Life Just Bounces don't you get worried at all. (A weblog of music and otrogenerica)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Glenn Branca & creativity/hope from the lower half of the internet

Composer and guitar-orchestrator Glenn Branca comes off inexplicably curmudgeonly and doomsaying in this blog for the NYT late last year, seemingly both claiming that creativity in music is dead (without really qualifying this rather sweeping statement) and also buying into the strange idea that music is some sort of linear progression of qualitative improvement, like the ever-decreasing time it takes to do a 100-metre sprint or something, which also seems pretty daft to me. Surely it's better understood like the outward expansion of an ink blot on tissue paper, branching outwards simultaneously in all directions?

For more than half a century we’ve seen incredible advances in sound technology but very little if any advance in the quality of music. In this case the paradigm shift may not be a shift but a dead stop. Is it that people just don’t want to hear anything new? Or is it that composers and musicians have simply swallowed the pomo line that nothing else new can be done, which ironically is really just the “old, old story.”

Certainly music itself is not dead. We’ll continue to hear something approximating it blaring in shopping malls, fast food stops, clothing stores and wherever else it will mesmerize the consumer into excitedly pulling out their credit card or debit card or whatever might be coming.
The best answer to Branca's thesis comes from the comments section of the same article, from one Matt Penniman.

In the last half a century we've seen Philip Glass achieve rather remarkable levels of productivity and popularity, Arvo Part create a new sound for choral music, Yo-Yo Ma bring awareness of Asian classical music to America with the Silk Road Project (and generate some appealing confluences of classical and folk with Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor), and much more. Meanwhile, the larger popular music culture has developed whole new genres, like electronica and hip-hop, not to mention more esoteric experiments like procedural music.

Crucially, these achievements are most visible in hindsight; if you want to say "sure, but what's happened in the last five years?" I would have to answer "plenty, but we won't know what was important for a while yet."
Or, like the first Premier of the People's Republic Zhou Enlai is reputed to have said, when asked about the impact of the French Revolution: "It is too early to tell".

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