Friday, October 27, 2006

Contemporary Music

I've been watching "Leaving Home", history of 20th century orchestral music, hosted by Sir Simon Rattle. It's a very interesting tour through the forces that have shaped contemporary music, but even though I've got quite a well-trained ear, this stuff is quite hard to listen to, and very difficult to enjoy in the traditional sense that we "enjoy" music. I'm not going to be whistling the tunes anytime soon, so is it any good?

I'm in two minds about it, but in the end I fall on the side of "No, it isn't." For the sake of efficiency you simply have to establish some kind of criteria, if only for your own sanity, as to what music is good and what is bad, otherwise you'll end up supporting every useless collection of notes somebody writes and claims is An Important Musical Statement. The obvious next question is "so who decides what is good and what is bad?" And then you're going to be lost in a sea of answers from every corner of the room.

I, for example, especially like Tchaikovsky and Debussy, and after that it mostly goes a bit too strange and angular for my tastes. I could live without most of what Mozart wrote, and the less Handel I hear, the better. I like ambient electronic music such as Brian Eno and Peter Namlook and I *know* other people can't understand why I'd listen to such droning rubbish. But Eno and Namlook sell a lot of records and, I think, keep themselves in business, whereas a lot of modern music has to be subsidised to keep it alive. The phrase "arts funding" raises a lot of heated arguments about the purity of modern art vs. using the public purse for music that doesn't stand on its own while the hospitals need kidney machines.

There's no easy answer, and I'm certainly not going to solve it, but I wanted to note that some art dies. Yes, it's sad, but while every form of human artistic expression has the right to exist, not all of it has to be displayed or played more than once. It's important, I think, that as much of it be preserved as is possible especially since it's so easy now to record and store music and pictures.

I suppose, in the end, history will be the judge. While every artistic thought and deed can be recorded more cheaply than ever in history, our descendants will be the judges over what gets played in their concert halls, displayed in their galleries, or left in the archives, no matter if it was popular or even noticed when it was first created.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some very deep and insightfull comments, especially from a guy who for the first few years of his life was brought up listening to nothing more complicated than 3 or sometimes even 4 chord Country Music. My boy has grown up to be a musically cultured musician and I am proud. Dad