Re: Quick guide to postmodernism (was: Re: Gibson (was: Re: Computer chicken))

Subject: Re: Quick guide to postmodernism (was: Re: Gibson (was: Re: Computer chicken))
From: Eliot Handelman (
Date: Sun Oct 02 2005 - 21:35:57 EDT

bill thompson wrote:

>hey eliot,
>i understand most of what you're saying but i'm having
>trouble with one comment:
>>the result "sounds
>>good." This is because
>>if it sounded bad, that would be a kind of appeal to
>>an inner
>i'm wondering if in trying to make this more
>manageable for me something got lost? i mean, who
>determines what 'sounds bad' as compared to 'sounds
>good'? wouldn't that be an example of a value system
>based on a meta-narrative? i.e. one dominant value
>system that determines what sounds good etc...sounds
>good certainly can't just mean tonal or consonant
Well, notice the scare quotes around "sounds good." An example of
is schoenberg's "emancipation of the dissonance." The theory /story is
that what at
one time was considered dissonant, is now (ie, to Schoenberg) considered
because of upwards spiraling whereby "we" -- the musically enlightened
-- actually
perceive the harmony or beauty in what formerly was considered harsh or
ugly. For Sch.
this is a semi-mystical proposition about the "spiritual" in art,
through which "we," mankind,
are progressing towards greater illumination.

The postmodern wisdom is that "no one believes in metanarratives
anymore." We are not
actually evolving new musical awarenesses because of mankind's
collective spiritual growth.
True or false?

So "what sounds good" means what sounds good NOW, to me, here,
listening to this. It
doesn't mean "I don't understand this music but maybe if I take courses
at the local community
college I'll figure out what it's all about," or "sorry, I'm

For me one of the main things happening in music in 70s/80s that seemed
to be aspect of
PM was the "back to the audience" movement, as respresented by composers
like Rochberg,
or Del Tredici, the big 3 minimalists, the german New Tonality/New
Simplicity movement., Andriessen,
younger composers (then) with an ear for pop/rock like Daughtery or Todd
Levin, and
Kronos q. performances of Hendrix as interestingly arranged by Steve
Mackey, even the
kind of pop-ism of Lansky's idle chatter. All of this stuff "sounds
good" in a way that Op. 33a
doesn't (to me, and I like early schoen. A LOT -- pelleas, Op. 16
pieces, etc.)

If these things sound good it's because these guys are plugged into
specific music practices
that exist because people do like them. You have to decide for yourself
whether this
implies any sort of cultural pastiche or not.

LIKING music is not (to my mind) about "meta-narrative." It was an
article of faith with
12-toners that if you grew up with 12-tone music, it would be to you
what Elvis was to
other people, instinctual, basic, a "language" of expression that gets
you right there. 80 yrs
later or so we still don't see this. There's no reason to believe that
what can be EXPERIENCED
as music is completely a manner of training or education. In fact I
find that to be a rather
orwellian view of music -- get the rat cage on someone and they'll come
out whistling "2+2=5".
It's much more likely to me that music DOES involve certain kinds of
computing that the
brain carries out in relation to the kind of PHYSICAL reality it's
adapted to -- but that's
another matter.

"Back to the audience" WAS postmodern in the specific sense of following
a "modernism,"
the view that, eg, serial music encoded learnable perceptive principles.
Instead it said,
"music isn't PROGRESSING anywhere -- and I like these chords."

The only thing that ever did really seem to me to catch PM in music was
late 80s hip hop --
in part, because of the notion that PM art codes for its own failure. I
never once heard any
"serious" music that was as deft in suggesting the whole sense of
posteriority in regards
its own possibility. I'm thinking of stuff like Def Jam and Boogie Down



>i'm guessing the gist of it was that pm is about the
>sounds themselves without appealing to an 'inner
>adjustment' or existing in reference to or as a result
>of either a 'system' and/or higher/deeper meaning
>(where as modernist works are very much about either
>the system (serialism) or the attempt to craft the
>'perfect' object or experience that opens you to a
>transcendental 'higher/deeper' reality beyond this
>one.) in other words, modernist works at some level
>point somewhere else, where as postmodern works point
>to themselves. yes?
I see what you're saying, but in some ways it's the opposite. In PM you
don;t really
create -- because, after all, "the death of the author." You use
fragments of the
existing world, though (as least in vizart) without meaning to take
advantage of
the buttons such shards could press. Then there's the issue of
self-reflection in the
hall of mirrored texts beyond which there's nothing. So PM points all
over the place,
without necessarily using "pointing" as a significative feature.

There's a question whether music ever can NOT point to other music. What
Webern op. 28 point to? I personally believe that Webern is, in fact,
some kind
of amazingly distilled gloss on EXISTING music, but that's not how he
was understood
after the war.

The same thing happened with Jackson Pollock, I read recently that he
thought his painting
was about surrealism, mayan sand carvings, a whole world of cultural
reference. But after
the war Clement Greenberg felt that the politically right thing for
America was a pure formalism --
art ONLY about the instrinsic problems of art. Webern too was
interpreted as a new kind
of formalism.

So the question is what do you mean by "modernism" -- whose
interpretative politics to
subscribe to?

>my examples would be cage, who most certainly could be
>considered p.m...

Jameson said so, but I really don't know about that -- Cage's Zen was
just about the
kind of emancpation that PM doesn't want to acknowlege. All of these
are just too simple in the end.

-- eliot

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