Sex, Guns, and New Music

On a visit to Germany several years ago, I met a man whose occupation was translating video games from English into German, and vice versa. He said that American video games often need major edits to account for the excess of violence they contain and which are completely unacceptable by most Western European standards. On the other hand, the German video games need a similar level of attention because they contain far more sexual content (mostly nudity) than games from the U.S.! I’ve never been a video game person, but I think that those living stateside who are should feel terribly cheated, and one can only hope that for the sake of those in Germany that all the guns and gore are being replaced by more… attractive content.

Last week here at the Box we received a communication from a reader pointing out the tendency for the language of new music to employ terms that suggest violence or aggression. For instance, it was pointed out that it’s common to read press materials containing phrases like “aggressive,” “no holds barred,” “pedal to the metal,” “face-melting,” and the like. Similarly, that it was easy to find new music titles out there like “Killer,” “Sickness and Death,” and “Winds of Blood.” I can’t say that the notion is completely off base. Using such language is an attention-getting technique, and, for what it’s worth, it can be effective. Given that there is so much music out there, it is understandable that forceful language, whatever that may mean, would be viewed as a way to get noticed. Only the “strong” survive.

What concerns me more is the music behind such words; many feel the need to create work that is bigger, louder, and more “gut-busting” than ever. This is perfectly well and good—after all, Stravinsky did it, Mahler did it, Andriessen and Annie Gosfield are still doing it, among many others, so why not? It makes me wonder about how smaller, quieter, more delicate compositions will fare in the midst of increasing volume and activity. If there is another Morton Feldman, John Cage, or Eleanor Hovda starting a composing career out there right now, what will happen to that music amidst so much shouting? Will a serene composition inspired by Buddhist thought (not that Buddhism can’t be fierce and fiery, mind you!) be given equal consideration as a “balls to the wall” composition inspired by a political riot? I certainly hope so—in the end, both are significant.

As the reader pointed out, we live in an increasingly violent world, and our music appears to be reflecting that experience. If you believe that art mirrors life, that is not at all surprising. Perhaps there should be more new music that displays a more, um, European sensibility as mentioned above. It doesn’t hurt to try.

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