Monday, May 14, 2012

From a Diary: I:xxiv

A friend recently made the argument — and quite convincingly — that we're in a golden age of two media — the television serial and the comic book — that has come about entirely because of two related factors, (a) the establishment of non-mass production and distribution channels and (b) the aging into a kind of aesthetic consuming maturity of at least two generations of audience who are fully fluent with the literature, conventions, and terms of the particular art form.  This combination means that there is a critical mass of demand and appreciation for thematic, formal, and technical innovation (not the least of which is smart play with the conventions of the genre) while at the same time, the economy of the niche is adequate to sustain production, and, in the case of the US subscription television networks, Showtime and HBO and the like, provide added value, above and beyond not-quite current movies, that actually brings customers in and keeps them subscribed (yep, the weird stuff can be part of profitability.)

New/experimental/radical music may not have figured the economics out yet, but it certainly operates in a niche and has done so for a very long time. I suspect that we're just beginning to understand how important Schoenberg's establishment of the Society for Private Musical Performances (Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen) had been and just how little thinking-through that there has been for the potential for such a tactical retreat from mass presentation, in terms of audience development, cooperative organization and finance, and not least, innovative freedom.  (The most common argument against a new/experimental/radical music niche is that it is "elitist".  I don't buy this argument and believe that it is unsustainable because while new music may make demands of listeners, these demands are musical and intellectual and can be met by any potential listener willing to make the effort, and it is simply not elitist in the only meaningful sense of elitism in this world, which is a connection to real political, economic or social power.)

So, yep, it may be useful to think of the future of new/experimental/radical music more in terms of The Wire or alternative comics.

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