All The Doors Are Open, But You Still Need To Enter

I’ve honestly been open to all styles of music for a very long time, but since attending the most recent ASCAP “I Create Music Expo” in Hollywood last month, I’m even more interested in finding ways to eradicate the compartmentalization that divides rather than elucidates.

Of course, an all-inclusive appreciation of music is nothing new. It can be traced back to the dawn of Americans being internationally acknowledged as musically significant. At the beginning of the last century, Victor Herbert was equally comfortable writing hit songs and cello concertos. Though primarily embraced nowadays by American experimentalists, Henry Cowell famously quipped, “I want to live in the whole world of music.” Though he’s a jazz icon, Duke Ellington skirted the question of musical genres by stating that there “are only two kinds of music; there is the good kind, and there is the other kind.” And it’s even been more than a generation since the first appearance of books like Charles Hamm’s Music in the New World, which treats all music on a level playing field, and John Blacking’s A Common Sense View of All Music, a favorite read from my grad school ethno days which offers a difficult to refute raison d’être for having as broad a purview as possible.

So this week I’ve been catching up with AvantGo feeds from Rolling Stone and read through a series they do of recording picks from various performing artists. A contribution from a Canadian “songstress” named Feist seemed particularly intriguing since the sub-headline referenced that her faves ranged from “piano ballads to Sri Lankan rap.”

But then Feist’s comments about her selections reminded me that while it is possible—and in my opinion desirable—to listen to all music, individuals’ listening modalities span a wide and often irreconcilable gamut. She selected a disc called Solo Piano by someone called Gonzales because “it’s sweet in a much too complicated era.” She admired her top choice, Midlake’s “Roscoe,” because it “sounds like someone wasn’t thinking.” And what attracted her to Spoon’s “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” was that there’s “no messing around—the song is staring you in the eyes.” None of the things that seem to push Feist’s buttons about music push mine. While I don’t dislike simple music, I have no problem with music that is complicated. Simple or complicated, I’m attracted to music that makes me think, especially music that does indeed “mess around.” So I wound up following none of Rolling Stone‘s audio links, although I’m well aware of my inability to tune out anything, which means I’ll probably listen to them by the end of the day.

Over the weekend, I performed my weekly thumb-through of the music section of Time Out New York, which is separate from their classical music section, and got curious about a British girlband that Jimmy Draper previewed named Electrelane. But what sparked my interest was not what the writer said was good about them, rather what he claimed had been bad about them in the past: e.g. “racing instrumentals,” “intent on cultivating a chilly, impersonal stage presence,” and the coup de grâce, “[T]he ladies’ decision to follow their heads over their hearts has resulted in some frustratingly inaccessible EPs and albums.” On the other hand, Electrelane’s new album is supposed to be great because of their incorporation of “straightforward love songs.”

Electrelane’s gig is tonight, but based on Draper’s assessment of their current direction I probably won’t be attending; instead I’ll try to track down some of those allegedly inaccessible albums. I wonder what Draper and Feist would think of music like Olga Neuwirth’s provocative anti-piano concerto locus…doublure…solus or Andrew Violette’s relentless Rave, both of which I’ve been personally obsessed with for the past month, though admittedly not to the extent of having an “18,000-times-a-day song,” which is what Feist claimed Midlake’s “Roscoe” is for her. Indeed, in a world that admits in all music, choice still plays a role.

6 thoughts on “All The Doors Are Open, But You Still Need To Enter

  1. nuhorn

    listen to everything
    It’s unfortunate that many people fear music that challenges them. I most enjoy the figuring our process. Many types of music I’ll listen to for just one thing. Like the John Bonham’s ultra simple drum fill that works so well in Led Zeppelin’s Custard Pie. or the ensemble’s several approaches to a D in Annie Gosfield’s latest piece. There just may be more of something for everyone if people could be convinced that musical adventures actually do have a big payoff.

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  2. juddgreenstein

    I’m not sure how you would describe your “faves” – the Violette and the Neuwirth – but I know that most of the descriptions given to new music works make me run quickly in the other direction. If I look at a program note, and it’s any kind of technical description, I stop reading because I know it will make me head into the piece with a bad taste in my mouth.

    Similarly, I don’t think that the reasons Feist gives for her picks can necessarily be trusted; does she really like this band more than that band because this one is the “simplest”? Is that really it? I doubt it. She’s reflecting something with her comments, but I think that it’s a mistake to take them at face value. What may be perceived as “simplicity” or “honesty” is usually quite complicated, when you get down to it. Of course, if it really is simple, that’s cool, too.

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  3. CM Zimmermann

    ‘Indeed, in a world that admits in all music, choice still plays a role.’

    Are there not more radical questions that need to be addressed? In other words, in a world that ‘admits in all music’ (I am taking you to be referring to the ‘pluralism’ of contemporary culture), what roles do values (and value-judgments) play? How do we make critical distinctions in an environment in which any music is potentially just as valid as the next? For me, the central tension and challenge of contemporary musical culture(s) is how to create meaning and significance when we no longer rely (thankfully) on the rigidified and hierarchical categories of Modernism.

    CMZ

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  4. pgblu

    ‘For me, the central tension and challenge of contemporary musical culture(s) is how to create meaning and significance when we no longer rely (thankfully) on the rigidified and hierarchical categories of Modernism.’

    Who is this ‘we’ that you are talking about? If it’s we as a society, I submit that this society never relied on the categories of Modernism. Society always relied on its own categories, which Modernism sought to more or less gently undermine.

    If you mean ‘we’ as composers, then I don’t think there ever was a ‘we’, and any composer who relied on rigid categories (I reject your term ‘rigidified’) was making bad art. Artistic/aesthetic categories are by definition flexible — that’s the only way that they can adapt to the changing categories of society.

    That is why aesthetics is so resistant to theory, and certainly resistant to the discussion you seem to envision. Aesthetics can still be discussed intelligently, but not on a wholesale, large-scale basis. It has to be established and debated from one work to the next, drawing on specific examples. Here’s a generalization, though, which I’d proffer as a hypothesis: art becomes meaningful/significant when it convinces you to rethink (expand, contract, refine) your definition of beauty.

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  5. sgordon

    When a person says something is uncomplicated, I find it’s often on account of they don’t realize the complexities involved in creating something which on the surface sounds simple. Not saying that any of Feist’s faves are on the same level, as I’m unfamiliar with all of them, but it’s not such a stretch to imagine someone making exactly the same statements – “it’s sweet in a much too complicated era.” … “staring you in the eyes” etc, etc, about particular works of Gavin Bryars, Laurence Crane, or Philip Glass. Or Surfer Girl.

    Electrelane’s gig is tonight, but based on Draper’s assessment of their current direction I probably won’t be attending; instead I’ll try to track down some of those allegedly inaccessible albums.

    It seems to me that the most challenging thing you could have done – to challenge yourself aesthetically, I mean – would have been to take the exact opposite route.

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  6. pgblu

    L Crane
    Hey S Gordon – how did you hear about the work of Laurence Crane? Am I wrong in thinking he is a pretty eclectic reference, or is he well known in certain circles in the U.S.? Which circles?
    Thanks — P Blume

    Reply

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