Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Are You Really Listening To?

I've been reading some of Lydia Goehr's books recently. Here most well known one is The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, An Essay in the Philosophy of Music. After reading that I started The Quest for Voice. Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy. I have almost finished this one. I wish I was a faster reader.
In the Museum Goehr discusses the concept of a "work": how it emerged and came to regulate the production and performance of music in the Western Art music tradition. I'm not even going to try to relay all she covers in the book, but after reading it I felt like I was able to better understand how 'classical' music exists in the terms it does. Beethoven is used as the exemplar in this study.
In Quest, at least so far as I have read, Goehr explores the battle between formalism and transcendentalism. One of the backdrops for this exploration in the idea that music is essentially a social/political activity. From my limited reading this idea stems from Adorno. My understanding of this (please correct me if I'm off) is that music is created at a time and in a place that is unique. It reflects social and political concerns. Music changes through dialectical evolution (Geohr uses the term "doubleness"), i.e. it takes parts of various ideologies and combines them in such a way as to produce new music that is the another step forward in a continuing tradition. Beethoven is used as the exemplar in this study.
All of this has got me thinking about how we listen to music. Being an improviser who's main point of reference in the jazz tradition, do I share the opinion that what I create is part of a dialectical evolution? It seems to me that Jazz is most often taught in this way. i.e. learn the tradition and out of that we'll find our own thing.
But that's not really my main concern. My main concern is this idea of a regulative concept. While in the jazz tradition the 'work' concept is not regulative in the same way it is in the 'classical' tradition. I think there is something that is similar.
So, with that in mind, have a listen to the following clips and think about who it is you are listening to.....

3-01 Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 I. Allegro con brio

01 Aria

03 Moose the Mooche

01 Looking In Retrospective


Chances are you heard Beethoven in the first clip. That seems to be the most likely response.

What about the second? Did you hear Bach? Did you hear Glenn Gould? Who is it that is coming out of your speakers? Does the 'work' travel through time and maintain its identity that whole way? Or is Gould indispensable in his role as performer? Is it Gould you are listening to because without him, you wouldn't be hearing Bach. The matter becomes complicated further if you're at all familiar with this piece, or indeed Bach's keyboard writing and generally accepted performance practices. Gould is eccentric, to say the least. Given this, are we also hearing the music in relation to what is also negates?

And the third? Most people would say that they aren't listening to Gershwin. Instead, they might say they are listening to Charlie Parker. But aren't they also hearing Lester Young? On one hand in terms of the profound influence he had on Parker, but also in terms of what Parker developed as an evolution of the music? It doesn't stop there: we are also listening to the other members of the ensemble, who are all playing in a way that is functionally creative. Each member also brings with him a tradition, in terms of the musician and in terms of the instrument. There is balance of 'old' and 'new.' One of the questions that pops up at this point is, "If I don't know about the background of a person, or a piece, do I hear those things that are being developed upon and/or negated?" Perhaps this a reason why Adorno always stated audiences should be educated; in order to 'unlock' the mysteries of the music.

By the time we get to the fourth one, matters become extremely complicated. Not only are we hearing everyone with in terms of what I discussed above, but we are also hearing a composer play his own work. We hear others play his work while he is present, indeed, involved with them in the performance. Take for example a moment where someone other than the pianist (who is also the composer of the piece) is soloing. Not only are we hearing everyone with in terms of what I discussed above, but we are also hearing a composer play his own work. This music was also made quite recently, given that, are we also hearing the extraordinarily complex pantheon of music in the 20th century that has enabled these people to make music this way? Maybe a better question is, why do there people do things are certain way.

In Jazz and improvised music, it seems, there are regulative concepts that exist that allow others to formulate a judgement about the said performance. Whenever we come to make music, we are bringing with us a set of limits as to what we want to hear. Some may immediately point to 'avant-garde' movements in music. As long as those movements define themselves in terms of negation, i.e. rebellion, they is a regulative concept in place.

Now I am in no way saying that these are bad things, these regulative concepts. To imply that music could exist without them is idealist. I just think that, given the complex times we live in regarding contemporary music making and its connection to place, time and people, it's worth being aware of what these things are, and how they exist in our creative lives. By becoming more aware of these things I hope to be better in touch with what really matters to me in music, because I have a feeling making music is not about fulfilling the regulative concepts I bring to the table.

Just for fun, here are some more clips for you to ponder.....

05 Round About Midnight 1

04 Everything I Love

02 The Healer

No comments:

Post a Comment