watch the, "Sing the Next Five Lines and You Win a BILLION DOLLARS" show, but after I've been critically thinking for 8 hours, it's nice to sit down and talk a break for 15 and just let things in the brain settle down.

Passively, I do seem to enjoy pop culture. I do understand some (most?) people live their lives passively most of the time. I couldn't really get behind that.


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 06:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Stockhausen RIP BBC Radio


I had a strange and somewhat uncanny experience related to Stockhausen's death. On Dec. 2, I selected a book of his writings ("Stockhausen on Music" published by Marion Boyars), which I had been neglecting since purchasing it a few years ago, for the train ride on an outing. The following day (Dec. 3) I took the book out of my bag and placed it on my living room table, where it sat for the rest of the week, and still sits.


ReplyThread Parent


(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)

Hi Nick,

I was wondering if you have read Alex Ross' "The Rest is Noise:Listening to the 20th Century" yet. It is an interesting account of the 20th century's so called classical music. I really enjoyed the book, but I found the ending to be a bit too hopeful for pop music and new composers. There are very few out there moving forward instead of looking backward.

Jared


ReplyThread

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
klasensjo
klasensjo
klasensjo
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)

Initially a bit disappointed when I saw the lineup of the new series...Kevin Shields for crissakes, who needs a MBV reunion? Then, as usual, I got into it.

"mark e smith: i used to say that about sonic youth. whassis face? scott thurston and that girl at hole. she should be...

ian svenonius: ...put in prison.

mark e smith: no wonder why he shot himself."


He's an excellent host, Ian. My favorite is still the Gen P-Orridge interview from the first series.



ReplyThread Parent
unwoman
unwoman
unwoman
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 06:19 pm (UTC)

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.


ReplyThread

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Pop music is the apotheosis of the baby boom generation

I didn't actually give my view of Stockhausen in the piece, but I will here: I think he was one of the greats. I bought a record of "Kontakte" when I was 18 and was just taken away somewhere amazing, on a gigantic magic carpet of electronic sound. I love "Hymnen" too, the treatment of national anthems was probably an influence on my Analog Baroque style. And, when a friend committed suicide in 2002, the first thing I did was listen to a live performance of "Stimmung" and it was probably the only thing with sufficient gravitas to take me far away from the earth, closer to her. He was very, very great and will be remembered a long time.

I have to disagree with this statement:

Pop music is West African tribal music with a more or less thin veneer of western classical formalism, using Western amplification technology.

There's very little actual repetition in West African tribal music, as anyone who's tried to sample and loop it knows. It's constantly changing, very complex, and the polyrhythms just don't repeat the way rock and pop rhythms do. I'd say they're closer to Stockhausen's patterns than pop's patterns, actually; much more organic, natural and complex.


ReplyThread Parent
davesmusictank
davesmusictank
DJ Jazzy D
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 07:27 pm (UTC)

I believe that article by Stockhausen on the "young pretenders" was also in the WIRE Magazine but i have been unable to locate my old copy of it.

I saw the Napa Cramps video at a film event last year in Brighton so to see it as an istallation would be fascinating.


ReplyThread

eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 11:14 pm (UTC)

"Think of pop radio, with its ring-fenced playlists of evergreen retro classics. Pop now has an iconic, canonical tradition more hidebound and static than 19th century classical music ever was."

The parallels between pop and classical you make are true. They are bastions of conservatism. In pop's case,I put it down in part to economics - it is cheaper to use formularised, tried and tested cliches, cover versions etc, than to take a RISK on someone offering a new vision. Risk is incompatible with the accountancy mindset which controls such large sections of the arts. Taking a chance on exposing the new to an audience which may like it if it only had the chance to hear it requires investment and promoting and helping their career to develop, but would yield more diversity in the artform and attack the slide into sameyness.

It is surely no co-incidence that the increasing mergers of record companies since the late 1970s and their ownership being concentrated in fewer hands (and hands of multinationals like Sony at that) coincide with the ever increasing repetition in pop and the proliferation of manufactured bands, 'stars in their eyes' and 'pop idol' tv programmes - all based on repertoire and repetiton.

Whereas back in the earlier days of the industry before multinational corporations took it upon themselves to dictate the pop tastes of the PLANET, there was more risk taking, now it seems like those programmes have a mission: to drill into any young people entering pop these sickening industrial norms - basically 'sing this song, sound like this or you're not a star'. maybe there was always this tendency to a greater or leser extent but never so marked as today. It is the new 'classical music'. it is an anachronism.

Zappa said as much in one interview in the 80s:

"There are certain things composers of [the classical] period were not allowed to do because they were considered to be outside the boundaries of the industrial regulations which determined whether the piece was a symphony, a sonata, or a whatever.
All of the norms, as practiced during the olden days, came into being because the guys who paid the bills wanted the 'tunes' they were buying to 'sound a certain way.'
The king said: "I'll chop off your head unless it sounds like this." The pope said: "I'll rip out your fingernails unless it sounds like this." The duke or somebody else might have said it another way — and it's the same today: "Your song won't get played on the radio unless it sounds like this." People who think that classical music is somehow more elevated than 'radio music' should take a look at the forms involved — and at who's paying the bills. Once upon a time, it was the king or Pope So-and-so. Today we have broadcast license holders, radio programmers, disc jockeys and record company executives—banal reincarnations of the assholes who shaped the music of the past."

I'd add here that the rise of internet, private websites and downloads means people who do things which differ from the 'pop idol ideal' in music (and I think there are a number of us around here) have previously unimaginable exposure and a more direct connecton with a fan base. this is outside the pernicious arena of the multinationals and as such offers a new model for production and distribution of music. This phemnonomenon has coincided with the decline of the music business as we used to know it,(All a good thing as far as I'm concerned. familiarity breeds contempt) which seems to indicate that thre are many folk out there who have had enough of the corporate spoonfeeding and proves that the industry 's economically motivated reptition was giving neither the public nor the artists what they wanted.


ReplyThread
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007 11:17 pm (UTC)

sorry that should read 'phenomenon' at the end there - still , 'phemnonomenon' sounds like an OK name for a prog band ! ;-)


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand