LATRALMAGOG Sessions IV & V and some philosophical rambling.

I think about music a lot as you can (i’m sure) imagine. While thinking about my recent activities as half of latralmagog, I have realised that in a lot of ways, it is an answer to some philosophical problems I have been tossing about in my head for some time. I supposed that makes perfect sense, and I imagine this progression from thought to action is normal for most people if at most times completely unconscious. However for me, it seems to have taken place on opposite ends of the same track where now there is a meeting at the center in latralmagog. On one end is my (seemingly inate) desire to make “difficult” music, and on the other are my philosophies about the personal/social politics of music and the making of music. When I started, both the making of music and the thinking about music were still very young, and so distant were they, that I did not really see them as connected, or as an answer to one-another yet. Here are two of the questions, and the thoughts (not to be seen as “answers” in an absolute sense) behind them.

First a quick caveat… I’m thinking outloud here. I don’t really know how to write, and I modify my position all the time, as I grow and change. This is here to encourage thought, not to get you to agree with me. Hopefully you will think, and come to your own conclusions. In the meantime, I hope you at least find my rambling entertaining. :) Oh, and I also didn’t feel like editing this, so you know…

What is music?
Way to start with an easy one huh? Well, from what I have been able to mete out in a combination of my own thoughts and the illuminations of others, it is whatever you think it is. Which is almost an alarmingly simple answer, but it’s almost a stupid question when you think about it, that it’s amazing how it has dogged so many BIG thinkers. When it comes down to it, “Music” is just a word… and like all words that define or deliniate space, its boundaries are only solid in inverse proportion to how much they are being attacked. Thanks to John Cage, the most formidable (in my experience) of the attackers, the word “music” is all but meaningless. In order for it to have any meaning at all, each individual must put their own restrictions on it, but don’t be fool enough to think that anyone will agree with you.

In my personal point of view I differ from Cage. He sought to prove that every sound can be music if you are willing to view it as an aesthetic occurance. He often referenced Rauchenberg’s ready-mades as a parallel in the visual art world, stating that the art he liked best directed you to the beauty that exists outside the artwork itself. So that in Cage’s world, all sound is music, all matter is art, and all experience is theater (and all these naturally overlap, a fact in which he took great pleasure). But this point of view maintains that art is everything you can appreciate aesthetically, and this is where I depart from Cage. I still maintain that art needs the artist. Not the Artist (with a capital A) that Cage deplored, but the finger pointing to the stars. The curator of the aesthetic. Why? Because people are as beautiful, curious and interesting as nature and while you can call their likes, dislikes, preduduces, etc., weaknesses, they are weaknesses which I feel are too tied to our human experience to sever. They like us together is a kind of maladjusted mutual sympathy that I think is ipmortant, even though it can lead to various ills that I have not time to get into now.

Now here’s where Cage’s idea and mine only really differ semantically (oh how useless language really is!). He says everything is art, I say art is whatever you think it is, but everything is beautiful. See Cage views the aesthetic appreciation of an object as a declaration of it’s existence as art, whereas I don’t link aesthetics and art at all. Art is what you say it is, but everything is beautiful. I guess this is beacuse I view art as a construct not a continuum. Art is the domain of the artist, and you can take it or leave it really, because beauty is everywhere if you choose to accept it.

In music this idea means that 1) I can still be a curator of sound if I want to because human experience is important 2) Music is whatever I say it is 3) Not everything I present for aesthetic consideration within the confines of a recording has to be “music” or considered by me as such. This philosophy produces nearly the same effect as Cage’s, but where Cage says the artist must be elliminated so that there is no artist/non artist dichotomy, I say, everyone is an artist if they think they are. (Which is funny because I refuse to call myself one, I guess that is because my philosophy exists in the utopia of my mind (like Cage’s) wheras, I live in a sad state of reality-by-commitee) Like I’ve said many times before, the only difference between me and anyone else is that I have the balls to say that what I do is “art”.

What is the relationship between the medium, availability and value of music?
Why is music pressed on records and why do we buy it? Why do we collect it, own it, etc.? Why do we have record labels? Do they serve a purpose other than fronting money for the production of “art” in order to (hopefully) make an ROI? Does the medium in which a work of “art” is presented affect the way in which it is perceived and how does that relationship function with “musical” “art”? Has our construction of a marketplace for art served us for the better and how?

Edit: Now that I’ve gotten flack for some of these statements, let me be more clear. I believe the art marketplace can be a good thing. If it wasn’t for some very giving souls who decided to use their money to bring the art they valued to light, we may all be bereft of some works we value highly. However, as I’m sure anyone can protest, this situation of money for art is extremely dangerous and that danger is not confined to the “mainstream” world.

