Tired and Old

I rarely listen to the radio these days. But in one of the neighborhood supermarkets I occasionally shop at, they’re always listening to one of the so-called light music stations. Most of the time it’s mildly annoying since I rarely find this sort of fare intellectually stimulating, and although the radio format is designed to be easily ignored, it’s virtually impossible for me to ignore any kind of music. But of course I still realize that all of this has nothing to do with the music and everything to do with me.

So it was all the more perplexing to me when, in between the peregrinations for blue corn chips and paper towels the other day, I heard the following proclamation from one of the radio station’s DJs: “We don’t play the tired old songs.” What exactly makes a song tired or old? Can any song get tired if it’s played too frequently? Won’t all songs eventually get old? And, since that is true, how long does a song stay young? Given that such a proclamation is emanated from a station that principally broadcasts music from the ’80s and ’90s, is it fair to assume that the life cycle of a song is approximately 30 years?

Now, imagine if such rules were applied to classical music. Don’t play anything written before 1980. There are a some variations on this idea but they are few and far between. ASCAP awards adventurous programming awards to ensembles and venues based on how much music they program which has been composed in the past 25 years. The Locrian Chamber Players will only perform music composed in the last decade.

Of course, ideally there’s a balance between having a clear understanding of history and keeping up with what’s current, even though it frequently feels like these two impulses are somehow at cross purposes.

9 thoughts on “Tired and Old

  1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Funny. I proposed this imaginary state of music only from 1980 a few years ago in an essay for Greywolf Artistry. The article was prep for my WAAM project, and called “If We Could Write for the Symphony, or, We Are All Mozart”. The topic is buried down in the subhead “The Hermetically Sealed State: My Personal Fiefdom, Part II”.

    The “yoke of the present” is an enticing idea. No conclusions, though.

    Dennis

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  2. Kotch

    I am looking forward to reading that article and learning more about the WAAM project.

    As for the ‘tired old songs’ idea: I’ve DJ’d a bunch, and I would never play old stuff either. Fortunately, I DJ’d college radio and public radio, so I had very flexible formatting. But most jocks you’ll hear on air are forced to play the newest stuff the most. Over, and over, and over. So they’re playing ‘tired new music.’ I imagine for them the opposite is true: they’d love to play something old because all they hear are the same 20 new pop hits from the last few months. Over, and over, and over.

    Virtuosity is dying (I think, and hope). People who can churn out music with good orchestration and a few unexpected chord changes aren’t enough right now. It’s people who can do something new and specific, and do it really well. Look at Steve Reich. He’s one of my favorite composers. He’s a crappy orchestrator. Who cares? He’s got a cool polyrhythmic thing, he uses electronic samples sometimes, and he was the first to do what he did. So the Mozart thing won’t, or shouldn’t, sustain a composer for too long in the one hit wonder era.

    Sound and Space (my blog)

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  3. Kotch

    Oh, and yes, I think it would be fantastic if we never played any music before 1980, or 1990, for that matter. What the hell, why not restrict concerts to only 21st century music?

    Artistically I’d have no problem with that. It would be pretty great. But then we’d have to submit our programs to the government or the next Rockefeller or whoever’s in charge beforehand and have them approved, like they do in China. And then something like what happened to Harry Connick, Jr. might happen. The guy submitted the wrong setlist (from four years back), and the Chinese government made him play it, even though he realized his mistake and tried to submit a new list. His band members didn’t know the songs at all, so it was a solo show (on old material he probably hadn’t practiced in a long time), so they just sat on stage like a bunch of idiots the whole time. Connick’s music sucks, so that’s pretty damn funny. But that type of government censorship is preposterous, so what the hell – an old school piece every now and then is all right by me, as long as it means I can play any damn setlist I please.

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  4. Chris Becker

    “Connick’s music sucks, so that’s pretty damn funny.”

    Harry is actually a relative on my wife’s side of the family. I think he’s an incredible arranger and a great pianist. He’s also a very charitable person – before Katrina he has been a strong advocate for New Orleans’ earlier generations of musicians. And since his success, he has helped out musicians who found themselves in financial dire straits. I think his character has fed his music and vice versa.

    Just wanted to throw this in the mix :)

    Reply
  5. Kotch

    What are web forums for if we can’t voice our real opinions (without having to truly face our dissenters)?

    But in bringing his China concert up, I was sympathizing with him. I still stand by my opinion of his music, though this opinion had nothing to do with anything else he might do – just the tunes.

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  6. philmusic

    “…Virtuosity is dying (I think, and hope)…”

    Kotch, have you looked at youtubes top music vids? some fast guitar eh?

    As to Mr. Connick, Schadenfreude is not an opinion.

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  7. rtanaka

    Kotch, have you looked at youtubes top music vids? some fast guitar eh?

    Virtuosity will never die, but I think that people, in general, are becoming less and less impressed by it. At one point it was something that was supposed to showcase the technical ability of the performer, but nowadays I think machines have proven themselves to be unbeatable in that arena. (Like Nancarrow, for one?) Then again, one teacher I had said that people are often intrigued by the idea of a human playing like a machine, or visa-versa. Tends to bring up some issues in life that we seldom like to talk about.

    Reply
  8. Kotch

    Fine. I respectfully dislike Connick’s music and yes, I think it’s funny yet unfortunate what happened to him in China.

    And yes, when I write ‘virtuosity is dying’, I do mean what Ryan says: that virtuosity’s social value is declining. It’s just not as impressive.

    Humans as machines: I’ve been particularly fascinated with cyborgs this year. Donna Harroway is all about cyborgs as metaphors for successful feminist revision of a still patriarchal Western society. A musician using a computer interface is in effect a cyborg. Even someone using a saxophone. Metronomes are an interesting phenomenon – first used to represent the constant pulse of a person with steady rhythm, they’ve become the steady pulse we try to emulate.

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  9. rtanaka

    During my years spent studying engineering, I think I spent way too much time dealing with mechanized and computerized systems. Being that I have always been pretty socially awkward on some level, there was something pretty reassuring about the mechanical precision and sense of logic that the systems provided for me.

    But I eventually realized that in doing so I was really just avoiding the difficulties of human interaction and was basically running away from my personal problems. Since then, I gradually lost interest in the “possibilities” of the computer and instead began to look at them as just a useful tool to make ends meet. Machines have recently been attempting to emulate human behavior, but the fact of the matter is that computational processes are always deterministic and finite because they don’t really evolve in meaningful ways without human intervention. I know some technophiles who are all up into AI replacing human thought and such, but personally I think there’s something kind of pathetic about taking comfort in something so predictable. Even indeterminate algorithms are predictable, if you analyze them in mathematical terms, so they’re not very interesting on an intellectual level either.

    The only thing that continues to baffle me is human behavior. And well, a lot of people seem to be willing, and almost take pride in their ability to emulate machines. Very bizarre.

    Reply

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