Up until yesterday I completely agreed with Bad Horse’s assertion that art has been caught in a spiral of self-isolation.
>The elite learns to associate inaccessibility with quality, and criticism with amateurism, and produces more and more inaccessible works
The song linked at the top of his post sounds to me like cats walking across untuned fiddles, rather than a masterpiece of “the greatest living composer”.
Then yesterday I was introduced to Mike Oldfield (thanks to Floornight). And while this isn’t something I would play at a party or recommend to most people, I enjoy large parts of it and find them quite musical. Which seems to me like I’m not applying consistent standards across Oldfield and Ferneyhough.
I’m reminded of the RadioLab episode that informed me of the riot following the 1913 debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It’s a good story, but to sum up – it appears people most enjoy music that is similar to what they know, but different enough to challenge them a bit. The brain naturally predicts what is coming next in a song based on melody, beat, experience, etc. And when that prediction is wrong in a way that is surprising but still seems “fair”, the brain is delighted. Rite of Spring was slightly too different for its time, thus causing the pain/hate.
This explains why as I’m getting older, less and less new music appeals to me. I’ve heard much of it before. Humanity has been rewriting the same basic songs for generations. Which is OK, the young kids coming up need their own version of Madonna or whoever. Everyone needs that foundation to build on, there’s only so many variations on those basic building blocks of music, and using your parents songs about Vietnam certainly isn’t gonna cut it. (Seriously, watch the Pachelbel Rant video, it’s great and makes this point better than words can)
We get bored as we become familiar with the basics. This is the instinct that makes people say things like “The best music/video games/whatever came out when I was a teen.” They still had new and interesting things to discover and be delighted with then, before they’d become familiar with what was widely available. I remember when the new X-Com: Enemy Unknown came out, and all I could think was “I liked this a lot better back when it was called Shadow Watch” But no one else had played Shadow Watch, so everyone else loved it. /shrug
Which brings me back to Oldfield. I suspect that if I hadn’t listened to a lot of modern music, I would consider it noise. But as it is, I’ve been swimming in rock/alt music for 30 years, and so I recognize a lot of musical tropes and habits in Amarok that draw me in and have me guessing about what’s happening, before screwing with me a bit. And it’s kinda fun. Either I haven’t listened to enough rock, or else the song is still partly crap, because some parts of it just sound jangly and awful to me. But I’m starting to see how with another decade of being submersed in rock music even those bits might begin to take hold.
I never listened to much classic. I can identify maybe a half-dozen orchestral songs (Beethoven’s 5th, Flight of the Valkyries, Oh Fortuna, Canon in D, the William Tell Overture, Fur Elise… what else? Not much.) So I don’t have any of the foundation needed to appreciate Ferneyhough – assuming that there’s anything there to appreciate. Point is, I wouldn’t know either way.
In a way, I’m sad for humanity. We are stuck on the entry-level of music appreciation, as we keep dying every few decades and the new generation has to start from scratch. But it gives me hope for the future. Various people have said they can’t imagine living for eons, that they’d get bored of everything. These people probably are stuck listening to what is being played on the radio, or re-listening to their formative albums. There ARE people digging deeper into the minutia of music, creating things that sound bad to new listeners, but which appeal to the hardened genre-savvy antediluvians. The more esoteric it gets the smaller the listenership, so it doesn’t seem like something that could support many people. But fortunately, art isn’t always driven by monetary concerns.