The "rockism" debate

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Butch Manly
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Postby Butch Manly » 10 Nov 2004, 22:58

DerModernist wrote:I'd just like to echo The Electricians lucid and insightful post. He's absolutely right; In an artform shaped by the commercial possibilities of mass electronic communication, it is rather naive to uphold "auteurism" as an ideal.


i completely agree.
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Postby The Modernist » 10 Nov 2004, 23:37

griff (not griff) wrote:
DerModernist wrote:I'd just like to echo The Electricians lucid and insightful post. He's absolutely right; In an artform shaped by the commercial possibilities of mass electronic communication, it is rather naive to uphold "auteurism" as an ideal.


i completely agree.


Good point, well made.

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Postby Quaco » 10 Nov 2004, 23:43

Even if the music is being made from many sources (samples, for example), it's still the artist himself who's in control. It's still auteuristic. I don't see how the commercial possibilties of electronic communication makes him (or her) any less so.

This is still quite different than music-by-committe artists like Ashlee Simpson, isn't it? Am I totally misunderstanding you guys?
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Postby The Modernist » 10 Nov 2004, 23:53

Jym wrote:Even if the music is being made from many sources (samples, for example), it's still the artist himself who's in control. It's still auteuristic. I don't see how the commercial possibilties of electronic communication makes him (or her) any less so.

This is still quite different than music-by-committe artists like Ashlee Simpson, isn't it? Am I totally misunderstanding you guys?


This is an interesting debate. Is the artist in control? Well sometimes, to a point. Nevertheless no artist creates in a vacuum, there is an intrinsic link between the activity (even if this is artistic) and it's reception in the commercial marketplace. Thrrough examining this we can often see what shapes the text (sorry..I'm drifting off into Media studies speak here..). This is not to deny that some artists may be the primary creators of their records but they are not the only things that shape how that record will sound.

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Postby Butch Manly » 10 Nov 2004, 23:53

Jym wrote:
This is still quite different than music-by-committe artists like Ashlee Simpson, isn't it? Am I totally misunderstanding you guys?


would it help if i said that kylie rocks?
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Postby Quaco » 11 Nov 2004, 00:57

DerModernist wrote:
Jym wrote:Even if the music is being made from many sources (samples, for example), it's still the artist himself who's in control. It's still auteuristic. I don't see how the commercial possibilties of electronic communication makes him (or her) any less so.

This is still quite different than music-by-committe artists like Ashlee Simpson, isn't it? Am I totally misunderstanding you guys?


This is an interesting debate. Is the artist in control? Well sometimes, to a point. Nevertheless no artist creates in a vacuum, there is an intrinsic link between the activity (even if this is artistic) and it's reception in the commercial marketplace. Through examining this we can often see what shapes the text (sorry..I'm drifting off into Media studies speak here..). This is not to deny that some artists may be the primary creators of their records but they are not the only things that shape how that record will sound.

Well, certainly any artist who sells their work is always in some way influenced by the marketplace and their chosen modes of reproduction. No filmmaker has, to my knowledge, produced a "tall-screen" (i.e., vertical wide-screen) picture because film was never manufactured in that shape and it would require refitting all the film projectors. Even the most self-sufficient of musicians (e.g., Todd Rundgren) relied on others to master their records in accordance with industry standards, used standard modes of release and promotion ... and cared about what the audience thought! To me, this is the artist's choice, and I don't think this makes him less of an auteur.

I agree that market pressure and competition can often make musicians work harder and produce better work. To take the most obvious of examples, I don't think The Beatles would have produced better work if they had been completely isolated from the rest of the world.

So if auteurism means to you that an artist is like a novelist who never publishes, i.e., complete control with no outside influence at all (because once he publishes, the audience enters into the equation), then of course, no musician or filmmaker can be considered an auteur. (This in fact may be closer to autism than auteurism!)

But I still think it's quite a different process when the artist is pretty much not in control of their own destiny, as I believe is the case with so many pop idols throughout history, from Frankie Avalon to Ashlee Simpson. If they become big enough, they may begin to exert control, but usually there is so much at stake in these cases that there is a massive diluting process that's taken place by the time the song gets to the listener. Is Ashlee Simpson realy strong enough to stand up to the producer, A&R rep, and manager during the mix and insist that the bass be twice as loud just because she wants it that way? Is she even present at the mix? How much control does she have at all?

