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Postmodern music

Parent categories: postmodernism - music

Related: MP3 culture - contemporary music - DJs - post-rock - post-punk - samples in music - DJ Spooky - John Cage

An important paradigm for the popular strain of postmodern music is the " The mixing desk as an instrument and the DJ/remixer as an artist."

Because [the DJ's] artistry comes from combining other people's art, because his performance is made from other musicians' performances, the DJ is the epitome of a postmodern artist. Quite simply, DJing is all about mixing things together. --Last Night a DJ Saved My Life

Compare: modernist music


Postmodern music is both a musical style and a musical condition. As a musical style, postmodern music contain characteristics of postmodern art—that is, art after modernism. It favors eclecticism in form and musical genre, and often combines characteristics from different genres, or employs jump-cut sectionalization. It tends to be self-referential and ironic, and it blurs the boundaries between "high art" and kitsch. Daniel Albright (2004) summarizes the traits of the postmodern style as bricolage, polystylism, and randomness.

As a musical condition, postmodern music is simply the state of music in postmodernity. In this sense, postmodern music does not have any one particular style or characteristic, and is not necessarily postmodern in style. However, the music of postmodernity is thought to differ from that of modernity in that whereas modern music was valued for its fundamentals and expression, postmodern music is valued as both a commodity and a symbolic indicator of identity. For example, one significant role of music in postmodern society is to act as a language by which people can signify their identity as a member of a particular subculture. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_music [Dec 2004]

Modernist influences and postmodern philosophy

In the modern period, recording of music was seen as a way of transcribing an external event, as a photograph is supposed to record a moment in time. However, with the invention of magnetic tape in the 1930s the ability to directly edit a recording, and create a result which did not actually occur, made it possible for a recording to be viewed as the end product of artistic work itself. Through the 1950s, most music, even popular music, presented itself as the capturing of a performance, even if that performance was mic'ed to improve hearing of different parts.

Antecedents to this process, including the electronic music of Edgard Varèse, can be found dating back for several decades, and in 1948 Pierre Schaeffer would use tape to "compose" pieces, however it is with the advent of Rock 'n' Roll and particularly producer Phil Spector and Glenn Gould in classical music in the late 1950's that the idea of using tape to create a stand alone artistic work became more and more prevalent. However, it was with the studio recordings of the Beatles where the full use of multi-track recording and layering became common to popular music. The creation of this recording process transformed pop music. Rock and hip hop both extend this process further, by using more and more sophisticated techniques to layer and mix individual tracks.

The rise of popular music created another pressure on music, which would lead to another strand of post-modernity, namely the ability to create a sufficiently large audience for works. In the Modernist view, such a connection was unnecessary - people would naturally gravitate towards "serious" music as the place where ideas could be presented in musical form, rather than "popular" music, which was seen, as the Victorians had seen it, as subsidiary to the more "weighty" genres. As with Post-modern philosophy, post-modern music questioned whether this hierarchy of "high" and "low" culture was correct or appropriate.

A third strand of post-modern music is a change in the fundamental idea of what music is supposed to be "about". As the period wore on, the idea that "music is mainly about itself", became more and more firmly entrenched. Reference was not merely a technique, but the substance of music. Musical works allude to other musical works, not because they can, but because they must. This is part of the general change from Modernism which saw the basic subject of art being the most pure elements of musical technique - whether intervals, motivic fragments or rhythms - to Postmodernism which sees the basic subject of art being the stream of media, manufactured objects, and genre materials. In otherwords, post-modernity views the role of art to be commenting on the consumer society and its products, where as modernism sought to convey the "reality" of the universe in its most fundamental form. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_music#Modernist_influences_and_postmodern_philosophy [Apr 2006]

In jazz and rock

Postmodern jazz, also, has influenced contemporary pop/rock music. This has developed from two main sources, the innovations of Charlie Parker in the immediate post-war period, and (again) Arnold Schoenberg: this time, however, not so much his serial work as his pre-WWI 'atonal' style, where all forms of tonality were abandoned. The merging of these two traditions led to the development of free jazz in the 1950s by Ornette Coleman who went onto inspire a new generation of musicians in the 1960s and 1970s: for example, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Sun Ra. Free jazz was hugely influential on many avant-garde rock musicians: for example Captain Beefheart, and, in a completely different way The Stooges and Lou Reed (who eventually worked with Coleman in 2003 on the Raven album). These artists themselves were influential on a generation of punk musicians in the 1970s and 1980s (see for example The Lounge Lizards and The Pop Group). In the 1970s Miles Davis repaid the compliment by incorporating elements of funk and rock into his sound, most notably on his Bitches Brew album. Again, this has been hugely influential on contemporary rock and jazz.

Post-rock is a term that has begun to be used for bands that used "rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and power chords" as was originally described by Simon Reynolds in issue 123 of The Wire (May 1994). Although the concept may refer to bands having dissimilar music, most post-rock music is mainly instrumental and of an introspective sort.

The number of bands within the post-rock movement has increased significantly during the last years. Bands such as Mogwai, Tortoise, Explosions in the Sky, Mono, Sigur Rós, múm and Godspeed You! Black Emperor have become fairly known. Their melodic, rich instrumentalization and strong emotional content have become the epitome of most post-rock music composed nowadays. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_music#The_emergence_of_postmodern_styles [Apr 2006]

In dance music and hip hop

At the same time, dance music, particularly the "disc jockeys" at urban parties, was creating a different road into post-modernity in music. Their approach was to take records on turntables, and by hand control the speed of the turntable, and using the mixing board as an instrument, add reverb, suburb and other sound effects. At the same time they would speak into the microphone, using the dance tracks as a background for their own speech, which would lead, eventual to eventually evolving into the DJing and MCing of hip hop music. Further evolution in the 1990s turntablism movement focused on the DJing aspect of hip hop, with music made almost entirely of samples. DJ Shadow is the most well known turntablist DJ, but Q-Bert and Mixmaster Mike of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, DJ Spooky and Cut Chemist were also highly influential. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_music#The_emergence_of_postmodern_styles [Apr 2006]

The DJ and postmodern music

  • DJ Spooky - Under the Influence [Amazon US] History of Dance and DJ culture

    Because his [the DJ] artistry comes from combining other people's art, because his performance is made from other musicians' performances, the DJ is the epitome of a postmodern artist. Quite simply, DJing is all about mixing things together.

    The DJ uses records to make a musical collage, just like Quentin Tarantino might make a new movie which is just a lot of scenes copied from old movies or an architect might build a skyscraper shaped like a grandfather clock. This is the essence of postmodernism: nicking forms and ideas that are already around and combining them creatively.

    A few 'avant-garde' DJs have successfully pulled such pretentious wool over the eyes of the more academic music critics. We'd argue that DJ Spooky, the New York-based DJ who coined the genre name 'illbient' (among others), owes most of his success to the fact that he can make DJing sound really complicated. It might work on the brains of the chattering classes, but it rarely washes with the bodies on the dancefloor. The DJ should concentrate on 'finding good tunes to play' rather than 'attracting meaning from the data cloud'. --Last Night a DJ Saved My Life

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