Archive for May, 2009

While drinking beer with a friend in Bacchus Marsh the conversation turned to Art. The temptation for the artist in the Modern age (or perhaps, more truthfully, in any age) is to bend ones creative drive in a direction that favours the status quo, the present trend, or what ‘the crowd’ is calling cool. This is probably socially healthy; only the isolate fights the crowd, and with lone voice expresses his artistic drive through pure exertion, and madness (think Nietzsche/Van Gogh) . The danger of course, if all artists choose a path of submission to the staus quo, is that society and culture will never move forward. This is sounding romantic, I know – the struggling artist, against all odds, redefines art, after her death (which has happened vis-a-vis Nietzsche/Van Gogh) – but what if a whole society were to turn to the artistic pursuit [make mental note: never read this blog again, is this guy like <gasp> Utopian!]?

The notion that all members of a society should be practicing the arts has a long history. In 1872 a magazine, Vanity Fair, wrote of the ideas of the Aesthetic and Critical theorist, John Ruskin:

John Ruskin

John Ruskin

He holds that to rely on manufactures for greatness is to lean upon a broken reed, and that England must live upon herself through agriculture if ever she would return to a healthy condition of existence. So convinced is he of this that he has given a tenth part of his fortune to found a colony in which Englishmen shall be developed, through the alternation of agricultural labour with artistic pursuits, into the better specimens of humanity which he believes can thus alone be produced.

In the flavoursome language of the late 19th Century we are given access to some of the ideas of Ruskin who believed that working people, in this case an agrarian class, could perfect themselves through the pursuit of art, and he threw money behind his ideas.

Hugh Mackay

Hugh Mackay

Fast forward to the 6th November, 2008, where Australia’s own great sociologist Hugh Mackay, discusses on Radio National ‘that governments should encourage participation in the arts because it’s good for our mental health and community spirit.’ Specifically he calls on governments to redirect funding from major arts institutions, where funding is driven by a ‘bums on seats’ mentality, towards community funding that encourages all members of society to pursue the arts. This may take the form of choir singing or painting or any other artistic expression. Essentially he is saying that participation in art has the ability to transfigure the soul (if you’ll allow me to become romantic for a moment) and thus all society could benefit from this type of funding.

My original point was that the artist’s will should not be bent in the direction of the status quo. How does this relate to the ideas of Ruskin and Mackay? When arts bodies obtain funding with the power to distribute this funding to artists, it is inevitable that certain trends will appear. Depending on who gets the job on the funding bodies, and what their prejudices are, the type of art that society is exposed to will be determined; consequently, societies members, who become the passive receivers of Art, are not always developed by its presence. How many of us leave an art exhibit/show/performance thinking ‘what was that crap’ but saying aloud ‘that was really interesting.’ Yeah, Yeah, c’mon, admit it! Those who determine artistic taste can be identified; they have a slightly pompous attitude, but not because they are necessarily pompous people. It’s a defence mechanism to ensure they keep their funding. And as for the artist, they are going to bend their artistic drive in a direction that will suit the taste of those who control the purse strings, ensuring a narrow artistic output for all.

Now if the everyday person was to have access to artistic development through the local community or their own endeavours, what could we expect? We could expect a variety of art, even a flourishing of the arts . Mackay says he is not so much concerned with the quality of art as to access too art by the general community. He is more interested in the feelings engendered in those active in the artistic process, than culturally judging art as good or bad. Sure, I agree. But the added benefit is we may find a few great artists hiding in the community that raise their heads and provide an artistic statement or direction that none of us, particualrly those in control of funding, could have predicted.

My friend and I discussed this over a beer in Bacchus Marsh. His yard was filled with beautiful hand-made windmills. What would the powerful artistic bodies think of this? Would they fund it? Exhibit it? One thing for sure, Ruskin and Mackay would approve. As did my kids and I, mesmerised by the wind-driven swirls.

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I am a musician and I have a problem. Yeah OK, lots of musicians have problems – its what provides them with inspiration. But my problems aren’t emotional in any tortured soul sense; I have a creative problem – I’m in to exploring many different types of music. In particular I love post-rock, electronica, ambient, post-punk, rock, blues and folk and I try to tie these up into my sounds. Now if I could somehow find a way to blend all these musical types into some new, exciting, packagable sound then I’d be on to a great thing. But what ends up happening is certain sounds emerge from my studio that sound electronic and live performances produce a computer-rock type sound.


Insert brand here.

Now that all sounds very cool, right? Well, wrong! We live in an age of marketing. Marketing means being able to package your product and find a target audience (my stomach is turning as I write this). And that is what so many bands are doing now. Look at MySpace. You have to define your genre (although admittedly you are given three options) and cover your page in photos that relate to a certain look. To generalise, post-rock is black and moody, punk is attitude, electronica is minimalist, while electro is colourful, fun etc. Now this is not a criticism. These bands do it well and it works for them, because there is an audience out there saying, ‘I’m in to this’ and when they find the words and images that remind them of what they’re into, the band has instant fans. The music doesn’t necessarily have to be great, it just has to reflect a certain structure, texture or sound associated with that musical type. Again this is not an insult to the musicianship of these bands or to the listening ears of the public, but a reflection of the process of Marketing.

