Wednesday, November 4, 2009

No news.... is good news?

I love music as much as the next man. Maybe more. I love playing it, I love listening to it. I love the moment when I discover something that ‘blows my mind’. This seems to be happening less with ‘new’ music (by which I mean contemporary popular music).But I do discover great old stuff now and then. I sometimes think that I would be perfectly content to listen for the rest of my life only to the music that has already been recorded (which is quite something when you bear in mind that I am really talking about the last sixty or seventy years’ worth or recorded music).

After all, if I could track down recordings of all the music that I think I would like to listen to (notwithstanding that music that I think I wouldn’t like but may actually find that I love) I could probably listen to each piece of music only time only and still run out of my remaining lifetime before I ran out of music. And bear in mind that I was a huge fan of Punk and New Wave which, for me, blew away all of the safe and bland music out of the water. But if I am being truthful, I am probably listening to more of that safe and bland stuff than I am any experimental or ‘new’ music. (Rumours, anyone?)

I’m not really sure why this is…a certain nostalgic familiarity maybe? Maybe it reminds me of a high school girlfriend, a great club I went to in our 20s, a great road trip. As we get older we cling onto things from our youth. Or maybe this love of the music from our past is due to the fact that there aren’t that many new things to say and, for the most part, not that many new ways of saying them. Or to put it another way, I have not only heard it before…but I’ve heard it better before.

Take a contemporary artist that I really DO like: Jack White. Jack White is an enormous talent and I love watching this guy play – especially live. But even in this instance I don’t know how much of his music I will ever get through. A lot of his music is influenced by Led Zeppelin and, as familiar as I am with Led Zeppelin and as much as I like their work, I have not cracked their entire back catalogue. So am I really going to start working through Jack White’s as well as Led Zeppelin’s? And if I did get around to all of that shouldn’t really get started on Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, etc. It is an addictive pastime, trying to listen to all this music.

But maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe the whole point is that every generation has its own way of telling stories and while there only be a few recurring stories in the world they are all valid to be retold as long as each connects to their audience.

I was recently sent a link to Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis:
A classic example of re-telling one of the oldest stories in existence. Okay, maybe the medium is not the most cutting edge – but given that R. Crumb is responsible, this is a pretty new re-working of an ancient story. I was pleased to see this project. It gave me hope about the endless possibilities of art and it confirmed what is a core belief of mine: that people will always want to hear or see stories. Sometimes people will delve back in time and sometimes they will want it presented in a slightly modernized way.

That's a nice thought.

We are an industry of storytellers of one kind or another and we all know that there are new stories to be told. We also know that sometimes older stories need re-working in order to engage a young audience who is waiting, eager to consume them. We need to be able to connect. Does the message resonate better when it’s delivered by Robert Johnson on a dusty old ‘30s recording than by a synthed-up Lady GaGa? Or when it comes courtesy of Ray Harryhausen’s King Kong as opposed to Peter Jackson’s? Of course not. Different people will have a different response to receiving the same message. Moreover, one person may respond differently depending on what stage of his life he/she is at and what experiences they can draw on. The crucial thing is that we deliver the message in a way which will achieve the results we require.

As storytellers we should be able to do this using our skills with the tools at our disposal. If we’re not then maybe we are no longer relevant. A great example of adapting modern methods of communication to get across historical ideas was recently emailed to me:

Yes, Orchestra Hero…! We’ve had Guitar Hero and DJ Hero is just about to be released…so why not Orchestra Hero? Yes, it is a little incongruous, but at the very least it will serve as a way to expose a group of young people to classic music in a medium that will not make them immediately reject it. This could lead to a greater appreciation of orchestral works. The article suggests that during the time of their original composition, the works of Beethoven, Mahler and Bach, the orchestra was the place where influential statements were made:

statements that impacted the cultural and political dialogues of the West. Unfortunately this is a claim the orchestral world can no longer make. Competing now with movies, television, the Internet and popular music, the orchestra no longer has the platform for cultural dialogue that it once held.

Interesting that a computer game may provide a road for the player to embark on a journey of discovery.

Maybe that is also the point of ‘new music’; while there’s nothing necessarily new about most of it, it can speak to those who are receptive to it but also can provide a bridge to other influences and help to open up a whole new world of discovery.