Subject: (no subject)
From: Peter Conegliano (Peter.Conegliano@tesco.net)
Date: Wed Nov 17 1999 - 14:27:04 EST
Mathew Adkins in the August UK Sonic Arts Network magazine Diffusion.
I really do not understand the main thrust of Mathew Adkin's article, as it
appears to me to go against, and have very little to do with, the CD that
went with it!
The debate of high art/ low art has been grinding on from the 60s til now.
Indeed in an early issue of Electro Acoustic Music in the mid 80s, someone
questioned EMAS calling for 'serious electro acoustic pieces', as if there
was also such a thing as 'non-serious electro acoustic music'. EMAS
immediately dropped the word 'serious'.
Yet even today, a mediocre unoriginal pop record made by a visual artist,
can be called a 'work of art', because it is 'made by an artist', while a
million times more original and artistic pop record, made by a pop musician
e.g. the Beatles' Strawberry Fields' is not a work of art - its only a pop
Yet, even though most classical music comes from the song and dance of folk
music, there is still a difference between high and low art, between
serious music and functional entertainment music. The difference is not in
the source material, but in the work that goes into the creation - indeed
the 'organisation of sound'. That is between a small scale work and a large
scale organised work. When I was a teenager it was oft said by teenage mod
girls, that 'Keep On Running' by the Spencer Davis Group was "Great to dance
to!".But none of them considered it art, nor does anyone today. Most dance
music is not art.
Personally I do not like 'serious' pieces with a constant rhythm, because
they are too easy to write. Over a constant beat, or rhythm track, you can
put virtually anything, and give the piece an instant unity, but also an
instant tediousness - just as you can superimpose virtually any melody and
words, over a basic 12 bar blues structure. If you are dancing or marching,
you want a constant unchanging rhythm. If you are listening 'seriously' you
My very first electro acoustic piece the 'Hannele Overture' in 1975(which
can be heard currently on http://cec.concordia.ca/Radio/Long/Long.html) used
pop music. But it was not other people's pop music, sampled and cut up from
the outside world. It was my own songs, written and performed by myself,
but deconstructed, cut up in short sections, and mixed and panned with each
other, and concrete sounds like water etc.
For me too in the early 70s, the greatest thing about electronic music, was
that you could use any sound source in the world, or one you could
synthesise(at long last the composer was not restricted to the instruments
of the orchestra, and the truly horrible rules that went with them!), and
realise a piece entirely on your own, and indeed work entirely hands on,
directly with the medium itself, intuitively and without notation. This is
still apparently the case today. Indeed it could be argued, that despite all
the incredible technical innovations in the last 3 decades, there still have
not been any electro acoustic musics composed, which can for ground-breaking
artistry or originality, match 'Gesang der Junglinge' or 'Kontakte'. All too
much is 'more of the same', probably within the narrow parameters criticised
by Adkins. But I do not think low art can really come to the rescue. What is
needed are more 'originals' like Stockhausen!
But just like Schoenberg did, when he invented a new sound world, we electro
acoustic composers still have to go back to classical form, even if it is a
classical form borrowed from the similar skill of Eisensteinian film
montage(cutting up film and audio tape are very similar - and both are now
done virtually in a digital editing suite), and even if it is just to repeat
the beginning, at the end of a piece, to give it instant 'unity'. Because,
you just cannot endlessly go through a piece, with endless new material
spliced apparently randomly together. 'Hannele' had a very precise form of
repeating material(ABCDE, A'B'C'D'E', A"B"C"D"E" etc), with an idee fixe of
one song continually developing, or progressing over the whole piece.
Incidentally there is a culture of short electronic pieces (10 min max, and
2 min preferred) which the CEC Radiophonic Pieces of Long Duration at last
breaks! But the longer the piece, the more and more form is important. And
it is form which takes us from low art to high art.
I do not understand what Mathew Adkins is getting at, about some ban on
dance rythmns, which the composers on the CD are trying to break. All the
pieces have their own rhythms, from the materials themselves , and not a
constant one superimposed on it. And all are 'normal', indeed 'classical'
electro acoustic pieces, with very spurious connections, if at all, with
either pop music or dance rythmns.
I myself, do not understand, nor want to collaborate with, techno dance
music . But if composers do - that's fine! As long as the end result doesn't
sound THE SAME AS commercial techno dance music! You must be on ecstasy, I
presume, to recognise the beat of your own heart, and the beat of the
'music', are one and the same! And then the music plays you instead of vice
versa. Pardon me for nostalgia for my youth, when we would sit in darkened
rooms listening to the Pink Floyd, and passing round joints!
As for Adkins' plea for us to embrace pop, it is ironic for me, that my
piece "Hannele' was conceived as, and indeed WAS a 'farewell' to pop forms,
and a bridge to beginning composing 'serious' music! And indeed the piece
does nothing that the Beatles hadn't done in Revolution No 9. But then that
was just a pop record - not a serious electro acoustic piece! Indeed I have
a soft spot for those pop musicians who have dabbled, be it George Harrison
releasing a whole LP of 'electronic sounds' in 1969! , or indeed Jimi
Hendrix, who was not a mere player of the frets of the guitar like Eric
Clapton, but a fully fledged and original electronic composer, be it using
feedback, rubbing the guitar strings against a mike stand to create totally
unguitar sounds, or the flanging on 'Axis Bold As Love'.
But on the whole, I prefer my electronics 'serious', although we could do
with larger scale works and more originality!
Peter De Moncey-Conegliano
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