Wednesday, September 24, 2014

classic rock versus classical

In an archivally-overloaded atemporal age, with all eras of music equally "present", classical can be as hip - or hipper - than pop/rock, Paul Morley argues in The Guardian:  
"If you are going to go back to the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s to find music that still sounds new and challenging – because then it was an actual risk to look and sound a certain way, whereas now it is the norm – you might as well go even further back in time, to the beginning of the 20th century, to the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries. Now, with all music available instantly, and pop more a nostalgic, preservative practice rather than one anticipating and demanding change, classical music comes to fresh, forward-looking life.

"The alluring, addictive sound of pop does still evolve, but what is sung about remains more or less the same; the poses, controversies and costumes repetitive and derivative. It is machines that are now the new pop stars, the performers and singers like travelling sales workers whose ultimate job is to market phones, tablets, consoles, films, brands and safely maintain the illusion that the world is just as it was when there was vinyl and the constant, frantic turnover of talent, genre and style. There is today a tremendous amount of sentimentality in making it seem as though things are as they once were, a desperate future-fearing rearrangement of components that were hip 40 years ago. But pop and rock belongs at the end of the 20th century, in a structured, ordered world that has now fallen apart.
"For me, pop music is now a form of skilfully engineered product design, the performers little but entertainment goods, and that is how they should be reviewed and categorised. The current pop singers are geniuses of self-promotion, but not, as such, musicians expressing glamorous ideas.
"Most rock is now best termed trad. I like a bit of product design, even the odd slab of trad, and have not turned my back completely on entertainment goods, but when it comes to music and working out what music is for, when it comes to thinking about music as a metaphor for life itself, what tends to be described as classical music seems more relevant to the future.
".... Now that all music is about the past, and about a curation of taste into playlists, now that fashions and musical progress have collapsed, discernment wiped out, classical music takes a new place in time, not old or defunct, but part of the current choice. It is as relevant as any music, now that music is one big gathering of sound perpetually streaming into the world."

Morley has been writing about classical music with fiery energy over at Sinfini for a couple of years now... Indeed the Guardian piece seems to be something of a remix of this manifesto-like oration (his keynote speech at the 2014 conference of the Association of British Orchestras) as well parts of this 2013 appreciation of Holst's The Planets. *

It's quite a self-reinvention. One that appears to date back to the extraordinary impact on him of The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross. (See also that learning to be a composer TV program Morley made).

Except it's not really a self-reinvention, in fact it's the same Morley as ever. Read the whole of that Guardian article, look at the Sinfini columns, and you'll notice that he's simply transposed the way he wrote about JoyDivisionSmithsAutechre onto DebussyMozartShostakovich, barely adjusting the style or approach. And showing once again how unabashedly subjective his writing always has been.... how the real music here is the "song of myself" that is his life's work...  The writing is really about the places that music takes his mind, the journeys on which it propels his thought, the effect on one individual's consciousness of organised sounds....  and not so much about pointing to intrinsic properties or features that the music might have in and of itself.... 

That's not a criticism.    

That's what we all do to, to some extent. He's just more honest about it. 

The Planets was actually my favorite classical work as a boy, rivalled by Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony maybe. Used to lie on the coverlet of my parents double bed, bathed in the sunlight streaming through the big glass window, and drift off as  "Neptune, the Mystic" wafted out of our old-fashioned wood-encased radiogram. 

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