Monday, July 28, 2014

In our era

The Rambler (Tim Rutherford-Johnson) has some interesting theses about these musical times, identifying them as "classical".  I agree with this, though I prefer to label this an age of repertoire (thinking that there were also pre-classical eras of repertoire as well, the "Galant", for example, was also a time in which a body of techniques and styles were widely shared and emphasized subtle variety more than radical or dramatic difference (contrasting with the spirit of a "Masterpiece Ethic" of later times.))  He concentrates on technology, specifically digital, as the immediate cause here, and that's right (especially to the extent that, for example, unless you're a real laptop wonk yourself, it's getting very hard to say that one particular laptopper is going to be reliably more interesting or innovative than another)*, but I think that there is also a concentration, if not reduction, of the space for ideas and inventions (as would be expected given the tremendous growth in these in the 50s through 70s: there are a lot of tough acts to follow) as well as what might be best called The Once Thing, which means, largely due to the imbalance between supply of freshly produced compositions and the available number of venues, that most new music gets played once, if at all, so a composer's best strategy is either to attempt to make each piece a radically different, life-changing, one-time-only, all-in masterpiece, gambling that the monster of imagination can shake things up in a fundamental way, or (and this is the less anxiety-producing path) to treat each piece as an incremental development in a string or pool of ideas, in other words, a style, repertoire, or yes, a brand. And yes, a brand is a attribute of work in a competitive market, and all that that means.

* Rutherford-Johnson also hints at something here, with his illustration of a shelf of recent long-format TV series, that needs to be taken even further.  Because it's the fragmentation of the TV business that has made these formal innovations (and they're real, at least from The Wire on, and can be terrific if the energy is sustained) and new and experimental musicians certain should recognize that some of our best work has come from not only fragmentation, but marginalization!

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