Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Dressing of the Tongue (Sound Festival)

I am at the Sound Festival in Aberdeen. I am using the internet service at ACT

Sound is all about 'New Music'. This translates as 'music within a broadly classical framework (acoustic instruments, composition, no teenage girls singing about sex in their scants) that recognises the role of electronics but doesn't have a large audience'. 

My facile definition is not exactly challenged by the sector's self-descriptions.

I have had a great many ideas at Sound this weekend, inspired by the programme of In Cahoots, the conference organised by New Music Scotland. Some of those ideas were inspired by the speakers.

(Rob Kennedy made a cool point about how artists often use the word 'collaboration' when they really mean 'working with a community, taking their participation and not crediting them as co-creators', making it an analogue to the business practice of internships... or the festival practice of relying on volunteers to staff events).

One question that bothered me all the way through a solo clarinet recital was the problem of naming. The previous night, a dismal set of programme notes - rich on anecdotal detail, but poor at describing the actual structure of the performance - had sent me into a dreamless sleep... listening to a piece entitled Weird Machine, I pondered whether the actual composition would be any different had it been named Alien Landscape. Or Odd Animal. Or, since this is what it conjured for me, Masturbating on Citalapram.

Calling it Weird Machines - and justifying this by describing it as an attempt to compose a piece that captured the sound of a machine that runs according to unknown mechanical rules - seemed an imposition. Masturbating on Citalapram is far more descriptive. There was plenty of heavy breathing and fingering: it fragmented into a series of irregular rhythmic attacks, took way to long and ended with a triumphant squeak. Besides, the issue of libidinal discomfort caused by anti-depression medication is not covered enough in the arts. I bet SMHAFF would book it for 2016.

Although In Cahoots has a theme of collaboration (with an incidental obsession in the Sound Festival for stuff about astronomy), the debate for me has become words and their meanings. Is the exclusion of pop from the New Music rubric a sensible attempt to protect a niche enthusiasm, or an act of cultural snobbery that mystifies certain genres as high art? What is collaboration? Is using the metaphor of a critic trying to achieve orgasm an appropriate critical response to a clarinet solo? 

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