Tuesday, January 17, 2006

an age of complaisance

A professor of mine makes his thoughts and opinions clear to us. He made a point to express his view on student compliance and how my generation appears to me much more well-behaved than he likes or is comfortable with. We sit in our chairs and dont interrupt or ever contradict what he has to say. We barely participate at all.

This only re-enforces my mother's belief that we are in (a hopefully brief) period of complaisance. Knowing the behavior of people my age, i cannot pinpoint anyone any more rebellious than myself... and i aint anyone who stirs up anything radical, now am i?

Maybe the problem is that people feel there isnt much to fight for these days. Sure there's gay rights, but it seems many people are either just too homophobic or backwards to fight for the rights of gay people (though most polls show a much greater tolerance towards gays in my generation... take that religious right!). But my intense anger towards anti-gay rights and gay-intolerance will have to be saved for another non-musical post.

Ahem, music, ahem.

Musically, im afraid of an oncoming backwardness, a cynicism towards what a musician can say in a thoroughly contemporary manner, a musical complaisance towards history, if you will. Maybe us classical musicians have learned to respect our predecessors so much that to musically go beyond where they would may feel insulting to those composers we love, who wants to contradict Mozarts edicts or Brahms' pronouncements? But i ask- whats wrong with drums and strong beats? thats all it takes these days to be contemporary, after all. You can keep your consonant harmonies and melodies, you just need to contempify a little. Its painfully easy to be (post)modern.

It occurs to me that in the same way social critics connect minimalists to the rise of post-modernism in the 70s and to the repetitiveness of modern advertisement and media, i could criticize Travener, who i just wrote about, for representing some kind of back-to-the-dark-ages religious/social mentality which we can sense in the evangelicalism of Pat Robertson and more explicitly in the likes of Jerry Falwell (who openly wants public schools to close and an American theocracy), which i could then connect to the rise of fundamentalism in the late 20th century. Likewise, my mother has been concerned that many Americans have simply been choosing to be ignorant (about iraq is what she is specifically referencing), this all mixes together in the mind of the academic to represent some sort of coherent(!) movement towards ignorance, artistic "traditionalism", complaisance and fundamentalist religion.

Oh it works well.

But i just need to make it a little more convincing. Does a period of complaisance sound like a good title to you? too grand? If i wrote this paper, that might be what i call it. But the better question remains... was that in anyway coherant?


Andrew Yen said...

Just wait a few years and the air of complacency will dry up for sure, who knows, we might see a complete revolution in Congress this year.

If I have to be frank, I blame the Boomer generation and some of GenX for creating the situation to begin with. Having lived through the 60s and 70s and some of the 80s with all the rebellion and social upheaval, they want to keep that power within their realm, so what do they teach the younger generation like me? "Do as I say, not as I do" "Respect my authority" "Get along with everyone" etc. They want to keep the mantle of rebellion and rabblerousing, lest they see a new generation of youth rise up against them in some way they can't predict.

But I digress. For me, I am prone to question, but much to the annoyance of everyone, I question anything that doesn't make sense to me, whether it is the use of ID in science classes, the ban on gay marriage, or the need to enact the Kyoto protocol. But my questioning is more on the need to know than the need to create turbulence. So in a sense, I am a bit complacent, knowing fully well my time of action is not now, so I just continually gather knowledge and process it to something useful that can be applicable later in my life.

As for the musical aspect of complacency, I'll fully admit that I am a bit more conservative on that end. To me I see the need to be original is perfectly fine, but the need to be new isn't necessary. Sure, maybe someone makes music that is a bit archaic today, but why rule that against them? Music is music, it doesn't have to address contemporary norms or issues at all moments. For example, if I ever get around to it, I have an idea for a string quartet that will be very classical in nature, but it's approach is more in tune to transferring rock and pop mannerisms into strings and trying to fit it around sonata form, minuet-trio, and rondo. I'm not a student of music however, it's just a hobby of mine. I don't seek to change the musical world because I just want to make music.

Ni si lux. said...

It's funny that you connected fundamentalism with postmodernism - I've always thought the same thing (for different reasons, though) but am usually met with curious glances and stuporous 'confuzzlement' when I express that sort of thought. I think there's a lot more for your (our) generation to fight for aside from gay rights -- but our generation is different because we're the Spin Generation. Think about it, all of us have watched inordinate amounts of TV. I'd like to fancy myself as someone who spent more of my formative time reading books and practicing piano and all that shizzle and even though I did spend a lot of time doing those things - way more than your average US Male 18-25 - it'd be slightly kind of a lot dishonest of me to not admit that the amount of time spent in front of the Great Hypnotic Blah Blah far dwarfed the rest. But the simple act of watching television is not the problem: the problem is what's being spun to us by TV. TV has one mission, yanno?, to give us what it thinks we want. And in the middle it spins to us... constantly... spins to us. Everything's catered to us. Technology is more pervasive and widespread and easily accessible then ever before. I do not know one person (maybe I don't know a lot of people...?) who does not have an e-mail address they can check regularly. I know a select few who do not have cell phones. So the complacence you speak of, I think, is more accurately described as comfort and I think those other battles worth fighting are battles that the rest of our generation just doesn't.. well.... know about yet.

BUT, to our credit: we are far more interesting, far more intelligent, far more worldly, far more resourceful, far more accepting, and far less iconoclastic than the previous generations and, I dunno, maybe that's not something your professor would celebrate? From the way you describe it, it sounds like he meant the apathy as a derisive statement (as well he should). And that's okay: mine probably wouldn't either. However, it doesn't matter because they're old and don't really have a say in what we choose to become aside from the influences and beliefs we subscribe to. It's like this for every generation, you know? In music, the younger generation of composers (not anymore... they're like 50 now) 'rebelled', or so the story goes, against their professors whom they believed were ensconced in academia in a manner comparable to hormone ridden, pock marked adolescents. We'll probably consider a lot of *their* views to be silly and belletristic ourselves and, en suit, infuse our own ideas into the fray. And one day, we too will be laughed down by our successors: sunrise, sunset.

BUT, I have to disagree w/you on one point: I don't think it's an issue of respect. I don't think we're "afraid" of insulting Mozart's edicts or Brahms' pronouncements. What we're afraid of is not having anything really interesting to say 'like they did' or having anything new to contribute 'like they did' or being regarded as great 'like they were/are.' Postmodernism (which is painfully easy, I agree) arises out of a need to run away from ourselves and the elemental questions that were reflected in Mozart, Brahms, et al's work (though in a very abstract, purely musical way - unlike visual art and literature which was more direct, read: Dostoevsky, eh?) - the ironical distancing, the pastiche, the play on older styles, the satire, the unabashed revelry in highly dated idioms, etc., etc., etc. that characterizes music being written right this very moment is more like a mask people are using to hide from real questions. Isn't it funny that if you took a piece of music to your professor and said, "I wrote this about love," and even if it were startlingly creative and sophisticated you'd still be met w/a cool smile and a patronizing 'aw, that's real cute' chuckle?

Anyway, I'm rambling. I think the only way to affect a break with postmodernism (which you were astute to include both fundamentalism and the clever marketing ploys of a bogus hack like Tavener) is to risk sincerity. Always exploring new avenues, always seeking out new boulevards and new ways of writing music and always writing something that has the intellectual, emotional, mental, (and physical) rigor of the so-called avant-garde but that is also rewarding and communicative and articulate and, God forbid, relevant!

The only mistake to make is to subscribe to the postmodern aesthete (which could take volumes to describe in its entirety) or to fulfill your professor's observation and say, "Fuck it, I don't care: I just wanna make music."