Arcana: musicians on music

Rock. Jazz. Punk. Dada. Beat. These words and their longer cousins, the ism-family (surrealism, postmodernism, abstract expressionism, minimalism), are used to commodify and commercialize an artist’s complex personal vision. This terminology is not about understanding. It never has been. It’s about money. Once a group of artists, writers, or musicians has been packaged together under such a banner, it is not only easier for work to be marketed— it also becomes easier for the audience to ‘buy it’ and for the critic to respond with prepackaged opinions. The audience is deprived of its right to the pleasure of creating its own interpretation, and the critic no longer has to think about what is really happening or go any deeper than the monochromatic surface of the label itself, thus avoiding any encounter with the real aesthetic criteria that make any individual artist’s work possible.
It is understood that a critic’s job is not an easy one, but it is a source of great surprise and disappointment to me that after more than twenty years of music-making on the New York scene, except for the occasional review in trade magazines/periodicals (which because of the context in which they appear and the speed with which they are written don’t really count anyway), not one single writer has ever come forward to champion or even to intelligently analyze exactly what it is that we have been doing. Indeed, they hardly seem able even to describe it.
This is almost entirely unprecedented for an artistic movement of such scope and involving as many important figures as it does. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the music explicitly and violently resists the classifications that these so-called thinkers have so desperately tried to impose on it: from the ludicrous comprovisation to the ambiguous postmodernism to the meaningless totalism. More likely it is because of the musicians’ understandable and very deliberate antagonism to such catchwords— their rejection of attempts to simplify the work, package it for the market place, and conceal the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) distinctions between the works of the many individual artists concerned.
I am not so naive as to believe it could be because our work is in any way more difficult, more original, or indeed any less commercially viable than other experimental work throughout the ages. After all, history has shown us how artists whose work has eluded traditional genres and transcended boundaries have been ignored in their own lifetime, suffering the pain of alienation and rejection, sometimes even paying the ultimate price of being ‘suicided by society’.
The Arcana project began six years ago. The authors here represent a small cross section of a much larger body of musicians. Many more people were invited to contribute, but for one reason or another not all were able to participate. For the most part musicians do not like to write about their work. And perhaps the artists themselves are not always the best people to do so, since they have chosen a largely non-verbal medium in which to work.
As a result, the writing here is often on the raw side, but by virtue of that very fact it provides a helpful insight into the artists’ inner mind. Musical thought has vast scope, enormous depth, and approaches to it are various and dynamic, and my hope was to elicit material that would be much more direct than an interview after it’s been sanitized or manipulated by someone with an agenda or an article after it’s been cut, recontextualized, or sensationalized by a hungry editor trying sell an issue of a magazine or newspaper.
I wish more people were represented here, but this book is at least a first step, filling a very real gap. This book exists to correct an unfortunate injustice, the incredible lack of insightful critical writing about a significant generation of the best and most important work of the past two decades. In this sense putting it together was not a ‘labor of love’ but an act of necessity.

John Zorn, Taipei, January 1997

in Arcana, musicians on music, livro de ensaios editado e prefaciado por John Zorn [+ info]

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