Monday, 18 September 2017

Brainwashing the young

At the 'New Musix Box', an American website showing material from some circles of young composers and students, a telling example was published which demonstrates what happens when young people, entirely unaware of music history and the indoctrination that postwar modernism has established in the educational circuit, sincerely try to exercise their intelligence on theorising the untheorisingable. The author of the article is obviously a sweet young woman, but also a victim of misdirected education.

Hannah Schiller is a senior in the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. Her research interests center around the current musical moment; she is particularly drawn to post-genre concepts and music emerging from classically trained musicians that is difficult to categorize.

(How could she know what 'the current moment' is?) 

This article shows both endearing commitment to musical creativity and an astonishing degree of muddled thinking:

Post-genre thinking seeks to move away from objective judgment of music towards a subjective reality, where the emphasis is no longer on whether a certain piece fits/does not fit a pre-conceptualized genre “bin.” Instead, the emphasis is on the individual intent of the composer.

Translated, this reads: "Post-genre thinking liberates the mind from any critical faculty, and restricts perception to the intentional fallacy" - the latter being what the composer wants, without any consideration of the result. It is very attractive: anything you compose, is OK. It further opens the door to incompetence and nonsense.

The concept of 'genre' is merely a tool to be used within a value framework: we listen with different expectations to a piece of pop entertainment than to a Beethoven symphony or an Arab maqam or Chinese opera, all these types of music require different things to write and to perform and to understand as a listener. These things are reception and value frameworks, results of long, carefully honed traditions. Such framework is not something that restricts creativity either on the side of the composer or the listener, but is the normal perception field upon which the input is projected and then, processed. Removing such framework and then trying to find 'a concrete theoretical framework' for material from which frameworks have been removed, is nonsensical and will merely remove any opportunity of quality assessment - however subjective that may be. It destroys the meaning of choice, both on the side of the composer as on the side of the performer and listener. The sound sample of Mazzoli in the article says it all: to material stemming from traditional choral genres, quickly a rhythm box from the pop sphere is added, as if this would enhance the listening experience. But it takes away any goodwill to take the piece seriously: pop = entertainment from which we don't expect serious expression, and such treatment merely works as inverted commas: 'I don't mean it, really'.

Behind such thinking lies the wider context of 20C modernism, where meaning and intention of the production of new music is measured along a line of development which holds articulation points where the music breaks-away from established notions, transgressing boundaries all the time, in the pursuit of freedom from conventions. But at every new stage of a vision of new music, there is some notion of 'what is', which afterwards is considered a 'convention' and which thus has to be transgressed again, and so forth ad infinitum. With creation this has nothing to do because it merely deals with the outward wrapping paper, not with content and meaning. It is the inheritance of romanticism which says that a work of art can only be good if it breaks with a context. But all great works of art in the past were merely very personal interpretations of existing contexts, a result of an attempt to create something of value by the artist, and they never violated the basic frameworks of genre. So it is with music, but the ghost of modernism has now entered education, and - as this article amply shows - liberates young minds from the requirements of understanding of what creativity means.

From the perspective of such muddled, eroding romanticising, the Darmstadt 'work' which tried to transgress conventions in a rather drastic way, is entirely acceptable:

Friday, 15 September 2017


From Roger Scruton's essay: "How I discovered my name":

“[Many English names] are equally historic, but fatally distorted by their heathen roots. One such name is Scruton—Scrofa’s Tun —named from a Viking chieftain whose distinguishing feature was not red hair but dandruff. The sound can be rectified by no efforts of elocution. In whatever tone of voice, Scruton sounds mean and censorious. Scourge, Scrooge, Scrotum, and Scrutiny all tumble like black scarabs from the mouth that utters it. I am convinced that the hostile reception encountered by even my most forgiving works has been due, not to the conservative voice that speaks through them …, but to the scraping steel of this scalpel-like surname. … And I am sure that its subliminal effect is one cause of the enormous surprise that people feel, on meeting me, to discover that I am approximately human.”   

