20 October 2007

More Cutesy Philosophy

For lack of having anything more substantive to present here for the last few weeks, here are a couple of unrelated ideas that have been bouncing around my head recently:

On Technique
Technique is like money in that we tend to focus on its ability to corrupt rather than the good things it can enable a person to do. As such, there really isn't any argument to be made in favor of discouraging the acquisition of either, assuming it can be done ethically; it's a person's actions after this has been accomplished that say a lot more about them. As I've said before, that the possession of great technique might corrupt a musician probably has at least as much to do with something that was wrong with them beforehand as with any intrinsic properties of what they might later acquire. The tasteless virtuoso has an analog in the materialistic tycoon.

On Preservation
Recording has changed the nature of aural traditions in music. Imagine if Charlie Parker's or John Coltrane's influence had been limited to those who had heard them in person! I find this interesting to ponder only because it points towards a possible element of hypocrisy among the most conservative of jazz commentators. These commentators are the most likely to advocate a neo-traditional, highly imitative (and, in practice, artistically stagnant) approach; but I have also on multiple occasions read and heard the opinion that the music was better off when recording technology limited each tune to 3 minutes, hence precluding the epic (they would say "self-indulgent") improvisations that became commonplace shortly thereafter. I even occasionally run into someone who attacks the value of recording altogether. Nonetheless, the whole dynamic of imitation-versus-creation would be vastly different if we learned only from other living players; rendering "the greats" inaccessible to subsequent generations might actually ensure more rather than less diversity. It seems to me that the advent of recording is largely responsible for this particular brand of musical conservatism (classical music had its own brand before recording because the music was also written down).

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