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Pick two musicology perspectives, one prior to 1985 and one after, and give a critical evaluation and comparison of both paying attention to the relevant philosophies associated with them and period in which they were used. Look at the relevant social setting at the time in which these perspectives were being used and comment on any effect they had on its formulation. Secondly choose two historically recent (the last 50 years) but stylistically different musical pieces and apply both your chosen musicology perspectives to them. Discuss the relevance of these perspectives to the pieces you have chosen and critically evaluate how successfully they inform you on these pieces and their settings.
We live in strange times; a generation ago Christianity and politics were under fire in the 1960's counter culture, this was because religion was thought to be unscientific and consequently untrue, politics, or politicians even repeatedly failed society. Now religion and politics are not rejected because they were critically examined and found wanting but rather because they claimed to be true. Academics regarded these claims as uniformed and intolerant. This is the seed of postmodernism and one that continues to be one of the dominant forces in culture today. But to understand postmodernism we first have to establish what exactly Modernism is. Modernism and Postmodernism are two philosophical and artistic movements that have dramatically shaped and subsequently reshaped the world we live in. Like all intellectual movements, these two deeply affected Western culture; this essay will give a critical evaluation and comparison of both movements, explaining their relationship to each other and how they have influence attitudes towards the development of music. Particular attention will focus on how relevant social settings have help mould the philosophical thought of the two movements. Secondly; by applying the two chosen movements, a critical analysis will be performed on a pair of related but stylistically different pieces of music The Beatles LP (The White Album) and Danger Mouse's, The Grey Album.
Modernism is a reforming movement that started in the late 19th and early 20th Century in art, music, architecture, literature and the applied arts. Although some regard modernism as a philosophy it would be more accurate to describe modernism as a movement with the art, which transpired into inspiring modernist philosophical thought. Modernism is essentially a rebellion against 19th Century historical and academic traditions, (e.g. cultural absolutism and Victorian nationalism) on the grounds that traditional forms of art literature, architecture, social organisation, daily life and religious faith were becoming out-dated in a modern industrialized world.
Along with the industrial revolution came the ideas of capitalism and rational thinking, modernism as a movement started in the west, particularly in England and Europe. It formed a new and different way of looking at the world, Descartes sums up the starting ethos of modernism with one of the original philosophical terms, "I think, therefore I am," (Descartes 1637 cited in Baird et al, 2008) Descartes' almost revolutionary observation was perceived to form a pillar for knowledge. For example some "Knowledge" could be a figment of imagination, mistake or deception (e.g. religion). People believed that the very act of doubting one's own existence serves as proof that their existence is a reality, and through this reality we should only believe and what we can prove. When the world started to think in this way it started to ignore things like spirituality and paranormal or supernatural theories. Modernism signals a move in western culture that moves away from the Magical and the mystical into the factual and the things we can prove. Modernism can be seen as the belief in progress, through science through research and though discoveries, we are going to find a better way of living. (Hicks, 2010)
Modernism called for the examination of all aspects of existence, from philosophy to commerce, with a goal of establishing and overcoming what was holding back progress and replacing it with a new, more progressive and efficient model of reaching a kind of utopia. Modernists believed that by rejecting traditions they would discover new and radical ways of expressing themselves in art, but also to encourage the audience to take the time to examine their own preconceptions. It highlighted new ideas like experimentation, radicalism, freedom of expression, and primitivism, and disregarded conventional expectations which meant that audiences often found themselves alienated and started with unpredictable and bizarre effects, for example, stream-of-consciousness literature, surrealism in art and atonality in music. (Mastin, 2008)
It was in this period that we saw the secularisation of the art practices, instead of an artist being commissioned by the church we saw people creating pieces with secular subject matter, (e.g. Van Gogh's 1888 impressionist paintings of sunflowers) and later we had movements like expressionism with presented the world from a solely subjective perspective, radically distorting it for emotional effects in order to provoke ideas or moods. (Baldick, 1991) Modernism's first wave came in the first two decades of the 20th Century with musical works by Igor Stravinsky and Arthur Schoenberg; Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso and Gustav Klimt in art; Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius in architecture and T.S Eliot and Virginia Woolf in literature, just to mention a few. Modernism really came of age in the 1920's, with Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, Bauhaus and the most nihilistic of all, Dada. (Mastin, 2008)
After WWII, Modernism's focus shifted from Europe to the US; the movement continued with Abstract Expressionism followed by movements such as Minimalism, Process Art, Geometric Abstraction, Pop Music and Pop Art. By this time Modernism had become mainstream and institutionalized, it was now considered "post avant-garde" indicating it had lost its revolutionary power, this generated a reaction of its own known as Postmodernism, this was both a rejection of modernism and a rediscovery of the older forms of art. (Mastin, 2008)
"We must break out of this narrow circle of pure musical sounds, and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds," Luigi Russolo, (1913) the Italian futurist.
