21st century progress(?)

Yesterday I went to the graduate students’ colloquium to hear Mr Paul Griffiths on the subject of “Twenty-first Century Music: A progress (?) report”. For those who don’t know Griffiths, he’s the author of “Penguin companion to classical music (2004)”, “a concise history of western music (2006)” and many other music articles. I wouldn’t call myself an expert of his work but that didn’t stop me from going to the talk.

The title was so intriguing and is it was proven later, I totally placed it out of context. I thought I’d hear about the latest musical experiments, exciting interactive music composition techniques, in all I expected a report on the 21st century avant-garde. Instead, he talked about Helmut Lachenmann, Steven Stucky, Heiner Goebbels and other classical music composers. It was quite enjoyable, but given the fact that my hopes were up, I was a bit disappointed. Anyhow, Griffiths’s lecture was a good way to start my constructive criticism about 21st century music and the 21st century culture generally.

To a certain extent, the 21st century promotes the “culture of fun”. Consumption has become linked to pleasure and the sense of euphoria: people buy goods that make them happier. For this reason, the commercialisation of goods related to “fun” has developed quite a lot. What is “fun” though for the 21st century people? And where is music in all of this?

The answer is highly related to taste in my opinion. I like shoes, especially designer shoes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that my neighbour likes them too. There is something else that strikes their imagination, music, gadgets, hats, trainers. However, I have related the 21st century with the ongoing consumption of porn. The porn industry is flourishing. I remember a friend of mine telling me few years ago that he had more gigabytes of porn on his computer than music!

My cynical point of view is: “artists, compose music for porn movies”. My intellectual point of view is: “artists, learn to transform the “culture of fun” and re-create”. The composer’s self-expression is gradually replaced by the consumer’s self-expression through music: people want to listen to music that expresses them, that means, they want to listen to music they can relate to. I sense that this alienates them to specific genres and styles.

I don’t really know if I want to prove a point through this text, it’s just thoughts provoked by yesterday’s lecture. I’m always interested in the debate between high and low quality music/art. It is quite to sad that this distinction is still made in the 21st century, and in all fairness, I don’t see much “progress” in this sense. If you want to solve a problem you need to go to its root, and Western philosophical thought could be the root of evil… Hmm…


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