Monday, June 20, 2011

A Modern Boy in a Postmodern World

So what in the world kind of music do you compose when 'Modern' music refers to the early to mid twentieth century and 'Post-Modern' refers vaguely to everything since? Post-Postmodern?

This was the topic of a discussion I had recently with my peer at BYU, Joseph Sowa.

In our discussion, we worked up to a very broad and unforgiving definition of these terms for ourselves, and hypothesized about  what 'the next big thing' in music is/will be. (That is to say, 'contemporary classical music' - apparently the next big thing in popular music is 'electroclash bubble-goth' and that is a discussion for another day)
Modernism: music composed to be a self contained unit of itself, employing all the latest techniques. Its approach asks, 'How can I make this all make sense?'

Postmodernism: see the wiki. This is music composed with a sense of irony, using any available musical materials. It challenges traditional notions of music in every way it can think how. Its approach asks, "Anything goes, so what do I want?"

Joseph and I both agreed that our generation (roughly composers maturing from the 90s to the present, but also including a number of older composers whose styles are moving beyond

Modernism/Postmodernism) is distancing itself from trends associated with either school of thought. The general mood is one of synthesis: 'Anything goes, so what do I want, and how do I make it all make sense together?'

Joseph called composers of this new trend 'Synthesists'. A term I have previously heard (in a slightly different context) is "Maximalist" (Though that term already has some baggage) In either case, the idea is one of collecting techniques, ideas, materials, and aesthetics from a broad range of influences and bringing them together into a unified, expressive whole.
In other words, exactly what I've set out from the beginning to do as a composer. Its encouraging to see that I'm not alone. It is definitely okay that I'm not the first. Is it wrong to want to be one of the best?
I realize that this has the whole copyright thing going on, but I liked the image: is the urbanism of Postmodernism rising up to a new kind of Modernism, or is Modernism falling into a morphed breed of Postmodernism? I did track down the quote featured, it is from an interview with artist Milton Glaser.
Of course, I can't help but wonder - could there be yet another logical next step in music, a quantum leap of progress, a new viewpoint radically different from my modern/postmodern heritage? And if so, would I want to be part of it?

And the raised-on-science-fiction, matured-on-the-wave-of-the-Internet-era, technological-optimist in me wonders: does the future of new music lie in technology? (Two concepts to be explored in a later post: Music that is only possible thanks to 21st century technology and music that uses technology to challenge and change the very nature of music...)
The Modern 'Synthesist' has only very little to do with the now ancient concept of a 'synthesizer'. Probably.

1 comment:

Eric Hanson said...

I seem to remember having a very similar discussion with Joseph (tell him hello from me by the way). When Dr. Johnson asked me to sum up my own style I also referred to an attempt to synthesize all we have learned, and he mentioned that might be difficult in a culture that seems to be bent on fracturing. It's nice to see others are headed the same direction. Good luck!