Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Ecology of Sound – Why My Music

Music can be played or produced. Produced music isn't entirely new, however, with computers, synthesizers, and associated mixing and recording technology, it went from being largely a toy – think a music box – or the pursuit of the odd experimentalist, to being an overwhelming part of life. Produced music is more akin to painting in its requirements than composing music. It is direct, unmediated to the listener from those that create or assemble it. Like a writer, the producer needs only a channel to an audience.

Composition, like script writing, choreography, and other secondary arts, requires not only a channel, but performers. For this reason composition is inherently more political. It must not only compete for limited time attention of the audience, and whatever width of the channel is, and the limitations of aggregation and criticism, but for the limitations of performers. Performers become the music that they play, it is carved on their bones.

For this reason, movements in composition often appear first as literary movements, explaining the new idea, or the idea that literary figures would wish an ideal music to have. Since the advent of production, composition as become a secondary art, which, like poetry, is relevant more to the inner lives of the participants. Athletics has supplanted art and performance as the physical expression of attainment, both personal and corporate. Where once cities would have to have cultural institutions to prove their worth as great metropolitan areas, capable of carrying and inserting performance and production into the cultural channel, now they must prove they can insert sports into the broadcast channel.

The first movements in composition in the West that we can follow date that we have date to Boethius in the 500's, that is at the very break with antiquity. In the renaissance the modern thread of development of counterpoint and polyphony can be connected to the compendium of Tinctoris, who summarized the practice and theory of the time, in a tradition that saw itself as being a thousand years old. However, it is clear that this is not really the case – homophony ruled the liturgical roost, and with it the living the church could provide. From Tinctoris' literary idea, came the more practical realization in the work of Josquin, who can be thought of as the first modern, in the long sense, composer.

Why delve into this?

Because the tensions of patronage, idea, style, and words, are mixed together from the beginning. Composition is not abstract from these issues, but, instead, is one way the art mediates politics – it brings together many goods, to produce one good, the music itself, from an imperfect mind, through imperfect performers, through imperfect circumstances, to imperfect ears, a striving for a kind of reach that is a kind of touching of a shadow of what we imagine perfection to be.

The musical is political, and composition must meld the political with the artistic.

This means that attempts to keep music out of politics, or politics out of music are muddle, even if the concert hall is put beyond ordinary partisanship, this is part of politics: a peace dedicated to the goddess of music. Composition is not, then, partisanship to external movements, but requires partisanship.

Because of the way outside music reaches in to a person's physical and mental existence, the unbearable weight of undesired order is painful, this, combined with the partisanship and physicality of performance, creates a hotbed for overblown, and overbearing, attempts to force the issue. And so all compositional movements, begin as a search to free music from dead words, and ends its tenure being dead words where the dead lord over the living. They then, like Beethoven's hero, must die before their spirit goes out into the world.

In the present, the last gasps of Modernism are passing from the scene. This does not mean that people are ceasing to compose, play, or listen to Modernism in music, but its time as the dictatorship of taste is virtually over, with a few last ditch exceptions. Modernism started to give way to Post-Modernism, or isms, starting in the 1950's, even as High Modernism was very high and mighty in its own estimation.

Post-Modernism is the academic twin, of Pop. Where as Modernism in music had physics envy, and spawned effects that would be of us in commercial art – film music, commercials, songs – Pop embraced Post-Modernism's undermining of absolute truth. Because in Pop, truth is ticket sales, record sales, and the relationships of personal contact that can create the collaborative works that pop culture consists of. Good is what makes money.

However, the post-modern is essentially an assertion that enough technology and social unity can overcome any problem. The first is the root of the post-modern problem – how to have authority when production is no longer limited – and the second its answer, the game itself. There might b many printing presses, but games are monopolies. There is an NEG point in here, but can be left to a graduate student to show that as the transportation costs of information reach zero, there comes to be a monopoly of games that overwhelms consumer choice, because the economies of scale of a pipe overwhelm any economies of production. In short, if reproduction costs zero, and transmission is virtually universal artists drop in value to zero. Creativitiy is worth zero, which brings us to the present post-Pop moment.

