Here is a claim I wish I weren’t making, and that I would prefer to be wrong about: popular music created in the industrialized world in the decade from the late 1990s to the late 2000s doesn’t have a distinct style—that is, one that would provide an identity for the young people who grew up with it. The process of the reinvention of life through music appears to have stopped. […] There are new styles of music, of course, but they are only new on the basis of technicalities.
—Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget
I have a bizarre hypothesis about the zeitgeist of the current musical moment. It seems that for whatever reason, people are channeling the zeitgeist of the year they were born in the work they are currently creating. E.g. I recently heard music by someone born in 1968 that reminded me of Stockhausen’s Kurzwellen, and a piece by someone born in the early 1980s sounded surprisingly like John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music.
It’s hard to imagine such an influence being conscious since no one is really attuned to the world around them when they are first born. But perhaps there’s something that occurs developmentally early on in each of us to somehow trigger aesthetic allegiances, which will only become clearly pronounced decades later.
Last week I talked about how much of a kinship I felt for the film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) which was released in my birth year, 1964. So I did some further personal soul searching. My favorite jazz album of all time is Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! and my favorite Broadway musical has always been Stephen Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle. Both of these iconic 1964 landmarks have profoundly affected me, not just as a listener, but also in my own attempts to create work that breaks a lot of rules while still being respectful of and clearly indebted to a preexisting tradition. And I still continue to be endlessly fascinated by and aesthetically moved in the direction of early minimalism. Guess what year The Well Tuned Piano and In C both made their debut? Taking it a step further, when I was younger I heard detractors of minimalism decry it as a rehashing of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a work composed between 1935-36, the years that La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich were all born. Go figure.
Am I going out of my mind, or is it possible that such a correlation could exist?