Perhaps Simpson isn't actually the artist at all, and this is just a suspension of disbelief. If her producer had the guts to stand up and say, "This is my music. Ms. Simpson is my vocalist," then there is no longer any need to assess Ms. Simpson's credibility. But as long as we are comparing her to artists who write their own material, I think there is a difference in what they are able to communicate.

Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with whether you like Ashlee Simpson better than Todd Rundgren, which I guess is where this comes in:

griff (not griff) wrote:
Jym wrote:
This is still quite different than music-by-committe artists like Ashlee Simpson, isn't it? Am I totally misunderstanding you guys?


would it help if i said that kylie rocks?

Kylie's music may be great, it may perfectly express one's feelings or the zeitgeist, it may get you up on the dancefloor. And perhaps this is all Kelefah Sanneh is saying: drop your prejudices against manufactured pop because some of the best music is prefab. All I'm saying is, basically, is that when the artist who puts his or her name on the product (deliberately not getting into the art vs. prodcut issue) is in charge of his or her own destiny -- or as much as possible, as no one builds their own record-pressing machine -- it makes it possible for them to communicate more, and that can be a very special thing. Certainly there are many cases when something "manufactured" can hit the spot -- and believe me (to take Sanneh's example), I don't automatically think everything by U2 is great just because they seem to control it more -- but that communication is precious to a lot of people. This is one reason an album like Rock Bottom is special to me. Not because it's old or because it was made by relatively few people, but because I can follow the train of thought through it. This isn't a new concept, as people have been comparing Mozart's first symphony with Don Giovanni and enjoying the progression, thus "being in his mind" for a time, even though both pieces were written to order. But when it's unclear whose art it is, or when financial concerns begin to overwhelm the process (it's impossible to say exactly how much is too much, but I know I've witnessed it first-hand), then that added dimension of "being in the artist's mind" can get lost and you are just left with the music. And that's not necessarily bad if the music's good. It's just that you've lost that dimension.

This is not intended to say that rock as a style is better than others, just that music in which you can follow the artist's thought processes has a special dimension that I -- and I think a lot of people -- really treasure. (This also ties into why we often expect out artists to practice what they preach and why "Just Another Day in Paradise" is so much more annoying than "I Missed Again".)
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Postby brotherlouie » 12 Nov 2004, 00:18

This thread sort of ties in with the Modernism/Postmodernism debate hereabouts. The way I see it is that music, much like any other cultural activity, is different things for different people at different times.

For example: Eastenders may not be Hamlet, but it may cover interesting ideas and be well acted. Some people may find it funny (unlikely), moving or challenging. It exists in the same broad genre as Shakespeare or Godot because it's a production with acting in it. As does Beckett and Godard movies. No-one would confuse them though. Music works in a similar way - Before a Saturday night out I'm more likely to put Back In Black on than The Hissing Of Summer Lawns. Granted the latter is more considered, artful and so on. But Back in Black does the job. As does "Can't Get You Out Of My Head".

Autuerism it seems is a modernist concept rooted in the misguided principle that someone somewhere is a genius. I don't believe it (and this is only my opinion). People are influenced too much by friends, co-workers and by the times in which they work. See my earlier post regarding the importance of collaborators. All artists are constrained by the means of production. Lps lasted up to an hour and movies tend to last up to three with very few going over that. Though they are creeping up. Live performances have no end of logistical problems. All of these impinge on the creative process. I think they add to it. Picasso entered his Blue period because someone offered him a job lot of blue paint. The film "If" goes black and white because they ran out of colour stock. And so on.

Sorry I'm rambling a bit, but I think you get my drift.

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Postby Quaco » 12 Nov 2004, 01:12

But what's great about Picasso's blue period isn't that it was blue, it's what he did with it. You can give lots of blue paint to any number of artists, and you will not likely come out the other end with what he did.

I believe there is a thing called genius. I don't believe genius is always at its best when isolated from other people. Far from it. I'm not arguing against influences or collaboration. But I do think that art by committee will tend to water down any inherent genius unless the rest of the people are of an appropriate calibre. Of course this may not matter if it's something for which genius is not required, like what dpi to scan the cover shot at. Any competent person can do this. But in pop music, songwriting matters. I've seen managers and A&R people squeeze the last remaining brilliant bit out of a song until it's just like everything else.

