Boiler Room & ‘Post-Classical’

I realise that the biting point has been getting rather weighty and theoretical of late. There’s plenty more of that to come, but I’m taking this opportunity to say a few quick things:::

1) We do intend to do more reviews, only we haven’t seen much recently, and what we have seen hasn’t been remarkable. However, to keep ourselves informed – and anyone else who cares – we’ve started a listings page for music in London. Criteria for inclusion are basically the same as the criteria for the We Break Strings book: new ‘composed’, ‘acoustic’ music, produced outside of big institutions or performed in unusual spaces, but with plenty of exceptions. Get in touch via email if you have any suggestions for events or nights to include. When there’s something worth writing about – musically or politically (not that we really see a difference) – then we’ll endeavour to write about it.

2) A few more of those ‘why does everyone hate new/classical music?’ think-pieces have emerged over the last few months, but I think I’ve pretty much said everything I can on the subject. I feel like my opinion has completely changed, in that I no longer feel invested in that ‘debate’ at all, but this doesn’t mean that I agree with most of the jaded brigade. I’ve collated all my responses in the essays/articles page.

Ditto, in general, for ‘indie classical’, ‘neo-classical’, etc. There’s plenty about that stuff in We Break Strings, which we’re currently trying to get distributed further afield. However, I was struck by my reaction to this video and article from Boiler Room/Joe Muggs, about their recent ‘Stay True Germany’ videos. I always find it interesting to see which fuzzy grouping of artists will be included when someone does a round-up of this or that ‘underground classical’ trend. I quite like the video, which focuses on Hamburg, maybe because it has a seemingly quite random distribution of people with different things to say that nevertheless adds up to something (also the cheeky Marx/Engels/Lenin busts in Carl Craig’s studio). The article is even broader and fuzzier, but rightly so: if this is a movement then it’s certainly a fuzzy one.

But what exactly is he talking about? What is this thing? It’s never described, beyond the list of artists, not even in the way that it supposedly relates to electronic music. Max Richter, Nils Frahm, Jonny Greenwood, Gabriel Prokofiev, The Orb, A Winged Victory For The Sullen. A ‘strange and wonderful interzone’. Something to do with ‘compositional rigour and unconventional instrumentation’. The idea of a movement (which is all that a movement can really be, of course). The sum total of the lines that link up all these little nodes, or some common consistency to the space between them. ‘This stuff is everywhere‘. So what is the stuff?

All I want to say is this: I think ‘post-classical’ is particularly wrong. It’s not just that this music they describe seems to have little to do with that word that everyone hates, but it also seems to have little to do with the practices/styles/vocabularies that the word is used to describe. In fact, I feel like it has more to do with the word ‘classical’ than it does with any so-called ‘classical music’.

I like the ‘post-‘ prefix, but isn’t it more post-indie? Post-electronica? Post-techno? In the same sense that ‘post-rock’ relates to ‘rock’. It’s like a post-ideological indie, a post-ideological electronica, etc. And when I write ‘post-ideological’, I do so knowingly, since such a thing is clearly impossible, and yet it was a ‘post-ideological’ world into which we supposedly emerged after 1989, with the failure of ‘socialism’ and New Labour and the transformation of politics into a bidding war between technocratic firms, with barely distinguishable principles or beliefs.

Post-rock as a ‘post-class’ rock. Post-techno as a ‘post-race’ techno. Post-indie as a ‘post-political’ indie. Post-electronica as a ‘post-futurist’ electronica. (Not to mention ‘post-‘ any kind of opposition to the normalisation of corporate culture, Marxist tchotchkes notwithstanding).

What instead? Perhaps it’s the ‘classicalisation’ of these genres. Perhaps that amounts to a technocratisation: these styles being taken over by the ‘classically-trained’ technocrats, born to parents who could afford to provide them music education, or at the least into a cultural context which values these skills. Perhaps. Stripped of race/class/sexuality/affect/identity/antagonism. Reduced to systems of technical musical knowledge, whether it’s regarding metre or pitch, texture or timbre.

If this all sounds disparaging then that’s because I really don’t find a lot of this music interesting. Maybe I’m being overly cruel. I’ve learnt to find interest in many of its ‘experimentalist’ precedents – Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman, Simon Jeffes, Brian Eno – by locating the antagonisms and the principles/beliefs in their work. Maybe others can find the same thing in these newer artists. But for me there’s a big gulf between a lot of this stuff and the music that I wrote about in We Break Strings.

For all its terrible (albeit satisfyingly lurid) connotations, ‘crossover’ is probably the most fitting term for the music collected in that article, and the music that gets folded in with ‘indie-classical’/’post-classical’ in general. But not how it’s usually used, in ‘industry’ terms, regarding audience crossovers; more in the sense that the music is in the process of ‘crossing over’. It is moving along a line, away from one style/genre/territory, and towards another.

In my essay on Nonclassical from the book (republished here), I register my suspicion about the idea of ‘post-genre’ music: perhaps what Francesco Tristano calls ‘acoustic music’ in the video. Nonclassical perform a certain kind of crossing-over, and I think it does have an antagonism to it and a politics, even if it is unintended. I recognise the same in the Luddite conceptualism of Brandt Brauer Frick, actually (just as I do in plenty of actual ‘post-rock’). The best examples of this kind of music do the same; however, often in doing so, they actually escape ‘classicalisation’. They remain a kind of militant sound art practice, whichever stylistic language they deploy as their toolkit. There are other kinds of crossing-over which are far less antagonistic, following a line that is more ‘natural’ than ‘social’, more ‘technical’ than ‘political’.

I find it hard to hear a relation between this fuzzy school and ‘classical’ music, ‘new music’, avant-garde music, even experimental music (minimalism, post-minimalism, etc.). It’s far easier for me to hear it in relation to indie music and ‘pop’ electronic musics, a strain of post-pop (perhaps even post-music) relinquishing the responsibility of ideology just as it rejected the faux-ideologies of the banal ’00s and its official pop cultures. But here we are in the 2010s, in the midst of endless crisis, and ideology has returned to Europe. It’s not yet time for the post-musical age.

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