Friday, September 14, 2007

Strangely beyond

I like to think that my tastes are broad, I like music which challenges my ideas about music (or whatever), and am generally tolerant, if not enthusiastic about the genuinely strange. Nevertheless, I still manage to get surprised from time to time by music (or whatever) that tickles or even goes beyond my threshold for the tolerable strange.

Camp, in particular, is a trope of strangeness which I usually can't handle in any art form, be it consumer appliance design, politics, tv, or serious music. I still can't figure out if the ur-campish filmmaker Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures) was an artist to esteem or not, even though he was a tremendously important example for my teacher La Monte Young. Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off following the adventures of the omnisexual Captain Jack Harkness definitely irritates my camp-tolerance threshold, saved only by its rather more rigorous adherence to the conventions of radio serial drama than the current Doctor Who series. In other words, the nostalgic and archaic form trumps the campish tone. The current Who series began well enough but descended into Panto-land with a finale straight out of a provincial production of Peter Pan: Do you believe in (fill in the blank)?

(Actually, there were a couple of moments in the first Torchwood season which were genuinely subtle -- Captain Jack's first big kiss is with none other than Captain Jack, and the female lead confessed her infidelity to her boyfriend, but only after having slipped him an amnesia pill).

The paintings of Graydon Parrish push the threshold as well. I have absolutely no doubt about his classical painting technique, which is astonishing, but his compositions are so heavy handed that I'm thrown into that strange emotional space between being moved and being moved to giggle out loud (viewers of his recent 9/11 memorial painting are handed a page with a complete guide spelling out each of the allegories, just one step above one of those copies of the Last Supper that used to tour around in wagons to County Fairs throughout the US heartland complete with sideshow-quality narration). And then there's the "classic cool" music of René Gruss -- coincidentally a favorite of Parrish's -- which is sort of a classic comic book version of how "classical music" is supposed -- in popular imagination -- to sound, carrying a number if not all of the clichéd surface features of classical-music-between-quote-marks but supported by absolutely none of the structural depth or wealth of detail, ambiguity, or interpretive space opened up by the best works of classical music. In particular, Gruss's sloppy voice leading reveals a lack of technique that puts him past the line of camp beyond redemption, a real contrast to Parrish whose technical virtuosity will always keep me curious about the next work.

And then there is the just plain strange, because it is just plain outside of my experience. I'm not at all sure what to make of the music of Cameron Bobro, a composer based in Slovenia. The works of Bobro which I've heard online have some features which are currently hot in Newmusicland -- they are mostly "art songs" to electronic accompaniment which he performs himself and his pieces use highly unusual tunings, both rational and irrational. But the character and topics of his music are unlike anything I've ever heard. His large bass voice is not what you expect from new music and I honestly have no idea what the songs are "about", but whatever the themes may be, Bobro seems to be very serious about them. So I teeter, unsure if this music is the most interesting thing since I discovered Tasmanian pepper berries or something I really don't want to deal with any further.

Your borderlines, I am sure, will vary from mine.

1 comment:

Henry Holland said...

If you're not gay, camp is not meant for you. Period. It may be appropriated by hetero's to some extent and appreciated by them, but it was, is and always will be "a gay thing".

The current Dr. Who and Torchwood are helmed and largely written by a gay man, of course, so there's your explanation. :-)