I have been meaning to write this for a while and a combination of legitimate interruptions with a peculiarly self-righteous form of procrastination has got in the way. In fact this itself is procrastination. I should be, as I write this, reading volume two of ‘Technics and Time’ by Bernard Stiegler but I am finding it difficult to hold my attention on the book. I justify this as being the fault of the translator of this volume who seems to have made the writing far more opaque than the translator of the first (which may or not be true), however I suspect the fault is with my short attention span attempting to focus on complicated ideas. Anyway now that I have opened this with a comfortable self effacing comment on my personality, hopefully I can move on to the slippery meat of what this is for.
I am embarking on research for my MRes in Sonic Arts, which is also seeming to have a larger effect on the nature of my studies over the next few years and how I feel about the world for possibly the rest of my life. The subject of my research is a fusion of several paranoias that have cluttered up the front of my head for at least the last five years and legitimate concerns about the marketisation of artistic expression. Specifically how the developments in music technology that allows a producer to remove the imperfection or mistakes in music changes and limits the sonic vocabulary we are willing to accept. From the outset it seems important to clarify that this is not meant as some sort of technophobic manifesto that is harking back to a purely ‘authentic’ aural tradition. I love the technology that I’m talking about and to some degree use it everyday and will use it to make works inspired by and instrumental in my research.
The heavy hand of the tools that ‘clean up’ music is unarguable apparent in chart popular music. While there are many cogent and valid arguments about the waning influence of the chart on some vague notion of ‘the public taste’, it is still overly influential evidenced in how people (very vague) understand the importance of music and art in general. An ever changing chart of interchangeable shiny three minute sonic objects, based on sales of records that are as quickly forgotten as the previous Sunday and as easily discarded as the ninety nine pence it cost to download, illustrates the consensus view on the role of music and art as distractions to switch off to.
The music of the chart can be sentimental, it can be fun it can but it cannot require reflection (as opposed to reminisces). Once saturated in a media and social sphere that constantly reinforces the inherent values of this music all content that falls outside this narrow idea of expression becomes suspect.
There are of course a myriad of valid and less valid reasons to want to switch off. However the same class of people that is providing and championing the material to switch off to (and getting rich in the process), often is the cause of these reasons. Essentially what this research looks at is expressed in the letters between George Orwell and his friend and mentor Aldous Huxley. The two writers discussed (as have others subsequently) which of their dystopian visions of the future was more likely to come true. Would it be the heavy handed state controlling the content and means of expression ‘1984’ or the easily induced state of bliss that carries the individual away from their hardships whilst solving nothing that Huxley characterised as the drug soma in ‘A Brave New World’.
As fence siting is a keen hobby of mine, I’d suggest that both are slowly coming true to some degree. Companies control the nature and qualities of content so as to generate high financial rewards; governments support this notion of importance (e.g PM Cameron’s recent decisions that the film council should direct funds to commercially rewarding projects rather than valid voices of expression which have no commercial future), education supports this idea and people trying to escape drudgery they’ve experienced since school uniforms are all too happy to accept the ‘hassle free’ material just to get away. A hierarchy of value is established, Art must be liked and easy to understand so it makes money or else is worthless, and accepted. The drudgery of everyday life here goes on justified by its lovely distractions that don’t allow the observer the space to question the work, the causes of their own situation or the violent coercion needed to maintain it.
That bit towards the end was the paranoia I was talking about earlier. Hopefully I’ll find some data to support it or else I’m not sure what I’ll think… must really learn to limit the scope of these or they may well become unwieldy… And perhaps some sort of strange self-referential bit would emerge… tacted on the end to justify the relative amateurishness of the above text… Then the reader will certainly think they are they’re wasting time on a self-aggrandising lunatic… god the word count is 872 now 874… must stop it now… Cheers!