In Music, "Modernism" refers to the period starting at the turn of the 20th century, in which musical language went through significant development and change. This was a period in which avant-garde composers innovated music by reinterpreting and challenging older categories of music, ideas and theory, this lead to new ways of approaching harmony, organization, sonic, rhythmic and harmonic aspects of music, and changes in aesthetic worldviews. (Metzer, 2009) The seed of modernism can be heard in the opening chord of Wagner's 1859 Tristian und Isolde. The score of this opera is cited as a milestone for the development of Western music. (Rose, 1981) Wagner uses an astounding age of orchestral harmony and polyphony, orchestral colour that was seldom found in his earlier works or even at the time. The Tristian Chord, in which it became known as, signals a significant in the move away from traditional tonal harmony; his experiments with chromatics ultimately became one of the most prominent influences in Western music. This is often recognized as the starting point for the modernist disintegration of tonality. (Grove Music Online, 2011)
Debussy took a similar direction, leading and inspiring composers to develop new approaches to composing; he led the way with his interest in non-Western music and his use of harmony. Modernist music reflected the wider philosophy of modernism in regards to breaking away from the constraints that bound it for thousands of years. Music grew to reflect the emotions, feeling and toil of the composer, becoming more internalised, meaning music became a means of expression for the composer rather than a form of entertainment for the audience. (Kline, 2010) Artists like Arnold Schoenberg created some very interesting ideas, e.g. his use of Sprechstimme in Pierrot Lunaire (1912) is a notable example; no longer did text and sound run along together in parallel descriptive logics. In fact, Schoenberg show us a perfect example of a shift between Impressionism to modernism as his career spans both eras. Schoenberg's development of the twelve-tone system is the starting point of today's avant-garde compositional theory. (Kerman, 1985)
The adoption of Chromaticism; and departure from conventional ideas of tonality, combined with respective importance of consonance and dissonance encouraged an ultra-academic approach to music, where anything resembling the previous genres of music was to be reviled, but experimentation was to be applauded. (Kerman, 1985) Music became very elitist and seemed to be a topic reserved for academics and intellectuals. Musical modernism demanded the breaking of expectations, categories, conventions, limits and boundaries as well as unbound experimentation, and the onward exploration of the new. This led the way for the continuing search in the 20th century for new approaches to pitch organisation as an alternative to tonality; it also brought about new instruments and technologies opening infinite possibilities for composers. From the theremin in 1920 to the martenot 1928 then the synthesizer and finally and most revolutionary is the computer.
It was in this experimentation sprit that composers began to consider looking beyond the traditional realms of tonality, rhythm and meter, but they also started to experiment with new methods for creating sound and new instruments. It was out of this spirit that composers like Brian Eno and Basil Kirchin started to incorporate new techniques and methods like mixed meter, utilising electronic music, the profound use of silence and the use of natural and ambient noise. (Eno, 2012) So a movement that started with Copland, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Strauss developed into experiments with micro-tonality, miscellaneous sound and Minimalism. These were important developments in the way of modernist thinking that would be crucial in the way it would go on to influence Postmodernist thinking and music, an example of which is the influence of the Javanese Gamelan on western music, the Gamelan brought about an increased significance of percussion and rhythm. Prior to this percussion was mainly used for orchestral music. As Postmodernism began to develop composers such as Steve Reich and Julia Wolfe, they began to use rhythm as the primary force of their music (Nelson, 2003). Often with tone being an incidental part of the music, sometimes not even needed at all. (Dark Full Ride 2009, Julia Wolf) This is an outgrowth of Stravinsky's use of accent and rhythm as a primal driving force in his music. (Klein, 2010)
There are four main characteristics of modernist music; first there was the desire to make something new and original. Second is the birth of popular culture, nursery rhymes, folk songs, Jazz, music hall, kitsch, operetta, all played a part in supporting modernism to reconstruct the traditions of "High Culture" music genres. Thirdly there was the use of technology to produce music and now people can listen to a recording in their own homes, at their chosen times, but equally important composers could now sell tangible copies of their music - for even more of an incentive to create. Fourth was the performance as an event, an example of this could be in the case of Ligeti's Poème Symphonique in which 100 metronomes are used to produce one of the outstanding modernist works in the twentieth century music.
