Friday, August 14, 2015

of populism; musical and political.

Many folks in the arts who espouse left leaning politics seem to be on the run.  Our most successful artists are paid for directly or indirectly by the one percent and further the call is out for artists to be entrepreneurs!!!!! That is to start a viable business and not expect hand outs from the state etc.  (This stems indirectly from the change in grant making where grants are no longer given directly to artists but to the producers of art). On the other hand we know that collages and universities support some artists. 
Naturally to have a viable business as an artist  you are required to be commercial.

These days that means creating friendly, tonal, populist music. 

Anyway what was my point?

Its that folks who present themselves as politically progressive, personally toe a different line in their artistic work and dealings.   

for example:

anti-intellectual art?  check
inoffensive art? check
art works that praise our leaders and famous folks?  check
art celebrating diversity with narrow stereotypes?  check
protest art with a narrow focus that almost everyone agrees with? 
art that features incomprehensibility so it can be described as almost anything? check
Friendly art? Check
Using terms such as: avant-garde, cutting edge, innovative, taking a risk, revolutionary etc. to describe safe conservative art or imitation Americana from 50 years ago. check
artists who do as they are told or collaborate with who they are assigned? check

These days many claim that the artist is more important than their art.  It follows then that its not about the best and the brightest, its about the most winning personality.  Then its not about sustaining artistic success, its about how you "spin" your failures.

and that folks is politics.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Authenticity and Cultural Appropriation

Art is limitless as are the approaches, so when do we know if we have crossed the line into cultural appropriation? Where is the point when a subject for one artist becomes the cultural appropriation of another? If you are asking these questions it means that you are interested in telling the story of another culture as many have done before you. Even avoiding stereotypes can be difficult.
  1. Who's history are you reading?
  2. What are your sources?
  3. What is so compelling about this story that you need to risk telling it?
  4. What is your fresh perspective?
  5. What are you planning to return to that community in exchange for telling their story?
I'm not saying “stick to your own kind.” Outsiders, Genet's The Blacks for example, can have much insight to offer. Genet never denies his whiteness, in fact he make a ritual of his white privilege.
The litmus test for Cultural Appropriation is simply this; is the art part of the solution or part of the problem? Of course it is we who must decide which is which. Or not. That makes it, finally, a political issue. Politics does not generally favor the weak. Differences of opinion will continue (even on such mainstream works as Porgy and Bess).

Issues can range from the sincere and misguided to that of exploitation, from simply advancing the meme of the moment to sheer commercialism. Or in the case of academia, conservation to careerism. I suppose the worst are works that are intended to have no point of view at all (yet they do in spite of themselves). It's easy to point out:
  1. Those who create arrangements of others music and who present them as their own original compositions. Stealing.
  2. Those who record and notate sacred ritual music and then present it out of context to the general public. The built in assumption is that the "other culture" would never be part of the general public. Class and racism.
  3. Those who wear other's cultural regalia in pop culture, advertising, real life, and media. Impersonation, stereotypes, myths, and falsehoods.
Examples of cultural appropriation are not limited to culture, race, class,education, gender, age, or politics (to name a few). This can create a tension with the American tendency to reinvent oneself.

I wrote the blog post below and I think it points the way in this direction.

about Klinghoffer

This so reminds me the Paul de Man episode; the supporters support, the haters hate. Besides the music there is, at least for me, one problem with this work.

"This is a straw man."

No actually its Mr. Klinghoffer a real person and a victim. To my knowledge the authors chose not to get the permission of the Klinghoffer family to use his name. That falls under the category of cultural appropriation. This is a mistake especially as other characters in the opera are fictionalized. I suppose what the Klinghoffer family experience is not much different from what Native Americans have been experiencing for some time. Mr. Klinghoffer is executed in a depiction he did not chose to illustrate someone else's reading of these tragic events.

Why use his name at all?

Anyway, this is not an isolated case. Cultural appropriation is the dirty little secret of the entertainment industry. Many award wining films, plays, books and their respective actors etc. take part.

Running roughshod over the oppressed to tell their story is simply wrong.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The triumph of the editorial

A while back there was some debate if art for arts sake was dead.  It is certainly down for the count as much recent music has become a place holder, or a backdrop for something else.  Style* is not an issue, works can be consonant or dissonant as long as they are incomprehensible and associated with the current cause of the day.  Oddly, in an area of artistic discernment the more we judge musical "books" (titles),  and composers by their covers.  Before today composers were noted for their individuality, and if they belonged to certain schools or styles that were musical.  Now composers represent concepts that are extra musical.

Joining music and politics leads us down the road of grant generated art where social work can be celebrated without the artist doing any social work.   Granting organizations and the curators for the 1 percent  can be enablers for these concepts.  Its a new subset of the call to patriotism. Being a "cause" composer is the acceptance that the music is secondary to the cause.  But, music being secondary to the composer themselves is already well known.  Lets say it plainly; composers and their editorial are more important than their music.   If a composers message is ecology then listening to the music must purify water.  Everything taken at face value and listeners and critics alike abandon critical thinking.  There is no interest in abstract music except that it can be pined to an editorial.  The only possible  upside here is the long neglected discovery and nurturing of Indigenous artists unless they too are asked to represent stereotypes. 

