What's New?
The PoD Roundtable
moderated by Bill Shoemaker


Shoemaker: I’m all for impurities in music. I wholeheartedly second Earl Hines’ rule that you should leave some dirt in the music. Though they can be corrosive to a scene at any given point in time, purity tests have created real dynamism in jazz and improvised music. Both jazz and improvised music are largely reactionary traditions. While the so-called Jazz Wars that ensued from the purity tests laid down by Wynton Marsalis, Stanley Crouch and their proxies had a high, press-driven profile, I think it touched upon issues that overlap those articulated in the late 1970s by improvisers like Steve Beresford, who reacted to what they thought was a trend to create a style or styles that went by the name “improvised music.” I think the idea of “product” can manifest in many ways that have little to nothing to do with the commerce of music -- I include the early critique of editing improvised music for LPs -- but after decades of hearing creative music referred to as “product” by the record industry, I’ve developed something of a knee-jerk reaction. Certainly, we all have protocols, ways of working that are as pragmatic as they are aesthetic. Occasionally, the protocol is superseded by discovery or just ceases to work. What do you do when confronted with the latter?

Butcher: Up to a point, the answer to that is inbuilt into the activity – if one

allows it. When I play in duo with Paal Nilssen-Love and then with Angharad Davies the only sense in which they are related musical activities is that they both involve listening and the attempt to play with another person. Aesthetically (and technically) the situations are almost oppositional, and there are purity police, if you like, waiting to pounce – even moralize.

Another angle can be seen through a science analogy. Quantum mechanics has worked well for almost 80 years. There is no choice but to apply it in most non-macroscopic situations because it successfully predicts that physical reality. It's clearly of great importance, value and meaning. But scientists are familiar with it, maybe bored with it (although it remains fascinating when you first come upon it, or dig deeper into it – like so much music; but does it seem "old-school" I wonder....). The interesting/stimulating (and frustrating) thing for the experienced, is to explore where it breaks down, such as at the interface with general relativity.

As I've said before, we're fortunate with music – as the reality we have to agree with is extraordinarily malleable, although made resistive through our human constructs and beliefs. When quantum mechanics and relativity are replaced by a new theory, it must include and explain everything they already had. Thankfully, that's not required in our own developments. We are all of our time, but the relationship between the development of an individual's knowledge/desires and the more objective development of their "subject" is very different in music and science.

Off track now, I was thinking yesterday about Alvin Lucier. Pieces like "I am sitting in a room" and "Music on a long thin wire" are principally quasi-autonomous workings out of processes that demonstrate acoustic phenomena (resonance, interference, feedback etc.), with minimal space, or intention, for personalized expression, yet I find them to be very poignant and poetic. The first response is to identify this with the aesthetic appreciation of scientific theories – but I think that's wrong. I think it's a mixture of what's created by the listener's imagination and associations and the sense/emotion/limbic-system connection discussed earlier.

One thing, moving on from the Lucier thoughts. I've noticed a real upsurge of interest in untreated field recordings in recent years. People buying the CDs for an aesthetic/musical experience, although the activity was once thought to be more scientific/academic. It's recognized that the sound of cracking ice can be more interesting than a conventional electronic composition. Some of my recommendations are Rick Rue's water recordings, Peter Cusack's Favourite London Sounds and Chris Watson's wildlife recordings.

Schiaffini: I feel like turning around the same spot. I see that everybody agrees on the similarity between scientific and musical procedures (being both creative with a great amount of consciousness). We love to plan and at the same time disregard our projects at any point; we love dirty (Wow! Never too clean!); we know that we are strongly individuals, but we are as well very sensitive to what surrounds us. Our “products” are always done to satisfy mainly ourselves, and our work goes on in a continuous feedback. I don’t know if you have a translation of an old essay from the ‘70s by Umberto Eco: “Apocalittici e integrati”; of course we feel more “apocalyptic” than “integrated”, and the meaning is clear.

What else?

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