May 30, 2003

Academia Embraces Young Experimentalists - A Marketing Ploy?

My first reaction upon hearing of the concert with the London Sinfonietta orchestrating Aphex Twin, SquarePusher and BOC was, what a clever idea to build audiences - and how desparate.

It's obvious to anybody that goes to contemporary music concerts that audience attendance is dwindling, all the while experimental venues, of the electronic sort, are growing, for the moment. The recent Dartmouth call for scores, and the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival seem to be more attempts at building bridges to increase audience share. But is academia really embracing the young experimentalists? Are Aphex Twin songs being mentioned in History of Electronic Music classes? Is there any analysis of Autechre's use of spectral metamorphosis?

Of course there isn't. That cannot happen (at the moment) for academia to assert that it has a legitimate position above the community college courses on MIDI Synthesis. The canon, of academic computer music, which practically nobody recognizes as good music, must be protected. The prestige of the academic electronic music community must be preserved in order to maintain the patina of legitimacy. The academic power structure which enforces the legitimacy of decades of crap computer music can only be maintained by embracing an audience that would appear to provide them with increased market share.

When I see CD's being released with Curits Roads next to Autechre, etc... and mentions in the curricula of academic electronic courses, only then will I believe that a real interest other than stealing market share exists!

Of course when this happens, will the flood gates open as they did in the textual world? Will musical porn be discussed in a post-modern context? Will Cher and Madonna's electronic music be analyzed not only in post-modern history courses, but in electronic music courses because they are popular? Stay tuned!

Posted by jeff at May 30, 2003 08:43 AM

The academy in peril????????? I think not! What makes you think that they will embrace innovation now that is outside of the ivy tower of tenure? Have they embraced Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Jelly Roll Morton, or Sun Ra? Have they embraced Phil Spector, Joe Meek, Brian Wilson, or Lee Scratch Perry? The innovations of the Beatles, Zappa, Beefheart, or the Velvet Underground..have these values and techiques been uplifted and deemed important?? They certainly have with stood the test of time! Oh sure, you proabaly have a few renegade teachers who might mention them or state their importance but........really????????????? The music of the simple folk??? It's primitive and unsophisticated! It's Art Brut...naive and without solid intellectual rigur. It's based on non-western techiques. Have they yet to embrace some of their own....Tod Dockstader, Richard Maxfield??? Cher & Madonna........LOL!!!!!!!!

Posted by: jbenzola at May 30, 2003 09:13 AM

"Practically nobody" (as in the vast majority of people on this planet) recognizes Aphex Twin and Autechre as good music either.. Try walking up to people on the street here in Canada and saying "Hey! Whatta ya think of THIS new Draft 7.30 album, hey?" and rack up the negative responses, "wieeerd, repetitive" etc etc... A small audience for music doesn't make it bad. Different genres have their own audience, those who appreciate their particular style and approach to music. Also.. the academic area tends to wait years before making a judgement or assessment on a style: the writer mentioned Curtis Roads, he may be what you classify as an "academic" composer (does that mean I'm not allowd to like his music?), but you won't see his name in most music history textbooks, although you do start to see Aphex Twin mentioned, and more frequently the music of Kraftwerk or other classic electronic acts. Wait for somebody with a passion for Autechre to write a paper on their music someday.

The writer mentions "academia" as if it is some group that consists of people who all have the same tastes and interests. I wasn't aware that the London Sinfonietta represented the bulk of the academic community, as the interests I've run into in the field are too broad. Generalizing about any so called group never helps... Its always interesting though, to find out how many of the so-called "popular" electronic musicians listen to "academic" music, and vice-versa. The number is quite large.

Posted by: penumbra at May 30, 2003 09:05 PM

The ba-newmus carried an equally ridiculous thread like this a while back. The entirely fallacious assumption that there is some sort of distinct dualism between what is being taught and what is happening in the real wolrd is based on outdated notions. While it is true, due to a variety of reasons (tenure, habit, inertia) many lecturers in university are not aware of the most current trends in music, it is false to assume that this is true every where, or that some one could not appreciate John Chowning's Stryia and Thu-20. We are intelligent people, all of us, and our capacity for understanding transcends such false dualisms. Curtis Roads music is fabulous in my estimation, but I also like the Brassic Beats compilation on moonshine, and Huddie Ledbetter for that matter.

Posted by: Scot Gresham-Lancaster at May 31, 2003 02:31 PM

What is being taught now, in terms of a group of computer music pieces that are canonic as electronic music all the while ignoring the real world of electronic music - is happening - in most universities. There is a complete and devastating bias against the popular experimentalists - and it's only been in the last few years that things have begun to change - with the realization that it has to change.

