Over the last seven years the various times in which I blogged about something and linked to content that vanished "normally" was something that I quoted in the media archives of Mars Hill, often something published with Mark Driscoll's name attached, that might vanish within days of a commentary I made using statements made in the Driscoll media. As mark Drsicoll Ministries has kept moving forward some of those sermons reappear but substantially redacted so that large swaths of material I quoted from their originally published forms has been removed.
I haven't run into cases most o fthe time in which I reference a blog post on the topic of music that is up one month and gone the next. But, sometimes, it happens.
Here was the blog post I wrote.
This was the blog post I was writing about that is now gone
This is the cached form of the page.
googleusercontent.com/search? q=cache:ESi2RFtE1YMJ:www. ethanhein.com/wp/2018/john- cage-and-sound-art/+&cd=1&hl= en&ct=clnk&gl=us
There was a direction some comments were going in as discussion went along I could sort of appreciate but didn't quite agree with. Naomi had comments about the latently racist element of Cage's rejection of popular African American musical styles. Cage was dismissive toward jazz throughout his life. I am less certain that was indicative of Cage being a racist, not that I can establish that Cage was or wasn't racist because 1) I'm not a big Cage fan and 2) I'm certainly not a Cage scholar. With those caveats out of the way I am still not convinced that the default mode we should take in criticizing Cage's dismissive views of popular music in general and jazz in particular should be construed through racial narratives.
What if, for instance, John Cage was a highbrow snob who disliked popular music because he distrusted commercial music regardless of skin color issues? Cage could have been a snob who just didn't like pop music. To put things another way, Cage may not have made it into the canon in his life but to invoke criticisms from Maoists like Cardew it isn't hard to imagine a criticism of Cage proceeding from a question about what class he served. To be simple about it, Cage may not have disliked pop music because of racial issues but because he was having to cater to or pander to a patronage class and if that class had no use for popular musical styles Cage could ill afford to just declare that anything went, i.e. anything goes so far as using as much popular musical materials as you want.
For instance ... :
Having linked to an article on sumptuary codes and online debates about cultural appropriation, it's not really a surprise if I suggest that I think what Cage did was more indicative of elitism or class vetting than a white supremacist thing. High and low distinctions are not that hard to find in non-white cultures. The caste system in India springs to mind. For that matter the tiered status categories of pacific Northwest Indians springs to mind.
Nor does it seem to hold good that invoking a high low divide in which folk or popular art being distinct from high/classical art applies exclusively to whatever "white" culture is supposed to be. Traditional Thai music (i.e. "classical" Thai music) can't be construed as defaulting to white supremacist ideology. Since I've been reading up a bit here and there on Pacific Northwest Native American cultures and practices in the last few years strict rules about who can and can't perform X or Y song, or even hear it, doesn't have to have anything at all to do with latent or even explicit white supremacy. I find it slightly annoying that contemporary scholarly discourse so swiftly defaults in some circles to assumptions that high/low distinctions might default to white supremacist views. Maybe in some cases, sure, but the defaults taken up in online discourse have me doubting whether it's good to have such a literally and figuratively black and white set of polarities on these topics. I'm not sure I buy a number of claims common in what seems to be the new musicology any more than I buy defensive claims made by "modernists" or even "traditionalists".
Since I mentioned Pacific Northwest Native American cultures on the topic of songs and who could hear them ...
When Dr. Ida Halpern recorded Pacific Northwest tribal songs she could establish that chiefs and others in the tribes owned slaves and could note that Pacific Northwest tribes had some strict rules about who could hear songs and share songs. It was when the men and women who knew the songs realized the younger generation didn't want to learn the songs and that these songs would die with the generation that knew them that they agreed to work with Halpern to record the songs for posterity. We can't forget at any step of that process that these were, within tribal terms, people of high status or, if you will, kinds of aristocrats.
The assertion that high and low art has latent white supremacy might make some kind of sense if we only confined ourselves to a particular era of European history but, honestly, I don't take as given that high/low dualisms are latently white supremacist. There can be dualisms about what music is appropriate to sing in church or a bar and fans of African American music may not need much reminding about how within African American music some music was considered inappropriate to sing for those who sought to spend a lot of time singing in churches. That hardly means Son House or Charley Patton couldn't (let alone didn't!) record both sacred and secular song. Breaching previously observed prohibitions about what was and wasn't appropriate to record or perform in the wake of new technological advances in recording and presenting music has been with us for millennia.
It's possible to argue that Cage was too committed as a matter of branding and public relations to taking a low view of popular musical culture as part of catering to his patronage base without simultaneously insisting that this had to indicate racism on Cage's part at an implicit level; it is also not necessary to invoke latent white supremacist views for Cage's patronage base. Some of them may well have been white supremacists but there are plenty of other ways to find fault with Cage without invoking statements of presumed white supremacism. Xenakis' complaint about aleatory and indeterminacy was couched in terms of pointing out that your improvisers or going to improvise what they already know. A Charles Mingus variation might be that you can't improvise on nothing, you're going to improvise on something.
