Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Consequence

And yet more: Woebot and Marcello Carlin on Morley's caper. One particular thing caught my eye: Woebot's remark that "the whole thing about scoring music is this anachronism writ in 20 foot tall neon writing. Who the hell would attempt to do something as inane as scoring music? In the 21st Century it's an utterly nonsensical exercise." Well, perhaps. Who, it's reasonable to ask, would want to spend time rendering music heard in the head into abstract marks on paper for other people to play on acoustic instruments, after rock, graphic scoring, electronic music, free-improv, punk, hip-hop, jungle and laptop composition?

Well, this links into the question of class and 'skill' that was part of the subtext of the programme. It's a question of being either inside or outside of the magic circle of knowledge. Classical music, far more than most disciplines, has always been one dependent on esoteric knowledge acquired by study, kept back by institutional gatekeepers, and, to a certain extent, limited by class - obviously, in previous centuries, only the bourgeoisie could provide their children with musical education, and this remains a spectre hanging over the classical music world. One of the reasons Woebot finds classical musicians so distastefully chirpy and genteel is because they have the confidence that comes with the unconscious knowledge of privilege; at a concert you find yourself looking out on a sea of white, well-polished, non-proletarian faces. So, obviously, the thing to do is opt out, ignore the whole farrago: if scoring and music theory are the preserve of the bourgeoisie, mired as they are in the past, then fuck that. But, sadly, even the most vigorously self-taught can only go so far (there are exceptions, the obvious being Francis Bacon, but then he was a rather limited artist, in terms of range). Most people who write poetry as teenagers (I include myself in this category, although all of my productions have since, thankfully, been burned) scorn meter and form as stuffed-shirt and establishment, and set out boldly to express freely, etc. etc. Almost without exception, what they write will be awful, and bring burning shame to their cheeks in the coming years. It's a ridiculous cliché, but one has to learn the rules before you break them.

And that means coming to a compromise with the establishment: of breaking out of one's safe and cloistered space and interacting with the world on its terms. It's a difficult, complex and, in many ways, painful process, as the fiction of Hardy, Eliot and Lawrence, the later poetry of John Clare, or the sections of memoir in The Country and the City bear witness to, one always laced with the possibility of being finally swallowed and destroyed by the same establishment (as Clare's fellow labourer and poet Stephen Duck was, or, more distantly, Bryan Ferry). This is what education meant to me, that it didn't mean to (many of) my peers at university: a rupture, and a(n attempt at) growing. Maybe.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing privileged about reading and writing music and about music theory in general. You could buy a paperback book for a fiver that tells you everything you need to know.

I recommend 'The ABC of music theory'. It's in two parts the first book completely accessible, the second book more demanding. Personally I think you have to have a modicum of an 'ear' and/or own a musical instrument to really get to grips with this stuff. Others disagree. You definitely don't need to be rich, though, or have been sent to violin lessons as a child.

I think musical criticism is meaningless without this knowledge. if you can't identify the key a song is in (and so on) your criticism boils down to three or four 'statement-types':

I like/don't like this song.

This song reminds me of another song.

I will now write a little prose poem inspired by and attempting to describe this song.

I will now talk about the lyrics.

The language and conceptual apparatus to really communicate what's happening in a given piece of music is right there, waiting to be used. But music journalists consistently refuse it.



August 3, 2009 at 1:01 PM  
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Blogger Dan said...

Anon (the 1st one): I had an extremely good argument to refute you, but then found this, which not only contains my argument, but uses it as part of a more expanded discussion of modern composition & the knowledge/class divide:

"This sense of obligation is the basis of Morley and Goldie’s TV challenges and the source of much anxiety over the perceived elitism and hermeticism of classical music past and present."

July 19, 2010 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Anon 3/4: keep it up (ha!) sir, good work!

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