The reality that composers could work the system is well founded, especially as critics have no interest in those who are not constantly performed.  The composer as lonely hero or heroine genius  is dead but what replaces that idea?  Everyone is an artist?  The artist is integrated into society?  Artist as yuppie?  The artist purified in the crucible of the people? Unfortunately, the jettison of composer individuality or genius does not remove careerism or the need for constant activity to prove success. 
We must not close our eyes to the dirty business of success. 

 Don't believe the hype.

 *anything as long as its not serial

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Random thoughts about music on the net

We have always privileged presenters over artists in music.  (Hence the push for new musicians to be entrepreneurs). Right now the net has grown into one of the largest repositories of music.  
On the net Music is content and someone is going to make money from that content.
Period.  If its not the artists getting paid then its going to be the web providers (the presenters).
Those who think that music on the net is free are kidding themselves because the whole apparatus of the net and its inherent costs, subscriptions, and fees are required before you can download or listen to anything.

The all encompassing scale of content that these providers present is the end result of the destruction of the relationship with the artist.  Its the presenters profits that are based on this destruction.  Its just the same as when the profits of scale destroy businesses that feature relationships, i.e. mom and pop stores.  Relationships are expensive to maintain as they require time and husbandry, and dare I say it, you have to care about the artist.  

Not much profit in that. 
Applying scale to music is the Wallmarting of art.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What happened to progressive American Music?

I think two things killed the progressive spirit of American music.

  1. The Arnold Schoenberg Institute leaving America.
  2. Pierre Boulez replacing Leonard Bernstein at the NY Philharmonic.

The first one is direct -not here no influence. The Second one is indirect.  

In the American mind Bernstein can not be replaced.


That it would be by Boulez was a strategic blunder for progressive music because this led to musical-political tensions that still remain.  It did not matter how great Boulez was as a composer, or as a conductor, Boulez didn't actually replace Bernstein as a composer.  In the game he trumped an American Icon, and as imaginary as that is, it is also how the game played out.  

Oddly, Boulez was not that interested in American Serial Music preferring to perform the European composers, or the leading American composers of other styles. 

NMB round ups

Phil Fried
The question is who has been commissioned in this context and what were the results?
Its true that market forces rule and if a grants organization wants to emphasize a particular style of art or music they do that, and not just at “artplace.” The fear that trained classical composers are an unlikely fit here and that these opportunities seem more appropriate for sound artists seems real enough.
Yet who are composers that artsplace intends to place? Not our leading or star composers certainly. Who is left? On the other hand there is a tension between a composer and the community even if that has been denied on these very pages by a few of our very successful fellow composers. That artists are an agent for community revitalization there is no doubt, that a plan can be created to keep them in place is speculative but perhaps worth trying.
Just because 1920′s Paris, among others, is gone does not mean that all artist colonies devolve into tourist traps or gentrification. 
Phil Fried
How I loved the Mad Show, I wore that record out. My parents refused to let me see the show. Evidently not for kids. The “Hate song” still has its power. I loved that song so much that I transcribed it from the recording because the music was out of print.
Farewell Mary Rodgers.
Phil Fried
The point of “occupy” is to speak truth to power and in the best American sense perhaps level the playing field. For this to work in an arts context there are some real problems to consider.
Arts its a different kettle of Fish. Unlike the arts no one lives in a “banking community.” For many the arts are their life.
Also Wall Street and the banks have a lot of customers.
Musical institutions make very few commissions and they tend to use the same or similar people over and over. Also popular music is a gigantic industry with a very small percentage of successful musicians. In both cases those empowered with success become celebrities, but more important they are the power. At least for the moment. Who are these famous people going to speak truth to? Or for? Certainly they have nothing to risk. Can Philip Glass speak for me and my music? Will he give up a commission so I and others can be performed in his place? I’m not sure he could do this even if he wanted to.
How can we propose a revolution in classical music when the folks claiming its leadership are the very folks we need to replace.
The dragon does not slay itself.

    1. Philip Fried
      Unlike occupy wall street, its not easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys in the art world.
      Further complications include the fact that the 1 percent are usually arts benefactors, and that no one is in actually charge of the American musical arts scene. There is no donkey to pin a tail on. On the other hand success for an American composer means sponsorship and composers can freely chose to align themselves with the workers or the management.
    2. ----------------------------------------
Phil Fried
The song in question is a comic song. Comedy is can be dangerous because its habit of offending someone. Jobs have been lost on private jokes made public. It is easy to misunderstand or be offended by a joke that tells a positive story in a negative or profane way. It seems that few of my fellow composers are known for their sense of humor. My own attempts at humor here have been misunderstood more than once.
Phil Fried
Isaac it looks like the above folks have it covered as it were. All 3 above make interesting reading, besides them there are 1000′s of composer blogs out there. A brief goggle of any of the posters here for say the last few months will show that most of them have their own blogs.
I do.
My problem with mainstream criticism is that it only focuses on mainstream activity. Another problem is that critics are not hired because of respect for their opinions but because their bosses believe that their opinions reflect the majority of their readers.