Saturday, June 03, 2006

If the form fits

Over at the Sequenza 21 Composers' Forum, Jodru asked about "Relevant Forms":

By relevant, I simply mean forms that have some sort of social significance, beyond their historical interest, and in my view, there are only two:

The Album (and by default, its constituent element: the Song)

Non-relevant forms? Sonatas, Symphonies, Concerti, Fugues (and many many more).
I wrote:

The question could rather be: Relevant to what and to what ends does that relevance function?

If your song, dance, or album (now going the way of the dodo in favor of the consumer's iPod list) is "relevant" to the prevailing entertainment market, then it is probably tightly bound to the content restrictions of that market, thus maintaining the status quo, or when introducing innovations, changing it only incrementally. This is a conservative impulse, and is not about learning more about the world, or changing the way one listens to the world, but simply consuming the definition supplied by an economic elite of what music is allowed to be.

If, on the other hand, music aspires to challenge the nature and limits of our listening practice, it will fit unwell into the existing market apparatus and make substantial demands of listeners' habits. One might argue that this anti-conservative impulse demands an "elite" community of listeners who are committed, experienced, possibly learned, and always open. But this "elite" is not comparable to the economic elite in the entertainment industry: membership is open to all and is not a result or sign of economic status or influence. It is an accomplishment -- a deep and personal relationship to music -- on its own terms, but also an affirmation that music, and the world around music, can be different.

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