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.

It is worthwhile to stand still, for a moment, at the term 'post-genre'. It implies something that is left behind, is no longer 'relevant'. It is thus a useful term in a perspective defined by progressiveness: things develop to something else, and presumably into something better, so that we can leave the misunderstandings of an outdated past behind. To define something as 'post-', a value judgement is implied, which is again an implication of arriving at something better - why else would people bother to get at some post-position? If something is left behind it must be for something better, so: the very fact that something is newer, more recent, is already an indication of intrinsic quality. Where does this thinking come from? Clearly from science where it may have intrinsic value, but in the arts, such thinking is entirely useless since there is no progress in the arts. It is an ideal tool to cover-up nonsense and incompetence and ignorance - because 'it is new'.

The concept of 'genre' is 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:

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