28
Jul 04

a celebration of the critical strengths of

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 115 views

a celebration of the critical strengths of not bothering actually even to listen (or indeed read): obviously i can see why this saves time – it is EXTREMELY handy to have a little codebook which tells you in advance where good music must come from, what country, what neighbourhood, what process, and allows you to discuss it in “depth” without ever having to hear any of it

“Pop today is reworking and recombining materials that in greatest part originally came from [Self Organising Autonomous Cultural Activity]. Pop has no resources of its own, apart from the archive of its own earlier reworkings of SOACA material.” Even if this were true (it’s not, of course – “pop” has lots of resources that undergrounds don’t have) (yes yes and vice versa), it wouldn’t say ANYTHING about relative quality of recombinance/reworking versus “original” in re either their respective intended theatres of operation (a local “underground” vs the vastly scattered atomised outreach of the world’s public – or more properly, small but still scattered segments of them), or – just as important – the unintended theatres they spill into.

What Simon is saying pretty much boils down to the old Musician’s Union slogan “KEEP MUSIC LIVE”: but the effects of transmission-at-a-distance, to outsider audiences not “in on the codes”, by means other than word-of-mouth, and our involvement in these – how we use them, deal with them, bounce off them – are PART OF THE WHOLE STORY.

(Also: the notion that ANY of these scenius-type undergrounds operate outside the reach of the market – or that small local organisations are intrinsically or more radically anti-market than large ones – is just silly. The demand for constant novelty is nothing if not a market demand: the underground=>overground model is entirely shaped by market ideology.)

I probably feel the way abt the buzzphrase “transcending binaries” that he did in 1988 abt “pride and dignity”, but the point JUST TO STRESS IT YET AGAIN is not the the goofy 12-ft-lizard strawpopist belief that the “only good music is music in the top 40” (let alone that “everything/anything in any given top 40 is good”), it’s that the assumption that the processes by which a hit gets made can NEVER produce surprises, or challenges or shocks to yr own soundworld, is (historically) completely unjustified (in fact the entire history of pop/rock/rap clearly testifies to exactly the opposite). And if this all changed sometime in the last decade – which of course it may have done – then the change has to be explained (what’s the economic analysis?) (we cd always blame downloading i spose). Obviously undergrounds produce effects chartmusic can’t; vice versa is also the case. Local scenes go stagnant precisely bcz (walled off from the great outside) they STOP being able to challenge themselves: mass media is a vector from and a link to the world outside yr little scene (yes sometimes a very treacherous or destructive link) (treachery and destruction are challenges and shocks).

I don’t entirely trust Simon’s ears on this specific issue anyway: not only does he “hear” nothing in chartmusic except what his theory tells him he will hear, he has always pretty much explicitly argued that theory’s prejudgment OUGHT to be the organising principle of cultural apprehension – and he’s cheerfully admitting he’s NOT LISTENING (ie interested) ANYWAY!!

[UPDATE: OK, looking at this post again this morning, it is a bit harshly and unjustly expressed (esp. as Simon is someone I like!!) More temperate exploration of ideas in the comments box.]

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