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The boundaries of matter

Is matter all there is in the universe? And, for that matter, what is matter? I found these two quotes by scientists who have thought deeply about the laws and forces which shape our physical reality:

'All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force is the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.' Max Planck

'Anyone who becomes seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that there is a spirit manifest in the laws of the universe, a spirit vastly superior to that of man.' Albert Einstein

Since science has meanwhile revealed ever more unlikely properties of matter, the boundary between 'matter' and - ? something other? something beyond physical reality, another wave length? - has become rather blurred and ambiguous, as in the discovery that different particles (the smallest entities of matter) react to each other, appear to be somehow connected while this is physically, according to the law of causality, impossible:

'It thus appears that one particle of an entangled pair "knows" what measurement has been performed on the other, and with what outcome, even though there is no known means for such information to be communicated between the particles, which at the time of measurement may be separated by arbitrarily large distances.'

There seems to be a relationship between such findings and C.G. Jung's proposal of synchronicity:

'Jung coined the word "synchronicity" to describe "temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events." In his book Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, Jung wrote:
How are we to recognize acausal combinations of events, since it is obviously impossible to examine all chance happenings for their causality? The answer to this is that acausal events may be expected most readily where, on closer reflection, a causal connection appears to be inconceivable.'
Also one thinks of the hypothesis of 'morphic resonance' by Rupert Sheldrake, like Jung's a  controversial and contested idea, but possibly these theories are some intelligent attempts to come to terms with aspects of reality which cannot be convincingly 'explained' by science exclusively informed and defined by material laws.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Emancipatory destruction

Anybody interested in the causes of present-day cultural erosion, should take notice of what happened in academia in the last century, where the generations were formed who would enter society's cultural institutions and produced a climate of superficial, light-hearted contempt for the achievements of the past which were created with such great efforts and faith in the value of civilization. In the departments of 'cultural studies', a vague but intense smell of cynicism and incompetence drew numerous feeble minds towards 'culture', comparable with the enthusiasm with which flies are attracted to the dunghill.

A good example is the career of literary historian Stephen Greenblatt, analysed in this interesting article:

Now, the 'New Criterion' has the odium of being 'conservative', but the premisses which are at the basis of the approach of the author, are not 'conservative' at all: that there is value and meaning in cultural products of the past which are still valuable in the present and will be so in the future, that there are distinctions between excellent, mediocre and flawed works, that critical assessment in the cultural sphere is functional because it helps understanding and clarification, and supports preservation of what is of crucial importance for our civilization and for humanity in general. All this is mere common sense and has no political or ideological meaning, it is too basic for that. But the many emancipation movements of the last century, which were rightly motivated by indignation about injustice, created - next to appropriate corrections in society - also a climate in which every cultural deed became suspect and every exploration of works an ideologically-charged undertaking, breaking-down the receptive framework of meaning, quality and context. In short, a misunderstood emancipatory movement wrought havock in the cultural field. Given the intellectual feebleness of the methods, it attracted many more students than ever before to the cultural studies departments, because the human pyramid of endowment gives more weight to the greater numbers at the bottom and thus, the financial advantages which play such a crucial role in a liberal, capitalist, egalitarian society could not easily be ignored by the educational system.

Sir Roger Scruton has already refuted this trend in a hilarious way in his 'Modern Culture' (Continuum, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2007; in chapter 12: 'The Devil's Work'). The above-mentioned article reflects a similar sharp and common-sense mind. If these authors are 'conservative', are they conservative because of preserving a common sense and analytical mind? Why would such characteristics be conservative? In times of erosion, preserving things which are of value is the most progressive attitude possible if progress means improvement. If anything deserves to be preserved, it is an analytical mind and common sense, increasingly rare goods in the context of rising tides of populism.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Orchestral erosion

Nowadays, there are orchestras - including orchestras with an impressive history of serious music making and with a tradition of programming high-quality classical repertoire - which begin to explore the commercial, easy-listening music as can he heard to 'illustrate' TV commercials, and which is cultivated in musicals for the masses, and which is especially enjoyed by people with enough musicality to appreciate simple tunes but without the sophistication to hear more than the sound a serious work makes. Orchestral programming increasingly includes works by young composers who grew-up with pop music in their ears, translating it into some simple orchestral garb, and presenting it as 'contemporary music' - because, pop music is, for them, the ultimate and only new music there is around. All this shows a shift in the nature of the symphony orchestra from a cultural institution as something benefitting society, towards a commercial enterprise serving a clientèle, like a restaurant. To some extent, an orchestra is serving an audience, but it is supposed to be a 5 star top enterprise and not a fast food hub. But in the new populist commercial perspective, a 'new' audience is addressed, an audience without any understanding of classical music and which, like the aforementioned composers, have grown-up with pop music in the ears, as the only reference framework as far as music is concerned. The classical music audience is perceived as shrinking, and in an attempt at survival, orchestras are trying to get younger, still innocent listeners, into the concert hall, or to get their attention in parking lots, jazz clubs, railway stations or any location other than something like a concert hall.

