Friday, January 27, 2012

Mockingbird touches on the Law of Indie Cred

This happens all the time. It now seems super-funny that so many people once believed Arrested Development was among the most important bands of the early 1990s. The idea of anyone advocating the merits of Fischerspooner now seems totally ridiculous. It somehow seems crazy that Cornershop was previously viewed as luminous, even though their songs still sound good to me. It’s just an impossible problem: We always want to reward art for being innovative, but most artistic innovations are not designed to hold up over time. They exist as temporary reactions to other things happening within the culture. And that means they will seem goofy and dated when the culture changes again. [emphasis mine]

The Klosterman article is a funny read because the excerpt quoted above is a footnote.  Specifically footnote number 2 but, more generally, that there are footnoes in a piece that barely breaks 1,000 words.  Leave it to a music critic writing about indie music to throw just two footnotes that contain enough words to equal a quarter of the length of the body of the article itself!

Of course depending on the musical idiom there's an emphasis on tradition rather than innovation; or it may be that the fact that pop band after pop band pretty much all blur together the way Vivaldi's concerti kinda sound the same because he was composing by way of the Baroque equivalent of the Xerox machine .Perhaps the funniest way to put this is that in classical music or art music we all know J. S. Bach is arguably the pinnacle of Western art music and yet how many real formal or stylistic innovations did he actually introduce? 

Yeah ... see, it appears that a person can go down in history as the greatest music genius of the last five hundred years and have not introduced, at any practical level, a single innovation in the form and content of music like pioneering sonata allegro form or stuff like that.  Of course Bach knew he was working within a tradition and came from an intergenerational dynasty of professional musicians.   Haydn pioneered some great innovations in musical form but who is more popular for developing and running with Haydn's innovations?  Mozart and Beethoven, that's who. 

What indie rockers don't discover because they don't necessarily immerse themselves in the history of pop music is that it actually doesn't pay to introduce the big innovations that get remembered by a name or a code.  Why?  Well for the classical nerds reading along let me throw out phrases like clausula vera or Alberti bass.  Yep, those are practically the classical equivalents of "power chords" or "twelve bar". Musical innovations that can be remembered by name and stick around end up being, you guessed it, forms and cliches. 

Most artistic innovations are finding ways to repackage and rebranding old hat stuff in a way that's clever enough that you don't necessarily spot how old hat it is.  Now if you're a jerk about things like Boulez often was you can say Schoenberg was dead and that he expanded harmony without making any corresponding innovations in rhythm or other things.  And if you like Boulez' compositions even more than his conducting then, well, whatever.  Who am I to tell you how to spend your disposable income?

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