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I miss big ideas. I lament their loss, in fact. I miss the sweeping gestures once made that attempted to understand oneself, a body of people, humanity as a whole, the very world entire. I was not around for these grand ideas (or, at least not in the intellectual capacity I possess now), yet I feel moved to write in elegiac prose as if I mourn the loss of something very dear. Before falling into a vast pit of hyperbole, I will make clear exactly what I mean by a ‘big idea’ through examples. Hegel’s dialectic is a big idea; Marx’s proletariat is a big idea; Freud’s archive is a big idea; Spivak’s postcolonial readings of Victorian texts are a big idea; these are attempts to explain the metanarrative of the human condition, the human struggle, the way in which the human acts and thinks and why. I do not necessarily lament the passing of the ideas themselves—any good close reading of these ideas reveals there many contradictions and faults—but rather I miss the attempt implied by these ideas. It seems to me that in our great postmodern idiom we have narrowed ourselves into a tautological spiral of refining and redefining and infinitely categorizing these ideas into sub-ideas and sub-sub-ideas. It is a phenomenon that is plaguing the music community as well, and this is what I lament the most.

I am not, nor am I attempting to, bringing anything new to the discussion at this point. Anyone who has perused our very own forum community will identify with what I am about to say. We nitpick. We squabble over whether something is hardcore or post-hardcore, dubstep or garage, etcetera, etcetera. This in and of itself is not an issue; people argue because it is in our nature, as J.M. Coetzee is so keen to point out in his novels, particularly the haunting Waiting For the Barbarians (if you haven’t read it, you should), human relations are built on struggle of power. A “Test Your Might” of my knowledge against the Other’s (there’s a big idea). The problem occurs when the music industry, the artists themselves, mimic the nitpicking their fan base is so eager to perform. The loss of ‘big ideas’ in music is the result.

I do not wish to come off as a doomsayer with no knowledge of the past, ringing the death knell of music. That is a tired and, frankly, stupid argument. Anyone with a mild interest in history will realize that one set of thinkers in any culture medium will ultimately scoff at something “newer” as the “death of this or that.” I recently completed a history paper on the early history of jazz as a function of American cultural ideology. The Classicists, particularly those in the magazine Etude circa 1934-5, dismissed jazz as an inferior musical style because, well, it was not classical. Jazz, as most of you should know, became one of the most intellectually stimulating theaters of music ever created—in fact this is where I wish to start with my ‘big ideas’ dialogue. The year 1959: the most important year for jazz.

Important because it had something to say, it had those ‘big ideas’ spouting from every pore. Charles Mingus’ seminal hard bop record Mingus Ah Um? Check. Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking free jazz album The Shape of Jazz to Come? Check. There was also a little album by the name of Kind of Blue by a young upstart named Miles Davis. Check and check. The point of this grocery list is not to argue that 1959 was the greatest year in music and ‘why oh why are we not replicating these guys?’ The point is to show that there was a time when big ideas were a more common place in music. Of course there was no time in history that was nothing but pure genius flowing left and right, and 1959 was no exception. But I look at our current music and I see a lack of desire to break out from anything other then this masturbatory, tautological encircling of genre tags that threatens to crush originality into oblivion.

Part of the problem is that term ‘originality’ and I think the root of that problem has more to do with the word ‘value.’ Without going too greatly into my own personal feelings, Andy Warhol screwed art with those damn cans. We are no longer allowed to say one piece of art has value over another. This is, for the lack of a better word, utter shit. Listening to the Berlin Philharmonic playing Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations has more value than “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. That may seem like a ridiculous extreme but some people would argue that there is no dichotomy of value between this two pieces; that it is all about experience. Which I go along with to an extent—and this is not an elitist diatribe against “pop” music, for some pop music itself has varying levels of ‘value’. It is subjective, yes, and I would argue that Robyn has more value than Lady Gaga who has more value than the Black Eyed Peas, and so on and so forth. This is ultimately where discussion of music should go, not to petty squabbling over genre tags, but defending your opinion of worth of an artist.