I was just reading ‘Tobias’ blog’ about modern attitudes to music. Now I would like to draw a link between what I am saying and what he is saying:

“With music so readily available and new bands coming out all the time, we have this new type of music I think of as throwaway. I’ll listen to a song or an album once and I might really enjoy it, but could never listen to it again. Why would I waste my time listening to the same thing again when there’s potentially something much better a couple of clicks away?

Exactly! This is why bands have started to push themselves into specific genres, reflecting there sound type with the clothes they wear and the attitude they present. Because the audience are shopping for music, like they shop for any material item. Its instant, its throwaway; its value is fleeting. Marketing is the key to this phenomena. It’s how you stand out from the crowd or how you get noticed, even if its ‘only for a second’ as Tobias states. Is there room for creativity in this throwaway culture or only clever marketing strategies? I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining. I’m not! It’s just that once a musician could just be creative. Now a musician must create and be marketing savvy. Does creativity suffer as a result of the focus on marketing? And if so does the whole of society suffer? I will never forget hearing a certain band in a Sydney rehearsal complex in earnest conversation, not discussing sound, but discussing clothing and hair styles appropriate for the stage. Yeah, I sniggered, but they’re probably big now and I’m still a bedroom philosopher..!

In some of my gigs I have traversed many genres. At the end of the gig some one will say, ‘I really like the folksy songs where you sing’. And another person will say, ‘I really like the electronic stuff, I wanted to dance’. And some one else will say, ‘Well I really liked what you did but I’m not quite sure what it is your doing‘. See! That’s what I’m talking about. If I had played ONE type of music, certain people would have stuck around and attended future gigs, because they associate with that type of music, it is there scene; a reflection of their identity. They could have found this scene/sound on my MySpace page and spread the word to others.

So I will continue to tinker away in my studio, and do gigs as I forge ahead trying to find the music that blends all the sounds I love. Then I will have a package (yuk!) to market (spew!) to the world (assuming there is a target audience [aaggghhh])! Yeah OK, I’ve got to change my attitude to marketing!

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The world is a deep and beautiful place. It is underneath us, around us and yet it seems we are blind to it. We humans with our civilisation and culture have created a surface around the essence of existence. On this surface we skim to and fro, brushing against each other, ensuring the tracks we leave behind are of the most brilliant colours. Each tries to outdo the other in speed and excellence; to be noticed is paramount. But beneath our mad rush a world pulsates – with beauty and truth.

‘Truth!’ bellow the postmodernists, ‘how dare you.’ For we all know, in the post-modern world, there is no truth. Truth has been reduced to a concept relative to each cultures construct of it. Here I quote from Chapter 1 of Geoffrey Goddard’s amazing book Transpersonal theory & the Astrological Mandala: An Evolutionary Model. ‘Rather than leading to solipsistic nihilism as some might fear, postmodernism … slides (us) back to a subtle form of ‘naturalism’.’ For when all ideas have been relativised and thus made redundant, what is left but the natural world in all its layers of complexity?

This devastation of ideas has not lead to an illumination of what actually resides beneath the noise of civiisation, the incessant chatter of our minds or the rants of TV’s and billboards. Instead it has encouraged us to become even more rambunctious. Note the rise of the internet (my own blog is an example). We are shouting into cyberspace: ‘listen to me, listen to me’. A void must be filled. Humans hate a vacuum: we fill it as quickly as possible.

What if postmodernism had a different effect? What if we lost faith in our ideas and simply shut up, in the knowledge that everything we say is relativistic junket? What would happen? Would truth rise up through our bellies and light up in our eyes? Would the naturalism that exists regardless of the banter and twirls of humanity become apparent to us? What a marvelous notion!

I am reminded of an image from Hindu mythology. Brahma sits in meditation as generations of ants pass before him in a single blink of his eye. We are the ants, and the truth is akin to Brahma: infinite, wise and humming all around us. But we ants, busily scurry across the surface and rarely see the real thing. Though surely we get glimpses, all of us, from time to time. Its what keeps us alive, isn’t it?

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Tribby Greevs asks the question Do You Use Music To Enhance Your Creative Process. I say yes! I have always used music, particularly ambient music, to help inspire my writing. Brian Eno (Music for Airports, Thursday Afternoon), Stars of the Lid and Vladislav Delay are three artists who create ambient music that I regularly use when writing. When I listen I feel ensconced in a creative cloud and feel free to dig deep and spill ideas onto the page. The brain is soothed and the words do flow. Strangely, it stops my mind from wandering; I become entirely focused and immersed in the moment. It is a clarity that allows words to rise. I must admit that a glass of red wine helps with the process.

Check out this beautiful music video featuring Vladislav Delays music.

I have often thought that a worthy government project would be to install speakers on selected street corners and fill the air with ambient sounds. How would this influence our day, our attitude, the way we interpret our surroundings? What of a violent Saturday night on the streets of Melbourne – would it soothe the aggressive impulse of angry young men? I feel ambient music could be a calming, even illuminating influence in a frantic and at times aggressive world.

Although not necessarily ambient music, there is a new application for the Iphone called rjdj that allows the user to turn the city into a musical composition. Check this out:

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