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07.08.2014

Why Write About New Music?

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For the past three decades, at least, there has been a problem with, for one of a better term, the discursive 'respiratory system' of New Music. In 'Contemporary Music and the Public', published in 1983, Pierre Boulez outlined how people are spellbound by the past and that, in turn, '[t]his historicising carapace suffocates those who put it on, compresses them in an asphyxiating rigidity; the mephitic air they breathe constantly enfeebles their organism in relation to contemporary adventure'.


There is little doubt that the 'health' of New Music reception continues to decline, especially in the UK and USA where the discipline is written about as if it is 'diseased' or even 'decayed'. It is therefore through writing about New Music that the stale, unproductive 'watchful waiting' approach, which seems to have been adopted with or without some level of awareness, can now be replaced, within the professions of journalism and academia, with a positive, working intervention.

 

It is now common practice for the majority of those contributing to the discourse of New Music to attempt to retain the past whilst wanting to also dismiss the non-past. In other words, it seems that the discursive 'respiratory system' of New Music is suffering from a lack of equilibrium caused by some form of lingering, troublesome disturbance or malfunction. It is in 'Contemporary Music and the Public' that Boulez even aligns the discourse of New Music with symptoms such as 'asthmatic wheezings'. One obvious problem that stands out and yet seems ingrained within the discourse of New Music is the use of vocabulary used to describe New Music. Michel Foucault uses the opening section of 'Contemporary Music and the Public' to highlight how '[i]t is often said that contemporary music has drifted off track; that it has had a strange fate; that it has attained a degree of complexity which makes it inaccessible; that its techniques have set it on paths which are leading it further and further away'. Words such as 'strange', 'complex' and 'inaccessible' are still frequently incorporated into the discourse of New Music and treated as accurate descriptors. Therefore, it is through writing about New Music that, perhaps, much more appropriate and insightful terms can now be drawn upon.

 

To treat the problem of New Music discourse with success does mean that a much more rigorous pathway is going to have to be implemented and followed. One of the first steps will undoubtedly have to provide strategies in order to help enable the writer to move from contributing to discursive movement to encouraging a type of discursive 'stillness'. As Foucault argued, we need to start asking 'this music which is so close [...] how does it happen that we feel it, as it were, projected afar and placed at an almost insurmountable distance?'. Only then can a new, refreshed form of writing emerge that can help regulate the discursive 'respiratory system' of New Music and restore it back to health.

By Steph Jones
07.08.2014

For the past three decades, at least, there has been a problem with, for one of a better term, the discursive 'respiratory system' of New Music. In 'Contemporary Music and the Public', published in 1983, Pierre Boulez outlined how people are spellbound by the past and that, in turn, '[t]his historicising carapace suffocates those who put it on, compresses them in an asphyxiating rigidity; the mephitic air they breathe constantly enfeebles their organism in relation to contemporary adventure'.