But to return to ‘originality’, which I feel comfortable now in suggesting it to be synonymous, for my purposes, with ‘big ideas’. For originality, I think, is aptly defined by T.S. Eliot in Tradition and the Individual Talent when he argues that an artist is only original when he ([sic] or she) is aware of what has come before them, absorbs it, and is able to portray it with a fresh voice. Recent music trends have led people to either dismiss originality as “unnecessary” in this day and age, or to cue that ever hovering “death knell” (which is always conveniently close by my arguments). I believe both to be misguided, and I point (I suppose narcissistically) to my own review of Destroyer’s recent release Kaputt. Whether you (yes you!) actually like the record is not my concern, but rather it is my argument that Destroyer has a singular voice that I wish to extract for the purposes of this little rant. Essentially I see Kaputt as a singular record, that is to say, I would not mistake it for anybody else, nor could I see anybody else putting it out. Yes, there are heavy cues from the past, especially the 80s, but the voice of the album (not the physical voice, though that is surely apart of it) gives it the singularity, the ‘big idea’ the originality.

This is the same ‘big idea’ that I encountered with Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz last year. These are albums that are trying to understand something. In the face of the Rebecca Black’s in this world, that means a lot. Whether you actually like these albums or not, once again, is not the most important aspect. It is identifying that these ideas hark back to the days of ‘big ideas,’ where artists attempted to take what came before them and mold it into something expressively new. Something that tried to capture an idea beyond simply whether or not people will ‘like my album.’

But Keelan, did you not start by lamenting the loss of the ‘big idea’? And are you not ending by praising the existence of albums that rectify the concept of the ‘big idea’? Yes; but I am only halfway there. For these things and more, are still to come.





thebhoy
03.26.11
Yes, I realize that Chan was chastized for this same thing. But I don't care, I'm in the midst of essay writing and I needed to dump excess information somewhere. So I hope you find this interesting. And if not, then whatever, I don't really care either way.

Athom
03.26.11
Well, I'll go to college and I'll learn some big words
And I'll talk real loud, goddamn right I'll be heard
You'll remember the guy who said all those big words
He must have learned in college

thebhoy
03.26.11
haha learniversity.

I'm not entirely sure why I did this yet, either. Impulses on Sputnik, woo!

theacademy
03.26.11
man this staff blog needs a re-design

the content of the posts has gotten much better, but look how ugly this page of text is!

Trebor.
03.26.11
Dude bankrupt on selling quote
Great Job!

ConsiderPhlebas
03.26.11
Great post. Felt much the same way recently, after getting stuck into the various factions of modernism.

Spare
03.26.11
don't get any big ideas, they're not gonna happeeeeeennnnnnn

SeaAnemone
03.26.11
love this Keelan, seriously : ) read it once, will read again tomorrow I promise

admittedly though, I'm glad you stuck in that addendum at the end, because I can't for the life of me see how you're going to circle this back to your main point, it sounds like you switch camps halfway through : /

Trebor.
03.26.11
Nude quote is equally awesome

SeaAnemone
03.26.11
also, are you saying that the last time there WERE some "big ideas" was the year in jazz, 1959?

Chrisjon89
03.26.11
I don't necessarily disagree, especially on the point of originality, but I don't allow to myself to romanticise old music to that extent anymore. I listen to alot of jazz from the 50s/60s and alot of 60s and 70s rock, but still think there's plenty of good stuff happening today (2010 was amazing to me).

And for me, it's impossible to compare across eras like that because the older music has had decades to ingrain itself on people so you can see the influence and get all sentimental. I just enjoy it as I find it.

Trebor.
03.26.11
lol and OMG are in the dictionary
The world is officially ending

Aids
03.26.11
woah this is massive. I haven't read this yet Keelan but I will when I stop arguing about hockey with Satellite and Sea

demon of surveillance
03.26.11
Thoughts like these need to be discussed more often.