Post-Modernism is a movement in the late 20th Century in the arts and philosophy; in a general sense Postmodernism is characterised by authority form unexpected places, an openness to meaning and a willingness to "borrow" from previous traditions, movements or creators. It is often defined in its narrowest sense as a rejection of modernism (Witcombe, 2012) although there are some who claim that postmodernism can be seen as a whole new paradigm on intellectual thought. (Mastin, 2010)
"Postmodernism as a phase of knowing and practice, abandoning the assumptions, prejudices, and constraints of modernism to embrace the contradictions, irony, and profusion of pop and mass culture. "High" and "low" culture/art categories made useless and irrelevant, art from outsider and non-Western cultures embraced, consumer society turned inside out" (Sfariac, 2012)
Post-modernism suggest that society started to reject the ideas behind modernism, Is there more to life than that we can just prove? We can put postmodernism down to questioning trust in the metanarrative, Society started to question the ideas that were being given to us particularly by authority. The burgeoning anti-establishment movement of the 60's can be considered the founding event of Postmodernism.
So why was there a rejection of Modernism? The irony of postmodernism is that modernism was supposed to make things better we were supposed to reach a state of utopia but instead it made things worse. There where two world wars, Auschwitz, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, growing inequality caused by capitalism, consumerism and democracy, these systems were supposed make things fair and make people equal. (Groys, 1992). People lost faith in rationality, governments and science. When authorities have taken us through two world wars and generations have died, understandably a society starts to think "do we trust these people?" Science was going to make things better, we weren't going to become ill, we were going to have jet packs and live on the moon. Instead it produced the nuclear bomb, an invention that could kill us all. Once society has rejected the systems of science and governments we are left thinking "What do we believe?" a culture that isn't fixed, Baudrillard sums it up best "we are swimming in a sea of science," (Baudrillard cited in Somerset, 2011)
Marcel Duchamp painted "R.Mutt" on the side of a urinal, turned it upside down and titled it Fountain (1917). This was one of the most influential art works of the 20th Century. Apart from Fountain being a miss represented urinal, in its own right it was rather attractive. The modern curves of the rim and the almost aerodynamic look of the bowl give it an unexpected sleek and modern beauty, especially for the time. The mass produced urinals design was clearly a product of modernism, this was a blinding brilliant logical move, challenging and checkmating conventional ideas about art. But also the irony and humour of the piece helped it to become an extremely successful practical joke (Gayford, 2008). After a statement like Duchamp's what is left for art to challenge, what is left to do? We can say that we culture has reached a state of "exhaustion" from the narrative of modernism. (Fred Jameson, 1991) nothing radically different just culture has become tired of trying to be new.
The beauty of the movement was it was a way in describing a shift in art which reflect the complex and inexplicable way of thinking that's following on from modern society, that culture and technological advances further though thought than they have already become in practice. A postmodernist asked questions rather than follow rules, they have a light hearted, playful and ironic approach to performing compared to the serious orthodox styles of its kin, Modernism.
Although now we can see how postmodernism was clearly affecting music pre 1985 it wasn't until post 1985 that musicologists' started to cite postmodernism as an influence within music. Postmodernism in the realm of musicology is a relatively new addition to the academic discipline, it wasn't until the late 80's and early 90's that postmodernism drew the attention of artist, musicians and critical theorist, (Lash 1990; Lash and Urry, 1994; Parker, 1992; Harvey, 1989) up until the late 80's and early 90's there was no real sense of an accumulated body of studies or literature that works through the consequences of postmodernism for music. Joseph Kerman's 1985 ground breaking book entitled Contemplating Music, (which is credited for challenging and changing previous academic thought on musicology) doesn't even make a mention of "post-modernism" even though there are numerous references to Modernism as a movement. (Kerman, 1985) Linda Hutchinson in The Politics of Postmodernism also provides a discussion on music and the absence of postmodernism in what she refers to as "music criticism".
"'Postmodern' is a term that is not used very often in music criticism, yet there are analogies between postmodern architecture or dance and contemporary music: in music too we find a stress on communication with the audience through simple repetitive harmonies (offered in complex rhythmic forms) in the work of Phil Grass or through a periodic return to tonality and to the past of music, not as a source of embarrassment or inspiration, but with ironic distance, as in the work of Lukas Foss or Luciano Berio." (Hutchinson, 1989.)
Postmodern music can be seen as a response to Modernism, albeit much more complex. After all, music has had many responses that have brought about new eras. The epic, powerfully emotional character of Romanticism as a response to the sterile, simple aesthetic nature of Classicism. Classicism is a response to the complex, emotional and methodical character of the baroque. Music of the Common Practice Period was more concerned with the emotional impact music had on audiences; the modernist movement focused more on the composers' emotions. Postmodernism movement responded to this mind-set by breaking down barriers that the elitism of modernism created and they did this by returning the focal point back to the audience. (Klein, 2010) The composer attempted to provide an entertaining and meaningful experience to a broad audience whilst conveying a message with meaning. They did this by returning the significance of tonality, music started to use consonant harmony, often used as immobile drones or a steady pulse. Postmodern music started to return to the formal and harmonic structures that where often used in the classical and Romantic eras. (Klein, 2010)
"Would the people in the cheaper seats clap their hands and the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery" John Lennon, Royal Command Performance (1963)
The Beatles were very much a product of modernism, they used electric instruments, were able to release recorded music for sale, they came out of working class Liverpool clean shaven, wearing suits and playing live Rock and Roll to the Her Majesty the Queen for the Royal Command Performance of 1963. The whole performance seems to exemplify the height of the modernist era. The modernist movement wanted to put idea's together like never before, it was simple and to the point. People needed to express and communicate visually. But the Beatles broke through in the 60's, a tumultuous time in Western history in which Postmodernism started to rear its rather ugly head. John Lennon's seemingly endearing piece of wit quoted above; along with the performance help established the Beatles success and defined the tongue in cheek humour that would become their trademark. (Womack, 2006) But was this a bit of light hearted working class sauciness or was this John Lennon rebelling against the obvious and ironic inequality of high Modernism that was so apparent within the audience?
The Beatles style was considered new even though they played a somewhat Modernist combination of popular music and rock 'n roll styles, the difference wasn't in the way they sounded, but what they actually represented. The Beatles can be seen as the British answer or even revolt to the American cult of popular music; Elvis Presley and a long line of British copycats. (Kendrick, 1963)
"Beatles themselves seem to have no illusions. They symbolize the twentieth century non-hero as they make non-music, wear non-haircuts, give non- "mersey"" (Kendrick, 1963)
The "non" Prefix to the above statements can be seen as manifestations of Postmodernism that refuse to be labelled or demarcated, the Beatles became a symbol for this new generation, a new age, or even a new zeitgeist.
The Beatles 1968 self-titled album, which soon became known as The White Album, saw a remarkable change from the psychedelic sound of Sgt. Pepper. The album is produced with an astounding range of instruments, the latest recording technology of the day and maintains a hardy sense of experimentation. But seems to have eluded the aura of perfection that Sgt. Peppers produces. The most apparent thing about the album before listening to it, is the somewhat 30 songs that make it up. It leaves one thinking "30 songs of the same band?" Ironically, once listened to, the most original and apparent aspect of the album is its musical diversity. Birthday is a straightforward rock song; Yer Blues is a kind of a camp blues. Country and western numbers, Don't Pass me by and Rocky Raccoon. Honey Pie is done in the style of a 1920s music hall song, Good Night is a lush orchestral ballad and Revolution 9 an experimental collage of sound. Some critics at the time complained that the extreme diversity in the many adopted styles makes the album lack unity, and it was clear that they were not functioning as a group anymore, (Womak, et al. 2006).
Pop artist Richard Hamilton designed the minimalist, almost plain white album cover. Pop Art and minimalism are movements that present a challenge to traditions of fine art, they precede the postmodern art movement (Livingstone, 1990) On the cover of the album there was also a unique serial number. This creates the ironic situation of having a unique numbered edition, were something like five million copies of the album have been massed produced. This album must have appeared to be something straight out of high modernist culture, adopting the entire set of ace cards up the modernist sleeve. But on further examination we can reveal the faint beating of a butterfly's wings that would eventually become the cultural hurricane of Postmodernism.
Ian MacDonald argues in his book Revolution in the Head (YEAR) that The Beatles LP, was the album were the message to its fans became intentionally cryptic and dangerously open-ended, citing passages in songs like Glass Onion "the walrus was Paul" and Piggies "what they need's a damn good whacking" these pronouncements came out in the counter culture of the 1960's when more of the world's youth were experimenting with recreational drugs and questioning modes of authority. This seemed to attract extraordinary popular interests and helped to establish the ideas that would be the foundation of postmodernism in popular culture. Looking at the content and context of the album, the very modernist music used but with the revolutionary and rebellious pronouncements, it is clear that the album is in fact a postmodern parody of Modernist music and culture. This is exemplified by the penultimate track being a collage of music, Titled Revolution 9. Now you can't get much more postmodern than that.
