Thursday, January 05, 2006

potato potato

I really like what Kyle Gann says about the musical naming game.

On their social aspect:
'Of course, our skeptic could have said, “There is no such thing as an Impressionist painting, there are only paintings.” In a certain trivial sense this is true. But all it really says is, “I refuse to participate in your culture of word games.” Today everyone understands that there is nothing metaphysical about the word “Impressionist.” It is simply, as defined by its historical usage, a part of cultural literacy.'

On the importance of having them:
'A person convinced that there will be no more movements is a person for whom the history of culture is basically over, a person who believes that everything possible has already been perceived, and that there are no new avenues left open to us. We whine about the sanctity of the individual, but art grows by leaps and bounds when groups of people start to have collective realizations.
Occasionally one person creates a compelling new language on his own, but it’s extremely rare. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our music, and consciousness of those things is not likely to dawn on only one person at a time. Artists need each other, and the anti-ism diehards want to imprison them each in solitary confinement. A sense of creative community, so crucial to the development of an art, is devalued by the ideology that pooh-poohs purported movements.

Or to personalize it: In the early 1980s, I had a lot of cool ideas about rhythmic structure. I thought those ideas alone would make me the King of Composers. When I got to New York and it dawned on me that Rhys Chatham, Mikel Rouse, Michael Gordon, and Ben Neill had all had the same ideas, I had to jump up off my butt, steal what I could from them, and raise my music to a whole new level to avoid being just one of the crowd. That’s how music history happens (even among the so-called American Mavericks) far more often than the more popular lone-genius theory.'

My interest is spurred by my current lazily-pursued endeavour to find a new path between the two most common ways of characterising the current state of jazz, ie. "jazz is dead and has been since 19xx" / "jazz is an open pick 'n' mix swamp, unburdened by dominant movements." Both point to the impossibility of new movements and therefore both imply statis (which is what the death metaphor really means), even if the former puts a negative spin on it and the latter a positive (freedom through fragmentation such that, from the extreme view, every individual is a movement). By searching out networks of musicians and plotting their music against the multiple roots they draw upon, today's jazz movements and what they add to the music should be revealed.

Sometimes the musicians do part of the legwork for us by forming collectives and labeling themselves: The Jazz Composer's Collective, f-ire, AACM. Sometimes it's labels who have a tight enough focus to help us to see what's going on (Blue Note at one time, Fresh Sound New Talent for New York's progressive mainstream, Thirsty Ear's Blue Series for avant-jazz/electronica cross-over, De Werf for the most interesting Belgian stuff, Smalls Records for that scene, etc.). Or a few individuals can serve as hubs (William Parker, John Zorn). Otherwise, it's up to the listener to trace networks, bonds and kinships to discover the commonalities of the present and the roots in the past. The second phase is essentially to do the same thing, but for the past, so as to get a much richer view than the usual "great man" / "swing/bop/free/fusion/and then what?" skeletal linear summations that lead nowhere. The final aim of all this is, obviously, to be able to refute the "jazz is dead" declarations by bringing to light in a clear, historically-informed way the events of today, hopefully in a non-rigidly-categorising way (even though a degree of simplification is actually what makes a model useful). I think that this is a worthy (if huge) task.

I suspect that one of the reasons the jazz blogosphere is so poor compared to the pop or classical ones is that the feeling that nothing really new is happening, nothing is really worth talking about, has become so pervasive that it's unconciously embedded into us. The only way to counter this is to shove the evidence under everyone's nose.