Today was the finals of the Eurovision Song contest. Norway won (fair and square). Their song was a mixture of a melodramatic love story that was seen as a fairy-tale by the performer/composer/singer. His vocals are quite unique – he’s not the pop-idol, he’s a good looking young boy with a right-on-tone voice, which has a characteristic ‘grain’ (Oh Barthes, I love you for this!). It reminds me of Royksopp’s ‘What else is there?’ vocal grain of the singer. Plus, he wrote lyrics/music, and sang but also, played the violin. It’s got ‘traditional’ elements (violin ‘hook’, Norwegian 2/4 dance rhythm). Anyway, the song is great, I’m glad to see him winning as most of the songs where homogeneous.
This contest shows every year that the concept of ‘taste’ and music ‘evaluation’ is changing. If you put aside any political/geographical aspects of voting, you will see that many of the songs were quite different than what we expected to see, based upon ‘Eurovision culture’. So many ‘traditional’ elements, each country tries to promote themselves by selecting their music identity that differentiates them from others, trying to find a unique sound. Now, my point is not about Eurovision.
I’ve been studying (a lot as you will notice at my updated references section) about key concepts of popular music: authenticity, nostalgia, genres, pictorial representation, performance. What strikes me at this moment is the latter. Simon Frith has a marvelous argument on listening: it’s a form of performance. The listener sometimes misreads music’s contexts and meanings. They built their opinion/evaluation of music upon their own experience (hence, nostalgic memoirs, feelings, iconic reminders of their distant past); in this sense, listening comes after performing this procedure of taking into account any sort of music.
Also, what I found exciting is that today’s music evaluation depends on a 18th century idea of performance combined to a 19th century need of structures. If you think it this way, any music we hear, we’re trying to see and understand the performers’ virtuosity but also, the structure of the music piece, aka, verse-chorus-verse for pop music. I had an apocalypse!
In my opinion, circuit-bending relies upon performance – just the making of a bent instrument is itself a sort of material performance, since benders change the materiality of an object specifically designed for one thing, and in the end it is deconstructed only to be reborn again as a vessel of a different materiality. What happens with structure though?
We’re talking about a ‘regulative concept’, as put by Lydia Goehr; not only we need to reform music theory, but also the behavioural rules for both performers and audience. Circuit-bending promotes a diverse listening culture. One can try to understand the structure (even though this would be extremely hard, especially if you cannot separate white noise from pink noise or any other sort of noise), or find pleasure in music by dancing, and of course, experiment themselves with it. Circuit-bending’s difference from other experimental music genres is that it’s not elitistic. It’s so postmodern that anyone can do it.