Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Raw and the Cooked

As far music is concerned, no metaphor is perfect, but perhaps, in venturing a metaphor, one becomes wise with the experience of its inevitable collapse. (Yep, N.O. Brown again: truth is error burned up.) The Radical Music was (and is) raw, a return to roots, raw materials*; a deliberate lack of deference to accumulated tradition, habit, performance practice, but a fascination with the single layers of that accumulation; a rejection of and by institutions (Yep, Groucho Marx again: ...any club that would have me as a member); and -- inevitably -- conflicted about the natural and the artificial, about clarity and ambiguity, and about the private and the communal. The Radical Musician takes risks, not the least of them professional, in rejecting aspects of performance practice held up as gateways to gigs, jobs, prizes. In general, the left coast is more raw than the east, except when it's the other way around -- New Englander Alvin Lucier likes his music "clear, like gin", Douglas Leedy, in the Pacific Northwest, prefers the cloud of a single malt.** The Normative Musician, native to and resident in the institutions, more uptown than down, and decidedly not-radical, at home in conservatories if not just plain vanilla conservative, treasures not so much the accumulated layers of tradition but this moment's slice through all of that, a standard, a norm, regulating performance practice in all domains. A professional always holds the bow this way. A professional never draws a time signature that way. A professional has a big time management agency. A professional does lunch at the Russian Tea Room. Being a member of the club, or guild, of professionals, means that one is let in on the secrets of the trade, be it the right accountant, or the right combination of words on a CV, or, as in my pre-Cambrian youth, just knowing where to get an ozalid copy made, heck, just knowing what an ozalid copy is. The Normative Music is cooked; it is subject of a process involving knowledge and techniques and standards for the appplication of such knowledge and techniques that have been arrived at over generations of experience. There tends to be an identification of such a tradition with taste. But as with the Sunday pot roast from my Irish-American grandmother, the cooked often runs the risk of overcooking, that is to say, if cooked is your default setting, then you tend to cook more rather than less, overlooking the possible advantages of the raw, including, possibly, a connection between taste and pallatability.

(This is the first of a series of three related posts).
*Quoting, again, La Monte Young: I used to talk about the new eating. One time Terry Riley said, "Yeah, even the cooks'll get rebellious. We'll walk into a hamburger stand and order something to eat. In a few minutes the cook'll give us some salt. Just salt. Then one of us will say, 'What? Is this all?' And the cook'll answer, 'Whatsamatter, dontcha like static eating?'"
** It's relevant to note a difference between minimalist visual artists on opposite coasts. West coasts, like Robert Irwin, were obsessed with material accuracy, perfection, getting things straight, smooth, "cherry" like a perfectly restored vintage motor car. East Coasters, Frank Stella, for example, were more satisfied with an approximation, tolerating a few millimetres deviation from a perfect square, for example, perhaps a luxury made possible by presence in a more active art marketplace.

No comments: