Monday, July 31, 2017

Contemporary Music: Finding the Gold in the Mud

Paging through Amazon Music's charts....

Why do I bother? Looking for gold in the mud. Occasionally I stumble on something good. It's like flipping through the records in a record store used to be, in the olden days.

Here's the thing: Artists are peculiar. I know that. Musicians (in this case) are peculiar. I get that. I'm a musician myself, and a writer, and lately I've been messing about with photography and graphics. I know that I'm a piece of work. I'm not surprised, therefore, to find that artists are weird.

Creative intuition strains the neurons, as does the tenacity to carry it through to an artistic expression that can be experienced by others. It is intense, concentrated, arduous labor. And many artists are already operating with exotic cognitive wiring and a highly sensitive system of overall perception. Add to this mix the drive of ambition, the pressure to entertain and to be an efficient cog in the wheels of a multi-billion dollar industry, the tumultuous cultural milieu with its widespread decadence, and... and... and...

...the music is going to be weird.

Nevertheless, even given all of this awareness of the challenges of the creative enterprise, it's still a bit staggering to see the freak show that parades by under the name of "popular music."

These are talented people. Okay, some of them are just charlatans but some of them are talented people. But there is a weakness of human context, an excess of powerful gadgets and tricks, and a relentless push to reduce works of art into efforts to get attention. The resulting noise is deafening.

Or, to return to the original metaphor, there's a lot of mud. It's easy to say "yuck" to all the mud. It's also easy (and frankly delusional) to pretend that the mud is gold. The challenge consists in finding the gold. Because there is gold to be found. There are diamonds in the mud. Some are flawed diamonds, but admirable nonetheless.

So it is that I desire to search for whatever has value, to clean it up and make it shine. Or, if it's tragically broken, to mourn the loss and trace the fractured lines of beauty.

Music is a complex crafting of sound, and the world today is filled with unprecedented sounds. We want to be careful to distinguish crass cacophony from the authentic effort to shape hard, brash, strange sounds into rhythms and harmony and song. There is beauty to be found here, made with the unusual sounds drawn from the hum and throb of our technologically sophisticated everyday environment.

This music can enrich our lives, and it is made by some surprisingly peculiar people. Certainly we are looking for creative work that has real value, and therefore we can't just toss away our standards or our sense of judgment in order to affirm the latest trends. But let's not be snobs either.

It's worth the effort to keep exploring music, to keep listening.