30 January 2014

Exchange with Milo Fine (iii): "a smattering of constants"

[Previously: Foreword(i)(ii)]

[SK] The delivery of a consistent product does seem to be a non-negotiable demand of "careerism," no matter the stated (or unstated) stylistic orientation of the artist.

[MF] Keeping in mind, of course, that a hype-driven image, leaning, naturally, towards the faux provocative, is more important than the consistency of the product.

Even a panoply of pop music styles doesn't fly; like a restaurant chef, unpredictability gets you canned.

Well, that sort of thing *is* possible. There are any number of pop musicians who have "reinvented" themselves successfully.

For all the tiresome rehashing of inherent conflicts between artistry and the marketplace, I wonder if this one actually shouldn't be talked about more than it is?

Absolutely. But that might get us to something like a truth, and so, is willfully avoided.

We are, collectively, so not yet beyond style, no matter what people say in their bios.

Generally, yes. But, on the other hand, there is a growing pervasiveness in the blurring of style; a sort of New World Arts Order; an attempt to bring everyone together under a specious pastiche-stained umbrella. Obviously, this is not being beyond style.

When I was younger, I myself became quite frustrated with any number of current jazz players I had heard once in some particular context I enjoyed, only to find it was all they'd ever done in that vein. The opposite, though, can also be galling: personally, I think the world of Brad Mehldau as a player, but I hear almost no evolution across his body of work. In my mind, the inner circle will always be reserved for the Ligetis and Coltranes, i.e. those whose quality control is impeccable throughout substantial artistic evolutions.

This is something for which I also have the utmost respect, though, on the other hand, the production of even one small body of work, or a single piece with resonance is admirable. Not everyone has the wherewithal to sustain the spirit, though, goddamn-it, more could at least make the effort!

There is a book by economist David Galenson, which I recommend, called Old Masters and Young Geniuses which makes something of an empirical study of these two types of artists across several disciplines, drawing some compelling conclusions. (Equally interesting: he neglects to take on music directly.)

I'll make a note of that, though the stack is pretty thick and time is running out.

Your reticence regarding fixed lists of favorites is, though it foils a potentially juicy piece of bloggerel, timely in and of itself.

Well, as I said in an interview with Pamela (Espeland) some years ago, in those cases, 'Either you talk about all the people that everybody talks about, the pantheon; or, you start bringing up all the arcane people, showing how hip you are.' To be clear, there are people who's oeuvre is impressively consistent. If you keep pressing, I *might* go there.

[Milo adds later: Another issue in my reluctance has to do with the fact that there are any number of people doing significant work who have little or no public presence; people of whom I am, naturally, unaware. Thus, my disinclination to make a public list is, in part, a gesture of respect to bodies of work relegated, by choice and/or design, to the shadows.]

There is a lot of talk right now, and there has been for some time, of purging essentialist notions of transcendence/timelessness from our musical culture.

An excuse for mediocrity; especially if there's *just* enough faux transcendence/timelessness to get it over with its target audience.

My personal take (subject, I suppose, to the same vicissitudes as musical taste itself) is that the more ardent proponents of this deconstruction have gone a bit overboard. (I mean, getting back to co-optation for a second, have pop songwriters and middlebrow film composers not mined the Well-Tempered Clavier at least as thoroughly as navel-gazing academics have?)

More troublesome is the fact that this shit satiates the appetite of the "masses" in general, and, in too many cases, the so-called arts consumer as well.

Certainly it figures that any given artwork needs some...good luck? on its side, no matter its internal qualities, to still be receiving any attention whatsoever centuries after its creation. I'm fine with maintaining a healthy suspicion toward the motivations/ideologies which enable this.

The old cliche about being in the right place at the right time certainly holds true. And your suspicions are certainly well-founded. The nature of history is suspect; who is reported on and why. I've remarked elsewhere on the fact that in order for a person to be credited and acknowledged, they have to have a degree of cultural/social visibility. Plus, no *one* person invents anything; it's always a matter of the collective unconscious and the manifestation of an idea via particular electrical/chemical conduits (i.e.; humans).

But, let's face it, at some point there will be no "humanity". So the notion that something is still revered after centuries is ultimately a moot point.

It's also healthy (necessary?) to acknowledge our own fickleness by...I don't know, how we name our blogs? Nothing is absolute here. You, however, are older and more experienced than I am, and I simply wondered if by this time you might have noted a smattering of constants among your (stunning) record collection? Actually, I know you have in *other* areas; but what you say about commercial music is so obviously true.

