02 February 2014

Exchange with Milo Fine (vi): "a desolate marketplace"

[Previously: Foreword(i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(v)]

[SK] I think there are many shades of grey on the autodidacticism spectrum.

[MF] Certainly. But, generalizations have their place in a discussion.

My own music-educational path was such a hodge-podge of chance occurrences and missed "opportunities" that I typically hesitate to place myself squarely in either the autodidactic or academy-trained camp.

I would say you're definitely more "academy" than autodidact; even if you didn't fully pick up your jazz chops as a result of the former.

[Milo adds later: And I should make it clear, pursuant to your point about "shades of autodidacticism", that, in terms of an "autodidact", I am not referring to someone who learns accepted/traditional technique/theory without the benefit of formal training, but, rather someone who charts and explores a path of unorthodoxy. (Keeping in mind, of course, that *everything* is, to shamelessly, if reasonably quote an LP title of mine, the constant extension of inescapable tradition.)]

I've often had the thought that my early and frequent exposure to classical music "in the house," as they say, bears more responsibility for my middlebrow tastes than any post-secondary academic molding, but then again, you yourself come from yet more intense classical music parentage than I do and you turned out very differently.

A matter of processing. And, to be clear, my parentage was *much* more jazz than classical. My dad was a jazz drummer who happened to fall into a "career" with the Minnesota Orchestra (or, as it was known then, the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra). As a kid living in the first ring suburbs, I walked around the house singing "Salt Peanuts" rather than some aria. (And what I most heard around the house as time went on -- and my dad played less records -- was middle-of-the-road AM radio.)

In any case, while I'm no apologist for a musico-academic establishment with which I myself have had at best a strained relationship, given that most students in this country don't actually enter "the academy" until they are nearly 20 years old, I often wonder if it's too easy to blame their schooling for any and all personal shortcomings (or, for that matter, attributes) they may arrive and depart with intact?

The academy is a sort of early end-point; a matter of a more or less natural progression: orchestra in elementary, junior high and high school; often augmented with private lessons. A continuum.

A mutual acquaintance of ours once expressed near-disbelief that someone with my interests and outlook could also be someone who previously spent 4 years at the U of MN School of Music. What's actually amazing, I guess, is not that I went but that I stayed; in hindsight, though, it's clear to me that it was the previous 17 years of my life, though a decidedly mixed bag in their own right, which had prepared me to jump through all the requisite hoops while nonetheless continuing down my own path relatively unencumbered.

As I mentioned before, one *can* get something out of the academy without it subsuming them. It takes some conscious effort not to buy into all the values/sub-texts endemic of an institution.

Similarly, I can tell you from firsthand experience that the U doesn't have to close its students' minds for them; the bulk of them more or less show up that way.

That's what I was getting at previously. Everything's set. This is just the next logical step in drinking the kool-aid.

The situation at CalArts is not as bad, but it's hardly as good as it could/should be given the school's mission, history, and (dis)orientation. (It was at least entertaining to see the tables turned, with the conservatory brats pretending to tolerate the notion of free improvisation purely to avoid rocking the boat; opposites day every day!) In both cases, it was clear to me that while the institutions certainly could do more, there's no guarantee any of it would, shall we say, resonate with those at which it might be directed. A good deal of that work is done, or not, earlier on.


Incidentally, the notion of ultimately "becoming one's own best teacher" is a mainstream one in musico-academia, perhaps yet another co-optation, but one without much of a downside that I can see.

That's an ideal, and a good one. (When I was teaching drums, I almost always told students that the best I could contribute to their growth was to teach them to teach/motivate themselves.) The problem is that most people don't have the wherewithal/fortitude/discipline to take that path. Much easier to listen to lectures, read assignments, regurgitate information, get decent grades, network, and get a job. True individual initiative, is like wisdom: in short supply; or as Blake put it, "...sold in a desolate marketplace where none come to buy".

Your point about the blues is well-taken, but not exactly what I was getting at. I guess I have been involved in a handful of "improvised" situations over the years where one or more people in the ensemble were clearly and unabashedly searching to establish a structure (i.e. a vamp and/or chord progression). Stated in terms of our present conversation, their aesthetic is that of the status quo through and through, and they use "free" settings simply as additional opportunities to express it.

This point certainly resonates with me. It's too, too true. The flip side is throwing in some "free" (atonal) bits as seasoning (spice); more or less just to show one is accomplished (hah!) in that realm as well.

One has to think that what you're describing with the blues was more viable among groups of players for whom that form was/is both widely shared and occupied, for lack of a better way of putting it, a "special place" in the culture. I was thinking more about motherfuckers fumbling around with their heads up their asses until they can find each other in a rather arbitrarily chosen common key and meter, whereupon they will inevitably mire themselves ever deeper until the whole thing falls apart again. The blues is a much more flexible and varied form which, depending on your taste, can tolerate anywhere from a little to a lot more give and take, whereas the harmonic practice of so much mainstream classical, jazz, and rock music is, in the grand musical/sonic scheme, profoundly limited (usually a consequence of its being rooted in "vertical" rather than "horizontal" thinking).

Ah, you misunderstand what I meant vis a vis "the blues". I meant the basic 3 chord structure; readily communicated and understood. Once introduced, everyone can get on board. (Sigh of relief!) A basic foundation before resorting to the "I Got Rhythm" changes.

It's difficult to express all of this without sounding like just the kind of person I'm writing against.

You don't sound like that at all, at least to me.

The one time I really tried to turn someone on to the Improvised Music aesthetic, his response as I recall was something like, "Cool, we'll improvise one this set, but none of that [makes funny noises with mouth] shit, okay?"

What a predictable cretin!

So, again, there's always more to it, no?

Always! Or, in any case there *should*, no, *must* be.

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