I agree that music serves different purposes -- party music, heavy lyric music, dance music -- and these shouldn't be held to each others' standards. I do, however, see particular value in an artist expressing something unique to them. I think it's geat when it happens, and it's one thing that separates truly the truly great from the good.
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Postby The Write Profile » 23 Jan 2005, 23:37

Ever since this thread on the idea "rockism", the discussion has been repeated ever since. But the nature of it is so hard to define as to be ludicrous. I guess it all comes down to how we like our masks, and crucially, how we like our product presented. As long as wecan accept that the basic premise of pop music can be something of a double-take, then it's just easier to assess the material on the end result.
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Postby The Write Profile » 27 May 2005, 12:26

Okay,just re-read the thread before, particularly the article which inspired it. The problem in the articles lies in the fact that in trying to trump her cause she makes bold, brash, statements and doesn't back them up with anything of "evidence": so to speak. The massive generalisations in regards to both camps means that it had to be tacken with a pinch or two of salt. The 'it is what is' stance, isn't good enough for any music, we have to define examine and justify why something might be good. Pop music, auteur, or whatever, opinions and assesment still counts. I have no difficult in trying to discern my good from bad in the genres I mostly enjoy

Secondly, when you're talking pop stars these days, really, you're talking the producer, be it Kanye, Dre, or whoever. R'n'B as a vocal form has suffered quite lot as a lot of that because the entire emphasis is on the eat, the vocals are in there are a means to act as another sonic tic: listen to something like Amerie's "One Thing" for evdience of this: it's two chords slammed into one another, the singer trying to groan her way out of the machine.

Of course there are exceptions to that, and they come with their brand of marketing as well: MIA despite the fact that she released a few v.good singles on her album and quite a bit of filler, it's quite obvious that a lot of the fuss behind her was from her background rather than her music, as politics gets mentioned in each review.


Where the article goes wrong, I think, is that it suggest that a new canon needs to be formed in talking about pop music. Hardly, pop music needs to be judged, espescially bad pop music (Akon's Lonely is proof that rap, some 25 years after its major inception has produced its "How Much is its Doogy In the Window")


Now the American/UK Idol style of pop marketing is so separate from the pop world as to be almost a comment on it. A self-contained unit, where ambitions-success-failure- trajectory is streamlined into a version of Karoke Gladiators. I don't really worry too much about it, other than the fact that it's peripheral to the pop world, yet seeming all encroaching.

Thing is today, there's so much music, so much to get a handle on. The role of the listener is to have a filter machine, not based on an ideology, but a personal preference (if that makes sense). I wish I could go into this further, but I wont for now. Everything's the same, nothing's the same.
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Postby Sleepy » 27 May 2005, 13:06

The pervading issue I have with recent pop music is the lack of singers, all of the recent famous pop stars are good entertainers but there just isn't the voice there, they all sing along with the song but they don't sound enthused, they don't sound like they even care about what their singing. Kylie and Rachel Stevens are both skilled practitioners of not really singing so much as humming along with a tune.

Of course on the other side you've got people who think singing his hitting the highest note possible before it melts your brain and warbling around that point. There's very little classy singing these days, it all does feel manufactured and just a little silly.
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Postby The Modernist » 27 May 2005, 17:06

Sleepy wrote:The pervading issue I have with recent pop music is the lack of singers, all of the recent famous pop stars are good entertainers but there just isn't the voice there, they all sing along with the song but they don't sound enthused, they don't sound like they even care about what their singing. Kylie and Rachel Stevens are both skilled practitioners of not really singing so much as humming along with a tune.

Of course on the other side you've got people who think singing his hitting the highest note possible before it melts your brain and warbling around that point. There's very little classy singing these days, it all does feel manufactured and just a little silly.


But that's true of music generally today isn't it? Not just a certain brand of pop dance music.
Where are the equivalents today of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, Scott Walker etc. I'll probably be lambasted as an old fogey, but I lament the decline of the great vocalist.

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Postby Toby » 27 May 2005, 19:37

Fuck off you old git.

Blah blah urethra Franklin blah Scott fucking blah walker - this isn't the sixties you know! Times have changed.


;)

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Postby The Modernist » 27 May 2005, 19:46

Bleep wrote:Fuck off you old git.

Blah blah urethra Franklin blah Scott fucking blah walker - this isn't the sixties you know! Times have changed.

;)


You'll be pleased to know I'm recommending some more up to date stuff on your thread. It's an album from 1971. :)

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Postby The Write Profile » 27 May 2005, 21:54

Sleepy wrote:The pervading issue I have with recent pop music is the lack of singers, all of the recent famous pop stars are good entertainers but there just isn't the voice there, they all sing along with the song but they don't sound enthused, they don't sound like they even care about what their singing. Kylie and Rachel Stevens are both skilled practitioners of not really singing so much as humming along with a tune.