There are great teachers, such as Boulanger, Risset, et al, who bring up all kinds of music. But 'academia' in general is a joke in its separation of the real world from the ivory tower of Csound-derived crap.

You can certainly name good academic pieces, what is amazing is how you guys freak when something obvious is stated, 'most academic computer music sux.' There was a thread in Computer Music Journal about 7 years ago, "Why does computer music suck?" It is still online, in fact. I contributed to that discussion, FWIW.

Most music sux period. The defensiveness itself is telling. Most Aphex Twin sux. Most Autechre sux.

But they may have a better shot at doing something truly new because they do not have to conform to the stylistic biases enforced by the academic tradition. Beatless, atonal, concept pieces that have no form other than a conceptual plan which has no basis in musical form is the norm. I'll be writing a series of articles laying out this bias.

Posted by: jeff at May 31, 2003 05:53 PM

If the lack of academic attention to music you like is so annoying, why not do something about it yourself? Why not review Autechre or Squarepusher for some academic journal?

I know from personal experience that not being an academic onself does not mean one cannot get published in academic journals.

Also, what's your gripe? What would academic attention GAIN for this music? If academia is so critically bankrupt, wouldn't its attention be worse than its inattention?

Posted by: Michael Gogins at June 2, 2003 11:48 AM

Jeez, I just find it interesting, that after years of being dismissive, there is interest all of a sudden.

Critical recognition, in the US is not a matter of academic journal acceptance. It's a complex series of networks involving NGO's, boards comprised of academics, institutional affiliations, and musical organizations which determine today, for example, who the next Aaron Jay Kernis or Xenakis will be. Because of this - there are no more new rising stars. There are no up and comers.

I'll be writing about this situation in light of a Kyle Gann story he wrote on the eve of 2000 calling the situation, a "Matthew Complex".

As the article I wrote states, academic acceptance of popular experimental electronic music appears to be as a way of gaining audience share and sometimes it appears to be something more interesting, possibly a change in the nature of recognition of what is electronic music.

The power structure of US classical music is organized at least in part thru the academic power structure. The recent John Adams' interview where he decried the control the academic world has over the Pulitzer's was interesting in this regard too.

Are music worlds merging? I'd like to believe so. But at this moment I'm more skeptical that's it's just a gambit to increase the power base of academia - not a real attempt to include interesting musics by non-academics.

Posted by: jeff at June 2, 2003 12:16 PM

OK, now I can understand you a little better. You are now distinguishing between "academia" and "classical music."

My perception is that the relations between academia and classical music in this country are deep, but tangled. The success of Minimalism in the 1970s showed that composers from outside academia could gain recognition as "classical composers", be reviewed by mainstream media, sell recordings, get commissions, and so on.

My perception is that things have changed since then, not in academia which pretty much seems to me to be in a time warp, but in the classical music world and in the culture at large. Put simply, I feel the whole country is just a lot more conservative, resulting in a loss of support for symphony orchestras as well as scant attention for experimental music. I do not see classical music, academic, and experimental music as being in any deep seated sense in opposition. No doubt there are curmudgeons of all stripes who can't stand particular styles, but historically these worlds have supported each other, and I believe they still do - the signals you quoted being examples of that.

What is more interesting is that there DOES appear to be a change in the way composers are formed, they do appear to be much closer to popular music, while at the same time some popular musicians (such as Autechre, but I would also count Steve Roach from (shudder) "new age" music, not to mention many younger musicians) are making what is recognizably art music - certainly not classical music, but as certainly as jazz, art music.

My perception also is that things are, just slightly, different in Europe.

Posted by: Michael Gogins at June 2, 2003 05:15 PM

Things, unfortunately are changing for the worse, though, regarding the stylistic loosening, IMO. Kyle's article from 1999 pointed this out, and the scene here in NYC I think is pointing out that without healthy governmental arts support, stylistic norms concretize and become fascistically academic.

Here in NYC, we're seeing a re-birth of interest in complexity, Columbia's taking a spectralist to head their department, the way downtown is shrinking into a hole since 9/11. All the while popular experimental electronic music seems to be growing.

Why is that? I don't necessarily see that as a healthy thing, because it's often so stylisically naive, but it is at LEAST different than the norm of numbing gray atonal, arhythmic music of the 70's which is being re-packaged as computer music, spectral music, or what have you.

Where is the truly NEW new music? I think it's a bit here and there, academia, popular experimental, independent experimenal, it's everywhere.

Now how do we consolidate it and aggregate it and promote it so the cream rises to the top? That's what I'd like to hope this blog is about. Where is the good music? I believe it's independent and online. And much of it can be found thru the Csound list or thru or MP3.COM.

Posted by: jeff at June 2, 2003 07:45 PM