Monday, February 25, 2013

An Eloquent Argument by Timon Wapenaar

Thank you Timon Wapenaar, for describing the state of the American-led, technologically-aided, "market-driven" current musical economy so eloquently:
The whole “pop music” vs. “art music” debate is starting to smell fishy to me. It’s a product of a time when “art music” and “high culture” were approaching the top of a very high ivory tower, while an explosion of new technologies gave extended scope and reach to the world of popular music. George Crumb couldn’t compete with Jimi Hendrix. Theorists started agonising about the state of affairs, and the idea emerged that as composers withdrew into the rarefied air of the harmonic world post Schoenberg and Ives (and particularly post WWII), the public would become more alienated, concert attendance would drop off and eventually classical music would atrophy, and then petrify. Thus was born the idea that somehow, if the public was to be recaptured, it would be necessary to bridge the two seemingly opposed worlds of “Pop” and “Classical”. The success of works which attempted this union were to be judged on how adeptly they’d married the two worlds.

Here’s the problem I see with the situation: it’s rather like looking at the drop in sales of novels and attempting to address that by consciously creating works of literature which borrow from the world of the comic book. Which is, of course, happening, and has produced some great books. However, when one looks at literacy figures from the US, where people read a book a YEAR on average, and functional illiteracy is exploding, it begins to look like we’re fiddling while Rome etc. etc. Style is not the issue. The method is not the issue. The form is not the issue. What is at issue is the way in which music is heard, and the ability of the public to listen, which, as recorded music becomes more pervasive, becomes more diffuse. If you walk into a room with a ticking clock, eventually your brain will screen out the sound of it. Your ears receive the signals but your brain doesn’t process them. The more pervasive music becomes, the more it begins to resemble the ticking clock. Eventually, listening becomes less of a habit and more of an effort.

Who was it that said (roughly), “It is the function of the musician to educate the critic, of the critic to educate the public.”? The musician forms the public taste in music, not the other way round.

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