Friday, January 5, 2018

the Classical

Recently I was in a well-known - indeed "iconic" - record store, where I flicked through an assortment of brand-new and recent releases, checked them out on the decks, and found most of them to be pastiches of earlier styles of music (styles abrasively new and unforehead at the time of their emergence) or solid / stolid,  worthy additions to long established and revered traditions. 

Business as usual, then. 

For much of my visit to this store,  Manuel Gottsching's E2-E4 burbled blissily in the background. 

That got me thinking.... Isn't it strange how the Once-Was-New can still sound new, somehow -  no matter how long ago its moment was... despite the huge number of times you've been exposed it? The force of its former insurgence rings out, even though its innovations will have been assimilated and endlessly recycled by subsequent artists. *

That applies to Madame Bovary as much as to Jimi Hendrix, to the Pastoral Symphony as much as to "Hymnen", to Performance as much as "Terminator" (the track not the film, silly!), to "The Harlequin's Carnival" as much as to McCabe and Mrs Miller... 

Everything now classic was once radical: in its own time, a breakthrough or a break-with-tradition. 

Equally, anything in the present that styles itself as "classic", that defers to a hallowed earlier moment, that adheres to and abides by a Legacy - it will not and cannot be a classic in the future, or for the future. The sieve of time will sift these out. 

And in the meantime, we really shouldn't bother with them. Not when there's a superfluity of now-classics / then-breakthroughs existing in the world that can renew our inspiration... and strengthen our resolve to never settle for less. 

* How does this effect of once-new, always new actually work?

A snippet from an old blog essay about the modernistic drive of the hardcore nuum, in which I redeploy some nifty thinkage of Frederic Jameson:

According to Fredric Jameson, what defines the modernist artwork is a relationship to time. It enacts the break with the past forms of art within itself. "The interiorization of the narrative [of modernity/modernism]…" becomes an integral element of the artwork's fundamental structure. "The act of restructuration is seized and arrested as in some filmic freeze-frame" such that the modernist work "encapsulates and eternalizes the process as a whole."

What could that mean in music? Precisely a genre [jungle / drum + bass] that involved a kind of suspended clash of sampling/digital processing with the analogue/hand-played, such that the uncanny time-warping of digital technique coexists with and permeates the hands-on, real-time musicianship. Thus breakbeat science captures the moment of superhumanisation, the funk of flesh-and-blood drumming (just eight seconds of G. Coleman's life-force from "Amen, My Brother") mutating into something beyond itself. Likewise with vocal science. Jameson, again: "the older technique or content must somehow subsist within the work as what is cancelled or overwritten, modified, inverted or negated, in order for us to feel the force, in the present, of what is alleged to have once been an innovation." 

The shock of the new, eternalized.