Guitar Zero


As a composer, or at the very least as a songwriter, and as an increasingly old fart, I find it quite dispiriting to see the music scene degenerate steadily over time.

This is happening in so many ways that I don’t know where to start.

Popular music has rarely been anything but commercial mush, but even some disco acts and ABBA had a passing relationship with the craft (if not the art) of music-making.

But when telephone ringtones start topping the charts, I think why bother to write music?

When Guitar Hero, Christian (see image above) or Regular, and other such games rock the planet, and gadget blogs review in all seriousness those fisher-price plastic guitars with four buttons and one “string”, I think why bother to learn even three chords on a real guitar?

The trend towards extreme simplification is evident: basic binary beats, one “string” guitars, 1-bar samples of jazz classics to back a rap song (would the original 8 or 16 bars would be too much to bear?). Basic lower-brain sensory stimulation for people with nano-attention spans.

I don’t require all the music I like to display the polyrhythmic complexity of Zappa’s The Black Page or the harmonic subtlety of Schubert’s chamber music, or the counterpunctal pyrotechnics of Bach preludes and fugues, or the melodic richness of Lennon/McCartney, XTC or Harry Nilsson songs.

I love a whole lot of basic, simple, in your face stuff from Delta Blues to the B 52′s to Fatboy Slim, because it still contains things like internal structure and movement, dynamics, a few chords, maybe a blues scale (5 notes), texture, humor, the distinctive timbre of a human voice, or some attribute that actually registers in my brain as something distinguishable from silence or background noise.

Because there’s a “complexity” threshold below which pretty much nothing is happening anymore, but which nevertheless seems to satisfy the needs of many “music” consumers.

Sometimes, when I write songs with actual melodic content (harmonically, I’ve been on a rather minimalistic trend lately), I feel like a blacksmith waiting for customers on the side of a three-lane highway.

I’m thankful that in France at least, experimental musicians like Camille fill stadiums and sell hundreds of thousands of albums, and that radio stations like FIP play everything from Muse to Bollywood songs.

And thank dog for my 14 year-old son, who’s discovering music in a big way, and digging new stuff from his generation, as well as antediluvian stuff going all the way back to the (gasp!) 1960′s

It helps me hang on to the belief, despite much evidence to the contrary, that all hope is not lost, and that a lone horseman might occasionally drop in to get some new shoes for his old horse.

28. August 2008 by sknob
Destination: Making Music | Leave a comment

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