The Grey Album is what's known as a mashup album, It's combines an a cappella version of rap artist, Jay-Z's The black album which is edited into a multitude of unauthorized samples from The Beatles LP (The White Album), coupling both together to form a derivative work. The album was originally only produced for the underground scene, in limited quantities to only a few Internet outlets. Due to the success of the mashup, EMI, (the copyright holder of the Beatles) ordered Danger Mouse and retailers to halt distribution. But the Rude Goldberg Machine had already been started due to the overwhelming popularity of Danger Mouse's work; EMI failed to halt the spread of the album. Danger mouse had never been granted nor did he even ask for permission for the use of the Beatles music; Jay Z's released his Black Album in acappella forms with the implicit purpose of encouraging mash-ups and remixes.
Because of the surrounding publicity, the album quickly became popular and well-distrubuted over the internet. This lead to very positive write-ups in a number of well-known music critique publications.
Grey Tuesday (24 Feb, 2004) was a day of coordinated electronic civil disobedience led by Downhill Battle, a non-profit organization that argues the music industry is an oligopoly which is bad for music culture and musicians. On Grey Tuesday hundreds of participating websites posted copies of The Grey Album for free download for 24 hours in protest of EMI's attempts to prevent the distribution of the Album. The organisers of Grey Tuesday claim that the sampling is fair use and that a license should be granted in the same manner as if the Beatles song had been covered. The litigation caused by the protest was virtually zero; a few of the participants received cease and desist letter from EMI, but no-one was every brought to court in connection with the event. (Patel, 2004)
The Grey Album, is a brilliant piece of Postmodern music: first, its blatant violation of intellectual property laws, acknowledges the contradiction that these laws are being used against the ethos of the original reasons why we have copyright laws. The original intent of copyright laws was to provide an incentive for society to create; they did this by restricting the monopoly that larger organisations created off the back of created works. (Statue of Anne, 1710) Second, is the postmodern parodist bricolage of copied sound working outside the powerful control of the music industry, these places The Grey Album with in a postmodern aesthetic. Third, Danger Mouse combines characteristics from different musical genres and combines high and low art. Fourth, modernism can be viewed as a means of expression for the artist; the Grey Album was created with the audiences entertainment in mind. Danger Mouse is not reflecting his own thoughts and feelings when he created this album, as all the music was borrowed from other artists; his music is created to be appreciated by an audience. Fifth is one of the great ironies of postmodernism music is with technology; technology originally meant that artist can easily sell their music but with the advent of file sharing technology music is now copied and shared over the internet meaning that the musician doesn't get paid for the consumption of their product. Danger Mouse deliberately shared his music over the internet, even using Grey Tuesday as a platform to promote himself. What a Postmodernist he is!
"an attitude of the composer; a living construct that can evolve with the times" (McHard 2008, 14)
Modernism and Postmodernism are not part of conscious thought, when an artist picks up a brush or a musician starts composing a new piece they almost never have the goal of creating a Modernist or Postmodern work of art. The movements are simply theories to explain the phenomenon of repeating trends that can be observed across many different schools of intellectual and creative thought. As is happened the Beatles were amongst the pioneers of Postmodernism music, although they were totally oblivious to it themselves at the time. It wasn't until the turn of 90's that musicologists and academics started to realise the impact which Postmodernism was having in the realms of music. By which time it had somehow, albeit rather clandestinely, become the dominant force in most cultural & creative works. Music wasn't Modernist or Postmodernist in the way it sounded, but rather, it was under the terms in which it was created whether it could be labelled it one or the other.
Modernism looks to the ideas of progression in the arts, knowledge, liberty and technology, then use of this newfound wisdom to create something that could be considered "avant-garde", original or new. Anything that was to resemble the past was to reviled but to create something considered original was to be revered; no matter how sterile, obscure or unnatural it seamed.
Postmodernism music draws inspiration from the past to rehash the old to create something new. In the process it seams to enjoy defying authority, asking awkward questions and removing unnecessary moral or technical boundaries. The irony that comes with postmodernism, along with ideas such as not taking things too seriously, especially science and government, helps keep a fun, light-hearted, defiant and humours approach to cultural creations.
Without The Beatles LP, Danger Mouse could not have created The Grey Album, and without the modernist movement the Beatles wouldn't have created anything, it seems in todays world Modernism and Postmodernism run along side each other, or rather oscillate from one to the other, manifesting in music, art and culture in one way or another, both subliminally influencing creators and helping to shape current world views. As we enter a period which in which human population is booming, English is the world language, the internet is spreading ideas, educating and connecting people and western culture is being exported to developing nations, we seam to be entering into a new epoch, of something different, one where Modernism and Postmodernism seems to be almost irrelevant as more and more people, ideas and knowledge enter the world stage, what could be next? Post-postmodernism or even Metamodernism?