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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Since it was recognized nearly one-hundred years ago as a form of music, Jazz has become a loosely used term. In 1933, Theodor Adorno published his essay “Farewell to Jazz.” He explained that jazz–with it’s main characteristic during the 20’s and 30’s being that it was popular dance music–was standardized and banal. If it was 1933, I would most likely agree with Adorno that jazz was coming to an end. But it’s not 1933, and today his essay is quite dated.

Here’s the problem: when one gets their hands on this essay, or the other few essays Adorno published regarding jazz, he or she might believe that this still relates to our time, and I believe that there are many misconceptions concerning the subject. I’ve seen some people relate Billie Holiday to Ke$ha, merely because jazz was an early version of American pop music. I’ve also seen another desperate connection that “stereotypical” jazz, like Jaco Pastorious and Pat Metheney–who both arrived on the jazz scene nearly forty years after Adorno’s “Farewell to Jazz” was written–somehow relates to metal music.

I understand those arguments, but the jazz of yesterday is not the jazz of today, regardless of how hard Wynton Marsalis tries to make that happen.

Adorno was right about Jazz in the 1930’s in a lot of ways, but since his first essay on Jazz was published he lived through three more decades of the genre. Throughout those decades, jazz rapidly progressed as an art form and the world heard bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, post-bop, free jazz, and even beginnings of jazz fusion, while also decreasing significantly in popularity. Did Adorno ignore this progression? Did Adorno himself, while vehemently condemning the commodification of early Jazz music (which creates the argument that it is standardized and produced in a “cookie-cutter” style in order to sell more records), have a misconception as to what jazz actually was? And with so-called “Jazz conservatism” possibly killing jazz in our time, could Adorno’s thoughts on standardization be more true now than they were then? Do I myself have a misconception as to what Jazz actually is? Perhaps.

More thought-out writings to come.

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taken from Popsugar

During the 2012 Grammy Awards, host LL Cool J channeled his inner theorist and asked the world a crucial question: “How do we speak to this time?” As Jacques Attali states in his book, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, “Music is prophecy,” and it forces the question: Do the Grammys speak for us and our generation?

The Grammy Awards ceremony pretends that it represents and appreciates the musical world, but there seems to be a central motive behind the awards show. By picking a handful of music’s most popular – or “hip” – artists, nominating them in the same categories, having them perform, and then continuously playing their music throughout the show – and in a slew of Target commercials – the Grammys are using repetition to clutter our brains, silence us, and ultimately sell us the same product packaged in a different cellophane wrapper.

What is problematic, is that the current generation is content with this repetition. Music’s role has changed; it no longer has power. Since what sells ultimately controls what the masses hear, it is impossible for musicians to “speak to this time.” In Noise, Attali quotes Gianfranco Sanguinetti, stating that “capitalism has become ‘a terrorism tempered by well-being, the well-being of each in his place,’” which questions whether capitalism is threatening our freedom.

Adele sheepishly accepting a Grammy–taken from Hello Magazine

Pop singer Adele, who won six Grammys, including Album of the Year, is being looked at as the new voice of this generation. Perhaps she deserves it. She sings well, she doesn’t use any stunts or gimmicks during her performances, and she’s down to earth and personable. However, it is unfortunate that she is only another product of repetition. During the 60 Minutes interview that preceded the Grammys, Anderson Cooper explained that Adele experiences “near crippling stage fright.” She fears that she will ruin her fans’ love for her songs by performing them live. The pressure to deliver and present herself in the way she is perceived is overwhelming, and it forces her to execute repetitive performances – ones that live up to the album.