I’m not going to answer all of those questions, but I do find myself asking them and stewing about them frequently. Especially in our current climate where we are basically innundated with high quality free music, most often in digital form. There are countless out of print record blogs where one could easily obtain for free, (a digital copy of the audio content of) a record that previously commanded prices of $5,000 on ebay! The value of music is changing, but exactly how remains to be seen. Personally I see the value going down, but I’m not sure we can be so black and white about that.

Is a piece of music put on record because it is valueable, or is it valuable because it was put on record? I’d say a little bit of both. I think it’s put on record because someone valued it and somehow because of the value they placed upon it, it then becomes valuable to others because they value it as well or value the person who deemed it valuable in the first place. But does it have any intrinsic value over and above everything else? Maybe not, I’m not sure I can say, it would depend upon how you define value. I have to say though that after hearing large qualities of amazing records by unknowns that easily rival records by our societal golden calves, it is hard to look at the art market as anything other than a spotlight. Am I alone in having heard steaming piles of crap on reputable lables, that become gems as they are accepted by the easily lead? Is the value of what I do directly linked to who else thinks it’s valuable? Well? Yes, but only if that is what I believe.

(Note: I’m omitting the questions about specific media that were here, because I don’t want to take the time to mede it out and it only distracts from the poit anyhow.)

Or we could ask a similar but different question. What’s more valuable to witness; The Velvet Underground live in the 70′s, or the music made in ones own family? (don’t answer too quickly now :) ) I think a lot of these questions are taking on the dichotomy existing in the world now, of the “art star” and “art star” infrastructure, versus the personal and communal. And why does this exist? Because we buy it. These people, concepts and objects are only more important than others because we have agreed that it is so. So where is value in all of this? It’s wherever you think it is. In this stage in the game relying on any definition of value other than your own pleasure in “art” is just asking to be lead off a cliff.

Now if these things are only of at their hieght in valuable because we buy them, what happens if we stop? What happens if we have so much fantastic music that we can’t even keep track of it and it is all free. We have so much that every record only gets one listen. What happens when even what was previously considered to be “the best” is so common we don’t need it any more? How does it effect how we place value on “art”, or how we approach our own? I would say it evens the playing field somewhat don’t you think? I think it has the potential to take us out of the fog of commercialism and offers us the chance to see, choose and make for ourselves. (Not that all music that is sold is commercial, but that ugly culture does exist.)

Edit: (The paragraph here previously was an ill thought-out rant that actually did more to confuse my point than make it. It is being replaced with something I think is more the point. I can’t stand by any of those previous statements.)

These ideas have definitely shaped latralmagog. These questions in part affirm my decision to improvise. For me, improvisation confronts fleeting value by being instant, commercialism and style by being amorphous, and the question of the definition of “music” by being an exploration.

In a way I feel like there was a time I was tying to cram what I really wanted to do into a box that I thought would be more easily palateable to others, and resisting the real impulse I had toward something less defined. I felt as if I was trying to train myself to make what was essentially other people’s music. Why? Because I guess in a way I thought it would be more “credible”. When I finally thought about it, I realized that I had been improvising for some time, but I had been casting it off because it didn’t fit with what I for some reason thought I ought to do. Once I opened up however, I realized how fun and fulfilling it was to give myself over to all of the ideas and feelings I had pushed aside for so long.

I realize after some of the comments below, that a lot of what I say above can be very easily misconstrued. I wish I were better at expressing my thoughts. I think the bottom line though is that everyone should feel free to do and think as they like about art, theirs or anyone else’s, no matter what the established art world thinks, or what trend it is worshiping today. There is no intrinsic value in anything, we bestow value, so feel free to cast yours wherever you like.

I also want to make it clear that I am NOT saying improvised music is better or cooler than any other kind of music, only that is better suits a certain set of ideas that are occupying me presently than anything else.

LATRALMAGOG, Session IV
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6
- Part 7

LATRALMAGOG, Session V
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Part 5
- Part 6

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7 Responses to “LATRALMAGOG Sessions IV & V and some philosophical rambling.”

  1. startlingmoniker Says:

    As much as it feels like cheating to get a quick answer, my experience has been that language is a carrot that can cause us to chase solutions to unanswerable questions. Language demands that a noun have some sort of concrete reference, but abstractions like music stubbornly ignore such demands, no matter how we struggle with finding a common definition that works for all listeners.

    It’s whether or not we’re enjoying ourselves and our creations that ultimately matters most.

    PS– I’m downloading the sessions. Thanks for sharing!

  2. howsthatsound Says:

    Dave, I agree completely! As I said above: In order for it [the word "music"] to have any meaning at all, each individual must put their own restrictions on it, but don’t be fool enough to think that anyone will agree with you.

