Monday, 15 January 2007

The same, only different

We recently were listening to The Scissor Sisters first album, it was on top of the display in my local library so I thought, what the hell! They are a group about which I've seen and heard a lot but never really sat down to listen to their music, except for the odd track.

What struck us, when listening was how much we'd heard it before. The sound world of the disc is very reminiscent of the original gay disco boom, which of course was when D. and I paid a lot of attention to popular music. It is fascinating the way pop culture constantly needs to re-invent itself, re-using elements of the past. Its not just music, but fashion does something similar.

Whereas Western art culture is heavily based on the unchanging artefact (a score or work of art), the idea being that things develop towards the perfect artefact, in pop culture there is no such development, the moment is all. It matters not that the artefact might have been used before, what matters is what you are doing with it at the moment.

This, of course, has had a big influence on some of the major names in modernism, where the move away from the fully notated score and the concept of an artefact, is quite important.

But there is another fascinating parallelism, the world of the baroque. Where composers were constantly pressured for something new, it was newness that mattered. Everyone recycled and re-used pre-existing material, whether it was your own or someone else's. If you read about the constant pressures on Handel, you can see parallels with our own pop culture. Not only the expectation from the audience to produce something new, but the constant striving to make each revival of a work new and different, no matter what the total effect on the work's artistic integrity.

What is fascinating is that nowadays we decry some of Handel's revivals of his works, where he cut and pasted all manner of music to create new versions which were weaker than the original. But to contemporaries do not seem to have worried about this in the same way, they were concerned for the ephemera of the moment, whether the singers were good and whether the songs were knew.

Reading biographies of baroque composers you often feel that their lives were closer to key figures in pop culture than contemporary composers. Handel as George Michael!!!

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