Home > Name that audience. > The Intellect-a Heap of Brainy Goodness-Who Is Our Audience?-Part III

The Intellect-a Heap of Brainy Goodness-Who Is Our Audience?-Part III

Who Is Our Audience?-Part III

The Intellect-a Heap of Brainy Goodness

So, what else makes a human being?  Besides the physical facet of a person, what are other characteristics of people, or what else other than the physical are you speaking to?  Last time I wrote mainly about why pop music is successful, which was the sheer physicality of it.  Today, I want to write on the subject of “What was it about the Avant-Garde that people liked, if anything?”

You’re not going to groove to most of this stuff.  That was the physical.  Art Music lost that way before the 40’s-50’s, but did it back in the 60’s.  Of course, not everyone knows the 50’s are over.  There are still Elvis sightings and there is still music being written that no one wants to listen to.

So, what is it that that music had?  It had intellect.  We ARE thinking creatures!  We analyze, take apart, look at, and admire.  There is organization, structure, motivic development, and a number of other aspects.  If Bach’s music simply grooved, we’d probably not care too much about it.  It’s the absolute organization; along with other things I’ll look at in future blog entries, that makes it, for lack of a better word, timeless.  Take a listen to Le Marteau sans Maitre by Boulez.  This is arguably the greatest work of total serialism.  Why?  Rhythmically, it’s incredibly complex.  It doesn’t groove at all.  So, can it address the whole person?  Does it touch a person on a physical level?  I believe it so.  You’re not going to tap your foot to it, maybe Boulez does.  Actually, Boulez probably does tap his foot to it, but he is Boulez.  I haven’t seen anyone doing that so far.  Nevertheless, the piece is wonderful!  It’s rhythmically complex, but it does have an extreme physical element to it.  The rhythms are logical and physically touch you, but we’re not talking about the physical here.  A large part of the beauty of the piece lies in the capacity it has to stimulate the intellect.  You walk away from hearing Le Marteau sans Maitre and you are thinking.  You ARE moved.  It’s organized so well that it takes your breath away.  There is no iota of this piece that Boulez didn’t touch.  Why should this make it work? Does this give the piece quality?  Does it matter that it has this complete organization of thought?  I believe it does matter greatly.

Our capacity to think is what separates us from other animals.  It’s the closeness of the great apes and dolphins to our own intellect that fascinates us.  There aren’t many people eating bonobos and orcas, why?  Probably because it’s uncomfortable to eat something with an intellectual life?  The intellect separates them from other animals as much as it separates us.  Without speaking to the intellect in a work of art, an artist is not coming close to making the work worth anything other than one listen or glance.  Why is a lot of pop music so disposable?  Why aren’t the beer commercials from the 1996 Superbowl remembered as anything other than nostalgia?  They lack the intellectual stimulus to keep us interested.

Why then is so much music from the 50’s Avant-Garde not completely successful artistically?  It ONLY speaks to the intellect and not the whole person.  It isn’t multi-faceted; it’s one-dimensional.  In that respect, a large amount of that music is, artistically, as much a failure as the latest Paris Hilton hit.  (Oh, sorry, she’s had no hits.  Ok, Paris’ last CD.)  so much of that music has nothing to do with what and who people are, other than intellectual stimulation, that it becomes as superficial as a work stimulating only your libido.  Of course, no genre or artistic era is inherently devoid of quality.  Xenakis, Boulez, and many others do touch the total person.

Therefore, music, outside of the physical has to have an intellectual capacity in order for it to be complete.  What does this mean to you as a composer?  Technique!  Any successful work has it.  The only way to speak to the intellect is through it.  It’s how Boulez can write incredibly complex rhythms, but they are completely logical and they work.  It’s why the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, or Charles Mingus went beyond most others in their genres.  They had an incredible resource of technique at their disposal.

When I say this to people, I sometimes am asked if I mean university training.  I do not.  Schooling is an easy way to acquire a lot of technique rapidly.  It is not the only way.  The Beatles never went to a formal music school.  Nevertheless, their music works on an incredible amount of multi-faceted levels, including the intellectual.  They had an unbelievable amount of technique, which they got through simple hard work.  Playing in Hamburg every night for hours made them great performers and songwriters.  Having to churn out albums on a two a year schedule, plus singles, made them studio giants.  Of course, you must have the intellectual curiosity, drive, persistence, and sheer talent to utilize the technique in a creative way.  School can be a way to get technique, but it’s not the only way.  Somehow, technique has to be obtained.  Without technique, an idea just stays an idea.  There’s no way to express it, or make it work.  Technique elements your boundaries.  It might create new ones, but if you keep working, those borders will fall too.

What is it you want your music to be?  If it’s popularity you want.   If you want to sell CD’s and sell out concerts (there is nothing wrong with either) then a relatively simple or tonal harmonic language maybe combined with rhythmic interest is what you do.  If you want to make people examine their lives and/or open them up to things they’ve never thought of (nothing wrong with this either), you can use a more rigorous harmonic and rhythmic language.  Your audience will be smaller, but if you’re talking to them on a comprehensive level, then you’re successful.  It does come down to what do you want to say, how do you want to say it, and how many people do you want to say it to?

Next week-going beyond,wooooo!!!

See you then.

Categories: Name that audience.
  1. May 15, 2010 at 11:30 PM

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian, iwspo.net

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