Sunday, December 8, 2013

these groundhog days

Another year approaches its end... and yet another Tiny Mix Tapes year-end-wrap-up essay trying to think its way through/past/around retromania (and Retromania)

This one's thesis - 2013 was the Year of Appropriation.

Just like 2012, 2011, and every other year in recent memory, then. Only more so.

Writer Simon Chandler takes an optimistic stance. But I dunno, man:  if the best I could claim for 2013 was that it saw the continuation and marginal exacerbation of moves made by Ferraro, Lopatin, and Hype Williams in 2010 (or earlier), I'd be quite glum.

Dean Blunt figures prominently as an exemplar. The pro argument more or less the same as my nutshell from a couple of  years ago:   "a music, seductive in its vaporousness, that seems to be a place where signifiers go to die, become insubstantialized."

I said "optimistic" but actually, at first the essay seems the opposite, speaking of the erosion of cultural synchrony, the failure of new micro-genres to have extra-musical repercussions....   But then there's a swerve and it's argued that wringing your hands over these developments is old-fashioned. Aesthetics are all that matter; other considerations, other expectations for music,  are "sociology".

But what if the severing of music from social energy, the incapacity of music to generate new forms of behaviour and community....  apart from being disappointing in themselves, actually had a pernicious effect on the music itself?  What if it was a two-way process, a vitiating circle?

I've talked before about the rise of "concept-music". And again we see here the withdrawal of underground music into a cordoned-off seclusion that oddly resembles the art world.   As underground albums increasingly barely exist as commercial entities, their appearance in the "world" become more and more like an exhibition.  The releases get written up in the appropriate journals and a tiny handful will buy them - when available at all - as pricey, exquisitely-packaged musical equivalents to the limited edition print. But most will check them out for free, out of a desire to stay informed or participate in the conversation. And that makes sense: as making a livelihood from music becomes an ever more remote scenario, the art-world model of prestige and "being taken seriously" has a compensatory attraction to musicians.  But it's a long way from the democratic and world-historical power that music has demonstrably exerted in the past.

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