Sunday, September 6, 2009

The value of formula, and of goths.

No cultural standards remain in the west. This was arguably already underway by the late 90s, but it certainly seems explicit and difficult to challenge today. Society functions in de facto agnostic mode now, with no legitimate claims to a primary epistemological position remaining (though the jockeys of those horses still strive against one another for legislative power).
Every form of retro, including their futurisms, have found acceptance and inspired tribal bonds -- in fashion, art, philosophy, probably most of the sciences.
When I hear a contemporary act playing rock music, what I subjectively hear is "rock" music -- a conscious decision to pay homage to the genre by wearing its appearance. I used to believe that by mixing genres one could overcome this reification, but even if that were true (and I no longer believe so), the strategy itself has unavoidably become exalted to genre status, such that this "eclecticism" takes its place alongside the others... "jazz", "blues" -- god, especially "blues" -- "electronic", "punk" -- god, especially "punk" -- even "noise".
I concluded some time ago, aided by drugs and rave culture, that music as an art form was essentially dead. That is to say, there were no more directions in which to explore it. Pure atonality, randomness, maximum volume, silence, system noise, field recordings, extreme time -- every achievable departure from the accepted had been explored. Every corner of the map charted, nowhere be monsters.
With nothing to contribute in terms of movement of the form, only local action remains. Music as a spiritual or artistic act, a relationship with the energy of creativity, continues regardless of such concerns. But those who seek the authentically untested -- where does this leave us?
Some will glibly label the notion of "no more ideas" absurd -- how can there be an end to ideas? My report is that after a decade of seriously considering the question, and asking it to the musicians of my acquaintance, I have never received the challenge of an undismissable answer. Nobody has ever said "here is an unexplored concrete or theoretical area into which future musical vanguardists might embark". And yes, I've heard Jandek.
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Thus, the value of formula.
Within the formulaic -- and I use this word without perjorative intent; I have already demonstrated that I consider the formulaic inevitable, so it would be poor sport to dismiss it as unworthy as well -- we have a microcosmic representation of every practical element important to the artist (save one, of course).
We instantly choose our tribe, our audience for our personal performance of the Art of Making Defining Aesthetic Choices. In the internal consciousness of our tribe we find the rules of achievement, and learn to measure ourselves within the set of tribal standards.
If I start a noise band, I am likely to bring myself into contact with others who enjoy and/or perform noise music; I might achieve the same essential benefits from a relationship with the creative energy by playing blues, but then I'm going to be spending my time with the blues tribe, which may not be as socially amenable to me.
If I wear a Metallica shirt, I am engaging in exactly the same kind of interaction with my environment, even if I am acting with ironic intent.  I am selecting reality's filter for its interaction with me.
Every decision we take defines us to the world, thus defining the world.
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Goth is not a cultural genre.  Maybe it was, but no longer.  Goth is an asterisk, and the essential function of the asterisk is to disrupt.
In a book passage, an asterisk says "there is more, you must stop now and consider whether that matters to you".  A baseball record, a presidential record, a historical record -- when these earn an asterisk it is seldom a stabilizing influence.
Consider the range of contemporary gothdom.  Every daylight genre, from cowboys to drag queens to business suits to ravers to jocks to geeks, has a goth corollary.
The death that goth represents is the death of consensus culture.  It reminds us that every stance is a pose, willfully or otherwise.
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Now a clearer picture of our genre afflictions emerges.  We select our territory and our teammates, with whatever perspective we have at our disposal, and we play the game.
This is the realm of the formula, and it does seem to walk comfortably hand-in-hand with the spectacle.  Nevertheless, it can be beneficial, satisfying to a degree, and generally worthwhile to take part in this show.
Still, the only possible remaining question lingers, unanswered:  when the map is filled in to every corner, where do we go next to find real adventure?

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