    Language is a communal living space in the truest sense, in otherwords, it’s a mess! I wouldn’t be surprised to get a few attacks from commenters out of this. But what they think and feel is their reality and their experience and hopefully it’s clear I’m talking about mine haha.

    Thanks for reading, and listening!

    be well.

  3. startlingmoniker Says:

    I guess I missed that line– it IS a pretty dense block of text up there, though!

  4. Justin Says:

    Why write a blog when there are a million others? Doesn’t that make it worthless?

    It seems crazy to try to articulate any of this. What’s the use?

    Maybe you play improv because you are insecure about having to put something out in the world to be judged (or loved ) that is deemed ‘finished’?

    Maybe you play improv because it’s a way to legitimize a lack of technical ability?

    It’s funny that most of the greatest improv players were people that had played more traditional music for decades. Sort of makes you wonder what the difference is between what you do and what say Miles Davis did. Are they the same? (It’s the classic example of a parent looking at a Pollack or Picasso and saying, “My kid could do better than that.”)

    Also, so much of the music from around the world that is referenced by improv music (eastern musics, african music, Gamelan music, etc) is very rigidly arranged and executed, with musicians taking years to play just one song or instrument.

    There’s always going to be problems with the establishment that supports the arts, but that’s not for the artist to worry about. Just don’t sweat it so much. There’s nothing to figure out, everything is subjective, so don’t try to define it so much and also don’t just throw up your hands and give up. A lot of amazing and inspiring art would not exist if the artists had come to some of the conclusions you seem to have drawn…

    Here’s an interesting counterpoint from the Wire last year:

    http://www.philipbrophy.com/projects/rstff/WireEphiphany_M.html

    You can find the full article on the last page of Issue 273 November 2006 (Joanna Newsom cover.)

  5. howsthatsound Says:

    DaveX:
    I know, I don’t blame you for missing it. :D

    Justin:
    1. This blog has no intrinsic worth, unless worth is bestowed upon it by someone. Since it is worthy to me, it has worth.

    2. You may be right… I may be crazy. :)
    Seriously, you may be right. In a way it’s like putting together a puzzle, I guess. You have to take the parts out of the box first.

    3. I do put something out into the world to be judged. If anything I have opened myself to, if not invited ridicule. If I was hiding, I could think of much better places than a blog with the comments turned on!

    You also are assuming that I have stopped composing music. I have merely found one of many outlets for one of many sets of ideas.

    4. And maybe you attack people when you feel you are being attacked!

    The technical ability thing is a tough one. Sometimes I think you may be partially right. Certainly a “free” form of improvisation alleviates the need to worry about being able to “play” in a classic sense, and I certainly can’t play in a classical sense. (And often times wish I could) But as we all know, technical prowess can be as big a stumbling block as the lack of it. Personally, I’d rather have Brian Eno than Kenny G. any day, but that’s wholly subjective.

    You are also assuming that my form of improvisation takes no technical ability. I think this is an oversimplification. It takes a different kind of ability certainly and fundamentally the questions one asks when playing are completely different. (ie: one of the most difficult things to do in an improvisation session is know when to do nothing.) Either way, one of the things this practice confronts is whether or not, given what I believe about music as a whole, technical ability (in a classical sense) is even material.

    5. It’s a problem to confuse improvisation with improv. Improv directly references jazz, whereas what I play does not (at least not consciously). Furthermore, I can’t even defend calling what I do improvisation, (in the purest sense) because there is always a portion of it which is prepared. (ie: loops)

    The part about Miles Davis is clearly a trap (not to mention a strawman). If you want to use the gods of music to guard it’s gates from impostors, go ahead. You have your rules, I’ll have none.

    6. I love all kinds of composed music and have a huge amount of respect for it. I wasn’t intending the above (now edited in an attempt to be more clear) to indicate that I thought improvised music to be better or more pure than composed music, only that it suited me better in expressing the ideas that are occupying me now.

    7. I wasn’t trying to make the above sound like a downer or that I’d given up, on the contrary, I think I have learned not to be afraid to do what I feel right doing, and at this point I feel more inspired than ever to create things, composed or not.

    8. Ah, I that issue got waterlogged and thrown away. Too bad. I don’t wish to comment much on the linked excerpt other than to say, that the author’s prejudice and resentment are palpable. Venom is like salt for the press sadly.

    Unfortunately what gets lost in all this heady hullaballoo, is that what I’m doing is fun! And these ideas that I’m putting forth have inspired me to create things. Cage has inspired me to create things. I have a hard time seeing anything wrong with that. If anythings wrong it’s that I don’t have the mastery of language to express my viewpoints properly. I’m working on that last one tho.

    Thanks for reading…

  6. justin Says:

    I hear what you’re saying. None of this was meant as attack on what you do. I think it’s quite good, actually. I was just asking questions you had seemed to ignore.

