non-specialist specialists

I ended up with an issue of MUSICWORKS after today’s composition seminar at Uvic, which featured Gayle Young and two astonishing, one-of-a kind instruments – which I’ll hopefully talk about later, and about new instruments & interfaces in general. In MUSICWORKS, there’s a commentary article by Gayle, focusing on the Canada Council, that talks about “audience development”, and a sidebar that mentions “non-specialist audiences”.

These phrases, to me, are the linguistic equivalent of pushing the art of music off a cliff marked ‘Academia’ and waiting for it to hit the ground. (Hopefully the sound of it hitting the bottom will be musical, but who can say?) On the one hand, I absolutely respect and love experimental music and weird sounding shit in general. However, most experimental music (and, really, any music that isn’t pure pop) requires some kind of background and history and grounding in the music that came before it. And, for a lot of modern experimental music, the minimum requirements to appreciate it are, literally, a lifetime of diligent and exacting study.

This is true, though to a lesser degree, for traditional orchestral music. Most people, myself included, don’t know their Bach from their Brahms from their Bartok, and trying to get them to appreciate the subtleties of each is not something that you can do in an evening. The same applies to any kind of music: techno, rock, jazz, folk, you name it.

To borrow a phrase from my math class, it’s an inductive series: if you get Tiesto, you’ll get Andy Moor. If you get Andy Moor, you’ll get Nick Warren. If you get Nick Warren, you’ll get Sasha. If you get Sasha, you’ll get Charlie May. If you get Charlie May, you’ll get the MFA and Apparat. If you get them, you’ll get James Holden, and so on and so forth until you find yourself listening to Stockhausen and writing papers about people saying “Tuesday” over and over again. Where did it all go wrong?

It went wrong when the artistic community decided that populism was right out. And it should be right out. Sometimes. It is vital for artists to fuck around and do whatever they darn well please, sometimes. It is equally vital for artists to look up, to look outside their own tight-nit communities, stare the outside world in the eye, and see who blinks first.