Music & Noise & Thought

Always so much to say and so little time to say it, or vice versa. Currently, it’s the former, so I find myself archiving topics and notes and experiences to write about later. Anyway, for now….

I have some spectacularly, even breathtakingly awesome classes this semester. One of them is a writing class, actually, about the boundaries between Music & Noise. This may seem a vague and broad topic to some, or a narrow and specialized topic to others, when in actuality it is. Both.

One of the goals of this open-ended-type of course is to figure out what the class is supposed to be about. Examining “modern” music, “experimental” music, noise, electronic music, creative silence, found sound, ambient music, &c, contemplating the genesis and evolution of these forms and distinctions (if there are any distinctions), and deciding what it all means in the end, is a daunting intellectual task.

Even though most of the Public sees the aforementioned “styles” of music to be quite new, in fact there is already more than a century of innovation, technology, theory, practice, and philosophy in place. The invention and development of electronic communication in the 19th century (telegraph and telephone), followed by the development of mechanical recording (phonograph), and then the electronic, magnetic, and digital recording devices of the 20th century have spurred an abundance of creative cross-polination in music for centuries. Even well before recording technologies and communication lines became so ubiquitous more recently, the tides of cultural exchange have washed musical styles to and fro around the world in a perpetual feedback loop of innovation, dispersion, (re-)”discovery”, influence, redispersion, and popularity—leading to such cycles as

Tribal music → Jazz → Tribally-infused Jazz → Salsa (as one brief and incomplete example).

The recording industry, its development and its impact, also play a huge role. And this all barely touches up the influence of early innovators and theoretical explorers like John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, and many others before and after.

Goodness, I could keep going, but let me leave some sources for you to explore yourself, dear reader.

  1. Michael Chanan’s Repeated Takes contains a history lesson far more in depth than my single paragraph summary above.
  2. Audio Culture is a collection of excerpts and writings covering every aspect of “modern”, experimental, and electronic music, including their development, implications, and beyond.
  3. Most fabulously of all, John Cage’s Silence is a collection of that pioneer’s extremely interesting and poetic writings, lectures, and performances.

Anyway, life and college beckon me from beyond the computer, so to conclude today I will switch from bloggish mode over to journal mode, and leave some insights that burbled into my consciousness as we listened to some fascinating works of aural art in class today….

  • Any music, sufficiently distorted, becomes noise, so then, might any noise, sufficiently “distorted”, become music?
  • Silence can catalyze thought just as music does, so it only follows that silence, properly used, can be just as powerful as music.
  • If certain music/sounds/silences inspire thought when actively listened to, are those then Art? Then what of other inactive or background music/sounds/silences? They can still inspire—think soothing classical, encouraging muzak, pumping rock—despite passive listening, so what does this mean for Art, or Pop?
  • [Slightly tangential]: A ready, absolute answer or response to everything belies ignorance.

Creativity & the Great Quentini

This past Friday I decided on a whim to just get out and check out the monthly Gate To Moonbase Alpha (GTMBA) experimental, ambient, and electronic music night at the Rotunda. I’ve been there once before, two summers ago, and was pleasantly surprised by the variety and vitality of the performing artists, the quality of the music, and the extremely chill atmosphere of the event. I liked what I heard so much that I bought all the CDs that were being sold there, and it was well worth it—not only because $10 CDs at concerts are cheap and directly benefit the artists, but also because I discovered my favorite song of all time (so far, that is) on one of those random albums (“Trinity” on Adam Johnson‘s debut album Chigliak). It was quite an experience, and it renewed my interest in electronic music more than ever.

This time around, the night was as chill as before, and the artists just as intriguing and talented as before, yet vastly different. That is one of the coolest things about GTMBA and the experimental/underground music scenes in general—especially when compared to the lifeless, canned, and repetitive bilge that constitutes “popular” music today, this stuff and other fringe and niche genres like it are verdantly, vibrantly creative, not to mention interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking.

The most fascinating part of the night, though, was my first experience of The Great Quentini‘s performance art. He came out twice, doing various spoken-word, prop acting, found-sound music, and comedic acts. I had no idea what to make of him on his first appearance, as he performed the miracle of popping popcorn. I played along with confused patience until the next act (Ace Paradise) comforted me with a much more familiar and expected one-man ambient electronica set that was actually quite relaxing and immersive.

But then The Great Quentini returned, and, now in a more receptive state of mind, I soon realized that I was being entertained by a true rarity today: a holistic performer with multiple artistic talents, refreshing ingenuity, and a disarming comedic flair who had the audience deeply involved and invested in his performance, making us laugh out loud, applaud with awe, and deeply ponder his messages and meanderings all at once. He challenged our societally atrophied ears with a novel, avant-garde keyboard performance and he engaged our eyes with elaborate and original costumery and numerous props.

Most of all, though, he broadened our minds with tongue-in-cheek yet profound spoken segments about the religious superiority of gravity, and the “special purpose” that each of us has in life, and he closed with a soundly amusing and eye-opening segment about the rule of plastic today, intermixing found-sound music and dialogue with some old toys….

…But I don’t want to give away too much detail, since,
A) I’d encourage you to be on constant lookout for future performances by The Great Quentini, to go, enjoy, and see for yourselves, and also
B) things like this can never be fully brought to life with language or writing—words are merely abstract representations and are always open to the vagaries of subjective interpretation.

This leads me to my closing point:

Truly original creativity, as well as truly great art, (both embodied in the performances of The Great Quentini), are disappointingly and disproportionately lacking in the world today. Why is it that people are so drawn to complete unoriginality and lack of inspiration? Is it laziness? The fear of leaving the comfortable yet stagnant mental spaces we each create? Or maybe it’s our unconscious desire to converge on societal norms, rushing like lemmings willy-nilly to our own intellectual destruction in the seas of banality; drowning in a deluge of force-fed fad, fashion, and popular media graciously provided by monopolistic, monolithic corporations….

Or maybe none of this matters at all. Whatever. I had fun.

Until next time, dare to think a new thought!