Pradžia / Garsas / Sound

JOANNA DEMERS: Capitalists behind cultural production are looking for quick returns, so they encourage plagiaristic work

We continue our talks with Professor of Musicology JOANNA DEMERS, and in our third conversation (2017 08 09) we decided to go off the beaten track and to investigate why do bands use masks, nicknames and why are there legends about musicians created. Do people need music, or do they need tales? Must music always be entertaining?

Mindaugas Peleckis
2017 m. Rugpjūčio 10 d., 19:50
Skaityta: 60 k.
The Residents. (C)
The Residents. (C)

I always wondered about bands-mysteries and people who wear masks, do not show their faces or even hide their personalities behind their music. What do You think about this phenomenon? The Residents is probably the most mysterious band, playing from 1969, for almost 50 years, having released about hundred albums (243, according to, having played many concerts, nevertheless, do we know who they are? But, the main thing, do we NEED no know who is a musician who plays good music? We have Homer's Illiad and Odyssey but are not sure if he was a real man, the same we could say about many more. Maybe the fate of a creator is to be "transcendent", to be and not to be at one time, to paraphrase William Shakespeare (was there such a man?). Socrates also could be Plato's alter ego.

There is a scene in the television series The Young Pope that is relevant. The main character, Lenny Belardo (the Pope), is explaining why he won't authorize the use of his image in public appearances or Vatican merchandise, and he mentions a series of popular culture fixtures whose success was directly related to their refusal to be photographed. He mentions Daft Punk.

I certainly agree with you that the identities of the artists needn't be known in order to enjoy the music. Withholding artists' images and identities is a great way to create mystery and excitement. It seems somewhat related to the acousmatic reduction, the possibly apocryphal practice in which Pythagoras' followers were prohibited from listening to his lectures unless separated from him by a curtain. The point was to get his students to hear his words and not pay attention to his appearance. 

But masks and fake identities often only increase speculation as to the artist's identity. Jarvis Cocker, formerly of Pulp, was briefly in a band called Relaxed Muscle, and he hid his identity with face paint, disguised his voice during interviews, etc. I'm not sure that anyone was fooled, but the fact that he told us that he was hiding his identity was a great publicity tactic. The music was suddenly less about "Jarvis Cocker's follow-up to Pulp" than about someone who is trying (successfully or otherwise) to sidestep
that discussion altogether.

Joanna Demers. (C)

Legends concerning great bands who ARE real. Many things like Stairway to Heaven played backwards, ZOSO etc. Do people need tales all their life? Isn't it better to know that here's John Johnson and he is gonna play song about Mary Chain?

It'd be great if the music were enough, but it's a hard habit to shake, isn't it? 

Scott Walker has been trying to avoid discussions of his biography and personal life for, well, most of his life, but when you read about him, it can't help but come up. Mystery and tales and fictions are very attaching, but music itself is a fiction, even when we think that we've stripped it down to its essence.

As You certainly know, many bands' names (or musicians', actors' nicknames) are from sphere of fantasy: it may be J. R. R. Tolkien, H. P. Lovecraft or Nicholas Coppola who liked John Cage. Fantasy rock / viking metal / power metal is so popular now, and it's strange when 50 year old men go to such concerts and like small boys like to feel pirates or vikings. Again, do we need fantasy to create music? Can (or maybe must) music be boring? Must music always be entertaining?

I like boring music!  Well, some forms of repetitive or static music, and the repetition is in fact interesting to me.  There is slippage between the words "boring" and "repetitive" and "uninteresting".  If boredom refers to the experience of hearing something that one has heard many times already, so that there are no surprises, then the fantasy elements to which you are referring can mitigate the boredom.  But I agree with the gist of your last question; we are so spoiled by the surfeit of musical choice that we may feel the need for constant stimulation, novelty, etc. So costumes and fantasical premises can then seem like an easy way out.  

Music which is totally boring is muzak in supermarkets, airports and lots of classical music (in my opinion). Then, people call it serious music. Where is the line between serious and boring (ok, J. Cage wrote difficult music but it was not entertaining) music? Madonna is too pop. Why do people need two different poles? Isn't it better to listen to simple three chord music?

My argument in Anatomy of Thought-Fiction is that much of our experience of listening to music is based on thought-fictions,
or ideas that we generally recognize as untrue but that we believe nonetheless. 

Most of what we think we like or dislike about music is the quotient of taste, acculturation, circumstance, etc.  Terms like "serious" and "pop" are concepts or even fictions that we develop to justify taste. 

That's a long-winded way of saying that I don't believe very much in any claims for the inherent seriousness of "serious" music. 

What is serious about serious music is the way that it is received, executed, etc.

Plagiarism (and covers, tributes) is a very popular phenomenon. Of course, it concerns money, so stealing a song first of all is the easiest way to earn it. But, psychologically, why do people do it? Are there so many bad musicians? Don't they dare to play their own songs? Ok, not everybody is Elvis, John Lennon or Björk, but certainly if you try you can succeed and created a nice tune.

Copying is a common step in learning how to do many things: writing, composing, creating art, etc. We often copy in order to
understand how to do something; then, we try to do that something on our own, with original elements. The difference now
is that it is very easy to copy thanks to our current technology. 

And the capitalists behind cultural production are looking for quick returns, so they encourage plagiaristic work because it seems to promise the quickest return on investment.

I think that the preponderance of derivative music may be due simply to the ease with which we can do it. It used to be harder
to plagiarize! Not so much now - it's dreadfully easy, in fact - and younger people especially now have to make a conscious effort not to copy.

That said, there's still so much that is new...

Thank You so much.