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New Music Century 21
The idea of "new" has to be updated continuously. You could argue that if it happened yesterday, it is already old. I often read people who are educated in art history and architecture who describe things happening now as "postmodern". Someone many years ago decided that modern had ended. But the term modern, like new, properly used, describes a continuously advancing wave of events that must be updated continuously. There really is no "postmodern" or "postnew."
In the history of music, each musical "genius" added his own innovations so that the ideas that drove musical composition progressed, despite the resistance of patrons and audiences. There has always been a battle between audiences who want more of the same and composers who were innovative. Many creative composers suffered repeated rejection and penury. In the 20th century tradition and innovation continued to compete.
There were different schools of progressive music. Composers of symphonic works dabbled in new scales and dissonances; audiences expecting more Mozart and Beethoven were not pleased. Similar notions of scale experimentation emerged in modern jazz. Some performers left their audiences bewildered or offended mostly by long solos that wandered too long in the realm of dissonance and atonality. As synthesizers evolved along with computer composition (sequencers) all possibilities became possible. Algorithmic programs moved toward complexities that human performers could not match. Often, the innovations produced noise rather than music. An important distinction is easily forgotten: Noise is ugly and confusing. Music is informative and pleasing.
"New" eventually acquired value as a marketing claim, but audiences paid increasing sums to attend concerts with expectation they would hear repetitions of old and familiar tunes. When the term "new music" is used to describe more repetitions of existing musical styles, music that is truly innovative is neglected. You might notice that almost all these new releases are covers of old tunes or variations, interpretations, and imitations. Or, music is replaced by talking or shouting mixed with somewhat rhythmic noise. The tendency toward noise, moving away from music is apparent in popular music intended for teen-agers and young adults who tend to be rebellious, sometimes angry and tolerate noise better than older adults. Intoxication with drugs can be added to the mix to assure that the participants are totally disconnected from any “reality” that more sober and reasonable citizens value.
In the past, music was referred to as an art form and musical artists were people who had practiced their craft for many years and excelled in their technical and expressive abilities. Classical musicians are polite, well groomed, well dressed people who bring skill and dignity to their performances. Many are university trained. But, now everyone with an electric guitar and amplifier is a musician, even an artist. Some punk rockers boast of their 3 chord vocabulary. With the loss of a tradition of credentials, talent and skill, music is truly egalitarian. Anarchy replaces order and noise is called "music". If your interest is primarily making rhythmic noise that sells, then you switch to electronic dance, rap, hip hop and erotic pop.
Human societies follow a dialectic path with advances and regressions, sometimes occurring together in a confusing contradictory way. The most obvious regression in pop music is back to frantic dancing, featuring the sexual movements of intercourse and costumes that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. These version of sexual dance, shouting, groaning and grimacing require only a loud kick drum in 4/4 time and a deep bass drone to keep the audience in a frenzied state. This is old human behavior dating back thousands of years.
The music category "Electronic" has become obsolete since all recorded music is electronic and performance in all popular genres are now electronic. In the good old days when acoustic instruments were in still commonly used, electronic sound production was experimental and intellectual. Progressive universities developed electronic music laboratories and computer geeks collaborated in new ways of music creation. The investigation of acoustic physics and psychoacoustics advanced rapidly as commercial interest in recording, sound processing and electronic instruments advanced in many directions.
By now, very sophisticated digital workstations and computer programs provide an generous palette for sound creation. The price of admission is not only the cost of equipment, but more important, there is a need for new understanding and skills. We would claim to have sophisticated understanding of sound production and of music theory. This advanced understanding does not translate easily into popular music, which is relatively primitive and repetitious.
If you asked me how would you change the course of musical history? My first impulse would be to restore credentials, ban noise and reward only those who produce beautiful sounds that made everyone feel happy and well. But then I would realize that creativity in music and all other human activities has been banned or punished by authorities who resisted change. As in all matters human, idealistic goals are seldom achieved. Beauty and truth are achieved only for brief moments and rarely appear on MTV.
I will consider a variety of ideas for new music in the 21st century and offer some examples as new music emerges in my studio. I have experimented with sound production, algorithmic composition, and every strategy that has emerged to enable beginners and experts alike to assemble sounds in ways that seem meaningful to them. I have been interested in hypnotic sounds, cool jazz, trance dance, chill, new age soothing music, and minimalist composers such as Philip Glass. A meaningful inquiry into the possibilities for authentic new music will involve philosophy, neuroscience, acoustic science, technology, and an understanding of human nature.
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