music

Memorials without mimesis: Abstraction and intertextuality in William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops

 

On September 11th 2001, the composer William Basinski completed The Disintegration Loops, a work documenting the slow decay of recorded tape loops he had unsuccessfully attempted to salvage. That same day he witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Centre from the roof of his Brooklyn apartment, his new composition providing the soundtrack to this experience.

This link between the work and the events of September 11 has led to The Disintegration Loops being ‘canonised’ as a major artistic response to the disaster. However, the convoluted compositional process of the work, along with its inherent abstraction, raises questions regarding to what extent The Disintegration Loops can be said to be ‘about’ the events of September 11.

With this in mind, this work will use Basinski’s music to explore fundamental questions regarding the possibility of abstract art’s potential to comment upon real socio-political events. The work will explore the possibility that The Disintegration Loops’ aesthetic constitution posits itself as a far more pertinent artistic response to September 11 than perhaps more conventional representations of reality.

Numerous formal characteristics of the composition will be examined, including the work’s intertextuality, the nature of authorial intent, and the inherent abstraction of instrumental music, to affirm just how separate from the events of September 11 the work actually is. The consequences of these characteristics, compounded by the work’s abstraction, will expose the true functions of a work that dispenses with any mimetic subject matter in favour of giving prominence to its aesthetic content. As such, the possibility will be broached that it is the shared aesthetic cultural space that links the artwork to the real, rather than any semantic content tangible within the work itself.

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Ed Sheeran, the Brit Awards and the politics of ‘authentic’ performance

What is ‘authenticity’ in musical performance; and what does a hegemonically-determined authentic musical performance look like?

Last week’s Brit Awards were defined by two wildly contrasting performances: on the one hand a celebration of white middle class domination of the arts in the UK; on the other, the biggest name in American hip-hop playing Trojan horse for the British grime scene.

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The Avicii industry

Avicii – True (PRMD/Universal, 2013)

The recent trend for EDM/’American roots music’ crossovers contains some of the most unreal, aesthetic-as-commodity, artistically (morally?) bankrupt music I’ve ever heard, and is proof, if nothing else, that the culture industry is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

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Rethinking retromania: temporality and creativity in contemporary popular music

Within music criticism and journalism in recent years there has been a growing fixation with what has come to be known as ‘retromania’, or ‘pop culture’s addiction to its own past.’[1] The overriding thesis of this critique is that recent technological and cultural circumstances have led to something of a regression in the creative impulses of musicians, leading to a lack of innovative styles and an overreliance on pre-existing forms as the inspiration for ‘new works’. This criticism has been particularly championed by Simon Reynolds, who articulates his misgivings about contemporary pop music as follows:

Instead of being about itself, the 2000s has been about every other previous decade happening again all at once: a simultaneity of pop time that abolishes history while nibbling away at the present’s own sense of itself as an era with a distinct identity and feel.[2]

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Spectatorship, accelerationism and art’s critical potential

(Originally written November 2013)

To gain an understanding of the way in which art can itself be an agent of cultural critique it is vital to explore the true nature of spectatorship, how this relates to the production and reception of meaning in art and, ultimately, how a lucid understanding of these two issues contribute to a recognition of art’s actual critical capacity. Here we will identify art’s critical potential through a focus on the implications of Jacques Ranciere’s analysis of spectatorship, while also drawing upon Adorno’s exploration of meaning in art, and identifying how their work relates to a burgeoning accelerationist aesthetic evident in some contemporary artistic practice. The manifestation of this critical potential in contemporary art will be explored through the works of musicians James Ferraro and Daniel Lopatin, as well as a selection of the multitude of artists following in their wake.

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In defence of ‘pastiche’ and ‘retromania’ (or, creativity in the time of YOLO)

‘In a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the imaginary museum.’ – Frederic Jameson

‘The twentieth century’s closing scenes having witnessed the apparent end of history rather begged the question of what on earth we were meant to do from now on. The same instability and uncertainty which has produced a loss of faith in political orthodoxies, and analytical paralysis in the face of a multiplicity alternatives, has also produced a splintered and disintegrated culture at a loss as to how to define itself and, given the apparent imminence of disaster, unconvinced that it’s worthwhile bothering to do so.’ – Rhian E Jones


I’ve been intending to write about vaporwave for some time, but I’m glad I have refrained from doing so until now, as two pieces I’ve recently read have led me to completely reassess my thoughts on the genre, and by extension what I believe to be the misunderstood role of what is commonly identified as pastiche and retromanic tendencies in modern music.

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Four instances of the sublime in music

Possibly more than any other form of art, it is music that lends itself most often and most effectively to feelings of the sublime. This is perhaps because music, unlike visual art, and certainly unlike literature, is abstract in its very essence. If we accept the definition of ‘abstract’ as that which is ‘characterised by a lack of or freedom from representational qualities’[1] we can deduce that, despite one’s best efforts, it is potentially futile to ascribe a pure and absolute meaning to a piece of music, as no degree of description or representation can be attributed to the music without remaining external to the very music itself: no description can transcend the effect and essence of the music itself. As Nietzsche suggests in The Birth of Tragedy, ‘By no means is it possible for language adequately to render the cosmic symbolism of music,’[2] as it ‘symbolises a sphere which is above all appearance and before all phenomena…Language, as the organ and symbol of phenomena, cannot at all disclose the innermost essence of music.’[3] Therefore, language is an impotent tool in providing a full understanding of music, and so the meaning of a musical work must lie within the musical work itself, separate and free from a fully linguistic and logical comprehension.

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