Pradžia / Garsas / Sound

JOANNA DEMERS: What's interesting about music today is that there are so many people who don't choose to limit themselves

This is our second (and who knows how many more there will be) talk (2017 07 20) with JOANNA DEMERS, Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, where she teaches courses on post-1945 popular and experimental music and aesthetics and writes both scholarly and creative works that explore philosophical issues in recent music. You can read the first talk here: More writings of J. DEMERS:

Mindaugas Peleckis
2017 m. Liepos 21 d., 09:11
Skaityta: 84 k.
JOANNA DEMERS: What's interesting about music today is that there are so many people who don't choose to limit themselves

Is it  a myth that all songs/tunes/melodies which are quiet a few are written, so we do not need new songs actually maybe only new sound/instruments?

I hear my students repeating that cliché, and it is a little depressing, isn't it?  It's like saying that all the important novels have already been written, so there's no need to try for anything new. 

It might be true if we limit ourselves to a particular type of harmony or musical form, but what's interesting about music today is that there are so many people who don't choose to limit themselves in that way.  

It seems that "pop music icon" is a vanishing term: M. Jackson, Prince, G. Michael and many more has already died. Maybe only Madonna is alive yet. I wouldn't consider J. Bieber an icon. Or am i wrong? Does the world need pop music icons no matter how good their music is (Prince was a genius).

I would agree that icons are a thing of the past, but then popular music (as we tend to think of it, with Elvis and Michael Jackson and so forth) was a historically specific phenomenon that is also on its way out. This doesn't mean that music or specifically popular music will vanish - of course not! - but the industry conditions and consumer expectations have changed. 

'Popular music' as it became in the twentieth century depended on disposable income (unimaginable for the vast majority of the world's population before the twentieth century), on phonographic technologies (again, unthinkable before 1900), and on a media apparatus that popularized celebrity (this came about for musicians a little earlier, in the nineteenth century, thanks to folks like Liszt and Paganini).

Icons existed because the media apparatus insisted, through repetition, that they were icons. 

Things are too diffuse for the similar claims to hold the same weight today, except for Beyoncé perhaps.   

The same i would like to ask about new styles. In our first talk You said about revivalism - yes, it is happening again (as in Twin Peaks) and again, stoner rock is alive again, hipsters are popular version of hippies and so on. But, is there any single new style of music? Really new.

Sure, there are always new things happening, especially in electronic music. But another way of understanding 'newness' could also be to look at the studied manner in which retromania artists are perfecting older traditions. 

There are lots of groups today that are derivative of Pink Floyd, or Duran Duran, or whatever other older groups one could cite. Some do a pretty good job; others perfect the style to the point where it's better than the original. It's as if popular music has assimilated values that used to be part and parcel of classical music: faithful rendition of a historically-rooted style. 

Oddly enough, classical music today has also absorbed pop music habits, like the elevation of the performer's identity, tie-ins to social media for consumers, etc.

As you see my questions are pretty pessimistic although when some people say "rock is dead" i say - no, it is very alive. Anyway, rock, metal and other styles are very conservative and post-, neo- movements, revivalism can't help. I would better listen to Uriah Heep's Rain written back in 1972 than a similar ballad of 2017 even though i was born in 1975. Do you have your all time favorites which will possibly never be worse than something new?

Sure, but I think that a lot of popular music's power has to do with the moment of first contact or first exposure. 

For me, those perfect originals are folks or bands like Scott Walker, Felt, Pulp, Earth, Grouper, Celer, Basinski. Sébastien Tellier, too.

What about selling of new albums? In Lithuania, most of the bands make limited editions of 30-300 MCs/CDs, some "stars" make LPs, which are also very limited and most of the bands/projects are only in the net (bandcamp etc.). Is the same happening in the world?

Yes - it's very interesting, isn't it? It's not that the music industry has died, as many people predicted it might 10 or 15 years ago, but rather that commercial expectations have adjusted to the new economy.  Fewer artists believe the lie that they had a chance to become superstar-level rich through music. Which, I think, is a good change. 

We don't become musicians to make money; we do so because we really can't imagine loving anything else as much as music. People who want to become rich tend to go into investment or banking, which is where they should go!

Which age of music (starting from its known beginning) do You consider the most prolific and "the best" in all the senses of that word?

That's a hard one; I don't think one can choose just one era. That said, I often ask myself why 1977 and 1979 were such productive years in the music I tend to listen to (punk and postpunk and what not). All of the 70s was just fantastic, but everyone knows that.  I sort of slept through the 90s and discovered in retrospect how wonderful and vibrant it was. The 50s were really crazy.

Thank You.