Yeah true, but the songs they're given aren't necessarily dictated to that style of expressive singing anyway. As I said, their basic role to be another beat in the producer's sonic arsenal. It's an interesting change.
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Postby the masked man » 28 May 2005, 16:10

I would have thought that there's quite a bit of "expressive singing" around today, and, oddly enough, it's present within the Pop Idol/American Idol sphere. There are plenty of female singers there who are still in thrall to the Mariah Carey school of incontinent caterwauling.

In fact, overly mannered look-at-me singing usually gives me a headache. Some pull it off (Aretha is one; Billy Mackenzie is another) but most express nothing more than narcissistic vanity. This is, of course, why many hate Jeff Buckley here, but he was actually quite restrained compared to the average modern diva, such as Christina Aguilera.

Looking back at modern producer-driven r'n'b I realise that one reason I enjoyed Aaliyah's records was that her singing was far away from this migraine-inducing style. She was content to have voice used as airy aural shading over Timbaland's futuristic soundscapes.

Restraint is a good thing.

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Postby The Modernist » 29 May 2005, 00:11

the masked man wrote:I would have thought that there's quite a bit of "expressive singing" around today, and, oddly enough, it's present within the Pop Idol/American Idol sphere. There are plenty of female singers there who are still in thrall to the Mariah Carey school of incontinent caterwauling.

In fact, overly mannered look-at-me singing usually gives me a headache. Some pull it off (Aretha is one; Billy Mackenzie is another) but most express nothing more than narcissistic vanity. This is, of course, why many hate Jeff Buckley here, but he was actually quite restrained compared to the average modern diva, such as Christina Aguilera.

Looking back at modern producer-driven r'n'b I realise that one reason I enjoyed Aaliyah's records was that her singing was far away from this migraine-inducing style. She was content to have voice used as airy aural shading over Timbaland's futuristic soundscapes.

Restraint is a good thing.


I agree with all that, however it doesn't change the fact that today is notable for the real lack of classic singers. This seems to me inarguable.

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Postby Jeff K » 29 May 2005, 00:50

I just re-read the entire thread and it was a lively one. Good debate from both sides.

But it also reminded me of how much I miss Nathan and King Feeb. :cry:
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Postby brotherlouie » 29 May 2005, 18:57

TheModernist Explodes! wrote:...today is notable for the real lack of classic singers. This seems to me inarguable.


Here, here. I watching that clip of Aretha (on Soul Deep last night) and it seems that in the space of four lines of lyric she:

Mumbled a bit
Adlibbed a bit
Ranseveralwordstogethertoplaywiththerhythm
Sang one line pretty straight
Hiut one one staggering top note
Shouted
Dragged behind the beat
Raced ahead of the beat

And you know what, it didn't look difficult. It makes the gymnastic singing we get from the you-know-who brigade seem very one dimensional. It's a shame because Beyonce could be really great, but I get the feeling she is urged to do the vocal tricks because she can. It's not fair to compare everyone to Aretha because they broke the mould and we're lucky she managed to record what she did, but plenty of lesser singers seemed to manage with a bit of attitude (Van Morrison springs to mind, though he can go on a bit. Into The Music is probably his best sustained effort vocally).

As a backlash to the overdone vocals we're beginning to get 50Cent ytype mumbling in rap, I suspect it will start appearing in singing too. Ciara's 1-2-Step is pretty low key and none the worse for it.

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Postby The Modernist » 04 Nov 2005, 20:50

The M wrote:
Sleepy wrote:The pervading issue I have with recent pop music is the lack of singers, all of the recent famous pop stars are good entertainers but there just isn't the voice there, they all sing along with the song but they don't sound enthused, they don't sound like they even care about what their singing. Kylie and Rachel Stevens are both skilled practitioners of not really singing so much as humming along with a tune.

Of course on the other side you've got people who think singing his hitting the highest note possible before it melts your brain and warbling around that point. There's very little classy singing these days, it all does feel manufactured and just a little silly.


But that's true of music generally today isn't it? Not just a certain brand of pop dance music.
Where are the equivalents today of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, Scott Walker etc. I'll probably be lambasted as an old fogey, but I lament the decline of the great vocalist.


True innit