Now I did read the Lewis article Ethan linked to and it was an interesting read. The definitions for Afrological and Eurological are much narrower and time-specific than online reactions tended to convey. What sticks with me is that Cage comes across as though he was loathe to call improvisation improvisation as a point of class rather than race but it's a fair question why Cage and his associates seized upon aleatory and indeterminacy when they could have used the term "improvisation". The arguments that improvisation in jazz was based on permutations of existing lexicons of formal and gestural clichés doesn't convince me. I enjoy too much Baroque music to buy that kind of line. Inventively manipulating conventions and received riffs is too central to the entire span of Baroque music for me to see a reason to drop that, and a similar observation can be made about jazz ... but partisans for one or the other style or era can tend to dig down into established critical/scholarly narratives in a way I just don't feel any obligation to do myself.
Cage, however, did seem to find some necessity for using terms like aleatory and indeterminacy rather than improvisation. Improvisation might be freighted with the baggage of being done within the context of an identifiable style. Cage and others may have been committed to the old Romantic trope of tearing up the rulebook and figuring things out. I've never been interested in tearing up rulebooks myself.
The more I study music the more I get the sense that when 19th century pedagogues said what the guidelines were before admonishing students to not feel beholden to the rules there was a scholarly double bind at play. On the one hand there were rules laid down as to what a good sonata was or what a good fugue was. The presumption was that whatever Beethoven or Bach did was what was being conveyed ... though at this point jokes about the gap between what 19th century theorists prescribe and what J. S. Bach actually did are too numerous to need to do anything more than allude to.
On the other hand, artistic genius was held to be above pedantic rules and the genius was expected to break free of the conventions of scholasticism. But the 19th century portrait of what musicians in the 18th century did was ... a bit skewed. The rules that a student might be admonished to break were not necessarily rules that were laid down by 19th century composers or theorists so much as guidelines that emerged from within 19th century pedagogy. Chopin could write what Hepokoski and Darcy called a Type 2 sonata in his B flat minor sonata and while contemporaries could sniff that he was too beholden to old school norms, didn't some consider the sonata too weird to make sense of it? But that this "Type 2" sonata was, in fact, pretty normal can be established not just by reference to the famous Chopin sonata, a survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas shows that a Type 2 sonata form could show up as often as a "textbook Type 3 in Hepokoski and Darcy's taxonomy of sonata forms.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that just because a range of scholars and writers think of Cage's disdain toward popular music reflected latent white supremacy is not a reason to consider that the case. If someone can prove from Cage's own writings that he was a white supremacist let them. At the moment it seems we could propose that Cage was a snob and needed to be one based on the patronage class he needed to appeal to without getting anywhere near the idea that Cage or his patronage base were white supremacist as construed in 21st century scholastic or polemical terms.
For my time and interest Coltrane and Coleman are way, way more fun to listen to than Cage! Their work marks the end point for me in terms of the jazz I find fun to listen to. I admire a lot of jazz from Armstrong up to Coltrane and Coleman and after that I, well, I really do like some George Russell stuff into the 1980s and 1990s but I guess I'd say that I couldn't get into Third Stream, Weather Report-type stuff and the Marsalis-type stuff. If I had to think of some reason why that was it might simply be because by the 1970s and 1980s the boundaries between popular song and jazz as a self-identified art form became as non-negotiable and impermeable as the boundaries between "classical" music and popular song had already been for a generation or two. A lot of what I love about a composer like Haydn, as I read the scholarship on his work and consider my own enjoyment of his music decade after decade, is that he treated the boundaries between "high" and "low" as more permeable than later theoreticians and music historians seemed willing to do with the rise of German idealism.
Which is a very roundabout way of my suggesting that we do a full frontal assault on German idealism rather than just assume that white supremacism is automatically involved.
Cage as the apotheosis of Romantic ideology completely separated from any stereotypically Romantic musical sounds seems easy enough to establish but I figure I've probably written enough on this topic by now. I don't have any complaints if people have complaints about Cage as composer or Cage as philosopher or Cage as musician but ... I do hope we can go back through contemporary criticisms of Cage to see that there were more ways to critique his work than a riff (however understandable, within a range of perspectives) that would say that Cage's dismissal of jazz reflected the latent white supremacism of "high" and "low".
But then the whole post is gone from Hein's blog, just around the time I was finally getting around to writing some more thoughts about some things I agree and don't agree with about ways to proceed in criticizing Cage's stance on jazz.