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Siding with Cage against Branca - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sun, Jan. 25th, 2009 04:02 am
Siding with Cage against Branca

70CommentReply

imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 26th, 2009 03:16 am (UTC)

Well, I prefer that to the live version.

I briefly "got" Sonic Youth in March 1996. I wrote a column on my website that month entitled On Flatness which gushes: "Seeing Sonic Youth for the first time (how did I live to the age of 36 without seeing this incredible band?) made me realise what I've missed because of my fear of the fatal intensity of drugs and rock. Against a backdrop of flak like the bombing of Bagdad, the band created screeching, controlled climaxes or wandered tentatively into murky resonances resolved in fabulous violence. The words ('I love you sugar cane') were vague. The sounds, a catharsis worthy of King Lear, said it all. I was blown away. I'm off to buy some heroin now. Not really. I can't escape who I am that easily."

See, even then, even impressed by their Paris live show, I talk about Sonic Youth in the same terms Cage uses when he talks about Branca: intensity and climaxes. And there's the troubling idea that if they're good, then I can't be the me I am. They literally blow "me" away.


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krskrft
krskrft
Mon, Jan. 26th, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)

You speak as though your own music doesn't contain climaxes. One of my favorites, "Sex for the Disabled," features a pretty powerful structure of climaxes, as I recall.


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krskrft
krskrft
Mon, Jan. 26th, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)

Also, I can't really agree with Cage on his point about climaxes because it seems to deny dynamics completely. I would say that a climax is the peak intensity of a musical utterance relative to its moments of low intensity. Hence, a prolonged utterance of high intensity is not a prolonged climax, but actually rather flat and staid and conservative. It's one thing to eschew with the notion of the climax as a necessary thing, occurring in a specific place, at a specific time, in a musical utterance. But it's another entirely to eschew it altogether, since it is what makes dynamics possible in the first place.


ReplyThread Parent
krskrft
krskrft
Mon, Jan. 26th, 2009 04:47 am (UTC)

And yes, I'm well aware that you don't eschew "with" something. My bad.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jan. 26th, 2009 05:15 am (UTC)

I was actually going to question that in my piece -- it's yet another of Cage's paradoxes. How can a sustained climax still be a climax? Answer: the same way non-composition can be composition, etc etc.


ReplyThread Parent
krskrft
krskrft
Mon, Jan. 26th, 2009 08:05 am (UTC)

Well, I think that being able to differentiate between "non-composition" and "composition" is a fair desire, and so for somebody to call that out as a "paradox" and then act like that ends the discussion is disingenuous. On the other hand, noting that a climax is what allows for dynamics, and expressing puzzlement at how somebody could really want to maintain the position that the climax is an inherently bad and oppressive thing (when really it is what makes the widest range of expression in music possible), isn't really an unfair use of the "I'ma call your shit a paradox" argument.

It's obvious that Cage intended to criticize the Wagnerian elements of the Branca piece, but in doing so he committed the all too common critical sin of overstating his case. It's quite alright to question the taste of a climax, or to criticize their traditional use, but to be against the musical climax? It's just silly. I think that if, by climax, he means the premeditated push toward some kind of cathartic moment, then perhaps he has a point, though I would argue that it's a case-by-case thing. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it's gratuitous. Sometimes it's just distasteful. Whatever.


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