DaveyBoy
03.26.11
This blog is so Keelan'ey.

thebhoy
03.26.11
oh, no I wasn't romanticizing old music, as I said, 1959 was a starting point. It will be more clear with the next part. I'm just juxtaposing how I think especially in the last 10 years or so, we've become so entrenched in genres and whatnot that we seem to be missing what I mean when I say 'big ideas.' And as I try to point out, and point out again, this isn't to say that the music of today is necessarily "bad", I loved 2010 as well. But, well, hopefully Part 2 will make my argument more clear.

thebhoy
03.26.11
also if there are some spelling/grammar issues it's because I wrote this in 30 minutes and didn't edit and probably should have. Cheers!

thebhoy
03.26.11
also, Academy some of that's my fault, I was too lazy to add pictures or videos, but at the same time couldn't think of anything appropriate. Maybe next part will have a big picture of Derrida halfway through the text.

Aids
03.26.11
somewhat related to what theacademy brought up:

is it just me or does the side bar reduce to about 1 cm tall with a scroll bar on anyone else's browser? I dont know if I'm describing that properly....

the only text that displays on the side bar without me scrolling down is about 2/3rds of "SPUTNIKBLOG"

thebhoy
03.26.11
that doesn't happen on mine.

Scoot
03.26.11
www.thesaurus.com

Spare
03.26.11
yeah aids

http://i.imgur.com/U8CCU.jpg

Aids
03.26.11
yeah Spare, that

is it just Chrome? what are you using Keelan?

but, more to the point, I just read this piece, essay, whatever. I cannot express how pleased I am to be a member of a website that breeds this kind of discussion. I absolutely love your writing Keelan, and you articulated perfectly a lot of how I feel about the "state of modern music" (to be all pretentious and junk). I didn't care much for Destroyer's new album as a piece of original artwork (great little record though), but I love The Age of Adz and totally agree with what you said about it, how it's almost transcendent. I really really like a lot of the ideas you have going on here.

Go sputnik staff blog, great stuff man. I look forward to part 2.

Acanthus
03.26.11
While I have nothing witty, thoughtful, or even marginally influential to add to such an interesting piece of writing I did enjoy it; part 2 will be eagerly awaited.

theacademy
03.26.11
@aids thats part of what I was talking about

chrome users just see an ugly grey page


Athom
03.26.11
sputnik on chrome is really buggy. the blog feed never shows up, if i edit a news article it randomly inserts a ton of stupid breaks etc etc

Athom
03.26.11
oh and half of the avatars dont load


theacademy
03.26.11
urgh yea the avatar thing is so annoying if you take a lot of screen caps... if for some reason you do that kind of thing

Spare
03.26.11
well that's what we get for using chrome

Aids
03.26.11
damn I thought Chrome was the best

theacademy
03.26.11
it is (or was until firefox 4)

Adash
03.26.11
Coetzee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lets start SpuntikLit.com

Zanders
03.26.11
Something else I have noticed is, people give more attention to bad music than amazing unique artists that are revolutionizing music. Instead we have the "hilarious" or "painfully" bad music posted around everywhere and made famous by the people saying it's terrible. In the end they are going to go down in history, being talked about on silly TV shows and pop culture blogs, and people will talk about them years from now while the others fade in to obscurity. What's even more scary is that plenty of these people ride the hype, rise above the hate and end up very successful, all because of the publicity they got. But even with all of the fame and attention they get, they make no real impact on music its self. Sad, really.