In the post-Pop moment there is no artist, everything is merely a remix of existing surfaces, and the proof is simply acceptance. This is the resulting of paying people nothing, at that point they see popular culture as something that they already paid for. And they are right: both in the sense that popular culture supports the system they live – that is the Marxian reality that advertising and popular culture support consumption and debt – and because without their active labor in spreading, promoting, remembering, and celebrating popular culture, there is no way for it to be made. Or, to the post-Pop mind, popular culture is paid for by the tax on their earnings which the post-Modern system slaps on them – the empirically demonstrable gap between wage growth and productivity is the tax the wealthy slap on the public – and by their own social labor, and use of social rents. That is, the tell their friends, the telling being labor, their friends being the social rent. If you don't think friends have value, then why are businesses willing to pay good money for referals?

I know that is dense, and the terminal stupid critic will just point and sneer, rather than think an unpack it, but it all works out to this:

In the post-Pop era, there is no such thing as piracy.

There isn't any such thing, because the public has already paid for popular culture by their loss of wages, freedom, and social mobility – that's the tax – and by their active labor. Something doesn't "go viral" until some real people spread it.

This means that rather than the socialism of class solidarity – that is, Marxism – or even the socialism of national necessity – that is, liberalism – or the socialism of militarism – that is fascism or naziism – we have the socialism of emiseration. An as yet unnamed socialism, which is the communism that comes from a combination of poverty and labor. That is, the same communism that, so long ago, produces plainchant and nameless sculptors of innumerable niches on Cathedrals. A neo-feudal socialism for what is, in fact, a neo-feudal age.

We remember Dufay, because he bothered to tell us he existed. The first circle is closed.

In the post-Pop era, there is no creation.

This is no originality, because there is no person allowed to be an origin. Revolution, the overturning of the established order, would be death to the very communism which is the adaptation of ordinary people to a world where they cannot do without the oil, nor replicate the capital system, but cannot take control of either. The populism of the right imagines a war for oil, or "drill everywhere," and the populism of the left imagines an overthrow of the capitalism.

The organizer of sound or art must fit in, in the same way the generator of epithets to be used in oral poetry in the rhapsodic age of Homer had to be invisible to be remembered. His bits had to fit with all the other bits.

This fits in with the ant heap knowledge system, where thousands of drones lay siege to some problem. And with the need for genre. Thus to be creative is to be dead. Everyone is picking through the detritus of the upper layers, and so is the politics of their creation. Why create a harmony when there is the unity of necessity?

Now either one can rebel against ones moment, or accept it. This is where I enter this picture. The post-Pop world is an unsustainable mess. It cannot move itself, because of something that the Post-Modern did not really understand: real physical limits. We are committing thermocide, the heat death of the climate we live in. It cannot reduce itself, because its population is to large. Either the people of this moment have to rebel, or there is no future.

This then is the literary moment: to reassert creation in an era where genius is outlawed, and instead social connection is all. To reassert composition where everything is merely assembled and to show that composition can create order where one mind can master genres, in the form of works.

To do this requires accepting the methods of "production" of sound, as in multi-tracking and multi-layering, and to build pieces, not as a composer might on paper in another age, but at the electronic staff the way a producer might. Music asserts the mastery of the hand and voice over technology: that a person can control the monsters of machinery that we have built, by manipulation – the very word coming from the root hand.

This then is my assertion, that as the modern tried to prove that the brain could be a human physics, creating a realm of laws and order that in turn created a universe - Schoenberg, Webern, Carter, Messiaen, Stockhausen – and the pop a human game, were individuals played reductive bits – Riley, Reich, Glass, Cage – the next era is to prove that a single performer, or group of performers, can create a human ecology of sound, that flowers in each performance.

This then is the basis for a new, and more lyrical, age.