Gradually, professional management staff at orchestras are leaving the working place, due to age or other job prospects, and younger staff is coming-in, who have studied at university or some other institution where music has been touched upon as a subject, but who also have pop music in their ears. Instead of focussing on classical music, where the symphony orchestra has been developed for, they are only too relieved to see the opportunity to use the pressures of finance and building new audiences as an excuse to follow their own pop music tastes, so that they can combine the necessary with the personal pleasures, so much more attractive than the burden of cultural heritage and the fight for artistic quality.

Here, the lack of music education across the educational board results in the erosion of one of the greatest cultural phenomenae the world has ever seen. Since politicians have also gradually been replaced by the pop loving breed, from that side there is not much appetite to support what in their eyes is merely a dying culture, for which they never had any interest anyway. And the populist mood of our times dictates gestures towards its demands of gratification, and not support for 'privileged, elitist, expensive toys for the happy few'.

What can be done? Education, information, and exploring the real nature of classical music as an art form and not as a commodity merely serving market demand. But that means a far more assertive fight against populism than is currently realized.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Understanding the future

How important is the past for our self-understanding, and for the understanding of a possible future?

“The English historian B H Liddell Hart wrote in Why Don’t We Learn from History? (1944): ‘There is no excuse for anyone who is not illiterate if he is less than 3,000 years old in mind.’ This is less an admonition to learn from specific events in the past, and more a reminder that our own mighty civilisation exists at a specific time and place within the grander sweep of history. The Roman rhetorician Marcus Tullius Cicero, writing in the first century BCE, put an even finer point on it: ‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.’”

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Seductive nitwit bubble

How do (post-)modernist ideologies perpetuate themselves in these days of shifting paradigmas, in spite of the deplorable aesthetics of their composing practitioners? And in spite of the indifference of audiences, and the dangers of chasing them away? And in total ignorance of the negative effects on the reputation of both the central performance culture and new music in general, thereby working against the attempts to restore the art form, and its meaning? The answer is clear: by paying budding talents: the BBC has taken steps to protect the ideology from the reality of concert life.

On 28th of July, the well-known music website 'Slipped Disc' published the following information:

The promising Mark Simpson, composer in residence with the BBC Philharmonic, has been signed by Intermusica.

He also plays clarinet and conducts.

Bio: Born in Liverpool in 1988, Simpson won both BBC Young Musician of the Year and BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year in 2006. He went on to read Music at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, graduating with first class honours, and studied composition with Julian Anderson at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Simpson was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2012-2014.

Intermusica is a music management and the registration will be, presumably, for clarinet and conducting - what could an agent do for composers?

Apart from aesthetics, this chap is certainly a talented young composer. But with quite mixed-up ideas, like this pretentious flop:

This is much better, an angstridden, Scriabinesque attempt to write Romantic Music in the Grand Manner, with enough chaos and irregularities put into the score to be acceptable for the contemporary music establishment as ‘new music’:

One can hear that the guy has understood that there is something like music, other than sonic art, because it peeps through the frightened sonic mist at places:

He also writes opera, and understands the value of contemporary, trendy subjects, so that audiences can understand what is going on and fully identify with the themes – both in the plot and the music, which is so very much harder with Mozart, Wagner and Verdi:

The British musical establishment did not waste time to press this young, promising talent to its breast, to prevent it from developing ideas of his own and (God forbid!) leaving half a century of clichés behind.

I find this really sad - can such young man only be the product of convention and add nr 1,000 of all the artless variations to the bulk of ephemeral negation of the art form? The type of success he enjoys, is created by the establishment, not by the real concert practice. Programmers duly follow ideological advise, incapable of independent musical judgement, lemming-like, and damage their own interests and the goodwill of their audiences, who will stay away the next time they see 'Simpson' on the programme.