But, to be my own devil's advocate -- a role I often play -- concerning pop music, I can accede to the fact that a percentage of musicians working in commercial fields have a certain earnestness; at least for a time. But, overall, any distinction/creative impulse is quickly lost due to the nature of the activity; a sort of inherent gravitation to a lowest common denominator; a sinkhole effect that one also finds in jazz, classical music, and, yes, improvised music as well; particularly when other sensibilities are embraced in order to gain acceptance. (See previous Musil quote.)

"A smattering of constants" among my record collection is an extremely apt description. I have been let down by so many artists who, over time, have not maintained that creative fire that initially drew me to them. But, I do so love being surprised when some inconsistent cat releases something of note. The fact that someone can still rise to the occasion is admirable.

For me, at least, it's equally true of very "accessible" jazz and classical music: I own exactly one Keith Jarrett Standards Trio record, which I at first thought could never be enough, but quickly became convinced is probably just the right number.

One too many, I'd say.

Conversely, one of my very favorite records (or music of any kind) is the album Miles Smiles. I'm comfortable extrapolating from my first dozen or so years spent with that record that it is, for me, "timeless," and not just because it seems to appeal to me in virtually any mood, environment, or other harbinger of fickleness, but because I notice something new every time I listen. Such a cliche, I know, but for me there's no other record I've had quite the ongoing journey of newfound realizations about as with this one. Surely you have a few of those, no? (You don't have to name them.)

Easier to pinpoint when I was young(er) and had fewer records! With the sheer volume comes a sort of diffusion. And, to be honest, with so much stuff being available (and so much of it being sub-par), combined with my having a fairly extensive library, plus auditing my own ongoing work, I simply don't seek out material the way I used to. That said, there are certainly works that are near and dear to me; evoking a sense memory of where I was at when I first heard them and the inspiration they provided concerning finding my own voice. (Ironically this phenomena is similar to what the so-called average consumer calls "the soundtrack of my life" vis a vis pop songs.)

Finally, if I'm not being too dense in asking, I'd love for you to expand upon your use of the term "resonance" throughout the last dispatch, particularly regarding that of "work" versus that of "daily life." I can think of a few specific aspects you might be getting at, and I suspect you mean to get at all of them, but I'm not totally sure. Certainly I too have known people to say and do completely different things, to claim a music or artist or era is "so totally important" to them, but to concurrently admit that they more or less abandoned it when they graduated music school. (It's usually something "out," for which something "in" has been swapped; coincidence, then, that this happens for so many people upon entry into the so-called "real world?") If you mean to draw a more direct (i.e. allegorical) connection between art and life here, I'd benefit from some fleshing out of that notion. Something tells me your use of the term is not simply decorative.

Of course you're not being dense! I use the word "resonance", but one could substitute "transcendence", or even "depth". The problem, of course, is that words have, for a long time, been thoroughly misappropriated and thus, used up. But, words are all we've got, so we keep pissing into the wind. While subjectivity always plays a (too often unfortunate) part, I think -- and please pardon my willful naivety and idealism -- if people were to experience music, painting, sculpture, etc. in an open, less conditioned manner, there would be a sort of consensus as to what constitutes a work with "resonance". In any case, resonance is, to me, readily apparent, and is something to be striven for. (Aside: over the years, as I've gotten to know younger people, I make recommendations as to what to check out and what to avoid. Inevitably, people will challenge my choices, and, almost without exception, they find out that my sensibilities are uncannily spot-on. But this "ability" is really nothing special; more a matter of discernment; of perceiving with resonance.) And, if one can touch that in one's work, can it not be striven for and applied in one's life? The done-to-death tortured (and/or crazy) asshole artist stereotype is still an extremely viable marketing ploy. And, as with most stereotypes, there is truth to it. But, it is ultimately tiresome; as is the newer image of artist-businessperson. For example, by all accounts, John Coltrane was nearly a saint, in the best sense of the term; what he learned from sound he brought to his life, and vice versa. This is what I'm getting at. As for what you describe in people abandoning something important to them, this is simply a succumbing of sorts. At some point, they touch something "resonant", but as personal/societal/cultural pressures come to bear they sadly, if predictably acquiesce to the sickness of status quo. Easier to abandon than to struggle at that level.

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