Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Artificial Aesthetic

On my last trip to the South Pacific I stopped by the Island of Paong, where I met an older gentleman named Coco.

Coco is the world’s greatest coconut arranger. This is an art form that is totally unique to the island of Paong.

Coconut arranging is the art of placing coconuts on the beach and scattering them in a way that is pleasing to one’s eye and soul.

Coco had a knack for creating the most beautiful abstract patterns to the local people. To my novice eyes they were just coconuts strewn all over the beach, but to the trained eye of a Paongying, it was art on the highest level. Art on be cherished, talked, and written about.

After my wonderful vacation in the South Pacific I headed over to Thailand where I had the opportunity to hear the greatest orchestra in the country. Well, since I am a musician I thought would at least have point of reference, but when I heard the orchestra, I just heard a series of sounds. The patterns, tonality and structure were so alien to my western ears I might have well been listening to a Martian orchestra. I could detect the incredible talent and craftsmanship of the musicians. But as music that was pleasing to my ears, or that I could comprehend, it was not. Yet all of the Thai's agreed that this was great Thai art.

In art we must have context. Without social context we have no reference points for making any kind of aesthetic judgments. Art must reflect its time and culture for the society to recognize it as art.

So what is my point?

Academic Music!

What is this?

I have no problem with academics in music. Academic institutions are important for teaching and nurturing all types of music. It is only when the academic composer looses all touch with the society they come from that the term artificial aesthetic applies.

Regardless of how complex or simple the music is, it still must have some connection and reflect the society it comes from. Good or bad art must have relevance and context to a society so the society can make an educated aesthetic judgment, if not it is an artificial aesthetic that only the artist understands.

It is my belief that one of the causes for mass exodus of listeners from today's concert halls is when music looses its relationship to the society.

On the other hand, a modern day pop musician or rapper is so organically connected to their world that they are able to capture and reflect their world to their audience.

If the so called "classical music" is to survive it must follow the pop model, with a more sophisticated sensibility, and try to capture and reflect its time and culture path and inject the poetry back into it as well.

David Chesky

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Tokyo Syndrome

On my last trip to Japan, I noticed the Japanese fervor for foreign fashion. Everywhere I went there were more Armani, Versace and Ralph Lauren stores than I have ever seen. There is a section in Tokyo called Aoyama that rivals any city in the world for high fashion.

I began to wonder why the Japanese have this urge for Western style. I thought their traditional Japanese fashion was about as beautiful as I have ever seen. Likewise, they have their own great indigenous culture: music, theater and unbelievable architecture and gardens. In some ways, I think Tokyo is the most modern city in the world today. So why do the Japanese feel the need to import all the Western culture?Is it low self esteem? Even with all their accomplishments, they still seem to have a lack of self worth, something that might be called Tokyo syndrome.

After speaking to many Japanese people, I learned they feel that the West is where all the real high fashion comes from. But I do not agree. I think the Japanese have a great and beautiful sense of style that is evident in every aspect of their lives.

When I arrived back in New York, I walked across the street from my apartment and saw one of our great concerts halls. I looked at the program and I noticed most of the entire season roster comes from foreign cultures that are mostly over one hundred years old.

Why do we feel the need to import all of our orchestral music from Europe? Do we suffer as well from our own type of Tokyo syndrome? Are we that embarrassed of our own culture? Aren't we capable of producing our own American orchestral culture? Or do we lack a sense of self worth as well in the orchestral world? Is it possible to put a value on and appreciate our own American music, or will new American music be relegated to the ghettos of the concert world?

I notice that the jazz musicians have developed their own sound and culture that is identifiable with New York. Rap musicians have done the same and have captured their own urban surroundings in their music.

Why can't we do it in the world of orchestral music? Is it the orchestras? I do not think so. They will play whatever the patrons would like to hear. So then is it us-the listeners?

Why is it that a modern day New Yorker feels the need to only listen to older European music when attending an orchestra concert? Don't we have the desire to create our own indigenous orchestral sound?

Has the orchestral world gone into a complete metamorphosis, or are they only catering to a public that has no interest in hearing new and creative things? Concert halls have always been a place for the elite of society to gather and hear music. When New York was young, concertgoers listened to the music that they had heard back in their homelands of Europe. Even then orchestras knew that if you played the same thing year after year you would loose your audience. So why is it that today if you play the same music all the time it is totally acceptable? People have told me that it was the old management guard that introduced this type of orchestral management tone.

Perhaps we have been so beaten down as a society that we no longer want to be challenged, but instead go to our concert halls to hear the familiar sounds that comfort us. But whatever the reason for this type of programming, it now must be broken.

David Chesky