    The Miles Davis question isn’t a trap, it’s an extreme that raises very real and hard to solve issues.

    As for the blog being worthless, I thought I was obviously referencing your statement about all music being free and therefore losing worth, so why do it? The blog seemed a good parrallel.

    Also, who the hell knows the difference between ‘improv’ and improvisation. I thought they were the same, minus a few letters for brevity sake? Improv doesn’t reference jazz. It can reference anything or nothing. Maybe the jazz guys were among the first as a school to explore it. But many of the modern improvisation players, Chris Corsano, Alan Licht, Derek Bailey, on and on, reference and are deeply familiar with the jazz guys and their explorations, so again, I guess it’s all about what you do and not sweeping generalizations. Also, is ‘jazz’ somehow seperate from music. If you happen to reference something you like from a ‘jazz’ record during a session, as opposed to something from a Double Leopards record, would your improvisation session magically become improv?

    Anyway, for The Wire article, do you really consider his opinion different from your own? Is the fact that yours is positive and his negative make you right and him wrong? Is he innately full of venom and hatred because he’s published? Or are you full of ignorant bliss soaking up the ideas that suit you and rejecting others as wrong? Do you believe in right and wrong?

    Again, there’s 2 sides to every coin. Try to see them both, if you don’t now, talk to me in a few years, I’m sure you will!

    Again, what you’re doing is great. Keep it up! These aren’t attacks, they’re questions, hope there’s no confusion!

  7. howsthatsound Says:

    1. I understand, and I appreciate you keeping me on my toes. I didn’t mean to “ignore” parts of the discussion, and anyway, I think that word “ignore” denotes a purposefulness that I lack in this regard. However, it is quite complex and is difficult to even address in a blog format.

    2. It’s a question, I have pondered before certainly, It is hard to ignore. Our society loves to cultivate the difference between “the greats” and the rest of us. I don’t know if that’s wise. In answer to the visual art question, I’d say, sure a kid could do something like a Pollack, but without Pollack, you wouldn’t recognize it as “art”.

    If you say as I do then, that everything is music (if that’s what you choose believe), and that technical skill is irrelevant (unless you decide otherwise), there is no difference between me and Miles Davis beyond what society has constructed.

    3. If we start by saying that all music is free and therefore has no intrinsic worth, no matter who it is by (worth being defined as monetary value). Then the only reason to make it would be some innate desire. The blog is the same.

    4. From what I understand, the word Improv denotes a certain kind of playing to jazz players, which is different from Improvisation (which everyone does to some extent) and way different from “free improv”. I could be wrong, but I swear I have heard some pretty heated arguments about what can be called improv vs. improvisation.

    I don’t know the tenants of improv per se, and I don’t exclude myself from it, or from jazz really, but I expect others would. If my music “magically” becomes improv to someone, that’s fine by me, but I try to stay away from any strict label (inclusively or exclusively). Sometimes I think I should invent a terminology to replace my use of
    “improvisation”, just because I don’t think it paints an accurate picture.

    5. I think the article attempts an easy encapsulation of Cage’s views, (without reference) which is not only a discourageable practice due to it’s natural inclination toward perceptual error, but I don’t believe the author actually “gets it” (if “getting it” in a ten commandments sort of way is even the point, which I doubt).

    To put it more simply, I think Cage would be shocked and dismayed by that mischaracterization were he alive today.

    Venom has nothing to do with being published, but it adds spice to any dish.

    I guess I do “soak up” the ideas that suit me, but I don’t think I reject others as “wrong” per se. That would be an oversimplification. I don’t however wouldn’t say I agree with Cage on everything, and in a way, I think he (being human and all) had his own dragons he wanted to slay, which is of course in direct contradiction to much of what he said. I have read a lot of Cage and on one page he will praise a piece of modern music, and on the next he will say he’d rather never hear “music” again. I can’t pretend to be able to solve that paradox, and I don’t think it’s my job. I get very inspired by the majority of what Cage says and I think I regard him and his ideas with an open mind (even the ones that would seem to go against my own) and that is more than I can say for the author of that article.

    I’m open… even to being wrong, the author of that article is not only closed, he has closed himself off based on what may be a complete misperception. It’s obvious to me which one of those options is more beneficial.

    6. 2 sides to every coin yes… but when the flip side is full of so much (gulp!) hatorade, it’s really hard to take it seriously.

    Talk to you in a few years..? You have misperceived what I am saying over and over because you have formed a false impression of my views and refuse to allow me to modify it. You can hardly turn around and ask me to be more open minded. I consider everything and there is no reality I am unwilling to accept.

    7. Thanks. I’m glad you appreciate what we are doing.

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