Zanders
03.26.11
And even if the revolutionary artists get a fairly big cult following, they still won't be as widespread and in people's minds as those train-wrecks everyone loves to spread around.

defjaw83
03.26.11
Great read! Oh and Firefox 4 is where it's at

Liberi Fatali
03.26.11
My interpretation of your primary argument is that today we are making fewer leaps forward, and taking fewer leaps in new directions. Instead we are seeing partitioning of broader genres, stemming in part from fan bases that wish to categorize and nitpick where something fits. You also appear to make the argument that music listeners should be more focused on the value of the musical piece (and as a criterion of this, whether it has originality) as opposed to defining where the piece fits within a genre.
For me the structure of the music industry today is a major factor determining this 'lack of big ideas' you outline. For a large part of the worldwide music industry, money is a key driver. If money is a key driver, it will shape your musical output towards targeting a broader audience. Hence safer musical ideas that appeal to the middle ground will typically prove more successful than creative big new ideas that may not find as large an audience. I use the example of bands like The Feelers and Stereogram in New Zealand (I’m taking this example from an article in my university’s newspaper last year if my memory serves me right). We have a funding program for Kiwi artists called NZ On Air that gives funding to musicians, TV producers etc that can prove their project can be commercially successful. Because of this requirement to demonstrate the musical piece is able to get on commercial radio & tv, we see bands like The Feelers producing generic rock music get the funding. Big new ideas that may not necessarily cater to the middle ground or mainstream don’t have a shot in hell of getting funding. So I would make strong comparisons between this case example and the music industry as a whole as to why we see less big new ideas, that are inherently risky.
A second point I would make is that perhaps we are still seeing a whole heap of big ideas today; we are simply seeing a lower ratio of big ideas. The amount of commercial music being produced today far exceeds what was released in your 1959 example. Personally I wouldn’t be quick to say there are less big ideas today, simply that there is a whole lot more non-big idea being produced every year.

I also struggle to see the causality link between listeners nitpicking over categorization, and artists not producing big original music pieces. So perhaps you could elaborate on that for me.

Willie
03.26.11
--man this staff blog needs a re-design

the content of the posts has gotten much better, but look how ugly this page of text is!--

It doesn't need a redesign. He just needed to throw in a few pictures with some snotty captions.

I like this write up more than any of the 'plans' so, good job (I don't have time to fully respond right now, but I snuck a peak when it was still in draft form).

Spare
03.26.11
academy's talking about sputnik's shitty chrome compatibility

Willie
03.26.11
You mean Chrome's shitty Sputnik compatibility. ;)

thebhoy
03.26.11
Liberi, what I'm going to get at is actually the second point you make. I see it as a smaller ratio today and it has to do with our perceptions and the way we pay attention to certain bad artists just cause. I won't say too much more but that's the direction I'm heading.

thebhoy
03.26.11
also the link I'm trying to make between the artists and the listener nitpicking is sort of a cause an effect. I hope to elaborate on this point more. I had a blurb about what I was attempting to do here written up but I decided against it. Basically these are more loosely connected ideas instead of a major umbrella thesis.

natey
03.26.11
I love what you say about a "singular voice" and I definitely see that in Kaputt. I've always been a "music is subjective" "you can't call any music better or worse" person, but I'm starting to look more at the artist, their performance and voice, and less at my feelings now. I think a lot of negative criticism is the result of poor listening and not poor artists.

thebhoy
03.26.11
I would agree to an extent, but I look at the highest grossing "artists" on the charts right now and really consider what worth they have. Yes, they're fun at a party or a club... but then I think, are they? Are they actually fun to listen to? Or is the fact that we streamline and forcefeed this crap that it becomes acceptable. This isn't an attack of pop music, but I mean consider someone like Michael Jackson or Madonna (in their prime) to the biggest artists today and it's like night and day.

thebhoy
03.26.11
wait, I think I misread your comment natey haha

scissorlocked
03.26.11
brilliant write up man. If we had more essays like this, I think I would be visiting sputnik more often.

seeing your interest in jazz, I would recommend you to read some opinions of the Frankfurt school about jazz(if you haven't yet). Adorno's and Horkheimer's views on Jazz, in contract with the classical music's grandeur are quite interesting I would say

thebhoy
03.26.11
Interesting, I wasn't even aware Adorno had views on jazz! Haven't actually heard of Horkheimer so looks like I'm adding some more to the reading list. Thanks.