Furthermore, it seems we are being silenced by the presence of Adele, along with other Grammy winning (supported) artists, such as Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga. The reason they were part of that exclusive handful of artists that the Grammys constantly transmitted to the viewer’s eyes and ears, was because they were the best selling and most popular artists of the year. First, listeners are made to believe that these are the only artists of importance, and secondly, when Target is selling all (only) of the Grammy winning/nominated albums in its stores, listeners are made to believe that this is all that exists. There were seventy-eight Grammys awarded in all, but only nine were awarded on television. Groups like the Christian McBride Big Band get the recognition and honor of a Grammy, though they don’t receive the exposure that the Grammys potentially offer, as they do for Adele and the others. But since the Christian McBride Big Band doesn’t have t-shirts available at Target, they are kept hidden away from the public; the consumers. This does threaten our freedom, because it is narrowing the spectrum of what is available to the masses, therefore keeping them immobile, zombified, and at Target.

Obey Target–taken from Cleverly Simple

The Grammy Awards is not only speaking for “this time,” it is spoon-feeding, bathing, and wiping it. It is an advertisement under the guise of a music awards show. By presenting the masses with a list of “best artists” and “best albums” of the year, which are conveniently available at Target, the Recording Academy is brainwashing the listeners. Musicians are incapable of speaking to “this time,” because no one is listening – or the the musician is cut off.

taken from Sheffield Doc Fest

“Music is prophecy,” says Jacques Attali, in his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music. “Our music foretells our future. Let us lend it an ear.”

* * *

A history teacher of mine once told me that “it was those damn Beatles that ruined America.” Although he was joking, there was no doubt that he was, in many ways, correct. The Beatles weren’t intentionally creating subversive music, and their goal wasn’t to push forward drug culture or the sexual revolution–no one could be that ambitious. But with the angst broiling under the seemingly genuine “Leave it to Beaver” mentality that lingered from the 50’s, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s impulse to push rock music to its limits with every album, the country had no choice but to crumble within its ideals and push the limits themselves.

In the U.S.S.R., however, it was different. The Beatles were not permitted to play in Mother Russia, their records were banned, and the group essentially became a modern legend for the youth of Russia. In the A&E documentary, Paul McCartney in Red Square, viewers are shown Russia’s excitement of having a Beatle visiting their country for the first time, nearly forty years after Beatlemania. Within that documentary, author and former director of the Salzburg Global Seminar, Timothy Ryback provided an explanation as to why the Beatles were forbidden:

Marxism, Leninism–the very foundation for the Soviet system–said that the economic structure, the basis of a society, affected what he called the “super structure”–which is everything: religion, music, the way people think. And there was something called the dialectical relationship, which meant the way people thought affected the way the economy functioned, and the way the economy functioned affected the way people thought, and therefore you needed censorship to control the system.

X-Ray Record–taken from Liverpool Echo

Ryback essentially explained that the Beatles were a major threat to the super structure, and when one effected the super structure, it would bring about change. It can also be assumed that when something is not permitted, the people will crave it more.

Eventually, the Russians figured out ways to distribute the Beatles’ music. According to Leslie Woodhead’s article, “How the Beatles Rocked the Eastern Bloc,” “Beatles tracks [were] copied from illicit tape recordings and inscribed on to old x-ray plates.”

Russian music critic Artemy Troitsky, in the same A&E Documentary, explained that “the Beatles started a whole, huge movement in the Soviet Union.” He went on to further say that the movement “involved millions of young people” who still “lived in the Soviet Union in their body, but mentally and spiritually they were somewhere else.” The foreboding prophecy that the Soviet Union would soon collapse began to loom over the Motherland’s head.

For one group to influence an entire generation to seek beyond the limits, within a country that held an iron shield over itself, is hard to fathom. But it brings up the question, what will today’s music foretell?

In a time where hardly anything makes the Western world blush, I don’t believe music has the power it once had. Simon Reynolds sums it up well in his article “Noise,” writing that:

The problem is that, with any drug or intoxicant, tolerance builds up rapidly. . . As the barriers in the head get broken down, the noise buff becomes kind of a hip vegetable, by a process that paradoxically combines both brutalization and weakening. To be shocked requires that the individual be immersed to some degree in a culture or value system. But noise hipsters have uprooted themselves so successfully from their parent culture, they can cope with absurd levels of outrage/dissonance, and therefore require extreme after extreme in order to feel stimulated/mindblown. Burnout approaches.

Has too much noise been created? Is it possible that society is burned out?