Archive for the NOW Orchestra Category

EARS WIDE OPEN / EARS WIDE NOT

Posted in George Lewis, Keith Richards, NOW Orchestra, Robert Wyatt, Spool with tags , on November 22, 2010 by candymachine

1st vignette:

 In his newly released memoir, titled “Life,” Keith Richards writes:

 “They [schoolmates at art school] sometimes got at me because I still liked Elvis at the time, and Buddy Holly, and they didn’t understand how I could possibly be an art student and be into blues and jazz and have anything to do with that. There was a certain “Don’t go there” with rock n’ roll, glossy photographs and silly suits. But it was just music to me.”

 2nd vignette:

Up until a few short years ago, I was involved with the CD label Spool. We were in the midst of putting together a CD with trombone great George Lewis and the NOW Orchestra (The Shadowgraph Series: Compositions for Creative Orchestra). At the time, Spool was running three different music series, loosely divided into improvisation, contemporary composition, and the rather vague new media / new form series. I was explaining to George the differences between the three series with respect to where the Shadowgraph CD was going to end up. I remember vividly the questioning stare I  was getting from George as I broke down the classifications. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what each series was about. Rather, he couldn’t get why all the music would warrant three different series. To borrow from the Richards reference above, it was all just music to George Lewis.

 3rd vignette:

Robert Wyatt, one of the greatest vocalists singing in the English language, was asked what kinds of music he liked, to which he replied –in true Wyattesque fashion –  that he only knew of two kinds of music: good music and bad music. He liked the former. For Wyatt too, it was all just music.

What these vignettes point to, I hope, is the general tendency on the part of musicians to be wide open to the musical spectrum. It’s a big musical universe out there, and musicians find it friendly. Sure, there are some musicians who don’t follow this tendency, but generally I find it to be true.

But here’s the rub, I would suggest that the opposite tendency holds sway among  music fans / listeners. Most listeners insulate themselves into niches and pigeon holes. They carry the torch for specific genres in contraposition to other genres. We all know the jazz or classical snob, the head banger, the folkie, the punk, the Prog Rocker, Hip Hop heads, etc. Here too, I am generalizing; there are listeners out there who have a voracious appetite for a wide range of music, but they are vastly outnumbered by the listeners who plow a narrow field.

 Why should this be the case? What makes listeners, generally speaking, narrowly focused on music? I think a lot of it comes down to self-identity formation. I think a lot of people use music as a way of stating who they are, what they are about. In its worst form, it’s part of an exercise in  prefab ‘life-style choice.’  Music becomes an accessory, a constituent element of personal brand.

 Which actually just begs the next question, why do we need to do this? Why do we use music in this way? Is this music’s primary use value? It’s true that the music one likes and gravitates to says something of who one is, but at worst music also becomes a commodity used to articulate the persona we want others to see us as.  A lot of this ‘need’ to ‘self-identify’ –  the need to be ‘me’ through a barrage of commodities, including music, is driven by commercial interests through media, of course.  If we could get past the music-as-image and music-as-me aspects, perhaps we could get to Robert Wyatt’s place and be left with just choosing between good music and bad music.

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