Defeater
03.26.11
genres piss me off and I'm going to TELL YOU WHY

thebhoy
03.26.11
yeah, why wouldn't I?

MO
03.26.11
Arguing over genres is the lamest shit in existence, thank you for that I totally agree.

I also agree that the "big" ideas are very hard to come by/non-existant today; however that's because alot of them have been exhausted to death, unfortunately. Music has evolved so much and (for the most part due to technology) everyone everywhere has access to it. So more ideas turn up than expected and it all gets clusterfucked into "the same shit".

I think a big part of it has to do with technology to be honest. The world is a much faster place than, let's say the 50's or 60's. I can find a song by Tommy Dorsey on Youtube by using my cell phone as I'm lying in bed at 11 PM. There's basically no restrictions. People hear of something that was grand in the past and just jump on the chance of hearing it and brush it off as some classical jazz. It's just not as much of an enveloping experience for most people as it was hearing it fresh back in the day.

Buying and listening to an album back in the vinyl age was an engrossing experience. You would buy the album and spend a good couple of days listening to and dissecting it, trying to understand what the artist was doing and really taking it to heart. Nowadays, it's basically "oh yea Pink Floyd are AWESOME!! Dark side is so trippy!!! ON THE RUN FTWW!!!". But there's more to it than that.

I guess what I'm trying to say is it's very difficult for artists to come up with a big/fresh idea that will leave people awestruck. I find music a reflection of the time it was conceived, every "genre" having it's place and serving it's time...unfortunately our time has become the epitome of people trying to make a quick buck at the expense of making the music industry more shallow.

Anyways that's just my two cents, it's very hard to find good original artists who make music for the sake of making good music that they enjoy and know real music listeners will cling to and understand.

Everyones out for the quick buck.

Curse.
03.27.11
Thank bhoy, now we are going to be bombarded with gross dicks again

thebhoy
03.27.11
hahahahha

MetallicOpeth I agree with you, and I bring up some of those points in my next part, but what I really like to think is that we're not past these ideas. Yes we've seen a lot, but there's surely stuff that has to be uncovered still. I mean, Derrida was only the mid-90's and I'm not suggesting a big idea can't be based on other ideas either. In fact I think most of the famous big ideas are rooted in some sort of simple thought or influence from somewhere else.

natey
03.27.11
yeah Keelan i think you misread me at first/I wrote different points like they were connected (i agree)


"I also agree that the "big" ideas are very hard to come by/non-existant today; however that's because alot of them have been exhausted to death, unfortunately. Music has evolved so much and (for the most part due to technology) everyone everywhere has access to it. So more ideas turn up than expected and it all gets clusterfucked into "the same shit"."

I totally disagree. They haven't been exhausted to death, there's just a minority of people confident and motivated enough to find their own voice and run with. Technology gives us a wild amount of parameters to play with and generate newer and bigger ideas, but people are lazy and worry about pleasing crowds or their friends or don't invest time training themselves to interact with music and their instruments and voices. It's what seperates the Sufjans from the Zac Brown Band (lol) and David Doruzka from Kenny G


MO
03.27.11
"but people are lazy and worry about pleasing crowds or their friends or don't invest time training themselves to interact with music and their instruments and voices"

This is basically what I was getting at. I'm not saying that big ideas don't show up but it's so difficult to create the next big idea since it requires going so far into the parameters you speak of that it'll get to a point that people just won't "get" it. The Beatles came up with great ideas which were easy to comprehend, a nice simple rock sound. I guess it depends if you see the next big idea as being something that appeals to the masses or is genuinely an amazing sound recognized by fewer people.

thebhoy
03.27.11
Very rarely do they actually ever appeal to the masses, at least initially. Essentially the only real issue with any of these arguments is in their immediacy. Only time will tell what actually gets left over from this current culture. I would like to hope that the good stuff does, but it seems to me that the good stuff is being left by the wayside.

natey
03.28.11
Why must the masses be so deaf....

thebhoy
03.28.11
because not everyone cares about music like we do

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