June 24, 2006


Last night, as I was lying awake in my waterbed, I had an extensive series of mock conversations with Terry Gross, a recurring fantasy – I assume a recurring fantasy with much of liberal-artistic America, although I cannot prove it. Despite my attempts to keep this weblog “diary-free”, I have not posted in a while, & have not been inspired to write literary or cinematic reviews; or, as the painting instructor in The Muppets said, “Inspired! but by what?”

The first subject I was discussing with Terry was the wane of fine art. Is popular culture really art’s bane? An editorial in the New York Times was pointing out, that, of course, classical music, repeated heralded as deceased, has more houses & societies than ever, its popularity spans the globe, there are more composers, more money for orchestras & composers, & on & on. One could point out that Bach, an obvious example - who was a semi-obscure Kappelmeister, who wrote out-of-date music in his own style decades into the Rococo, & who was all-but-entirely forgotten for almost seventy-five years after his death – his audience now, including people who are only vaguely aware of his name & can perhaps hum a few of his most ubiquitous tunes, is probably larger than the amount of people alive on Earth in the early eighteenth century.

As for over-saturation of crappy music or overplayed music overwhelming new developments in the Contemporary Classical idiom, I am not so sure this phenomenon is new today. One can blame it on the amount of very dissonant or inaccessible music written in the twentieth century, but those artists loved what they were doing, so can hardly be blamed, & there was enough beautifully tonal & accessible stuff to give balance & attract an audience. True, the world has probably never seen an opera like Carmen so overdone as to exclude interest in the thousands of qualified recent American stage pieces. What bothers me more is the amount of college-educated intellectuals, fluent in literature & art, who have never heard of Copland or David Lang. It’s one thing to denounce John Cage or discuss him into the ground, but to never have let his name enter certain discussions shows a dangerous disregard for the growth of our culture. But obviously it’s not their fault if I was told about different things during my education than they were. The people I’ve been meeting in the mountains have at least a disconnected respect for Gehry, de Kooning, David Lynch; but music affects people differently. Difficult music is much more offensive, much more boring. Obviously, the population of young liberals who would be listening to Steve Reich are craving complicated music; & a lot of artists within “popular” idioms are writing music as deep in quality, & attracting these listeners, not necessarily away from so-called “fine art”, but blurring every boundary. This has all been said before, of course. Philip Glass (being interviewed by Peter Greenaway in the early ’80s) thanked the increased depth of recorded music’s sound for preparing a larger amount of listeners for complicated art music - he mentions the Beatles specifically - & therefore for widening his own marginal popularity. This was not new in the twentieth century, because the distinction between popular forms & classical forms was only as strict as it actually wasn’t in the twentieth century. But let’s face it, all manner of recorded popular musics have thick sounds. If Bob Dylan’s lyrics can serve as a “gateway drug” to appreciating dead white poets, then late Radiohead or Aphex Twin or Bjørk are serving the same purpose without accomplishing it – I mean, they are themselves satisfying the human need to listen to interesting things. Hip-hop, for instance, thru a swift two-decade evolution, quickly re-invented what poetry used to be, an oral manipulation & evolution of language. But it did not bring large inner-city populations (or their larger suburban audiences) to run & buy editions of Virgil. It created its own culture & itself satisfied mankind’s mystic desire to rhyme & think in metaphor; its DJs satisfying our desire to listen to layered music. Meanwhile, Steve Reich, an American hero in fine art, is not properly glorified, his face does not appear on any currency, yet his record sales indicate that he is being appreciated by more ears than he would have had he been a composer of light opera in the nineteenth century.


MR said...

"The conviction grew inside me that the two things that semed always to have been so separate in America - music and the life about me - must be made to touch." - Aaron Coplan, writing for a series of lectures he gave between 1951-1952. Isn't he wildly . . . . . . . elegant?

Anonymous said...

of mean copland, of course

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